Ferguson Protests And Fox News' Contempt For Free Speech

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

Laura Ingraham on Fox discussing Ferguson protests

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon on Monday issued a state of emergency and activated the National Guard in anticipation of the grand jury announcement about whether Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson will be charged with the August 9 shooting of Michael Brown.

The unarmed teen's controversial death sparked weeks worth of protests, many of which were met with overwhelming police force. The killing also inspired a national debate about police shootings and law enforcement's relationship with black Americans. (The Department of Justice is currently investigating the Ferguson police department.)

And of course since the protests prominently featured the issue of race, and since Obama's conservative media critics positioned him at the center of the story -- his administration was allegedly "orchestrating" the unrest -- the events have inspired wave after wave of attacks from Fox News and its allies in the conservative media. 

Brown family advocates have been denounced as "race hustlers." Fox contributor Laura Ingraham characterized Ferguson protesters as a "lynch mob" on her radio show. And conservative author Dinesh D'Souza actually compared the Ferguson unrest to beheadings carried out by the Islamic State terrorists. "What the common thread between ISIS and what's going on in Ferguson is you have these people who basically believe that to correct a perceived injustice, it's perfectly OK to inflict all kinds of new injustices," said D'Souza.

Conservative commentators have a long history of condemning, as vile and un-American, citizens who protest on behalf of their causes, whether it's racial injustice, income equality, collective bargaining rights, raising the minimum wage, or defending public education. The spotlight on Ferguson and its supposed "lynch mob" represents just the latest example of those sweeping condemnations and attacks on civil discourse.

Keep in mind that it was Fox News, as well as the rest of the right-wing media, that championed lawless insurrectionists earlier this year in Nevada when gun-toting militia members rallied to the side of rancher Cliven Bundy, who refused for more than two decades to pay grazing fees for his cattle that fed off federal land. (Bundy's Fox-sponsored crusade imploded when he was recorded making racist comments, asking if black Americans were "better off as slaves.")  

In the Fox worldview, activists are thugs and thugs are freedom fighters.

The incendiary rhetoric used to denounce Ferguson activists recalls how conservatives commented on the national controversy surrounding the shooting of another unarmed black teen, Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012, as well as the subsequent murder trial of George Zimmerman. Back then, Rush Limbaugh denounced the Department of Justice for "instigating race riots," even though no such "riots" ever took place. (The Martin protests remained peaceful throughout.) After the not-guilty verdict was rendered, Fox completed its coverage by demonizing civil rights leaders as "race hustlers."

Those kinds of Fox attacks on protesters aren't confined to race-baiting stories, though. In 2011, Fox declared war on Occupy Wall Street activists and condemned them for being lawless. ("Domestic terrorists!") They were "deluded" and represented the "sludge" of "every left-wing cause." At National Review, editor Rich Lowry warned, "It's become clear during the past few weeks that there is a lawlessness at the heart of Occupy Wall Street." Indeed, everywhere conservative commentators have turned during Obama's presidency, they've spied mobs of unruly anarchists.

Remember that same year, when Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker's proposed eliminating public employees' collective bargaining rights and it sparked a massive showdown inside and outside of the state's Madison capitol building? Conservatives unleashed weeks worth of invective, attacking the mostly peaceful protesters for engaging in "thuggery" and uncorking "temper tantrums"; of "act[ing] like a bunch of selfish spoiled Europeans." On Fox, Bill O'Reilly denounced the "insurrection in Wisconsin" and feared "class warfare" was "about to break out in America." Colleague Glenn Beck also saw "the beginning of the American insurrection," (i.e. an armed and violent revolt against the government). 

The claims of insurrection in Wisconsin were especially telling considering that three years later the Fox News team openly cheered right-wing insurrectionists. And not the kind who stood in the doorways and blocked up the halls of the Wisconsin capitol, but the kind who threatened to wage war against federal agents of the Bureau of Land Management.

Here was a clip of one Nevada confrontation dubbed a "Ranch Riot" by a Bundy sympathizer. In it, would-be militia members rained down epithets on law enforcement officials during a tense, physical standoff:

Indeed, flip the insurrectionist script and Fox News and conservative media went all in for the (mostly white) militia lawbreakers at the Bundy ranch. Ingraham cheered them, toasting their collective "act of civil disobedience." (Is that what setting up sniper positions alongside the highway represents?)  She even touted them as "new Freedom Riders," likening them to the landmark civil rights activists who protested segregation in the 1960s, and who were often attacked and beaten by Southerners.

In Nevada, Bundy and his armed, anti-government supporters repeatedly threatened violence and fanned the flames of confrontation with revolutionary rhetoric, like declaring a "Range War."

But as Ferguson awaits the announcement of the grand jury finding, Fox News insists the real troublemakers are in the streets of Missouri. 

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