The Center for Grassroots Oversight

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Profile: Van Jones

Van Jones was a participant or observer in the following events:

The conservative “astroturf” advocacy organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, October 2008, and August 6, 2009) launches a multi-pronged attack on every major policy initiative attempted by the Obama administration. Within weeks of Obama’s inauguration, AFP holds “Porkulus” rallies protesting Obama’s stimulus spending measures. The Koch-funded Mercatus Center (see August 30, 2010), working in concert with AFP, releases a report that falsely claims stimulus funds are being disproportionately directed towards Democratic districts; the author is later forced to correct the report, but not before conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, citing the report, calls the stimulus program “a slush fund,” and Fox News and other conservative outlets repeat the characterization. AFP vice president Phil Kerpen is a Fox News contributor; AFP officer Walter Williams is a frequent guest host for Limbaugh. AFP soon creates an offshoot organization, Patients United Now (PUN—see May 29, 2009), designed to oppose the Obama administration’s health care reform initiatives; PUN holds some 300 rallies against reform efforts (see August 5, 2009), some of which depict Democratic lawmakers hung in effigy (see July 27, 2009) and others depict corpses from Nazi concentration camps. AFP also holds over 80 rallies opposing cap-and-trade legislation, which would force industries to pay for creating air pollution. AFP also targets individual Obama administration members, such as “green jobs” czar Van Jones, and opposes the administration’s attempt to hold international climate talks. AFP leader Tim Phillips (see August 6, 2009) tells one anti-environmental rally: “We’re a grassroots organization.… I think it’s unfortunate when wealthy children of wealthy families… want to send unemployment rates in the United States up to 20 percent.” (Mayer 8/30/2010)

Van Jones.Van Jones. [Source: Politico]White House official Van Jones, the Obama administration’s special advisor for environmental jobs, resigns after a barrage of criticism from conservative critics and Republican officials. Jones is an author, community organizer, and “green jobs” expert from the San Francisco area; before his resignation, he was in charge of a small White House program advocating for jobs in energy-efficient industries. Indications are that Jones was asked by White House officials to resign, in part because administration officials wanted to “move beyond” the criticism of him as Obama prepares to address Congress on the subject of health care reform (see September 9, 2009). In 2004, Jones signed a petition asking for an investigation into whether the Bush administration had allowed the 9/11 terrorist attacks in order to provide a pretext for war in the Middle East, though he has always said he does not support the so-called “truther” movement that features allegations of Bush officials’ involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Shortly before joining the administration, Jones used the term “_ssholes” to characterize Republicans. He is a public supporter of Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer. Conservatives have termed him a “radical Communist” for his affiliation with some left-wing protest movements. The New York Times calls the controversy around Jones a “significant distraction” to Obama’s health care agenda. Critics have attacked Jones specifically as well as administration officials such as him, sometimes called “czars,” who are appointed to positions of some influence in the White House without having to be approved by Congress. White House officials say that they were unaware of Jones’s more controversial statements and positions because his position was not considered senior enough to warrant complete vetting. Press secretary Robert Gibbs says that Obama does not endorse Jones’s views and did not hesitate to accept his resignation: “Well, what Van Jones decided was that the agenda of this president was bigger than any one individual. The president thanks Van Jones for his service in the first eight months, helping to coordinate renewable energy jobs and lay the foundation for our future economic growth.” (Broder 9/6/2009; Barbash and Siegel 9/7/2009) The online news site Politico writes: “Jones’ departure from the position is the first real scalp claimed by the Republican right, which stoked much of the criticism of Jones.… Jones’ controversial statements fit snugly into the narrative woven by some conservative critics of Obama as a dangerous leftist, a critique that goes back to the campaign and was based as much on his past work as a community organizer and associations with the likes of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers as on his policies. Jones’ roots in radical politics, and a spate of newly surfaced links Saturday documenting his advocacy for convicted cop killer and former Black Panther Mumia Abu Jamal—a death row prisoner who many in the activist left view as an unjustly convicted political prisoner—threatened to play into that narrative.” (Barbash and Siegel 9/7/2009) One of Jones’s loudest critics was Fox News’s Glenn Beck, who has repeatedly targeted Jones on his show since July 2009. Beck regularly calls Jones a “Communist-anarchist radical.” Some speculate that Beck began attacking Jones because an organization co-founded by Jones, Color of Change, began a movement to force Beck’s resignation after Beck called Obama a “racist” (see July 28-29, 2009). The influential conservative news blog World Net Daily (WND) has attacked Jones since at least April 2009, calling him “an admitted radical communist and black nationalist leader” who “sees [the] environment as [a] racial issue.” Beck has used much of WND’s rhetoric in his attacks on Jones. (Klein 4/12/2009; Weigel 9/4/2009; Broder 9/6/2009) In recent days, Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) called on Jones to resign, and Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO) called for an investigation into Jones’s appointment, labeling Jones as “erratic and unstable” in a letter to Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the chairman of the Green Jobs and New Economy Subcommittee. Former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean defends Jones, saying he was being penalized for not realizing what the petition he signed in 2004 was: “This guy’s a Yale-educated lawyer. He’s a best-selling author about his specialty. I think he was brought down, and I think it’s too bad. Washington’s a tough place that way, and I think it’s a loss for the country.” In his resignation letter, Jones writes: “On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me. They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide.” However, he writes, though many have advised him to stay and fight for his position: “I cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past. We need all hands on deck, fighting for our future.” (Broder 9/6/2009; Barbash and Siegel 9/7/2009)

White House communications director Anita Dunn says that the White House believes Fox News is not a traditional, non-partisan news provider, but a media outlet for the Republican opposition. Fox News is “a wing of the Republican Party,” Dunn says. “They take their talking points, put them on the air; take their opposition research, put them on the air. And that’s fine. But let’s not pretend they’re a news network the way CNN is.” Dunn continues: “[W]e’re not going to legitimize them as a news organization.… We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent. As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.” (Scherer 10/8/2009; Stelter 10/11/2009; Fox News 10/12/2009) In late September, Dunn told a reporter: “It’s opinion journalism masquerading as news. They are boosting their audience. But that doesn’t mean we are going to sit back.” (Scherer 9/30/2009) Fox News retorts that its news reporting segments, which its vice president Michael Clemente defines as being broadcast between “9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on weekdays,” are non-partisan, and criticism of the White House and Congressional Democrats is limited to commentary by on-air personalities such as Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck (see October 13, 2009). “The average consumer certainly knows the difference between the A section of the newspaper and the editorial page,” Clemente says, and adds that the White House is intentionally conflating Fox’s news programs with its opinion shows: “It’s astounding the White House cannot distinguish between news and opinion programming. It seems self-serving on their part.… Instead of governing, the White House continues to be in campaign mode, and Fox News is the target of their attack mentality. Perhaps the energy would be better spent on the critical issues that voters are worried about.” Another Fox News vice president, Bill Shine, welcomes the criticism, saying, “Every time they do it, our ratings go up.” Fox News has recently hired more outspoken conservative media figures, including former ABC News reporter John Stossel for its spin-off channel, Fox Business, and is reputedly negotiating to hire commentator Lou Dobbs away from CNN. Dunn and others say that it will not ostracize Fox News, and its White House correspondent, Major Garrett, will continue to be welcome at White House press conferences. Clemente has instructed Garrett, news anchor Shepard Smith, and other Fox reporters not to appear on some of its commentary programs. However, the White House has limited appearances by its members on Fox News shows; in mid-September, when President Obama made the rounds of Sunday morning talk shows, he skipped Fox, and the White House called Fox an “ideological outlet” instead of a legitimate news provider (see September 18-19, 2009). White House advisers note that in the past, Fox News hosts have falsely accused Obama of attending an Islamic “madrassa” to receive indoctrination in radical Islam (see January 22-24, 2008), promoted “tea party” rallies against the government (see March 23-24, 2009, April 6-7, 2009, April 6-13, 2009, April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, May 13-14, 2009, July 28, 2009, and August 28, 2009), called Obama “unpatriotic” for attempting to land the 2016 Olympics for the US (see October 2, 2009), and led a push to force low-level White House adviser Van Jones out of his job (including accusations from Beck that Jones was a “communist-anarchist radical”). The White House notes that Beck and other Fox commentators regularly lie about the day’s events, and cites a recent example where Beck complained that Garrett was “never called on” at White House press briefings, when Garrett had asked a question of the president that same day. Beck has repeatedly called Obama a “racist,” leading to a boycott of advertisers for Beck’s show (see July 28-29, 2009). (Scherer 10/8/2009; Stelter 10/11/2009; Ariens 10/11/2009) Fox News encourages and promotes the dispute with the White House, and its ratings improve. Later, a Fox News executive tells Clemente that the White House’s attacks were like “a hanging curveball” for the network. (Sherman 5/22/2011)

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)


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