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President Richard Nixon writes an action memo to senior aide H. R. Haldeman saying, “One of our most important projects for 1970 is to see that our major contributors funnel all their funds through us.” Haldeman and Commerce Secretary Maurice Stans set up a secret fund-raising enterprise, the “Townhouse Operation,” designed to bypass the Republican National Committee. By doing so, Nixon intends to ensure the GOP will field candidates suitably loyal to him, and reliably opposed to the GOP’s traditional Eastern Establishment base that Nixon so resents. Although George H. W. Bush is a charter member of that Eastern Establishment, Nixon likes and trusts him. Bush is “a total Nixon man,” Nixon once says. “He’ll do anything for the cause.” Bush is the main beneficiary of the slush fund, which is made up of about $106,000 in contributions from Texas GOP sources, but up to 18 other Republican Senate candidates also receive money from the fund. The Wall Street Journal will later lambast Townhouse, calling it a “dress rehearsal for the campaign finance abuses of Watergate, as well as for today’s loophole-ridden system.” (Werth 2006, pp. 115-116)
An Italian-American disinformation campaign has a profound effect on the US presidential election of 1980. With the assistance of Italian intelligence (SISMI) and the shadowy right-wing organization called “Propaganda Due,” or P-2 (see 1981), American neoconservative Michael Ledeen organizes a smear campaign against Billy Carter, the brother of US President Jimmy Carter. (Billy Carter is a self-proclaimed alcoholic whose escapades have provoked much hilarity among the US press and an equal amount of embarrassment in the White House.) In the weeks before the election, Ledeen publishes articles in the British and American press accusing Billy Carter of having untoward and perhaps illegal financial dealings with Libyan dictator Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi. Billy Carter is forced to admit that he did accept a $200,000 loan from al-Qadhafi’s regime. The ensuing scandal becomes known as “Billygate.” It is not known for sure what impact the scandal will eventually have on the race between President Carter and his Republican challenger, Ronald Reagan; what is known is that “Billygate” erupted in 1979, was investigated, and had died down. Then, less than a month before the November 1980 election, Ledeen and Arnaud de Borchgrave write an article for the US’s New Republic and Britain’s Now magazine that falsely alleges Billy Carter took an additional $50,000 from al-Qadhafi, and worse, met secretly with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The articles reignite the scandal in time to affect the election. In 1985, a Wall Street Journal investigation will find that “Billygate” is an orchestrated attempt by Ledeen and SISMI to throw the election to Reagan. Ledeen, who used SISMI sources to unearth financial information on Billy Carter, was himself paid $120,000 by SISMI for “Billygate” and other projects. Ledeen has a code name, Z-3, and is paid through a Bermuda bank account. Ledeen will later admit that his consulting firm, ISI, may have accepted SISMI money, and will claim he can’t remember if he has a coded identity. P-2 operative Francesco Pazienza will be convicted in absentia on multiple charges stemming from the “Billygate” disinformation campaign, including extortion and fraud. Ledeen will not be charged in the Italian court that convicts Pazienza, but prosecutors will cite his participation in their arguments against Pazienza. Ledeen will deny any involvement with either Pazienza or P-2, and deny any connection to any disinformation schemes. In fact, Ledeen will say he doesn’t even believe P-2 exists. After Reagan takes office, Ledeen will be made a special assistant to chief of staff Alexander Haig, and later will become a staff member of Reagan’s National Security Council, where he will play a key role in setting up the arms-for-hostages deal with Iran. (Unger 2007, pp. 233-234, 388)
On the eve of the election victory by presidential candidate Bill Clinton (D-AR), the Wall Street Journal publishes an op-ed titled “Dracula Liberalism,” which sardonically portrays liberals as vampires and Clinton as their prey. “The Clinton campaign, if you choose to believe, has driven a stake through the heart of American liberalism,” it writes. But the “dead” liberals may yet rise: “Like [famed actor] Bela Lugosi, the liberals possess great, destructive strength. They have the power of hypnosis.… (Has anyone checked the necks recently of [Supreme Court] Justices [David] Souter and [Anthony] Kennedy?)” If Clinton wins the presidency, the Journal writes, “the liberal undead would produce a great many fitful pre-dawn hours for a young President Clinton.… [I]f Bill Clinton wins, don’t bother to fax your congratulations to the White House. Send cloves of garlic instead.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 61) Editorialist Otis Pike will write two days later that the Journal editorial concluded “what has seemed a daily barrage predicting a dreadful fate for the nation under a Clinton presidency,” even though the Journal’s own reporters were simultaneously running stories with headlines such as “Post-Election Investment Environment Is Seen as Little Changed by Who Wins.” (Pike 11/4/1992)
The US routinely denies that its satellite surveillance program, Echelon, provides any information to corporations, noting that the law clearly prevents such transactions. But former CIA director James Woolsey confirms that the US does indeed conduct economic espionage against its European allies, though he does not specifically mention Echelon. Woolsey, a well-known neoconservative, justifies such actions by accusing European companies of using bribery to gain unfair advantages against US corporations. “We have spied on you because you bribe,” he writes in the Wall Street Journal. “[European] products are often more costly, less technically advanced or both, than [their] American competitors’. As a result [they] bribe a lot.” (Asser 7/6/2000)
Miami-Dade County election officials vote unanimously to halt the county’s manual recount of presidential ballots (see November 7, 2000 and Before 10:00 a.m. November 19, 2000), saying the county does not have enough time to complete its recount by the November 26 deadline. Instead, they vote to recount only 10,750 “undervotes,” ballots that don’t clearly indicate a presidential choice. The decision costs Democratic candidate Al Gore a 157-vote gain from the halted recount process. That evening, a Florida State appeals court denies a motion by Democrats to force Miami-Dade County to restart the manual recount. (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Leip 2008)
Opposing Beliefs - The next day, the Florida Supreme Court will also refuse to order Miami-Dade to restart the recount (see 2:45 p.m. November 23, 2000). Press reports say that the decision “dramatically reverse[s] the chances of Al Gore gathering enough votes to defeat George W. Bush.” Gore’s senior campaign advisor William Daley calls the recounts “mandatory” and calls for “the rule of law” to be upheld. For his part, Bush says: “I believe Secretary Cheney and I won the vote in Florida (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000). And I believe some are determined to keep counting in an effort to change the legitimate result.” In light of the Miami-Dade decision, the Bush campaign’s chief legal advisor James Baker invites the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature to unilaterally declare Bush the victor, saying, “One should not now be surprised if the Florida legislature seeks to affirm the original rules.”
Agitators Disrupt Recount Proceedings - The recount proceedings are disrupted and ultimately ended by a mob of Republicans, some local and some bussed and flown in from Washington by the Bush campaign. The agitators are protesting outside the Miami-Dade County election offices, shouting and attempting to interfere with the proceedings of the canvassing board. Republicans have accused a Democratic lawyer of stealing a ballot. (Kettle 11/23/2000; Guardian 11/25/2000)
Rioters Made Up of Republican Staffers, Others - Democrats accuse Republican protesters of intimidating the Miami-Dade County officials into stopping the recount. Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman says the demonstrations in Miami have been orchestrated by Republicans “to intimidate and to prevent a simple count of votes from going forward.” Six Democratic members of the US Congress demand the Justice Department investigate the claims, saying that civil rights have been violated in “a shocking case of undermining the right to vote through intimidation and threats of violence.” Jenny Backus, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), says, “The Republicans are out of control,” and accuses them of using paid agitators to “create mob rule in Miami.” (Guardian 11/25/2000) Later investigations show that the “spontaneous protests” by Republican protesters were far more orchestrated and violent than generally reported by the press at the time. Investigative journalist Robert Parry will write that the protests, called the “Brooks Brothers Riot” because of the wealthy, “preppie” makeup of the “protesters,” helped stop the recount, “and showed how far Bush’s supporters were ready to go to put their man in the White House.” He will write that the protests should be more accurately termed a riot. At least six of the rioters were paid by the Bush recount committee, payments documented in Bush committee records only released to the IRS in July 2002 (see July 15, 2002). Twelve Republican staffers will later be identified in photographs of the rioters. The six who can be confirmed as being paid are: Bush staffer Matt Schlapp from Austin, Texas; Thomas Pyle, a staff aide to House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX); DeLay fundraiser Michael Murphy; Garry Malphrus, House majority chief counsel to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice; Charles Royal, a legislative aide to Representative Jim DeMint (R-SC); and former Republican House staffer Kevin Smith. Another Republican is identified as Doug Heye, a staffer for Representative Richard Pombo (R-CA). At least three of the rioters—Schlapp, Malphrus, and Joel Kaplan—will later join the Bush White House. Many of the rioters were brought in on planes and buses from Washington as early as mid-November, with promises of expenses payments. On November 18, 2000, the Bush campaign told activists, “We now need to send reinforcements” to rush to Florida. “The campaign will pay airfare and hotel expenses for people willing to go.” Many of the respondents are low-level Republican staffers from Congress. “These reinforcements… added an angrier tone to the dueling street protests already underway between supporters of Bush and Gore,” Parry will write. Quoting ABC reporter Jake Tapper, Parry will write, “The new wave of Republican activists injected ‘venom and volatility into an already edgy situation.’” Signifying the tone, before the Miami riot, Brad Blakeman, Bush’s campaign director of advance travel logistics, screamed down a CNN correspondent attempting to interview a Democratic Congressman: “This is the new Republican Party, sir! We’re not going to take it anymore!” (Consortium News 11/27/2000; Parry 8/5/2002; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004) Some of the local protesters are summoned to the Miami-Dade electoral offices by angry broadcasts over radio stations with largely Cuban-American audiences; over these radio stations, listeners hear Bush campaign lawyer Roger Stone, coordinating the radio response, say that the recounts intend to disenfranchise Hispanic voters. Republican operatives coordinate the protests by shouting orders through megaphones. (Consortium News 11/24/2000; Alterman 12/9/2010) Cuban-Americans voted heavily for Bush in the November 7 election. (Tapper 3/2001)
Details of the Riot; Staffers Assaulted and Beaten - After learning that the Miami-Dade County canvassing board was beginning to examine 10,750 disputed ballots that had not previously been counted, US Representative John Sweeney (R-NY) issues the order to “Shut it down!” (Sweeney is coordinating his efforts with a local Cuban congressman who himself is coordinating the Cuban-American mob response.) Brendan Quinn, the executive director of the New York Republican Party, tells some two dozen Republican operatives outside the Miami-Dade County election offices to storm the room on the 19th floor where the canvassing board is meeting. Tapper later writes: “Emotional and angry, they immediately make their way outside the larger room in which the tabulating room is contained. The mass of ‘angry voters’ on the 19th floor swells to maybe 80 people,” including many of the Republican activists from outside Florida, and joined by local protesters. As news organizations videotape the scene, the protesters reach the board offices and begin shouting slogans such as “Stop the count! Stop the fraud!” “Three Blind Mice!” and “Fraud, fraud, fraud!” and banging on doors and walls. The protesters also shout that a thousand potentially violent Cuban-Americans are on the way. Official observers and reporters are unable to force their way through the shouting crowd of Republican operatives and their cohorts. Miami-Dade spokesman Mayco Villafena is physically assaulted, being pushed and shoved by an unknown number of assailants. Security officials, badly outmanned, fear the confrontation will swell into a full-scale riot. Miami-Dade elections supervisor David Leahy orders the recounts stopped, saying, “Until the demonstration stops, nobody can do anything.” (Although board members will later insist that they were not intimidated into stopping, the recounts will never begin again. Leahy will later say: “This was perceived as not being an open and fair process. That weighed heavy on our minds.”) Meanwhile, unaware of the rioting, county Democratic chairman Joe Geller stops at another office in search of a sample ballot. He wants to prove his theory that some voters had intended to vote for Gore, but instead marked an adjoining number indicating no choice. He finds one and leaves the office. Some of the rioters spot Geller with the sample ballot, and one shouts, “This guy’s got a ballot!” Tapper will later write: “The masses swarm around him, yelling, getting in his face, pushing him, grabbing him. ‘Arrest him!’ they cry. ‘Arrest him!’ With the help of a diminutive DNC [Democratic National Committee] aide, Luis Rosero, and the political director of the Miami Gore campaign, Joe Fraga, Geller manages to wrench himself into the elevator.” Rosero stays behind to attempt to talk with a reporter, and instead is kicked and punched by rioters. A woman shoves Rosero into a much larger man in what Tapper will later theorize was an attempt to start a fight between Rosero and the other person. In the building lobby, some 50 Republican protesters and activists swarm Geller, surrounding him. Police escort Geller back to the 19th floor in both an attempt to save him from harm and to ascertain what is happening. The crowd attempts to pull Geller away from the police. Some of the protesters even accost 73-year-old Representative Carrie Meek (D-FL). Democratic operatives decide to leave the area completely. When the mob learns that the recounts have been terminated, they break forth in lusty cheers.
After-Party - After the riots, the Bush campaign pays $35,501.52 for a celebration at Fort Lauderdale’s Hyatt Regency, where the rioters and campaign officials party, enjoy free food and drink, receive congratulatory calls from Bush and Dick Cheney, and are serenaded by Las Vegas crooner Wayne Newton, singing “Danke Schoen,” German for “thank you very much.” Other expenses at the party include lighting, sound system, and even costumes.
Media Reportage - Bush and his campaign officials say little publicly about the riot. Some press outlets report the details behind the riots. The Washington Post later reports that “even as the Bush campaign and the Republicans portray themselves as above the fray,” national Republicans actually had joined in and helped finance the riot. The Wall Street Journal tells readers that Bush offered personal words of encouragement to the rioters after the melee, writing, “The night’s highlight was a conference call from Mr. Bush and running mate Dick Cheney, which included joking reference by both running mates to the incident in Miami, two [Republican] staffers in attendance say.” The Journal also observes that the riot was led by national Republican operatives “on all expense-paid trips, courtesy of the Bush campaign.” And, the Journal will note, the rioters went on to attempt to disrupt the recounts in Broward County, but failed there to stop the proceedings. The Journal will write that “behind the rowdy rallies in South Florida this past weekend was a well-organized effort by Republican operatives to entice supporters to South Florida,” with DeLay’s Capitol Hill office taking charge of the recruitment. No similar effort was made by the Gore campaign, the Journal will note: “This has allowed the Republicans to quickly gain the upper hand, protest-wise.” And the Journal will write that the Bush campaign worked to keep its distance from the riots: “Staffers who joined the effort say there has been an air of mystery to the operation. ‘To tell you the truth, nobody knows who is calling the shots,’ says one aide. Many nights, often very late, a memo is slipped underneath the hotel-room doors outlining coming events.” But soon, media reports begin echoing Bush campaign talking points, which call the “protests” “fitting, proper,” and the fault of the canvassing board: “The board made a series of bad decisions and the reaction to it was inevitable and well justified.” The Bush campaign says the mob attack on the elections office was justified because civil rights leader Jesse Jackson had led peaceful, non-violent protests in favor of the recounts in Miami the day before. The campaign also insists that the protests were spontaneous and made up entirely of local citizens. On November 26, Governor Marc Racicot (R-MT), a Bush campaign spokesman, will tell NBC viewers: “Clearly there are Americans on both sides of these issues reflecting very strong viewpoints. But to suggest that somehow this was a threatening situation, in my view, is hyperbolic rhetoric.”
Effect of the Riot - According to Parry, the riot, broadcast live on CNN and other networks, “marked a turning point in the recount battle. At the time, Bush clung to a lead that had dwindled to several hundred votes and Gore was pressing for recounts (see November 20-21, 2000). The riot in Miami and the prospects of spreading violence were among the arguments later cited by defenders of the 5-to-4 US Supreme Court ruling (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000)… that stopped a statewide Florida recount and handed Bush the presidency. Backed by the $13.8 million war chest, the Bush operation made clear in Miami and in other protests that it was ready to kick up plenty of political dust if it didn’t get its way.” In the hours after the riot, conservative pundits led by Rush Limbaugh will engage in orchestrated assaults on the recount process as fraudulent and an attempt by the Gore campaign to “invent” votes. No one is ever charged with any criminal behaviors as a result of the riot. (Consortium News 11/24/2000; Milbank 11/27/2000; Barrett 12/19/2000; Parry 8/5/2002; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Alterman 12/9/2010)
The Bush campaign seeks stays in the Florida Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and the US Supreme Court regarding the acceptance of 43,852 “undervote” recounts in Florida counties. Most importantly, the Bush campaign also asks the US Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, which would declare its candidate the winner of the Florida presidential election. Both the Florida Supreme Court and Eleventh Appeals Court refuse to issue the stay. Most observers believe that if the recounts are completed and their vote totals tabulated, Democrat Al Gore will win enough votes to win Florida, and thusly become president. Currently Republican George W. Bush has a mere 193-vote lead (see December 7-8, 2000), and recount totals from Miami-Dade County alone are expected to give Gore more than this amount. One example of the problematic situation in Florida is with Duval County, which includes the city of Jacksonville, where claims of massive African-American disenfranchsement and discrimination (see November 7, 2000) have already tainted the balloting. Duval has 4,967 undervotes, but they are mixed in with 291,000 others, all stored in boxes in a vault. The all-Republican electoral board, as seen on national television, has begun examining ballots, but as The Guardian observes, “with such painstaking reluctance to proceed, it amounted to an effective filibuster.” Democratic spokeswoman Jenny Backus tells reporters, “What we’ve heard is that they’re going to try to slow this down by every means they can.” However, the US Supreme Court issues the requested stay and the undervote tabulation stops. The Court does not issue the requested writ of certiorari. (Supreme Court of the United States 12/8/2000 ; Supreme Court of the United States 12/9/2000 ; Vulliamy and Borger 12/10/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Leip 2008) The divide among the nine US Supreme Court justices is plain. The five conservative justices, led by Antonin Scalia, have since December 4 been circulating memos among themselves and their clerks, bouncing various arguments off one another in what the liberal justices’ clerks feel is an attempt to audition and solidify their arguments in favor of overturning the Florida high court’s decision and giving the presidency to Bush. The four liberal justices, led by John Paul Stevens, have long felt that the Court had no business being involved in the issue, that it was instead up to the Florida judiciary and legislature to settle the matter. Stevens, writing the anticipated dissent for the minority, has to ask the majority for more time to complete his dissent, so eager are they to issue their ruling. When Scalia sees in Stevens’s dissent the line that says, “counting every legally cast vote cannot constitute irreparable harm”—a direct rebuke to Scalia’s earlier argument that the Florida recounts would do “irreparable harm” to a Bush presidency—Scalia inadvertently delays the proceedings to write his own angry rejoinder, which reads in part, “Count first, and rule upon legality afterwards, is not a recipe for producing election results that have the public acceptance democratic stability requires.” Scalia’s nakedly partisan stance discomfits even some of the other conservative justices’ clerks and angers the liberal clerks. “The Court had worked hard to claim a moral high ground, but at that moment he pissed it away,” one later recalls. “And there was a certain amount of glee. He’d made our case for us to the public about how crassly partisan the whole thing was.” After Scalia finishes his rejoinder, the Court issues its stay, stopping all further recounts. Gore himself, unaware of the arguments and partisanship dividing the Court, still holds out hope that one of the conservatives—O’Connor or Anthony Kennedy, perhaps (see After 7:50 p.m. November 7, 2000 and (November 29, 2000))—can be reached. “Please be sure that no one trashes the Court,” he admonishes his staffers. Gore decides to have campaign lawyer David Boies instead of Laurence Tribe argue the campaign’s case in the upcoming arguments, perhaps hoping that Boies, more moderate than the outspokenly liberal Tribe, might win some support from either Kennedy or O’Connor. Boies has also been representing Gore in Florida, and can presumably reassure the justices of the fundamental fairness of what is happening there. The liberal clerks have no such illusions. What hopes they have now are pinned on the press. One has heard a rumor that the Wall Street Journal is preparing to publish a story reporting that O’Connor had been overheard at a dinner party expressing her opposition to a Gore presidency; that report, the clerks hope, might force O’Connor to recuse herself from the decision and tie the court at 4-4. However, O’Connor has no such intention. Gore’s lawyers, aware of O’Connor’s statements, consider asking her to recuse herself, but decide instead to restrain themselves in hopes that she will, according to a 2004 Vanity Fair article, “now lean toward them to prove her fairness.” (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004)
The Wall Street Journal editorial page reacts to the 9/11 attacks by advocating that the US attack “terrorist camps in Syria, Sudan, Libya, and Algeria, and perhaps even in parts of Egypt.” (Buchanan 3/24/2003)
The Drudge Report and other media sources falsely accuse the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), a leftist political organization in New York, of “sending people to MN to illegally vote for [Senator Paul] Wellstone.” Wellstone, a Democrat, is running for re-election as senator for Minnesota. Drudge’s headline links to a fundraising appeal from the DSA that asks for donations to send students to help register voters in Minnesota. The Drudge Report is one of the most popular news sites on the Internet, receiving over 100 million visits in the last month. The appeal reads in part: “DSA’s national electoral project this year is the Minnesota Senate Election. Together with YDS, DSA’s Youth Section, we are mobilizing to bring young people to Minnesota. Minnesota is one of the few states that allow same day voter registration. We will therefore focus our energy on registering young people. Wellstone will need a high percentage of young people to register and vote for him if he is to stave off the campaign that Bush, the Republicans, and the Greens are waging against him. He is the Right’s Number One electoral target. Because we are focusing on issue based voter registration this electoral work can be supported by tax-deductible contributions. The DSA FUND is soliciting tax-deductible contributions to support this project. Contributions are needed to underwrite the costs of transportation as well as providing a stipend for expenses; housing is being donated.” The appeal states that the DSA wants to send students to register voters, a perfectly legal activity, though Spinsanity’s Bryan Keefer notes that the appeal is somewhat confusing in its wording. (Keefer 10/16/2002; Keefer 10/18/2002) The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports: “Minnesota, which always ranks high in voter turnout, generally is considered one of the easiest states in which to vote. Voters must reside in the state for at least 20 days before the election, a deadline that passed on the day the league issued its press release. If not preregistered, qualified people can vote if they show proof of their residency at the polling place or have a registered voter from that precinct vouch for their residency.” (Minneapolis Star-Tribune 10/17/2002)
October 14 - The controversy begins with a press release from the Taxpayers League of Minnesota (TLM), a conservative advocacy group, that attacks the DSA’s voter registration effort as “one of the most transparent attempts to steal an election since the Daley machine ran Chicago politics.” The release mischaracterizes the DSA’s appeal as supposedly announcing the DSA’s intention to bring “ringers” in to Minnesota to vote, stating, “This is a transparent attempt to steal this election by using Minnesota’s liberal election laws to register out-of-state students to vote for Wellstone.”
October 15 - The DSA rewrites its appeal to read, “We will therefore focus our energy on registering young Minnesotans.”
October 16 - Matt Drudge puts a link to the DSA appeal on the top of his Web site, the Drudge Report, with the headline, “Socialists Sending People to MN to illegally vote for Wellstone.” Talk show host Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners: “[DSA has] been caught. ‘We are mobilizing to bring young people to Minnesota’ is what it says on the Web site. It doesn’t say ‘We are mobilizing to bring out the young people who live in Minnesota to vote,’ it doesn’t say that.… And then it says: ‘By the way, did you know Minnesota is one of the few states that allows same-day voter registration? You can go in there and register and vote and split the same day, you can go home, you don’t even have to spend the night in Minnesota and freeze if you don’t want to, you can go in there and vote and leave.’” Fox News anchor Brit Hume repeats the accusation this evening, telling viewers, “The Democratic Socialists of America, which bill themselves as the largest socialist organization in the country, is raising tax-deductible money to send young people to the state of Minnesota, where they can take advantage of same-day registration to vote for the liberal incumbent Paul Wellstone.” The DSA removes the appeal from its Web site, saying that it has received enough donations and its donation system was being abused. Keefer writes: “Criminal allegations are [a] serious matter. Drudge’s casual assertions of illegal activity are wildly irresponsible, especially since they are directly contradicted by the story itself. One would think he would at least read the stories he links to carefully before summarizing them with such potentially libelous accusations.” (Keefer 10/16/2002; Keefer 10/18/2002)
October 17 - A Manchester Union-Leader editorial claims, “The Democratic Socialists of America, otherwise known simply as socialists, have organized a campaign to steal the US Senate election in Minnesota.” David Strom, the head of the Taxpayers League, tries to back away from the controversy, saying: “My tongue was placed firmly in my cheek. There are so few socialists left that they could meet in a phone booth.” Strom adds that “even if they themselves [the DSA] are not plotting some grand voter fraud,” the TLM merely wishes to demonstrate that the “laws that we have make it easy to commit fraud.” (The Star-Tribune notes that Strom’s organization is “funded largely by donors to conservative Republican candidates and causes.”) DSA national director Frank Llewellyn says that the TLM’s characterization of the DSA’s voter-registration efforts constitutes a “new sophisticated form of red-baiting.” Llewellyn says his group plans to send between 10 and 20 people to Minnesota to help organize support for Wellstone, and that no one from the DSA will actually try to vote. Wellstone’s campaign issues a statement saying it knows nothing about the group and does not approve of any attempts to register illegally. It also deplores the success of the TLM in ginning up a controversy where none exists, citing extensive coverage on local radio talk shows. (Minneapolis Star-Tribune 10/17/2002; Keefer 10/18/2002)
October 18 - The Wall Street Journal joins the fray, claiming in an editorial, “The Democratic Socialists of America recently posted an ad on their Web site inviting tax-deductible contributions to ‘bring young people to Minnesota’ to vote in the close US Senate race there.” Unlike Limbaugh and Hume, the Journal provides more information about the claim, quoting Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer about the concerns over voter fraud, and labeling the DSA ad “clear… advocacy.” The same day, Kiffmeyer’s office affirms that the DSA’s plans to bring in out-of-state students to register Minnesota voters is legal, but the organization needs to ensure that it does not cross the line into advocacy. Keefer writes: “While it is legitimate to ask whether the DSA’s advertisement constituted illegal advocacy, the ad was clearly intended to promote the registration of young voters likely to vote for Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone, which is perfectly legal. Even the loose wording of the original statement does not excuse the false reports of planned voter fraud propagated by Drudge, Limbaugh, Hume, and others.” (Keefer 10/16/2002; Keefer 10/18/2002)
'Smear' - In 2003, liberal author and columnist Eric Alterman will write that “Drudge and Limbaugh combined, together with Brit Hume of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, to effect a smear against the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and by extension, the late Senator Wellstone’s re-election campaign.” (Wellstone will die in a plane crash on October 25.) Alterman will write that the incident contains “all the trademarks of the conservative echo-chamber effect, including unproven innuendo, inaccuracy, repeated cavalier use of unchecked facts, all in the service of a clear political/ideological goal.” (Wilgoren 10/25/2002; Alterman 2003, pp. 79-80)
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page editor emeritus, Robert Bartley, acknowledges that Fox News’s slogan, “We report, you decide,” is a “pretense.” Bartley, a staunch conservative, writes: “Even more importantly, the amazing success of Roger Ailes at Fox News (see October 7, 1996) has provided a meaningful alternative to the Left-establishment slant of the major networks.… His news is no more tilted to the right than theirs has been on the left, and there’s no reason for him to drop his ‘we report, you decide’ pretense until they drop theirs” (see October 13, 2009). (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 49) In May 2003, ABC News president David Westin will say: “I like ‘We report. You decide.’ It’s a wonderful slogan. Too often, I don’t think that’s what’s going on at Fox. Too often, they step over the line and try and help people decide what is right and wrong.” Fox News pundit and host Bill O’Reilly will agree. Asked whether a more accurate tag line for Fox might be “We report. We decide,” he will reply, “Well, you’re probably right.” Todd Gitlin of the Columbia Journalism School will add: “I find it hard to believe many Fox viewers believe Bill O’Reilly is a ‘no-spin zone,’ or ‘We report. You decide.’ It’s a joke. In Washington it reinforces the impression of ‘we happy few who are members of the club.’ It emboldens the right wing to feel justified and confident they can promote their policies.” (Auletta 5/26/2003)
Conservative defenders of the Bush administration contend that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was misquoted by Vanity Fair reporter Sam Tanenhaus. In an upcoming profile of Wolfowitz, Tanenhaus quotes him as saying, “For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on” (see May 30, 2003). (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 150) According to a Defense Department transcript of the original May 9, 2003 interview, Wolfowitz’s actual words were: “The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the US government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason, but… there have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people. Actually I guess you could say there’s a fourth overriding one, which is the connection between the first two.” (Wolfowitz 5/9/2003) Some of the controversy centers on which portions of the interview were on the record and which were not. (Marshall 6/7/2003) Neoconservative pundit and columnist William Kristol is at the forefront of the counterattacks on Wolfowitz’s behalf. After appearing on Fox News where he accuses Tanenhaus of “misquot[ing]” Wolfowitz’s words and “taking [them] out of context,” he writes a column railing against “[l]azy reporters” who don’t bother to accurately report Wolfowitz’s words, and noting, “Tanenhaus has mischaracterized Wolfowitz’s remarks,… Vanity Fair’s publicists have mischaracterized Tanenhaus’s mischaracterization, and… Bush administration critics are now indulging in an orgy of righteous indignation that is dishonest in triplicate.” Kristol concludes: “In short, Wolfowitz made the perfectly sensible observation that more than just WMD was of concern, but that among several serious reasons for war, WMD was the issue about which there was widest domestic (and international) agreement.… Tanenhaus has taken a straightforward and conventional observation about strategic arrangements in a post-Saddam Middle East and juiced it up into a vaguely sinister ‘admission’ about America’s motives for going to war in the first place.” Kristol is joined by the Wall Street Journal editorial board, which calls the Tanenhaus piece “spin.” (Kristol 6/9/2003; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 150)
Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, discuss leaking portions of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (see October 1, 2002) to the Wall Street Journal. Either Cheney and Libby together, or Libby alone, convinces Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to make the leak. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 5/12/2006 ; US Department of Justice 2/2007 ) The Journal will write an article based on the leaked information two or three days later (see July 17, 2003).
The Wall Street Journal prints an editorial based on, in its words, “[w]hat the National Intelligence Estimate [NIE—see October 1, 2002] said about Iraq’s hunt for uranium.” The Journal does not mention that the editorial is based on leaked information from the Office of the Vice President via the Defense Department (see July 14 or 15, 2003); in fact, it denies receiving the information from the White House entirely. (It is possible that the Journal editors were not aware that the leaked information originally came from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office.) The Journal says “[w]e’re reliably told” that the NIE largely supports the Iraq-Niger uranium claims recently repudiated by the Bush administration (see July 8, 2003 and July 11, 2003). According to the material leaked to the Journal, the NIE indicates that before the March 2003 invasion, Iraq was close to producing nuclear weapons, and the regime of Saddam Hussein was actively seeking yellowcake uranium, such as that produced by Niger, to shorten the time it would take to bring actual nuclear devices online. The Journal concludes that the Iraq-Niger claims were “supposedly discredited,” but are actually viable, and President Bush was “entirely accurate” in making the Iraq-Niger uranium claim in the January 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). In contrast, CIA Director George Tenet’s recent admission that the claim was a “mistake” was, the Journal says, “more tortured than warranted by the assertions in the NIE.” (Wall Street Journal 7/17/2003) The day after the editorial is published, the White House releases a heavily redacted version of the NIE to the public (see July 18, 2003).
One of the first media-based attacks on Joseph Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame Wilson after her outing as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003) comes from former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who writes a scathing op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. Weinberger accuses the opponents of the Iraq invasion of mounting a baseless smear campaign against the Bush administration by “using bits and pieces of non-evidence to contend that we did not have to replace the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein.” He asserts that President Bush was correct to say that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), using the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (see October 1, 2002) and a review by a British investigative commission (see September 24, 2002) as support for his argument. He insists that WMD will be found in Iraq. Weinberger then writes that “the CIA committed a major blunder [by asking] a very minor former ambassador named Joseph Wilson IV to go to Niger to investigate” (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Weinberger correctly characterizes Wilson as “an outspoken opponent” of the invasion, but then falsely asserts that “Mr. Wilson’s ‘investigation’ is a classic case of a man whose mind had been made up using any opportunity to refute the justifications for our ever going to war.” He asserts that Wilson spent eight days in Niger drinking tea and hobnobbing with ambassadors and foreign service types. Weinberger continues, “Because Mr. Wilson, by his own admission, never wrote a report, we only have his self-serving op-ed article in the New York Times to go by” (see July 6, 2003). He is apparently unaware that Wilson was thoroughly debriefed on his return from Niger (see March 4-5, 2002). He writes, “If we are to rely on this kind of sloppy tea-drinking ‘investigation’ from a CIA-chosen investigator—a retired ambassador with a less than stellar record—then I would say that the CIA deserves some of the criticism it normally receives.” Weinberger concludes that the US had a choice of “either… letting [Saddam Hussein] continue his ways, such as spraying poison on his own people, and breaking every promise he made to us and to the UN; or… removing him before he used nuclear weapons on his neighbors, or on us.” (Weinberger 7/18/2003)
Wilsons: Weinberger's Credibility Lacking because of Iran-Contra Connection - In 2007, Plame Wilson will write: “That’s rich, I thought. Weinberger had been indicted on charges stemming from the Iran-Contra affair (see December 25, 1992) and likely only avoided prison time because of a presidential pardon.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 146-147) Wilson himself will note that “Weinberger was not the most credible person to launch that particular counterattack, since, but for the grace of a pardon… he might have well had to do jail time for how poorly he had served his president, Ronald Reagan, in the Iran-Contra affair.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 338)
Attempt to Intimidate Others - Wilson will note in 2004 that Weinberger deliberately focused on a minor detail of his report—drinking mint tea with the various people he met during his trip—and used it to “suggest… that supposedly I’d been excessively casual and dilatory in my approach to the mission.” He will add: “It seemed that the motive for the attacks on me was to discourage anyone else from coming forward who had a critical story to tell.… In essence, the message was, ‘If you pull a “Wilson” on us, we will do worse to you.’ However offensive, there was a certain logic to it. If you have something to hide, one way to keep it secret is to threaten anyone who might expose it. But it was too late to silence me; I had already said all I had to say. Presumably, though, they thought they could still silence others by attacking me.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 338-339)
A Wall Street Journal op-ed claims that President Bush never claimed the Iraqis posed an “imminent threat” with their putative WMD programs, and that former ambassador Joseph Wilson is unfairly “moving the goalposts” by saying that the threat posed by Iraq’s WMD never passed what they call the “imminent threat test.” As far back as September 2001, after the attacks on New York and Washington, the Bush administration began claiming that Iraq posed a serious threat to the US (see September 11, 2001-March 17, 2003, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 14, 2001, August 2002, and September 6, 2002). Bush had apparently characterized Iraq as an “imminent threat” even before becoming president (see May 17, 2000). Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has used the term “imminent threat” (see September 18, 2002), as have other members of the administration, such as press secretary Ari Fleischer, communications chief Dan Bartlett, and Defense Policy Board chief Richard Perle. Vice President Dick Cheney had publicly threatened Iraq with military action as far back as December 2001 (see December 11, 2001). Bush had included Iraq as one of the now-infamous “Axis of Evil” in early 2002 (see January 29, 2002). And Bush, Cheney, and top White House officials had characterized Iraq and Saddam Hussein as a threat since March 2002 (see March 24, 2002, August 15, 2002, August 20, 2002, August 26, 2002, Fall and Winter 2002, September 7, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 13, 2002, September 18, 2002, September 19, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 26, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 3, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, January 10, 2003, and March 6, 2003). Wilson will later observe, “While the Journal may have been technically correct that the president had not uttered those exact words, he [and his top officials] walked right up to the phrase.” He will note that Bush’s “staff and administration allies, of course, had been less concerned about splitting hairs as they promoted the invasion.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 367-368)
An internal CIA memo detailing the January 2002 meeting in which former ambassador Joseph Wilson was chosen to go to Niger to find out the truth behind the Iraq-Niger uranium allegations (see February 13, 2002) is published by the Wall Street Journal. The memo is due to be turned over to the Department of Justice along with thousands of other documents as part of its investigation into the outing of Wilson’s wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see September 26, 2003). The document shows that while Plame Wilson was involved in the decision to send her husband to Niger, she was not responsible for making the final decision, a conclusion already verified by CIA officials (see July 22, 2003). (Cloud 10/17/2003)
Wall Street Journal reporter Brian Anderson writes: “Watch Fox [News] for just a few hours, and you encounter a conservative presence unlike anything on television. When CBS and CNN would lead a news item about an impending execution with a candlelight vigil of death-penalty protesters, for example,” Anderson quotes Fox senior vice president for news John Moody as saying it is “de riguer that we put in the lead why the person is being executed.” Anderson continues, “Fox viewers will see Republican politicians and conservative pundits sought out for meaningful quotations, skepticism voiced about environmental ‘doomsaying,’ religion treated with respect, pro-life views given airtime—and much else they’d never find on other networks” (see October 13, 2009). (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 50)
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)
The federal grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity subpoenas a large amount of White House records, including Air Force One telephone logs from the week before Plame Wilson’s public outing (see July 14, 2003); records created in July 2003 by the White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002), a White House public relations group tasked with crafting a public relations strategy to market the Iraq war to the public; a transcript of press secretary Ari Fleischer’s press briefing in Nigeria currently missing from the White House’s Web site (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003); a list of guests at former President Gerald Ford’s July 16, 2003 birthday reception; and records of Bush administration officials’ contacts with approximately 25 journalists and news media outlets. The journalists include Robert Novak, the columnist who outed Plame Wilson, Newsday reporters Knut Royce and Timothy Phelps (see July 21, 2003), five Washington Post reporters including Mike Allen and Dana Priest (see September 28, 2003 and October 12, 2003), Time magazine’s Michael Duffy (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), NBC’s Andrea Mitchell (see July 8, 2003 and October 3, 2003), MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (see July 21, 2003), and reporters from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Associated Press. The subpoenas will be accompanied by a January 26 memo from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales that will set a January 29 deadline for production of the subpoenaed documents and records. Gonzales will write that White House staffers will turn over records of any “contacts, attempted contacts, or discussion of contacts, with any members of the media concerning [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson, his trip, or his wife, including but not limited to the following media and media personnel.” White House spokeswoman Erin Healy later says, “The president has always said we would fully comply with the investigation, and the White House counsel’s office has directed the staff to fully comply.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan will say: “It’s just a matter of getting it all together.… At this point, we’re still in the process of complying fully with those requests. We have provided the Department of Justice investigators with much of the information and we’re continuing to provide them with additional information and comply fully with the request for information.” (US District Court for the District of Columbia 1/22/2004; US District Court for the District of Columbia 1/22/2004; Brune 3/5/2004; Allen 3/6/2004)
A Wall Street Journal editorial, responding to reports that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has accepted private endorsements from unnamed foreign leaders (see March 8, 2004 and After), accuses Kerry of making private, secret deals with those leaders. “Who are these foreign leaders, and what is Mr. Kerry privately saying that makes them so enthusiastic about his candidacy?” it asks. “What ‘new policy’ is he sharing with them that he isn’t sharing with Americans?” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 17)
ABC News and Fox News are the only major news networks to broadcast a “hard news” report on the day’s exchange between Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and voter Cedric Brown (see March 15, 2004 and After).
CBS: Advantage Bush - CBS gives a brief synopsis of the exchange; neither NBC nor CNN devote much air time to the story. CBS anchor Dan Rather sums up the exchange by providing a brief overview of the controversy surrounding Kerry’s supposed claim of unnamed “foreign leaders” supporting his bid for the presidency (see March 8, 2004 and After and March 15, 2004) and the Bush campaign’s implication that Kerry is lying; the Kerry campaign’s response; and White House spokesman Scott McClellan’s insistence that Kerry either “name names” or admit to “making it up.” In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will write, “By sandwiching the Kerry perspective between an opening and closing statement focused on the Bush perspective, the CBS piece creates a net advantage for the Republicans.”
ABC: Advantage Kerry - The ABC report, by reporter Linda Douglass, goes further in asking about the Bush campaign’s motives in attacking Kerry, and asks if the Bush campaign is not trying to deflect attention from reports about Bush administration misrepresentations about the true costs of its Medicare plan (see June 2003). ABC anchor Elizabeth Varga opens by noting the Bush campaign’s “extraordinary” attack on Kerry’s “credibility,” leading into Douglass’s report, which summarizes the “foreign leaders” controversy, reports the Kerry-Brown exchange, observes that the Kerry campaign is “sidestep[ping]” the accusations that he is lying about the foreign leaders claim, and notes that Kerry accuses the Bush campaign of trying to divert attention from the Medicare controversy. Douglass concludes, “Seven months before the election, the campaign seems to be all about credibility.”
Fox News: Heavy Attack against Kerry - Fox News anchor Brit Hume begins his report by saying, “John Kerry still won’t say who those foreign leaders were, whom he claims are back—who he claims are backing him for president.” The Fox report, by Carl Cameron, begins by claiming Kerry is being “[b]attered for refusing to name foreign leaders that he claims want President Bush defeated,” says Kerry is trying to “get back on offense” by attacking the Bush administration’s failure to fully fund firefighters (an attack “few Americans believe,” Cameron asserts), and notes that Bush defenders accuse Kerry of “voting against the troops” by opposing the $87 billion to stabilize and complete the post-Saddam Iraq occupation. Cameron then quotes unnamed Republicans as calling Kerry an “international man of mystery,” a disparaging comparison to the Austin Powers movie satire, “for his various un-backed-up charges” about the foreign leaders’ support. Cameron ends the report by playing a snippet from the Kerry-Brown exchange where Kerry demanded Brown identify himself as a “registered Republican” (he does not air Brown’s response where he admits to being a Bush supporter) and with the White House’s assertion that “Kerry is making it up to attack the president.” Fox twice has Brown appear as a guest on its news broadcasts. In one, Brown says Kerry “didn’t appear to be honest” during their conversation, says, “I think Senator Kerry betrayed our country,” and calls for a congressional investigation into Kerry’s supposed claim of having “secret” deals for foreign leaders’ backing.
Television Coverage Analysis - Authors Jamieson and Cappella will write: “The strategic frames of Fox and ABC differ. On Fox, Kerry is cast as ‘battered’ and on the strategic defensive (‘Kerry tried to get back on offense and tried to turn the tables on his inquisitors,’) [emphasis added by authors]. By contrasts, ABC situates Kerry as a contender who is ‘determined not to give ground on the war over who is more truthful.’ On Fox, Kerry’s attack is portrayed as an attempt to ‘get back on offense,’ whereas the Bush response is portrayed as motivated by outrage.” Fox “focuses on Kerry’s credibility, while ABC centers on charges and countercharges about the relative truthfulness of Bush and Kerry.” Douglass attributes claims of truth or falsity to the respective campaigns, but Cameron makes blanket assertions—unattributed value judgments—about Kerry’s supposed dishonesty.
Print Media - The print media shows much of the same dichotomy in covering the Kerry-Brown exchange as do ABC and Fox. The Washington Post gives Brown a chance to again accuse Kerry of lying, but calls him “a heckler… who interrupted Kerry’s comments on health care, education and the economy to raise questions about the assertion of foreign endorsements.” The Los Angeles Times describes Brown as “abruptly” shouting over Kerry, and, when the audience tries to shout Brown down, shows Kerry asking the audience to allow Brown to speak. In these and other accounts, Jamieson and Cappella will note, “Kerry’s questioning of the questioner is set in the context of Brown’s interruption, inflammatory charges… and verbal attacks on Kerry.” On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page joins Fox News in ignoring Brown’s initial interruption and verbal assault on Kerry (see March 15, 2004), and instead focuses on what the Journal’s James Taranto calls “Kerry’s thuggish interrogation of the voter.” Taranto also directs his readers to coverage by Fox News and Limbaugh, who himself accuses Kerry of “browbeating” Brown.
Media Strategies to Denigrate Kerry - Jamieson and Cappella will write, “Specifically taken together, [Rush] Limbaugh, [Sean] Hannity, and the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages marshaled four strategies to marginalize Kerry and undercut his perceived acceptability as a candidate for president: extreme hypotheticals [i.e. Kerry’s supposed ‘secret meeting’ with North Korea’s Kim Jong-il—see March 17, 2004 ], ridicule, challenges to character, and association with strong negative emotion.” Fox News and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, for example, characterize Kerry’s response to Brown as “yelling” and “thuggish,” while other media outlets report Kerry’s response as generally restrained and civil, and Brown as the one shouting and angry. (Johnson 3/15/2004; Gold 3/15/2004; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 5-17)
Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh joins the Wall Street Journal in demanding that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry name the foreign leaders who have supposedly secretly endorsed his candidacy (see March 8, 2004 and After, March 15, 2004, and March 15, 2004). Limbaugh goes further than the Journal by stating that he believes Kerry’s foreign endorsers are enemy heads of state. “[L]et’s name some names,” he says. “Bashar Assad in Syria, Kim Jong Il in North Korea.” In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will write: “The assertion was ridiculous on its face, and Limbaugh undoubtedly knew it was. Underlying Limbaugh’s trope is the assumption that any leader who would criticize US policy must be an enemy of the country.” Jamieson and Cappella will extend their argument by writing: “Importantly, introduction of the names of villainous foreign leaders exemplifies a rhetorical function that Limbaugh and the conservative opinion hosts serve for the Republican Party: expanding the range of attack by marking out extreme positions that by comparisons make the official position of the Republican candidate or party leaders seem moderate. At the same time, if some in Limbaugh’s audience take the allegation of actual talks with heads of outlaw states serious, as [conservative voter Cedric] Brown appeared to (see March 15, 2004 and After), then the association reinforces, if it does not actively shape, that person’s view that Kerry’s assumptions are extreme and disqualify him from serious consideration as a presidential contender.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 19)
A Pew Center for the People and the Press study finds that 35 percent of Republicans consistently watch Fox News, while 21 percent of Democrats do so. Fox has experienced the largest increase in viewers, and 52 percent of its audience defines itself as conservative. In general, Republicans consider Fox the most reliable broadcast news outlet, while Democrats consider it the least reliable. Overall, trust in mainstream news outlets, from CNN and ABC to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, has declined sharply since 2000. The biggest rise is in the number of news consumers who get their news from online, i.e. Internet, sources. (Pew Center for the People and the Press 6/8/2004; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 237)
The Wall Street Journal publishes an op-ed declaring that since the Senate Intelligence Committee has “exposed” former ambassor Joseph Wilson’s “falsehoods” about his trip to Niger to explore the allegations that Iraq tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 9, 2004), it is time for Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to “close up shop” and stop his investigation into who outed Wilson’s wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. The Journal declares that if “an administration official cited nepotism truthfully in order to explain the oddity of Mr. Wilson’s selection for the Niger mission, then there was no underlying crime” in outing Plame Wilson. “[T]he entire leak probe now looks like a familiar Beltway case of criminalizing political differences. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald should fold up his tent.” The Journal also repeats the baseless conclusion of the Republican authors of the committee report that stated Wilson’s findings in Niger actually provided “some confirmation” of the Iraq-Niger deal. (Wall Street Journal 7/20/2004) In 2007, Plame Wilson will write that she is in her CIA office when she reads the op-ed. She recalls realizing that the entire thrust of the attempt to smear her husband is “to derail the leak investigation, which was sniffing dangerously close to the White House. Now I understood the ferocity of the attacks on Joe.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 192)
Political scientist Timothy Groseclose of UCLA and economist Jeffrey Milyo of the University of Missouri-Columbia release a study entitled “A Measure of Media Bias” that purports to document the “liberal bias” of the mainstream media. Unfortunately for Groseclose and Milyo’s conclusions, their measure of “bias” is found severely wanting, and they fail to mention the substantial body of scholarly work that challenges their theories. The study contains observations of 20 mainstream news outlets, including national newspapers, news magazines, and network and cable television news channels. (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; MSNBC 12/19/2005; Media Matters 12/21/2005)
Previous Positions at Conservative Institutions - Groseclose and Milyo have previously received significant funding for their research from three prominent conservative think tanks: the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI), the Heritage Foundation, and the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace. Groseclose has served as a fellow of the Hoover Institution, while Milyo received a $40,500 grant from AEI. Both were named as fellows by the Heritage Foundation. The two authored an article for the conservative American Spectator in 1996.
Flawed Study - Groseclose and Milyo, according to their study, “measure media bias by estimating ideological scores for several major media outlets” based on the frequency with which various think tanks and advocacy organizations were cited approvingly by the media and by members of Congress over a 10-year period. In order to assess media “bias,” the authors assembled the ideological scores given to members of Congress by the liberal group Americans for Democratic Action; examined the floor speeches of selected members to catalog which think tanks and policy organizations were cited by those members; used those citations as the basis for an ideological score assigned to each think tank (organizations cited by liberal members were scored as more liberal, whereas organizations cited by conservative members were scored as more conservative); then performed a content analysis of newspapers and TV programs to catalog which think tanks and policy organizations were quoted. If a news organization quoted a think tank mentioned by conservative members of Congress, then it was said to have a conservative “bias.” The authors write: “As a simplified example, imagine that there were only two think tanks, and suppose that the New York Times cited the first think tank twice as often as the second. Our method asks: What is the estimated ADA score of a member of Congress who exhibits the same frequency (2:1) in his or her speeches? This is the score that our method would assign the New York Times.” The progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters will call the methodology “bizarre,” and will write: “If a member of Congress cites a think tank approvingly, and if that think tank is also cited by a news organization, then the news organization has a ‘bias’ making it an ideological mirror of the member of Congress who cited the think tank. This, as Groseclose and Milyo define it, is what constitutes ‘media bias.’” (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; Media Matters 12/21/2005) In December 2005, the parent company of the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones and Co., will question the study’s validity, noting: “[I]ts measure of media bias consists entirely of counting the number of mentions of, or quotes from, various think tanks that the researchers determine to be ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative.‘… And if a think tank is explicitly labeled ‘liberal” or “conservative’ within a story to provide context to readers, that example doesn’t count at all. The researchers simply threw out such mentions.” (Poynter Online 12/21/2005)
Classifying Organizations - Groseclose and Milyo assign “scores” to a variety of partisan and nonpartisan advocacy groups and think tanks. Some of these scores are problematic:
The National Rifle Association (NRA), widely characterized as a strongly conservative organization, scores a 49.5 on a 100-point scale, classifying it as barely conservative;
The RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization closely affiliated with the Defense Department, scores a 60.4, classifying it as strongly liberal;
The Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan political organization featuring both Republicans and Democrats on its board and headed by a former Bush administration official, scores a 60.2, classifying it as solidly liberal;
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), an organization consistently reviled by conservative pundits, scores a 49.8, classifying it as slightly conservative;
The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks political contributions, scores a 66.9, classifying it as highly liberal;
The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a defense policy think tank chaired by former Democratic House member Dave McCurdy, scores a 33.9, classifying it as more conservative than AEI and the hard-right National Taxpayers Union.
Lack of 'Balance' Indicates Bias in Study - According to Media Matters, Groseclose and Milyo classify news stories as exhibiting a partisan bias if they fail to balance a “liberal” group’s quote with a “conservative” group’s quote, regardless of the nature of the reporting. For example, the authors cite the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which they classify as staunchly liberal, as one of the organizations most often quoted without “balancing” quotes from conservative groups. Media Matters will write, “[B]ecause there are no pro-racism groups of any legitimacy (or on Groseclose and Milyo’s list), such stories will be coded as having a ‘liberal bias.’” In contrast, stories featured in the study that quote a spokesperson from the NRA are often “balanced” by quotes from a “liberal” organization, Handgun Control, Inc., though, as Media Matters will note, that organization renamed itself the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in 2001, and Groseclose and Milyo do not include that name in their statistics, “therefore, it is impossible to determine from reading the study if Groseclose and Milyo’s score reflects post-2001 citations by legislators and the media of the group under its new name.” Moreover, because the study only assigns partisan weight to quotes from advocacy groups or think tanks, if a story cites a member of Congress as taking a position and contrasts that position with a quote from a think tank, that story, according to the authors, is “biased” in favor of the think tank’s position. Media Matters calls this practice “miscategorization.”
Assuming Reporter, News Outlet Bias - One of the most questionable practices in the study is the assumption that if a reporter quotes a source, that reporter—or his or her news outlet—must believe the opinions expressed by that source. Media Matters will write that “most, if not all, reporters across the ideological spectrum would find [that assumption] utterly ridiculous.” (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; Media Matters 12/21/2005) The Dow Jones statement will find, “By this logic, a mention of al-Qaeda in a story suggests the newspaper endorses its views, which is obviously not the case.” (Poynter Online 12/21/2005) The authors say that only two mainstream news outlets, Fox News and the Washington Times, slant rightward. The study finds that Fox News’s coverage is quite moderate; in a 2005 interview on MSNBC, Milyo will say that Fox’s news coverage can be equated with the moderate Republicanism of Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), considered the most “liberal”-leaning Republican in Congress. (MSNBC 12/19/2005)
Bias Findings at Odds with History - The study makes some odd conclusions about liberal bias: for example, the Wall Street Journal, whose op-ed page has long avowed itself as a champion of conservative thought, is characterized by the study as having more “liberal bias” than any news outlet surveyed. The authors claim that they studied only news reporting and not editorial writings, but as Media Matters will note, “the Journal is respected on both the right and the left, and it would be shocking to hear even the most rabid right-winger assert that the Journal is America’s most liberal news outlet.” (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; Media Matters 12/21/2005)
Methodology Flawed - In December 2005, a spokesman for Dow Jones will call the study “logically suspect and simply baffling.” The statement will note that Groseclose and Milyo only studied four months of Journal reporting, from 2002, while they studied 12 years of CBS News reporting, 11 years of National Public Radio reporting, eight years of reporting from US News and World Report, and two years of reporting from Time Magazine. The Washington Post and Washington Times were also only studied for brief periods. “Yet the researchers provide those findings the same weight as all the others, without bothering to explain that in any meaningful way to the study’s readers,” the statement will note. It will conclude, “Suffice it to say that ‘research’ of this variety would be unlikely to warrant a mention at all in any Wall Street Journal story” (see December 21, 2005).
Failure to Mention Other Studies - The authors fail to mention a large number of previous studies of “media bias.” They do, however, cite three studies that, according to Media Matters, are as “questionable” as this particular study. One assumed that since conservatives say in surveys that the media is biased, then that bias unquestionably exists. The second assumed that news magazines that sold more subscriptions in geographic areas weighted towards Democratic voters were biased in favor of Democrats. The third is an AEI study whose statistics and methodologies were found to be deeply flawed. Groseclose and Milyo ignore one of the most rigorous and exhaustive studies in recent years, a 2000 analysis by the International Communication Association, which found that newspapers and news magazines exhibited little measurable bias, and television network news broadcasts exhibited measurable but relatively insubstantial bias. That study included 59 other studies, all of which go unmentioned in the Groseclose-Milyo study.
Conservative Bibliography - Media Matters will write that the authors seem almost unaware that other studies of media bias exist. The study’s bibliography is heavily freighted with citations from conservative media critics such as Brent Bozell (founder of the Media Research Center) and Reed Irvine (the late founder of Accuracy in Media). The bibliography also cites an article from the hard-right Internet publication WorldNetDaily. It does not cite any entries from dozens of well-known scholarly journals of communication and media studies, most of which have examined the topic of media bias in their pages. (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; Media Matters 12/21/2005)
Author and journalist Melik Kaylan writes an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal advocating the mining of the entire Iraqi border—all 2,250 miles of it. Kaylan writes that if the US turned the entire Iraqi border into a minefield, the Iraqi insurrection could not be replenished with manpower and materiel from Syria and other sources. “Why has nobody publicly debated this idea?” he asks, and says the reason might be “the shock-horror-gasp factor” along with the late Princess Diana’s attempts to ban mines and bad memories of US mining efforts in Vietnam. However, he writes, “once tempers have cooled, it should become clear that of all the unpleasant products of war in Iraq, mining the border offers the least unpleasant.” The 2,250 mines can be laid out according to a strict plan, Kaylan advocates, and removed once hostilities have ended. “The point here is that a precisely ordered minefield is a weapon of peace, rather than war, a deterrent and a stabilizer,” he writes. “When done right, its aim is not to kill or maim but to take a swatch of territory out of the conflict—and to give relief to innocent border-area residents forced, at the point of a gun, to collaborate with infiltrators.” The proposal will not be given serious consideration by US or Iraqi war planners. (Kaylan 9/17/2005; Zenko 10/22/2010)
In an op-ed, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial staff accuses special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald of “criminalizing politics” in his investigation of the Plame Wilson leak. Fitzgerald’s investigation, the editorial reads, has taken two years, cost millions of dollars, jailed a reporter (see July 6, 2005), “and preoccupied some of the White House’s senior officials.” The investigation has culminated in the indictment of former White House official Lewis Libby (see October 28, 2005), not for leaking Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press, but for what the Journal calls “contradictions between his testimony and the testimony of two or three reporters about what he told them, when he told them, and what words he used.” The Journal writes that there is no evidence, at least to the public’s knowledge, that Libby lied to anyone, be it the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003), the grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004), or anyone else. Nowhere has anyone alleged a motive for Libby’s alleged perjury, the Journal states (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006). And, the Journal notes, Libby was not a source for the column that actually outed Plame Wilson as a CIA official. The Journal questions the existence of any White House “conspiracy to silence administration critics,” and if there was, it writes, “it was more daft than deft.” Instead, the Journal writes, the Libby indictment “amounts to an allegation that one official lied about what he knew about an underlying ‘crime’ that wasn’t committed.” Fitzgerald is merely involving himself in what the Journal calls “a policy dispute between an elected administration and critics of the president’s approach to the war on terror, who included parts of the permanent bureaucracy of the State Department and CIA.” (Wall Street Journal 10/29/2005)
The Wall Street Journal prints an editorial by former Bush Solicitor General Theodore Olson lambasting the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation and the indictment of former White House aide Lewis Libby (see October 28, 2005), and criticizing the use of the Independent Counsel Law to investigate the Plame Wilson identity leak. The Journal does not inform its readers of Olson’s participation in using the Independent Counsel Law to bring articles of impeachment against former President Clinton. Olson calls the investigation a “spectacle,” questions special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s impartiality, and says the entire Plame Wilson-Libby investigation is another example of “special prosecutor syndrome,” a politically motivated investigation run amok. Olson writes that he does not believe Libby is guilty of perjury because “I know him to be an honest, conscientious man who has given a large part of his life to public service.” Any misstatements Libby may have made to investigators (see October 14, 2003, November 26, 2003, March 5, 2004, and March 24, 2004) must have been inadvertent failures of memory and not deliberate lies. Moreover, Olson asserts, Libby had nothing to do with exposing Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA official (see (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). (Olson 10/31/2005)
Victoria Toensing, a former deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration, writes a guest editorial for the Wall Street Journal that demands the Plame Wilson investigation, as it stands, be closed. Instead, she says, the CIA should be investigated for causing Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to become public knowledge. Toensing blames the CIA’s “bizarre conduct” for Plame Wilson’s exposure. The CIA is responsible for Plame Wilson’s exposure, Toensing states, by allowing her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to go to Niger to look into claims that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from that country (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Toensing writes that Plame Wilson “suggested” her husband for the trip (see February 13, 2002, February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005). The CIA did not have Wilson write a report, but instead conducted an oral debriefing (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002), and March 8, 2002) that, Toensing writes, was never sent to Vice President Dick Cheney’s office (see March 5, 2002). Wilson’s subsequent New York Times op-ed (see July 6, 2003) was not approved or vetted with the CIA’s Prepublication Review Board, something Toensing finds puzzling even though she notes that Wilson was not asked to sign a nondisclosure or confidentiality agreement. She also alleges, without giving specifics, that the statements in Wilson’s op-ed do not jibe with the information in the CIA’s report on his trip, though that report is classified and not available for her inspection. For the CIA to allow Wilson to write the op-ed was, Toensing says, tantamount to giving a green light for Plame Wilson’s exposure as a CIA official. Conservative colunnist Robert Novak, who publicly exposed Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), was told by “a still-unnamed administration source” (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, and July 12, 2003) that Wilson’s wife “suggested him for the assignment,” leading Novak to uncover Plame Wilson’s identity. Toensing also claims that Novak was never asked not to publish Plame Wilson’s name in anything but the most “perfunctory” fashion (see (July 11, 2003) and Before July 14, 2003). Toensing defends her allegation by writing: “Every experienced Washington journalist knows that when the CIA really does not want something public, there are serious requests from the top, usually the director. Only the press office talked to Mr. Novak.” Toensing goes on to note that the CIA permitted Plame Wilson to make political contributions under the name “Wilson, Valerie E.,” contributions recorded by the Federal Elections Commission. Toensing concludes, “The CIA conduct in this matter is either a brilliant covert action against the White House or inept intelligence tradecraft,” and demands that Congress conduct an investigation into the CIA’s conduct. (Toensing 11/3/2005) The Journal does not inform its readers that Toensing was one of a group of lawyers and conservative activists who filed an amici curiae brief with the court asking that it overturn its decision to compel the testimony of two lawyers in the Plame Wilson investigation (see March 23, 2005).
Conservative Washington lawyers David Rivkin and Lee Casey publish a guest editorial in the Wall Street Journal defending the Bush administration, and specifically the indicted Lewis Libby (see October 28, 2005), for their actions in the Plame Wilson identity leak. No crime was committed, Rivkin and Casey allege, and no legal ethics were breached. Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA official was moot because, Rivkin and Casey write, “she was not a covert agent—a readily ascertainable fact that should have concluded special counsel Fitzgerald’s investigation almost as soon as it got underway” (see Fall 1992 - 1996). In fact, Rivkin and Casey write, exposing Plame Wilson’s role in her husband Joseph Wilson’s 2002 mission to Africa (see February 19, 2002, February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005) “was relevant to an accurate understanding of his later allegations against the administration.” In general, the lawyers state, it is not a crime to expose an intelligence official’s “classified” status, only genuine covert agents. Since Plame Wilson was not a covert agent, by Rivkin and Casey’s standards, no crime was committed in exposing her as a CIA official. And even had she been, they continue, certainly no damage could have been done by her exposure (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, October 29, 2005, and February 13, 2006). When Wilson decided to publish his New York Times op-ed (see July 6, 2003), the lawyers write, he “eliminated whatever shreds of anonymity” Plame Wilson retained. The lawyers conclude that “the revelation of Ms. Plame [Wilson]‘s connection to the CIA was a public service, neither criminal nor unethical.” (Rivkin and Casey 11/4/2005)
New York Post editorial writer Deborah Orin echoes charges made by previous columnists in the Wall Street Journal that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald is conducting a partisan political prosecution of former White House official Lewis Libby (see October 29, 2005 and October 31, 2005), and repeats charges by former Reagan Justice Department official Victoria Toensing that the CIA is behind the exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert identity (see November 3, 2005). Orin repeats previously made assertions that the CIA allowed Plame Wilson’s exposure by allowing her to send her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger (see February 13, 2002, February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005), failed to have Wilson sign “the usual confidentiality agreement,” and failed to require him to write a written report (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002), and March 8, 2002). Orin accuses Wilson of only voicing his public criticism of the Bush administration’s Iraq invasion after he “joined” the presidential campaign of John Kerry (D-MA) in May 2003, even though he began publicly criticizing the administration a year earlier (see May 2002, October 13, 2002, November 2002, December 9, 2002, January 28-29, 2003, February 13, 2003, February 28, 2003, March 3, 2003, March 5, 2003, and March 8, 2003), and the White House began its retaliatory attack against his criticisms in March 2003 (see March 9, 2003 and After). Orin also repeats Toensing’s sourceless assertion that Wilson’s New York Times op-ed about his findings in Niger (see July 6, 2003) “sharply conflicted with what he’d told the CIA.” It was the CIA’s actions, not the White House’s, that led to Plame Wilson’s exposure, Orin avers (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, and July 12, 2003). Orin quotes Toensing, who said: “It [the Plame Wilson exposure] was a planned CIA covert action against the White House. It was too clever by half.” The reason, Orin says, was to divert attention from its intelligence failures surrounding the US failure to find WMD in Iraq: “Having Wilson go public was very useful to the CIA, especially the division where his wife worked—because it served to shift blame for failed ‘slam dunk’ intelligence claims away from the agency. To say that Bush ‘twisted’ intelligence was to presume—falsely—that the CIA had gotten it right.” The White House was merely defending itself from the CIA’s propaganda onslaught, Orin writes, adding that since Plame Wilson was not a covert agent (see Fall 1992 - 1996), the agency was “dishonest” in claiming that its intelligence operations had been damaged by her exposure (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, October 29, 2005, and February 13, 2006). (Orin 11/7/2005)
The authors of a new media study say that they were “surprised” to find how much of a “liberal bias” exists in the American press. The study will later be found to be fundamentally flawed in its methodology and its conclusions (see December 2004). Even the Wall Street Journal and the right-wing Internet media and gossip outlet the Drudge Report are liberally biased, authors Tim Groseclose and Jeffrey Milyo find. The most centrist media outlet of the ones studied is, the authors claim, PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. The news report on the study, by the UCLA Newsroom, claims the report is “the first successful attempt at objectively quantifying bias in a range of media outlets and ranking them accordingly.” Groseclose says: “I suspected that many media outlets would tilt to the left because surveys have shown that reporters tend to vote more Democrat than Republican. But I was surprised at just how pronounced the distinctions are.” Milyo adds, “Overall, the major media outlets are quite moderate compared to members of Congress, but even so, there is a quantifiable and significant bias in that nearly all of them lean to the left.” The news report explains that the authors “based their research on a standard gauge of a lawmaker’s support for liberal causes. Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) tracks the percentage of times that each lawmaker votes on the liberal side of an issue. Based on these votes, the ADA assigns a numerical score to each lawmaker, where ‘100’ is the most liberal and ‘0’ is the most conservative. After adjustments to compensate for disproportionate representation that the Senate gives to low-population states and the lack of representation for the District of Columbia, the average ADA score in Congress (50.1) was assumed to represent the political position of the average US voter. Groseclose and Milyo then directed 21 research assistants—most of them college students—to scour US media coverage of the past 10 years. They tallied the number of times each media outlet referred to think tanks and policy groups, such as the left-leaning NAACP or the right-leaning Heritage Foundation. Next, they did the same exercise with speeches of US lawmakers. If a media outlet displayed a citation pattern similar to that of a lawmaker, then Groseclose and Milyo’s method assigned both a similar ADA score.” “A media person would have never done this study,” Groseclose says. “It takes a Congress scholar even to think of using ADA scores as a measure. And I don’t think many media scholars would have considered comparing news stories to Congressional speeches.” According to the study, the “leftward tilt” of news broadcasts by ABC and CBS is “nearly perfectly balanced” by the slight rightward tilt of Fox News. “Past researchers have been able to say whether an outlet is conservative or liberal, but no one has ever compared media outlets to lawmakers,” Groseclose says. “Our work gives a precise characterization of the bias and relates it to known commodity—politicians.” (Sullivan 12/14/2005)
The Wall Street Journal’s parent company, Dow Jones and Co., issues a statement that challenges the findings of a recent study claiming that the Journal is one of the most “liberally biased” news outlets in America (see December 2004 and December 14, 2005). Dow Jones states: “The Wall Street Journal’s news coverage is relentlessly neutral. Of that, we are confident. By contrast, the research technique used in this study hardly inspires confidence. In fact, it is logically suspect and simply baffling in some of its details. First, its measure of media bias consists entirely of counting the number of mentions of, or quotes from, various think tanks that the researchers determine to be ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative.’ By this logic, a mention of al-Qaeda in a story suggests the newspaper endorses its views, which is obviously not the case. And if a think tank is explicitly labeled ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ within a story to provide context to readers, that example doesn’t count at all. The researchers simply threw out such mentions.” The statement criticizes the study’s failure to “characterize” a number of “important policy groups” such as, “say, the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the AFL-CIO, or the Concord Coalition, but that does include People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals?” It goes on to call the study’s attempt to rank the various groups “simply bizarre.” The statement concludes, “Suffice it to say that ‘research’ of this variety would be unlikely to warrant a mention at all in any Wall Street Journal story.” (Poynter Online 12/21/2005)
The Washington Post’s editorial staff, led by editor Fred Hiatt, pens an op-ed defending President Bush’s decision to selectively leak classified information (see June 19 or 20, 2003, June 27, 2003, July 2, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 10, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, July 14 or 15, 2003, and July 17, 2003) from a 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (NIE—see October 1, 2002). Apparently the editorial is in response to recent information from special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald that shows Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney deliberately released selected classified information to manipulate public perceptions about the Iraq war (see April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006). The Post says that a sitting president has the authority to declassify classified information, and Bush did so “in order to make clear why he had believed that Saddam Hussein was seeking nuclear weapons.” It calls the leaking of the information to a variety of press sources “clumsy,” and says the handling of the information exposed Bush “to the hyperbolic charges of misconduct and hypocrisy that Democrats are leveling.” The Post says that nothing was illegal or untoward about Cheney’s method of releasing the information—authorizing his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, to leak the information to New York Times reporter Judith Miller—instead of the usual methodology of officially declassifying the information and then sharing it with the press in a briefing. But Cheney’s actions, the Post says, made “Bush look foolish” when he “subsequently denounced a different leak in the same controversy and vow[ed] to ‘get to the bottom’ of it.” The Post turns its focus onto former ambassador Joseph Wilson, accusing him of lying about his conclusions that Niger had not attempted to sell Iraq any uranium (see July 6, 2003), and saying that the White House made no attempts to smear or discredit him (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006). The Post also reiterates the disproven claim that Wilson was sent to Niger by his wife, outed CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005). (Washington Post 4/9/2006)
Similar Editorials from Three Other Publications - The New York Post, National Review, and Wall Street Journal ran very similar editorials in the days before the Washington Post editorial. (Podhoretz 4/7/2006; National Review 4/8/2006; Wall Street Journal 4/8/2006)
Post News Report Contradicts Editorial - The same day that the Post publishes the editorial, it also prints an article by veteran reporters Barton Gellman and Dafna Linzer that documents an extensive White House effort to besmirch Wilson’s credibility. The reporters write: “Fitzgerald wrote that Cheney and his aides saw Wilson as a threat to ‘the credibility of the vice president (and the president) on a matter of signal importance: the rationale for the war in Iraq.’ They decided to respond by implying that Wilson got his CIA assignment by ‘nepotism.’” (Gellman and Linzer 4/9/2006)
'BushCo Propaganda' - Author and film producer Jane Hamsher, who runs the liberal blog FireDogLake, calls the Post editorial “an unmitigated piece of BushCo. propaganda” and devotes a considerable amount of space to challenging the editorial’s assertions. (Jane Hamsher 4/9/2006)
After several of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s former generals go public with devastating critiques of Rumsfeld’s strategies and planning in Iraq in what comes to be nicknamed the “Generals’ Revolt,” Rumsfeld determines to use the Pentagon’s “military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) to counter the storm of negative publicity. He has his aides summon a clutch of analysts for a briefing with him (see April 18, 2006); his office reminds one aide that “the boss” wants the meeting fast “for impact on the current story.” Pentagon officials help two Fox analysts, former generals Thomas McInerney and Paul Vallely, write an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal entitled “In Defense of Donald Rumsfeld.” Vallely sends an e-mail to the Pentagon, “Starting to write it now,” and soon thereafter adds, “Any input for the article will be much appreciated.” Rumsfeld’s office quickly forwards Vallely a list of talking points and specifics. Shortly thereafter, a Pentagon official reports, “Vallely is going to use the numbers.” But on April 16, the New York Times, which has learned of the plan, publishes a front-page story about it, sending Pentagon officials into damage-control mode. They describe the session with McInerney and Vallely as “routine,” and issue internal directives to keep communications with analysts “very formal.” One official warns subordinates, “This is very, very sensitive now.” (Barstow 4/20/2008; Kurtz 4/21/2008)
The Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore interviews reclusive billionaire Charles Koch, the head of the Koch Brothers oil empire. Among the items of interest in the interview is Koch’s admission that he, along with his brother David (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, and Late 2004), coordinates the funding of the conservative infrastructure of some of the most influential front groups, political campaigns, think tanks, media outlets, and other such efforts through a semiannual meeting with wealthy conservative donors. (Moore himself receives Koch funding for his work, according to a Think Progress report published four years later. In return, Moore is quite laudatory in the interview, writing that Koch is a “creative forward-thinking… professorial CEO” who “is immersed in the ideas of liberty and free markets.”) Koch tells Moore that his basic goal is to strengthen what he calls the “culture of prosperity” by eliminating “90 percent” of all laws and government regulations. Moore writes of the twice-yearly conference: “Mr. Koch’s latest crusade to spread the ideas of liberty has been his sponsorship of a twice-yearly conference that gathers together many of the most successful American entrepreneurs, from T. Boone Pickens to former Circuit City CEO Rick Sharp. The objective is to encourage these captains of industry to help fund free-market groups devoted to protecting the fragile infrastructure of liberty. That task seems especially critical given that so many of the global superrich, like George Soros and Warren Buffett, finance institutions that undermine the very system of capitalism that made their success possible (see January - November 2004). Isn’t this just the usual rich liberal guilt, I ask. ‘No,’ he says, ‘I think they simply haven’t been sufficiently exposed to the ideas of liberty.’” (Moore 5/6/2006; Fang 10/20/2010)
Anne Marie Squeo of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial staff examines recent reporting by progressive Internet news and opinion publication Truthout.org, which published an article claiming White House political strategist Karl Rove would be indicted as a part of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see May 13, 2006). Squeo writes, “With more people turning to the Internet for news, bloggers have blurred the lines with traditional media and changed both the dynamics of the reporting process and how political rumors swirl.” No evidence supporting the Truthout story has yet surfaced, Squeo notes, and Rove’s lawyer and spokeman have denied the story (see May 15, 2006). Squeo notes that some observers believe Truthout reporter Jason Leopold was a victim of “White House disinformation,” but she focuses on the often-rushed and often-inaccurate reporting that takes place on the Internet. She quotes blogger and journalism professor Jay Rosen, who says, “The system for keeping unverifiable reports out of the news is totally broken down when you look at the online world.” Instead of verifying news reports before publication, Rosen says, the tendency is to publish first and correct afterwards. Rosen believes that philosophy works for news blogs and other Web-based publications, but says it is not a practice that major news organizations could or should adopt. “Blog journalism” came into vogue in 1998, Squeo writes, when right-wing blogger Matt Drudge broke the news that then-President Clinton had had an affair with an intern (Squeo 5/16/2006) (Squeo fails to tell her readers that Drudge was given the information by conservative gossip and socialite Lucianne Goldberg, who was working with Republicans and fellow conservatives to bring impeachment charges against Clinton.) (Committee of Concerned Journalists 10/20/1998) After Drudge went public with the now-infamous story of the semen-stained blue dress, “news blogging” became increasingly popular, “in large part fueled by a desire to push particular political arguments and a growing feeling that the mainstream media had become too close with the establishment it purported to cover.” Squeo continues: “Politics, and the arguments it stirs, lends itself to the Internet. Bloggers have the latitude to issue one-sided analysis that makes leaps to connect the dots in ways that more guarded news organizations couldn’t. The CIA leak investigation, which has hit the highest echelons of the Bush administration, has become a favorite topic for many of these sites.” Such “news blogs,” on both the left and right of the political aisle, can focus strongly on a single issue, Rosen says, and devote a tremendous amount of time and effort covering and analyzing it, far more than mainstream news organizations are often willing to do. Journalism professor Mark Feldstein says that current “blog journalism” is reminiscent of the old “tabloid press,” which used to be the same sort of “news incubator” for reporting and analysis of stories that weren’t ready for mainstream reporting. The Internet, Feldstein says, makes blogs “much more ubiquitous and instantaneous” than the old tabloid publications ever could be. (Squeo 5/16/2006)
In an op-ed, the Wall Street Journal harshly criticizes the Patrick Fitzgerald prosecution of Lewis Libby (see October 28, 2005), and objects to Fitzgerald’s intention to use a July 2003 Journal column as evidence of Libby’s perjury. According to the Journal, the key passage from that column reads: “One of the mysteries of the recent yellowcake uranium flap is why the White House has been so defensive about an intelligence judgment that we don’t yet know is false, and that the British still insist is true. Our puzzlement is even greater now that we’ve learned what last October’s National Intelligence Estimate really said.” Now, the Journal writes, that column proved the editorial staff’s assertion that President Bush was truthful in his January 2003 assertion that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), and former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s allegation that Bush was untruthful was, itself, untruthful (see July 6, 2003). Fitzgerald’s decision to use the Journal editorial “suggests that his case is a lot weaker than his media spin,” the Journal writes. The Journal notes that Libby was not a source for the 2003 editorial, “which quoted from the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate concerning the Africa-uranium issue. But Mr. Fitzgerald alleges in a court filing that Mr. Libby played a role in our getting the information, which in turn shows that ‘notwithstanding other pressing government business, [Libby] was heavily focused on shaping media coverage of the controversy concerning Iraqi efforts to obtain uranium from Niger.’” According to the Journal, Fitzgerald is asserting that government officials such as Libby “have no right to fight back against critics who make false allegations,” and continues, “To the extent our editorial is germane to this trial, in fact, it’s because it puts Mr. Libby’s actions into a broadly defensible context that Mr. Fitzgerald refuses to acknowledge.” The editorial concludes by asserting that Fitzgerald is siding with Wilson against Libby and the Bush administration in what it calls “a political fight.” (Wall Street Journal 6/6/2006) Former state prosecutor Christy Hardin Smith, covering the Libby trial at the progressive blog FireDogLake, uses lengthy excerpts from Judge Reggie Walton’s rulings to show that the Journal op-ed will, indeed, serve as evidence of Libby’s perjury. Smith accuses the Journal editorial staff of “shilling” for Libby and the Bush administration, and of being “willing participants” in a cover-up that would result in “lawbreakers” such as Libby going unpunished. (Christy Hardin Smith 6/6/2006)
Conservative pundits and columnists launch a new barrage of attacks and accusations against former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003) and his wife, outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). The pundits use the recent revelation that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was apparently the first administration official to leak Plame Wilson’s name to the press (see August 22, 2006 and September 7, 2006). They claim that the new information proves that there was never a conspiracy to “out” Plame Wilson (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and Before July 14, 2003), but that her status as a covert CIA agent was revealed merely as a result of harmless gossip from Armitage, who is not considered a major part of the neoconservative axis of power within the White House. (Washington Post 9/1/2006)
Blaming Armitage and the State Department - The Wall Street Journal blames Armitage for allowing the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation to go on while he remained mute, allowing “political opportunism and internal score-settling” to drive the investigation when it never should have taken off. “The White House, in short, was not engaged in any campaign to ‘out’ Ms. Plame [Wilson],” the editorial states. Since the prosecution of Lewis Libby for perjury and obstruction during the investigation is not likely to be dropped, the editorial concludes, President Bush should end it by pardoning Libby. (Wall Street Journal 8/30/2006) The New York Sun also chastizes Armitage for standing silent “while the president’s critics sullied the good names of Messrs. Cheney, Libby, and Rove.” (Clyne 7/19/2004; New York Sun 8/30/2006) A similar position is advocated by neoconservative John Podhoretz, writing for the New York Post, who also says that the Armitage revelation should result in special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald dropping all charges against Libby. (Podhoretz 8/29/2006) Neoconservative Frank Gaffney, writing for the online political publication TownHall, accuses both Armitage and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as other senior State Department officials, of being “disloyalists” who “wage[d] war” against the Bush administration “from behind enemy lines”—from his position in the State Department, essentially functioning as a saboteur for unnamed liberal interests, and to win ground the State Department lost in conflicts with the White House. Gaffney goes further, accusing other State Department officials of intentionally sabotaging US nuclear negotiation efforts with North Korea (see September 19-20, 2005 and July 15, 2006). He accuses Armitage of “destructive and disloyal behavior” and “appeasement” towards North Korea and other US opponents. (Gaffney 9/5/2006) San Francisco Chronicle writer Debra Saunders calls the entire affair nothing more than “gossip,” and notes that an admission by White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove that he confirmed Plame Wilson’s identity (see July 10, 2005 and October 14, 2005) is virtually meaningless. The only “abuse of power” that has come to light during the investigation, Saunders opines, is the investigation itself. (Saunders 9/6/2006)
Libby 'Exonerated' by Armitage Admission - The New Hampshire Union Leader calls the investigation a “non-issue” promulgated by “conspiracy nuts” now proven wrong by the Armitage admission. (New Hampshire Union Leader 8/30/2006) Syndicated columnist Linda Chavez says the “exculpatory” Armitage revelation exonerates Libby, and calls his prosecution “malicious” and unwarranted. (Chavez 8/30/2006)
Wilson, 'Leftists' to Blame - Slate’s Christopher Hitchens goes further, attacking the “Joseph Wilson fantasy” that Iraq had not attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002) and March 8, 2002), calling the idea that the White House deliberately attempted to smear Wilson’s character a “paranoid fantasy” (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006), and concluding that the entire Plame Wilson imbroglio was the result of a “venom[ous] interdepartmental rivalry” between Armitage’s State Department and the White House, blown entirely out of proportion by liberal critics of the Bush administration. (Hitchens 8/29/2006) A National Review editorial blames the New York Times editorial board and “shrieking” “leftist adversaries” of the Bush administration for the investigation, and, like Chavez and others, calls for the immediate end of the Libby prosecution. (National Review 8/30/2006) The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes compiles a “rogues list” of “the Plamegate Hall of Shame,” including Armitage, his former boss Colin Powell, Patrick Fitzgerald, the Justice Department, Joseph Wilson, and the media. “So instead of Cheney or Rove or Libby,” Barnes writes, “the perennial targets of media wrath, the Plamegate Hall of Shame consists of favorites of the Washington elite and the mainstream press.” And like the others, Barnes calls on Fitzgerald to immediately terminate his investigation as well as his prosecution of Libby. (Barnes 9/2/2006) And the Washington Times’s editor in chief Wesley Pruden rounds off the attacks, rather ghoulishly predicting that the next time Plame Wilson will be mentioned in the press is when “a nice obituary in the Washington and New York newspapers and a few lines of a telegraph dispatch on a page with the truss ads in Topeka” is printed. He calls Plame Wilson, who headed the CIA’s Joint Task Force on Iraq (see April 2001 and After), “the queen of the clipping scissors and pastepots at the CIA” (see September 29, 2003), and calls the leak investigation a “fraud.” (Pruden 9/5/2006)
Picked Up by Mainstream Media - Many in the mainstream media echo the new line of attack, with the Washington Post’s editorial board joining the other editorials and columnists in demanding that the Libby prosecution be immediately terminated. Echoing a Wall Street Journal guest editorial from almost a year before (see November 3, 2005), the Post editorial claims that because Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, went public with his knowledge of the Bush administration’s false claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003), he is ultimately responsible for outing his wife. The Post writes: “Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming—falsely, as it turned out—that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials. He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush’s closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It’s unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.” The allegation that Wilson had “falsely… debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger” is itself false, as Wilson’s report further proved that no such deals ever took place (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002) and March 8, 2002). (Washington Post 9/1/2006) The New York Times’s conservative columnist, David Brooks, joins in the attacks, calling the exposure of Plame Wilson a “piffle” (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, October 29, 2005, and February 13, 2006) blown out of proportion by a group of Congressional Democrats and the 2004 presidential campaign of John Kerry. Like the others, he blames Armitage for “keep[ing] quiet while your comrades are being put through the ringer [sic].” (Brooks 8/31/2006) Days later, the Post’s David Broder writes that Karl Rove, one of the White House officials who outed Plame (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), had been treated badly by reporters and pundits, and deserved a round of apologies. (Broder 9/7/2006)
'Marvel of Wingnut Logic' - Author Jane Hamsher, writing for the progressive blog FireDogLake, hammers the Post editorial and its presumed author, op-ed editor Fred Hiatt, writing with some apparent outrage: “[T]o argue that somehow this [Armitage] leak—which played no part in the concerted administration effort to bully, intimidate, and punish Joe Wilson—should somehow excuse Scooter Libby and Karl Rove’s subsequent actions is a true marvel of wingnut logic. Incredibly it is somehow okay to rob the liquor store, shoot the owner, rape the cashier, and spatter the walls with blood because someone else was caught shoplifting there the week before. It is the Sistine Chapel of bad faith editorials.” (Jane Hamsher 9/1/2006)
Comparisons to Soviet Propaganda - Plame Wilson herself is “furious” at reading the Post editorial and other, similar writings. In her 2007 book Fair Game, she will write, “I suddenly understood what it must have felt like to live in the Soviet Union and have only the state propaganda entity, Pravda, as the source of news about the world.” Plame Wilson calls the allegations that her husband is responsible for outing her “flatly untrue,” and shows the writers’ “ignorance about how our clandestine service functions.” She notes that the FBI had known of the Armitage leak since October 2003, and that since “the FBI didn’t shut down the investigation” this indicated “they had good reason to believe that Libby and Rove were lying to them.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 257-260)
The Wall Street Journal joins the National Review (see March 6, 2007 and March 6, 2007), the New York Post (see March 7, 2007), and a law professor whom the Journal published in today’s editorial pages (see March 7, 2007) in demanding that President Bush pardon convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007). The Journal’s editorial board hopes that “Bush will realize that this case was always a political fight over Iraq and do the right thing by pardoning Mr. Libby.” Like its fellow conservative pundits and media outlets, the Journal calls the conviction “a travesty of justice,” and writes that the Libby defense team “seems to have blundered by portraying Mr. Libby as the ‘fall guy’ for others in the White House. That didn’t do enough to rebut [special counsel Patrick] Fitzgerald’s theory of the case, and so the jury seems to have decided that Mr. Libby must have been lying to protect something. The defense might have been better off taking on Mr. Fitzgerald for criminalizing political differences.” Libby was “convicted of telling the truth about” Joseph and Valerie Plame Wilson “to some reporters (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) but then not owning up to it.” The Journal believes Libby “tried to cooperate with the grand jury because he never really believed he had anything to hide” (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). The entire case was brought, the Journal avers, to attack the Bush administration’s push for war with Iraq. The Bush administration bears its own culpability, the Journal says, for not “confront[ing] Mr. Wilson’s lies head on” and instead becoming “defensive,” allowing “a trivial matter to become a threat to the administration itself.” The White House should not have allowed then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to recuse himself from the investigation (see December 30, 2003) and let the Justice Department appoint Fitzgerald to investigate the leaks. “Mr. Libby got caught in the eddy not because he was dishonest but because he was a rare official who actually had the temerity to defend the president’s Iraq policy against Mr. Wilson’s lies.” The Journal also criticizes “most of our brethren” in the media for “celebrating the conviction… because it damaged the Bush administration they loathe.” It concludes by asserting, “The time for a pardon is now.” (Wall Street Journal 3/7/2007)
Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence, tells a conference of intelligence officials that the government needs new rules about how to balance privacy rights and investigative needs. Since many people routinely post details of their lives on social-networking sites such as MySpace, he says, their identity should not require the same protection as in the past. Instead, only their “essential privacy,” or “what they would wish to protect about their lives and affairs,” should be veiled. Commenting on the speech, the Wall Street Journal will say that this is part of a project by intelligence agencies “to change traditional definitions of how to balance privacy rights against investigative needs.” (Kerr 10/23/2007 ; Gorman 3/10/2008) According to some accounts, the prime repository of information about US citizens that the government has is a database known as Main Core, so if the government collected more information about citizens, the information would be placed in or accessed through this database (see 1980s or Before).
Joining the neoconservative attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007), the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page questions the motives of the three former State Department officials who helped compile the NIE, Thomas Fingar, Vann Van Diepin, and Kenneth Brill. The Journal writes, “Our own ‘confidence’ is not heightened by the fact that the NIE’s main authors include three former State Department officials with previous reputations as ‘hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials.’” (Simmons 12/6/2007) Former UN ambassador and influential neoconservative John Bolton agrees. Bolton, who has already accused the intelligence community of deliberately politicizing its report (see December 4, 2007), tells a reporter: “I would also say many of the people who wrote this are former State Department employees who, during their career at the State Department, never gave much attention to the threat of the Iranian program. Now they are writing as members of the intelligence community, the same opinions that they have had four and five years ago.” (CNN 12/4/2007)
The Wall Street Journal learns that a supposedly amateur-based, citizen-driven protest Web site is actually a product of a professional public relations and lobbying organization, FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009). The site, AngryRenter.com, is designed to look like something an “ordinary citizen” would produce. Michael Phillips of the Journal writes, “AngryRenter.com looks a bit like a digital ransom note, with irregular fonts, exclamation points, and big red arrows—all emphasizing prudent renters’ outrage over a proposed government bailout for irresponsible homeowners.” The site’s home page proclaims, “It seems like America’s renters may NEVER be able to afford a home,” and exhorts visitors to sign an online petition directed at Congressional Democrats. (The petition, with some 44,500 signatures, was delivered to Senate leaders earlier in the week.) “We are millions of renters standing up for our rights!” the site proclaims.
'Astroturf' - However, it is designed and hosted by FreedomWorks, which the Journal describes as “an inside-the-Beltway conservative advocacy organization led by Dick Armey, the former House majority leader, and publishing magnate Steve Forbes, a fellow Republican. [Forbes is an unpaid board member.]… [AngryRenter.com is] a fake grass-roots effort—what politicos call an astroturf campaign—that provides a window into the sleight-of-hand ways of Washington.” FreedomWorks opposes the proposed government bailout of the housing industry, and says it plans to oppose any further bailouts. AngryRenter.com is copyrighted by FreedomWorks, which discloses its ownership of the site on a page deeper into the site. However, Phillips writes, “The site is nonetheless designed to look underdoggy and grass-rootsy, with a heavy dose of aw-shucks innocence.” The site says: “Unfortunately, renters aren’t as good at politics as the small minority of homeowners (and their bankers) who are in trouble. We don’t have lobbyists in Washington, DC. We don’t get a tax deduction for our rent, and we don’t get sweetheart government loans.” Most visitors to the site have no idea that lobbyists for FreedomWorks actually wrote that copy, nor that FreedomWorks garnered $10.5 million in lobbying fees in 2006, most of which came from large donors the organization is not obligated to disclose.
FreedomWorks Operated by Millionaires - FreedomWorks president Matthew Kibbe says the site is an attempt to “reach out” to disgruntled renters who share the free-market views of Armey, Forbes, and others. Kibbe calls himself “an angry homeowner who pays his mortgage.” He lives on Capitol Hill in DC, in a home valued at $1.17 million. Forbes lives in a home in New Jersey worth $2.78 million, and owns, among other properties, a chateau in France. (The Forbes family recently sold its private island in Fiji and its palace in Morocco.) Armey earns over $500,000 a year working for FreedomWorks, and lives in a Texas home valued at $1.7 million. Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) says he finds it amusing that Armey is portraying himself as a champion of ordinary renters. “I worked a long time trying to improve the condition of renters,” he says. “Dick Armey has usually been on the other side.”
Looking Out for the 'Poor Devil' Who Can't Afford to Buy a Home - Armey says he’s looking out for “the poor devil” who can’t afford to buy a house. “From our point of view, we have an industry in which people were very careless, very reckless—both lenders and borrowers. What various policy makers are saying is we need to rush in here with a program to protect people from the consequences of their own bad judgment.”
Deliberately Misleading? - Armey defends AngryRenter.com’s deliberately amateurish appearance, and calls it “voluntary” for civic participation. San Diego financial adviser Rich Toscano, who rents his home, thought the site was an amateur venture similar to his own blog, Professor Piggington’s Econo-Almanac for the Landed Poor, which chronicles foreclosures and other financial misfortunes suffered by real-estate brokers whom Toscano says helped inflate the area’s real-estate bubble. AngryRenter.com appeared to Toscano as genuinely citizen-produced: “It looks like a young person did it,” he says. He still supports the site even after learning that it is a production of a DC lobbying firm, saying the message is more important than the identity of the bailout. Web designer Chris Kinnan, a FreedomWorks employee, actually designed the site. Of himself, he says: “I’m a renter. I’m not an angry renter.” (Phillips 5/16/2008)
The Wall Street Journal prints an editorial questioning Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)‘s record at Columbia University in New York City. Obama began his attendance at that university in 1981 and graduated with an undergraduate degree in 1983. The Journal does not directly assault Obama’s record of attendance, nor does it challenge the diploma he earned there, but instead accuses Obama of “barely mention[ing] his experience” at Columbia in his two published memoirs, accuses the Obama campaign of “refus[ing] to answer questions about Columbia and New York—which, in this media age, serves only to raise more of them,” and asks: “Why not release his Columbia transcript? Why has his senior essay gone missing?” (There is no senior thesis—see October 21, 2009). After noting that the presidential campaign of John McCain (R-AZ) has refused to release McCain’s records from the US Naval Academy, the Journal calls Obama “a case apart” because of his lack of “a long track record in government.” It accuses Obama, in his memoirs, of “play[ing] up certain chapters in his life—perhaps even exaggerating his drug use in adolescence to drive home his theme of youthful alienation—and ignor[ing] others.” Citizens and journalists attempting to “exercise… due diligence” in the days before the presidential election are, the Journal claims, “meeting resistance from Mr. Obama in checking his past.” The Journal claims that one of Obama’s Columbia-era roommates, Sohale Siddiqi, has confirmed Obama’s transformation in New York from a dissolute youth to a serious young man, telling an Associated Press reporter: “We were both very lost. We were both alienated, although he might not put it that way. He arrived disheveled and without a place to stay.” The Journal writes, “For some reason the Obama camp wanted this to stay out of public view,” and claims, “Such caginess is grist for speculation.” It speculates that Obama’s Columbia transcript might “reveal Mr. Obama as a mediocre student who benefited from racial preference,” though, noting that Obama later graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, says he obviously “knows how to get good grades.” The Journal echoes “others” who “speculate about ties to the Black Students Organization, though students active then don’t seem to remember him,” along with tales from “the far reaches of the Web [about] conspiracies about former Carter national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who became the candidate’s ‘guru and controller’ while at Columbia in the early 1980s.” The Journal notes that Brzezinski “laughs, and tells us he doesn’t ‘remember meeting him.’” The Journal concludes that few remember Obama during his two years in New York. “Fox News contacted some 400 of his classmates and found no one who remembered him,” it reports. Obama himself has told biographer David Mendell that during his time at Columbia, “I was just painfully alone and really not focused on anything, except maybe thinking a lot.” The Journal concludes: “Put that way, his time at Columbia sounds unremarkable. Maybe that’s what most pains a young memoirist and an ambitious politician who strains to make his life anything but unremarkable.” (Wall Street Journal 9/11/2008)
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)
An unsigned op-ed in the Wall Street Journal accuses the Senate campaign of Al Franken (D-MN) of voter fraud. Franken and incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) are locked in a race that was too close to call, and are awaiting the results of a recount (see November 4-5, 2008). Since then, the Coleman campaign (see November 10, 2008) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC—see November 11, 2008) have implied a variety of wrongdoings, including underhanded ballot tally manipulation, partisan bias, and even shadowy connections to the Communist Party. Some Democrats, the Journal states, are engaged in “stealing a Senate seat for left-wing joker Al Franken.” The Journal reiterates a claim by Coleman’s lead recount lawyer Fritz Knaak that the director of the Minneapolis Board of Elections forgot to count 32 absentee ballots that she had left in her car. The Coleman campaign attempted to get a judge to stop those ballots from being added to the total, the Journal states, but the judge refused to do so. The Journal also records a number of statistically “unusual” or “improbable” vote tally shifts that have combined to shave Coleman’s initial 725-vote lead to just over 200. The Journal joins Coleman and the NRSC in attacking Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN), whose office is overseeing the upcoming recount. It cites Ritchie’s own run for office in 2006, which was supported by, among others, liberal activist group MoveOn.org, and says Ritchie is “an ally” of “the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, of fraudulent voter-registration fame” (see May 2, 2008, October 7, 2008, October 18, 2008, and October 14, 2008). Ritchie’s “relationship” with ACORN, the Journal states, “might explain why prior to the election Mr. Ritchie waved off evidence of thousands of irregularities on Minnesota voter rolls, claiming that accusations of fraud were nothing more than ‘desperateness’ from Republicans.” The Journal expands its accusations to include the Franken campaign, which it says is “mau-mauing election officials into accepting tossed ballots.” (Wall Street Journal 11/12/2008; Brauer 11/12/2008) The same day as the Journal op-ed is published, Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) repeats the allegation about the absentee ballots being left overnight in an election official’s car, telling a Fox News reporter: “As I understand it, and this is based on news accounts, he claims that even though they were in his car, that they were never outside of his security or area of control, so the courts allowed that. It seems a little loose to me.” Asked by a Fox reporter, “What were they doing in his car?” Pawlenty replies: “There has not been a good explanation for that, Kelly. That’s a very good question, but they’ve been included in the count pile which is concerning.” Pawlenty mischaracterizes the gender of the Minneapolis Elections Director, Cindy Reichert. Reichert also says the entire story is “just not true.” The story comes from Knaak, who initially told reporters, “We were actually told ballots had been riding around in her car for several days, which raised all kinds of integrity questions.” By the day’s end, Knaak backs away from the claim of impropriety. A local outlet reports, “Knaak said he feels assured that what was going on with the 32 ballots was neither wrong nor unfair.” Reichert says that Knaak’s story is entirely false. No ballots were ever left in her car, nor were they left unattended in anyone else’s car. They were secured between Election Night and when they were counted. They were briefly in an election official’s car, along with every other absentee ballot, as they were all driven from individual precincts to polling places as mandated by Minnesota election law. “What I find ludicrous is that this goes on all around the state,” Reichert says. “If we could process them [at City Hall] we’d love to do that.” The absentee ballots were transported, sorted, and counted according to standard elections procedures, Reichert says. The 32 ballots in question were not counted until November 8, and both the Coleman and Franken campaigns were informed that the ballots were not included in the initial Minneapolis tallies. The tally for those 32 ballots: Franken 18, Coleman seven, and seven for other candidates or for no one. (Brauer 11/12/2008)
John Yoo, the former Bush administration legal adviser who authored numerous opinions on the legality of torture, detentions without legal representation, and warrantless wiretapping (see November 6-10, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, August 1, 2002, and August 1, 2002, among others), writes an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal opposing the Obama administration’s intent to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility (see January 20, 2009 and January 22, 2009)) and restrict the CIA’s ability to torture detainees (see January 22, 2009). Yoo, now a law professor and a member of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, writes that while President Obama’s decision “will please his base” and ease the objections to the Bush “imperial presidency,” it will “also seriously handicap our intelligence agencies from preventing future terrorist attacks.” Yoo writes that the Obama decisions mark a return “to the failed law enforcement approach to fighting terrorism that prevailed before Sept. 11, 2001.” Yoo recommends that Obama stay with what he calls “the Bush system” of handling terror suspects. Yoo fails to note that the US law enforcement system prevented, among others, the “millennium bombing” plot (see December 14, 1999), the plot to bomb New York City’s Lincoln and Holland Tunnels (see June 24, 1993), and Operation Bojinka (see January 6, 1995).
Obama Needs to be Able to Torture Prisoners Just as Bush Did, Yoo Declares - And by eschewing torture, Obama is giving up any chance on forcing information from “the most valuable sources of intelligence on al-Qaeda” currently in American custody. The Bush administration policies prevented subsequent terrorist attacks on the US, Yoo contends, and Obama will need the same widespread latitude to interrogate and torture prisoners that Bush employed: “What is needed are the tools to gain vital intelligence, which is why, under President George W. Bush, the CIA could hold and interrogate high-value al-Qaeda leaders. On the advice of his intelligence advisers, the president could have authorized coercive interrogation methods like those used by Israel and Great Britain in their antiterrorism campaigns. (He could even authorize waterboarding, which he did three times in the years after 9/11.)” It is noteworthy that Yoo refused to confirm that Bush ordered waterboarding of suspects during his previous Congressional hearings (see June 26, 2008).
Interrogations Must be 'Polite' - According to Yoo, in forcing the CIA and other US interrogators to follow the procedures outlined in the Army Field Manual, they can no longer use “coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines used in police stations throughout America.… His new order amounts to requiring—on penalty of prosecution—that CIA interrogators be polite. Coercive measures are unwisely banned with no exceptions, regardless of the danger confronting the country.” (Yoo 1/29/2009) Yoo is incorrect in this assertion. The Army Field Manual explicitly countenances many of the “coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines” Yoo says it bans. Further, the Field Manual says nothing about requiring interrogators to be “polite.” (Army 9/2006) And actual field interrogators such as the Army’s Matthew Alexander have repeatedly said that torturing prisoners is ineffective and counterproductive, while building relationships and treating prisoners with dignity during interrogations produces usable, reliable intelligence (see November 30, 2008).
Shutting Down Military Commissions - Obama’s order to stay all military commission trials and to review the case of “enemy combatant” Ali Saleh al-Marri (see June 23, 2003) is also mistaken, Yoo writes. Yoo fears that Obama will shut down the military commissions in their entirety and instead transfer detainees charged with terrorist acts into the US civilian court system. He also objects to Obama’s apparent intent to declare terrorists to be prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, instead of following the Bush precedent of classifying terrorists “like pirates, illegal combatants who do not fight on behalf of a nation and refuse to obey the laws of war.” To allow terror suspects to have rights under Geneva and the US legal system, Yoo asserts, will stop any possibility of obtaining information from those suspects. Instead, those suspects will begin using the legal system to their own advantage—refusing to talk, insisting on legal representation and speedy trials instead of cooperating with their interrogators. “Our soldiers and agents in the field will have to run more risks as they must secure physical evidence at the point of capture and maintain a chain of custody that will stand up to the standards of a civilian court,” Yoo writes. (Yoo 1/29/2009) In reality, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), as well as the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 15, 2005) and the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006), all mandate that detainees must be handled according to the Geneva Conventions.
Risk to Americans - Another effect of transferring detainees into the civilian justice system, Yoo claims, is to allow “our enemies to obtain intelligence on us.” Defense lawyers will insist on revealing US intelligence—information and methods—in open court, and will no doubt force prosecutors to accept plea bargains “rather than risk disclosure of intelligence secrets.”
Obama 'Open[ed] the Door to Further Terrorist Acts on US Soil' - Obama said in his inaugural speech that the US must “reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” Yoo calls that statement “naive,” and writes, “That high-flying rhetoric means that we must give al-Qaeda—a hardened enemy committed to our destruction—the same rights as garden-variety criminals at the cost of losing critical intelligence about real, future threats.” By making his choices, Yoo writes, “Mr. Obama may have opened the door to further terrorist acts on US soil by shattering some of the nation’s most critical defenses.” (Yoo 1/29/2009)
The Wall Street Journal, Fox News anchors, conservative Web news purveyor Matt Drudge, and conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh promulgate a discredited claim by health care lobbyist Betsy McCaughey that the economic recovery bill pending in Congress includes a provision that would have the government “essentially dictate treatments” for sick Americans. McCaughey wrote a commentary for Bloomberg News on February 9 that makes the claim (see February 9, 2009); Drudge and Limbaugh echo and add to the claim the same day. The next day, the Wall Street Journal’s senior economic writer, Stephen Moore, appearing on Fox News’s flagship morning news broadcast America’s Newsroom, joins news anchors Bill Hemmer and Megyn Kelly in promoting the same claim (see October 13, 2009), with Moore saying that the provision would “hav[e] the government essentially dictate treatments.” Moore credits Limbaugh with informing him of the claim, saying: “I just learned of this myself yesterday. In fact, Rush Limbaugh made a big deal out of it on his radio show and it just—it caused all sorts of calls into congressional offices.” On February 10, Limbaugh takes credit for spreading the claim, telling listeners: “Betsy McCaughey writing at Bloomberg, I found it. I detailed it for you, and now it’s all over mainstream media. Well, it’s—it headlined Drudge for a while last night and today. Fox News is talking about it.” McCaughey is wrong in the claim: according to an analysis of the legislative language by progressive media watchdog Media Matters, “the language in the House bill that McCaughey referenced does not establish authority to ‘monitor treatments’ or restrict what ‘your doctor is doing’ with regard to patient care but, rather, addresses establishing an electronic records system such that doctors would have complete, accurate information about their patients ‘to help guide medical decisions at the time and place of care.’” Moore says: “[T]his news story really has exploded on the public scene in just the last 24 hours, Bill. We’ve been just inundated with complaints from people about the implications of having the government essentially dictate treatments.” Moore later goes on to add that the bill “especially will affect elderly people, because one of the ways, if we move more towards a nationalized health care system, as this bill would move us one step towards that, what you have to do to restrain costs—what many other countries do, like Canada and Britain, is they essentially, Bill, ration care. And they tell patients you are eligible for this kind of care, but this is too expensive. And so what this bill would essentially do is set up a kind of pricing mechanism to tell people, yes, we can afford to treat you for this, but not that.” Moore encourages viewers to “express their outrage over this” before Congress takes the issue up. Kelly adds another false claim: that the bill discourages doctors to act on their own judgment and promotes medical decisions “in the spirit of uniform health care.” Kelly notes, “That sounds dangerously like socialized medicine.” Hemmer also makes the false claim that the legislation contains “rules [that] appear to set the stage for health care rationing for seniors, new limits on medical research, and new rules guiding decisions your doctor can make about your health care.” Hemmer calls the provision a “midnight health care insertion” into the Senate spending bill. (Media Matters 2/10/2009)
Twice in the same broadcast, Fox News airs a segment called “FOXFacts” that echoes almost verbatim claims made in a Wall Street Journal op-ed written by Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI). Ryan appears for an interview on Fox News’s Happening Now, a “straight news” broadcast, hours after his editorial appears in print, and is interviewed by co-host Jon Scott. The seven “FOXFacts,” which appear on-screen during the interview, are nearly identical to the claims and even the wording of Ryan’s editorial. In February, Scott passed off a Republican press release as independently researched news, even to the point of repeating a typographical error from the press release (see February 10, 2009). Ryan and the accompanying FOXFacts claim that the Republican budget proposal achieves lower deficits than the Obama plan, prioritizes national defense and veterans’ health care, rejects Obama’s “cap-and-trade scheme,” makes permanent the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the wealthy, lowers capital gains and dividend taxes, repeals estate taxes, and slashes corporate income taxes. An hour later, while interviewing Rob Nabors, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, Scott again airs the same “FOXFact” graphics. (Media Matters 4/1/2009; Media Matters 4/1/2009; Wall Street Journal 4/1/2009) Before appearing on Fox, Ryan admits to MSNBC host Joe Scarborough that the Republican “budget plan” is nothing more than a “marketing document” containing few specifics (see April 1, 2009).
Former Danish Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, president of the Party of European Socialists, writes a Wall Street Journal op-ed that advocates a greater level of communication and cooperation between governments to address the global economic crisis. Rasmussen writes in part: “We must keep up the pressure by demanding a globalization that works for everyone, and forge new alliances and new lines of communication across national boundaries. We must develop new, progressive ways to achieve global justice.” He advocates the expansion of European “state health care, social housing, education, unemployment support, and other universal, tax-funded services” to “the developing world, where according to the World Health Organization between 200,000 and 400,000 additional children will die each year due to the global economic downturn.” He calls free-market capitalist ideology “simplistic” as “championed by Reagan, Thatcher, and their ideological heirs,” and a failure “on a momentous scale.” The next night, Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly attacks Rasmussen as advocating a Marxist solution, and espousing a “one-world” view. O’Reilly says: “Well, Karl Marx could not have said it better. Global justice requires that a one-world government seize private property and distribute it so that every human being has roughly the same amount of resources. The Denmark guy’s vision is nothing new, but it’s now being recycled as justice.” O’Reilly says that “[s]ome believe Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), and President Obama himself are sympathetic to the one-world, global-justice view,” and concludes: “Key question: Where does Barack Obama stand? Are the right-wing pundits correct? Is he down with the global-justice jihad? There’s no hard evidence to suggest that he is, but he has not repudiated the false vision either. Until President Obama does, speculation will rage.” (Rasmussen 4/2/2009; Media Matters 4/10/2009) O’Reilly is following recent, similar claims by Fox News guest Alex Jones (see March 18, 2009), Fox host Glenn Beck and his guests (see March 17, 2009 and March 24, 2009), and Fox News contributor Charles Payne (see March 24, 2009).
The progressive news and advocacy site Think Progress profiles FreedomWorks, a conservative lobbying firm that uses the practice of “astroturfing” to press its agenda home. FreedomWorks is one of the organizations behind the anti-tax “tea party” movement (see April 8, 2009). The organization denies that it is “astroturfing”—creating fake “citizens groups” that purport to be spontaneously organized grassroots organizations—and compares its work to that of liberal activism group MoveOn.org. However, Think Progress notes that MoveOn is a citizen-organized group, while FreedomWorks is headed by former Republican activists and corporate officials, and is funded by oil, energy, and tobacco companies. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and current Washington lobbyist (R-TX) leads FreedomWorks. (Fang 4/14/2009)
'Amateur-Looking' Astroturfing Sites - Last year, the Wall Street Journal exposed FreedomWorks’ use of “amateur-looking” Web sites for its “astroturf” groups to bolster their credibility as purported “citizen groups” pushing for corporate interests (see May 16, 2008). (Fang 4/14/2009)
Represented by PR Firm with GOP Links - FreedomWorks is represented by the Washington public relations firm Shirley & Banister Public Affairs. Shirley & Banister also represents conservative organizations such as the National Rifle Association, Citizens United, news outlet Human Events, and organizer Richard Viguerie’s direct-mail firm. (It also represents the Bradley Foundation, a conservative funding organization that in 2008 gave $25,000 to both FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity [AFP], gave FreedomWorks $75,000 in 2009, and is considering a grant request from AFP.) One of Shirley & Banister’s partners is Craig Shirley, a veteran Republican PR operative who helped develop the overtly racist 1988 “Willie Horton” political ad (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). Progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow tells her audience: “This is a perfect system for the Republican Party. It’s a constant feedback loop. The Republican Party activists stir up fear and anger on the Internet… Fearful, angry people go to town hall events and then Republican Party officials say they are just responding to that anger and they have no idea where it came from. It’s [a] perfect cycle. Rile them up with made-up stuff and then sympathize with them that are so riled.” (MSNBC 8/14/2009; MSNBC 8/17/2009)
Led by Millionaires - Three of FreedomWorks’ most prominent senior officials are millionaires. Armey makes over $500,000 a year working for the organization, and lives in a Texas home valued at $1.7 million. FreedomWorks president Matthew Kibbe lives on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, in a home valued at $1.17 million. Board member Steve Forbes, the billionaire publisher of Forbes magazine, lives in a New Jersey home valued at $2.78 million, owns a chateau in France, and recently sold a private island in Fiji and a palace in Morocco. (Phillips 5/16/2008)
FreedomWorks Supports Armey's Lobbying Efforts - Armey’s lobbying firm, DLA Piper, represents pharmaceutical firms such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, medical device supplier SleepMed, health care provider Metropolitan Health Networks, and another pharmaceutical firm, Medicines Company. One member of FreedomWorks’s board of directors is Richard Stephenson, the founder and chairman of Cancer Treatment Centers of America. He is also the president of International Capital and Management Company, which runs a hospital consulting company. The president of FreedomWorks is Matt Kibbe, the former senior economist for the Republican National Committee and the former chief of staff for Representative Dan Miller (R-FL). FreedomWorks is organizing protests against health care reform that would cut into pharmaceutical firms’ profits. DLA Piper represents a number of life insurance firms; FreedomWorks has organized support for the deregulation of the insurance industry. DLA Piper represents not only several American oil firms, but also Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prime minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), on energy related issues such as maintaining the close ties between the US and the UAE. US oil firms are deeply involved in the UAE’s oil industry. (Center for Responsive Politics 2009; Fang 4/14/2009; MSNBC 8/12/2009) In August 2009, after reporting on FreedomWorks, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow will tell her audience: “Washington lobbyists and health care executives and former Republican Party officials have just as much a right to shout down the policy debate about health care reform as anyone else does. These folks have just as much a right to try to derail this entire process as anyone else does. But we have a right to know who they are and who is paying them for their efforts. These guys are pros. This is an industry. This is beltway politics being organized and played out in town halls across the country.” (MSNBC 8/12/2009) DLA Piper has also received $830,000 this year, so far, from the pharmaceutical firm Medicines Company; the same firm paid DLA Piper $1.5 million in 2008. (MSNBC 8/7/2009)
FreedomWorks Lobbying on Behalf of DLA Piper? - In August 2009, Maddow will ask, “[W]hy are DLA Piper’s clients relevant?” She answers herself, “There appears to be some pretty good evidence that when you pay Dick Armey’s lobbying firm, DLA Piper, you get what Dick Armey’s grassroots organization FreedomWorks does.” In the first half of 2007, the American Council of Life Insurers paid DLA Piper $100,000 to lobby on its behalf. During that time span, FreedomWorks began lobbying Congress on a “grassroots” basis to deregulate the life insurance industry. Maddow will sarcastically ask: “And, of course, perhaps it is just mere coincidence that FreedomWorks happened to have a newfound, ideological, purist grassroots commitment to life insurance deregulation at the same time the American Council of Life Insurers hired Dick Armey’s lobbying firm. It could just be a coincidence. Could be, right?” In 2006, DLA Piper began lobbying for the Senado de Republica, the Mexican Senate, for the purpose of “enhancing US-Mexico relations.” At the same time, FreedomWorks began promoting itself as “one of the few organizations willing to aggressively promote meaningful immigration reform.” In 2004, during the Bush administration’s push to privatize Social Security, a single mom from Iowa was introduced at a White House economic conference as a supporter of privatization. That mom was a FreedomWorks employee. Maddow will say: “This is how FreedomWorks does their work. They try to create the impression that their just regular grassroots Americans without any financial or political interests in the outcome of these policy fights.” (MSNBC 8/12/2009)
Betsy McCaughey, the former lieutenant governor of New York and a lobbyist for the health care industry, writes two frightening op-eds, one for the Wall Street Journal and one for the New York Post, that make false claims about the Democrats’ health care reform package. In the Journal, she claims that the bill contains a provision that would “pressure the elderly to end their lives prematurely,” a claim she has made before (see July 16, 2009). In the Post, she goes much farther, claiming that two of President Obama’s top health care advisers favor denying expensive health care treatments to senior citizens, the mentally disabled, and other “less productive” members of American society. She names Ezekiel Emanuel, a bioethicist, the health care adviser at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and a member of the Federal Council on Comparative Effectiveness Research. She cites a 2008 article by Emanuel in the American Medical Association’s journal, where he wrote that some doctors sometimes go too far, construing the Hippocratic Oath “as an imperative to do everything for the patient regardless of the cost or effects on others.” McCaughey takes Emanuel’s words and accuses him of wanting “doctors to look beyond the needs of their patients and consider social justice, such as whether the money could be better spent on somebody else. Many doctors are horrified by this notion; they’ll tell you that a doctor’s job is to achieve social justice one patient at a time.” McCaughey states that Emanuel believes “medical care should be reserved for the non-disabled, not given to those ‘who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens…’ Translation: Don’t give much care to a grandmother with Parkinson’s or a child with cerebral palsy.” She also claims that Emanuel “explicitly” advocated denying health care to senior citizens in favor of providing treatment to younger patients. McCaughey claims that both Emanuel and Dr. David Blumenthal, the White House’s national coordinator of health information technology, favor “slowing medical innovation to control health spending” and denying patients access to advanced medical technology. According to McCaughey, Blumenthal also favors letting “computers tell… doctors what to do.” She concludes: “No one has leveled with the public about these dangerous views.… Do we want a ‘reform’ that empowers people like this to decide for us?” (McCaughey 7/23/2009; McCaughey 7/24/2009) A White House official later notes that McCaughey misrepresented Emanuel’s writings, and that Emanuel was describing positions and beliefs that he opposed in the same articles. ABC News’s Jake Tapper will note that Emanuel’s fellow doctors and medical ethicists know him as a fervent advocate of the rights of dying patients. (Tapper 7/28/2009) And Emanuel himself will rebut McCaughey’s claims (see August 12, 2009). McCaughey’s previous claims about the dangers of health care reform, including her assertion that reform would encourage doctors to let senior citizens die, have been roundly debunked (see July 23, 2009).
Progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters documents a number of instances where conservative commentators twist the words of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Steny Hoyer (D-MD) into accusations of “calling Americans Nazis” or accusing citizens of being “un-American.” Hoyer and Pelosi wrote an op-ed in USA Today saying that for groups of corporate-sponsored protesters to disrupt and prevent open debate on the topic of health care reform was un-American (see August 10, 2009). Apparently the “Nazi” accusation comes in part from recent allegations by Rush Limbaugh that Pelosi and other Democrats have used Nazi accusations of their own (see August 6, 2009) and have, themselves, adopted Nazi symbology and precepts (see August 6, 2009).
MSNBC's Scarborough - MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, says on his show, “[O]n the left, you’ve got a speaker calling Americans un-American for going to town hall meetings and accusing them of carrying swastikas in there.” Scarborough goes on to say that it is not right to counter right-wing accusations and disruptions “by calling your opponents Nazis.”
Fox News Anchor - Fox News anchor Gregg Jarrett says, “First of all, in the beginning, Pelosi sort of suggested that any American citizen who dared voice an objection in a protest is a Nazi, apparently based on one isolated incident.” Former George H. W. Bush speechwriter Peggy Noonan wrote that Pelosi called protesters “Nazi-like.”
Wall Street Journal Columnist - Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto echoed Noonan, writing that Pelosi “insinuated that they [protesters] are Nazis,” and added that Nazi analogies are “far more common on the left than the right.” Limbaugh said flatly that Pelosi “is saying the people who oppose this are Nazis.”
Washington Times Op-Eds - The Washington Times says that Pelosi is “misleading” in asserting that protesters were “carrying swastikas.” Instead, the Times writes, “Closer examination [of the protest signs being carried at the town hall forums and rallies] revealed that in every case, the symbol was being used as a warning against the arrogance of power of which Mrs. Pelosi has become emblematic.” Citizen journalist Andrew Breitbart, in a Washington Times editorial, says that Pelosi “blatantly lied and said that the protesters were wielding ‘swastikas and symbols like that.’” The Wall Street Journal called Pelosi “completely clueless” for saying that anyone carried Nazi symbols to protests. Taranto wrote that Pelosi was suffering from “a fevered imagination” in seeing swastikas at protests and rallies. (Media Matters 8/11/2009)
Fox Hosts - Fox News hosts Gretchen Carlson and Steve Doocy tell their viewers that Hoyer and Pelosi called protesters “un-American.” Carlson says, “Some lawmakers are outright canceling the town halls now, and Nancy Pelosi says anyone who speaks out is un-American.” Doocy says moments later: “Of course, going back to Nancy Pelosi saying that apparently the opposing view to her view is un-American, that’s our text question this hour. Is it un-American to debate health care?” (Media Matters 8/10/2009)
Protests of Nazi Rhetoric - The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization, has protested the use of Nazi symbols and rhetoric both by anti-health care reform protesters and by conservative commentators (see August 7, 2009).
An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that the misinformation permeating the debate over health care reform is having an effect. Forty-five percent believe that the reform legislation pending in Congress includes “death panels” (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 13, 2009, August 12-13, 2009, August 13, 2009, and August 15, 2009), and 55 percent believe that illegal immigrants will receive government-funded coverage. These numbers are disproportionately higher among Fox News viewers: 72 percent believe the government will fund coverage of illegal immigrants, 75 percent believe in “death panels,” and 79 percent believe the reform bill will lead to a government takeover of the US health care system. Large minorities of other network viewers believe these same examples of misinformation. MSNBC’s Domenico Montanaro writes: “This is about credible messengers using the media to get some of this misinformation out there, not as much about the filter itself. These numbers should worry Democratic operatives, as well as the news media that have been covering this story.” (Montanaro 8/19/2009; Corley 8/19/2009) Another poll, from Public Policy Polling, shows that 39 percent of Americans want the government to “stay out of Medicare,” apparently unaware that the government funds, administers, and operates Medicare. The same poll shows that 38 percent of respondents do not believe President Obama is a natural-born American citizen; six percent don’t believe that Hawaii, Obama’s birth state, is part of the United States. The poll does not differentiate between Fox viewers and others. (Jilani 8/19/2009)
Health insurers have mobilized tens of thousands of employees to fight against the Democrats’ health care reform initiative, according to reports by the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. The insurance industry’s primary motive seems to be financial gain, according to the Times reporters. Many of the nation’s largest insurers, including UnitedHealth, have urged their employees to become involved in protesting health care reform, and provided advocacy “hot line” telephone numbers, printed “talking points,” sample “letters to the editor,” and other materials in almost every Congressional district throughout the nation. And many insurers, including BlueCross Blue Shield, have sponsored anti-reform television ads targeting conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats, many of whom are considered vulnerable to pressure from the industry. The insurance industry is paying for over 900 lobbyists, spending $35 million in the first half of 2009 lobbying Congress and the White House. AFL-CIO spokesman Gerald Shea says: “They have beaten us six ways to Sunday. Any time we want to make a small change to provide cost relief, they find a way to make it more profitable.” (Hamburger and Geiger 8/24/2009; Fuhrmans and Johnson 8/24/2009)
Jamming the 'Town Halls' - Insurers like UnitedHealth and others are sending their employees to “town hall” meetings to protest against reform. The Journal reports, “[T]he industry employees come armed with talking points about the need for bipartisan legislation and the unintended consequences of a government-run health plan to compete with private insurers.” But they are instructed not to become contentious and argumentative, according to a “Town Hall Tips” memo provided by the industry’s chief lobbying organization, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP—see Before August 6, 2009). The memo warns those attending the meetings to expect criticism, and to stay calm. “It is important not to take the bait,” the memo cautions. AHIP president Karen Ignagni says the town hall meetings are an opportunity “to strongly push back against charges that we have very high profits. It’s very important that our men and women… calmly provide the facts and for members of Congress to hear what these people do every day.” Larry Loew, who works for the insurance administration firm Cornerstone Group, says he attended a recent town hall meeting hosted by Representative Alan Mollohan (D-WV) because “my whole industry is being threatened.” Loew claims he was not coached by AHIP, but admits to preparing for the meeting by gathering talking points from hospital and insurance company Web sites. AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach says about 50,000 employees have been engaged in writing letters and making phone calls to politicians or attending town hall meetings. (Fuhrmans and Johnson 8/24/2009)
'Hallelujah!' - One industry proposal that is gaining traction among some in Congress is the so-called “individual mandate,” which would require all citizens to buy some form of health insurance. That provision would guarantee insurers tens of millions of new customers—many of which would receive government subsidies to help pay the premiums. Robert Laszewski, a former health insurance executive who now heads the consulting firm Health Policy and Strategy Associates, says of the provision, “It’s a bonanza.” The industry’s reaction to early negotiations can, Laszewski says, be summed up in a single word: “Hallelujah!” Linda Blumberg, a health policy analyst at the nonpartisan Urban Institute, says, “The insurers are going to do quite well” with health care reform. “They are going to have this very stable pool, they’re going to have people getting subsidies to help them buy coverage, and… they will be paid the full costs of the benefits that they provide—plus their administrative costs.” Aetna’s chief executive, Ron Williams, says: “We have to get everyone into the insurance market. That is a huge, big deal [and] everyone has coalesced around that.” (Hamburger and Geiger 8/24/2009; Fuhrmans and Johnson 8/24/2009)
Battling the Public Option, - Insurers have fought most strongly against the so-called “public option,” which would create a government-run, non-profit alternative to private health insurance. Some polls are showing public support for the public option has declined, and stock prices for the insurance corporations have tracked upwards. Other insurance industry proposals are gaining ground. The Senate Finance Committee is considering a proposal to lower the proposed mandatory reimbursement rate for insurers to policyholders from 76 percent to 65 percent, and the industry is pressuring Congress to lower the limit that insurers must meet to cover a policyholder’s medical bills, leaving more of the money it gleans from premiums as profits. “These are a bad deal for consumers,” says J. Robert Hunter, a former Texas insurance commissioner who works with the Consumer Federation of America. Insurance companies would reap huge profits by providing less insurance “per premium dollar,” he says. Former Cigna executive Wendell Potter says, “It would be quite a windfall” for the insurance industry. (Hamburger and Geiger 8/24/2009)
Representative John Shadegg (R-AZ) tells his House colleagues that health care reform will result in “Soviet-style gulag(s)” for Americans. Shadegg says: “You know, it occurs to me, and I’ll go through these other scandals very quickly, but what we’re really getting here is we’re not just getting single-payer care. We’re getting full on Russian gulag, Soviet-style gulag health care.… It appeared in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal. You can Google it. You can pick up the phone and call Kim Strassel [a Wall Street Journal columnist who wrote about the “hidden costs” of the Senate Finance Committee’s reform legislation on October 9]. You can ask her about Soviet-style gulag health care in America, where powerful politicians protect their constituents.” Progressive news and advocacy Web site Think Progress calls Shadegg’s statement a “new low” in anti-reform rhetoric, and tells its readers: “The Soviet gulags were a network of prisons and forced labor camps that held as many as 20 million people during Stalin’s reign of terror. It is estimated 1.5 million died in the camps.” (Fang 10/14/2009)
Democratic candidate Bill Owens wins an unexpected, narrow victory in a special election for the US House seat representing New York State’s 23rd District, a win widely seen as a setback to the national tea party movement. Owens ran against Conservative Party candidate Douglas L. Hoffman in a race that saw the original Republican Party candidate, Dede Scozzafava, drop out under heavy pressure from local, state, and national tea party organizations to give way to Hoffman, their preferred candidate. Scozzafava was the unanimous choice of the 11 county chairs of the district’s Republican Party organization. The 23rd District is traditionally Republican. Conservative figures identified with the tea party, such as former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), who has presidential aspirations, came out strongly in favor of Hoffman and against Scozzafava, as did talk show hosts Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Fred Thompson, and the editorial pages of the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal. Scozzafava is a moderate Republican who supports gay and abortion rights, and the federal economic stimulus package promoted by the Bush and Obama administrations. The Republican National Committee (RNC), which had backed Scozzafava, applauded her decision to withdraw and endorsed Hoffman. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), who like the RNC had supported Scozzzafava but in the days before the election endorsed Hoffman, says he worries that having third-party candidates routinely enter races would split conservative votes and give Democrats control of federal and state governments. “This makes life more complicated from the standpoint of this,” he says.“If we get into a cycle where every time one side loses, they run a third-party candidate, we’ll make [Nancy] Pelosi [D-CA] speaker for life and guarantee [President] Obama’s re-election.… I think we are going to get into a very difficult environment around the country if suddenly conservative leaders decide they are going to anoint people without regard to local primaries and local choices.” After Hoffman’s loss, some tea party figures blame the Republican Party for the defeat, saying that if the party had gotten behind Hoffman from the outset, he would have defeated Owens. Fox News commentator Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, agrees, saying: “I think Doug Hoffman likely would have won if he had been the Republican candidate from the get-go. It wasn’t a spike in the end zone for the Democrats. They got that seat not because Democrats were brilliant, but because Republicans were stupid.” Some conservatives attempt to frame the loss as a victory because they forced the more moderate Scozzafava out of the race. Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) says, “Our number one goal was to make clear that the Republican Party cannot take someone as liberal as Dede Scozzafava and thrust her out on the voters and expect the voters just to accept it.” The seat became vacant after Representative John M. McHugh (R-NY) was appointed by President Obama to become secretary of the Army. After facing a barrage of heavy criticism from Limbaugh, Palin, and the like, Scozzafava abruptly withdrew from the race and threw her support to Owens. Some critics questioned Hoffman’s eligibility to run for the seat, noting that his home in Lake Placid, New York, is not in the district. The conservative Club for Growth spent $1 million promoting Hoffman’s candidacy, and other conservative organizations such as the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List and NOM also supported Hoffman. The groups funneled cash into Hoffman’s campaigns, printed up literature, and sent volunteers from other areas in the country to work for Hoffman. Dick Armey, the former House majority leader who now heads the conservative lobbying group FreedomWorks (see February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 2, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, and April 15, 2009), says the race proves Republicans need to stop fielding moderate candidates. “My own view right now is the myth that you have to be a moderate—a Democrat lite—to win in the Northeast probably has less standing now than in any time since I’ve been in politics,” Armey says. “The small-government candidate in the Republican Party—or running as an independent—is going to be the one to draw the energy of these voters.” Marilyn Musgrave, a former representative from Colorado who works for the Anthony List, says after the election that the conservative backing of Hoffman proves to Washington lawmakers that they should not take conservative votes for granted. “Don’t just assume we’re yours,” she says. (Feldmann 10/29/2009; Nagourney and Peters 10/31/2009; Peters 11/3/2009)
The Wall Street Journal celebrates the Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) as a victory for “free speech” (see January 21, 2010). In an unsigned editorial, the Journal celebrates the decision by stating that the Court used the Constitution to “rescue” the political system from “marauding government” elements, particularly a “reckless Congress.” The Journal claims that the Citizens United case rested on the Federal Election Commission (FEC)‘s refusal to allow the airing of a 90-minute political attack documentary on presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) because the film was “less than complimentary” of her. In reality, the FEC considered the film “electioneering” by the organization that released the film, Citizens United, and prohibited it from being shown on pay-per-view cable access (see January 10-16, 2008). The Court rejected campaign finance law’s limitation on corporate spending, prompting the Journal to state, “Corporations are entitled to the same right that individuals have to spend money on political speech for or against a candidate.” Any other state of affairs, the Journal writes, constitutes censorship. The Journal criticizes President Obama for speaking out against the decision (see January 21, 2010), saying that Obama put “on his new populist facade to call it ‘a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies,’ and other ‘special interests.’ Mr. Obama didn’t mention his union friends as one of those interests, but their political spending will also be protected by the logic of this ruling. The reality is that free speech is no one’s special interest.” The Journal dismisses promises by Congressional Democrats to pass legislation or even bring forth a constitutional amendment limiting corporate donations by stating, “Liberalism’s bullying tendencies are never more on display than when its denizens are at war with the speech rights of its opponents.” The Journal concludes by advocating that the Court overturn its 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision (see January 30, 1976) that placed modest limits on corporate spending, in essence advocating the complete deregulation of campaign financing. “The Court did yesterday uphold disclosure rules, so a sensible step now would be for Congress to remove all campaign-finance limits subject only to immediate disclosure on the Internet,” the Journal states. “Citizens United is in any event a bracing declaration that Congress’s long and misbegotten campaign-finance crusade has reached a constitutional dead end.” (Wall Street Journal 1/22/2010)
A number of conservative media outlets accuse President Obama of engaging in “demagoguery” in his recent comments that warned the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) could open the door for foreign corporations to contribute money for use in American elections (see January 27-29, 2010). (Parker 1/28/2010) National Review editor Ramesh Ponnuru writes, “The most demagogic moment (so far!) came when the president claimed, falsely, that the Supreme Court had given a green light to foreign corporations to run political ads.” (Ponnuru 1/27/2010) Law professor and former Federal Elections Commission member Bradley A. Smith echoes Ponnuru’s accusation, writing that Obama “engaged in demagoguery of the worst kind.… The president’s statement is false.… This is either blithering ignorance of the law or demagoguery of the worst kind.” (Smith 1/27/2010) Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), the vice-presidential candidate on the McCain-Palin ticket in 2008, says on Fox News that Obama’s criticism “may not be true,” and accuses Obama of “embarrassing our Supreme Court.” She says: “This is why people are disenchanted and are becoming more and more disengaged really from what their government is doing, because when we see an issue like this—words spoken that may not be true coming from our president and embarrassing our Supreme Court and not respecting the separation of powers—we have a problem. And that’s illustrated there by that justice mouthing those words, ‘not true.’ Now, one or the other is being disingenuous here—either our president in what he just claimed, or the Supreme Court justice.” MSNBC host Joe Scarborough calls Obama’s warning “just not the truth,” saying that Obama’s statements were “not based in fact [or] the law.… So the president was not served well last night; he went out and said something that just wasn’t the truth. And I’m sure that that was very difficult for the Supreme Court to sit there and have the president tell America and the world these jokers on the front row just opened up American campaigns to foreign entities when that in fact is just not the truth.” (Parker 1/28/2010) Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners, “It’s clear the president didn’t know what he was talking about or he was just out-and-out lying because he knows he’s not going to be fact-checked on matters like that by most in the state-controlled media.” (Gregory 1/28/2010) Prominent conservative blogger “Allahpundit” accuses Obama of “demagoguing the First Amendment” (HotAir (.com) 1/27/2010) , an accusation echoed by conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds, who responds to Allahpundit’s post by writing that Obama’s “demagoguery [will turn] into a negative for him.” (Glenn Reynolds 1/27/2010) The next day, the Wall Street Journal will demand that Obama “get his facts straight” about the issue (see January 29, 2010). The liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters notes that Obama’s concerns were echoed by the four dissenting Supreme Court Justices in the Citizens United decision, as noted in the dissent by Justice John Paul Stevens and joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor. The majority decision, Stevens wrote, “would appear to afford the same protection to multinational corporations controlled by foreigners as to individual Americans.” Cornell law professor Michael Dorf agreed with Stevens, telling a reporter that “[i]t is a plausible inference from the court’s opinion that [foreign] money can’t be restricted.” Dorf’s position is echoed by campaign finance reform advocate Fred Wertheimer and the leaders of the non-partisan Campaign Legal Center, Media Matters notes. (Parker 1/28/2010) And the day after the decision was rendered, Smith, who accused Obama of either “blithering ignorance… or demagoguery,” told a reporter that though the law prohibits foreign nationals from contributing money to groups involved in election politics, “To the extent that there may be some foreign corporations that don’t fall under the category of foreign nationals [and could contribute to election organizations], that might be something Congress can deal with.” (Weigel 1/22/2010)
In an unsigned editorial, the Wall Street Journal lambasts President Obama for his recent comments that warned the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) could open the door for foreign corporations to contribute money for use in American elections (see January 27-29, 2010). “[C]ould a graduate of Harvard Law School at least get his facts right?” the editorial asks. The Journal accuses Obama of reciting a number of falsehoods in his comments on the decision, and accuses him of using the term “foreign” in “a conscious attempt to inflame public and Congressional opinion against the Court. Coming from a president who fancies himself a citizen of the world, and who has gone so far as [to] foreswear American exceptionalism, this leap into talk-show nativism is certainly illuminating. What will they think of that one in the cafes of Berlin?” (Wall Street Journal 1/29/2010) The day before the editorial, the liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters noted that Obama’s concerns were echoed by the four dissenting Supreme Court Justices in the decision, as well as by a number of legal experts (see January 27-28, 2010).
News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post, donates $1 million to the Republican Governors Association (RGA). The News Corp. donation is accompanied by a $500,000 donation to the RGA from WellPoint, the US’s largest health insurer, and a “seven-figure donation” from oil billionaire David Koch (see 1981-2010). Organizations such as the RGA can accept unlimited donations from corporations, unlike political parties and federal candidates. (Salant 8/16/2010; Smith 8/16/2010; Kleefeld 8/17/2010; Shea 8/17/2010) News Corp. spokesman Jack Horner tells a reporter, “News Corporation believes in the power of free markets, and the RGA’s pro-business agenda supports our priorities at this most critical time for our economy.” (Smith 8/16/2010) Others are less sanguine about the donation. Hari Sevugan of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) says: “Any pretense that may have existed about the ties between Fox News and the Republican Party has been ripped violently away. Any Republican that appears on Fox should now have a disclaimer that they are financially supported by the network and any coverage of the elections this fall on Fox should be reported with disclaimer for what it is—partisan propaganda.” Nathan Daschle of the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) says: “For a media company—particularly one whose slogan is ‘fair and balanced’ (see 1995)—to be injecting themselves into the outcome of races is stunning. The people owning Fox News have made a decision that they want to see Democratic governors go down to defeat. It’s a jaw-dropping violation of the boundary between the media and corporate realm.” Daschle acknowledges that other media companies such as Disney and CBS have given much smaller donations to both Republicans and Democrats, but says: “The Fox contribution is in a completely different league. Other media firms’ donations are generally small and about equal to the many committees that receive money.” Until this donation, News Corp. had contributed almost equally to both Democrats and Republicans. Horner says, “It’s patently false that a corporate donation would have any bearing on our news-gathering activities at Fox News or any other of our properties.” Fox refuses to allow Daschle to appear on its network to discuss the donation, stating: “We understand Nathan’s desire to get face time on the most watched news network. And when he can offer insight on a legitimate news story instead of concocting a dishonest publicity stunt, we will consider having him on as a guest.” Communications professor Tobe Berkovitz says of the donation: “The way the rules are written, [News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch] is playing by the rules. This just reinforces for liberals how evil and manipulative Fox and Rupert Murdoch are. For the civilians out there, I don’t think they’re going to see this as particularly relevant or particularly important.” (Kurtz 8/18/2010) The progressive news Web site Think Progress determines that News Corp. may have violated its own policies by making the donation. According to the corporation’s “Standards of Business Conduct”: “No payment shall be made to, or for the benefit of, any public official in order to induce or entice such official to: enact, defeat, or violate any law or regulation for the company’s benefit; influence any official act; or obtain any favorable action by a governmental agency or official on behalf of the company.… No gifts in the form of cash, stock, or other similar consideration shall be given, regardless of amount.” (Terkel 8/17/2010)
The press learns that News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News, has donated $1 million to the US Chamber of Commerce, one of the heaviest anti-Democratic advertisers in the 2010 midterm election campaigns. News Corp. previously donated $1 million to the Republican Governors Association (RGA—see June 24, 2010 and After), drawing criticism that its chairman Rupert Murdoch, and by extension Fox News and the other media outlets owned by Murdoch’s corporation (including the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal) are violating basic tenets of journalistic ethics by donating money to only one side in an election season. Fox News officials say they knew nothing of the donation until they learned of it through news reports. White House adviser David Axelrod says that while he believes Fox executives did not know of the donation, “it certainly sends a signal as to what the corporate position is.… If you’re pushing a point of view there, you wouldn’t take it as a disincentive to keep going.” The Democratic National Committee says in a statement, “What these contributions make clear is that the Republican Party is a division of News Corp., just as Fox News is a division of News Corp.” The Chamber of Commerce has promised to spend up to $75 million in anti-Democratic, pro-Republican campaign advertisements. (Smith 9/30/2010; Rutenberg 10/1/2010) Politico notes: “The parent companies of other media companies such as Disney (which owns ABC) and General Electric (which owns NBC) have also made political contributions, but typically in far smaller chunks, and split between Democrats and Republicans. In the past, News Corp. has also spread its donations between candidates of both parties.” (Smith 9/30/2010)
Billionaire entrepeneur and television host Donald Trump tells an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference that President Obama “came out of nowhere,” and adds: “In fact, I’ll go a step further: the people that went to school with him, they never saw him, they don’t know who he is. It’s crazy.” Trump, who receives cheers for the statement, tells the assemblage that he is considering running for president in 2012 as a Republican. He is apparently trying to revive the so-called “birther” claims that Obama is not a valid American citizen (see (see July 20, 2008, August 15, 2008, October 8-10, 2008, October 16, 2008 and After, November 10, 2008, December 3, 2008, August 1-4, 2009, May 7, 2010, Shortly Before June 28, 2010, and Around June 28, 2010). In response, PolitiFact, a non-partisan political research organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, retraces Obama’s academic career: Obama attended kindergarten in Honululu, and moved with his family to Jakarta, Indonesia, in 1967, where he attended a Catholic elementary school, St. Francis Assisi Catholic, as well as Besuki Public School, until age 11. He then returned to Honolulu, where he lived with his maternal grandparents and attended a private college preparatory school, Punahou School, until he graduated with a high school diploma. In 1979, he attended Occidental College in Los Angeles, transferred to Columbia University in 1981, and graduated from that university in 1983. He later attended, and graduated from, Harvard Law School in 1991. Trump’s claims apparently center on rumors that “no one knew him” at Columbia University, fueled in part by a 2008 editorial by the Wall Street Journal (see September 11, 2008), which repeated the “finding” of a Fox News “investigation” that found 400 classmates of Obama’s had not known him at the time. Another source is Libertarian vice-presidential candidate Wayne Allyn Root, who attended Columbia at the same time as Obama and says: “I think the most dangerous thing you should know about Barack Obama is that I don’t know a single person at Columbia that knows him, and they all know me. I don’t have a classmate who ever knew Barack Obama at Columbia” (see September 5, 2008). Obama has himself said he did little socializing at Columbia, and though he had some involvement with the Black Students Organization and participated in anti-apartheid activities, spent most of his time studying: “Mostly, my years at Columbia were an intense period of study,” he has said. “When I transferred, I decided to buckle down and get serious. I spent a lot of time in the library. I didn’t socialize that much. I was like a monk.” The Journal noted a May 2008 story from the Associated Press containing an interview with Obama’s former roommate, Sohale Siddiqi, who verified Obama’s claims, and in January 2009, the New York Times published an interview with another roommate from the time, Phil Boerner, who also validated Obama’s claims of being a bookish, rather solitary student. PolitiFact interviews Cathie Currie, a professor at Adelphi University, who remembers Obama occasionally playing pick-up soccer with her and a group of friends on the lawn outside the library. She says he made an impression because of his athleticism, his maturity, and his wisdom, and she assumed that he was several years older than he actually was. “My sense of it was that he was keeping a low profile,” Currie tells the PolitiFact interviewer. “We’d ask him to go out with us for beers after soccer. He seemed like he wanted to, but then he’d step back and say, ‘Sorry, I’m going to the library.’” PolitiFact lists an array of articles covering Obama’s time at Occidental and Harvard Law School, noting that “[d]ozens of former classmates and teachers from those schools have publicly shared their recollections (and photos) of Obama. Obama was the president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review journal, for goodness sake.” PolitiFact has also found “plenty” of people who remember Obama from elementary and high school, in Indonesia and Hawaii. PolitiFact concludes: “We could get deeper into this but it seems like overkill. It’s abundantly clear that there are lots and lots of former classmates who remember Obama at every level of school. It’s true that Obama’s two years at Columbia are relatively undocumented. And far fewer classmates have publicly shared recollections of Obama from that period, as opposed to other school years before and after. At Columbia, Obama was a transfer student, he lived off campus, and by his and other accounts he buried himself in his studies and didn’t socialize much. But even so, there are several students who recall Obama at Columbia. In short, media accounts and biographies are filled with on-the-record, named classmates who remember Obama. Trump is certainly right that presidential candidates are heavily scrutinized. As even a basic online search confirms, Obama’s school years were, too. Trump’s claim that people who went to school with Obama ‘never saw him, they don’t know who he is’ is ridiculous. Or, to borrow Trump’s phrase, it’s crazy.” (St. Petersburg Times 2/10/2011; JamesJoe 2/17/2011)
The press learns that the Obama administration is considering having President Obama (see January 27-29, 2010) issue an executive order that would force federal contractors to disclose donations over $5,000 to political organizations. Such firms seeking government contracts would be required to disclose contributions to groups that air political ads either attacking or supporting candidates. Both Republicans and Democrats say that if issued, the order would have an immediate effect. Groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce (USCOC), a large Republican donor that has made large undisclosed donations to Republican-supporting candidates and organizations (see January 21-22, 2010 and October 2010), attacks the White House over the considered executive order, saying it proves Obama is using his executive power to punish political adversaries and reward supporters. USCOC spokesperson Blair Latoff calls the proposed order “an affront to the separation of powers [and] to free speech” (see January 21, 2010) that would create a litmus test for companies wanting to work with the federal government. The order, Latoff adds, could mean “prospective contractors that fund political causes unpopular with the government or the current administration may find that they don’t get a contract award due to political discrimination.” Republican senators will raise the same concerns in a letter sent to the White House the next day. Lawyer Jan Baran, who has worked for both the USCOC and Republican interests, acknowledges that the order could curtail fundraising attempts for the 2012 elections. White House officials and Congressional Democrats say the order would prevent the 2012 elections from being taken over by wealthy anonymous donors on both sides of the political aisle. Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, a nonprofit group that favors stricter campaign finance rules, says, “The fact that Congressional Republicans may oppose disclosure does not mean that efforts to obtain it are, by definition, partisan.” (United Press International 4/20/2011; Hamburger 4/21/2011; Lichtblau 4/27/2011) A week later, Bruce Josten, the top lobbyist for the USCOC, will assail Obama and the White House over the proposed executive order, telling a reporter that the organization “is not going to tolerate” what it considers a “backdoor attempt” by the White House to silence private-sector opponents by disclosing their political spending. Josten will even indirectly compare Obama to Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi; citing the Obama administration’s efforts to hasten the deposing of al-Qadhafi, Josten will say of the order: “We will fight it through all available means. To quote what they say every day on Libya, all options are on the table.” White House spokesman Jay Carney will say in response to Josten’s attack, “What the president is committed to is transparency, and he certainly thinks that the American taxpayer should know where his or her money is going.” Josten is joined by the Business Roundtable, a powerful business association made up of a number of chief executives, which will call the proposed order “yet another example of regulatory over-reach,” and will claim the order would increase paperwork and drive up costs for businesses. (Fang 4/27/2011) Lee Fang, a reporter for the liberal news Web site Think Progress, will write that the executive order could have a powerful impact on the USCOC. “[T]he White House’s disclosure rule threatens the entire existence of the Chamber,” Fang will write. “This is because the Chamber only exists to hide the identity of corporations seeking to fight nasty political battles without having their name or brand exposed. As the Wall Street Journal noted, the Chamber’s ‘most striking innovation has been to offer individual companies and industries the chance to use the chamber as a means of anonymously pursuing their own political ends.’ The Chamber’s members include defense contractors, bailed out banks, and other donors likely to be affected by the government contractor campaign disclosure rule.” Fang will also cite a recent plan by the USCOC to sabotage organizations that support Obama and Democratic candidates by using legally questionable tactics such as false entrapment strategies and even computer hacking (see February 10, 2011). The funding for the scheme was never made public. He also cites recent monies secured by the USCOC from foreign entities that, because of the Citizen United decision, could be flowing into US political activities without disclosure (see October 2010). (Fang 4/27/2011) Republicans in Congress will move to pass legislation that would thwart the order, if it is ever issued (see May 26, 2011 and July 15, 2011).
Author and journalist Michelle Goldberg examines the racial prejudice behind Donald Trump’s recent spate of attacks on President Obama’s citizenship and integrity (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1-8, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7-10, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 10, 2011, April 14-15, 2011, and April 21, 2011). Trump has recently alleged that Obama was a “terrible student” in college who would not have made it into Ivy League universities such as Columbia and Harvard without some sort of racial bias (see April 26, 2011). Goldberg says Trump is mining the “fever swamps” of the far-right conspiratists for his allegations. Goldberg tracks claims about Obama’s educational history back to a 2008 editorial in the Wall Street Journal that challenged Obama to release his college transcripts to prove that he was not a “mediocre student who benefited from racial preference” (see September 11, 2008). The Journal overlooked the fact that Obama made the Harvard Law Review and graduated with honors from that university’s law school. In recent years, “birther” lawyer Orly Taitz, who has introduced forgeries of Kenyan “birth certificates” into evidence in court as “proof” that Obama is not a US citizen (see August 1-4, 2009), has issued a number of allegations about Obama’s college years. Currently she claims he must have been a foreign exchange student in order to get into Columbia University, saying: “That might be one of the reasons why his records are not unsealed. If his records show he got into Columbia University as a foreign exchange student, then we have a serious issue with his citizenship.” She also disputes Columbia’s records of Obama’s graduation from that university, saying that Obama left school after nine months, and offers as proof a document from the National Student Clearinghouse that lists Obama’s dates of attendance as September 1982 to May 1983. However, Kathleen Dugan of the National Student Clearinghouse says Taitz’s search inputs were incorrect, and thusly yielded incorrect data. Taitz also continues to promote the debunked theory that Obama’s 1983 visit to Pakistan proves he is not a citizen (see Around June 28, 2010), and speculates that he visited Pakistan, not for a month or so, “but a year and a half.” Taitz ties the disparate threads of her conspiracy—Obama the poor student benefiting from racial bias, Obama the foreign national, Obama the closet Muslim—into a single theory: she claims that Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal engineered Obama’s acceptance into Harvard Law School, paid his way through school, and worked behind the scenes to get Obama the position of editor of the Law Review. The Saudi prince was introduced to Obama by African-American Muslim radical activist Khalid Al-Mansour, Taitz says (see July 21, 2009). She confirms that she has been in contact with Trump and has forwarded all of her information to him. Goldberg writes: “It’s easy enough to see why this particular narrative has endured. Not only does it position the president as a Muslim Manchurian candidate with longtime ties to agents of the caliphate, but it also assures resentful whites that this seemingly brilliant black man isn’t so smart after all. In that sense, it’s of a piece with the right-wing obsession with Obama’s use of a teleprompter, and with the widespread suspicion that he didn’t really write the eloquent Dreams From My Father, a claim Trump recently made at a Tea Party rally. Obama, in this view, is both sinister and stupid, canny enough to perpetrate one of the biggest frauds in American history but still the ultimate affirmative-action baby. Trump is clearly not as intelligent as Obama, but he’s not an idiot, either. When he blows this particular dog whistle, he knows exactly what the Republican base is hearing.” (Goldberg 4/26/2011)
The liberal news Web site Think Progress cites the two-year anniversary of the SpeechNow.org v. Federal Elections Commission ruling (see March 26, 2010), which allowed the creation of “super PACs,” or “independent expenditure” organizations. Think Progress writes, “Combined with the unlimited corporate expenditures enabled by the Supreme Court’s earlier Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), this case brought the campaign finance system to where it is now: more than $80 million spent already this cycle by super PACs and more than two-thirds of their funding coming from just 46 rich donors.” $67 million of the $80 million spent so far comes from 46 extraordinarily wealthy citizens. Almost all of them are owners and/or senior executives of oil and energy companies, hoteliers, and financial executives. Almost all are white and male. And almost all of them contribute to conservative and Republican-supporting groups (see February 21, 2012). John Dunbar of the Center for Public Integrity says, “We’re looking at a singularly weird phenomenon.” The super PAC supporting Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA), himself a former financial services CEO, is primarily funded by Wall Street executives, mostly private equity and hedge fund executives. One major Romney contributor, hedge fund manager John Paulson, has contributed $1 million. Paulson made enormous profits in 2008 by investing funds in ventures based on the mortgage industry collapse. Viveca Novak of the Center for Responsive Politics says, “The financial sector is one where there’s a lot of money, and it’s a sector with which Romney is very familiar, so it’s not surprising that it would be a big source of contributions.” Other Republican candidates such as Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Rick Santorum (R-PA), and Ron Paul (R-TX) also garner big contributions from billionaires. Gingrich is primarily funded by casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who makes much of his money in Las Vegas and China’s Macau. Paul has the backing of billionaire Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, and Santorum is primarily supported by billionaire Foster Friess (see February 16-17, 2012)—arguably all three candidates’ campaigns are being supported by single donors who decide whether their campaigns will continue by virtue of granting or withholding donations. Attorney Paul S. Ryan of Campaign Legal Center says: “We’ve had a small group of donors maintain the viability of certain candidates. It’s an Alice in Wonderland situation. It defies logic.… American elections are funded by a very narrow range of special interests, and that has the effect of making our democracy look a lot more like a plutocracy.” Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution says it is sometimes difficult to discern the motivations behind billionaires’ funding of certain candidates, but billionaire Harold Simmons, who made his fortune in leveraged buyouts and corporate takeovers, says he is funding conservative super PACs because President Obama is a “socialist.” The Wall Street Journal has noted that Simmons and others like him would profit greatly if their industries were less regulated by government agencies. If Republicans do well in the November elections, Simmons told the Journal that “we can block that crap [regulations].” Conservative super PACs are far outstripping the super PAC backing the Obama re-election campaign as well as other Democrats running for office. Mann says, “The pool of billionaires who can throw tens of millions into the game—and are inclined to do so—is concentrated on the right.” Obama has so far been reluctant to get involved in his super PAC’s fundraising activities, but recent statements by his campaign indicate that White House aides will try to help Priorities USA Action, the Obama super PAC, raise more money in the near future. Obama campaign manager Jim Messina says the Obama campaign is in danger of being overwhelmed by the fundraising from conservative billionaires. CNN states that the most notable effect of super PAC funding might not be on the presidential race, but on “downticket” races for Congress. Much smaller outlays of super PAC money can have extraordinary impacts on such races. Dunbar says, “An individual donor and a super PAC could go off to some district in Kentucky and just completely destroy some candidate because he doesn’t favor what’s good for your business.” (Think Progress 3/26/2012; CNN 3/26/2012; Stone 6/16/2012)
In an editorial claiming that the Obama administration is engaged in giving preferential land-use permits to solar energy producers over fossil fuel corporations, the Wall Street Journal claims, “The dirty secret of solar and wind power is that they are extremely land intensive, especially compared to coal mining, oil and gas drilling, or building a nuclear power plant.” (Wall Street Journal 8/13/2012) In 2003, the US Department of Energy concluded that most of the land needed for renewable energy sites could be supplied by abandoned industrial sites. Moreover, “with today’s commercial systems, the solar energy resource in a 100-by-100-mile area of Nevada could supply the United States with all of its electricity. If these systems were distributed to the 50 states, the land required from each state would be an area of about 17 by 17 miles. This area is available now from parking lots, rooftops, and vacant land. In fact, 90 percent of America’s current electricity needs could be supplied with solar electric systems built on the estimated 5 million acres of abandoned industrial sites in our nation’s cities.” The federal government is expanding its efforts to find “disturbed and abandoned lands that are suitable for renewable energy development.… Groups concerned with minimizing the impacts of energy development on wildlife prefer prioritizing these areas for development.” The Energy Information Administration says: “Covering 4 percent of the world’s desert area with photovoltaics could supply the equivalent of all of the world’s electricity. The Gobi Desert alone could supply almost all of the world’s total electricity demand.” And a 2009 study found that “in most cases” solar arrays in areas with plenty of sunlight use “less land than the coal-fuel cycle coupled with surface mining.” (National Renewable Energy Laboratory 1/2003 ; US Energy Information Administration 12/19/2011; Defenders of Wildlife 1/14/2013 ; Theel 1/24/2013)
A brief article in the Wall Street Journal claims that solar energy does not reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the aggregate, because the carbon savings from desert-based solar projects will be offset by “disturbing caliche deposits that release carbon dioxide.” The Journal cites a formal complaint filed by three Western environmental organizations claiming that desert-based solar projects not only endanger desert ecosystems, but “soil disturbance from large-scale solar development may disrupt Pleistocene-era caliche deposits that release carbon to the atmosphere when exposed to the elements, thus negat[ing] the solar development C [carbon] gains.” The Journal acknowledges that some aspects of the complaint may be exaggerated. The Journal does not mention that the report cited in the complaint, a 2011 study released by the University of California-Riverside, says that the 560,000 metric tons of carbon saved per year by a single solar plant would more than offset the estimated 6,000 metric tons of carbon released by disturbing caliche deposits. (Wall Street Journal 9/4/2012; Theel 1/24/2013)
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