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Profile: Steve Benen

Steve Benen was a participant or observer in the following events:

Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, interviewing Brent Bozell of the conservative media watchdog organization Media Research Center, lets slip an admission that her network provided public relations services to the “tea party” protests that took place yesterday (see April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009 and October 13, 2009). Kelly says: “You know, Brent, it’s been interesting because Fox News covered these tea parties, and we were one of the only organizations to give it any publicity or PR prior to the fact that it happened, and it was so under-covered by virtually every news organization. Why is that? Why was it so ignored up until the very last day by virtually everyone?” Talking Points Memo reporter Brian Beutler calls Kelly’s comment “a media version what some of us like to call a Kinsley gaffe”; such a “gaffe” is defined as an instance where a politician mistakenly tells the truth. [TPMDC, 4/16/2009] Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly notes: “Fox News is ostensibly a news outlet. Obviously, it’s not a legitimate journalistic enterprise, and equally obvious was the fact that it was doing ‘public relations’ work for the conservative rallies. But Megyn Kelly isn’t supposed to admit this on the air. As for the substance of her concerns about the legitimate news organizations, Kelly is no doubt convinced that there’s a nefarious media bias at play, but it’s at least possible major outlets didn’t have much pre-event coverage because there wasn’t that much, you know, news. Most mainstream outlets didn’t feel the need to do ‘p.r.’ work for enraged partisans in advance of their protests. That’s probably a good thing.” [Washington Monthly, 4/16/2009]

Entity Tags: Fox News, Brian Beutler, Steve Benen, Brent Bozell, Megyn Kelly

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Journalist Steve Benen notes that former President Bush promised that any American who performed torture on prisoners would be prosecuted (see May 5, 2004). In light of Bush’s statement, Benen writes: “‘Full investigation.’ We want to know ‘the truth.’ We believe in ‘justice.’ ‘We act’ in response to allegations of torture. We’re transparent and discuss developments ‘with the media.’ To fail to answer questions is to act like a ‘dictatorship.’ It seems to me if Democrats are looking for an excuse to do the right thing, they don’t have to say much more than, ‘We’re doing what Bush told us to do.’” [Washington Monthly, 4/27/2009]

Entity Tags: Steve Benen, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Progressive reporter and columnnist Steve Benen writes that the Republicans and conservatives orchestrating (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, and Before August 6, 2009) the raucous anti-health care reform protests (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 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) must be careful to avoid a backlash among moderate and independent Americans. Noting that the media has reported multiple instances of protesters’ comparisons of President Obama and his administration to Nazis, and their stated opposition to Social Security, Medicare, and other popular government programs, Benen writes: “It’s probably the one angle the corporate interests and their lobbyists haven’t considered: the unintended consequences of rallying confused right-wing activists to shout down policymakers who’ll improve their health care coverage. Once you wind up the fanatics and point them in the direction of a town hall meeting, you never really know what they’re going to say, do, wear, or hold.… This is not to say all opponents of reform are radical extremists. The point, though, is that conservatives run a risk of convincing the American mainstream that the only people worked up in opposition to health care reform are nutjobs.… Obviously, those concerned about the reform proposals go beyond fringe, unhinged activists. But if and when the anti-reform campaign becomes synonymous with right-wing lunatics, organized by insurance companies, it becomes far easier for the political mainstream to dismiss their legitimacy, while regular Americans think, ‘Well, I don’t want to be on their side.’” [Washington Monthly, 8/4/2009]

Entity Tags: Steve Benen

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Johnny Isakson.Johnny Isakson. [Source: Washington Post]Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), one of the foremost advocates of expanding Medicare’s end-of-life planning coverage, responds sharply to suggestions by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) and others that the Democrats’ health care reform proposal would create “death panels” for the forcible euthanasia of citizens deemed “less productive” or “undesirable” (see August 7, 2009). Isakson, who co-sponsored the 2007 Medicare End-of-Life Planning Act and has proposed a similar amendment to the House’s language in the Senate version of the health care bill, notes that the bill would lead to the funding of voluntary end-of-life counseling sessions between doctors and their patients, and would allow patients to choose the level of care they would receive as their lives come to a close (see July 23, 2009 and July 23, 2009). He calls Palin’s interpretation of the legislation “nuts.” Isakson says: “In the health care debate mark-up, one of the things I talked about was that the most money spent on anyone is spent usually in the last 60 days of life and that’s because an individual is not in a capacity to make decisions for themselves. So rather than getting into a situation where the government makes those decisions, if everyone had an end-of-life directive or what we call in Georgia ‘durable power of attorney,’ you could instruct at a time of sound mind and body what you want to happen in an event where you were in difficult circumstances where you’re unable to make those decisions. This has been an issue for 35 years. All 50 states now have either durable powers of attorney or end-of-life directives and it’s to protect children or a spouse from being put into a situation where they have to make a terrible decision as well as physicians from being put into a position where they have to practice defensive medicine because of the trial lawyers. It’s just better for an individual to be able to clearly delineate what they want done in various sets of circumstances at the end of their life.… It empowers you to be able to make decisions at a difficult time rather than having the government making them for you.” He says he has no idea how Palin and others have become “so mixed up” on the concept. [Washington Post, 8/10/2009] Liberal news and advocacy Web site Think Progress notes that another Republican senator, Susan Collins (R-ME), supports a similar provision to Isakson’s amendment. [Think Progress, 8/11/2009] The Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen notes that Isakson is a “deep-dyed” conservative, and writes, “Assorted wingnuts and teabaggers may not believe the administration, Democrats, objective news sources, or the plain black-and-white text of the legislation, but they should at least be willing to consider reality from one of the Senate’s most conservative members.” [Washington Monthly, 8/11/2009]

Entity Tags: Susan Collins, Steve Benen, Johnny Isakson, Medicare

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

Washington pundits are split as to whether billionaire entrepeneur and television host Donald Trump is serious about mounting a run for the Republican nomination for president in 2012. Recently, Trump has unleashed a barrage of criticism and allegations as to President Obama’s status as a US citizen (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1-8, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7-10, 2011, and April 7, 2011), and has encouraged the rumor that he intends to run. Current polls show Trump running a strong second behind former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA), tied with former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AK), and well ahead of other Republican luminaries such as Sarah Palin (R-AK) and Newt Gingrich (R-GA) in a hypothetical 2012 primary battle. Tea party supporters choose Trump as their top candidate, well ahead of Romney and Huckabee. Washington Post columnist Chris Cillizza notes that as recently as 2007, Trump was openly contemptuous of many Republican policies, and touted then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as “the best.” After questioning a number of political strategists, Cillizza determines that Trump is doing well in preliminary polls because of his enormous name recognition, his combative style, and his apparent business acumen. Democratic strategist Peter Hart says that tea partiers have abandoned Palin in large part for Trump, whom he calls “their current flavor du jour.” A Republican strategist who refuses to allow his name to be used says voters “like the no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners approach that Trump seems to take.” And Trump’s success at forging a billion-dollar financial empire gives some people “economic hope,” according to Republican consultant Carl Forti. “They want a job.… Trump’s a businessman, so in theory, he knows what he’s doing.” Republican strategist Alex Vogel predicts that Trump’s popularity will fizzle within days of actually entering the race, saying: “It is a huge mistake for people to confuse fame with electability or seriousness of candidacy. If fame was all it took, [American Idol creator] Simon Cowell could pick presidents and not just rock stars.” Cillizza says that Trump’s current popularity speaks more to the volatility of the Republican primary field than a real movement among Republicans to put Trump in the White House. [Washington Post, 4/7/2011] Progressive Washington pundit Steve Benen is less charitable than Cillizza, noting that “Trump has been running around to every media outlet he can find, spewing conspiracy theories and bizarre ideas that resonate with easily-fooled extremists. And wouldn’t you know it, polls suddenly show Republican voters gravitating to the guy.… When a clownish television personality plays to their worst instincts, these folks are inclined to like what they see.” Benen calls Trump’s potential nothing more than “an elaborate publicity stunt, closer to a practical joke than an actual campaign.” He concludes: “[W]hat matters here is what the latest polls tell us about the hysterical wing of the Republican Party. A reality-show personality has been whining incessantly about the president’s birth certificate, and a sizeable contingent of the GOP base has decided that’s enough to earn their support. Trump’s a sideshow. The real story here is the madness that’s overcome a few too many Republican voters.” [Washington Monthly, 4/7/2011]

Entity Tags: Mike Huckabee, Barack Obama, Alex Vogel, Carl Forti, Donald Trump, Peter Hart, Sarah Palin, Chris Cillizza, Newt Gingrich, Steve Benen, Willard Mitt Romney, Republican Party

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2012 Elections

Mo Brooks.Mo Brooks. [Source: Public domain / Wikimedia]Many Congressional Republicans, particularly “tea party” freshmen, believe that not only is the Obama administration lying about the potentially catastrophic consequences of a US credit default that would follow the failure of Congress to raise the nation’s debt ceiling (see April 30, 2011, May 20, 2011, June 26, 2011, and July 11-12, 2011), but some even say that a credit default would be ultimately good for the nation. President Obama is joined by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), the chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Moody’s credit rating agency in saying that Congress’s failure to raise the debt ceiling by August 2 would be an economic disaster and must be avoided. But Representative Eric A “Rick” Crawford (R-AK) says otherwise. Crawford says all Obama would have to do to handle a default and the subsequent halt in US borrowing would be to use existing tax revenue to pay for what Crawford sees as “essential” federal services: the military, Medicare and Social Security, and interest on existing debt. If other government services, programs, and agencies such as the FBI, veterans’ benefits, and others would be interrupted, Crawford says that would be acceptable. “That wouldn’t work for just a few days. That would work for a few years,” he says, adding that he will not vote for a debt ceiling increase unless it is coupled with massive federal spending cuts. Budget deficits require “that we take some painful measures now. I’d rather swallow that bitter pill today.” Most of the cuts Crawford and fellow Republicans want would be in social safety-net programs, from Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and disability benefits to funding for education and veterans programs. Crawford and a number of House Republicans simply refuse to accept statements that economic calamity would result from a missed deadline, the Washington Post reports. That opinion, the Post says, will make raising the debt ceiling far more difficult than similar ceiling raises of previous years. Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL) says that not raising the debt ceiling would actually benefit the economy in the long run. Raising the debt ceiling, he says, just enables the federal government to spend itself into more debt. “A debt ceiling problem, as large as it is, is not anywhere near as a big or as bad as” more debt, he says. He adds that the government can continue paying creditors even if it is refused further credit. “There should be no default on August 2,” he says. “In fact, our credit rating should be improved by not raising the debt ceiling.” Most financial leaders in government and the private sector believe that the US credit rating will be dropped, perhaps significantly, if the US defaults on its debt, and the consequences of that drop could send the nation’s economy into a full-blown recession or even a depression. Even Boehner says the debt ceiling must be lifted. “Missing August 2nd could spook the [stock] market,” he says. “And you could have a real catastrophe. Nobody wants that to happen.” An Obama official recently said of legislators like Crawford and Brooks, “These are the kinds of people who get eaten by bears.” Washington Monthly editor Steve Benen writes: “The problem that plagues the nation is not about competing parties, ideologies, or creeds. It comes down to a dispute between those who believe empirical reality exists and deserves to be taken seriously vs. those who don’t. With Republican members of Congress and their supporters choosing the latter, it’s increasingly difficult to imagine the United States thriving in the 21st century.” [Politico, 5/13/2011; Washington Post, 7/14/2011; Washington Monthly, 7/15/2011]

Entity Tags: Morris Jackson (“Mo”) Brooks, Jr., Barack Obama, Eric A. (“Rick”) Crawford, Moody’s Investors Service, US Congress, John Boehner, Washington Post, Obama administration, US Federal Reserve, Steve Benen

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney (R-MA) uses a phrase made familiar by the Ku Klux Klan in his stump speeches. In a speech given to supporters in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Romney says: “There are people in this room who are informed and who care about this election, who recognize that this is a defining time for America. We have on one side a president who wants to transform America into a European-style nation, and you have on other hand someone like myself that wants to turn around America and keep America America.” Reporters and bloggers note that Romney, inadvertently or not, is echoing the phrase “Keep America American” as used for nearly a century by the KKK. A 1920 pamphlet published by the United Klans of America and archived at Yale University was entitled “Why you should become a klansman: of interest to white, protestant, native born Americans who want to keep America American.” On the eve of World War II, a Klan-affiliated organization called the American Coalition pressured the US government not to admit Jewish refugees into the country. And in 1950, a pamphlet with the phrase “Keep America American” was sold in Dallas, Texas, just before a wave of bombings of African-American-owned homes rocked the city. Reporter Steve Benen also notes that the 2008 Romney campaign intended to use a similar “keep America America” attack against the Democratic nominee for that year if Romney had survived the primary process: focusing then on Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, the Romney campaign intended to run on the platform that Clinton and the Democrats wanted to “drag America down to Europe’s standards.… That’s where Hillary and Dems would take us. Hillary = France.” The Romney campaign planned to print “First, not France” bumper stickers to go along with the campaign rhetoric. [Washington Monthly, 12/12/2011; Booman Tribune, 12/12/2011; Los Angeles Times, 12/10/2012] After initially refusing to comment on the allegation of the campaign using a KKK slogan, Romney spokespersons claim that their candidate is using the phrase “Keep America America,” and not the KKK phrase. Liberal blogger John Aravosis calls the campaign’s claim “a nuance without a difference” and says, somewhat sarcastically, that if it is fair to use President Obama’s rhetoric to label him a “socialist,” then it is equally fair to use Romney’s phraseology to label him a member of the Klan. MSNBC talk show host Chris Matthews reports on the story, and is quickly pressured by NBC senior management to issue an apology to the Romney campaign, calling his reporting “irresponsible and incendiary” and indicative of “an appalling lack of judgment.” [John Aravosis, 12/13/2011; Mediaite, 12/14/2011; John Aravosis, 12/14/2011] In line with MSNBC’s retreat from its reporting, Washington Post editor Patrick B. Pexton calls the Post’s own reporting of the controversial slogan usage “error-filled,” and repeats the Romney campaign’s claim that the phrase “Keep America America” is different from the KKK’s “Keep America American.” Pexton also notes that a campaign ad on YouTube using the phrase is not an actual Romney campaign ad, but an ad by an “independent” political organization in support of Romney. [Washington Post, 12/16/2011] AlterNet’s Chauncey DeVega later writes of the controversy: “The dropping of one letter from the Ku Klux Klan’s slogan, ‘Keep America American,’ does not remove the intent behind Romney’s repeated use of such a virulently bigoted phrase. While Mitt Romney can claim ignorance of the slogan’s origins, he is intentionally channeling its energy.” DeVega notes the intensely “nativist” connotations of the phrase, and writes that Romney, like the remainder of his fellow Republican presidential contenders, is “hostile” to immigrants of any stripe, a hostility reflected in the phrase. “Romney’s slogan, ‘Keep America America,’ begs the obvious question: Just who is American? Who gets to decide?” [AlterNet, 1/25/2012]

Entity Tags: Ku Klux Klan, Washington Post, NBC News, John Aravosis, Chris Matthews, Chauncey DeVega, Patrick B. Pexton, Willard Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, Steve Benen

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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