Fox News has ever-shifting standards for how the Obama administration should respond to terrorist attacks -- a strategic moving of the goalposts that was clearly on display during the network's coverage of the deadly Paris shooting.
On January 7, three gunmen opened fire at the office of the satirical weekly paper Charlie Hebdo, an attack that left 12 dead and 11 others wounded. That morning, White House press secretary Josh Earnest told CNN that based on the information the White House had at the time, the attack "does seem like" terrorism and that it "would condemn that in the strongest possible terms" if it were confirmed. Merely 30 minutes later, Earnest appeared on Fox News and declared, "This is an act of terror," a designation echoed by President Obama from the Oval Office. Obama expressed his "deepest sympathies to the people of Paris and the people of France for the terrible terrorist attack that took place earlier today," condemned the actions of "these terrorists [who] fear freedom," and noted the United States' cooperation with France on counterterrorism.
But to Fox News, describing the attack as terrorism wasn't enough. The network spent the day of the attack in Paris moving the goalposts for how the administration should have responded to the shooting.
Fox initially attempted to portray the change in the White House's characterization as scandalous. During Earnest's appearance on America's Newsroom, anchor Bill Hemmer took issue with the fact that Earnest used the term "act of terror" when earlier he'd used the phrase "act of violence." Hemmer repeatedly insisted that Earnest justify the change:
The demand soon grew. Claiming that it's insufficient to call the attack terrorism, Fox figures argued the White House "has to say 'Islamist terror.'" According to these personalities, the failure to say "Islamic," coupled with the White House's "reluctan[ce]" to say terrorism, evidences Obama's soft approach to fighting terrorism.
Moving the goalposts on the proper response to terrorism is a standard chapter in the Fox News playbook. The network obsessively claimed Obama failed to label the 2012 Benghazi attacks an act of terror, despite the fact that he did so from the Rose Garden the day after the attacks. When a gunman opened fire at Canada's War Memorial in October, Fox criticized Obama for refusing to acknowledge the attack was terrorism (despite the fact that he had). And after the Pakistani Taliban attacked a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, in December, Obama condemned the terrorists, but Fox wondered why he failed to mention "the Taliban" by name.
Right-wing media are using the Paris terrorist attack to falsely claim Hillary Clinton has encouraged empathizing with terrorists like the ones who carried out the attack. But conservatives' attacks on Clinton are badly distorting remarks she made during a December speech in which she emphasized the value of understanding one's enemy, and she has repeatedly stated her opposition to negotiating with violent ideological groups.
Nothing captures the absurdity and insincerity of conservative media quite like Comedy Central's The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Media Matters takes a look back at Stewart and Colbert's best takedowns of 2014.
As a polar vortex entombed much of the nation in freezing temperatures in January, right-wing media went into high gear trying to exploit the weather event as evidence that global warming is a myth. Scientists disagree with this claim, and as Time's Bryan Walsh noted, "not only does the cold spell not disprove climate change, it may well be that global warming could be making the occasional bout of extreme cold weather in the U.S. even more likely."
Jon Stewart nipped the narrative in the bud on the January 6 edition of The Daily Show.
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly interviewed President Obama before the NFL's Super Bowl XLVIII and used the opportunity to rattle through a series of questions about the many phony scandals ginned up by his network over the previous months.
On the February 4 edition of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart defended Obama's combative response to some of O'Reilly's questions, noting that it's true that Fox News promotes and generates scandals for the sole purpose of undermining his presidency.
"That is exactly what Fox does every day," said Stewart. "With the exception of the one hour every two weeks where John Stossel exposes how homeless people are scamming the system."
In late February, Bill O'Reilly joined a chorus of conservative media figures launching sexist attacks against Hillary Clinton, suggesting her gender would somehow disqualify her from serving as President of the United States. "There's got to be some downside to having a woman president, right?" asked O'Reilly.
Stephen Colbert agreed on the March 5 edition of The Colbert Report, satirically noting that the election of a female president like Clinton would almost inevitably spark a chain of global reactions culminating in an Afghan invasion of America, shark attacks and the complete demise of the nation.
Right-wing media turned its attention to Nevada in April, when rancher Cliven Bundy orchestrated an armed stand-off with federal law enforcement officials trying to enforce millions of dollars in court judgments against him. Sean Hannity and others ran to the rancher's defense, holding him up as a champion against big government.
The Daily Show's Jon Stewart tried to wrap his head around the movement, noting that Bundy was in violation of the law and Hannity in particular purports to be a vigilant advocate for the rule of law -- when it suits him.
Conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch joined aspiring Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) at the Kentucky Derby in May, prompting questions about the influence Murdoch's media empire -- including Fox News -- could play in boosting Paul's political aspirations.
On the May 6 edition of The Colbert Report, Colbert congratulated Paul on catching Murdoch's eye, but warned that the mogul might still be "playing the field" when it comes to 2016.
In June, the Obama administration negotiated the release of America's last remaining U.S. service member being held behind enemy lines -- Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Conservatives rushed to scandalize the event and smear Bergdahl as a deserter, going so far as to suggest his father's long beard made him look like a Muslim, and thus in their minds was more likely to share a hatred for America with his son.
On the June 9 edition of The Daily Show, Stewart lambasted Fox News' obsession with the beard, pointing out the obvious -- "Not all Muslims have beards, and not all people with beards are Muslims."
In July, the influx of undocumented minors fleeing violence in Central America by way of the U.S.-Mexico border had grown into a humanitarian crisis. Right-wing media used the problem to criticize Obama anytime he was seen enjoying a leisure activity. One of the loudest complaints was that the president was photographed playing pool in Colorado when he should have been, according to conservatives, touring the Texas border.
His actions were even worse than previously attempts to destroy America, Colbert explained on July 15. Obama was now "slacking off at destroying America." Colbert went on: "It's clear what's going on here. The president has senioritis."
On August 9, unarmed teenager Michael Brown was gunned down by a Ferguson, MO police officer. His death sparked outrage and protests across the country against police brutality and systemic discrimination against young, black men. Yet conservative media leaped to demonize Brown, blaming him for his death and staunchly denying the fact that law enforcement treats African-Americans with any less respect than they do whites.
Stewart called them out on The Daily Show, asking "Do you not understand that life in this country is inherently different for white people and black people?" Citing the fact that white Fox hosts expressed more outrage over the imaginary 'War on Christmas' than they have over the existence of racism, Stewart argued: "Imagine that if instead of having to suffer the indignity of [the War on Christmas], imagine that instead of that, on a pretty consistent basis, you can't get a cab, even though you're a neurosurgeon, because you're black."
Footage of Obama saluting Marines with a cup in his hand as he exited Marine One elicited horror from right-wing media, who feigned shock at the "disrespectful" and "degrading" salute. Hannity accused Obama of having "complete disrespect for the men in women in uniform" and asked, "Would President Bush ever do that?"
Of course, several photos exist of Bush saluting troops while cradling his Scottish Terrier, Barney, in his arms. Stewart blasted Hannity for his "cognitive dissonance" on September 25, answering his question about Bush: "Would President Bush ever salute the troops with a cup of coffee in his hand? And the answer is no. Because his hands were too filled with dog."
Conservative media stood up as defenders of street harassment in October, building off their frequent denial of gender inequality to lecture women on being appreciative of catcalling and harassment. Fox's The Five, for instance, justified catcalls by arguing that men "mean it in a nice way" or in admiration of a woman's youth.
The Daily Show exposed the ridiculousness of such mentality on October 2, imaging a world where women gush over "competing in a beauty pageant on the way to work every day."
In November, Obama took executive action to prioritize the deportations of dangerous undocumented immigrants and grant certain other immigrants the right to stay and work in the U.S. The plan was met with cries of "tyranny" and "Emperor Obama" from right-wing media figures, who accused the president of issuing "executive amnesty."
Colbert mocked the hyperbole on the November 20 edition of The Colbert Report, playing Halloween horror music and declaring, "My great grandfather did not come here from Ireland to see this country overrun by immigrants":
When Eric Garner was killed after Staten Island police placed him in a chokehold, medical examiners ruled his death a homicide. But in December, a grand jury declined to indict the officer who killed him, reigniting protests around the country over racial discrimination in law enforcement. Garner's last words, "I Can't Breathe," became a rallying cry for justice -- and a target for conservative media. Fox News went to great lengths to defend the police and criminalize Garner, accusing those who highlighted systemic racism as disrespectful to law enforcement.
Stewart went on the offensive following the grand jury decision, refuting conservative's refrain that the criminal justice system is applied equally to all races:
Fox News hosts criticized a distorted version of Hillary Clinton's congressional testimony on the 2012 Benghazi attacks, falsely suggesting that the former secretary of state had been indifferent to the cause of the attack.
On December 10, the hosts of Outnumbered recalled former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's January 2013 congressional testimony in a discussion on the day's hearing of the Republican-led House Select Committee on Benghazi. Co-host Andrea Tantaros alleged Clinton said, "It doesn't really make a difference what happened on that night" of the attack, and continued, "whether it was men out for a walk." Co-host Kennedy agreed, suggesting Clinton's "strange and insulting line of reflection" evidenced indifference to the lives lost in the attacks. Kennedy went on, "[I]t actually makes a very big difference. If you've got a systemic problem with Al Qaeda who's ready to attack a vulnerable U.S. embassy, then yeah, that's vastly different than a couple people that just get together with some incendiary devices."
That's an egregious stretch of Clinton's remarks.
During her congressional testimony, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) asked Clinton about the State Department's role in editing Obama administration talking points to remove a reference to the Benghazi attackers' motive. In response, she dismissed the relevance of debating who edited a government memo, saying, "[T]he fact is, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest? Or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?" She emphasized, "It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again."
Fox figures have tirelessly attempted to scandalize Clinton's innocuous response, even jumping off the remarks to imagine her hypothetical assassination. The distortion has proved too egregious even for other members of the right-wing media -- Weekly Standard writer (and Fox contributor) Stephen Hayes called out his fellow conservatives for misrepresenting her remarks, saying Clinton's critics have "badly mischaracterized the now infamous question." According to Hayes, Clinton's "question, which came in the middle of a heated back-and-forth with U.S. senator Ron Johnson, was not so much a declaration of indifference as it was an attempt to redirect the questioning from its focus on the hours before the attacks to preventing similar attacks in the future."
The hosts of Fox & Friends were incensed that President Obama quoted scripture in a primetime address detailing his upcoming executive action on immigration, challenging him to a "scripture-showdown" and claiming it's "repugnant" for Obama to "lecture us on Christian faith." But just 48 hours earlier, the Fox hosts were lamenting that Obama doesn't make public expressions of his Christian faith often enough.
Obama quoted lines from the Bible in a November 20 address, explaining the nation's responsibility to reform unfair immigration enforcement policies. He declared, "Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger -- we were strangers once, too. My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too."
His use of scripture did not sit well with the hosts of Fox & Friends the next day. Co-host Tucker Carlson called it "repugnant" and argued, "For this guy specifically, the president who spent his career defending late-term abortion, among other things, lecturing us on Christian faith? That's too much. That is too much." Elisabeth Hasselbeck attempted to rebut the scripture Obama used with scripture of her own, quoting verses from Proverbs and saying she is "going to get into a scripture-showdown." According to Hasselbeck, Obama used the Bible to guilt people into supporting his executive action, and that's "not what the scholars behind the Bible would interpret as proper use, perhaps."
It was only 48 hours prior to their November 21 broadcast that Fox & Friends criticized Obama for not espousing Christian values often enough.
On November 19, the hosts promoted a "fiery" online op-ed penned by Chuck Norris, echoing his outrage that Obama had not publicly opposed a local school district's decision to remove references to religious holidays on the schools' calendars. The hosts then aired video of former President Ronald Reagan talking about Christmas and his Christian faith, saying, "Chuck Norris' point was, remember the time when American presidents weren't afraid to talk about traditional values, as Ronald Reagan did back in 1981." Hasselbeck remarked that Reagan's religious rhetoric gave her goosebumps.
Fox News' Outnumbered helped Kirk Cameron justify his recent instruction to women on proper etiquette during the Christmas season, a defense that offers a glimpse into what drives Cameron and the network's campaign against the imaginary War on Christmas.
Cameron, an evangelical Christian made famous for his role in ABC's Growing Pains, took to Facebook on November 13 to instruct women on the necessity of remaining joyful this Christmas while cooking and decorating the home so as not to ruin the holiday for their families. Cameron was promoting his new Christmas movie, Saving Christmas, which promises take a stand against people "who really want to put a big wet blanket on" Christmas by saying 'Happy Holidays' or opposing Christmas plays in schools. In his post, Cameron directed women, "The joy of the mom is her children's strength, so don't let anything steal your joy ... Let your children, your family, see your joy in the way you decorate your home this Christmas, in the food that you cook, the songs you sing, the stories you tell, and the traditions that you keep."
Cameron's remarks received widespread criticism, but he defended his lecture the next day on Fox News' Outnumbered. Rejecting the characterization that he was directing women not to work outside the home, Cameron told his female co-hosts that he was merely praising stay-at-home mothers for their work and sacrifice.
Co-host Sandra Smith assured Cameron that even though some women perceived his remarks to be offensive, "I know what you meant by it, and I believe in what you said." Hosts Andrea Tantaros and Kirsten Powers meanwhile expressed sympathy for Cameron and asked how he handled having his words twisted and sensationalized by media outlets.
Cameron's proposed solution to saving Christmas -- a smiling mother making food for her family -- adopts a striking 1950s pop culture view of motherhood, families, and our nation as a "Christian" country. It's not surprising Cameron's fantasy found safe harbor on Outnumbered as his view is echoed in Fox's annual crusade against the imaginary War on Christmas. Bill O'Reilly has already waged his first battle of the 2014 Christmas season, railing against losing "all our traditions" to Muslims and other religions and last year, Megyn Kelly infamously argued that both Jesus Christ and Santa Claus were white. Outnumbered's defense of Cameron's view of motherhood at Christmastime offers a window into what Fox's War on Christmas is really about -- the desire to return to a fictional past full of all-white, Leave It To Beaver families.
Conservative media are invoking one of their favorite Benghazi hoaxes to accuse President Obama of reluctance to characterize the fatal shootings near Canadian Parliament as terrorism, despite the fact that Obama framed it in terms of "terrorism" the day of the shooting, just as he called the Benghazi attacks "acts of terror" the day after the 2012 assault.
Several Fox News figures' recent suggestions to improve the electorate and voting practices are eerily reminiscent of discriminatory election laws like Jim Crow.
Should homeless people vote? Probably not, according to network host Tucker Carlson. Appearing on Outnumbered on October 2, Carlson took issue with a Republican campaign ad encouraging young women to vote by spoofing the TLC show Say Yes To The Dress, asking, "You want your government run by people whose favorite show is Say Yes [To The Dress]?" He compared the competence of young women at the ballot box to that of homeless people and argued, "I don't think as a general matter you should be encouraging people who don't know anything about what they're voting for to vote. That's what the Democrats do, giving Newports to the homeless to get them to the polls. That's literally true. Republicans shouldn't follow suit on that. You shouldn't pander to people."
To be an informed voter, Fox contributor Ben Carson thinks you should read his new voter education guide. Just yesterday, Carson -- apparently also a likely presidential candidate -- hyped his new voting guide e-book in a National Review Online article. According to Carson, the country suffers from a dearth of informed voters and his e-book is the solution, providing information on politicians and policies to "make it easier for people to think for themselves, rather than being herded and manipulated by those in various political organizations who hunger for power, not liberty and fairness."
Just last month, Fox & Friends co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck suggested it may be beneficial for Americans to pass citizenship tests before gaining the right to vote. Debating the advantages of requiring high schoolers to pass civics tests before graduating and becoming eligible to vote, Hasselbeck posited that such steps could make "a more meaningful measure when you vote, perhaps, too." She later asked viewers for their thoughts on the tests: "Civics test required to vote or graduate? Let us know."
Beyond implying that not all Americans are qualified to exercise a constitutional right, these Fox figures' voting suggestions share a common thread -- they hark back to discriminatory election laws like Jim Crow laws, rampant prior to the 1965 Voting Rights Act to keep would-be black voters away from the polls.
Laura Ingraham suggested that teaching young girls to dress modestly is an important step toward avoiding objectification, misogyny, and even date rape.
The ABC News contributor and conservative radio host spent a significant portion of her radio program on September 26 praising a Utah high school for refusing entry to about a dozen girls at a homecoming dance because of their "immodest" dresses. According to Ingraham, the teenagers were dressed to appear ten years older, and she argued that while the nation is focused on preventing date rape and misogyny, we should "start with the way we appear in public":
INGRAHAM: These are still girls. There are probably young women, probably 9th or 10th grade. And at the same time we're worried about date rape. At the same time we're worried about misogynistic behavior or making comments about peoples' appearances and bullying and all these other things. How about start with the way we appear in public. The way we treat people. How we speak to them. The language we use. And I'm sure a lot of these girls that dress this way, I'm sure they don't know any better.
"If we are trying to remind people that it's what's inside that counts, your heart, your spirit, the whole person," Ingraham instructed, "let's really ensure that the first thing a young boy sees in a girl is not her cleavage, or, you know, her pubic area because her skirt is so short."
On her Facebook page, Ingraham similarly asked, "Do you think girls dress in a way that invites trouble?"
Fox News continued to hype reports of an imminent Islamic State terrorist plot against U.S. and Parisian public transportation hours after the U.S. intelligence community discredited the rumor as "total bunk."
News broke on September 25 that Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had informed reporters at the United Nations of "accurate reports from Baghdad" detailing a terrorist plot by the group calling themselves the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in advanced stages against subways in the U.S. and Paris, France.
The prime minister's remarks quickly spread across American media, but by early afternoon, U.S. intelligence officials had roundly discredited the rumor. As NBC News reported, "Virtually every major U.S. law enforcement agency and intelligence agency said they had no evidence of any such plot. The report is viewed as 'total bunk,' according to a senior intelligence official."
CNN's Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto tweeted:
Yet over an hour later, Fox News continued to hype fears over the discredited plot. On The Real Story, host Gretchen Carlson repeated the Iraqi prime minister's warning despite noting that an Obama administration official had not confirmed the report, cautioning, "Apparently the plot has not been thwarted."
Rather than acknowledging the fact that multiple U.S. intelligence agencies had discredited reports of the plot, Carlson simply said, "The other threat we heard about today from the Iraqi prime minister, which, by the way, the FBI says this administration doesn't know anything about it, but the word was that the attacks could be imminent on our subway systems here and in Paris."