On HBO's Real Time, host Bill Maher joined a growing chorus of critics calling out Fox News host Bill O'Reilly for apparent fabrications about his experiences reporting from war zones.
Mother Jones, Media Matters, and others have exposed significant inconsistencies in O'Reilly's characterization of his past experience as a CBS News correspondent in Argentina, El Salvador, and elsewhere. Maher called his tales "out-and-out lies" and wondered why the mainstream press isn't pursuing the O'Reilly story as stridently as it did with questions about NBC's Brian Williams.
MAHER: These are out-and-out lies. Now, I understand why Fox News backs him, because they're not really a news service. So they're like, 'You expect the truth? That's not what we do here.' But why isn't the mainstream media going after him with the same ferocity -- the supposedly liberal media -- as they did to Brian Williams?
USA Today's editorial board is calling on Fox News to "distance itself" from the network's "truth-challenged" Bill O'Reilly in the wake of revelations that the Fox host has repeatedly lied about some of his experiences as a reporter.
Bill O'Reilly's record has come under scrutiny after Mother Jones and Media Matters exposed a series of lies and exaggerations about his reporting during the Falklands War and the El Salvadoran Civil War. In the former case, O'Reilly repeatedly suggested to viewers he was in a combat zone in the Falkland Islands when no CBS News reporters (O'Reilly's employer at the time) ever reached the area. In the latter case, O'Reilly said on multiple occasions that he witnessed the execution of four American churchwomen in El Salvador - an event that took place before he was even in the country.
Another Media Matters investigation has turned up questions about his claims to have heard the gunshot that killed a figure in the investigation into John F. Kennedy's assassination. And The Guardian reported that six of O'Reilly's former colleagues dispute his account of having been "attacked by protesters" during the L.A. riots.
In a February 27 editorial, USA Today called for Fox distance itself from O'Reilly, but acknowledged that this is unlikely to happen because Fox News doesn't hold itself to the same standards of journalism that outlets like NBC News does.
"Fox News was not created to be neutral but rather to feed a hunger among conservatives for a network they could relate to," wrote the editors. They added that Fox has built a profitable business model around the misconception that the network has an exclusive hold on reality and impartiality -- and that the rest of the news media industry is untrustworthy:
Fox News was not created to be neutral but rather to feed a hunger among conservatives for a network they could relate to. For decades, the so-called mainstream news media left them with the impression that the press, liberals and the Democratic Party shared the same enemies: them. According to a Gallup Poll last fall, even one in five Democrats think the news media are too liberal.
That was never the networks' goal. Their news divisions are built on a commitment to impartiality. But good intentions don't guarantee success, and Fox has turned perception of liberal bias into a profitable reality. As a business matter, Fox doesn't need to compete on credibility. Many of its viewers long ago decided the rest of the news media have none.
That's why, absent any earth-shattering revelations, O'Reilly isn't going anywhere. Every time media critics hit Fox and O'Reilly, it just feeds the feeling that the left is out to get them, which in turn feeds Fox's success.
Pressure is building for Republican presidential hopefuls to repudiate Rudy Giuliani's accusations that President Obama doesn't love America and harbors an "anti-colonial" worldview -- claims that, while extreme to moderate media consumers, have become commonplace in the far-right media circles that will help shape the GOP primary season leading up to the 2016 elections.
Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani sparked controversy this week when he told attendees at a fund-raising event for Wisconsin governor and 2016 presidential hopeful Scott Walker that Obama does not love America. Giuliani went on to defend his remarks in an interview with The New York Times, denying any racial element to his attack with the excuse that he merely believed Obama's worldview is symptomatic of "socialism or possibly anti-colonialism."
The comments have been condemned by many in the mainstream press. On the set of MSNBC's Morning Joe, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson called on potential Republican presidential candidates to denounce Giuliani's stance, saying the comments were "racist and ...frankly kind of unhinged."
In contrast, conservative commentators like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh rushed to justify Giuliani's claims, a defense which foreshadows 2016 hopefuls' predicament -- GOP candidates who want to appeal to mainstream voters must now navigate a rhetorical minefield if they hope to avoid attacks from the right-wing pundits who will help shape the opinions of conservative primary voters.
Race-baiting attempts to link Obama to anti-colonialism (and along with it the utterly bizarre attempts to redefine anti-colonialism as a negative trait) have been commonplace in right-wing circles for the better part of a decade, popularized by disgraced filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza's use of the phrase as a means of suggesting Obama bears origins or philosophical allegiance to Kenya, his father's birthplace.
Current CNN contributor and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich took the baton from there, telling National Review in September 2010 that Obama pretends to be normal while actually being engaged in "Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior."
An upcoming House Oversight Committee hearing features two conservative media darlings infamous for their anti-immigrant rhetoric and peddling misinformation about voter fraud and election law.
Republicans on the House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing February 12 titled, "The President's Executive Actions on Immigration and Their Impact on Federal and State Elections." The hearing advisory, obtained by Media Matters, promises an examination of the president's executive actions on immigration and how they may affect "federal and state elections, including the issuance of Social Security Numbers and drivers' licenses to individuals covered by the action."
Two witnesses who will be featured at the hearing, according to the advisory, are well known for spreading misinformation in conservative media circles: Kris Kobach and Hans von Spakovsky.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is a repeat guest on Fox News and is often touted by right-wing pundits who support his extreme positions on immigration. He first elevated his profile by pushing a bill that would have directed police officers in Arizona to check the immigration status of those stopped for violations of city and county ordinances, civil traffic violations, and other non-crimes, and would have allowed police to consider race as a factor. Kobach was also instrumental in pushing a Kansas voter registration law that has disenfranchised thousands of American citizens. Appearing on Fox & Friends in March 2014, Kobach tried to cast doubt on the president's immigration enforcement, accusing the administration of "cooking the books" on deportation numbers.
Hans von Spakovsky has been featured on Fox News and on National Review Online for years, demonstrating an unending willingness to distort the truth in the service of restrictive and discriminatory voter ID laws. Spakovsky has repeatedly overstated the prevalence of in-person voter fraud and continues to push for voter ID laws that disproportionately affect minority communities and suppress legal voters. At National Review, Spakovsky characterized the modern civil rights movement as being "indistinguishable" from "segregationists."
This hearing comes on the heels of the Senate's recent hearing on Loretta Lynch, a highly regarded nominee for attorney general, which featured a witness list peppered with habitual conservative media misinformers.
UPDATE: On the eve of the hearing, prosecutors in Kansas are questioning Kobach's voter fraud claims. The Lawrence Journal-World reported that Kobach has asked lawmakers to grant him the "the power to press voter fraud charges because he says prosecutors do not pursue cases he refers."
But federal prosecutors in Kansas say Kobach hasn't referred any cases to them, and county prosecutors report that the cases referred to them did not justify prosecution.
MSNBC's Harold Ford, Jr. used air time to push net neutrality myths without disclosing his relationship to the telecom industry, which has contributed millions of dollars to lobbying against net neutrality regulations.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to vote February 26 on a proposal for stronger net neutrality regulations drafted by chairman Tom Wheeler and detailed in a February 4 op-ed on Wired's website. According to The New York Times, Wheeler's proposed net neutrality rules "will give the commission strong legal authority to ensure that no content is blocked and that the internet is not divided into pay-to-play fast lanes for internet and media companies that can afford it and slow lanes for everyone else. Those prohibitions are hallmarks of the net neutrality concept."
On the February 5 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, political analyst Harold Ford, Jr. raised the issue of net neutrality, claiming that the proposed FCC plan to regulate internet service as a utility would "stifle investment."
FORD: Whatever your thoughts about what Obama said in his State of the Union message -- some of it I liked, a lot of it I didn't like -- but one take away that both parties should take from it is that he talked about empowering the middle class. Now if you're about raising wages and creating jobs you ought to do those things.
I think what's happening in Washington today -- you saw that F.C.C. Chair come out and say we've got to regulate the internet like a utility. That's not going to create higher paying jobs, it will actually stifle investment. You talk about wanting to reduce taxes on small businesspeople, Republicans want to reduce the corporate tax, Democrats want an infrastructure plan -- government, I'm old-fashioned, I think you are, too. We believe government can work. You've got to come together and compromise if you want it to happen.
Neither Ford nor MSNBC disclosed that the analyst is an "honorary co-chair" of Broadband for America, an industry-funded group whose members have included major national broadband providers like Comcast (a parent company of MSNBC), Cox Communications, and Verizon. Among its members, Broadband for America received a $2 million donation from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which has spent millions of dollars to lobby against net neutrality regulations.
Weeknight television news programs have given little attention to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a sweeping trade agreement between the United States, Canada, and 10 nations from the Asia-Pacific region. Although the nations involved in the negotiations create a huge amount of economic activity, only PBS and MSNBC have devoted any significant coverage to the TPP since August 2013.
The witness list for the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on Loretta Lynch, the highly regarded nominee for attorney general, indicates the process will be a forum for right-wing media favorites and myths but will have little to do with her qualifications.
Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, has long been praised across the political spectrum as a model federal prosecutor. Lynch has been confirmed twice as a U.S. attorney -- including by some of the same Republican senators now in control of the Judiciary Committee -- and news of her nomination in November brought a new round of support, including from conservative law enforcement sources.
Current New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton called Lynch "a remarkable prosecutor with a clear sense of justice without fear or favor." Former FBI director Louis Freeh wrote in a letter to Judiciary Committee leadership that he couldn't think of "a more qualified nominee" and was "happy to give Ms. Lynch my highest personal and professional recommendation." Freeh also wrote that he had spoken with "several of my former judicial colleagues who echo this support, and note that Ms. Lynch has gained a terrific reputation for effectively, fairly and independently enforcing the law." Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who worked with Lynch on an infamous police brutality case, has said "if I were in the Senate, I would confirm her."
Fringe right-wing media outlets and figures initially ignored this broad support and attacked Lynch anyway. The effort was spectacularly unsuccessful, as they mixed up the nominee with an entirely different Loretta Lynch and then claimed that her membership in Delta Sigma Theta, one of the country's leading African-American sororities, was "controversial."
Leading Fox News figures were better informed about the New York nominee, most notably News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch, who immediately noted Lynch had a "reputation for fairness and strict legality." In an O'Reilly Factor segment with Megyn Kelly on November 10, Bill O'Reilly said he was "heartened" she would be the new attorney general. In response, Kelly praised Lynch:
KELLY: I have to say that I think this is the person who should be the most acceptable to the right wing or the Republicans in this country of anybody who President Obama was considering. She is a straight shooter. First of all, she would be the first black female attorney general, right? I mean, that in and of itself is a pretty amazing accomplishment. Went to Harvard undergrad, went to Harvard Law School. She has no close ties to the White House. She is not some firm ideologue or partisan. She has prosecuted Democrats and Republicans. She's been a hero on gang crime, on terrorism.
Republican senators have been similarly honest about Lynch's record, admitting that she "seems to be a solid choice" and will instead use her hearing as a forum for grievances they have with the administration and outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder. The new chairman of the committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), told Politico: "All I can tell you is that immigration is going to be a big part of it. ... Not because of her views on immigration, but of the president's action on immigration and the extent of what she feels he's acted in a legal way."
Unfortunately, a review of the newly released witness list reveals that the Republican choices for this "proxy war of sorts" rely heavily on right-wing media favorites who frequently spread debunked smears and myths:
CNN contributor Newt Gingrich revived a debunked claim about Boko Haram's designation as a terror group in order to attack former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Speaking to attendees at the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Gingrich claimed that the Obama administration, currently and during Clinton's tenure at the State Department, is not doing enough to confront terrorism threats. As evidence, Gingrich pointed to Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group based in Nigeria, saying, "Boko Haram has ten thousand fighters, and last year Boko Haram killed more people than Ebola. But the State Department for years, under Secretary Clinton, wouldn't even list them as a terrorist group."
The implicit argument of Gingrich's attack is dishonest -- experts, including a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria appointed by President Bush, opposed designating Boko Haram a terror group out of concern it would empower the extremist group. Instead, in 2012 the State Department under Clinton designated the individual leaders of Boko Haram as "foreign terrorists." Reuters reported that the move was historic, noting it was the "first time [State] has blacklisted members of the Islamist group." Boko Harm went on to receive designation as a terrorist group in 2013.
Gingrich's smear was right out of the conservative media playbook. Fox News and other right-wing outlets spent considerable time suggesting Clinton and the Obama administration tried to appease Boko Haram, even suggesting the administration was partially responsible for the failure to save 300 young girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014.
Fox News established close ties with Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, as each used one another to amplify smears against the Obama administration related to the Benghazi attacks in 2012. Now Graham is cashing in the credibility and profile Fox and Benghazi helped him build, announcing he's exploring a run for president in 2016.
Fox News celebrated Duke University's decision to cancel planned weekly broadcasts of Muslim calls to prayer from the campus chapel, crediting viewers and outraged citizens' public outcry over the "unequal treatment" being given to Islam relative to Christianity for the university's reversal. But Fox reports glossed over the real reason behind Duke's move: security threats stemming from an anti-Islam backlash to the plan.
Duke University abandoned plans to allow Islamic students to broadcast a weekly call to prayer from the university chapel after receiving a "credible and serious security threat," according to a university spokesman. Raleigh's WRAL noted that the initial decision to allow the three-minute long calls to prayer "caused a national furor," citing a Facebook post by Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist Rev. Billy Graham, in which he attacked Duke's decision because "followers of Islam are raping, butchering, and beheading Christians, Jews, and anyone who doesn't submit to their Sharia Islamic law."
Fox News, which also responded to the initial announcement with outrage, celebrated the university's reversal. On Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy validated the public outcry, saying "There is no amplified Christian message ... It just seemed like they were including the Muslim faith, but they were excluding all the others." He attributed Duke's reversal to viewers contacting the university: "A lot of you made your opinion known, a lot of people contacted Duke, and they have done a 180."
Co-host Brian Kilmeade consoled Duke's Muslim community by saying, "If you do want to pray at the right time, you can get a watch."
Doocy briefly acknowledged that a security threat played into the university's decision, but glossed over its impact or the nature of the threat. Later, a news report on Fox's America's Newsroom ignored the security threat entirely, as host Martha MacCallum quipped, "Community outcry prompted this change ... They got some word from donors as well, from what I hear. That helped them expedite that decision."
While Fox celebrated the successful outcry, Omid Safi, director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center, told The Atlantic that there were "numerous verified instances of credible threats" against members of the university community:
"My disappointment is primarily directed toward people who find it acceptable to have recourse to violence, even the threat of violence, to make the point they want to make--particularly if they see these threats as being substantiated by their own religious conviction," Safi said. "We all know about the Muslim community having our crazies, but it seems like we don't have a monopoly on it."
These threats follow weeks of ramped up Islamophobic vitriol on Fox News and right-wing media as a whole, in which conservatives have largely abandoned even the appearance of tolerance after attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. One Fox host brazenly confessed, "I'm an Islamophobe ... You can call me it all you want. "He was joined by a carousel of extreme voices pushing myths about the dangers of the Muslim community.