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Fox News begins broadcasting on US cable television. Fox News provides 24-hour news programming alongside the nation’s only other such cable news provider, CNN. Fox executive Roger Ailes, a former campaign adviser for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988), envisions Fox News as a conservative “antidote” to what he calls the “liberal bias” of the rest of American news broadcasting. Ailes uses many of the methodologies and characteristics of conservative talk radio, and brings several radio hosts on his channel, including Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, to host television shows. (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 47; Sherman 5/22/2011) Referring to Ailes’s campaign experience, veteran Republican consultant Ed Rollins later says: “Because of his political work, he understood there was an audience. He knew there were a couple million conservatives who were a potential audience, and he built Fox to reach them.” (Sherman 5/22/2011)
Ailes Planned for Fox News as Far Back as 1970 - Ailes began envisioning a conservative news provider to counter what he considers the mainstream media’s “liberal bias” as early as 1970, when he became heavily involved with a Nixon administration plan to plant conservative propaganda in news outlets across the nation (see Summer 1970). In 1971, he headed a short-lived private conservative television news network, Television News Incorporated (TVN—see 1971-1975), which foundered in 1975 in part because of its reporters and staffers balking at reporting Ailes-crafted propaganda instead of “straight” news. Ailes told a New York Times reporter in 1991 that he was leaving politics, saying: “I’ve been in politics for 25 years. It’s always been a detour. Now my business has taken a turn back to my entertainment and corporate clients.” But Ailes misinformed the reporter. He continued to work behind the scenes on the 1992 Bush re-election campaign, providing the campaign with attack points against Democratic contender Bill Clinton (D-AR) and earning the nickname “Deep Throat” from Bush aides. Though Ailes did do work in entertainment, helping develop tabloid television programs such as The Maury Povich Show and heading the cable business news network CNBC for three years, Ailes has continued to stay heavily involved in Republican politics ever since. Ailes became involved in the creation of Fox News in early 1996 after he left NBC, which had canceled his show America’s Talking and launched a new cable news network, MSNBC, without asking for Ailes’s involvement. Fox News is owned by News Corporation (sometimes abbreviated NewsCorp), an international media conglomerate owned by conservative billionaire Rupert Murdoch. When NBC allowed Ailes to leave, Jack Welch, the chairman of NBC’s parent company General Electric, said, “We’ll rue the day we let Roger and Rupert team up.” Murdoch has already tried and failed to buy CNN, and has already begun work on crafting news programs with hard-right slants, such as a 60 Minutes-like show that, reporter Tim Dickinson will write, “would feature a weekly attack-and-destroy piece targeting a liberal politician or social program.” Dan Cooper, the managing editor of the pre-launch Fox News, later says, “The idea of a masquerade was already around prior to Roger arriving.” Eric Burns, who will work for ten years as a Fox News media critic before leaving the network, will say in 2011: “There’s your answer right there to whether Fox News is a conventional news network or whether it has an agenda. That’s its original sin.” To get Fox News onto millions of cable boxes at once, Murdoch paid hundreds of millions of dollars to cable providers to air his new network. Murdoch biographer Neil Chenoweth will later write: “Murdoch’s offer shocked the industry. He was prepared to shell out half a billion dollars just to buy a news voice.” Dickinson will write, “Even before it took to the air, Fox News was guaranteed access to a mass audience, bought and paid for.” Ailes praised Murdoch’s “nerve,” saying, “This is capitalism and one of the things that made this country great.” (Sherman 5/22/2011; Dickinson 5/25/2011)
Using Conservative Talk Radio as Template - In 2003, NBC’s Bob Wright will note that Fox News uses conservative talk radio as a template, saying: “[W]hat Fox did was say, ‘Gee, this is a way for us to distinguish ourselves. We’re going to grab this pent-up anger—shouting—that we’re seeing on talk radio and put it onto television.’” CBS News anchor Dan Rather will be more critical, saying that Fox is a reflection of Murdoch’s own conservative political views. “Mr. Murdoch has a business, a huge worldwide conglomerate business,” Rather says. “He finds it to his benefit to have media outlets, press outlets, that serve his business interests. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s a free country. It’s not an indictable offense. But by any clear analysis the bias is towards his own personal, political, partisan agenda… primarily because it fits his commercial interests.” (Auletta 5/26/2003)
Putting Ideology Over Journalistic Ethics, Practices - Ailes, determined not to let journalists with ethical qualms disrupt Fox News as they had his previous attempt at creating a conservative news network (see 1971-1975), brought a hand-picked selection of reporters and staffers with demonstrable conservative ideologies from NBC, including business anchor Neil Cavuto and Steve Doocy, who hosts the morning talk show “Fox and Friends.” Both Cavuto and Doocy are Ailes loyalists who, Dickinson will say, owe their careers to Ailes. Ailes then tapped Brit Hume, a veteran ABC correspondent and outspoken conservative, to host the main evening news show, and former Bush speechwriter Tony Snow as a commentator and host. John Moody, a forcefully conservative ABC News veteran, heads the newsroom. Ailes then went on a purge of Fox News staffers. Joe Peyronnin, who headed the network before Ailes displaced him, later recalls: “There was a litmus test. He was going to figure out who was liberal or conservative when he came in, and try to get rid of the liberals.” Ailes confronted reporters with suspected “liberal bias” with “gotcha” questions such as “Why are you a liberal?” Staffers with mainstream media experience were forced to defend their employment at such venues as CBS News, which he calls the “Communist Broadcast System.” He fired scores of staffers for perceived liberal leanings and replaced them with fiery young ideologues whose inexperience helps Ailes shape the network to his vision. Before the network aired its first production, Ailes had a seminal meeting with Moody. “One of the problems we have to work on here together when we start this network is that most journalists are liberals,” he told Moody. “And we’ve got to fight that.” Reporters and staffers knew from the outset that Fox, despite its insistence on being “fair and balanced” (see 1995), was going to present news with a conservative slant, and if that did not suit them, they would not be at Fox long. A former Fox News anchor later says: “All outward appearances were that it was just like any other newsroom. But you knew that the way to get ahead was to show your color—and that your color was red.” The anchor refers to “red” as associated with “red state,” commonly used on news broadcasts to define states with Republican majorities. Ailes will always insist that while his network’s talk-show hosts, such as O’Reilly, Hannity, and others, are frankly conservative, Fox’s hard-news shows maintain what he calls a “bright, clear line” that separates conservative cant from reported fact. In practice, this is not the case. Before Fox aired its first broadcast, Ailes tasked Moody to keep the newsroom in line. Early each morning, Ailes has a meeting with Moody, often with Hume on speakerphone from the Washington office, where the day’s agenda is crafted. Moody then sends a memo to the staff telling them how to slant the day’s news coverage according to the agenda of those on “the Second Floor,” as Ailes and his vice presidents are known. A former Fox anchor will later say: “There’s a chain of command, and it’s followed. Roger talks to his people, and his people pass the message on down.” After the 2004 presidential election, Bush press secretary Scott McClellan will admit, “We at the White House were getting them talking points.”
Targeting a Niche Demographic - Fox New’s primary viewership defies most demographic wisdom. According to information taken in 2011, it averages 65 years of age (the common “target demographic” for age is the 18-24 bracket), and only 1.38% of its viewers are African-American. Perhaps the most telling statistics are for the Hannity show: 86% describe themselves as pro-business, 84% believe government “does too much,” 78% are “Christian conservatives,” 78% do not support gay rights, 75% are “tea party backers,” 73% support the National Rifle Association, 66% lack college degrees, and 65% are over age 50. A former NewsCorp colleague will say: “He’s got a niche audience and he’s programmed to it beautifully. He feeds them exactly what they want to hear.” Other polls from the same time period consistently show that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed of all news consumers, and one study shows that Fox News viewers become more misinformed the more they watch the network’s programming.
Ailes's Security Concerns Affect Operations, Broadcasting - Ailes is uncomfortable in his office, a second-floor corner suite in the Fox News building at 1211 Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan. His office is too close to the street for his tastes; he believes that gay activists intend to try to harm him, either by attacks from outside the building or through assaults carried out from inside. He also believes that he is a top target for al-Qaeda assassins. Ailes barricades himself behind an enormous mahogany desk, insists on having “bombproof” glass installed in the windows, surrounds himself with heavily-armed bodyguards, and carries a firearm (he has a concealed-carry permit). A monitor on his desk shows him what is transpiring outside his office door; once, when he sees a dark-skinned man wearing what he thought was Muslim garb on the monitor, he will order an immediate lockdown of the entire building, shouting, “This man could be bombing me!” The man will turn out to be a janitor. A source close to Ailes will say, “He has a personal paranoia about people who are Muslim—which is consistent with the ideology of his network.” A large security detail escorts him daily to and from his Garrison, New Jersey home to his Manhattan offices; in Garrison, his house is surrounded by empty homes Ailes has bought to enhance his personal security. According to sources close to Ailes, Fox News’s slant on gay rights and Islamist extremism is colored by Ailes’s fear and hatred of the groups.
'We Work for Fox' - Sean Wilentz, a Princeton historian and Reagan biographer, will say: “Fox News is totalized: It’s an entire network, devoted 24 hours a day to an entire politics, and it’s broadcast as ‘the news.’ That’s why Ailes is a genius. He’s combined opinion and journalism in a wholly new way—one that blurs the distinction between the two.” Dickinson will write: “Fox News stands as the culmination of everything Ailes tried to do for Nixon back in 1968. He has created a vast stage set, designed to resemble an actual news network, that is literally hard-wired into the homes of millions of America’s most conservative voters. GOP candidates then use that forum to communicate directly to their base, bypassing the professional journalists Ailes once denounced as ‘matadors’ who want to ‘tear down the social order’ with their ‘elitist, horse-dung, socialist thinking.’ Ironically, it is Ailes who has built the most formidable propaganda machine ever seen outside of the Communist bloc, pioneering a business model that effectively monetizes conservative politics through its relentless focus on the bottom line.” Former Bush speechwriter David Frum will observe: “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us. Now we’re discovering that we work for Fox.” (Sherman 5/22/2011; Dickinson 5/25/2011)
A series of hoax anthrax letters are sent to Fox News commentators Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. Hannity will later say he began receiving the letters in the winter of 2000 and then a second batch in August 2001. Most of them were sent from a postmark in Indianapolis, Indiana, but “one or two were from Trenton,” New Jersey, where the deadly anthrax letters will be sent from shortly after the 9/11 attacks. The FBI will later allow the New York Post to see copies of these letters, which have block handwriting sloping down to the right and other features remarkably similar to the later letters containing real anthrax. Hannity will later say: “When I saw the Tom Daschle envelope and the Tom Brokaw envelope, I immediately was stunned. It was the exact same handwriting that I had recognized.… When I saw it I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s the same guy.’” (Weiss 11/1/2001; NewsMax 11/1/2001) The letters have yet to be made public.
The Bush White House alleges that officials and aides from the outgoing Clinton administration vandalized the White House in the last days before Bush officials took over. Conservative news site NewsMax reports that the “slovenly misfits” of the Clinton administration “left the [White House] in a shambles” in the transition between the outgoing Clinton administration and the incoming Bush administration. Clinton aides engaged in “deliberate vandalism,” the report says, and cites a General Services Administration (GSA) official estimating that it may cost up to $250,000 to repair the damage. NewsMax quotes a report by another conservative publication, the American Spectator, which itself quotes “an inspector… called in to assess the vandalism as saying that several executive desks were damaged to the point that they must be replaced, and several more offices must be repainted because of graffiti.” (Kettle 1/26/2001; NewsMax 1/26/2001) Conservative Internet gossip writer Matt Drudge reports that “White House offices [were] left ‘trashed’” and so-called “[p]orn bombs [and] lewd messages” were left behind. No explanation of what Drudge meant by the “porn bomb” allegation is ever given. (Curl 1/27/2001) The allegations of vandalism and theft will prove to be almost entirely false (see February 8, 2001, February 14, 2001, and May 18, 2001).
Gore's Staffers Charged with Worst of Vandalism - British newspaper The Guardian repeats earlier claims that the worst of the damage was found in offices once occupied by staffers for former Vice President Al Gore, and that Gore’s wife, Tipper, has phoned Lynne Cheney, the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, to apologize for the damage. The story is false (see January 24, 2001). (Kettle 1/26/2001)
Reports: Cut Phone Lines, Extensive Damage, Pornographic Photos - Both the Washington Post and The Guardian report allegations that computer and telephone lines were “sliced,” voice-mail messages were changed to “obscene remarks and lewd greetings,” desks were overturned, and trash strewn throughout the premises. The reports add that filing cabinets were glued shut with Superglue, pornographic photographs displayed in printers, and “filthy graffiti scrawled on at least one hallway wall.” The Spectator’s inspector adds that “[e]ntire computer keyboards will have to be replaced because the damage to them is more extensive than simply missing keys,” referring to allegations that some White House keyboards had the “W” keys pried off. The Spectator also reports tales of former Clinton staffers reportedly “laughing and giggling about the mess their former colleagues left behind.” A Bush White House official calls the White House “a pigsty” in the aftermath of the transition. “The Gore and Clinton people didn’t ‘clean out’ the place because there was nothing clean about what they did before they left.” The GSA will pursue the former Clinton officials for reimbursement and expenses. The Spectator reports that “investigators” conclude the damage was “the result of a carefully organized campaign of vandalism unlike anything ever seen in the aftermath of a presidential transition.” (NewsMax 1/26/2001; Kettle 1/26/2001; Allen 1/26/2001) The New York Daily News reports, “The destruction was so vast that a telecommunications staffer with more than a quarter-century of service was seen sobbing near his office one night last week.” (DeFrank 1/27/2001) CNN’s Paula Zahn observes: “All right, but this is the White House, for God’s sakes. We’re not talking about people living in a fraternity.” (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 5/21/2001) Fox News is particularly vehement in its coverage. “They trash[ed] the place,” says Fox commentator Sean Hannity. ”$200,000 in furniture [was] taken out.” Fellow Fox commentator Oliver North (see May-June, 1989) adds: “We should expect from white trash what they did at the White House.… I recommend that what the Bush White House do is peel the wallpaper off that they defaced with their graffiti and ship it off to the Clinton Library so people can see it.” Fox host Bill O’Reilly says, “I mean, the price tag right now is about $200,000, so that’s a felony right there.” And O’Reilly guest Tom Schatz says, referring to the famous film about fraternity life, “They turned it into Animal House.” (Goldstein 2/8/2001; Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 5/21/2001)
Air Force One 'Stripped Bare,' Reports Claim - The Guardian also reports that during former President Clinton’s last trip in Air Force One, the presidential jet was subjected to what it calls “an orgy of pilfering” (see January 25-27, 2001). It was “stripped bare” by aides, who reportedly took china, silverware, salt and pepper shakers, and other items, most bearing the presidential seal. (Kettle 1/26/2001) On Fox, Hannity charges, “They strip[ped] Air Force One of the china and everything else that wasn’t bolted down.” (Goldstein 2/8/2001)
Clinton Officials Admit to 'Pranks,' Bush Officials Allege Attempts at Theft - Clinton and Gore officials deny the reports of vandalism, but admit to carrying out pranks such as removing the “W” keys and affixing satirical signs to office doors that read, “Office of Strategery,” “Office of Subliminable Messages,” and “Division of Uniting.” A former Clinton official says, “It’s childish, but it’s also funny.” However, a senior Bush official accuses Clinton staffers of attempting to steal White House paintings and official seals from doors, and attempting to have those items shipped to themselves; Bush officials have ordered that all packages leaving the White House be X-rayed. (Allen 1/26/2001)
Bush Aide Documenting Damages - A Bush White House aide has been delegated to document the vandalism, videos are being taken of the damages, and White House officials are being interviewed. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer has confirmed that the administration is reviewing reports of the alleged vandalism. (NewsMax 1/26/2001) Bush himself downplays the reports, saying: “There might have been a prank or two, maybe somebody put a cartoon on the wall, but that’s okay. It’s time now to move forward.” (DeFrank 1/27/2001)
MSNBC, the cable news channel owned by NBC, cancels Phil Donahue’s nightly talk show. MSNBC cites “disappointing ratings” for “Donahue.” The show, originally conceived as a more liberal alternative for Fox News’s overtly conservative “O’Reilly Factor,” started very slow and never came close to challenging either O’Reilly’s ratings or CNN’s Connie Chung, whose show is also in the same time slot. But in recent weeks, Donahue’s ratings have steadily increased to the point where it is the top-rated show on the network, even beating MSNBC’s flagship political show, “Hardball With Chris Matthews.”
'Tired Left-Wing Liberal' - An internal report commissioned by the network’s executives, later obtained by media analyst Rick Ellis, calls Phil Donahue “a tired, left-wing liberal out of touch with the current marketplace.” The report says that Donahue’s show presents a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war.… He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush, and skeptical of the administration’s motives.” If the show continues on the air, the report warns that it could become “a home for the liberal anti-war agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.” As Donahue exits the lineup, MSNBC brings aboard former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough as commentators, and radical right-wing talk show host Michael Savage and libertarian Jesse Ventura, the former governor of Minnesota, as hosts. Donahue’s time slot will be taken temporarily by the expansion of another show, “Countdown: Iraq,” to two hours. Nation columnist John Nichols writes: “Talk about adding insult to injury. Getting canceled is bad enough; getting canceled to make way for a program devoted to anticipating an unnecessary war is just plain awful.” (Carter 2/26/2003; Ellis 2/26/2003; Nichols 2/27/2003) In 2007, Donahue says he knew nothing of the internal memo at the time (see April 25, 2007). “I didn’t know about that till I read about it in the New York Times.” When asked: “What did you think? What does that say to you? That dissent is unpatriotic?” Donahue will reply, “Well, not only unpatriotic, but it’s not good for business.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
MSNBC 'Tak[ing] the Coward's Road' - A source close to Donahue says that Donahue’s cancellation is “no coincidence.” The MSNBC executives are “scared,” the source says, “and they decided to take the coward’s road and slant towards the conservative crowd that watch Fox News.” Ellis, a veteran media analyst with strong connections in the TV news industry, writes that MSNBC, “[r]ather than building a unique voice, the news channel has opted to become a lesser alternative to the Fox News Channel.” Interestingly, the NBC report recommended against such a course: “The temptation is to chase the audience that is already out there and play to what seems to be working at Fox. But there is another road, and if we build our unique voices from within, we have a chance to develop a loyal and valuable audience.” Nichols writes, “[I]t is a pretty good bet that, now that ‘Donahue’ is going off the air, we will not soon see another show like the one where he featured [consumer advocate] Ralph Nader and [progressive columnist] Molly Ivins in front of a crowd of laid-off Enron employees.” Nichols adds that while Donahue’s show may have been conceived as a liberal alternative to O’Reilly, it was never allowed to be such: “For every program that featured Ralph Nader and Molly Ivins, there were ten where Donahue was forced to ask polite questions of second-string conservative pundits. Where his conservative competitors never worry about fairness or balance, Donahue was under constant pressure to clog his show’s arteries with deadly dull apologists for all things Bush. And when that got too boring, he was pressured to steer the show away from politics and toward the glitzy and the maudlin.” Only in its last few weeks did MSNBC allow Donahue to do what he does best—interview interesting guests in front of a live audience. The show’s ratings began climbing rapidly. Whether the show could have challenged O’Reilly or other conservative shows’ ratings can never be known.
Never Trusted the American Viewing Audience - Nichols concludes: “Now that ‘Donahue’ has been ditched, conservative commentators and network executives will tell themselves that there is no audience for progressive voices on television. They will, of course, be wrong on the broad premise—some of O’Reilly’s best shows feature feisty progressives like US [Representatives] Jan Schakowsky and Bernie Sanders. And they will be wrong more specifically about Donahue. We will never know for sure whether Phil Donahue could have seriously competed with conservative hosts like Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity. What we do now, for sure, is that MSNBC executives were never willing to trust Phil Donahue—or the American television viewing audience.” (Carter 2/26/2003; Ellis 2/26/2003; Nichols 2/27/2003)
Conservative pundits react with outrage over reports that CBS will air a documentary miniseries about former President Ronald Reagan and his family, titled The Reagans, that contains controversial, and sometimes unsourced, material some feel is unflattering to Reagan and his family. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, the Wall Street Journal op-ed page, and many commentators on Fox News object so strongly that CBS eventually alters the content of the movie and shunts it out of its lineup entirely (it will instead air on CBS’s cable provider Showtime). The movie was produced by people who “hate Reagan,” Limbaugh charges. Hannity poses the rhetorical question: “Does the whole episode expose the Reagan-hating, liberal-leaning tendencies of the mainstream press?… CBS has a history of Reagan-bashing.” The Journal observes: “[W]hat caused this particular network wall to come tumbling down was largely the new media: [the] Drudge [Report], cable, talk radio, and so on. Not only did the new media disseminate information about the script to CBS viewers, it also provided the viewers, via the immediacy of e-mail, the means to ensure that [CBS chairman Leslie] Moonves would feel their pain.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 72-73) Conservative pundit Pat Buchanan predicted, “Advertisers will bail on CBS’ anti-Reagan movie,” in the days before CBS’s decision. Conservative MSNBC pundit and columnist Robert Novak said of the miniseries: “CBS is serving up a new version of the Ronald Reagan story, just before Thanksgiving. That’s appropriate. With all the Hollywood liberals involved, it could be a real turkey.” And the conservative watchdog organization Media Research Center (MRC) launched a boycott targeting CBS’s potential advertisers. It decided to take action, calling on 100 major companies to review the script and consider avoiding buying ad time on the miniseries. MRC founder Brent Bozell wrote, “‘The Reagans’ appears to be a blatantly unfair assault on the legacy of one of America’s greatest leaders.” In an interview, Bozell said: “Reagan is being portrayed as a hateful, half-nut homophobe. It’s not that the historical record is being distorted. It’s that the makers of the movie are deliberately defaming him and lying about him.” None of the pundits and critics have seen any more than a brief clip CBS provided for publicity purposes.
Fictionalized Conversation - One portion of the miniseries, concerning Reagan’s position on AIDS victims, features at least some fiction. Reagan is portrayed as “uncaring and judgmental” towards AIDS patients, says a CBS News article, and in the script, Reagan turns down his wife Nancy’s plea to help them, saying, “They that live in sin shall die in sin.” Lead author Elizabeth Egloff admitted that she has no documentation of Reagan ever saying such. However, Egloff said, “we know he ducked the issue over and over again, and we know she was the one who got him to deal with that.” Reagan insiders deny Egloff’s characterization. Reportedly Nancy Reagan is angry about the miniseries.
Re-Editing for 'Fair'ness - Moonves recently told a CNBC interviewer: “Nobody’s seen the film. So any criticism now, in the middle of October for a film that isn’t finished, is rather odd, we think.” He admitted that the film was being re-edited “to present a fair picture of the Reagans.… There are things we like about the movie, there are things we don’t like about the movie, there are things we think go too far.” (CBS News 10/29/2003)
Son Speaks Out - Conservative pundit Michael Reagan, the former president’s son, celebrates the decision, calling the documentary a “smear job on my dad” and writing that to most “Hollywood liberals,” apparently including the filmmakers, “[c]onservatives, in their twisted minds, are sworn enemies of progress and everything else that’s good and decent in Hollywood’s view, you know, good things like abortion and gay Boy Scout scoutmasters and Communist dictators such as their hero Fidel Castro.… [T]he elitist liberals at CBS fall right in line with this leftist garbage, and, as they did in this instance, allowed Hollywood the liberty of creating an attack vehicle against my dad and my family and then claiming it was an historical documentary that portrays the Reagans as they really are.” Like many other conservatives, Reagan seems particularly displeased that James Brolin, the husband of liberal Hollywood star Barbra Streisand, plays his father. (Reagan 11/5/2009)
Pat Tillman (see May 23-June 1, 2002) enlists a friend, MIT graduate student Jared Schrieber, to email MIT linguistics and philosophy professor Noam Chomsky. Tillman wants to set up a meeting with Chomsky, an opponent of the Bush administration’s war on terror and someone Tillman has long admired. Later, Tillman’s mother, Mary Tillman, will say that Tillman and Chomsky were to meet after her son completed his military tour of duty in July 2005, a meeting later confirmed by Chomsky. (Fish 4/2006) After Tillman’s death (see April 23, 2004), it will emerge that, like his brother Kevin, a philosophy major, he read widely and was known to family and friends as a deep and independent thinker. Russell Baer, a fellow Ranger who served with the brothers in Iraq and Afghanistan, will recall Tillman saying of the Iraq war, “this war is so f_cking illegal.” His mother will state that, while feeling that the Afghan war was “justified by the September 11 attacks,” her son was against “the whole Iraq war.” Further, a soldier who requests anonymity will say that Tillman “urged him to vote for Bush’s Democratic opponent in the 2004 election, Senator John Kerry.” (Collier 9/25/2005; Smith 9/11/2006) Ann Coulter, conservative political commentator, and Sean Hannity, co-host of the Fox News show Hannity & Colmes, will dispute reports that say Tillman respected Chomsky, endorsed Senator John Kerry, or opposed Bush. “I don’t believe it,” Coulter will say. “I don’t believe it either,” Hannity will agree. (Media Matters 9/24/2005; Zirin 10/24/2005)
Radio host Glenn Beck, whose conservative talk show is aired by syndicated program provider Clear Channel, rails against Michael Berg, whose son Nick Berg was recently executed by militant Iraqis (see March 24-May 11, 2004). Beck, like his fellow radio conservatives Sean Hannity and Michael Savage, has aired the audio of Berg’s execution on his show in recent days. After his son’s death, Michael Berg criticized the Bush administration’s handling of the war in Iraq; for doing so, Beck calls him “despicable” and “a scumbag.” On his show, Beck directs a question at Berg: “Can you let your son’s body become the same temperature as your son’s head before you turn this into a political campaign against the president—could you do that?” Beck says he would say the same about Michael Berg if he were “a Republican and a supporter of the war and rah-rah George W. Bush and whatever.” He says he refuses to “fake” any sympathy for Berg because of Berg’s criticism of President Bush and the war effort. “I find this guy despicable,” he says. “Everything in me says that. The ‘want to be a better person today than I was yesterday’ says he’s a dad, he’s grieving, but I don’t buy that. I’m sorry, I don’t buy it. I think he is grieving, but I think he’s a scumbag as well. I don’t like this guy at all.” (Media Matters 5/17/2004)
The CIA analyzes bin Laden’s new speech, which was released four days before the US presidential election (see October 29, 2004), and concludes that it improves George Bush’s reelection chances. According to author Ron Suskind, the CIA, which has “spent years… parsing each word of the al-Qaeda leader,” knows that “bin Laden speaks only for strategic reasons—and those reasons are debated with often startling depth inside the organization’s leadership.” The analysts conclude that “bin Laden’s message was clearly designed to assist the president’s reelection.” Deputy Director John McLaughlin says in a meeting analyzing the speech, “Bin Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the president.” CIA deputy associate director Jami Miscik similarly comments, “Certainly, he would want Bush to keep doing what he’s doing for a few more years.” However, the CIA does not discuss why bin Laden wants Bush to stay. Suskind will write, “But an ocean of hard truths before them—such as what did it say about US policies that bin Laden would want Bush reelected—remained untouched.” CIA officer Rolf Mowatt-Larssen will later say: “It was sad. We just sat there. We were dispirited.” Several National Security Council members have already reached the conclusion that bin Laden’s presence on the international stage helps Bush (see October 29, 2004). Both presidential candidates condemn bin Laden. John Kerry says, “As Americans, we are absolutely united in our determination to hunt down and destroy Osama bin Laden.” George Bush says, “Americans will not be intimidated or influenced by an enemy of our country.” (Suskind 2006, pp. 335-6) Several commentators believe the intervention will help Bush, for example:
Veteran journalist Walter Cronkite says, “I have a feeling that it could tilt the election a bit. In fact, I’m a little inclined to think that Karl Rove, the political manager at the White House, who is a very clever man, he probably set up bin Laden to this thing.” (CNN 10/29/2004)
Roger Simon of US News and World Report says, “I don’t have any trouble parsing out who this helps. I think this is an enormous boost for George Bush.” (CNN 10/29/2004)
MSNBC host Chris Matthews says, “The big thing in politics, of course, is picking the right topic… This creates a terrible situation for the challenger, because it seems to me that Karl Rove has his finger on this.” (MSNBC 10/29/2004)
MSNBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell says, “It makes it harder for Kerry, and it shifts the subject matter back to what George Bush is strongest on. So the Bush people may not say that they are happy about this, but I’m sure that they could not be more pleased that this is the subject of the closing days. How do you say October surprise? This is one that could benefit the president.” (MSNBC 10/29/2004)
CNBC co-host Lawrence Kudlow says, “It will play into Bush’s hands.… it falls into Bush’s lap. And unlike 2000, I think it’s the kind of thing that will cause the remaining undecided voters in the next 72 hours or so to break for Bush.” (Luntz et al. 10/29/2004)
Weekly Standard staff writer Stephen Hayes says, “I think that, as most people have indicated, that is likely to help President Bush.” (Luntz et al. 10/29/2004)
Other commentators from across the political spectrum who suggest the speech will help Bush include Fox News correspondent Major Garrett, Boston Herald columnist Mike Barnicle, Time magazine correspondent Karen Tumulty, former plumber G. Gordon Liddy, former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, the Cook Political Report editor and publisher Charlie Cook, Washington Post journalist Jeffery Birnhaum, and Roll Call executive editor Morton Kondracke. (Wilson et al. 10/29/2004; Wilson et al. 10/29/2004; CNN 10/29/2004; Luntz et al. 10/29/2004; Buchanan et al. 10/29/2004) Some right wing commentators suggest that the tape will help Kerry, including Fox News political commentator Dick Morris, Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes, Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz, Fox News host Sean Hannity, and author Peggy Noonan. (Gibson 10/29/2004; Wilson et al. 10/29/2004; Fox News 10/29/2004; Fox News 10/29/2004) A Newsweek poll shows that Bush’s lead increases after the tape is released and, after the election, John Kerry, the losing Democratic candidate, will attribute his failure to bin Laden’s intervention: “We were rising in the polls until the last day the tape appeared. We flat-lined the day the tape appeared, and went down on Monday.” (Sherwell 11/1/2004; MSNBC 1/30/2005) George Bush will also agree that the tape helped, saying, “I thought it was going to help. I thought it would help remind people that if bin Laden doesn’t want Bush to be the president, something must be right with Bush.” (Reuters 3/1/2006)
On the evening of Election Day, Bush political chief Karl Rove appears on Fox News’s Hannity and Colmes to discuss his predictions for the elections and his observations on the day’s voting. After predicting comfortable margins of victory for President Bush, co-host Sean Hannity turns to allegations of voter fraud and efforts by Republicans to monitor votes in Ohio and other states. In Ohio, Rove says, Republicans have poll watchers on hand “in order to challenge people who are fictitious voters or felons, ineligible to vote, or people who have registered multiple times.… And we know particularly in Ohio, but in a lot of the other key battleground states, there has been a lot of voter registration fraud. We don’t want that to turn into voter fraud on Election Day.” He cites the NAACP as an organization engaging in voter fraud, and says one NAACP vote registrar registered 100 illegitimate names and was paid for his work in crack cocaine. Rove gives no evidence for this sensational claim. Hannity cites unverified stories of felons illegally voting in Florida, and Rove adds an unverified story of workers for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) bringing a sheaf of absentee ballots out of a prison in Pennsylvania and “attempting to vote them.” Absentee ballots have to be mailed personally in Pennsylvania and, Rove says, the actions by the ACORN workers to put the prisoners’ ballots into the mail were illegal. (Fox News 11/2/2004) It is unknown where Rove obtained his information. No news reports of these incidents can be found.
Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity claims, falsely, that former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore “brought Willie Horton to the American people.” Hannity is referring to the infamous “Willie Horton” ad of the 1988 presidential campaign, a Republican campaign strategy that claimed African-American Willie Horton was released and went on to rape a white woman by Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). Hannity’s statement comes in response to a recent citation of the Horton ad by Princeton University professor Cornel West, who cited the ad as an example of the Republican Party’s political exploitation of race. Hannity notes correctly that in the 1988 Democratic presidential primaries, Gore asked Dukakis about “weekend passes for convicted criminals,” referring to the Massachusetts furlough program that freed Horton. However, Gore never mentioned Horton at all. The first national mention of Horton came in the ads released by the Bush campaign and by an ostensibly independent conservative organization, the National Security Political Action Committee (NSPAC). According to progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, Hannity has made similar claims about Gore first bringing up Horton in the past. (Media Matters 11/10/2004)
The Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson attacks the Reverend Jesse Jackson for participating in what he calls a liberal conspiracy to “keep black[s] on the plantation of the Democratic Party.” Jackson has caused a media stir by raising questions about the fairness of the voting process in the November presidential elections in Ohio (see October 29, 2004 and Evening, October 31, 2004). Jackson, Peterson says, is part of an organized liberal effort to “keep black Americans angry in order to keep them on the plantation of the Democratic Party.” Peterson also accuses liberals of being the real racists in America, calls allegations that blacks were disenfranchised in the 2000 elections “a lie” (see November 7, 2000, November 7, 2000, November 7, 2000, 11:30 a.m. November 7, 2000, and Early Afternoon, November 7, 2000), and falsely claims that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) supported reparations for slavery during his campaign. Peterson makes his remarks during an appearance on Fox News’s Hannity & Colmes. Co-host Sean Hannity is a member of BOND’s advisory board, and is quoted on the BOND Web site as calling Peterson “a great American” and “a man of conscience.” The liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters notes that Peterson has often attacked Jackson. Peterson’s organization, the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny (BOND), has held a “National Day of Repudiation of Jesse Jackson” for the last five years. In an August 2000 article in the John Birch Society’s New American magazine, Peterson called Jackson a “problem profiteer… who makes millions by exploiting and exacerbating racial tensions.” He wrote a 2003 book entitled Scam: How the Black Leadership Exploits Black America, in which he attacked Jackson, the Reverend Al Sharpton, and other black civil rights leaders. Peterson and BOND have led a boycott of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), claiming the organization is “a tool of the liberal elite socialist wing of the Democratic Party.” And he is currently suing Jackson for assault and civil rights violations (Seifter 11/30/2004) (the case will be settled out of court in 2006 after a jury dismisses all but one charge against Jackson and deadlocks on the remaining charge). (Judicial Watch 1/27/2006)
Stephen Williams, a fifth-grade teacher at a Cupertino, California public school, is prevented by school administrators from selecting passages from historical documents for his students that reinforce his belief that the US is a strictly Christian nation; in return, many media representatives accuse his school district of “banning the Declaration of Independence” from being taught. Williams describes himself as an “orthodox Christian.” He wants his students to learn that America’s “Founding Fathers” were staunch Christians who intended to create a nation based on Biblical tenets, a position not supported by the historical record. After finding few citations in school textbooks to support his beliefs, Williams began giving his students selected passages from a number of historical documents, including William Penn’s “Frame of Government in Pennsylvania,” the Delaware State Constitution, George Washington’s prayer journal, and President Bush’s statement on the recent National Prayer Day, where he told the nation, “Prayer is an opportunity to praise God for His mighty works.” Some of the parents of Williams’s students believed he was attempting to evangelize their children; one parent said, “My daughter came home one day and said, ‘Mr. Williams talks about Jesus 100 times a day.’” Williams’s principal, Patricia Vidmar, began reviewing his lesson plans and supplemental handouts to ensure that he does not proselytize religion to his students. Williams responded with a lawsuit complaining that his free speech and academic freedom had been unduly constrained. (Williams is being represented in court by the Alliance Defense Fund, which has filed several lawsuits challenging the legality of same-sex marriage.) When the national press reports Williams’s situation, conservative pundits and radio hosts begin informing, and misinforming, their listeners and readers about Williams and his teaching; many tell their audiences that the Cupertino school district is “banning the Declaration of Independence.” Fox News talk show hosts Sean Hannity and John Gibson, along with Fox News anchor Brit Hume, Fox News analyst Newt Gingrich, and MSNBC commentator Monica Crowley, all tell their audiences that the school does not allow the Declaration of Independence to be referenced in its classes. The conservative National Lawyers Association accuses Vidmar, whom it terms a “rogue school principal,” of working towards “rul[ing] that the Constitution is unconstitutional.” Some parents, district supporters, and civil liberties advocates say Williams has become a rallying point for conservative Christians eager to, in their words, rewrite American history. Ivory Madison, a legal analyst for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, says: “This is the same thing that people have been trying to do for 200 years. The only difference now is that they’re well funded, media savvy, and litigious. It’s a shame that our tax dollars have to be used for a school district to defend the Constitution.” One parent at the Cupertino school says of Williams’s teaching: “This is not about teaching history, this is about indoctrination.… [W]hat would happen if someone whose religion is not a majority religion would be doing this? It isn’t OK [for a teacher] to make a kid feel like he isn’t like you.” Another parent asked the school not to place her child in Williams’s class this year, and says, “[W]hat he’s doing isn’t teaching history. If you were teaching at a church school, that would be great. But he isn’t.” (Garofoli 12/8/2004; Media Matters 12/10/2004)
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is accused of racism following remarks he makes about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on NBC’s Meet the Press. Asked by moderator Tim Russert if he could support conservative Justice Antonin Scalia as chief justice, Reid says Scalia’s ethics problems are troubling and that he disagrees with most of his positions, but adds that Scalia “is one smart guy.” Asked if he could support Thomas, Reid says: “I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written. I don’t—I just don’t think that he’s done a good job as a Supreme Court justice.” (NBC News 12/5/2004) Conservative pundits are quick to accuse Reid of racism, though he never makes any mention of Thomas’s race. On December 6, Charles Krauthammer tells a Fox News audience: “In the end, you’ve got to ask yourself, why Scalia, good, Thomas, bad in the eyes of a man like Reid. I say it’s the liberal plantation mentality, in which if you’re a man on the right and white, it’s OK. If you are the man on the right and you’re African-American, it’s not.” The same day, Clifford May tells a CNN audience: “Look, Justice Thomas is African-American and he’s conservative. Some people [like Reid] will never forgive that and think that’s an open opportunity to insult him.” During his daytime radio broadcast, talk show host Rush Limbaugh tells his audience: “[I]t’s not a new page in the playbook but it’s certainly not as old as the playbook itself. But it’s been around awhile. That is conservative blacks are inept, a la Clarence Thomas.… You notice how easy it is for these people to be critical of blacks.” Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto writes that since Reid did not provide examples of Thomas’s “poorly written” opinions, “[i]n the absence of such examples, one can’t help but suspect that the new Senate Democratic leader is simply stereotyping Thomas as unintelligent because he is black.” That evening, Sean Hannity, co-host of Fox’s Hannity and Colmes, tells his listeners that Democrats routinely attack minority conservatives such as Thomas, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and federal judge nominee Miguel Estrada, and adds: “What I see is Democrats oppose African-Americans that are conservative, but yet they claim to support minority rights. And what I’m saying here is, why, if you’re for the advancement of minorities, why do you oppose every conservative African-American or Hispanic American? Why is this pattern emerging?” On December 7, African-American conservative Armstrong Williams says on Fox’s Hannity and Colmes: “Did you hear those racist remarks from Senator Harry Reid about Justice Thomas?… Harry Reid’s the one—he said Thomas was an embarrassment. He said he cannot write. That is racism.… That is racism, only because of the hue of his skin.… Read his [Reid’s] words. He was a racist.” On December 8, Taranto writes in another Wall Street Journal column, “To try to make Republican judges seem menacing, the Dems could call them ‘extremist’ or ‘out of the mainstream’ (and if the judges happen to be black, add that their opinions are ‘poorly written’).” (Pierce 12/6/2004; Media Matters 12/8/2004) Conservative columnist Ann Coulter will include Reid in her much wider attacks against what she calls “liberal racism” (see December 8, 2004).
In an article examining the history and impact of the Fairness Doctrine (see 1949 and 1959), progressive communications law expert Steve Rendell writes that since the doctrine’s repeal (see 1987 and 1988), there has been far less coverage of controversial public issues on the nation’s airwaves. The Media Access Project (MAP) says, “Since the demise of the Fairness Doctrine we have had much less coverage of issues,” with television news and public affairs programming decreasing both locally and nationally. Twenty-five percent of broadcast stations offer no local news or public affairs programming at all. Rendell writes: “The most extreme change has been in the immense volume of unanswered conservative opinion heard on the airwaves, especially on talk radio. Nationally, virtually all of the leading political talkshow hosts are right-wingers: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Oliver North, G. Gordon Liddy, Bill O’Reilly, and Michael Reagan, to name just a few. The same goes for local talkshows. One product of the post-Fairness era is the conservative ‘Hot Talk’ format, featuring one right-wing host after another and little else.” A lawyer in Oregon, Edward Monks, found that his local stations broadcast 80 hours per week of Republican and conservative talk, and none whatsoever of Democratic or liberal/progressive talk. Monks wrote: “Political opinions expressed on talk radio are approaching the level of uniformity that would normally be achieved only in a totalitarian society. There is nothing fair, balanced, or democratic about it.” Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has written, “The FCC [Federal Communications Commission]‘s pro-industry, anti-regulatory philosophy has effectively ended the right of access to broadcast television by any but the moneyed interests.” Rendell concludes that the nation “need[s] a Fairness Doctrine. It’s not a universal solution. It’s not a substitute for reform or for diversity of ownership. It’s simply a mechanism to address the most extreme kinds of broadcast abuse.” (Rendell 2/12/2005)
Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity and conservative radio host Laura Ingraham repeat the long-debunked claim that former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore first mentioned convicted murderer and rapist Willie Horton in the context of a political campaign. Hannity and Ingraham are referring to the infamous “Willie Horton” ad of the 1988 presidential campaign, a Republican campaign strategy that falsely claimed African-American Willie Horton was released and went on to rape a white woman by Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). Responding to a Democratic political strategist’s citation of the Horton ad as an example of Republican political appeals to racism, Ingraham, a guest on Hannity’s show, says the Horton ad “was Al Gore’s idea,” and Hannity says, “Al Gore brought up Willie Horton in the first—in the [Democratic] primary.” As has long been proven, Gore never mentioned Horton in the 1988 Democratic presidential primaries; instead, it was the Bush-Quayle campaign that introduced Horton to the American public. (Media Matters 2/16/2005) Hannity has charged Gore with first bringing up Horton before (see November 9, 2004).
In the days after Michael Steele (R-MD), an African-American, announced his candidacy for governor of Maryland, allegations have resurfaced that in 2002 he was “pelted” with Oreo cookies by Democrats at a political debate (see September 26, 2002 and After); if true, such actions would constitute a significant racial slur. However, reporting of the incident has fallen into question, and Steele himself recently denied being hit by cookies during the debate, though he did say he saw Oreos on the stage near him: “I’ve never claimed that I was hit, no. The one or two that I saw at my feet were there. I just happened to look down and see them.” Eyewitness accounts compiled by the Baltimore Sun show that the allegations are questionable at best; moreover, the Sun reports, accounts of the incident by Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert Ehrlich, Ehrlich’s communications director Paul Schurick, and Steele himself, dramatically contradict each other. Progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters compares the different accounts of the incident, and concludes that the story has grown from an almost-baseless “partisan talking point” into “a ‘fact’ reported by the media” over the last three years. Media Matters notes that several newspapers, including the Chicago Sun-Times, the Washington Post, and the Washington Times, have recently reported the incident as factual, with the Times writing that Steele was “pelt[ed] with Oreo cookies” among the “racially tinged attacks” directed at him by his Democratic opponent in 2002. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell writes: “Steele has been subjected to the worst racial slurs imaginable. At one debate, a group of black people pelted the stage with Oreos.” Between October 31 and November 16, the Washington Times asserts the incident as fact three times in its editorial pages, and twice in its news reporting. The Weekly Standard reports it three times. Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity twice asserts it as fact on his broadcast, as does one of his guests, National Review editor Rich Lowry. Deroy Murdock, another National Review contributor, asserts it as fact in one of his columns. Washington Post metro editor Marc Fisher cites it in an online chat. Mitchell cites it in the Chicago Sun-Times. The conservative American Spectator cites it as fact once. Syndicated columnist Gregory Kane cites it as fact once. The National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service editor in chief George Curry states it as fact on National Public Radio, as does the host of the NPR program, Ed Gordon. The Investors Business Daily cites it as fact in an editorial. MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson cites it as fact on the air. The Associated Press cites it as fact in an article. Media Matters also notes that the story resurfaced briefly during the August 2004 Republican National Convention, with the Baltimore Sun reporting that Steele and Ehrlich “still talk” about the incident, and the Washington Post reporting it as fact. (Segraves 11/15/2005; Media Matters 11/21/2005)
Retired Army General Paul Vallely, a military analyst employed by Fox News (see Early 2002 and Beyond, Late September 2003, April 14-16, 2006, and April 18, 2006), says that former ambassador Joseph Wilson revealed his wife’s status as a CIA official over a year before she was exposed by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003). Vallely’s claims are published by WorldNetDaily (WND), an online conservative news site, after Vallely makes the claims on an ABC Radio talk show hosted by conservative commentator and blogger John Batchelor. Fox News has described Vallely as an expert on psychological warfare (see April 21, 2003). Vallely says Wilson openly discussed his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a CIA official between three and five times in 2002, while the two waited to appear on various Fox News broadcasts. Both Vallely and Wilson served as analysts for Fox News during the US’s run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. Vallely says the first time Wilson discussed his wife’s CIA status was in the spring of 2002. “He was rather open about his wife working at the CIA,” Vallely says. “He was a total self promoter,” Vallely continues. “I don’t know if it was out of insecurity, to make him feel important, but he’s created so much turmoil, he needs to be investigated and put under oath.” Vallely also says that several acquaintances of his at the CIA have said Wilson routinely introduced his wife as a CIA official at Washington cocktail parties and social events. “That was pretty common knowledge,” he says. “She’s been out there on the Washington scene many years.” If she were a covert agent, Valley says (see Fall 1992 - 1996), “he would not have paraded her around as he did.” Vallely concludes, “This whole thing has become the biggest non-story I know, and all created by Joe Wilson.” Conservative lawyer Victoria Toensing agrees that Plame Wilson is most likely not a covert agent for the agency. WND does not report Wilson’s response to Vallely’s charges, and in several critical references to a Vanity Fair interview given by the Wilsons (see January 2004) the blog misidentifies the date of the interview publication as 2005, not 2004. (Moore 11/5/2005)
CIA Confirmed Plame Wilson's Covert Status - The CIA has repeatedly confirmed Plame Wilson as a covert official, and many observers both inside and outside the agency have noted the extensive damage caused by her exposure (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, and February 13, 2006).
Fox News, Conservative Blogs Report Claims - Three days after Vallely’s claims appear on WND, Fox News reports Vallely’s statements. (Hume 11/8/2005) And a day after the WND article, Batchelor announces on prominent conservative blog RedState that another analyst will confirm Vallely’s claims. Batchelor says that on November 7, Vallely and retired Air Force General Thomas McInerney will “repeat and expand upon Vallely’s memory that Joe Wilson more than once in 2002 in the green room at Fox New Channel in Washington, DC, boasted about his wife the ‘CIA desk officer.’ McInerney has the same memory and more, since both he and Vallely were on FNC between 150 and 200 times in 2002 each.” (John Batchelor 11/6/2005)
Wilson Demands Retraction, Counters Claim - Wilson’s attorney, Christopher Wolf, e-mails both Vallely and WND demanding that they retract Vallely’s statements, writing that “the claim that Ambassador Wilson revealed to you or to anyone that his wife worked for the CIA is patently false.” In the e-mail, Wolf includes a message Wilson sent him: “This is slanderous. I never appeared on [TV] before at least July 2002 and only saw him maybe twice in the green room at Fox. Vallely is a retired general and this is a bald faced lie. Can we sue? This is not he said/he said, since I never laid eyes on him till several months after he alleges I spoke to him about my wife.”
Vallely Modifies Original Claim, Others Refuse to Confirm - Progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters notes that in subsequent days, Vallely modifies his original claims, backing down to claim that Wilson revealed his wife’s CIA status on “only one occasion,” which “probably was in that summer, early fall” of 2002. And promises that two other military analysts, retired generals McInerney and Barry McCaffrey, will back up his claims go unfulfilled, as neither is willing to publicly state that Wilson ever spoke to them about his wife. Vallely later says he has not spoken to the FBI about his claims, and tells conservative talk show host Sean Hannity that he waited two years to make the claims because “I figured Joe Wilson would self-destruct at some point in time.” He tells Hannity that he has been “upset” by Wilson’s opposition to the Bush administration’s strategy in Iraq. (Media Matters 11/9/2005) Batchelor’s promise that fellow conservative commentator Victor Davis Hansen will also confirm the claim also goes unfulfilled. (John Batchelor 11/6/2005) WND notes, “But contrary to a report, Hanson said Wilson did not disclose his wife’s CIA employment” during their conversations. (Moore 11/8/2005)
Fox News Schedule Shows Vallely, Wilson Never Appeared Together - Progressive blogger John Amato and former CIA agent Larry Johnson pore through the Fox News schedule for the time period Vallely cites—the spring of 2002—and find that Vallely and Wilson never appeared together during that time. Johnson writes: “They were never in the studio on the same day, much less the same program. Vallely is lying or maybe having a senior moment.” (John Amato 11/7/2005)
The virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) announces its intention to picket the funerals of five Amish girls murdered in a Pennsylvania schoolhouse. The organization agrees to abstain from picketing in return for an hour of airtime on talk show host Mike Gallagher’s radio program. WBC leader Shirley Phelps-Roper tells Fox News host Sean Hannity that the Amish girls “did deserve to die.” (Southern Poverty Law Center 2012) “The Lord your God is ramping up the issues, is smiting this nation,” she says. “What he did with one stroke on that day, sending a pervert in—because America is a nation of perverts—it’s appropriate he sent a pervert in to shoot those children. The Amish people were laid to an open shame because they are a false religion.” Phelps-Roper says that the girls also deserved to die because Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell had committed “blasphemous sins” against the WBC. Rendell had criticized the church for protesting at the funerals of soldiers killed overseas (see June 2005 and After) and has signed legislation restricting protests at funerals. (Steinberg 10/6/2006; Keller 4/2009)
Fox News host Sean Hannity, in an interview with former Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele (R-MD) and former Clinton administration counsel Lanny Davis, says that Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) is lying when he says “our troops are killing civilians, air raiding villages” in Afghanistan. As co-host Alan Colmes notes, Hannity is likely referring to Obama’s August 13 comment that “[w]e’ve got to get the job done there [in Afghanistan] and that requires us to have enough troops so that we’re not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous pressure over there.” Actually, Obama’s statements are true; numerous media reports from multiple sources have shown that US air strikes in Afghanistan have killed a large number of Afghan civilians, and have prompted complaints from Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a British commander stationed in Afghanistan (see June 23, 2007). According to the Associated Press, “Western forces have been killing civilians at a faster rate than the insurgents.” During the same broadcast, Hannity further mischaracterizes Obama’s statements on foreign policy, falsely claiming that Obama “says he takes nukes off the table,” and that Obama has said he “is going to bomb an ally in the war on terror, [Pakistan President] General [Pervez] Musharraf, and possibly invade them.” Hannity concludes that by these statements, Obama is “finished” as a presidential contender. In reality, Obama has never said he would bomb or invade Pakistan. Instead, he has repeatedly said statements such as those he made in an August 1 speech: “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets [in Pakistan] and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.” Nor has Obama ever said he would not “take nukes off the table,” but instead said he would not use nuclear weapons “in any circumstance” to fight terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. (Media Matters 8/23/2007)
During a concert, rock musician Ted Nugent brandishes what appears to be an assault rifle on stage and makes crude and profane comments about Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY), the two leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Invitations to 'Suck on My Machine Gun' - In a video clip of the incident, Nugent waves the rifle around and shouts: “I was in Chicago. I said, ‘Hey, Obama, you might want to suck on one of these, you punk!’ Obama, he’s a piece of sh_t. I told him to suck on my machine gun. Let’s hear it for it. And I was in New York. I said, ‘Hey, Hillary, you might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless b_tch!” He also invites Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to “suck on my machine gun” and calls Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) a “worthless wh_re.” Nugent, an enthusiastic Republican, has been a member of the National Rifle Association’s board of directors since 1995, and has frequently issued crude and profane criticisms of Democratic candidates and policies.
Fox Host Refuses to Criticize Nugent, Instead Attacks Obama - Three days later, Fox News host Sean Hannity airs a clip of the incident on his show, and, calling Nugent a “friend and frequent guest on the program,” refuses to criticize his statements. Hannity shows the clip, then says: “That was friend and frequent guest on the program Ted Nugent expressing his feelings towards Democratic presidential contenders Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Joining us now, Democratic strategist Bob Beckel and Republican strategist Karen Hanretty.” Hannity asks Beckel why liberals might be upset at Nugent’s rhetoric but, he says, “I don’t hear anybody criticizing Barack Obama for accusing our troops of killing civilians, air-raiding villages, et cetera, et cetera. What’s more shocking to you? What’s more offensive to you? Is it Barack Obama’s statement about our troops or Ted Nugent?” (Hannity is referring to a recent allegation he made that Obama was lying about US troops killing Afghan civilians; Hannity’s allegation was itself false—see August 21, 2007). Beckel responds: “You know, only you could figure out a way to ask a question like that. First of all, Nugent, this is a boy who’s missing a couple dogs from under his front porch. This guy has been pimping for Republicans for years now. They want him to run for Senate against Obama. I can’t believe—when the Dixie Chicks said something about George Bush, which was mild compared to this jerk, and the religious right, the Dobsons and the Robertsons, rose up in fury. You rose up in fury.” (Beckel is referring to complaints from Hannity and other conservatives that followed comments by the lead singer of the country group the Dixie Chicks that criticized President Bush—see March 10, 2003 and After.) Hannity says: “You know, typical Bob Beckel. But you can’t answer the question. I didn’t ask you that.” After a brief period of crosstalk, Beckel asks, “Are you prepared now, Sean—are you prepared to disavow this lowlife or not?” Hannity refuses, saying: “No, I like Ted Nugent. He’s a friend of mine.… [H]e’s a rock star. Yes, here’s my point. If you don’t like it, don’t go to the concert, don’t buy his new albums.” Instead, Hannity asks if Beckel’s “liberal brain can absorb” his question about Obama’s supposed lies regarding Afghanistan, and Beckel responds: “The question is not even a close call. I think Nugent was far over the line and Obama was not.… This Nugent is more offensive. This guy ought to be knocked off the air. He ought to never come on your show again, and if you have him on, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. He’s a bum!”
Hannity Has Criticized 'Hate Speech' Directed at Conservatives - Hannity apparently has different standards for different people. He has accused Clinton of indulging in “hate speech” when she talked about the existence of what she called a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” In March, he devoted an entire segment to a “list of the worst examples of liberal hate speech.” (Roberts 8/24/2007; Media Matters 8/27/2007)
Fox News pundit Sean Hannity derides the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that concluded Iran stopped work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007). Hannity goes further than many of his fellow conservatives (see December 3-6, 2007), and claims that the NIE is not only wrong, but is the same as the erroneous 2005 NIE on Iran which claimed that Iran was mere months away from producing a nuclear weapon. “The headlines that we’re reading about the NIE are misleading,” Hannity declares. Discussing the NIE with his guest, former UN ambassador and leading neoconservative John Bolton, Hannity says, “[S]ubstantively you’re pointing out that the NIE report in 2005 and the one in 2007 are basically the same. And you say, moreover, the distinction between military and civilian programs is highly artificial.” Bolton says in reply, “They’re still doing it, building up an inventory.” (Fox News 12/7/2007) Hannity and Bolton misconstrue the two NIEs. Some of the differences:
The 2005 NIE assessed “with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons,” while the 2007 NIE assessed “high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”
According to the 2005 NIE, “Iran could produce enough fissile material for a weapon by the end of this decade.” The 2007 NIE concludes, “[T]his is very unlikely.” (Willing 12/4/2007)
Hannity’s co-host, moderate Alan Colmes, says of the NIE’s findings, “They’re very clear. They [Iran] halted their covert weapons program in 2003. It’s very clear.” Hannity dismisses Colmes’s assertion by retorting, “He doesn’t get it.” (Fox News 12/7/2007)
PolitiFact, the nonpartisan, political fact-checking organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, investigates claims that Democratic senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a presidential candidate, belongs to “a racist, anti-American church.” The investigation concludes that Obama’s church, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, “teaches black empowerment, not racism, and that it claims Africa as its ethnic heritage.” Anonymous emails “ricocheting around the Internet” claim that Obama should not be president because his church is “anti-American” and “scary,” and, somewhat contradictorily, that Obama is not a Christian, but a “covert Muslim” (see December 19, 2007 and January 11, 2008). The emails began within hours of Obama’s Democratic primary win in the Iowa caucuses. One email declares: “If you look at the first page of their Web site, you will learn that this congregation has a nonnegotiable commitment to Africa. No where [sic] is AMERICA even mention [sic]. Notice too, what color you need to be if you should want to join Obama’s church… B-L-A-C-K!!!” PolitiFact writes: “It’s the latest salvo in the email wars—anonymous missives launched into cyberspace seeking to frighten voters away from presidential candidates in the guise of friendly warnings. Typically they use kernels of truth, then launch into falsehood.” Chicago historian Martin Marty, a white religious expert who has attended Trinity United services in the past, says: “There’s no question this is a distortion.… Whites are highly accepted. They don’t make a fuss over you, but you’re very much welcomed.” PolitiFact finds that Trinity United is one of the larger black “megachurches” in the US, preaches a message of black self-reliance, and has as its motto, “Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian.” The church does have a “nonnegotiable commitment to Africa.” However, it has no racial standards for its members, and does have white and other non-black members. Obama is a member who has attended regularly for years, though with the travails of recent presidential campaigning, his attendance has fallen off in recent weeks. The main focus of the email vitriol, aside from Obama, is Trinity’s senior pastor Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., who preaches passionately and focuses on what he calls “black liberation theology.” Obama has written in his memoir, The Audacity of Hope, that it was Wright’s preaching that inspired him to convert from a secular agnosticism to Christianity during the 1980s. He titled his memoir after one of Wright’s sermons. PolitiFact finds, “Trinity’s commitment to Africa appears to be more a statement of philosophical orientation than of political support for any particular African country,” and notes that the church’s Web site states, “Just as those of Jewish heritage advocate on behalf of the state of Israel, and those of Irish heritage advocate on behalf of Ireland, and those of Polish descent for Poland, so must we of African descent care about the land of our heritage—the continent of Africa.” Divinity professor Dwight Hopkins, an African-American member of Trinity, describes the church as “highly evangelical and Bible-based.” The preaching, he says, tends to be “common-sense folk wisdom laced with theological sophistication.… There’s singing and shouting and people get happy. It’s an old-fashioned, mainstream down-home church that somehow is captured in this 8,000-person congregation.” John C. Green, a political science professor, says scholars do not view black liberation theology as racist, but some outsiders may hold that opinion. “A black empowerment theology could be seen as having a racist element because it isn’t neutral in regards to race,” he says. “The person who wrote this email obviously has very strong feelings about this.” In February 2007, Obama said of his church and his faith: “Commitment to God, black community, commitment to the black family, the black work ethic, self-discipline, and self-respect. Those are values that the conservative movement in particular has suggested are necessary for black advancement. So I would be puzzled that they would object or quibble with the bulk of a document that basically espouses profoundly conservative values of self-reliance and self-help.” In recent weeks, Obama has distanced himself somewhat from Wright and Trinity, because, his campaign says, he wishes to avoid bringing an overwhelming influx of media attention onto the church. The campaign said in a statement, “[B]ecause of the type of attention it was receiving on blogs and conservative talk shows, he decided to avoid having statements and beliefs being used out of context and forcing the entire church to defend itself.” Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity has called Trinity’s teachings “divisive,” and engaged in what PolitiFact calls “a spirited debate” with Wright on one of his broadcasts. Conservative ethicist Michael Cromartie agrees with Hannity, saying: “It’s too strong to call it racist but at the same time, it is a form of identity politics or identity theology, which insists you white people can come to this church, but you won’t get it.” Trinity has stated: “There is no anti-American sentiment in the theology or the practice of Trinity United Church of Christ. To be sure, there is prophetic preaching against oppression, racism, and other evils that would deny the American ideal.” Green is reminded of the 1960 presidential election, when many opponents of candidate John F. Kennedy attacked Kennedy for being Catholic. “But we didn’t have the Internet back then,” he says. “This kind of communication has always gone on, but it moves much faster now.” (St. Petersburg Times 1/6/2008; St. Petersburg Times 1/6/2008; St. Petersburg Times 1/11/2008)
Fox News contributor John Kasich (R-OH), a former US representative and a current managing partner of the financial firm Lehman Brothers, announces that he intends to challenge Governor Ted Strickland (D-OH) in the 2010 midterm elections. Basic journalist ethics require Fox News to terminate its contract with Kasich and treat him as a candidate for office in future broadcasts. Instead, Kasich remains a Fox News employee until June 1, 2009, when he formally launches his bid for governor of Ohio. He regularly promotes his candidacy on Fox broadcasts, most often on the highly rated O’Reilly Factor, where he is a frequent guest and sometime guest host. Fox News commentators frequently laud Kasich; on June 17, 2008, Republican political analyst and paid Fox contributor Frank Luntz says he is “hoping that Kasich runs for governor of Ohio. I think John would be an outstanding candidate.” On July 15, 2008, talk show host Sean Hannity tells Kasich: “I’m advocating that you run for governor one day. And you’re not.… You’re not going along at all.” Kasich will continue to appear as a regular guest on Fox News programming after he formally launches his bid and Fox terminates its contract with him. He will make frequent appearances on Hannity’s show, where Hannity calls him “governor” and “soon-to-be governor,” and holds a fundraiser for Kasich in October 2009. On The O’Reilly Factor, Fox will show the URL for Kasich’s campaign Web site. On July 8, 2009, Hannity will tell Kasich on air: “You do me a favor. Go get elected governor, although why you would ever want that job, you’re out of your mind, but good luck. And I’m supporting you in the effort.” Kasich will also receive two $10,000 contributions from News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News. (Columbus Dispatch 3/27/2008; Hananoki 9/24/2010) Kasich will narrowly defeat Strickland in the 2010 gubernatorial elections. (Associated Press 11/3/2010) After two months in office, his draconian budget cuts, insults to law enforcement officials and minorities, and heavy-handed attacks on unions will send his popularity plummeting and in April 2011 will spark a recall effort. (Somander 4/11/2011)
Conservative radio show host Sean Hannity tells his listeners that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama “can’t point to a single instance in which President Bush or [Republican candidate John] McCain or [Bush political adviser] Karl Rove or Sean Hannity or talk radio or any other major Republican has made an issue of Obama’s race.” Hannity’s claim is proven false by data collected by progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters. Hannity himself asked his audience on March 2, 2008, “Do the Obamas have a race problem of their own?” He has also repeatedly distorted the content of Michelle Obama’s 1985 Princeton University senior thesis to suggest that Mrs. Obama believes, in Hannity’s words, “blacks must join in solidarity to combat a white oppressor.” (Mrs. Obama was documenting the attitudes of some black Princeton alumni from the 1970s and not expressing her own views.) (Media Matters 8/7/2008) Media Matters has also documented numerous examples of other radio and TV personalities making “an issue of Obama’s race” (see January 24, 2007, February 1, 2008, May 19, 2008, June 2, 2008, June 26, 2008, and August 1, 2008 and After). The issue of race will continue with conservative pundits and radio hosts (see August 25, 2008, September 22, 2008, October 7, 2008, October 20, 2008, October 22, 2008, October 28, 2008, and November 18, 2008).
Hawaiian resident Andy Martin files a writ of mandamus in Hawaii’s Supreme Court to compel Governor Linda Lingle (R-HI) to release a certified copy of presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)‘s “vital statistics record,” apparently asking that Hawaii ignore federal privacy laws and release the “long form” birth certificate on file for Obama (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, and August 21, 2008). His request is denied. (Schilling 11/13/2008) When his lawsuit is dismissed, Martin responds on a blog for defeated Democratic primary opponent Hillary Clinton (D-NY), in a posting reprinted on the Free Republic and a number of other conservative blogs. Martin expresses his doubt that Obama has just flown to Hawaii to visit his dying grandmother, apparently referencing conspiracy theories on right-wing radio that Obama went to Hawaii to “scrub” his birth records (see November 10, 2008). He suggests that it is his lawsuit that caused the Obama campaign “to panic and suspend his presidential campaign to head off Andy’s stories.” (Martin has been posting a number of blog entries about Obama being a “covert Islamist”—see October 1, 2007 and April 18, 2008). He is, he boasts, “on the verge of taking down the Obama campaign,” calling himself “the good sheriff stand[ing] alone against the Obama Gang. Eliot Ness and the Untouchables? The Long Ranger? Pick your own hero. Martin vs. Obama explodes into a Hollywood classic.” Martin writes: “I will do my best to defeat Obama even though I essentially stand alone. I stand tall. All of the protagonists are from Chicago. Despite ridicule and envy from Chicago’s corrupt mainstream media, I have spent over forty years successfully fighting crooked politicians like Barack Obama and his Daley Machine cronies.” He cites “support” from Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity, and his own participation as a blog commenter on FoxNews.com and YouTube. He says he “became the target of a massive liberal assault at the [New York] Times” after one Hannity broadcast: “On direct orders from the Emperor Obama, the New York Times then unleashed its smear machine on me.” He says his “investigative team” defeated the Times’s attempt to “destroy me,” writing: “I am still standing and the Times’ credibility is going into the toilet.… High Noon.… Barack Obama vs. Andy Martin. The drama builds as we move closer and closer to disclosing the dramatic truth about Barack Obama.… Barack Obama is an enemy of the Constitution. He is using tens of millions of dollars in clandestine campaign cash from unknown sources to stage an electoral coup d’etat in our nation. That is why I keep fighting for the truth. Barack Obama has been lying to the American people. And his Big Lie is about to be exposed.” (Andy Martin 10/21/2008) Shortly after the lawsuit’s dismissal, Martin will abruptly abandon his accusations that Obama is a Muslim, and will begin asserting that Obama is a secret Communist taught by his “father,” a black activist named Frank Marshall Davis (see Before October 27, 2008). In a wide-ranging article about the “birther” controversy, Salon columnist Alex Koppelman will later note that Martin was denied an Illinois law license on the grounds that he was mentally unfit to practice law. (Koppelman 12/5/2008)
Chicago resident Andy Martin, who has been accusing Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) of being a secret Muslim since 2004, abruptly shifts his story. Now, Martin claims, Obama is not the child of a Muslim father, Barack Obama Sr., as documents have clearly and repeatedly shown (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, July 2008, and August 21, 2008), but the child of Frank Marshall Davis, an African-American activist who was suspected in the 1950s of having ties to Communist organizations. Martin’s accusations, though never supported by fact, have garnered a great deal of coverage in some corners of the Internet. Martin now tells a CNN reporter that Obama’s “father was Frank Marshall Davis.” He gives no proof, and implies he has nothing more than a gut feeling. Davis was a black poet and political activist who moved to Hawaii in 1948. He wrote for a newspaper which the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) accused of being a Communist front. Right-wing Web sites have been claiming since 2007 that Davis was not only a Communist Party member but also the mentor to Obama in his teen years who he refers to in his autobiography as “Frank.” Martin’s most recent burst of prominence was an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News broadcast, where he said that “Obama’s role as a community organizer [in Chicago] was a political staging ground perpetuated by the unrepentant terrorist William Ayers.” Martin also told Hannity that Obama “probably had met William Ayers in New York, and was coming here to lay the foundations for what he thought would be some sort of political movement.” An Obama presidency, Martin predicted, would lead to “a socialist revolution, which attempts to essentially freeze out anybody who’s not part of this radical ideology.” Martin readily admits that his current assertion about Obama’s parentage refutes his four-year-old claims that Obama is a Muslim. He calls himself “an honest writer and an honest researcher.… I’m known as a person who strives for the truth.” The fault is Obama’s, he says, because he “hasn’t told the truth to the American people.” (Edwards and Kane 10/27/2008) In a wide-ranging article about the “birther” controversy, Salon columnist Alex Koppelman will later note that Martin was denied an Illinois law license on the grounds that he was mentally unfit to practice law. (Koppelman 12/5/2008)
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, many different conservative radio hosts repeat a falsehood about presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL) that originates on the Drudge Report. According to the original report, Obama told a radio audience in 2001 that he regretted the US Supreme Court did not pursue “wealth redistribution,” a concept some associate with socialism. Obama did not make such a statement; instead he said during that interview that it was a tragedy the civil rights movement “became so court-focused” in trying to bring about political and social equality. Minneapolis radio host Chris Baker misquotes Obama by claiming that he said “we gotta have economic justice and the Supreme Court ought to weigh in on redistributing wealth.” Baker adds: “Yeah, it’s too bad you kind of stuck with the Constitution as it was. It’s a tragedy that redistribution of wealth was not pursued by the Supreme Court. Can you believe that?” Baker also claims that Obama “wants to use the Supreme Court to reinterpret the Constitution in order to force the redistribution of wealth.” Baker is not the only radio host to repeat the falsehood. Sean Hannity tells his radio audience, referring to the 2001 interview, “Obama actually believes the Constitution is defective because it doesn’t allow judges to redistribute wealth.” He adds: “if he becomes president, [Obama] wants the Supreme Court and other federal courts to literally have the power to spread the wealth around and redistribute the wealth. Those are his words, his voice.” He goes on to say flatly, “Obama is a socialist.” Mark Levin tells his listeners, “what the [Supreme] Court should have done from Obama’s point of view was impose socialism from the bench.” Levin levels another false accusation against Obama: that he wants to reinterpret the 14th Amendment “to compel as a matter of constitutional law, the socialist agenda. In other words, constitutionalize redistribution of wealth.” Radio hosts Michael Savage, Jim Quinn, Brian Sussman, and others reiterate the claims, with Quinn telling listeners: “He just got done telling you that the Constitution’s only half-done. He needs to write the other half—you know, the other half where we decide how much we take from you and give to that guy down the street.” Like many of his colleagues, Sussman plays an edited clip of Obama’s 2001 statement to bolster his claims. (Media Matters 10/28/2008; Media Matters 11/6/2008)
The US’s two most popular conservative radio hosts, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, are repeatedly labeling the current economic collapse the “Obama recession,” even though the recession has started already, and President-elect Barack Obama was only elected on November 4 and will not assume the presidency until January 20, 2009.
Blaming Obama for Wall Street Plunge - According to reports by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, Hannity’s guest Dick Morris, a conservative political operative, tells a Fox News audience on November 6 that the stock market plunge is directly attributable to Obama’s election and his intention to “raise the capital gains tax.” Hannity calls the stock market plunge “the Obama tanking.” On the same day, Limbaugh says on his show: “We have the largest market plunge after an election in history. Thank you, man-child Barack Obama.” (Media Matters 11/7/2008) Hannity says on November 11 that Obama’s election is directly responsible for plunging stock market performances, telling his listeners: “Wall Street keeps sinking. Could it be the Obama recession: The fear that taxes are gonna go up, forcing people to pull out of the market?” On November 12, Limbaugh echoes Hannity’s characterization, telling his listeners that, as reported by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, “the recession isn’t President Bush’s fault. It’s the fault, catch this, of the president who hasn’t yet taken office. It’s an ‘Obama recession’; that’s what he’s calling it.” Matthews, clearly impatient with Limbaugh’s characterization, calls the host’s statement an example of “the bitter sore loser’s rhetoric we are hearing from the right these days.” (Media Matters 11/12/2008)
Experts Credit Obama with Wall Street Stabilization - Experts refute Limbaugh’s and Hannity’s attribution of the nation’s economic calamity to Obama, with the Wall Street Journal giving Obama credit for a post-election upturn in the stock market and blaming “lame economic data” and the continuing “drumbeat of bailouts, potential bailouts, and worries about other bailouts” for the stock market’s poor performance. (Gaffen 11/12/2008) Fox News business commentator Eric Bolling credits Obama’s election with stabilizing the stock market until a dismal national employment report caused the market to drop again. And Fox Business Channel’s vice president, Alexis Glick, tells her audience on November 7: “I so did not believe that the market reaction over the past two days was about Obama. Wednesday morning we walked in, we saw the Challenger and Gray [planned layoff] numbers, we saw the ADP numbers, the weekly jobless claim numbers—yeah, well, they were basically in line, but we knew two days ago that this was going to be a bloody number. Frankly, we probably knew several months ago that it was going to be a bloody number.” The Wall Street Journal and New York Times both agree with Glick’s assessment. (Media Matters 11/7/2008; Grynbaum 11/7/2008)
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Michael Savage tells his audience that President-elect Barack Obama’s grandmother “suspiciously died virtually the night before the election,” in an apparent attempt to question Obama’s pre-election trip to Hawaii. Obama visited his grandmother in late October, shortly before her death on November 3. Savage ties in his questions about Obama’s grandmother and her “suspicious death” to discredited claims that Obama has been unable to verify his US citizenship. Savage tells his listeners: “Well, we don’t even know where Obama was born. His grandmother died the night before the election. There’s a lot of questions around this character that the media won’t answer. Let’s start with what country he’s from. Why was the birth certificate never produced? Why in the world did he take time off from the campaign to visit the grandmother who then suddenly and suspiciously died virtually the night before the election? Tell me about that.” Savage and other conservative commentators have suggested that Obama went to Hawaii, not to visit his gravely ill grandmother, but to address charges that his birth certificate is not valid. (Media Matters 11/14/2008) Savage is one of a number of conservative radio hosts to spread false rumors about Obama’s birth certificate (see October 8-10, 2008). Obama produced a copy of his birth certificate months before (see June 13, 2008). A number of organizations have verified that Obama’s birth certificate is valid and authentic (see June 27, 2008 and August 21, 2008), as have Hawaii Health Department officials (see October 30, 2008). (Hollyfield 6/27/2008; Zahn 8/23/2008; FactCheck (.org) 11/1/2008) According to Talkers Magazine, Savage is third in talk-radio listenership across the US, behind fellow conservatives Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. (Media Matters 11/14/2008)
Former Iraq interrogator “Matthew Alexander” (a pseudonym) publishes his book How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq. Alexander has just published an editorial in the Washington Post detailing his success in using non-coercive interrogation techniques to locate terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and denouncing the use of torture by US interrogators in Iraq and Guantanamo (see November 30, 2008). Time’s Gilbert Cruz writes, “Structured around a series of interrogations, [Alexander’s book] details the battle of wills between ‘gators [Alexander’s term for interrogators] and suspects as well as the internal fight between Alexander’s team and the old-school military inquisitors used to more brutal methods of questioning.” In his book, Alexander writes that these “old-school” interrogation tactics not only failed to elicit useful information, they “led down the disastrous path to the Abu Ghraib scandal.” Cruz calls the book “a claustrophobic read,” bringing the reader into the interrogation rooms with him, his partner, and the detainee during marathon questioning sessions. However, “Alexander scarcely discusses the theories behind his interrogation strategy, its derivation, or whether the US military continues to use it.” He concludes, “[A] fuller epilogue could have broadened the story beyond this single set of circumstances.” (Cruz 12/2/2008)
'Times Where You Have to be Harsher' - In an interview about the book, Fox News host Sean Hannity attempts to assert that there will be times when torture is necessary to gain critical information. Alexander refuses to agree. Hannity says: “But I do think there’s going to be times where you have to be harsher. That’s an outsider’s view. Never? It never will work?” Alexander replies: “No.… I don’t say that torture doesn’t work; it does work on occasion. But what I say is that there’s better ways to do it.” (Fox News 12/3/2008)
'Extremely Ineffective and Counter-Productive' - In another interview the same evening, Alexander tells MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann that torture is “extremely ineffective and counter-productive to what we are trying to accomplish in both the short-term and the long-term.” He explains: “In the short-term, when you torture somebody, it hardens their resolve, the information that you get is unreliable. And if you do get reliable information, you’re able to stop a terrorist attack, al-Qaeda is then going to use the fact that we torture people to recruit new members, and then we’re going to have to deal with a whole new wave of terrorists.” In the MSNBC interview, Alexander calls for an outright ban on torture and the retraining of US interrogators in non-coercive methods of questioning. (MSNBC 12/4/2008)
Many media figures repeat a disputed claim by the Pentagon that 61 former Guantanamo detainees are again engaged in terrorist activities (see January 13-14, 2009), without noting that the figure is being challenged. The argument is being used to criticize President Obama’s announced plans to close the Guantanamo detention facility within a year (see January 22, 2009). Liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters documents a number of media outlets promulgating the claim. On Fox News, host Sean Hannity tells a guest, “But we know… 61 Gitmo detainees that have already been released, according to the Pentagon, went right back to the battlefield with their fanaticism.” On CNN, neoconservative guest Clifford May tells host Campbell Brown: “Many hundreds have been released. About 60 of them—a little more than that—have returned to the battlefield.” Brown fails to challenge the claim. Nor does MSNBC’s Chris Matthews challenge a similar assertion from Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO), who says, “we know already that more than 60 of the people who have been released have been killing our troops, our Americans and civilians on the battlefield.” (Media Matters 1/23/2009) The Boston Globe reports, “Pentagon statistics show that of the hundreds of detainees that have been released from Guantanamo since it opened in early 2002, at least 61 have returned to terrorist activities.” (Williams and Bender 1/22/2009) The Los Angeles Times reports, “The Pentagon has said that 61 former detainees have taken up arms against the US or its allies after being released from the military prison in Cuba.” (Los Angeles Times 1/23/2009) The San Francisco Chronicle reports, “Republicans also claimed that 61 detainees already released have been ‘found back on the battlefield.’” (Lochhead 1/23/2009) And an ABC News article repeats House Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R-OH) statement, “Do we release them back into the battlefield, like some 61 detainees that have been released we know are back on the battlefield?” ABC does not report that the claim is disputed. (Tapper, Crawford-Greenburg, and Khan 1/22/2009)
Representative Phil Gingrey (R-GA) apologizes for criticizing conservative talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Gingrey was initially critical of Limbaugh and Hannity for not challenging President Obama on his proposed economic stimulus package strongly enough. “I mean, it’s easy if you’re Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or even sometimes [former House Speaker] Newt Gingrich [R-GA] to stand back and throw bricks,” Gingrey said. “You don’t have to try to do what’s best for your people and your party.” Today Gingrey issues a lengthy apology for his words after receiving complaints from conservatives in his district and elsewhere. “I am one of you,” he tells supporters. “I regret and apologize for the fact that my comments have offended and upset my fellow conservatives—that was not my intent. I am also sorry to see that my comments in defense of our Republican leadership read much harsher than they actually were intended, but I recognize it is my responsibility to clarify my own comments.… As long as I am in the Congress, I will continue to fight for and defend our sacred values. I have actively opposed every bailout, every rebate check, every so called ‘stimulus.’ And on so many of these things, I see eye-to-eye with Rush Limbaugh.” Gingrey says that Limbaugh, Hannity, and Gingrich are “the voices of the conservative movement’s conscience.” Gingrey spokesman Chris Jackson says of the hosts, “Those guys are some our biggest supporters, and we need them.” Gingrey also makes a guest appearance on Limbaugh’s show where he berates himself for making his earlier criticisms, saying: “Rush, thank you so much. I thank you for the opportunity, of course this is not exactly the way to I wanted to come on.… Mainly, I want to express to you and all your listeners my very sincere regret for those comments I made yesterday to Politico.… I clearly ended up putting my foot in my mouth on some of those comments.… I regret those stupid comments.” (Powers 1/28/2009; Phil Gingrey 1/28/2009; Mooney 1/29/2009)
Sean Hannity, a Fox News host who also hosts a daily radio show, has conservative columnist Ann Coulter as a guest on his radio show. Coulter and Hannity warn listeners that President Obama wants to “tak[e] our guns and schools and doctors.” Coulter says: “[B]y the way, the NRA [National Rifle Association] also has information on how they [the Obama administration] are going to be expanding the concept of national parks to include, you know, highways running from Rhode Island to Virginia. National parks have gun bans imposed throughout.” Of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the enormous Obama-backed economic recovery plan that includes large government-financed bailouts of several large corporations, Coulter says: “This bill is so much worse than earmarks and pork. This is a total government takeover, and Big Brother coming in and taking our guns and schools and doctors.” Hannity agrees with Coulter’s claims. (Media Matters 4/9/2009)
The media responds strongly to CNBC commentator Rick Santelli’s call for a “tea party” to oppose the Obama economic stimulus. (CNBC 2/20/2009)
Santelli 'Equally Complicit' in Economic Crisis - Writing for College News, Jon Graef notes that Santelli has opposed virtually all of the Obama economic policies, including all the bailouts of the mortgage and automobile industries. He lauds Santelli for “embracing the democratic possibilities that the Internet allows,” but says that “Santelli and his ilk are equally complicit in the housing/finance crises as those who refused to live responsibly within their means. If Santelli doesn’t like the details of the mortgage bailout, then why is continuing to work in conjunction with an industry that received its own government bailout—and promptly spent it on press releases and product placement?” (Graef 2/20/2009)
'Mad as Hell' - Writer Jerome Corsi, who penned a lurid and highly inaccurate “biography” of President Obama before the 2008 election (see August 1, 2008 and After), notes that some are comparing Santelli’s rant to that of fictional news anchor Howard Beale in the movie Network, where Beale screams, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more!” (Corsi 2/19/2009)
'Investors Have It All Figured Out' - Market analyst Donald Luskin writes that Santelli “went a little bit berserk in his broadcast… warning that all the bailouts, programs, rescues, stabilizations, and stimuli are turning our capitalist nation into Cuba. He got the floor traders so stirred up it seemed for a minute there that an armed revolution was going to start at any moment.” Luskin continues, with at least some sarcasm: “Santelli is right. This country is being rescued to death. The voters may be fooled, for a while at least. But obviously investors have it all figured out.” (Luskin 2/20/2009)
'Santelli Hates Poor People' - The avant-garde Washington political gossip blog Wonkette calls Santelli “unlikable” for calling Americans forced to default on their mortgage “losers,” and calls his on-air rant “apesh_t.” Commentator Jim Newell continues, “Maybe Obama’s plan isn’t so great, who knows, but one thing is clear, and that’s that Rick Santelli hates poor people—and by poor people we mean the bottom 50-90 percent of per capita income earners.” (Jim Newell 2/20/2009)
'Speaking Truth to Ego and the Far Left' - Financial blogger Thomas Smicklas writes that Santelli “sp[oke] truth to ego and the far left.… It is becoming more apparent each day of the new administration those who work hard, save, and are responsible citizens are getting hosed by the practice of class warfare.… Ladies and gentlemen, the politics of vote buying, legal extortion, and the re-distribution of wealth to the lazy and ill-educated has begun in earnest. And we haven’t even touched upon a deteriorating foreign policy. Thanks to CNBC’s Rick Santelli and the workers in the pit that deal in commodities who finally expressed it. We can all be grateful for the lesson.” (Thomas Smicklas 2/20/2009)
Rewarding Those Who Caused the Bad Lending - The Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins writes that right-wing media figures such as Matt Drudge are “freaking out” over Santelli’s rant, “fomentin’ a revolution on the trading floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. He’s assembled a small army of half-hearted, floor-trading broheims to cheer and hoot as he rails against President Obama’s plan to not immediately foreclose on everybody and kick them out into the streets, because that rewards ‘bad behavior,’ and clearly what we should be doing is rewarding people who incentivized all the risky lending, because until the house of cards collapsed, things were looking pretty for everybody!” (Linkins 3/22/2009)
'Hysteria a la Fox News' - Columnist Mary McNamara calls Santelli’s rant “colorful,” but says Santelli’s “rhetoric/hysteria a la Fox News is damaging to national discourse.” The financial crisis has hit hardest, not in the businesses and mansions of the people Santelli works with, but in the working-poor and lower-middle class families. “They work hard,” she writes. “They weren’t buying luxury homes. Sure, there were a few speculators. But mostly, they just wanted a little piece of the American dream, especially good schools for their kids and closer proximity to their work.” (McNamara 2/19/2009)
'Money for Idiots' - Conservative columnist David Brooks refers to Santelli’s “lustily” delivered rant in defending the necessity for the government to stabilize an economy sliding into chaos. (Brooks 2/19/2009)
'Pretty Awesome' - New York Magazine’s Jessica Pressler writes that she finds Santelli’s “call for revolution… pretty awesome.” She writes, “Santelli is pissed off about the Obama administration’s bailout measures so far, in particular the housing plan the administration announced yesterday, and he wants America to stand up and revolt before we turn into some kind of not-even-tropical version of Cuba.” (Pressler 2/19/2009)
Favorable Coverage from Limbaugh, Hannity, Drudge - Associated Content’s Mark Whittington notes that Santelli’s rant is garnering tremendous coverage from conservative commentators Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Drudge. “More importantly,” he writes, “Santelli’s attack on the Obama mortgage bailout scheme seems to reflect a growing disquiet over President Obama’s spending schemes, which started with the stimulus package, and will now not only include a bailout for mortgages but also a new bailout for the car companies and perhaps even a second stimulus.” (Whittington 2/19/2009)
'Almost Inciting a Riot' - Business Insider’s Joe Weisenthal observes: “CNBC’s RIck Santelli is always pugnacious, but he outdid himself today, almost inciting a riot among the traders in Chicago when talking about Obama’s housing plan. Suffice to say, the capitalists on the floor do not want to pay for anyone else’s mortgage. Neither do we. That being said, his insistence that these guys represent the ‘real America’ won’t ultimately play that well among most people.” (Weisenthal 2/19/2009) Progressive columnist and blogger John Amato calls himself “disgusted” at Santelli’s “embarrassing diatribe at the expense of the American people,” and writes that watching Santelli “made me realize that these Wall Street frat boys still don’t get it. America is sick and tired of the riches they have manipulated out of the system and then be lectured by people who make more money than 100 middle class workers put together.” Referring to Santelli’s experience as a trader in the high-risk derivative market, an area that many have blamed for causing much of the economic downturn, Amato writes sarcastically, “The next time I want advice on how to live I’ll be sure to ask a man who was deeply involved in ‘derivatives.’” He concludes: “Don’t blame the crooked mortgage lenders who were having bidding wars to acquire their next mansion, but blame first time buyers or average Americans, the lifeblood of our society and call them ‘losers.’ Santelli needs to own that he is the loser and if it wasn’t for the gasbag insider crowd that gives his words a modicum of respect, crowds would gather outside his home with torches and pitchforks.” (John Amato 2/21/2009)
'Voice of the Silent Majority' - Progressive author and blogger Jane Hamsher writes: “Rick Santelli is just the explosive id of CNBC, saying what everyone else thinks. Somehow it’s not the pervasive institutional rot, the criminal malfeasance at the highest levels, or the chairman of the Federal Reserve telling Americans over and over again that housing prices would never go down. They have convinced themselves that the real problem is once again people at the absolute bottom of the economic scale. If they’d only used appropriate ‘judgment’ and lived within their means, we’d all be fine. Santelli is now being promoted by CNBC as a truth teller, a voice of the… ‘silent majority.’ ‘Would you join Santelli’s “Chicago Tea Party?”’ they want to know. With 170,000 respondents, 93 percent say yes! I guess it was only a matter of time before a hero emerged.” (Jane Hamsher 2/20/2009; CNBC 2/20/2009)
Fox News host Sean Hannity and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) join to accuse President Obama of attempting to impose a “dictatorship” in America. Discussing the Obama administration’s plans to implement new financial regulations and oversight, Hannity begins by accusing Obama of “mov[ing] America down the road to socialism.” He asks Gingrich to “explain” to the audience “how dangerous this power grab is.” Gingrich responds: “We are seeing the biggest power grab by politicians in American history. The idea that they would propose that the treasury could intervene and take over non-bank, non-financial system assets gives them the potential to basically create the equivalent of a dictatorship.… Look, it absolutely moves it towards a political dictatorship.” (Armbruster 3/26/2009)
Rick Santelli, the CNBC commentator whose on-air “rant” is credited for sparking the right-wing “tea party” movement (see February 19, 2009 and February 27, 2009), refuses to take part in the upcoming April 15 anti-tax rallies being put on across the country by various “tea party” organizations (see April 15, 2009). CNBC spokesman Brian Steel says Santelli is “not going and not in any way involved” in the protests. Fox News anchors Neil Cavuto and Sean Hannity are joining with protesters in Sacramento and Atlanta, respectively, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich plans to attend a rally in New York. Organizers say over 300 different protests will take place across the nation. Eric Odom, who owns a Chicago-based “tea party” Web site, says, “We have fully confirmed protests in 360 cities” and he is “very confident that all the protests will happen.” Odom predicts that the rallies featuring Cavuto and Hannity will bring at least 5,000 to 10,000 participants. He stresses that the protests will be made up of people from “all walks of life,” not just conservatives opposed to the Obama administration’s policies. Odom does not mention Santelli’s non-involvement. (Delaney 4/2/2009)
According to an analysis by progressive media watchdog Media Matters, Fox News airs at least 20 segments on the so-called “tea party” protests (see April 6-7, 2009, April 8, 2009, and April 13-15, 2009) scheduled for April 15 (see April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009 and April 15, 2009). The network also airs at least 73 in-show and commercial promotions for its April 15 coverage. Media Matters claims that Fox is “aggressively promot[ing] the events… encouraging viewers to get involved with tea party protests across the country.” Fox describes the events as “FNC [Fox News Channel] Tax Day Tea Parties.” The network has assigned four of its hosts, including Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Greta Van Susteren, and Neil Cavuto, to broadcast live from various “tea parties” around the nation. The analysis does not include a number of “teasers” that Fox shows air to preview upcoming segments on “tea parties.” (Media Matters 4/15/2009) On April 15, Fox will devote much of its day’s coverage to the tea parties. (Media Matters 9/11/2009)
Republican lawmakers announce their intention to join with right-wing protesters on April 15, 2009, in what is envisioned as a nationwide protest against the Obama administration’s tax policies. The primary organizers are the think tanks Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works, and right-wing bloggers such as Michelle Malkin. They say that under President Obama, taxes are “too high” and freedoms are being “eroded.” They have also called for Obama’s impeachment and refer to him as “Obama bin Lyin” and other derogatory nicknames.
Republicans, Neo-Nazis, Secessionists Joining in 'Tea Party Protests' - Malkin has called the movement the “Tea Party Protests,” in an attempt to connect the protests with the American Revolution’s Boston Tea Party. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) is sponsoring legislation to honor the protests. Representatives David Davis (R-TN), Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Rob Bishop (R-UT), Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), John Fleming (R-LA), Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), Bob Latta (R-OH), John Shadegg (R-AZ), Sue Myrick (R-NC), Bill Posey (R-FL), and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) will attend local protests, as will Governor Mark Sanford (R-SC) and former Representative J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ). Officials from Senator Bob Corker’s (R-TN) and Representative Sam Graves’s (R-MO) office will attend the rallies as well, and Representatives Denny Rehberg (R-MT), Jack Kingston (R-GA), and Tom Rooney (R-FL) are urging their constituents to attend tea party protests. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), who heads American Solutions for Winning the Futures (ASWF) and who will speak at the New York City rally, is encouraging his supporters to join the protests, and has provided them with what he calls a “toolkit” of talking points. ASWF is funded by oil and energy interests, and led the recent “Drill Here, Drill Now” campaign. ASWF has been an official “partner” in the Tea Party campaign since March. The Tea Party Protests are being joined by gun rights militias, secessionists, and neo-Nazi groups.
Protests Orchestrated by Lobbyist Organizations and Promoted by Fox News - The protests are being heavily promoted on Fox News, which intends to hold all-day “news reports” on April 15 featuring several of its commentators, including Glenn Beck (see March 3, 2009), Sean Hannity, Neil Cavuto, and Greta Van Susteren, live at different venues. Many of the protest organizers’ Web sites feature one or more of the Fox commentators as part of their promotion efforts (see October 13, 2009). Beck is one of several Fox commentators and hosts who claims that the protests are “grassroots” organizations “spontaneously” led by “ordinary people,” but in reality, the protests are being orchestrated by two lobbyist-run and lobbyist-organized organizations, Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works. According to progressive news site Think Progress, “[t]he two groups are heavily staffed and well funded, and are providing all the logistical and public relations work necessary for planning coast-to-coast protests.” Freedom Works staffers are coordinating conference calls among protesters and working with conservative organizers to give them what it calls “sign ideas, sample press releases, and a map of events around the country” as well as guides featuring talking points and instructions on delivering a “clear message” to the public and the media. Freedom Works has set up numerous Web sites, some of which Think Progress claims are deliberately constructed to appear as the work of amateurs, to promote the protests. In Florida, Freedom Works took over the planning of events. Americans for Progress is writing press releases and planning events in New Jersey, Arizona, New Hampshire, Missouri, Kansas, and several other states. Think Progress calls these activities “corporate ‘astroturfing,’” which it defines as corporations’ attempts to orchestrate events appearing to be grassroots, citizen-led actions. Freedom Works is headed by former Texas Republican Representative Dick Armey, who is a lobbyist for the firm DLA Piper; Americans for Prosperity is headed by Tim Phillips, who is a former partner of right-wing activist Ralph Reed in the lobbying firm Century Strategies. Americans for Prosperity has organized numerous pro-oil company “grassroots” events. (Fang 4/8/2009; Media Matters 4/8/2009; Fang 4/9/2009)
Fox News’s flagship morning news broadcast, America’s Newsroom, repeatedly airs video clips promoting the upcoming “tea party” protests for April 15 (see April 8, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009, and April 15, 2009). Host Bill Hemmer urges viewers to attend protests near them, and alerts them to “virtual tea parties” being hosted on Fox’s “non-partisan” Web site Fox Nation. One clip exhorts viewers to “say no to biased media and yes to fair play and free speech,” and then prompts them to “express your views, your values” at Fox Nation. Hemmer then tells viewers that commentators Glenn Beck (see April 15, 2009), Sean Hannity, Neil Cavuto, and Greta Van Susteren are reporting and helping host protests in four separate areas around the nation. “Can’t get to a tea party?” Hemmer asks. “Fox Nation hosts a ‘virtual tea party.’ You can check it out on the site.” During Hemmer’s pitch, Fox News airs a clip of a protest sign with “NO to socialism!” written across an American flag with a Soviet-style hammer and sickle in place of the 50 stars (see October 13, 2009). (Media Matters 4/13/2009)
The Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive think tank and lobbying organization, releases a report that says the “tea party” movement protesting the various policies of the Obama administration (see April 8, 2009) is not, as purported, entirely a grassroots movement of ordinary citizens, but an “astroturf” movement created, organized, and funded by powerful conservative and industry firms and organizations. (CAP notes that the anti-tax “tea parties,” with “tea” standing for “Taxed Enough Already,” fail to note that President Obama’s recent legislation actually has cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans.) Two of the most prominent organizations behind the “tea parties” are FreedomWorks and Americans for Progress (AFP). FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009) is a corporate lobbying firm run by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), and organized the first “tea party,” held in Tampa, Florida, on February 27. It then began planning and organizing “tea parties” on a national scale; officials coordinated logistics, called conservative activists, and provided activists with sign ideas and slogans and talking points to use during protests. AFP has coordinated with FreedomWorks. AFP is a corporate lobbying firm run by Tim Phillips, a former lobbying partner of conservative activist Ralph Reed, and funded in part by Koch Industries, the largest private oil corporation in America (see May 29, 2009). Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) is also involved, through his lobbying form American Solutions for Winning the Future, which is supported by oil companies.
Support, Promotion from Fox News - On cable news channels, Fox News and Fox Business have run promotions for the “tea parties” in conjunction with enthusiastic reports promoting the affairs (see April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009, and April 6-13, 2009); in return, the organizers use the Fox broadcasts to promote the events. Fox hosts Glenn Beck, Neil Cavuto, and Sean Hannity all plan to broadcast live reports from the events. Fox also warns its viewers that the Obama administration may send “spies” to the events. (Fox justifies its depth of coverage by saying that it provided similar coverage for the 1995 Million Man March. However, Fox did not begin broadcasting until 1996—see October 7, 1996.)
Republican Support - Congressional Republicans have embraced the “tea parties” as ways to oppose the Obama administration. Many leading Republicans, such as Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), Paul Ryan (R-WI), and some 35 others, will speak at AFP-funded “tea parties.” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has moved the RNC to officially support the protests. And Senator David Vitter (R-LA) has introduced legislation formally honoring April 15 as “National Tea Party Day.” “It’s going to be more directed at Obama,” says reporter and commentator Ana Marie Cox. “This is very much, I think, part of the midterm strategy” to win elections in 2010.
Fringe Elements - According to CAP, many “fringe” elements of the conservative movement—including “gun rights militias, secessionists, radical anti-immigrant organizations, and neo-Nazi groups”—are involved in the “tea parties.” (Shakir et al. 4/15/2009; Fang 5/29/2009)
Fox News devotes much of its day’s coverage to the conservative, anti-tax “tea parties” taking place around the nation. The network has promoted the tea parties in the previous weeks (see April 6-13, 2009, April 15, 2009, and April 15, 2009). Fox hosts Glenn Beck, Neil Cavuto, Sean Hannity, and Greta Van Susteren all provide extensive live coverage from the sites of separate events, which the network promotes as “FNC [Fox News Channel] Tax Day Tea Parties” (see October 13, 2009). Many of the network’s shows, such as America’s Newsroom, Beck’s show, and others provide on-air and online information about the times and locations of events, and broadcast interviews with event organizers. Beck tells his viewers they can “[c]elebrate with Fox News” at any of four “FNC Tax Day Tea Parties.” Beck, who is at San Antonio’s Alamo for an event (see April 15, 2009) tells his audience: “If you can’t make the one in San Antonio, please go to the one with Neil or with Sean in Atlanta, that’s supposed to be great, Greta is in Washington, DC. Just get out and let your face be seen.” Hannity encourages viewers to send in their “Tax Day Tea Party” videos for on-air broadcast. Cavuto’s guest host in the studio, Stuart Varney, says plainly, “It’s now my great duty to promote the tea parties.” Fox News’s Web site, “Fox Nation,” actively promotes the events, with links to blogs, maps, videos, and event calendars. The network even hosts its own “virtual tea party” on its Web site. Fox host Gretchen Carlson suggests that viewers hang teabags from their cars’ rearview mirrors, “like fuzzy dice.” Fox Business anchor Cody Willard tells viewers to “figh[t] the fascism” of the current administration by attending a “tea party.” He asks his viewers, “Guys, when are we going to wake up and start fighting the fascism that seems to be permeating this country?” He adds that in his opinion, conservatives and liberals are “both fascists who are taking my money and building up corporate America with my welfare.” And Fox Business anchor David Asman advises his viewers to buy “tea party” merchandise. The push is successful: after the April 15 protests, many mainstream news outlets report that Fox News reports helped drive crowds to protests. CNN and Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz will say, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a news network throw its weight behind a protest like we are seeing in the past few weeks with Fox and these tea parties.” (Media Matters 9/11/2009)
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that since memos disclosing the opinions surrounding the Bush administration’s torture policies have been released (see April 16, 2009), he wants the Obama administration to release documents that he says show the critical information garnered through the use of torture—though he does not consider the methods used to be torture (see December 15, 2008). To release the documents would make for an “honest debate.” Cheney, interviewed by conservative pundit Sean Hannity, asks why the memos were released but not documents proving the efficacy of torture. “One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is they put out the legal memos, the memos that the CIA got from the [Justice Department’s] Office of Legal Counsel, but they didn’t put out the memos that showed the success of the effort,” he says. Cheney says he has requested that those documents also be declassified. “I haven’t talked about it, but I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw, that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country,” he says. “I’ve now formally asked the CIA to take steps to declassify those memos so we can lay them out there and the American people have a chance to see what we obtained and what we learned and how good the intelligence was.” (Fox News 4/20/2009) The CIA memos Cheney is referring to are released several months later (see August 24, 2009). Though Cheney will insist that the memos prove his point (see August 24, 2009), many, including a former CIA case officer, will disagree (see August 25, 2009).
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that the Obama administration’s decision to release a spate of Justice Department torture memos (see April 16, 2009) was a mistake, but now that these have been released, he says the CIA should release memos which he says prove torture works. “[I]n the aftermath of 9/11 with 3,000 dead Americans, 16 acres of downtown New York devastated, a big hole in the Pentagon,” and anthrax attacks shortly thereafter, the US had to obtain “good first-rate intelligence” quickly to “prepare and defend against” future threats, Cheney tells Fox News host Sean Hannity. “That’s what we did. And with the intelligence programs, terror surveillance programs, as well as the interrogation program, we set out to collect that type of surveillance.” The upshot was, Cheney says, “It worked.” Cheney objects to what he characterizes as selective declassification on the part of the Obama White House, saying: “One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is that they put out the legal memos… but they didn’t put out the memos that show the success of the effort.… There are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity. They have not been declassified. I formally ask that they be declassified now.” Cheney does not specify which, if any, unreleased memos might prove his contention that waterboarding and other torture methods produce accurate and reliable information. (BBC 4/21/2009; Orr 4/21/2009) Cheney is reiterating a call he made two days ago, again on Hannity’s show (see April 20, 2009).
Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity displays his angry support for torture and waterboarding on his show, in response to the controversy over the recently released Senate report on torture (see April 21, 2009). Hannity says: “Barack Obama is so weakening our defenses in every regard, sucking up to all the world’s dictators, that people are gonna die because of what Barack Obama is doing right now. People are going to die.” When a guest objects that Americans may die because of the Bush administration’s torture policies, and that American torture policies are “spawning terrorists,” Hannity accuses her of “blam[ing] America” for terrorism, and begins shouting: “They [terrorists] are not Americans! They are at war with us!” He then raises a football over his head and says, “Imagine this is [9/11 plotter] Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s head.” He slams it on the table and shouts: “Dunk it in water so we can save American lives! You bet!” (Media Matters 4/22/2009)
Several Fox News anchors and commentators, along with the Fox News Web site, falsely claim that House Democrats tried to “protect” or “defend” pedophiles by voting against an amendment to the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEHCPA). The legislation defines as a federal crime specific acts of violence or attempted violence “because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person.” The amendment, advanced by Representative Steve King (R-IA), stated that “the term ‘sexual orientation’ shall not include pedophilia.” Representative Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) noted that federal statutes already exclude pedophilia from the definition of “sexual orientation,” and called King’s amendment “unnecessary and… inflammatory in terms of insinuations.” Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer, commentator Sean Hannity, and Fox Nation now characterize the Democrats’ successful opposition to King’s amendment as an attempt to “protect” or “defend” pedophiles. All three claim that Democrats defended pedophiles while refusing to defend veterans.
Hannity: 'Special Category for Pedophiles' - Hannity tells his viewers, “Democrats just voted to extend special legal protections to pedophiles.” He also falsely claims that the Democrats inserted a “special category for pedophiles” in the legislation. Interviewing King, Hannity says: “I want to be perfectly clear. So hate—we have a hate crimes bill, and you’re saying, all right, we should exempt pedophiles. Every Democrat says no.” King calls Hannity’s characterization “absolutely right,” and says that “on the top of that, the amendment that I offered to exempt pedophiles from a special protected status was after Tammy Baldwin, one of the lead sponsors on the bill, had argued that the sexual orientation, special protective status in the bill, only covered heterosexuals and homosexuals, so that doesn’t include a pedophile. But she opposed the amendment anyway, as did all the Democrats, as you just showed tonight.” Later, Hannity asks King, “Is it safe to say that Democrats were willing to protect pedophiles?” and King replies: “Sean, it is a matter of Congressional record. Absolutely true—beyond any doubt whatsoever.” Hannity and King then claim that Democrats refused to support another section that would create “special protection” for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. King calls the Democrats’ actions furtherance of the “agenda… of the homosexual activists.”
Hemmer: Protecting Pedophiles, Not Veterans - Fox’s “non-partisan” newscast, America’s Newsroom, runs an on-screen “chyron” that claims, “House Dems vote to protect pedophiles, but not veterans.” Anchor Bill Hemmer tells viewers that Democrats “voted to give special protection to pedophiles” (see October 13, 2009).
Fox Nation: Defending Pedophiles over Veterans - Fox Nation, which claims to be free of bias, runs a headline saying, “House Democrats Defend Pedophiles Over Veterans.” (Media Matters 5/6/2009)
Fox News pundit Sean Hannity attacks the character of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009), using carefully selected quotes from former colleagues who remain anonymous. Hannity tells his listeners: “[W]hat do the lawyers who have appeared in her courtroom think of her judicial temperament? Well, not much. The Almanac of the Federal Judiciary solicits commentary from practicing attorneys about our federal judges. Now here’s what some lawyers who have argued before Judge Sotomayor had to say about her. Quote, ‘She is a terror on the bench. She is overly aggressive, not very judicial. She behaves in an out-of-control manner. She is nasty to lawyers.’” Hannity does not tell his listeners of some of the other comments about Sotomayor in the Almanac: “very smart,” “very intelligent,” “stern,” “an exceptional judge overall,” and “has a very good commonsense approach to the law.” One commentator wrote: “She can be tough as nails, but, in truth, I think some lawyers give her a hard time or are threatened by her. She’s very accomplished and clearly smart, and, in truth, I think they’re intimidated. She has always been decent enough to me.” Another wrote: “She’s very smart and well prepared, and she expects lawyers to rise to her level. She has very little tolerance for lawyers who can’t match her intellectually.” (Powers 5/28/2009)
Jon Scott and Jane Skinner, hosts of Fox News’s “straight news” program Happening Now (see October 13, 2009), air selectively edited clips of President Obama to give the false impression that he has singled out the US for criticism during a trip to France. The segment hinges on an upcoming trip by Obama to Europe and the Middle East. Scott asks if “the president’s upcoming trip [will] be what conservatives might call another apology tour”; in teasing Scott’s segment, Skinner raises the same point. Both Scott and Skinner then air cropped clips from Obama’s April 2009 visit to France. During his April speech, Obama both praised and criticized actions taken by the US, and criticized anti-American sentiment in Europe. However, Scott and Skinner air carefully selected portions of the speech to give impetus to their contention that Obama only criticized the US during his time in France. Fellow Fox News host Sean Hannity has suggested that Obama embarked on a “blame America first” visit and “apology tour.” On-air text and graphics illustrate the “apology tour” contention. Neither Scott nor Skinner inform their audience that in the same speech, Obama criticized Europe and praised the US. Guest Elliott Abrams, the convicted Iran-Contra conspirator (see October 7, 1991), advises Obama “to stop apologizing for our country,” and adds that Obama is making a mistake in spending time talking to Muslims during the trip. (Media Matters 6/2/2009)
Fox News and radio talk show host Sean Hannity tells his radio audience of the op-ed published in the morning’s New York Post by health industry lobbyist Betsy McCaughey, claiming that the Democrats’ health care reform proposal would result in senior citizens being advised to end their lives prematurely (see July 16, 2009). Hannity says: “[I]t sounds to me like they’re actually encouraging seniors in the end, ‘Well, you may just want to consider packing it all in here, this is—’ what other way is there to describe this?… So that they don’t become a financial burden on the Obamacare system? I mean that’s how they intend to cut cost, by cutting down on the health care we can give and get at the end of our lives and dramatically cutting it down for senior citizens? You know, welcome to the brave new world of Obamacare. We’re going to encourage, you know, inconvenient people to consider ‘alternatives to living.’” The same day, conservative radio host Laura Ingraham tells her listeners: “Can you imagine—if I were doing Saturday Night Live, like, if I were producing it this weekend, and I was going to be fair about political humor, I would have a hospice chute—like a door, a trap door that goes into a chute where the elderly would just walk up—‘Oh, my hip hurts.’ And all of a sudden you see this leg kicking granny down the chute, and that’s Obamacare.” She continues by making a veiled reference to Nazi concentration camps: “[S]ome will call them death camps, but this is the way Obamacare is gonna go for America.” And on the same day, conservative radio hosts Jim Quinn and Rose Tennent echo Hannity and Ingraham’s claims. Quinn says, “[T]here’s a drop dead date, you should pardon the expression but a lot of us are going to—” Tennent interjects, “Are going to drop dead, yeah.” Quinn then adds, “For heaven’s sakes, this is the death-to-old-people plan.” (Media Matters 7/17/2009)
Fox News host Sean Hannity tells the conservative protesters engaging in orchestrated protests of health care reform (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 4, 2009), “Now, so far at these town hall meetings, you’re doing terrific.” He adds: “This is what’s going to stop this. You are. You’re gonna make it happen.… You’re standing up to these bureaucrats. You’re standing up to their phony platitudes, talking points, and bumper stickers. The polls are now turning against [President] Obama, [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi, and [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid, so now they’re bringing out their own pollster to lie to you and find out a way how they can win the PR battle, and they’re telling them that they’ve got to attack the insurance companies.” (Media Matters 8/6/2009)
The raucous and near-riotous behavior of recent town hall and forum meetings about health care reform (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6, 2009) reaches new heights in Ybor City, Florida, just outside Tampa, as a large and disorderly group of anti-reform protesters disrupt a town hall meeting held by Betty Reed (D-FL) and featuring Kathy Castor (D-FL). (Terkel 8/6/2009; MyFoxTampaBay 8/6/2009) The forum, apparently intended to be something of a pep rally for the Obama administration’s health care proposals, was organized by Reed, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and a pro-reform group, Organizing for America. But hundreds of protesters also appear, many affirming that they came at the urging of the Tampa 9/12 conservative activist group, an organization promoted by Fox News host Glenn Beck. Others say they received e-mails from the Hillsborough County Republican Party urging them to speak out against the plan and offering talking points. (Smith 8/7/2009; March 8/7/2009)
Huge Turnout Exacerbates Tensions - Well over 1,000 people appear for the meeting, held at the Children’s Board, a venue that holds a maximum of 250. Local news reporters note that “[t]ensions were high among people who couldn’t get in.” Protesters accuse the forum organizers of barring people who oppose health care reform, but many of the people left outside are reform supporters. The meeting is marred by screams and shouts both outside the venue and in, as well as people banging on windows to be let in. (Terkel 8/6/2009; MyFoxTampaBay 8/6/2009; Fox News 8/7/2009) Both Reed and Castor are shouted down almost from the moment they begin speaking, and battle spates of shouting, chanting, and a variety of accusations throughout the evening. Castor leaves relatively early, apparently frustrated at being shouted down when she tries to speak; when Castor leaves, she requires an escort to avoid being accosted. (Zimmer 8/7/2009) One of the popular chants is an apparently orchestrated repetition of “Tyranny! Tyranny! Tyranny!” Other chants include: “Tell the truth! Tell the truth!” “Read the bill!” and “Forty million illegals! Forty million illegals!” One reporter will write, “The spectacle… sounded more like a wrestling cage match than a panel discussion on national policy.” (Smith 8/7/2009)
Verbal, Physical Violence - Outside the hall, a fistfight occurs, with Orlando cameraman Mark Bishop being roughed up. “That’s the most violent anyone has been towards me,” he says. A protester, Randy Arthur, attempts to force his way into the hall, and is instead slammed into a wall by, he claims, union members acting as door guards. (Susan Smith, a member of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party, later says that members of the Young Democrats, not union members, were on the doors.) A photo of him displaying his torn shirt and scratches later makes the rounds of anti-reform Web sites. Arthur says he intends to file charges, though the Tampa police have no such plans, and says he intends to become more involved in Republican and conservative politics as a result of the forum. Inside the hall, Kathy Miracle, who supports reform, is “inadvertently” spat upon by a shouting anti-reform protester, Barry Osteen, sitting beside her, she will later say. She shoves Osteen’s face away, and is photographed doing so, in what some people construe as a slap. Osteen will say: “She didn’t slap me. I almost didn’t even know she was there.” Miracle later says she doesn’t “appreciate being spread all over the Internet.” Supporters and opponents of reform engage in a number of verbal altercations in the parking lot. No arrests are made, even though many ignore police orders, issued through bullhorns, to disperse. Later, a Tampa police spokesman says, “We walk a fine line between freedom of speech and public safety.” (Zimmer 8/7/2009; March 8/7/2009; Susan Smith 8/7/2009; March 8/13/2009)
Cameraman Jostled - A protester with a camera, J. Mark Campbell, has his camera knocked out of his hand and his glasses broken during an attempt by protesters to force their way into the hall, and later tells his story to Fox News commentator Sean Hannity. Campbell claims that the event was “set up” by SEIU and Democratic organizers to bring supporters into the front rows and force protesters into the back rows. He also claims that four “thugs” from the “Pipe Fitters Union” not only “bum rush[ed]” the protesters, but then gave him their business cards. Campbell claims that a “28-year-old Democrat… with cancer” was assaulted by union members, but also identifies an adult woman as “his daughter.” “[T]his is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” he says. “And I’ve been into jihadist areas. I’ve been dealing with, you know, Muslim extremists. And, you know, this is the most afraid I’ve ever been.” Campbell’s video shows little more than jostling and shoving at the door of the hall; he tells Hannity, “it’s what you don’t see in this video is what’s really telling.” (Fox News 8/11/2009) Tommy Ates, a diarist on the liberal blog Daily Kos, later identifies Campbell as a member of a group he calls “the far right, libertarian, and ‘islamophobic’ Florida Security Council.” (Campbell directs viewers to the organization’s Web site during the Hannity interview.) Ates also asks some questions about Campbell’s claims: “How did Campbell get the information that the Tampa town hall had been stacked with Pipefitter union members? If the men guarding the door were union men committing assault, why would they give their cards to the man they were assaulting? Why didn’t Campbell file a police report? And (if J. Mark Campbell dealt with terrorists), why didn’t he identify what international media organization he served under? And if he didn’t go overseas, is Mark trying to say he dealt with Middle East domestic terrorists?” (Ates 8/12/2009)
'Somewhere in All the Screaming, No One Got Heard' - One participant, Largo resident George Guthrie, says of the crowd, “They think they’re exercising their right to free speech, but they’re only exercising their right to disrupt civil discourse.” Andrew Reder, a reform opponent, defends the shouting from himself and his fellows by saying: “There were clearly people who were very, very upset. People are concerned about the direction of the county right now.” But Reder, who is allowed inside during the proceedings, admits that virtually nothing is accomplished in the meeting. “Somewhere in all the screaming, no one got heard,” he says. One protester, who identifies herself as a member of Beck’s 9/12 organization, says of Castor and Reed: “They’re hiding from their constituents. She works for us and needs to listen.” After the meeting, Florida Democratic Party chair Karen Thurman says in a statement: “Throughout the summer, we have been reaching out to Floridians to engage in an important debate on the future our health care system. We have heard story after story from people who are struggling to get the care they need. Recently, their thoughtful discussions are being interrupted by angry mobs—well funded and organized by Washington special interests—attempting to drown out the voices of the hard-working Floridians who are desperate for health insurance reform. These groups are not concerned about Americans’ access to quality heath care, but are extreme ideologues, only interested in ‘breaking’ the president (see July 17-22, 2009) and thwarting the change Americans voted for last November.” (Zimmer 8/7/2009; March 8/7/2009) Castor later echoes Thurman’s sentiments, saying: “The insurance industry and… Republican activists are manufacturing a lot of these phony protests.… I do expect some rabble-rousing.” Reed later says she was shocked at the behavior of some of the crowd. “When you get to the point of possible violence, you’ve gone over the edge,” she says. Castor says the protesters who appeared at this and other venues “would have been protesting Medicare.… They would never have accepted Social Security.” But protester Brad Grabill counters, “It’s the backlash to the arrogance of our government that you’re seeing here.” (Smith 8/7/2009; March 8/7/2009) After the meeting, the Tampa 9/12 group posts the following on its Web site: “Be courteous while anyone is speaking, including Castor. We don’t want to sound like an ‘angry mob.’” (March 8/7/2009) Smith, the local Democratic Party official, later posts an e-mail she receives concerning the event. The message reads: “WAR IS COMING. YOUR THUG PR_CK B_STARD [apparently President Obama] SHOULD HAVE KEPT HIS F_CKING COMMUNIST MOUTH SHUT.” (Susan Smith 8/7/2009)
Conservative Fox News and radio talk show host Sean Hannity urges fellow conservatives to turn out in force at town halls in their area to protest health care reform. On his Web site, Hannity urges protesters to “Become a part of the mob! Attend an Obama Care Townhall near you!” Hannity’s site lists a number of town halls; at the bottom of the page, he credits the “Astroturf” lobbying group Conservatives for Patients Rights (see August 4, 2009) as the source of the list. (Sean Hannity 8/2009; Urbina 8/7/2009)
Discussing the anti-health care reform protests, Fox News host Sean Hannity asks his guest, conservative radio host Mark Levin, “You think the president [Obama] bears any responsibility for this conflict now that is emerging in these town halls” (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, and August 6-8, 2009)? Levin responds, “[L]et me suggest that if there’s anything that happens at these town hall meetings, if anybody’s hurt or if anything really stupid happens, this White House has some responsibility for it.” Levin justifies his claim: “This White House is calling out its dogs. The president sent out an e-mail to millions of, uh, his supporters. [White House chief of staff] Rahm Emanuel, behind the scenes, is pushing too, so is [White House political coordinator David] Axelrod. If something terrible happens at one of these town hall meetings, I think the president in part can be held accountable.” (Media Matters 8/8/2009)
Fox News political contributor Dick Morris, a former adviser to President Clinton as well as several Republican lawmakers, urges anti-health care reform protesters to “terrorize” conservative Democratic members of Congress who might not strongly support the Obama health care reform initiative. Interviewed by Fox’s Sean Hannity, Morris accuses Democrats and reform supporters of comparing the anti-reform protesters to Nazis (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 11, 2009, May 13, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, and August 7, 2009). The reform supporters have “compared us to Nazis, they’ve called us brownshirts, crazed mobsters,” Morris complains. Hannity agrees: “All in an effort to shut down dissent.… The president, himself, wants everyone to shut up.” Morris then advises: “I would urge people to go to these town meetings.… Go to the meetings and don’t listen to the people, some of whom spoke earlier on this station, that you should be very nice and polite and stick your hand up and ask mild-mannered questions. Nonsense! These people are trying to take away your health care in six weeks!” After Hannity accuses Democrats and reform advocates of fomenting violence at the town hall meetings (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, August 8, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 10, 2009), and Obama of urging Democrats to “infiltrate” town hall meetings “to create a confrontation,” Morris says of conservative Democrats who might turn from supporting reform: “If they are not terrorized during August, by the public outpouring, and they don’t have thousands and thousands of handwritten letters on their doorstep waiting for them when they return from the August recess, they’ll fold. But if they absolutely get an outpouring of public opinion, I think we can win this thing.” (NewsHounds 8/11/2009)
David Frum, a conservative pundit and former speechwriter for George W. Bush, says that the potential for violence from anti-health care reformer protesters is too high, and protesters must restrain themselves. After noting the instances of protesters bringing guns to health care debates (see August 5, 2009 August 11, 2009) and the threats of gun violence against health care supporters (see August 7, 2009 and August 10, 2009), Frum notes: “[F]irearms and politics never mix well. They mix especially badly with a third ingredient: the increasingly angry tone of incitement being heard from right-of-center broadcasters.… All this hysterical and provocative talk invites, incites, and prepares a prefabricated justification for violence.” Frum goes farther, accusing “some conservative broadcasters” of “lovingly anticipating just such an outcome,” citing instances of Fox News hosts Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity openly advocating violence against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama (see August 8, 2009). Frum says: “Hyperbolic accusation and fantasy murder may well serve a talk radio industry facing a collapse in advertising revenues.… As revenues dwindle, hosts feel compelled to intensify the talk radio experience, hoping to win larger audience share with more extreme talk. It’s like the early days of the pornography industry: At first a naked woman is thrilling enough, but soon a jaded audience is demanding more and more, wilder and wilder. For the radio hosts, it’s all mostly a cynical marketing exercise. But the audience? Not all of them know better.… The guns are coming out. The risks are real.” Frum then gives his solution: “It’s not enough for conservatives to repudiate violence, as some are belatedly beginning to do. We have to tone down the militant and accusatory rhetoric. If Barack Obama really were a fascist, really were a Nazi, really did plan death panels to kill the old and infirm, really did contemplate overthrowing the American constitutional republic—if he were those things, somebody should shoot him. But he is not. He is an ambitious, liberal president who is spending too much money and emitting too much debt. His health care ideas are too over-reaching and his climate plans are too interventionist. The president can be met and bested on the field of reason—but only by people who are themselves reasonable.” (Frum 8/13/2009)
A testy Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) loses patience with a raucous, shouting crowd of angry protesters at a two-hour town hall meeting in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. Frank, who strongly supports the Democrats’ health care reform proposals, attempts to answer the shouted questions and accusations from protesters, who often attempt to shout him down before he can complete his answers, and boo him from the moment he is introduced. Frank repeatedly asks, “You want me to talk about it or do you want to yell?” and asks, “Which one of you wants to yell next?” He also says frequently: “Disruption never helps your cause. It just looks like you’re afraid to have rational discussion.” Frank finally loses patience when Rachel Brown of the LaRouche Youth Movement tells him that President Obama’s health care policies are comparable to those of Nazi Germany, meanwhile waving a pamphlet depicting Obama with a Hitler mustache. “This policy is actually already on its way out,” Brown says. “It already has been defeated by LaRouche. My question to you is, why do you continue to support a Nazi policy as Obama has expressly supported this policy? Why are you supporting it?” Frank, a Jew, retorts: “When you ask me that question, I’m going to revert to my ethnic heritage and ask you a question: On what planet do you spend most of your time? You stand there with a picture of the president defaced to look like Hitler and compare the effort to increase health care to the Nazis.” He says her ability to deface an image of the president and express her views “is a tribute to the First Amendment that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated,” and concludes: “Trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it.” During less contentious moments, Frank rebuts claims that the reform proposal would mandate free health care for illegal immigrants, and attempts to read the pertinent section of the bill through the shouts and catcalls. He asks why protesters demand for him to answer and then scream through his answers: “What’s the matter with you all? I don’t know if you get angrier when I answer the questions, or when you don’t think I do.” (Associated Press 8/19/2009; CNN 8/19/2009; Carlile 8/19/2009; Cohen 8/19/2009; Boston Globe 8/20/2009)
'Look for the Mustache' - A representative of the Massachusetts Republican Party later says Brown and other LaRouche supporters were at the forum “to cause problems,” and denies any Republican involvement in the shouting or pamphleteering. A LaRouche spokeswoman, Nancy Spannaus, says, “LaRouche PAC members are giving leadership to these town hall meetings all around the country so we are being at any one that we possibly can.” The Obama “mustache poster” “symbolizes the fact that the president is attempting to implement a Hitler health care policy,” she adds. “At any town hall, you’ll know LaRouche people are there if you just look for the mustache.” (Franke-Ruta and Lovenheim 8/20/2009)
Fox News: Frank's Remarks Proof that Democrats are 'Alienating Voters' - Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity and a Fox reporter, Griff Jenkins, say that Frank’s retorts to the protesters are proof that Democrats are “alienating voters” with their reform policies. Jenkins tells Hannity that Frank “talked down” to the protesters. Hannity calls Frank’s comments full of “arrogance [and] condescension.” Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Hannity’s guest, praises the LaRouche questioner and other protesters as evidence of American “democracy in action.” (Hannity 8/18/2009)
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)
Fox News gives in-depth coverage to the “Tea Party Express,” a bus tour organized by the Republican political action committee Our Country Deserves Better (OCDBPAC), whose stated mission is to oppose the Obama administration’s policy initiatives. Fox has previously promoted and covered other “tea party” protests (see April 15, 2009 and May 13-14, 2009). The network covers the kickoff of the tour, after over a month of extensive promotion on Fox News, Fox Business, the “Fox Nation” Web site, and FoxNews.com (see October 13, 2009). OCDBPAC used Fox’s promotion of the tour in its own fundraising efforts. Fox has hosted OCDBPAC vice chairman and “Tea Party Express” organizer Mark Williams, who has publicly stated his disbelief that President Obama is an American citizen, has expressed his belief in the so-called “death panels” connected to the health care reform legislation being crafted in Congress (see August 7, 2009), and has compared Obama to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Fox News provides viewers with information telling them “how you can join” the tour by noting the dates and locations of 22 tour stops, with anchors encouraging viewers to “be a part” of the tour. Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity joins the tour for the day, and broadcasts “live updates” from the bus. Reporter Griff Jenkins is assigned to cover the tour for a number of days, and will provide segments for broadcast periodically throughout the tour. Another Fox reporter, William La Jeunesse, reports from the Sacramento kickoff, and tells his audience, “[H]opefully Washington will listen to [the protesters’] concerns.” In a kickoff-day interview, Williams tells La Jeunesse that the purpose of the tour is to revive the Republican Party, which he says is “right now in a coma.” (Media Matters 8/28/2009)
Conservative media outlets actively target Education Department official Kevin Jennings over charges that he once facilitated the molestation of a child. Jennings, who is openly gay, is said to have covered up the statutory rape of a male teenager by an older gay male. The charge has been disproven, but conservative media figures have painted Jennings as a “radical” gay activist and a proponent of child molestation with an “agenda” of “promoting homosexuality in schools.” (Media Matters 9/30/2009) In 2004, Jennings’s attorney disclosed evidence that the youth was in fact 16 at the time, which is the legal age of consent in the state; therefore, no crime was committed. (Media Matters 10/1/2009) The attack on Jennings, who runs the Education Department’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools and is one of the White House’s so-called “czars,” is led by Fox News commentators Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck and columnists at the Washington Times, who all claim that in 1988, Jennings, then a public school teacher, “covered up” the statutory rape of a 15-year-old gay teenager by an older gay man in Massachusetts. Both Fox News and the Times have failed to report the proof of Jennings’s innocence. Hannity and Beck have called on Jennings to be fired. (Washington Times 9/28/2009; Media Matters 10/1/2009) The claim is not limited to Fox News’s commentary shows. News anchor Bill Hemmer, who anchors part of what the network claims is its “non-partisan” news coverage (see October 11, 2009 and October 13, 2009), states as fact that Jennings knew of a “statutory rape” case involving a student but “never reported it.” Hemmer fails to report the evidence showing no such crime was committed. Another Fox News correspondent, Mike Emanuel, says on Hemmer’s broadcast, “And so a lot of people suggesting [sic] that should have thrown up all sorts of red flags for this teacher.” (Media Matters 10/1/2009) Influential conservative blogger Jim Hoft accuses Jennings of “hid[ing] pedophilia from authorities.” (Jim Hoft 9/30/2009) “Fox News’ allegations about Kevin Jennings covering up a statutory rape are wholly unsupported by the facts,” says Eric Burns, president of the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters. “But Fox has already proven that facts don’t matter in its campaign against Jennings. Who needs facts when your reports are built on made-up charges and anti-gay bigotry?” (Media Matters 10/1/2009)
According to an analysis by the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, Fox News has become the place for eight former Bush administration officials and other Republican lawmakers, strategists, and future presidential candidates to espouse their views (see October 13, 2009). Media Matters says “[a] revolving door exists between the Republican Party and Fox News Channel… further demonstrating that Fox is effectively a conservative political organization and not a legitimate news outlet.” Media Matters analyzed Fox News broadcasts aired between September 1 and mid-October.
Karl Rove - The former deputy chief of staff of the Bush White House, Karl Rove, the Bush administration’s chief political adviser, is now labeled as a political adviser and commentator for Fox. He appears, on average, twice a week, usually on prime-time programs hosted by Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly.
Dana Perino - Formerly the White House press secretary, Dana Perino is now a frequent contributor and analyst for Fox, and writes a column for Fox Forum. Perino appears most often on Hannity’s show, though she has made several appearances on Fox Business Channel.
John Bolton - The former ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton is now a regular Fox contributor and analyst.
Mike Huckabee - Mike Huckabee, the ex-governor of Arkansas and dark-horse presidential candidate in 2008 has his own show, Huckabee, on Fox. Frequently, Huckabee directs viewers to “go to balancecutsave.com,” which redirects visitors to a Web page soliciting donations for his political action committee, which financially supports Republican candidates and also pays his daughter’s salary.
Newt Gingrich - Newt Gingrich is the former speaker of the House and a possible presidential candidate in 2012. He has been a regular on Fox since singing a contract with the network in 1999 after resigning from the House in disgrace.
John Kasich - Formerly a Republican House member from Ohio and now a candidate for governor of Ohio, John Kasich used to host a show on Fox, Heartland with John Kasich. He is a regular contributor and commentator on several Fox prime-time broadcasts.
Dick Morris - A Republican who once crossed party lines to advise then-President Clinton, Dick Morris is a frequent guest on Fox, appearing at least 20 times since September 1, usually on shows hosted by Hannity, O’Reilly, or Greta Van Susteren. During the 2008 election cycle, Morris repeatedly urged viewers to donate to an anti-Obama political action committee, without divulging that the PAC had paid a firm connected to him. Morris also uses his Fox appearances to raise funds for a conservative group of which he is chief strategist.
Frank Luntz - Frank Luntz, a GOP strategist and pollster, regularly appears on Fox shows hosted by Hannity, O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck, who asked Luntz to instruct his audience on the signs “the tea party people should be carrying.” (Media Matters 10/26/2009)
Bill Sammon, the Washington managing editor for Fox News, sends an internal email instructing his journalists and producers not to use the commonly accepted phrase “public option” to describe a proposed government-run health insurance agency. The so-called “public option” is shorthand for a proposed health insurance plan offered by the federal government primarily for uninsured citizens who have trouble affording private health care coverage. Instead, Sammon requires reporters and news anchors to use terms such as “government option”—terms identified by Republican pollster Frank Luntz as being more negative and more likely to turn viewers away from supporting such an effort. (Ironically, a month ago, Sammon sent an email reminding his staff that Fox News “reports” the news as it happens, and that their function is that of “dispassionate observers”—see September 12, 2009). The liberal news watchdog Web site Media Matters will compile a number of instances from “straight news” broadcasts on Fox News that seem to follow Sammon’s instructions, particularly on the network’s evening flagship news program, Special Report with Bret Baier. Inside sources will tell Media Matters reporter Ben Dimiero that Sammon regularly uses his position as managing editor to “slant” Fox News’s “neutral” news coverage to the right. Dimiero will write, “Sammon’s ‘government option’ email is the clearest evidence yet that Sammon is aggressively pushing Fox’s reporting to the right—in this case by issuing written orders to his staff.” In August 2009, Luntz appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News opinion show, and told Hannity to use the term “government option” instead of “public option.” Luntz explained that “if you call it a ‘public option,’ the American people are split,” but “if you call it the ‘government option,’ the public is overwhelmingly against it.” He went on to say that the program would be “sponsored by the government,” and falsely told Hannity that such a program would be “paid for by the government.” Hannity told Luntz that “it’s a great point, and from now on, I’m going to call it the government option.” The night before Sammon’s email, Baier used both “public option” and “government option” in describing a proposed inclusion by Senate Democrats, as did correspondent Shannon Bream. The next morning, Sammon sends his email, which is titled “[F]riendly reminder: let’s not slip back into calling it the ‘public option,’” and reading in part, “Please use the term ‘government-run health insurance’ or, when brevity is a concern, ‘government option,’ whenever possible. When it is necessary to use the term ‘public option’ (which is, after all, firmly ensconced in the nation’s lexicon), use the qualifier ‘so-called,’ as in ‘the so-called public option.’ Here’s another way to phrase it: ‘The public option, which is the government-run plan.’ When newsmakers and sources use the term ‘public option’ in our stories, there’s not a lot we can do about it, since quotes are of course sacrosanct.” Fox News’s senior vice president for news, Michael Clemente, concurs in a follow-up email and tells news staff that he prefers Sammon’s phrasing “[t]he public option, which is the government-run plan.” After Sammon’s and Clemente’s emails, Baier and others will no longer use the phrase “public option” without using Sammon’s qualifiers. Dimiero will write that Sammon’s title wording of a “friendly reminder” indicates that similar instructions had been issued previously. Indeed, during a September 3, 2009 broadcast, Baier repeatedly interrupted his guest, NPR’s Mara Liasson, to “correct” her phrasing of “public option” as the “government-run option of health insurance.” Liasson, along with conservative guests Charles Krauthammer and Steve Hayes, agreed to use Baier’s phrasing. And during Baier’s broadcast, on-screen chyrons described the idea as “Government Option.” Dimiero will write: “Fox executives regularly defend the network by claiming that the right-wing propaganda on Hannity and its other opinion shows is entirely separate from its news programming, which they insist is objective. But Sammon’s email gives credence to allegations that news from Fox’s Washington bureau is being deliberately distorted to benefit conservatives and the Republican Party.” Sammon will tell media reporter Howard Kurtz that he prefers the phrasing “government option” because it is “a more neutral term,” and the phrase “public option” is “vague, bland,” and “undescriptive.” He will deny any knowledge of “what the Republicans were pushing.” (Dimiero 12/9/2010)
In November 2009, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, a former Republican campaign operative and the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, establishes a new “tea party” organization she calls Liberty Central. (Some media sources claim that Liberty Central begins operations in January 2010.) She describes the group as intended to bridge the gap between the conservative Republican establishment and the anti-government tea party movement. “I am an ordinary citizen from Omaha, Nebraska, who just may have the chance to preserve liberty along with you and other people like you,” she says at a Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) discussion with tea party leaders in Washington. “I adore all the new citizen patriots who are rising up across this country. I have felt called to the front lines with you, with my fellow citizens, to preserve what made America great.” She also says she started the group because of her reaction to what she calls President Obama’s “hard-left agenda.” The group also intends to work to elect Republicans and defeat Democrats, and provide political strategies and “talking points” for conservative candidates. (Hennessey 3/14/2010; Commission 7/1/2010; Vogel 7/6/2010; Vogel, Cogan, and Bresnahan 2/4/2011) In May 2010, the organization officially declares itself open for business, launching a $27,000 Web site, and touting partnerships with a number of prominent conservative groups and the backing of prominent conservatives such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Federalist Society executive Leonard Leo, whom Justice Thomas has called “my good friend.” (Vogel 7/6/2010)
Questions of Conflict of Interest, Ethics - Almost immediately, legal ethicists assert that Virginia Thomas’s role as the head of a partisan, openly political advocacy organization could taint her husband’s impartiality, especially in light of the Citizens United Court decision, in which her husband sided with the 5-4 majority (see January 21, 2010), that allows her group to accept donations and spend them without publicly disclosing information about them. The group could have benefited from the Court’s decision, and Justice Thomas’s decision could be seen as being influenced by his wife’s decision to start the group. Law school professor Lucas A. “Scot” Powe, a Court historian, says, “I think the American public expects the justices to be out of politics.” The expectations for spouses are not so clear, he adds, saying, “I really don’t know because we’ve never seen it.” Legal ethicist Stephen Gillers, another law professor, says, “We expect the justice to make decisions uninfluenced by the political or legal preferences of his or her spouse.” Moreover, the press learns that while the Court was deliberating the Citizens United case, Liberty Central received an anonymous $550,000 donation. Government watchdog organization Common Cause wrote a letter to the Justice Department asking if Justice Thomas should recuse himself from the case, and wrote that “the complete lack of transparency of Liberty Central’s finances makes it difficult to assess the full scope of the ethics issues raised by Ms. Thomas’s role in founding and leading the group.” (The media later learns that $500,000 of the anonymous $550,000 donation for the organization comes from Dallas real estate investor Harlan Crow, who also hosts a fundraising event for the organization at his home. Crow once gave Justice Thomas a $19,000 “Frederick Douglass Bible” as a gift, and donated $150,000 to build a new wing named for Justice Thomas on a Savannah, Georgia, library that he visited frequently in his youth.) Common Cause also notes that Justice Thomas had failed to report on his financial disclosure filings his wife’s income over the last 13 years, prompting him to file amendments to the filings that indicated the sources, but not the amounts, of his wife’s income. Justice Thomas refuses to recuse himself from the case.
Period of Success - Liberty Central flourishes for a brief time, with Virginia Thomas assembling a veteran staff and forging relationships with conservative donors, with most of whom she and her husband had long, close relationships. Carl Graham of the Montana Policy Institute, one of the over 30 state and national tea party groups that are listed as partners in Liberty Central’s affiliate network, says, “Her association with Justice Thomas clearly provides a level of credibility that others wouldn’t be able to have, just because of the beliefs that he has and the stands that he has on the different positions that align with our own.” Liberty Central’s connection with Justice Thomas, Graham says, “gets you to open the email, if nothing else, as opposed to some other one that you may not even open.” Liberty Central hires the services of CRC Public Relations, a prominent Washington communications firm that has garnered some $15 million in fees from a number of clients, including top Republican Party committees and the presidential campaigns or political committees of George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, and John McCain, among others. Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks, a tea party lobbying organization also partnered with Liberty Central (see April 14, 2009 and April 15, 2009), says, “Ginni was able to raise the seed capital to have a real launch” because of her connections in small-government conservative circles. Kibbe says most people are unaware that she is the wife of a Supreme Court justice. Tea Party Patriots leader Jenny Beth Martin calls Thomas a “mentor” for many tea party organizations, and says she helps these organizations “to navigate some of the waters in DC.… She’s been kind of a mentor, and when we had questions about things that we were doing, we bounced a few of the ideas off of her and also off of a few other people in DC just to make sure that what we were doing made sense.” (Hennessey 3/14/2010; Vogel 7/6/2010; Vogel, Cogan, and Bresnahan 2/4/2011)
Media Attention - In a June 2010 interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Thomas says she is sure “liberals” will “persecute” her just as she says they did when her husband was undergoing confirmation for the Supreme Court. “They’re after me now sometimes,” she says. “And so, we’re not going to be dissuaded. We are in the fight for our country’s life.” She and Hannity engage in a lively conversation about the “tyranny” of the Obama administration. She also promises to “watch for conflicts” between herself and her husband. In October 2010, the media reports that Virginia Thomas leaves a voice mail for former college professor Anita Hill, who accused her husband of sexual harassment during his confirmation hearings for the Court (see October 8, 1991, October 8-12, 1991, and October 11-12, 1991), demanding that Hill issue an apology to her husband. The voice mail says: “Good morning, Anita Hill, it’s Ginni Thomas. I just want to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometimes and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought and certainly pray about this and come to understand why you did what you did. Okay, have a good day.” The attention from the voice mail prompts more negative media attention, and some donors begin distancing themselves from the organization. (Virginia Thomas later admits that her voice mail message for Hill was “probably a mistake,” though she will call the media’s response to it “laughable.” She will call the message “an olive branch” she extends to Hill. For her part, Hill says: “I don’t apologize. I have no intention of apologizing and I stand by my testimony in 1991.”) (Hennessey 3/14/2010; Fox News 6/8/2010; Vogel 7/6/2010; Smith and Shiner 10/19/2010; Gardner 11/15/2010)
Thomas Steps Down, Group Merges with Another Organization - In November 2010, Virginia Thomas steps down from her leadership post at Liberty Central. The group then merges with another, similar group called the Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty, an organization founded by ex-CIA agent Gary Aldrich, who wrote a largely discredited book “exposing” the “secrets” of the Clinton administration. Sources later tell reporters that Virginia Thomas sells off Liberty Central because it cannot raise the funds needed to support its large staff and high overhead. According to CRC spokeswoman Caitlin Carroll, Thomas will “take a back seat so that Liberty Central can continue with its mission without any of the distractions. After discussing it with the board, Mrs. Thomas determined that it was best for the organization.” However, Sarah E. Field, general counsel of Liberty Central, disagrees, saying: “There are many opportunities being presented to Liberty Central, but there is no agreement at this time.… The sources of this story appear to be people without full understanding of the facts.” Keith Appell of CRC tells a reporter that the Washington Post’s Amy Gardner “breached confidentiality” by reporting her conversation with Carroll. Gardner responds, “Everything I attributed to Caitlin Carroll comes from an on-the-record conversation we had by telephone this morning.” Within hours, Thomas files incorporation papers for a new political lobbying and consulting firm, Liberty Consulting (see February 4, 2011). (Vogel 7/6/2010; Vogel 11/15/2010; Gardner 11/15/2010; Vogel, Cogan, and Bresnahan 2/4/2011)
Conservatives gather on Capitol Hill to protest the Obama administration’s push towards health care reform, in a rally featuring guest speaker Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN). (Media Matters 11/6/2009) Bachmann called the rally the “Super Bowl of Freedom,” and told Fox News viewers that “socialized medicine is the crown jewel of socialism. This [health care reform] will change our country forever.” (Sladja 11/3/2009; Sklar 11/11/2009) Actor Jon Voight, speaking to the crowd, says of President Obama: “His only success in one year as president is taking America apart piece by piece. Could it be 20 years of ‘subconscious programming’ from Reverend [Jeremiah] Wright [Obama’s former pastor] to damn America?” And House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) tells the crowd, “Pelosi care [referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA] is the greatest threat to freedom I’ve seen in my 19 years in Washington.”
Signs Use Racial Images; Call Obama Communist, Nazi - Signs visible in the crowd proclaim, among other sentiments:
“Get the Red Out of the White House”;
“Traitor to the US Constitution” (featuring a photo of Obama);
“Ken-Ya Trust Obama?” (referring to theories that Obama is a citizen of Kenya—see January 24, 2007, January 16, 2008, August 1, 2008 and After, October 8-10, 2008, and August 11, 2009—and with autographs from Representatives Steve King, R-IA and Ron Paul, R-TX);
“Un-American McCarthyite” (featuring a photo of Pelosi);
“I’m the King of the World: Remember the Titanic?” (featuring a drawing of Obama as the “Jovial Sambo” character from the Jim Crow era);
“National Socialist Health Care” (featuring a photograph of a pile of corpses from the Holocaust, and claiming that health care reform is the next “holocaust”).
Nine rally participants are arrested for attempting to force their way into the Hart Senate Office Building. Hundreds more attempt to force themselves into nearby government office buildings while chanting, “Kill the bill!” (Montanaro 11/5/2009)
Sponsored by GOP - MSNBC’s Domenico Montanaro writes: “It is important to know that this rally was set up by the GOP. While other groups certainly got people to show up, the folks who came here ultimately came at the invitation of the Republican Party. The GOP provided the speakers and the music, etc.” (Montanaro 11/5/2009)
Fox Pundit Inflates Crowd Estimates - While other media sources use local police reports to estimate the crowd at around 4,000, Fox News’s Sean Hannity tells listeners that the crowd is closer to 20,000 in size. Hannity later drastically scales back this claim. Hannity, who along with other Fox News pundits and on-air anchors had heavily promoted the rally for days beforehand, predicted the crowd would be “massive” in the hours before the protest. On his radio show, aired on ABC Radio Network, Hannity tells listeners: “We announced on Hannity Friday night on the Fox News Channel, we had Congresswoman Michele Bachmann on, and she mentioned that there was going to be on Thursday, she was going to put together in less than a week a little town hall on—what do you want to call it—march on our nation’s Capitol. And anyway, 20,000 people showed up today.” Hannity echoes the claim several times on his radio show. However, with no explanation, he concludes his radio broadcast by saying, “I heard there was, like, 5,000 people plus there.” (Montanaro 11/5/2009; Media Matters 11/6/2009) On Hannity’s Fox News broadcast later that evening, he returns to his earlier estimates of “20,000” rally participants, and shows viewers old footage from Glenn Beck’s 9/12 rally (see September 12, 2009) to bolster his claim. (Neiwert 11/11/2009) On November 11, Hannity will admit that he “screwed up” in showing the footage, and claims it was merely “an inadvertent mistake.” (Corley 11/12/2009) Hannity does not address how the mistake came to be made. (Corley 11/11/2009) Media critic Rachel Sklar will write, “It’s really blatant and remarkable… this sort of misrepresentation is simply not an accident.” (Sklar 11/11/2009) A week later, Fox News anchor Gregg Jarrett will make a similar mistake (see November 18-19, 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).
Former Bush administration press secretary Dana Perino tells a Fox News audience that no terrorist attacks took place on American soil during President Bush’s two terms. Perino is forgetting, or ignoring, the 9/11 attacks, the most lethal and costly attacks in US history. On Sean Hannity’s Fox show, Hannity asks Perino if President Obama “really understand[s]” that the US has a national security concern about terrorism. Perino begins by denying that her remarks are political, then says that the US recently suffered “a terrorist attack on our country,” obviously referring to the 9/11 attacks. The Obama administration is loath to call the US’s involvement a “war on terror,” Perino says, when it should be labeled as such “because we need to face up to it so we can prevent it from happening again.” She says she does not know what thinking is going on in the Obama administration, “but we did not have an attack on our country during President Bush’s term. I hope they’re not looking at this politically. I do think we owe it to the American people to call it what it is.” Neither Hannity nor his other guest, Fox Business personality Stuart Varney, correct Perino’s statement; instead Varney begins questioning Obama’s commitment to fighting terrorism. (Media Matters 11/24/2009) Perino had not yet joined the Bush administration in 2001, but was working as a public relations representative for a high-tech firm in San Diego. (Brass 9/21/2007)
Conservative pundit and columnist Tucker Carlson says it is “unfortunate” that Republicans won’t “state unequivocally” that they “want to do away with” Medicare and “most” Social Security. Carlson, a guest on Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity’s broadcast, is asked by another guest, Fox News contributor Bob Beckel, “Why don’t you just state unequivocally that you want to do away with Medicare, which is what the Republicans want to do, and do away with most Social Security?” Carlson replies: “Unfortunately, they don’t. Unfortunately, they don’t. Unfortunately, most Republicans in positions of elected authority are unwilling to—are unwilling to look right in the camera and say, ‘We’re going to have to pull back on entitlements.’” (Media Matters 9/7/2010)
Fox News host Sean Hannity has as a guest Fox business commentator Stuart Varney. Varney accuses the Obama administration of implementing “socialist,” “un-American” economic policies. “We’ve had an 18-month experiment with American socialism,” Varney claims, and “we do not like it, we want to reverse it.” President Obama’s economic policies, Varney says, are “un-American.” (Media Matters 11/17/2010)
Fox News host Sean Hannity accuses President Obama of implementing “failed socialist policies.” Referring to a comment by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who said he wanted Obama’s presidency to fail (see January 16, 2009), Hannity says: “You know what, I don’t want his [Obama’s] policies to succeed. I want him out of—I want him to be a one term president because he’s doing so much damage with his failed socialist policies.” (Media Matters 11/17/2010)
On his Fox News show, host Sean Hannity says that while he believes President Obama was indeed born in the US (see July 2008, October 30, 2008, July 28, 2009, and July 29, 2009), he asks why Obama has never released his birth certificate. The Obama campaign released the “short form” certificate in 2008, the version routinely issued by Hawaii’s Department of Health (see June 13, 2008), and since then the certificate has been repeatedly shown to be valid (see June 27, 2008, August 21, 2008, and July 28, 2009). Hannity is apparently referring to the “long form” certificate, which is kept on file and never released (see July 1, 2009). Hannity shows a clip from billionaire Donald Trump’s same-day visit to the ABC morning talk show The View, where Trump alleged that “there’s something on that birth certificate that he doesn’t” want made public. Several of Hannity’s guests agree that Obama “should just show it” assuming he has “nothing to hide.… It would shut everybody up and no one would care.” Hannity asks: “[I]t kinda does get a little odd here. Can’t they just produce it and we move on?” Representative Michael Burgess (R-TX) says: “Obviously there’s some value to the White House not producing it. I don’t know what that could be. This easily could have been ended. It could have been ended a couple of years ago.” (Media Matters 3/23/2011; Media Matters 3/28/2011)
Conservative radio host Sean Hannity interviews Joseph Farah, the editor and primary writer for conservative news blog WorldNetDaily (WND). WND has been at the forefront of the “birther” movement against President Obama (see December 5, 2008, May 28, 2009, August 1-4, 2009, and January 18, 2011). Hannity says that it is unfair for “birthers” such as Farah to have “been beaten up so badly in the press” for pursuing the issue, and goes on to add that birthers have been “crucified and beaten up and smeared and besmirched.” Farah blames Obama and his administration for the controversy, and praises billionaire Donald Trump (see (see February 10, 2011, March 23, 2011, and March 23, 2011) for bringing the controversy to the forefront once again. He tells Hannity, “I think it’s very appropriate for Americans to begin to question if there’s a reason that Obama will not produce this simple document that, you know, we all have to produce at various points in our lives, and when the governor of Hawaii, who claims to be a lifelong friend of Obama, cannot find this document, cannot produce it, it’s natural that this becomes an increasingly big issue, an issue that I think touches on both national security.” Obama has indeed produced an authenticated copy of his birth certificate (see June 13, 2008). Farah’s reference to Governor Neil Abercrombie’s inability to “find” the original birth certificate, first proposed on WND, has since been debunked as groundless (see January 18, 2011). Farah promises that WND researcher Jerome Corsi (see August 1, 2008 and After, August 15, 2008, October 8, 2008, October 9, 2008, and January 18, 2011) will have “startling” research on the matter coming soon. (Media Matters 3/24/2011; Media Matters 3/28/2011) Hannity revisits the subject later this evening on his Fox News broadcast. After telling viewers that the controversy exists in part because of Obama’s fond memories of spending some of his childhood in Indonesia, Hannity tells the White House to just “show the birth certificate.… Why won’t they release the birth certificate?… Why don’t they just release it and get it over with?” (Media Matters 3/24/2011; Media Matters 3/28/2011) Hannity has brought the subject up in previous broadcasts (see March 23, 2011).
Fox News chairman Roger Ailes negotiates the departure of one of his network’s most influential stars, talk show host Glenn Beck. Beck’s departure has been predicted by outside observers for weeks; as for Beck, he has already told Ailes, “I don’t want to do cable news anymore.” Beck has been with Fox News since October 2008, when he was hired to fill the 5:00 p.m. slot that had unsuccessfully been hosted by other conservatives such as John Gibson and Laura Ingraham. He debuted the day before President Obama’s January 2009 inauguration (see January 20-21, 2009). New York Magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman will write that Ailes hired Beck “to reenergize Fox’s audience after Obama’s election.” (In January 2009, Ailes told Beck that Fox News’s primary mission was to oppose Obama, and that Beck was a major part of that effort—see January 2009 and August 11, 2009.) Beck has been hugely successful (see March 29, 2009), “tapping deep wells of resentment and igniting them into a vast, national conflagration,” as Sherman will write. However: “The problem was that it had almost engulfed Fox itself. Beck was huge and uncontrollable, and some of Fox’s other big names seemed diminished by comparison—and were speaking up about it. Beck seemed to many to be Fox News’s id made visible, saying things—Obama is a racist (see July 27, 2009 and July 28-29, 2009), Nazi tactics are progressive tactics (see July 26, 2010 and October 3, 2010)—dredged from the right-wing subconscious. These were things that weren’t supposed to be said, even at Fox (see February 20, 2009 and March 9, 2009), and they were consuming the brand. Ailes had built his career by artfully tending the emotional undercurrents of both politics and entertainment, using them to power ratings and political careers; now they were out of his control.” Beck’s show has suffered a steep drop in ratings because of an effective boycott led by a number of progressive and civil rights groups; over 400 Fox advertisers pulled their commercials from Beck’s show. Beck has become a divisive figure among other Fox hosts, with Sean Hannity complaining about his “stardom” and Bill O’Reilly, who detests Hannity, regularly scheduling Beck as a guest on his show, further angering Hannity. And Ailes is increasingly uncomfortable with the religious content of Beck’s show (at times Beck has told his viewers that God is speaking to them through him). Beck and Ailes agree that Beck will give up his 5:00 p.m. show and return for a number of network “specials.” The talks between Beck and Ailes are not without acrimony; at one point, Ailes tells a Fox executive, “I’m just going to fire him and issue a press release.” When the network announces the departure on April 6, Beck and other Fox spokespersons are careful to avoid any sort of “public meltdown,” and ensure the avoidance of what Ailes fears most: what Sherman calls the view of “Beck’s departure… as a victory for the liberal media.” Ailes tells reporters: “We felt Glenn brought additional information, a unique perspective, a certain amount of passion and insight to the channel and he did. But that story of what’s going on and why America is in trouble today, I think he told that story as well as could be told. Whether you can just keep telling that story or not… we’re not so sure.” David Brock, founder of the progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters, says “the only surprise is that it took Fox News months to reach this decision.” And James Rucker, the chairman of ColorofChange.org, the organization behind the advertiser boycott, says, “Fox News Channel clearly understands that Beck’s increasingly erratic behavior is a liability to their ratings and their bottom line, and we are glad to see them take this action.” Beck is expected to continue his daily AM radio show and to engage in other media activities in the future. New Republic reporter James Downie observes, “In recent months, it seems, Beck’s theories became so outlandish that even conservatives—both viewers and media personalities—were having a hard time stomaching them.” Downie notes that as Beck’s show continued, Beck became caught in what he calls a “vicious circle,” having to “top himself” from week to week with ever more intricate and outlandish conspiracy theories, and more extremist rhetoric. (Bauder 4/6/2011; Feldmann 4/6/2011; Sherman 5/22/2011) In his own explanation for his departure, Beck compares himself to Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere, saying: “When I took this job I didn’t take it because it was going to be a career for me. Paul Revere did not get up on the horse and say, ‘I’m going to do this for the rest of my life.’ He didn’t do it. He got off the horse at some point and fought in the Revolution and then he went back to silversmithing.” (Shahid 4/7/2011)
Fox News host Sean Hannity, discussing the recent spate of doubts voiced by billionaire Donald Trump regarding President Obama’s US citizenship (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, and April 1-8, 2011), says that while he believes Obama was indeed born in the US, and the evidence proving this is “compelling” (see June 27, 2008, July 2008, August 21, 2008, October 30, 2008, July 1, 2009, and July 28, 2009), it is, however, “odd to me, you know, show the stupid birth certificate and move on.” Obama released an official copy of his Hawaiian birth certificate in 2008 (see June 13, 2008), but Hannity, like some others, considers that certificate inadequate. Fox News contributor Jonathan Morris says he believes Trump is playing to the relatively large percentage of “birthers” among New Hampshire Republicans. If Trump indeed wishes to run for president in 2012, as is rumored, then he would need to do well in New Hampshire’s Republican primary. (Media Matters 4/5/2011) Hannity has brought the same subject up in previous broadcasts (see March 23, 2011 and March 24, 2011).
On Sean Hannity’s Fox News talk show, guest Tamara Holder, a Fox legal analyst, speculates why President Obama has not “released” his “real” birth certificate (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, July 2008, August 21, 2008, October 30, 2008, July 1, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 29, 2009, April 11, 2011, and April 25, 2011). “I would say that maybe there’s something on there that he doesn’t want people to know,” she says. When Hannity asks her what that might be, she responds: “Like who his father is. Maybe that the father isn’t listed on the birth certificate. That is my only idea.” The progressive media watchdog Media Matters equates Holder’s speculation with radical-right eccentric Andy Martin’s announcement that Obama was “fathered” by a black Muslim activist with Communist ties (see Before October 27, 2008), or blogger Pamela Geller’s speculation that Obama’s father might be civil rights activist Malcolm X (see October 24, 2008). The Media Matters analysis concludes with the observation, “Meanwhile, in the real world, the certification of live birth issued by the state of Hawaii does list a father: Barack Obama Sr.” (Krepel 4/27/2011)
The Washington Post reports that Shiloh Baptist Church, a well-known house of worship in Washington, DC, has received over 100 death threats after President Obama and his family visited it for Easter on April 24, and after Fox News host Sean Hannity, reporting on Obama’s Easter visit to the church, aired a video clip of Shiloh’s Reverend Wallace Charles Smith giving a speech in January 2010 in which he said some people espousing racial prejudice do so “under the protective cover of talk radio.” Smith tells a Post reporter: “We received a fax that had the image of a monkey with a target across i[t]s face. My secretary has received telephone calls that have been so vulgar until she has had to hang up.” Smith shares some of the emails he has received with the reporter, and says that he has not yet notified authorities. He is consulting with church leaders about what steps to take. The church was founded in the 1860s by former slaves. Hannity aired the clip on April 25, one day after Obama’s Easter visit. In the videotape, Smith said: “It may not be Jim Crow anymore. Now, Jim Crow wears blue pinstripes, goes to law school, and carries fancy briefs in cases. And now, Jim Crow has become James Crow, esquire. And he doesn’t have to wear white robes anymore [a reference to the Ku Klux Klan] because now he can wear the protective cover of talk radio or can get a regular news program on Fox.” Smith tells the Post reporter that he had been asked to give a speech on racism and that he “was giving some background on what I thought were some of the issues regarding race in this country.” Hannity compared Smith’s speech to remarks by Obama’s former Chicago pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright (see January 6-11, 2008), whom Obama repudiated after learning that Wright had said the 9/11 attacks were “America’s chickens… coming home to roost.” Hannity told listeners: “Wright’s contentious sermons hit the airwaves and forced Obama eventually to denounce his spiritual leader of more than 20 years. Now, here’s the twist: Dr. Wallace Charles Smith doesn’t think that there’s anything wrong with what Jeremiah Wright preached. I don’t believe that it is a coincidence out of all the churches in the country that Obama finds himself sitting in, why is he always in pews listening to such controversial spiritual leaders?” Hannity says he asked Smith to comment on his broadcast and offered Smith a slot on his show, but Smith refused. “We played his own words in full context but now it’s time for him to explain,” Hannity says. (Harris 4/27/2011) The day after Easter, Fox Nation, the blog of Fox News, falsely claimed that Obama was the first president to attend services at Shiloh Baptist and extended the attack on Smith’s “shocking” sermons. (Fox Nation 4/25/2011) Days before Easter, the Post, announcing Obama’s choice to attend Shiloh for the morning’s service, noted, “The church has hosted other presidents, including Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.” An April 27 article adds that President George H.W. Bush also attended services there. (Harris 4/22/2011; Harris 4/27/2011) Washington Times columnist Jeffrey T. Kuhner echoes the same questions that Hannity raises, asking if Obama is “a black nationalist” and calling Smith “a race-baiting black nationalist” who is “a more polished version” of Wright. “Mr. Smith lacks the bombast of Mr. Wright but peddles the same philosophy of racialism, grievance-mongering, and black victimology,” Kuhner claims, and cites a recent sermon by Smith decrying institutionalized racism as “evidence” before claiming that segregation and racism no longer exist to any real extent in the nation. Kuhner says that Smith, and by extension Obama, equate conservatives with racists who want to “perpetuate a watered-down form of apartheid.” Kuhner then claims that conservatives, not progressives and liberals, are historical champions of civil rights (see March 12, 1956 and After), and attacks affirmative action programs as perpetuating racism. (Kuhner 4/27/2011)
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)
MSNBC commentator and contributor Pat Buchanan, recently given an indefinite suspension from the network because of racially inflammatory content in his most recent book (see January 7, 2012), blames “militant gay[s],” “people of color,” and “the hard left” for his suspension. Appearing on Fox News host Sean Hannity’s radio show, Buchanan says: “Look, for a long period of time the hard left, militant gay rights groups, militant—they call themselves civil rights groups, but I’m not sure they’re concerned about civil rights—people of color, Van Jones, these folks and others have been out to get Pat Buchanan off TV, deny him speeches, get his column canceled. This has been done for years and years and years and it’s the usual suspects doing the same thing again. But my view is, you write what you believe to be the truth.” Buchanan is referring to Van Jones, an African-American who was an Obama administration advisor on “green jobs” before being attacked for his political beliefs by Buchanan and other conservatives, and subsequently being asked to leave the administration (see September 6, 2009). (Think Progress 1/11/2012) Interviewed by radio host Hugh Hewitt, Buchanan claims that he was never suspended, and that he took a leave of absence for medical reasons, saying: “Well, you know I’ve had some medical issues at the end of the year which were pretty problematic, and so I’ve sort of been out of speaking and things like that.… On Drudge Report, somebody said I’ve been suspended. I don’t know anything about that. I hope to get back full up here in January, but I’ve been out for a couple of months.” Statements made by MSNBC president Phil Griffin confirm that Buchanan was indeed suspended from the network. Some blogs are reporting that MSNBC has already replaced Buchanan with Robert Traynham, a black conservative who once worked for former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA). Traynham was publicly “outed” as gay while he worked for Santorum, who is strongly opposed to gay rights. (David Badash 1/9/2012; Crugnale 1/10/2012)
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)
Premiere Radio Networks, the company that distributes radio shows by an array of right-wing hosts, including Rush Limbaugh, announces that 98 out of 350 advertisers, including a number of major corporations, have requested that their ads only appear on “programs free of content that you know are deemed to be offensive or controversial (for example, Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Tom Leykis, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity).” The Premiere email says, “Those are defined as environments likely to stir negative sentiment from a very small percentage of the listening public.” Limbaugh vilified law student Sandra Fluke for three days on his radio show (see February 29, 2012, March 1, 2012, and March 2, 2012), and though he issued an apology on his Web site (see March 3, 2012), advertisers have dropped their sponsorship of his show in increasingly large numbers (see March 2, 2012 and After) following a widespread outcry of anger against Limbaugh’s rhetoric. Now, large advertisers such as Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Allstate, Geico, Prudential, State Farm, McDonald’s, and Subway Restaurants have asked that their advertising be removed from Premiere’s right-wing talk shows. Industry insider Valerie Geller tells a reporter: “I have talked with several reps who report that they’re having conversations with their clients, who are asking not to be associated with specifically polarizing controversial hosts, particularly if those hosts are ‘mean-spirited.’ While most products and services offered on these shows have strong competitors, and enjoy purchasing the exposure that many of these shows and hosts can offer, they do not wish to be ‘tarred’ with the brush of anger, or endure customer anger, or, worse, product boycotts.” For nearly two decades, Limbaugh has been at the forefront of the movement that insisted conservative talk shows on radio and television must counterbalance what he and others have termed the “liberal bias” of the mainstream media (see Summer 1970, October 7, 1996, October 9, 2002, October 8, 2003, December 2004, December 14, 2005, December 19-20, 2005, December 21, 2005, May 2008, October 23-24, 2008, February 24, 2009, and August 11, 2009). After cable television and Internet access fragmented the market, “niche” audiences such as Limbaugh’s have provided the most reliable listenership and viewers, and the highest comparative ratings. However, the demographics are changing for right-wing talk. Limbaugh, Levin, Savage, Hannity, and others generally rate best among aging white males, a demographic that is less profitable than it used to be. Now, the prize advertising demographic is women aged 24 to 55, a demographic that has been leaving the right-wing talkers in steadily increasing numbers, and now makes up the forefront of the angry pushback against Limbaugh over his public savaging of a young female law student over a political disagreement. Some, including Limbaugh’s brother, right-wing talk show host David Limbaugh, have complained of a “left-wing jihad” against conservative radio hosts. However, as reporter John Avlon writes: “[T]he irony is that the same market forces that right-wing talk-radio hosts champion are helping to seal their fate. Advertisers are abandoning the shows because they no longer want to be associated with the hyperpartisan—and occasionally hateful—rhetoric. They are finally drawing a line because consumers are starting to take a stand.” Moreover, the advent of social media has made the response time for protesters and angry consumers almost immediate. Geller says: “In the past, a letter, petition, or phone campaign took a few days to put together and longer to execute. But now customers [listeners] can instantly rally using Facebook, Twitter, and instant messaging to make their displeasure with a client, product, or service known immediately. These movements can happen fast.” Avlon concludes: “When big money starts shifting, it is a sign of a deeper tide that is difficult to undo, even if you are an industry icon like Rush Limbaugh. It is a sign that the times are changing. Let’s hope that what emerges is an evolution of the industry, away from stupid, predictable, and sometimes hateful hyperpartisanship and toward something a little smarter and more civil.” (Radio-Info.com 3/9/2012; Avlon 3/10/2012)
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