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Two of three mercenaries accused of plotting to overthrow the government of the tiny Caribbean island nation of Dominica are found guilty of conspiracy and violation of the Neutrality Act. Stephen Don Black, a prominent Alabama Ku Klux Klan leader, and Joe Daniel Hawkins, a Klansman from Mississippi, are found guilty of the charges. Both are found not guilty of violating five firearms statutes. The plot began in 1979, when the neighboring island country of Grenada was taken over by a socialist regime with ties to the Communist government of Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Mike Perdue, a former Marine and prominent white supremacist, discussed retaking Grenada with ousted former Prime Minister Eric Gairy. Perdue sought out Klan Imperial Wizard David Duke, who put him in touch with white supremacist Donald Clarke Andrews, then living in Canada. Andrews had led the white supremacist group Western Guard, and after serving a jail sentence for neo-Nazi activities, founded a new pro-Aryan group, the Nationalist Party of Canada. Andrews convinced Perdue that Dominica might be a good place from which to stage a coup in Grenada. Dominica was in the grip of grinding poverty, having been devastated by a hurricane in 1979 and plagued with racial violence from a splinter group of Rastafarians called the Dreads. The island’s government was unstable and, Perdue and Andrews believed, ripe for overthrow. Perdue partnered with another supremacist, Wolfgang Droege, and began planning to stage a coup that would place former Prime Minister Patrick John back in power. Even though John was something of a leftist, and wanted to displace the much more right-wing and pro-American Prime Minister, Eugenia Charles, in September 1980 Perdue and John agreed in writing to commence what they called “Operation Red Dog,” a violent coup with the goal of placing John back in charge of the government. The Washington Times will later report: “The coup forged some odd alliances. [It] united right-wing North Americans and Caribbean leftists, white nationalists and black revolutionaries; First World capitalists and Third World Socialists.” Canadian writer Stewart Bell later describes Perdue as a man of no real political convictions and a lust for money who routinely lies about his Vietnam experience (he never served in Southeast Asia, and did not tell his companions that he was a homosexual), and Droege as a German-Canadian high school dropout with neo-Nazi sympathies. Others involved in the putative coup are nightclub owner and white supremacist Charles Yanover, gunrunner Sydney Burnett-Alleyne (who supplied the initial connection to John), Black, Hawkins, and a small number of others. The mercenaries’ plan was to put John back in power; in return, John would give them license to use the island as a haven for casinos, drug smuggling, and money laundering. Almost from the outset, the conspiracy was infiltrated by two agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), John Osburg and Wally Grafton, who were alerted to the planned coup by charter boat captain Mike Howell. Perdue had tried to hire Howell to take the mercenaries to Dominica, and told Howell that his was a CIA operation. Members of the operation also talked to others about it; one even gave a “secret” interview to a radio reporter in Hamilton. Osburg and Grafton alerted law enforcement authorities; on the night of the raid, federal authorities overwhelmed the small band of mercenaries, arrested them all, and confiscated a large number of firearms, 10 pounds of dynamite, over 5,000 rounds of ammunition, and a large red-and-black Nazi flag. The operation was later derisively termed the “Bayou of Pigs,” a joking reference to the 1961 attempt by right-wing American mercenaries to overthrow Castro’s government. John was arrested in Dominica. Perdue and six other participants have already pled guilty to violating the Neutrality Act. Before his sentencing of three years in prison, Black says, “What we were doing was in the best interests of the United States and its security in the hemisphere, and we feel betrayed by our own government.” (Time 5/11/1981; United Press International 6/21/1981; Abel 2/19/1998; Weisman 10/5/2008; Winnipeg Free Press 11/2/2008) After serving his jail term, Black will go on to found the influential white supremacist organization Stormfront (see March 1995 and June 22, 2008).
A group of Nicaraguan Contra leaders walks unexpectedly into the office of Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) and demands a meeting. They want to discuss prisoners being held by the Sandinista government. Wright is perplexed, but agrees to see them.
'Reagan-Wright' Peace Plan - Wright has engineered a peace program between the US and Nicaragua known as “Reagan-Wright,” a program very unpopular with right-wing Republicans both in the White House and in Congress. White House officials such as President Reagan’s national security affairs assistant Colin Powell and Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams have attempted to derail the program by trying to persuade other Central American leaders to come out against Nicaragua and thereby undermine the peace talks. But the program has progressed, largely because of Wright’s tireless efforts and the cooperation of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez (who won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts). Wright had informed the leaders of the different factions in Nicaragua, Contras and Sandinistas alike, that his door was always open to them.
Enemy in House - Wright does not realize that he has an implacable enemy in powerful House member Dick Cheney (R-WY). Cheney is offended by what he sees as Wright’s encroachment on powers that should be reserved for the executive branch alone, and has devised a campaign to further undermine Wright.
Meeting between Wright and Contras - When the Contra leaders meet with Wright, the speaker has already informed the CIA that its agents who were fomenting civil unrest and provoking the Sandinistas were violating the law. He tells the Contras that they can no longer expect CIA agitators to work on their behalf. When news of the meeting gets back to Cheney and Abrams, they are, in Wright’s recollection, “furious.”
Washington Times Claims Wright Leaked Classified Information - The State Department steers the angry Contra delegation to the offices of the right-wing Washington Times, where they tell the editorial staff what Wright had told them—that the CIA is illegally provoking unrest in Nicaragua. A week later, Wright is floored when a Times reporter confronts him with accusations that he has leaked classified CIA information to foreign nationals.
Security Breach Allegation - Wright’s defense—he had told the Contras nothing they didn’t already know—does not placate Cheney, who immediately calls for a thorough investigation of Wright’s “security breach.” Speaking as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Cheney says Wright has raised serious “institutional questions that go to the integrity of the House, to the integrity of the oversight process in the area of intelligence, and to the operation of the Intelligence Committee.”
Set-Up - An investigative reporter from Newsday, Roy Gutman, learns from State Department sources that Wright had been set up by Cheney and Abrams. State Department officials sent the Contras to the Washington Times with specific instructions to leak the CIA content of their discussion with Wright to the editors. But Gutman’s discovery has little impact on the situation.
Ethics Complaint - Cheney, with House Minority Leader Robert Michel (R-IL), files a complaint with the House Ethics Committee and demands an investigation by the Intelligence Committee, claiming Wright has compromised US intelligence operations in Central America. Throughout the process, neither Michel nor Cheney give Wright any warning of the complaints before they are filed.
Pressure from Cheney - Looking back, Wright will be more disturbed by Michel’s actions than by Cheney’s. He considered Michel a friend, and was amazed that Michel went along with Cheney in blindsiding him. Michel will later apologize to Wright, and say that Cheney had pressured him so much that he went along with Cheney in filing the ethics complaint without telling Wright. One aspect that Michel does not explain is why, as House minority leader, he would put the stamp of approval of the House leadership on the complaint, raising it to a much higher level than a complaint from a rank-and-file representative like Cheney. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 60-62)
Sam Francis, a senior columnist and writer for the conservative Washington Times, is fired after suggesting that white Americans must reassert what he believes is their innate dominance over other races. At the 1995 American Renaissance conference, hosted by the white supremacist organization of the same name, Francis tells his audience: “[Whites] must reassert our identity and our solidarity, and we must do so in explicitly racial terms through the articulation of a racial consciousness as whites. The civilization that we as whites created in Europe and America could not have developed apart from the genetic endowments of the creating people, nor is there any reason to believe that civilization can be successfully transmitted to a different people.” (Nation 6/10/1996; Washington Times 2/17/2005; National Council of La Raza 2010 ) Francis’s last column for the Times also contributed to his dismissal. On July 27, 1995, he wrote, in part: “If the sin is hatred or exploitation, they [Southern Baptists repenting their support of slavery in the mid-1800s] may be on solid grounds, but neither ‘slavery’ nor ‘racism’ as an institution is a sin. Indeed, there are at least five clear passages in the letters of Paul that explicitly enjoin ‘servants’ to obey their masters, and the Greek words for ‘servants’ in the original text are identical to those for ‘slaves.’ Neither Jesus nor the apostles nor the early church condemned slavery, despite countless opportunities to do so, and there is no indication that slavery is contrary to Christian ethics or that any serious theologian before modern times ever thought it was. Not until the Enlightenment of the 18th century did a bastardized version of Christian ethics condemn slavery. Today we know that version under the label of ‘liberalism,’ or its more extreme cousin, communism.… What has happened in the centuries since the Enlightenment is the permeation of the pseudo-Christian poison of equality into the tissues of the West, to the point that the mainstream churches now spend more time preaching against apartheid and colonialism than they do against real sins like pinching secretaries and pilfering from the office coffee pool. The Southern Baptists, because they were fortunate enough to flourish in a region where the false sun of the Enlightenment never shone, succeeded in escaping this grim fate, at least until last week.” (Media Matters 12/13/2004)
Neoconservative commentator and publisher William Kristol writes that the US must implement “regime change where possible” throughout the Middle East, and especially in Iraq. He excoriates Secretary of State Colin Powell for being against such an aggressive policy. The next day, the Washington Times, a right-wing newspaper, prints an editorial agreeing with Kristol about the need for regime change, and adds its voice to Kristol’s in criticizing Powell. (Unger 2007, pp. 217)
Secretary of State Colin Powell asks for a meeting with President Bush, hoping to dissuade him from abandoning the Geneva Conventions in the interrogation procedures involving terror suspects (see January 18-25, 2002). Powell is unaware that he and the State Department have been deliberately cut out of the decision-making process by the Office of the Vice President.
Memo Released to Undermine Powell - Before Powell can meet with the president, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales releases a memo that paints Geneva as “quaint” (see January 25, 2002) to the administration, in an attempt to anticipate and undermine Powell’s objections. Following up on the argument that the Geneva Conventions are “quaint,” Vice President Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, portrays Powell as a defender of “obsolete” rules devised for an earlier time. If Bush follows Powell’s lead, Addington warns, US forces would be obliged to provide athletic gear and commissary privileges to captured terrorists. State Department lawyer David Bowker later says that Powell never argued that al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees deserve the full privileges of prisoners of war; while each captive deserves a status review under Geneva, he believes few will qualify because the suspects do not wear uniforms on the battlefield or obey a lawful chain of command. Bowker recalls, “We said, ‘If you give legal process and you follow the rules, you’re going to reach substantially the same result and the courts will defer to you.’” The upshot of Bush’s decision to go with Gonzales’s opinion over Powell’s has the effect of relegating the State Department to the sidelines. A senior administration official will later recall: “State was cut out of a lot of this activity from February of 2002 on. These were treaties that we were dealing with; they are meant to know about that.” State’s senior legal adviser, William H. Taft IV, is shunned by the lawyers who dominated the detainee policy, officials say; some Bush conservatives privately call Taft too “squishy and suspect” to adequately fight terrorists, according to a former White House official. “People did not take him very seriously.” (Golden 10/24/2004; Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
Memo Prompts Media Criticism of Powell - As Gonzales’s memo begins to circulate around the government, Addington says to White House lawyer Timothy Flanigan, “It’ll leak in 10 minutes.” He is correct: on January 26, the conservative Washington Times prints a front-page article that features administration sources accusing Powell of “bowing to pressure from the political left” and advocating that terrorists be given “all sorts of amenities, including exercise rooms and canteens.” The article implies that Powell is soft on the nation’s enemies. Addington blames the State Department for leaking the memo, and says that the leak proves Taft cannot be trusted. Taft later recalls, “I was off the team.” Addington had marked him as an enemy, Taft will recall, but Taft had no idea he was at war. “Which, of course, is why you’re ripe for the taking, isn’t it?” he adds. (Alberto R. Gonzales 1/25/2002 ; Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
The candidates for governor of Maryland, Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Republican Robert Ehrlich, hold a debate in the Murphy Fine Arts Building on the campus of Morgan State University in Baltimore. After the debate, allegations surface that Democratic supporters of Townsend threw Oreo cookies at Michael Steele, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. Steele is African-American; to label an African-American an “Oreo” is to say that he, like an Oreo cookie, is black on the outside and white on the inside. It is considered a significant racial slur. The allegations are published by, among other sources, the conservative Washington Times, largely relying on reporting by S.A. Miller, who writes multiple stories concerning the alleged incident.
First Iteration: Oreos 'Distributed' among Audience Members - The source is Ehrlich’s campaign spokesman Paul Schurick, who tells a Baltimore Sun reporter that he saw Democrats in the audience distributing Oreo cookies. Schurick initially makes no mention of anyone throwing cookies. One day after the event, Steele is quoted by the Sun as talking about the Townsend supporters in the crowd and what he terms “race-baiting” by her campaign, but says nothing about Oreos. On October 14, Weekly Standard columnist Jeffrey Goldberg repeats as fact Schurick’s allegations about Oreos being passed out at the debate. On October 21, syndicated conservative columnist George Will repeats the story, adding that “[s]ome of the audience had distributed Oreo cookies to insult Ehrlich’s running mate.”
Second Iteration: 'Townsend Supporters Threw Oreo Cookies' - The same day as Will’s column appears, the Sun and the Associated Press report that Ehrlich told an audience at a Jewish day school that “Townsend supporters at the debate threw Oreo cookies” at Steele. The next day, the Salisbury, Maryland, Daily Times reports that “the Ehrlich campaign” claimed “protesters at the debate threw Oreo cookies at Steele.” The Washington Times reports Ehrlich’s claims on October 29. The Washington Post reports on October 31 that Townsend supporters “mocked” Steele by bringing Oreo cookies to the gubernatorial debate. On November 2, the London Times reports as fact that Steele “was bombarded with Oreo cookies” at the gubernatorial debate. Miller later tells other reporters that, while in attendance at the debate, he saw Steele get hit with the cookies. On November 22, the Capital News Service will report that Steele later “said an Oreo cookie rolled to his feet during the debate.”
Reporter Retracts Claim - But in November 2005, after Steele announces his candidacy for Maryland’s gubernatorial position (see November 2005), Miller will tell a reporter for WTOP news radio, Mark Segraves, that he could not swear in court that anyone actually threw cookies because he did not, in fact, see it happen, though he had reported several times that he witnessed just such events. Times managing editor Fran Coombs will issue a denial that Miller ever spoke to Segraves or anyone else from WTOP, but will confirm that Miller did not, in fact, attend the debate. Coombs will tell WTOP that the Times stands behind its reporting, regardless of whether Miller’s claims are true or not, and will say that the reported Oreo incident is a diversion from the real story of a double standard on racism in the Democratic Party.
Third Iteration: Steele Just Saw 'One or Two' Oreos at His Feet - Steele will tell Segraves that he was never struck by any thrown cookies. “I’ve never claimed that I was hit, no. The one or two that I saw at my feet were there. I just happened to look down and see them,” he will say. By November 15, the Associated Press will report that Ehrlich says “he did not personally see cookies thrown at Steele because he was on stage,” and “said he doesn’t know who might have thrown them.”
Fourth Iteration: Steele Says Oreos 'Tossed in His General Direction' - Around the same time, the Associated Press will also report that, according to Steele, “Oreo cookies were tossed in his general direction as he left the debate at Morgan State University,” including two that “rolled up” next to his shoe. The stories are dramatically different, and quite contradictory. Steele’s November account differs from Schurick’s account and his own previous statements.
Fifth Iteration: Oreos 'Thick in the Air Like Locusts' - In the Sun’s 2005 report, Schurick is quoted as saying: “It was raining Oreos. They were thick in the air like locusts. I was there. It was very real. It wasn’t subtle.” Sometime in late 2002, Ehrlich will tell a radio audience that his father was struck in the head by a cookie, though, according to the WBAL report at the time, “Schurick would not make Robert L. Ehrlich Sr. available for an interview.”
No Mention in Reporting after Debate, No Video Evidence - In November 2005, the Baltimore Sun will report that no newspaper or television reports mentioned any such incident in their initial reporting of the debate, and although four local television stations recorded the debate, no video of any such incident exists.
Eyewitnesses: Nothing Was Thrown - The Sun will report the operations manager of the Murphy Building at Morgan State, Vander Harris, as saying nothing of the sort occurred: “It didn’t happen here,” he will say. “I was in on the cleanup, and we found no cookies or anything else abnormal. There were no Oreo cookies thrown.” Several attendees at the event will tell the Sun that while some disruptive behavior occurred, no one threw anything at Steele nor anyone else. Morgan State spokesman Clint Coleman will say: “There were a lot of things, disturbances, by this group of outsiders who were bent on disrupting the debate. But I never actually saw Oreo cookies being thrown at him.” As for “raining Oreos,” Coleman will say, “I can tell you that did not happen.” Neil Duke, who moderated the event for the NAACP, will say he never saw any cookies thrown at Steele. “Were there some goofballs sitting in [the] right-hand corner section tossing cookies amongst themselves and acting like sophomores, as the legend has it?” Duke will say. “I have no reason to doubt those sources; I just didn’t see it.” And Wayne Frazier, the president of the Maryland-Washington Minority Contractors Association, will say he saw Steele walk into the auditorium that evening, but saw no Oreos. “I was there the whole time and did not see any of the so-called Oreo cookie incident,” he will say. “It could have happened and I didn’t see it, but I was in the auditorium from start to finish.” (Segraves 11/15/2005; Media Matters 11/21/2005)
The White House responds aggressively to comments made the previous day by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke (see March 24, 2004), who accused the Bush administration of doing little about terrorism prior to 9/11 (see March 21, 2004). Author Philip Shenon will characterize the situation at the White House following the comments as a “near panic” and “genuine alarm,” because Clarke’s allegations are “a direct threat to [President] Bush’s reelection hopes.”
Rice Leads Response - White House chief of staff Andy Card will say that the most upset person is Clarke’s former boss Condoleezza Rice, who takes the lead in responding. She appears on several television shows, claiming—in what Shenon calls a “remarkably angry tone”—on 60 Minutes: “Dick Clarke just does not know what he’s talking about.… Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction, and he chose not to.” Vice President Dick Cheney says that Clarke has a “grudge” against the administration because he did not get a position at the Department of Homeland Security that he wanted, adding that Clarke “wasn’t in the loop, frankly” and “clearly missed a lot of what was going on.” Shenon will comment, “Cheney’s remarks had unintentionally proved exactly what Clarke was saying—that his authority was so diminished in the Bush administration that he had no ability to reach the decision makers in the White house when threats emerged.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 277-279)
Having It Both Ways? - “You can’t have it both ways,” adds retired General Wesley Clark, the former commander of NATO forces in Bosnia. He was “either the counterterrorism czar and was responsible and knew what was going on, or the administration gave him a title and didn’t put any emphasis on terrorism and that’s why he wasn’t in the loop.” (Rich 2006, pp. 114-119)
Surrogate Smears - Surrogates try dirty tactics, for example conservative columnist Robert Novak suggests that Clarke is motivated by racial prejudice against Rice, a “powerful African-American woman,” and conservative commentator Laura Ingraham asks why “this single man” is such a “drama queen.” Although Clarke anticipated attacks, he is surprised at their ferocity. (Shenon 2008, pp. 277-279) Former White House communications director Karen Hughes interrupts her book tour to criticize Clarke for supposedly promoting his own book, Against All Enemies. Right-wing bloggers, perhaps given direction by White House officials, begin swapping lascivious and baseless rumors about Clarke’s sexual orientation. (Rich 2006, pp. 114-119) The Washington Times accuses Clarke of being “a political chameleon who is starved for attention after years of toiling anonymously in government bureaucracies.” Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer calls Clarke “a partisan perjurer.” At the extreme edge of the attack is conservative author Ann Coulter, who with no evidence whatsoever, accuses Clarke of racism: she portrays him as thinking of Condoleezza Rice, “[T]he black chick is a dummy” whom Bush promoted from “cleaning the Old Executive Office Building at night.” (Pinkerton 3/29/2004) Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls the attacks “the most vigorous offensive I’ve ever seen from the administration on any issue.” (Allen 3/28/2004)
Clarke's Counters - Republican leaders also threaten to release testimony Clarke gave in 2002, and Clarke says he welcomes the release. The testimony remains classified. (Shrader 3/26/2004; Associated Press 3/28/2004) Clarke calls on Rice to release all e-mail communications between the two of them before 9/11; these are not released either. (Goldenberg and McGreal 3/29/2004) Despite the attacks, Clarke’s partners in a consulting business stick with him, as does ABC News, which recently hired him as a terrorism consultant. (Shenon 2008, pp. 277-279)
Mishandled Response? - According to Reuters, a number of political experts conclude, “The White House may have mishandled accusations leveled by… Clarke by attacking his credibility, keeping the controversy firmly in the headlines into a second week.” (Elsner 3/29/2004)
No Evidence of Contradiction - However, a review of declassified citations from Clarke’s 2002 testimony provides no evidence of contradiction, and White House officials familiar with the testimony agree that any differences are matters of emphasis, not fact. (Pincus and Milbank 4/4/2004)
The White House discloses to Fox News that former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke was the anonymous official who gave a background briefing to reporters in August 2002 praising the Bush administration’s record on terrorism (see August 22, 2002). This move, which violates a longstanding confidentiality policy, is made hours before Clarke is to testify to the 9/11 Commission (see March 24, 2004). Clarke recently went public with criticism of the administration (see March 21, 2004) and is being attacked by it (see March 22, 2004 and Shortly After). Author Philip Shenon will comment, “In agreeing to allow Fox News to reveal that Clarke had given the 2002 briefing, the White House was attempting to paint him as a liar—a one-time Bush defender who had become a Bush critic in order to sell a book.” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says to the media: “There are two very different stories here. These stories can’t be reconciled.” (Fox News 3/24/2004; Milbank 3/25/2004; Allen 3/26/2004; Shenon 2008, pp. 280-281)
Opposing Spin? - Shenon will add that in the briefing Clarke was “spin[ning] the facts” in order to try to knock down an article unfavorable to the administration published by Time magazine, although “the spin took him perilously close to dishonesty, albeit the sort of dishonesty practiced every day in official Washington.” Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission’s executive director and a long-term opponent of Clarke (see January 3, 2001 and January 27, 2003), is delighted by the story and tells a Commission staffer that it might be enough to end the Clarke “circus,” adding, “Does it get any better than this?” (Shenon 2008, pp. 280-281) Later trying a similar line of attack, Republican Senate leader Bill Frist will ask “[i]f [Clarke] lied under oath to the United States Congress” in closed testimony in 2002, and also ask if Clarke is attempting to promote his book. According to media critic Frank Rich, Frist’s credibility is undermined by his use of his Senate status to promote his own book, a virtually worthless primer entitled When Every Moment Counts: What You Need to Know About Bioterrorism from the Senate’s Only Doctor. Frist’s accusation that Clarke revealed classified information in his book falls flat when Clarke notes that the White House vetted his book for possible security transgressions before publication. (Babington and Pincus 3/27/2004; Rich 2006, pp. 114-119)
No Evidence of Contradiction - A review of declassified citations from Clarke’s 2002 testimony provides no evidence of contradiction, and White House officials familiar with the testimony agree that any differences are matters of emphasis, not fact. (Pincus and Milbank 4/4/2004)
Bill Gertz, a columnist for the conservative Washington Times, writes that CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity was compromised twice before it was publicly exposed by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003). If true, neither exposure was made publicly, as Novak’s was. Anonymous government officials told Gertz that Plame Wilson’s identity was disclosed to Russian intelligence agents in the mid-1990s. Her identity was again revealed in what Gertz calls “a more recent inadvertent disclosure,” references identifying Plame Wilson as a CIA official in confidential documents sent by the agency to the US interests section of the Swiss Embassy in Havana. The anonymous officials told Gertz that Cuban officials read the documents and could have learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status. The officials did not state when the alleged Cuban exposure took place. “The law says that to be covered by the act the intelligence community has to take steps to affirmatively protect someone’s cover,” one official told Gertz. “In this case, the CIA failed to do that.” Another official told Gertz that the compromises before the news column were not publicized and thus should not affect the investigation of Plame Wilson’s exposure. (Getz 7/22/2004)
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)
In the days after Michael Steele (R-MD), an African-American, announced his candidacy for governor of Maryland, allegations have resurfaced that in 2002 he was “pelted” with Oreo cookies by Democrats at a political debate (see September 26, 2002 and After); if true, such actions would constitute a significant racial slur. However, reporting of the incident has fallen into question, and Steele himself recently denied being hit by cookies during the debate, though he did say he saw Oreos on the stage near him: “I’ve never claimed that I was hit, no. The one or two that I saw at my feet were there. I just happened to look down and see them.” Eyewitness accounts compiled by the Baltimore Sun show that the allegations are questionable at best; moreover, the Sun reports, accounts of the incident by Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert Ehrlich, Ehrlich’s communications director Paul Schurick, and Steele himself, dramatically contradict each other. Progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters compares the different accounts of the incident, and concludes that the story has grown from an almost-baseless “partisan talking point” into “a ‘fact’ reported by the media” over the last three years. Media Matters notes that several newspapers, including the Chicago Sun-Times, the Washington Post, and the Washington Times, have recently reported the incident as factual, with the Times writing that Steele was “pelt[ed] with Oreo cookies” among the “racially tinged attacks” directed at him by his Democratic opponent in 2002. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell writes: “Steele has been subjected to the worst racial slurs imaginable. At one debate, a group of black people pelted the stage with Oreos.” Between October 31 and November 16, the Washington Times asserts the incident as fact three times in its editorial pages, and twice in its news reporting. The Weekly Standard reports it three times. Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity twice asserts it as fact on his broadcast, as does one of his guests, National Review editor Rich Lowry. Deroy Murdock, another National Review contributor, asserts it as fact in one of his columns. Washington Post metro editor Marc Fisher cites it in an online chat. Mitchell cites it in the Chicago Sun-Times. The conservative American Spectator cites it as fact once. Syndicated columnist Gregory Kane cites it as fact once. The National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service editor in chief George Curry states it as fact on National Public Radio, as does the host of the NPR program, Ed Gordon. The Investors Business Daily cites it as fact in an editorial. MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson cites it as fact on the air. The Associated Press cites it as fact in an article. Media Matters also notes that the story resurfaced briefly during the August 2004 Republican National Convention, with the Baltimore Sun reporting that Steele and Ehrlich “still talk” about the incident, and the Washington Post reporting it as fact. (Segraves 11/15/2005; Media Matters 11/21/2005)
Lawyers David Rivkin and Lee Casey demand that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald drop his prosecution of former White House official Lewis Libby. In a Washington Times editorial, Rivkin and Casey write that, because Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward has admitted to being the recipient of leaked information about CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson before Libby leaked her covert identity (see November 14, 2005), it is possible that Woodward himself told Libby of Plame Wilson’s CIA status—it is possible that Libby merely “misremembered” the reporter who told him as NBC’s Tim Russert, when it was likely Woodward (see July 10 or 11, 2003). Moreover, the lawyers assert, the likelihood of a jury actually convicting Libby of perjury and obstruction of justice (see October 28, 2005) is unlikely in light of Woodward’s revelation and the “reasonable doubt” they say Woodward’s recent testimony raises. Rivkin and Casey echo previous assertions that the CIA did not bother to ensure the safety of Plame Wilson’s covert status (see November 3, 2005), in effect blaming the agency for her identity being exposed. (Rivkin and Casey 11/17/2005) Rivkin and Casey, in a previous Washington Times editorial, called the exposure of Plame Wilson a “public service” (see November 4, 2005).
The conservative Washington Times demands that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald drop his prosecution of former White House official Lewis Libby. The editorial joins a guest editorial from two Washington lawyers on the Times’s editorial page making similar demands (see November 17, 2005). As in the lawyers’ op-ed, the Times highlights recent testimony by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that he was told of Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status before Libby leaked it to the press (see November 14, 2005). Moreover, the Times asserts that Woodward has stated he may have told Libby about Plame Wilson. Together, Woodward’s revelations have “bl[own] a gigantic hole in Patrick Fitzgerald’s recently unveiled indictment of the vice president’s former chief of staff,” the Times concludes. Like the lawyers, the Times’s editorial writers say that Libby merely misremembered the identity of the reporter who told him of Plame Wilson’s identity, confusing Woodward with NBC’s Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003). And again echoing the lawyers, the Times’s editorial writers argue that “it is at least doubtful whether a reasonable jury would find Mr. Libby guilty.” Therefore, the editorial concludes, “Mr. Fitzgerald should do the right thing and promptly dismiss the indictment of Scooter Libby.” (Washington Times 11/17/2005)
Republican political strategist Dick Morris falsely claims that “Clinton appointees” on the Federal Election Commission (FEC) are preventing the advocacy group Citizens United (CU) from airing its new documentary, Hillary: The Movie (see January 10-16, 2008). However, the head of CU, David Bossie (see May 1998), says that the organization can indeed show the documentary. Morris, appearing as a guest on Fox News’s Hannity and Colmes, tells co-host Alan Colmes that the FEC “won’t let us run” the film “in movie theaters.” He explains, “The Clinton appointees [on the FEC] are blocking it.” However, Bossie tells a Washington Times reporter, “I can put it in theaters, I just can’t let anybody know it’s there.” The FEC requires CU to comply with disclosure requirements under campaign finance law if it wishes to advertise the movie, a requirement the organization is unwilling to meet. (The day after Morris’s appearance, a court rules that CU must disclose its donors in order to advertise the film—see January 15, 2008.) Morris was originally a producer of the film before stepping away from the project, but has said that he appears in the film as a commentator. (Media Matters 1/16/2008) CU will release the film in theaters the next day (see January 10-16, 2008).
The conservative Washington Times, a staunch opponent of President-elect Barack Obama, publishes an editorial predicting that the incoming Obama administration will, in some form or fashion, move to “exterminate” babies with disabilities and other “useless” Americans through its promised reform of the US health care system, similar to actions taken by the Nazis before World War II. The Times provides a brief synopsis of Adolf Hitler’s “T4 Aktion” program designed, in the words of the Times, “to exterminate ‘useless eaters,’ babies born with disabilities. When any baby was born in Germany, the attending nurse had to note any indication of disability and immediately notify T4 officials—a team of physicians, politicians, and military leaders. In October 1939 Hitler issued a directive allowing physicians to grant a ‘mercy death’ to ‘patients considered incurable according to the best available human judgment of their state of health.’ Thereafter, the program expanded to include older children and adults with disabilities, and anyone anywhere in the Third Reich was subject to execution who was blind, deaf, senile, retarded, or had any significant neurological condition, encephalitis, epilepsy, muscular spasticity, or paralysis. Six killing centers were eventually established, and an estimated quarter-million people with disabilities were executed.” The Times draws a parallel between the Nazis and the Obama administration’s support for legal abortion and for physician-assisted suicide, which it equates with “euthanasia.” The incoming administration will, the Times fears, begin “selecting” babies with disabilities for what apparently will be “selective abortions.” It quotes the Reverend Briane K. Turley as saying: “Were God’s design for us left unhindered, we could naturally expect to welcome 40,000 or more newborn infants with Down syndrome each year in the US. And yet we have reduced that number to just under 5,500. These data strongly indicate that, in North America, we have already discovered a new, ‘final solution’ for these unusual children and need only to adapt our public policies to, as it were, ‘cure’ all Down syndrome cases.” Turley, the Times notes, claims that “there is growing evidence suggesting that, among health care practitioners and systems, the central motivation behind legally enforced or high pressure screenings is economics.” The Times then adds: “[A]nd the results seem to bear him out. America’s T4 program—trivialization of abortion, acceptance of euthanasia, and the normalization of physician assisted suicide—is highly unlikely to be stopped at the judicial, administrative, or legislative levels anytime soon, given the Supreme Court’s current and probable future makeup during the Obama administration, the administrative predilections that are likely from that incoming administration, and the makeup of the new Congress.” The Times predicts a new “final solution” of “extermination” that will start with disabled infants and will progress “from prenatal to postnatal to child to adult.” (Washington Times 11/23/2008) The editorial anticipates the “deather” claims that many conservatives will make in the summer of 2009 (see 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, and August 13, 2009).
President-elect Barack Obama selects retired General Eric Shinseki to be the new head of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Shinseki, a decorated Vietnam veteran, was the Army Chief of Staff when, months before the launch of the Iraq invasion, the US would need to send far more troops into Iraq than were allocated (see February 25, 2003). He also warned of the possibility of ethnic rivalries erupting into violent confrontations, and of the difficulties faced by a US-led reconstruction. Shinseki was ridiculed by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his then-deputy, Paul Wolfowitz (see February 27, 2003). Obama now says of Shinseki, “He was right.” Obama adds, “We owe it to all our veterans to honor them as we honored our Greatest Generation,” referring to World War II-era veterans. “Not just with words, but with deeds.” The announcement is made on the 67th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor; Shinseki is of Japanese ancestry. Shinseki says, “Even as we stand here today, there are veterans who have worried about keeping their health care or even their homes, paying their bills or finding a good job when they leave the service.” He promises to run a “21st century VA.” (Pallasch 12/8/2008; Democratic National Committee 12/8/2008)
'Straight Shooter,' 'Stinging Rebuke' of Bush Policies - Responses to Shinseki’s impending appointment focus on Shinseki’s competence and the implied repudiation of Bush-era policies towards the military. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) calls Shinseki “a straight shooter and truth talker,” and says that his is the kind of leadership the VA needs after what he calls years of neglect of the agency by the Bush administration. (Barre-Montpelier Times Argus 12/7/2008) The Boston Globe echoes Leahy’s characterization, calling Shinseki a “truth teller,” and writes: “The choice is a stinging rebuke not just of Rumsfeld and President Bush for failing to take Shinseki’s advice on the Iraq war, but also of the administration’s weak effort to solve the medical, educational, emotional, and employment problems that veterans are having in returning to civilian life. Just as the Bush administration thought it could oust Saddam Hussein and create a peaceful, democratic Iraq with a bare-bones force, it has tried to skimp on veterans services.” (Boston Globe 12/9/2008) And the Washington Post’s E. J. Dionne adds, “In naming Shinseki to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, Obama implicitly set a high standard for himself by declaring that truth-tellers and dissenters would be welcome in his administration.” (Dionne 12/9/2008) The chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Bob Filner (D-CA), says that Shinseki faces a daunting task: “The stakes are high at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Our veterans need to know that their service to our country is respected and honored. A new basis of stable funding must be developed. The claims backlog must be attacked in a new and dynamic way. And the mental health of our veterans—from every conflict and each generation—must remain a high priority.” John Rowan of the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) believes Shinseki is up for the challenge: “We have no doubt that General Shinseki has the integrity and personal fortitude to usher in the real changes needed to make the VA a true steward of our nation’s veterans and their families. His selection certainly lives up to Mr. Obama’s promise to bring change and hope to Washington. VA bureaucrats, for whom ‘change’ is a dirty word, will learn that there really is a new game in town. Veterans of all political persuasions should take heart and applaud this choice.” (Washington Times 12/8/2008)
'Lionized by Wounded Warriors' - Thomas DeFrank of the New York Daily News writes: “By restoring to grace a retired four-star general whose career was vaporized by… Rumsfeld for daring to tell the truth, Obama has delivered a powerful symbolic statement that his government will indeed be different from the last. Shinseki’s treatment at the hands of Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz is a classic of petty, meanspirited retribution.… By rehabilitating him… Obama has signaled he’s not interested in surrounding himself with toadies and yes-men. A president-elect determined to withdraw from Iraq has also helped himself with veterans. [Shinseki] is lionized by wounded warriors for his grit in persuading Army brass to let him stay on active duty after losing part of a foot in Vietnam.” (DeFrank 12/7/2008) And the New York Times writes, “It is heartening to know that [Shinseki] has been chosen to lead the agency charged with caring for America’s veterans, who deserve far better treatment than the country has given them.” (New York Times 12/9/2008)
Anonymous Criticism - One of the few sour notes is sounded by the conservative Washington Times, which quotes an anonymous “high-ranking retired officer” as saying: “How much time has he spent visiting the PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] wards, the multiple-amputee wards, the burn wards? The major question I have is: Just what has he done for the past five years to show any concern for our veterans? I do not see any evidence of Shinseki being an agent for change.” (Washington Times 12/8/2008)
The Washington Times spins off a recent op-ed by health industry lobbyist Betsy McCaughey (see February 9, 2009) to claim that the Obama administration will attempt to save money by euthanizing old people, disabled people, and sickly infants. The editorial begins with the “chilling” idea of a national medical information database that will allow the government to “track… your every visit to a health care provider—where you went, who you saw, what was diagnosed, and what care was provided.” The Obama administration, the Times claims, will use that information to decide which people deserve the more expensive lifesaving treatments and which ones must be denied in the interest of cost efficiency. “If it costs too much to treat you, and you are nearing the end of your life anyway, you may have to do with less, or with nothing,” the Times writes. “You just aren’t worth the cost.… What nondescript GS-11 will be cutting care from Aunt Sophie after her sudden relapse before he or she heads to the food court for some stir fry?” The elderly, the physically and mentally disabled, all “whose health costs are great and whose ability to work productively in the future” will, the Times writes, be allowed to die or even exterminated. So will premature babies, badly wounded soldiers, and others as yet to be determined. The Times again cites Nazi Germany’s “T4 Aktion” program of forcibly euthanizing less productive citizens (see November 23, 2008) as a likely template for the Obama program. (Washington Times 2/11/2009)
Conservative opponents of the new stimulus package claim that the legislation allocates $30 million for saving the endangered salt marsh mouse, and would be spent entirely in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) district. The claim is part of a larger set of claims that the bill is “stuffed with Democratic pork” or “earmarks” (see January 23, 2009 and January 25-26, 2009). The claim is false, with Pelosi’s office calling it a “total fabrication” and examination of the bill finding no mention of any such funding allocation. The claim begins with an e-mail from an unidentified House Republican staff member, who claims that he was told by an unidentified federal agency source that if that agency were to receive stimulus money, it would spend “thirty million dollars for wetland restoration in the San Francisco Bay Area—including work to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse.” The e-mail identifies neither the agency nor the source, nor does it claim that the money is actually in the package. However, the story is quickly picked up and echoed by Republicans such as former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Representative Mike Pence (R-IN), both of whom appear on Fox News stating the claim as unvarnished fact. Representative Dan Lundgren (R-CA) calls the supposed spending “absurd.” And House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) asks how $30 million “for some salt marsh mouse in San Francisco is going to help a struggling auto worker in Ohio?” The Drudge Report makes the same claim. And the Washington Times runs an article entitled “Pelosi’s mouse slated for $30m slice of cheese.” The House staffer who circulates the e-mail later acknowledges that the claim, as stated by Huckabee, Lundgren, and others, is erroneous. “There is not specific language in the legislation for this project,” he admits. However, the staffer claims: “If the bill passes, the project will be funded according to what the relevant agency told our staff. The bottom line is, if this bill becomes law, taxpayers will spend 30 million on the mouse.” Pelosi’s staff says that the $30 million is for federal wetland restoration projects such as the California State Coastal Conservancy, none of which will be spent on the salt marsh mouse or even in Pelosi’s district. Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill says: “There are no federal wetland restoration projects in line to get funded in San Francisco. Neither the Speaker nor her staff have had any involvement in this initiative. The idea that $30 million will be spent to save mice is a total fabrication.… This is yet another contrived partisan attack. Restoration is key to economic activity, including farming, fisheries, recreation, and clean water.” (Miller 2/12/2009; Sargent 2/12/2009; Thompson 2/14/2009)
Wesley Pruden, the editor emeritus of the conservative Washington Times, accuses President Obama of being “our first president without an instinctive appreciation of the culture… whence America sprang.” Pruden accuses Obama of going to Germany to apologize for America’s role in defeating that nation during World War II, says that Obama portrays himself as a Muslim while overseas, implies that Obama supports Islamic “sharia” law, claims that Obama routinely “grovels” to foreign leaders, and concludes: “Mr. Obama’s revelation of his ‘inner Muslim’ in Cairo reveals much about who he is. He is our first president without an instinctive appreciation of the culture, history, tradition, common law, and literature whence America sprang. The genetic imprint writ large in his 43 predecessors is missing from the Obama DNA. He no doubt meant no offense in returning that bust of Churchill (‘Who he?’) (see June 29, 2009).… The great Cairo grovel accomplished nothing beyond the humiliation of the president and the embarrassment of his constituents, few of whom share his need to put America on its knees before its enemies. No president before him has ever shamed us so. We must never forget it.” (Pruden 6/5/2009)
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).
Conservatives attack an 11-year old girl who asks President Obama a question at a “town hall” rally held in New Hampshire (see August 11, 2009). Julia Hall, a sixth-grader from Malden, Massachusetts, asks: “As I was walking in, I saw a lot of signs outside saying mean things about reforming health care. How do kids know what is true, and why do people want a new system that can—that help more of us?” Obama gives a long response about the false rumors surrounding health care reform, including the debunked idea of “death panels” (see August 7, 2009). In their own responses, conservative pundits attack Hall for being an “Obama plant.” Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners that the entire town hall was “a stacked deck. That thing in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was totally phony. The little girl that asked a question is the daughter of a huge Obama supporter.” One blogger makes the unsubstantiated claim that he could see a “mysterious” woman mouthing the girl’s question as she spoke, and shows a video of a woman saying something during Hall’s question, though it is unclear exactly what she is saying or whether she is speaking to the girl. Hall’s mother, Kathleen Manning Hall, later tells a Boston reporter that she had her daughter write down her question beforehand, and was “shocked” that her daughter had decided to try to ask a question of Obama. A Boston blogger notes, correctly, that Manning Hall is an Obama supporter, and adds that the White House said “that audience members are selected randomly.” Conservative author and pundit Michelle Malkin claims that Manning Hall “has donated thousands of dollars to Obama, as has her law firm,” and adds: “Now, look for Dems to play the kiddie human shield card to the hilt. Anyone who mentions Hall’s political pedigree will be attacked as a vicious meanie stalker.” The Washington Times adds its own criticism, misidentifying the girl’s age as 13 and stating, “It’s a sad commentary on the health care debate that the president has to resort to this kind of stunt to attempt to insulate his plan from criticism.” Hall herself later says she was thrilled to have been part of the debate, saying, “It was like a once in a lifetime experience.” She says she would like to “work in politics” when she gets older. (Tencer 8/12/2009)
Conservative media outlets actively target Education Department official Kevin Jennings over charges that he once facilitated the molestation of a child. Jennings, who is openly gay, is said to have covered up the statutory rape of a male teenager by an older gay male. The charge has been disproven, but conservative media figures have painted Jennings as a “radical” gay activist and a proponent of child molestation with an “agenda” of “promoting homosexuality in schools.” (Media Matters 9/30/2009) In 2004, Jennings’s attorney disclosed evidence that the youth was in fact 16 at the time, which is the legal age of consent in the state; therefore, no crime was committed. (Media Matters 10/1/2009) The attack on Jennings, who runs the Education Department’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools and is one of the White House’s so-called “czars,” is led by Fox News commentators Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck and columnists at the Washington Times, who all claim that in 1988, Jennings, then a public school teacher, “covered up” the statutory rape of a 15-year-old gay teenager by an older gay man in Massachusetts. Both Fox News and the Times have failed to report the proof of Jennings’s innocence. Hannity and Beck have called on Jennings to be fired. (Washington Times 9/28/2009; Media Matters 10/1/2009) The claim is not limited to Fox News’s commentary shows. News anchor Bill Hemmer, who anchors part of what the network claims is its “non-partisan” news coverage (see October 11, 2009 and October 13, 2009), states as fact that Jennings knew of a “statutory rape” case involving a student but “never reported it.” Hemmer fails to report the evidence showing no such crime was committed. Another Fox News correspondent, Mike Emanuel, says on Hemmer’s broadcast, “And so a lot of people suggesting [sic] that should have thrown up all sorts of red flags for this teacher.” (Media Matters 10/1/2009) Influential conservative blogger Jim Hoft accuses Jennings of “hid[ing] pedophilia from authorities.” (Jim Hoft 9/30/2009) “Fox News’ allegations about Kevin Jennings covering up a statutory rape are wholly unsupported by the facts,” says Eric Burns, president of the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters. “But Fox has already proven that facts don’t matter in its campaign against Jennings. Who needs facts when your reports are built on made-up charges and anti-gay bigotry?” (Media Matters 10/1/2009)
Within minutes of the release of a new study by health insurance lobbying firm America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) that claims health care reform would drastically raise costs to American families (see October 11, 2009), critics from different sides of the political divide dispute the study’s accuracy and question its impartiality.
White House: Study Ignores Key Elements of Reform - White House assistant press secretary Reid Cherlin says the study “conveniently ignores critical policies that will lower costs for those who have insurance, expand coverage, and provide affordable health insurance options to millions of Americans who are priced out of today’s health insurance market or are locked out by unfair insurance company practices.” (Weinberg 10/12/2009)
'Blowback' from Study Possible - White House and Senate officials say that the insurance industry may suffer “blowback” over the report. Democrats may well close ranks behind either the Senate Finance Committee (SFC) bill or another version of the legislation, and liberal lawmakers may go after the insurance companies, maybe by proposing a cap on premiums or solidifying support for the government insurance plan. “They have opened themselves up,” says a senior Senate Democratic aide. “It is an incredibly stupid strategic blunder. If you are going to fire a shot like this, you fire a good shot.” Former industry executive Wendell Potter, who has become an industry whistleblower (see July 10, 2009), says AHIP is responding to critical analyses from Wall Street that the legislation will hurt private insurers. “Karen [AHIP official Karen Ignagni] had no alternative because the CEOs were so determined to do something to try to sway the committee to back off the reductions,” he says. “She didn’t have an alternative. They are obviously doing this on the eve of the vote in the Senate Finance Committee, hoping enough members of the committee would be concerned, to restore it. I think the strategy will backfire.” (Brown 10/12/2009)
Economist: Study Fundamentally Flawed - MIT economist Jonathan Gruber analyzes the PWC study and concludes that it is fundamentally flawed. He writes: “The nonpartisan analysis based on information from the CBO [Congressional Budget Office] shows clearly that for those facing purchase in the non-group market, the SFC bill will deliver savings ranging from several hundred dollars for the youngest consumers to over $8,500 for families. This is in addition to all the other benefits that this legislation will deliver to those consumers—in particular the guarantee, unavailable in most states, that prices would not be raised or the policy revoked if they became ill.” On MSNBC, Gruber notes: “If the report had came out and said, ‘look we need stronger penalties, or premiums will go up,’ that’s a very valid point to make. But what the report says is that it went too far. It said with the current structure, premiums will be much higher than they are today. And that’s just wrong. I mean, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has came out and said that for this bill, premiums in the exchange will be lower than they are in the none group market today. So they just drew the wrong comparison.” (Massachusetts Institute of Technology 10/12/2009; Volsky 10/13/2009)
Democrats: Proof that Industry Needs Further Regulation - Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY) says, “[T]he health insurance lobby today fired the most important salvo in weeks for the public option,” and adds that the study proves the industry needs further regulations imposed on it by Congress: “If you have the health care industry complaining that we’re going to raise costs because of these changes, it is them putting us on notice that we haven’t put enough cost containment in the bill. You know, the health care industry themselves is putting out a whole report saying that. That should be a tell to the [Senate Finance Committee] that you know what, maybe it’s time for them to go back and revisit the public option. In a strange way, and look, obviously they didn’t mean this, the health insurance lobby today fired the most important salvo in weeks for the public option, because they have said, as clear as day, left to their own devices, according to their own number crunchers, they’re going to raise rates 111 percent.” (Volsky 10/12/2009) Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) charges the insurance industry with releasing a false study for political purposes. “The misleading and harmful claims made by the profit-driven insurance companies are politicking for corporate gain at its worst,” he says. “Their recent statements only further highlight that our focus here in Congress must be on the inclusion of a public health insurance option in the marketplace to protect families and put more money back in their wallets by creating greater competition and driving down costs.” (Brown 10/12/2009)
Washington Post: 'Industry Hit Job' - The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein calls the report “deceptive” and “a predictable industry hit job,” and notes that the study was produced by accounting and services firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC), which in the 1990s was commissioned by the tobacco industry to do a study on the economic catastrophe that would result from taxing tobacco products. That study was found to be unreliable, and, perhaps not surprisingly, made all of its errors in favor of the tobacco industry. Klein writes that the same effect can be observed in this report on health care. He concludes: “But if the [study] doesn’t offer much in the way of trustworthy policy analysis, it is an interesting looking at the changing politics of the issue. In short, the insurance industry is getting scared. After many months of quiet constructiveness, they’re launching a broadside on the week of the Senate Finance Committee’s vote. The White House, which had a pleasant meeting with the industry’s leadership last week, was shocked by the report, and so too was the Senate Finance Committee. The era of cooperation seems to be over, and they weren’t given much advance warning. But the report might have another impact, too: The evident anger and fear of the insurance industry might do a bit to reassure liberals that this plan is worth supporting, after all.” (Klein 10/12/2009)
New Republic: 'Questionable Assumptions' - The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn chastizes PriceWaterhouse for deliberately, and explictly, choosing to believe that all the new factors included in the study will raise costs, when other analyses show that many of those factors will actually drive costs down. Cohn writes that the study is based on a plethora of “strange [and] questionable assumptions.” (Cohn 10/11/2009)
Progressive Columnist: 'This Is News?' - Progressive columnist Josh Marshall wrote before the study was released: “Let me get this right. The big news tomorrow is that ‘America’s Health Insurance Plans’ (AHIP, aka the health insurance lobby) has commissioned a study by PriceWaterHouseCoopers that comes to the conclusion that the Senate Finance Committee bill is a bad, bad thing and would lead to health care costs going up even faster than they are under the current system. This is news?” (Marshall 10/12/2009)
Washington Times: Defending the Study, Attacking the CBO - The conservative Washington Times defends the study as essentially accurate, and instead attacks the Congressional Budget Office, whose own figures differ dramatically from the PWC study. The Times editorial board calls the CBO’s estimates “fanciful” and “grandly overoptimistic,” and accuses the Democrats of adding opportunities for consumers to “game the system”—“It’s a mystery how the CBO can make its evaluation without once mentioning that individuals easily will be able to go without insurance while they are healthy and then buy insurance after they get sick.” The entire proposal allows Democrats to “avoid electoral accountability over the urgent health care needs of the people they say they’re trying to help but won’t.” (Washington Times 10/12/2009)
AHIP Defends Study - Ignagni defends the study and says the lobbying firm did not release it to undermine the Finance Committee’s attempt to craft an acceptable reform bill. She says the industry’s main concern is getting everyone involved in health care to work together to bring costs down. There is a strong need, she says, to “encourage all the other stakeholders to participate in a broader effort so that they can too lend a hand and get costs under control in a much more effective way than we would.… We don’t see comprehensive cost control in any legislation.” (Weinberg 10/12/2009)
PWC Backs Off from Study - Late in the evening, PWC issues a statement noting that the study only examined “a small slice” of the health care reform initiative, and saying that if other provisions in the reform package succeed in lowering costs, then the estimates of cost increases claimed in the study would be inaccurate (see October 12, 2009).
Fox News’s morning talk show Fox and Friends hosts the Reverend Robert Jeffress, who repeatedly suggests that President Obama is a “secret Muslim” (see October 1, 2007, December 19, 2007, Before October 27, 2008, January 11, 2008, Around March 19, 2008, April 18, 2008, and April 26, 2011). Jeffress, the senior pastor of Dallas’s First Baptist Church, tells interviewer Steve Doocy: “Steve, let’s look at what’s really going on here. On the one hand, we have a president who never met a Muslim holiday he didn’t like, or at least wasn’t willing to issue a proclamation for; and on the other hand, here he is refusing to acknowledge publically the most important event in Christian faith, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Jeffress is referring to Obama’s supposed refusal to acknowledge Easter. “And yet the White House is wondering, why do 20 percent of Americans believe the president is a Muslim? Well, as my kids would say, ‘Duh.’ You know, I mean, it’s actions like these that really make people wonder what it is the president really believes.… I really think, Steve, there’s only one of two explanations. Either he has advisers who are telling him that it’s politically expedient to ignore Christianity and elevate other world religions like Islam. And if that’s the case, Republicans need to pray that those advisers stay in place through the 2012 election cycle. The only other explanation is that there’s something deep within the president himself that will not allow him to issue these public proclamations about Christianity, when he on Easter will issue a proclamation about Earth Day, or he will recognize Muslim holidays. I think either explanation is deeply troubling for Christians.” (Media Matters 4/26/2011; Media Matters 4/27/2011) On the same day, pundits at Fox News and the Washington Times attack Obama’s April 24 attendance of Easter services at Washington’s Shiloh Baptist Church, claiming his choice to attend that church is evidence that he is a “black nationalist” (see April 27, 2011).
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