One of the nagging questions during Tea Party 2009 has been just how large a block of citizens and voters does the right-wing movement represent? And is the movement really big enough to justify the kind of saturation coverage its events and priorities have generated from the press?
Last April 15, Tea Parties were respectfully attended. The health care mini-mobs, which the Tea Party movement helped fuel, generated an avalanche of media attention, but most of the forums attracted crowds in the hundreds and occasionally in the thousands, which is rather modest for a supposedly national movement in a country of nearly 300 million.
And of course, when the Tea Party followers staged its Sept. 12, anti-Obama rally in Washington, D.C., organizers and supporters, perhaps disappointed by the turn out, felt the urge to completely concoct crowd estimates; estimates that were off by 1.9 million people. More recently, the Tea Bag followers protested in D.C., and once again supporters were forced to wildly inflate the numbers.
But if the Tea Party brigade actually represented a national movement, wouldn't they have had at least 300-400,000 marching in D.C? More recently, anti-immigration-flavored Tea Party events fell completely flat. And the country's first unofficial Tea Party candidate for Congress, Doug Hoffman, famously lost to a Democrat in NY-23; a district that hadn't sent a Democrat to Congress in 150 years. So yeah, the track record remains suspect.
I raise that point because there appears to be early signs of a grassroots movement forming on the left, and if the press has showered the noisy Tea Party activists all year with time and attention, than it ought to be willing to do the same for national progressive activists.
From a Reform Immigration for America announcement this week:
Tonight, more than 60,000 activists, families, friends, and neighbors gathered for a nationwide tele-town hall event that created even greater momentum for comprehensive immigration reform legislation in 2010. The national teleconference was put together by an enormous coalition of faith, law enforcement, labor, civil rights, and immigrant advocacy groups working together to pass comprehensive immigration reform this year. The breadth and size of the coalition was reflected in the massive numbers of people who joined the call. The Reform Immigration FOR America Campaign organized 1,009 house parties in 45 states and Puerto Rico.
On November 16 we noted Washington Times editor emeritus Wesley Pruden's claim that President Obama "has no natural instinct or blood impulse" for what America "is about" because "[h]e was sired by a Kenyan father, born to a mother attracted to men of the Third World and reared by grandparents in Hawaii, a paradise far from the American mainstream."
In today's column, Pruden responds to criticism of his "observations" by asserting that Obama's four years in Indonesia "inevitably" instilled in him "a distorted image of his native land" because "How could a little American boy, learning in cultural isolation in a Muslim school 10,000 miles from home, absorb anything but a strange and different culture?" Pruden adds, "Such a culture has its charms and merits on its own terms; some would regard it as a better culture than our own, but it isn't necessarily the culture to nurture a boy who would be president of the United States."
From Pruden's November 20 Washington Times column:
Now that every nut in America is equipped with a laptop computer, you're likely to run afoul of a nut on the loose almost anywhere.
I observed in this space earlier this week that Barack Obama's curious compulsion to travel the world to make endless apologies for America could stem from his spending the most formative years of his childhood in the Third World. I mentioned two observable facts, neither in any way accusatory or rude, that his father was a Kenyan (Marxist) and the mother who raised him was obviously attracted to men of the Third World. She married two of them.
These observations, and how that might have influenced a child, struck several readers - I've heard from them all - as unforgivable xenophobia, arrogance and, of course, the mindless all-purpose indictment, "racism." My observation that the president's mother was attracted to the Third World was, incredibly, taken as insult, as if being attracted to "men of the Third World" is bad. But bigotry, like beauty, lies often in the eye of the beholder, or in this case in the eye of the accuser. Most of the e-mails were crude, obscene and, worse, cast in the language of the schoolyard. Some included the obligatory shot at George W. Bush. With friends like these the president needs no enemies.
Mr. Obama himself writes about his birthright at length in his memoir, "Dreams From My Father" -- one of the best memoirs from any of our presidents. Since every one of us is the extension of our life's experiences, I observed that the impressions of his childhood could explain the president's obsession with making apologies and amends for his country's sins and shortcomings, perceived and otherwise.
No president before him, Democrat, Republican or Whig, had felt such compulsion to tug at his forelock. But these are familiar complaints heard in the Third World. When I lived and worked there years ago, I heard them often. Everything America does is suspect, usually meant to wound and humiliate, even its good-hearted attempts to do good. Such complaints are usually driven by resentment, covetousness and even malice. A child growing up in such an atmosphere inevitably absorbs a distorted image of his native land, missing something of his birthright.
How could a little American boy, learning in cultural isolation in a Muslim school 10,000 miles from home, absorb anything but a strange and different culture?
"I was introduced to dog meat (tough), snake meat (tougher) and grasshopper (crunchy)," he writes. The strangeness was "one long adventure, the bounty of a boy's life." Such a culture has its charms and merits on its own terms; some would regard it as a better culture than our own, but it isn't necessarily the culture to nurture a boy who would be president of the United States.
Right-wing media are up-in-arms about what they are falsely claiming is a "requirement for a monthly abortion fee" in the Senate health care reform bill.
In reality, there is no such "fee." Rather, the right is distorting a provision of the bill that requires insurance plans that offer abortion coverage to segregate their funds so that tax dollars aren't used to fund abortion coverage. And since the bill says that every state's health exchange must offer at least one plan that doesn't cover abortion (except in cases of rape, incest, or a danger to the mother's life), consumers won't be forced to fund abortions with their premiums either.
The misinformation food chain started when House GOP leader John Boehner's staff posted the following on his blog, under the headline, "Sen. Reid's Government-Run Health Plan Requires a Monthly Abortion Fee":
Just like the original 2,032-page, government-run health care plan from Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) massive, 2,074-page bill would levy a new "abortion premium" fee on Americans in the government-run plan.
[A] monthly abortion premium will be charged of all enrollees in the government-run health plan. It's right there beginning on line 11, page 122, section 1303, under "Actuarial Value of Optional Service Coverage." The premium will be paid into a U.S. Treasury account - and these federal funds will be used to pay for the abortion services.
Section 1303(a)(2)(C) describes the process in which the Health Benefits Commissioner is to assess the monthly premiums that will be used to pay for elective abortions under the government-run health plan and for those who are given an affordability credit to purchase insurance coverage that includes abortion through the Exchange. The Commissioner must charge at a minimum $1 per enrollee per month.
Drudge quickly linked to Boehner's post and proclaimed, "Reid's Government-Run Health Plan Requires a Monthly Abortion Fee... ." By this afternoon, Rush Limbaugh was claiming that Boehner had "found" in the Senate bill a "requirement for a monthly abortion fee."
This is simply false.
"Monthly abortion fee" implies there is some sort of extra charge assessed to consumers in order to pay for abortions. But this isn't the case. Rather, the bill sets up requirements by which insurance plans segregate their funds so that federal dollars don't pay for abortion coverage.
Section 1303(a)(2)(B) requires insurers who cover any abortions that are not currently allowed to be paid for with federal funds to use money not provided by the federal government to "segregate an amount equal to the actuarial amounts determined under subparagraph (C) for all enrollees." This "segregated" money is what can be spent on abortion coverage.
Subparagraph (C) of Section 1303(a)(2) -- the subparagraph that Boehner and Limbaugh claim "describes the process in which the Health Benefits Commissioner is to assess the monthly premiums that will be used to pay for elective abortions" -- simply lays out a process by which insurers determine how much of their money to segregate in order to ensure that federal money doesn't pay for elective abortions.
If you choose to purchase a plan that covers abortion, it's completely expected that a portion of your premium pays for abortion coverage. Saying that this creates some sort of additional "abortion fee" is like saying that there's a "monthly heart attack fee" because the plan covers heart attacks.
Which brings us back to Limbaugh, who took the distortion a step further by claiming, "You will be required to pay a monthly abortion premium." Not just individuals who purchase an insurance plan that covers abortion, but apparently each and every "you" listening to Limbaugh's show.
In reality, you won't be required to pay a "monthly abortion premium," and you won't even be required to have your premiums help pay for abortion coverage. The bill requires that each exchange offer at least one insurance plan that doesn't cover abortions. If you purchase one of those plans, your premiums won't be used to cover abortion.
As he made clear during his final broadcast on CNN, Lou Dobbs doesn't intend to disappear. But while his future is unclear, it seems obvious that his departure from the network has made Dobbs all the more willing to advance conservative misinformation whenever given the opportunity.
His recent appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart may very well have been a foreshadowing of things to come. When asked to explain the basis of the newfound right-wing rage stoked by Fox News and other conservative broadcasters, Dobbs contrasted the Obama administration with that of George W. Bush.
"What is different this time," he said, "is an attorney general who actually began speaking about a few changes to the Second Amendment." He continued, adding that the administration is "not reflecting the majority view, whether it be health care or whether it be cap and trade."
All three of these assertions are commonly parroted by right-wing broadcasters -- and all three are false. The idea that the Obama administration intends to limit gun rights has been a focus of conservative fear-mongering since before Obama took office. Dobbs advanced it on CNN and on his radio program; Glenn Beck has pushed it, as has FoxNation.com, which accused Sonia Sotomayor of being an anti-gun judge. While such charges are baseless -- no significant legislation curtailing gun ownership has been advanced by President Obama, who this past May actually signed a bill containing an expansion of gun rights in national parks -- they are not inconsequential. For example, Richard Popolawski, the disturbed young man who shot three Pittsburgh policemen in April, was convinced that the government intended to take away his guns.
Dobbs' claim that the American people oppose Democratic health care reform proposals is similarly misleading. As right-wing broadcasters have routinely done, Dobbs intentionally ignored numerous polls indicating that a clear majority supports the creation of a public health care option, a central component of reform efforts.
Similarly, while support for cap-and-trade legislation has at times been split, an October CNN poll found that 60 percent of respondents supported the legislation, with only 37 percent opposing it.
Maintaining such falsehoods is necessary for broadcasters like Dobbs, who contend that the government is out of touch with the political "middle" that represents the true spirit of America. "Again, you're watching the body politic trying to bring this country back to the center," he told Stewart, "and they are frightened by extremism, whether it is left or whether it is right, and frankly I think everybody should be."
But as Media Matters has conclusively documented, on an issue-by-issue basis, consistent polling over a broad historical period has shown that a majority of the American people support progressive policy positions.
Of course, acknowledging such realities would make it impossible for Dobbs to play the role of political savior, rescuing the country from the grips of an unresponsive and out-of-control government -- which is exactly why he ignores them.
Eighty advertisers have reportedly dropped their ads from Glenn Beck's Fox News program since he called President Obama a "racist" who has a "deep-seated hatred of white people." Here are his November 19 sponsors, in the order they appeared:
Yet more proof that the right-wing noise machine doesn't even reflect mainstream conservatives. It's just its own bizarre, fact-free world that whips up an endless stream of nonsensical allegations that only truly radical Obama haters care about.
Greg Sargent as the details on the latest polling numbers, which show a huge majority of Americans thought it was fine for Obama while greeting Japan's emperor. And yes, even Republicans thought it was appropriate.
In November 19 comments on Twitter, MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell responded to Glenn Beck's attacks on her over an interview she conducted the previous day with a Sarah Palin supporter. During that interview, O'Donnell asked the supporter about Palin's 2008 support for the economic bailout.
From RushLimbaugh.com, accessed on November 19:
Last week we learned that Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp., the parent company of Fox News, agreed with Glenn Beck's assertion that the President was a "racist", because, in Murdoch's words, Obama made a "very racist comment." Of course, no one knows what "very racist comment" Murdoch was talking about.
Fox News was then forced to clean up the boss's mess issuing a statement saying that Murdoch "does not...think the president is a racist" regardless of what he may have otherwise said.
Statements and spin aside, we still don't know what "very racist comment" Murdoch was talking about. Perhaps if he was just asked directly, Murdoch would be able to clear up the confusion.
In an effort to do just that, Media Matters confronted Murdoch today on Capitol Hill for a little chat.
We are through the looking glass people. Murdoch isn't even spinning what he said about the president, now he's denying it outright. And to think we sometimes wonder where the folks at Fox News get their ethics from. Sigh.
And people still pretend Fox News is a serious outlet? Media Matters has been pointing out the truth for months now, but lots of Beltway media folks insist on pretending that somewhere, deep inside Fox News, in some undisclosed secret location, there exists a 'serious news' team that's doing the due diligence and pumping out top-notch journalism. Sorry folks, but it's a myth that Fox News doesn't load up its 'news' product with partisan, GOP spin. But it's a myth both Fox News and the press love to perpetuate.
Here's the latest example from the Chicago Tribune's Mark Silva, who lays on the naiveté extra-heavy. i.e. His sources tell him Fox News execs are really, really upset about the latest transgression and darn it, this time somebody's actually going to be disciplined!! ("Heads may roll"!)
Sorry, but I have to chuckle. I chuckle at the idea that Fox News big whigs care about journalism standards or ethics. And I chuckle reading reporters like Silva who happily play along: OMG, Fox is going to discipline someone for an egregious breach of standards? I guess my question is, why start now? I mean seriously, if Fox News started handing out demerits every time someone in front of, or behind, the camera trampled on journalism's code of ethics, Murdoch's cable channel would have to start out-sourcing to Bangalore because they'd have nobody left on staff to do the job.
But don't tell reporters like Silva, who want very much to play along with the charade that the latest bout of video misinformation was dramatic and different and serious. Really? Because the truth is staffers at Fox News have been monkeying around with videotapes all year. And the staff at Fox News has been shoveling out lies, smears, and misinformation all year. Why on earth would the latest flap be considered any different?
The point being, Fox News' latest deception was utterly routine. It's what they do. It's the culture. If Fox News takes journalism seriously and is going to discipline somebody for the latest embarrassment, than why didn't they reprimand somebody for this, or this, or this, or this?
UPDATED: The Fox News culture starts at the top with News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch. Recently he's been spreading a wealth of falsehoods about his embattled 'news' channel.
UPDATED: Fox News apologizes. But which heads are going to "roll"? Don't hold your breathe. Fox News has no track record of publicly holding accountable those employees who regularly commit all kinds of crimes against journalism.