Following the April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon, radio host Alex Jones was quick to suggest the attacks may have been a "false flag" operation staged by the U.S. government. Jones' reaction is far from surprising; he has made a career out of pushing outlandish conspiracy theories.
Among other conspiracies, Jones has blamed the U.S. government for perpetrating, coordinating, or otherwise being involved in the 9-11 attacks, the Aurora movie theater shooting, the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. But despite Jones' well-known history, he is regularly validated by conservative media figures, politicians, and prominent activists that frequent his program, as well as by right-wing websites that promote his work and mainstream outlets that host him on their networks.
In recent years, former Rep. Ron Paul and current Sen. Rand Paul; Fox News figures Lou Dobbs and Andrew Napolitano; gun activists Ted Nugent and Larry Pratt; and climate misinformer Marc Morano have all repeatedly appeared on Jones' show. His immensely popular website Infowars is also frequently promoted by conservative websites like The Drudge Report.
Shortly following the April 15 Boston attacks, Jones tweeted that "our hearts go out to those that are hurt or killed," but added that "this thing stinks to high heaven" and suggested it was a "false flag" operation.
On a special webcast of his show that aired the night of April 15, Jones elaborated on his suggestion, saying, "You saw them stage Fast and Furious. Folks, they staged Aurora, they staged Sandy Hook. The evidence is just overwhelming. And that's why I'm so desperate and freaked out. This is not fun, you know, getting up here telling you this. Somebody's got to tell you the truth."
As Jones uses yet another national tragedy to push baseless, absurd conspiracy theories, it's worth asking whether there's anything he can say or do to lead media figures, politicians and activists to stop validating him.
In this report:
Organizers protesting Dr. Ben Carson as an "inappropriate choice" of commencement speaker for the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine say their petition has been signed by more than half of the graduating class.
Carson has been at the center of a firestorm in recent weeks following comments he made on Fox News comparing advocates of marriage equality to people advocating for bestiality and pedophilia.
In an April 1 appearance on Mark Levin's radio show, Carson sought to downplay the outcry among Hopkins students. Carson said that it is "still up in the air" whether he'll speak at the medical school's commencement and dismissed the concerns from students as merely "eight students who signed a petition."
LEVIN: Are you going to be giving that commencement speech or not at Johns Hopkins?
CARSON: To be determined. It's still up in the air. You know, there were eight students who signed a petition. And that was not from the graduating class, that was from all the classes. That was what they could come up with. There are others who feel very strongly in the other direction. But, you know, I'm going to wait and see. I think it's a wonderful opportunity, quite frankly, for a university to use a thermometer and to gauge its own feelings toward some of the liberties that are so much expressed in higher education.
In a release sent to Media Matters, the original petitioners dispute Carson's suggestion that it was only "eight students" who signed the petition. Rather, they state that a "majority of the graduating class" has signed on, as well as "close to 700 signatures" from across Johns Hopkins University.
Further, though Carson told Levin that the students behind the petition were "from all the classes" and "not from the graduating class," the original petitioners clarify in their release that "seven of the eight original drafters are graduating from the School of Medicine this year." Among the original petitioners are Carl Streed, a leader of a prominent LGBT group on campus, Jonathan Dudley, and several students who wish to keep their names private.
In a March 29 interview with MSNBC, Carson attempted to explain away his controversial comments and apologized if "anybody was offended." During that interview, he indicated that he might be open to withdrawing as commencement speaker.
The same day, the school issued a statement standing by the selection of Carson as commencement speaker.
Dr. Benjamin Carson, who has come under heavy criticism in recent days for comparing marriage equality supporters to advocates of bestiality and pedophilia, wrote in his 2012 book that marriage equality "is a slippery slope with a disastrous ending, as witnessed in the dramatic fall of the Roman Empire."
In a March 26 appearance on Fox News (where he has recently become a regular fixture), Carson said, "Marriage is between a man and a woman. No group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn't matter what they are. They don't get to change the definition." He added that his argument is "not something against gays," but "against anybody who wants to come along and change the fundamental definitions of pillars of society. It has significant ramifications."
Carson also pushed anti-marriage equality views in his most recent book. Carson warned in America the Beautiful that attempts to "redefine marriage" could lead to a "disastrous ending" for America on par with the fall of the Roman Empire. He explained that his opposition is "a logical and reasoned view" because marriage between a man and a woman benefits the "family structure and the propagation of humankind. ... God obviously knew what he was doing when he ordained the traditional family, and we should not denigrate it in order to uplift some alternative."
Carson added that he has "no problem whatsoever with allowing gay people to live as they please, as long as they don't try to impose their lifestyle on everyone else" and would support "gays or non-gays" having a legally binding relationship "that helps with the adjudication of property rights and other legal matters." Carson then compared this legal relationship to allowing Muslims to privately practice religion: "Likewise, I have no problem with Muslims or other religious groups who want to practice their religion in their homes, which may be vastly different from traditional Judeo-Christian religion, as long as they don't try to impose that on others or violate our laws."
As the Supreme Court hears arguments this week on the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), conservative media figures have responded with their usual vitriol.
Rush Limbaugh led the way by telling his listeners that the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment was never intended to have anything to do with "gay marriage or animal marriage." Limbaugh later expanded on a caller's argument against marriage equality by pondering, "at some point who's to say that you cannot have sex with a child."
Limbaugh's commentary about the Prop 8 case is nothing new for conservative media figures, who have spent years demonizing marriage equality with offensive, outlandish, and downright bizarre arguments. Media Matters reviews some of the lowlights over the past decade.
Fox News covered this week's tenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq the least of the three major cable networks. MSNBC provided more coverage than Fox and CNN combined.
From March 18 through March 20, MSNBC devoted more than four and a half hours of coverage to the Iraq anniversary. CNN spent 2 hours and five minutes on the story, while Fox News covered it for only an hour and twenty one minutes.
This study is a tally of the raw volume of Iraq anniversary coverage and did not take into account the quality of the content.
For example, Fox News segments included in the study include one in which an anchor questioned criticism of the media's coverage of the Bush administration's case for war, and another in which a Fox host declared the invasion "the smartest thing George Bush did."
While much of MSNBC's coverage was focused on the heavy toll of the war, segments like Morning Joe's report falsely claiming Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) originally supported the invasion (and co-host Joe Scarborough's subsequent apology for doing so) were also counted.
After being sold on faulty pretenses, according to a recent Brown University study, the war in Iraq cost the lives of 4,488 U.S. service members, at least 3,400 U.S. contractors, and an estimated 134,000 Iraqi civilians. (The study clarifies that the estimate for civilian deaths "does not account for indirect deaths due to increased vulnerability to disease or injury as a result of war-degraded conditions. That number is estimated to be several times higher.")
The Brown University study estimates the war "will cost the U.S. $2.2 trillion, including substantial costs for veterans care through 2053, far exceeding the initial government estimate of $50 to $60 billion."
Media Matters searched raw video for any variation of "Iraq" on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC's all-day news programming (from 6 a.m. through 11 p.m.) for the day before, of, and after the Iraq War's 10th anniversary, March 18 through 20, 2013. We did not include repeats of programs; for instance, even through MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews airs at both 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., we only included the 5 p.m. broadcast. We included and timed any teasers, promos, news briefs, news packages, and full segments on the Iraq war anniversary as well as any relevant parts of interviews and panels discussing the Iraq war. We did not including any passing mentions of the Iraq war made in segments on other topics, such as the frequent invoking of the Iraq war during segments about the recent allegations of chemical weapon use in Syria.
Oliver Willis contributed research to this report.
After repeatedly promoting the original allegations that Sen. Robert Menendez solicited prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, Fox News' evening and primetime shows ignored an Associated Press report that Dominican police now believe that three women who claimed to have been paid by Menendez for sex were actually paid to make those false allegations.
Following a November report from the Daily Caller that two Dominican prostitutes had told that outlet that they had been given money by Menendez in exchange for sex, Fox News' evening and primetime programs discussed the allegations in at least 20 segments, according to a search of the Nexis database. Fox's The Five, Special Report, The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, and On The Record all reported on the claims.
In the intervening months, the story has fallen apart as several important details have emerged. In March, the Washington Post reported that a woman who had previously claimed she had been paid by Menendez for sex had retracted her story and signed an affidavit saying she had actually been paid to lie. (The Daily Caller disputed that the woman in the Post report was one of the women they had spoken to for their initial story.)
Fox was slow to report on the Post revelations. In fact, according to the Nexis database, The O'Reilly Factor is the only Fox News evening program to report on the Post story about the woman recanting her story.
Several news outlets, including ABC News and the New York Post, have also claimed to have been approached by a GOP operative with the Menendez allegations, but declined to run with the story because it seemed flimsy.
On March 18, in a report that severely damages the already shaky Fox-promoted Caller stories, the AP reported that Dominican police officers had traced payments of several hundred dollars from a Dominican attorney to three women that were taped making the Menendez allegations:
Police in the Dominican Republic say they have determined that three women who said they had sex with U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez for money were in fact paid to make false claims by an attorney in the Caribbean country.
Police spokesman Maximo Baez says officers traced the payments to attorney Melanio Figueroa. Baez says two women received about $425 each and the other was paid about $300 to falsely state on camera that they had sex with Menendez (D-N.J.).
Baez said at a news conference today that authorities were seeking to interrogate Figueroa about the payments. Figueroa did not respond to messages left at his office. The women's videotaped statements were published on a conservative U.S. website. Menendez denied the allegations.
Fox News completely ignored the AP report during their March 18 primetime programming.
Conservatives continue to wage war over the future of the Republican Party, with Media Research Center president Brent Bozell and several other activists penning a letter discouraging donors from giving money to Karl Rove's new political group.
Rove has been the focus of conservative anger for weeks following the announcement of Conservative Victory Project, a new group he is launching with the help of the allies behind his Crossroads political groups. According to the New York Times, the group will seek to "recruit seasoned candidates and protect Senate incumbents from challenges by far-right conservatives and Tea Party enthusiasts."
The letter, flagged by TIME reporter Zeke Miller, is signed by Bozell, Tea Party Express chairman Amy Kremer, Citizens United president David Bossie, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, and a handful of other conservative activists who claim to represent "millions of grassroots conservatives."
Addressed to "Top Crossroads Donors," the letter rips Rove's Crossroads political groups for supporting moderate candidates and having "squandered hundreds of millions of dollars in what were arguably the most inept campaign advertising efforts ever."
Broadcast and cable news networks have largely ignored a new report which concluded that the United States' rebuilding efforts in Iraq squandered billions of dollars due to widespread fraud, abuse, and waste.
Last week, Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, released a report concluding that of the $60 billion the U.S. has spent on reconstruction projects in Iraq following the 2003 invasion, at least $8 billion of it was "wasted."
In the five days since its release, only PBS and MSNBC have offered substantial coverage of the report.
NBC, ABC, and CBS have all ignored it during their evening newscasts (though it warranted passing mention on NBC's Today, the other networks' morning news programs also ignored the findings). Fox News' Bret Baier gave the story less than twenty seconds of coverage during Special Report.
CNN has completely ignored the report.
Though NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox News, and CNN have devoted a combined thirty five seconds to the story, PBS and MSNBC have each spent more than ten minutes discussing the report and its conclusions.
Breitbart.com ridiculed Paul Krugman for filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection in a since-deleted post whose claims originated with a satire website. Just last month, Breitbart.com castigated a news outlet for running with a story from that same website.
In the March 11 post, Breitbart.com editor at large Larry O'Connor mocked the Nobel Prize winning economist and New York Times columnist for his alleged financial mismanagement. Unfortunately for O'Connor, the report that Krugman went bankrupt is clearly a joke and originated from the satirical website The Daily Currant. O'Connor has since deleted the post without explanation. (Update: O'Connor tweeted, saying he "trusted Boston.com as the source for that Krugman piece, but they were duped by Daily Currant, therefore, so was I!")
In his post, O'Connor jabbed Krugman for supposedly spending "$84,000 in one month" on Portuguese wines and "a dress from the Victorian period," and concluded that "apparently this Keynsian [sic] thing doesn't really work on the micro level." O'Connor sourced the report to a Boston.com post written by "Prudent Investor." The post by "Prudent Investor" sources an Austrian website, which reprinted the original Daily Currant story. (Update: Boston.com appears to have deleted the story.)
Just last month, the Breitbart team laid into the Washington Post when the paper's website adopted a satirical story about Sarah Palin from Daily Currant. In a post about the snafu, Breitbart blogger John Nolte ripped the paper for not letting "facts get in the way of a good Narrative." According to Nolte, if Post blogger Suzi Parker "had a shred of self-awareness, integrity, and dignity, she would have changed the headline to 'Too Good To Check,' and under it posted an essay about how shallow, smug, bitterly angry partisanship can blind you to common sense."
But when his website ran with a too good to check story about Paul Krugman, they merely deleted the post without explanation.
O'Connor is scheduled to participate in the "CPAC 2013 All Star Panel" at this week's Conservative Political Action Conference.
News Corp. subsidiary News America Inc. has pumped a quarter million dollars into today's Board of Education elections in Los Angeles. Rupert Murdoch's corporation is not merely an interested onlooker in the elections; fellow News. Corp subsidiary Wireless Generation has a contract with the school district.
According to the Los Angeles Times, "a relatively small group of major donors" has given big last-minute financial support to a political action committee called the "Coalition for School Reform." The PAC reportedly aims to help current Los Angeles schools superintendent John Deasy survive the elections by supporting board candidates that favor keeping him in the position.
Among the major donations listed by the Times are $250,000 from News Corp. subsidiary News America Inc. and an additional $25,000 from News Corp VP Joel Klein, who heads up Amplify, the corporation's education division.
As Anthony Cody has explained at Education Week, Wireless Generation, an education technology company owned by News Corp. "already has a big contract" with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). According to Wireless Generation's website, starting in July 2011, the group partnered with the LAUSD to provide "DIBELS," a reading assessment tool.
News Corp. has previously inserted itself into local education politics with close financial ties to its education division. In September 2012, Joel Klein penned a column for the Wall Street Journal attacking striking Chicago teachers without disclosing News Corp.'s role in the multi-million dollar testing contracts that were central to the teachers' dispute.
Murdoch also reportedly has designs to further influence Los Angeles-area politics; he has expressed serious interest in purchasing the LA Times and bringing it under the News Corp. umbrella.