Fox News helped Republican Gov. Scott Walker (WI) rehabilitate his image following newly released details on a criminal investigation into potential coordination between Walker's recall campaign and outside spending groups, dismissing allegations of wrongdoing as merely attempts "to trash him."
Documents unsealed on June 19 offered details on an extensive investigation into whether the Walker campaign was involved in a "criminal scheme" to illegally coordinate campaign activities with outside spending groups during his 2011 and 2012 recall elections.
Walker took to Fox & Friends the following day for a softball interview to respond to the allegations.
Walker repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, emphasizing that the investigation was halted by a federal judge. Co-host Steve Doocy agreed, speculating "These are documents that, for a case that does not exist anymore, it's not going anywhere, and they're just opening it up -- it looks like they're just trying to trash you." When Walker responded that the allegations detailed in the documents are nothing more than attacks by political opponents and the media, Doocy went on:
DOOCY: So the show's over, but they're trying to trash you. Are they trying to do to you what they did to Chris Christie in New Jersey?
Scott Walker, answering the charges. Not that there are any charges, just people trying to trash him.
It is true that the nearly two-year-old investigation is currently halted, and that no charges have yet been filed. But what Fox and Walker fail to admit is that the issue appears far from over. As Vox explained:
State law requires that any such nonprofits spending on election ads do so independently, without any coordination with Walker or his aides. Prosecutors are arguing that they didn't do so -- that, instead, Walker and two of his campaign consultants participated in a "criminal scheme" to "utilize and direct" the nonprofits' behavior. The investigation is being conducted under Wisconsin's unique John Doe law, which allows for many of the proceedings to be kept secret. The district attorney of Milwaukee, a Democrat, initiated the probe, but several other county prosecutors joined in, and a special prosecutor has since been appointed.
Importantly, no charges have been filed against anyone, and none appear imminent. Most of the legal wrangling so far has focused instead on whether prosecutors had probable cause to raid and subpoena documents from the consultants and nonprofit groups they believe to be involved.
It's an investigation being led by both Democrats and Republicans across five counties. In January and May 2014, a state judge and federal district court judge, respectively, ruled that prosecutors issued subpoenas without probable case during the investigation, but the state judge later stayed his own order, and the matter is currently pending before a federal appellate panel, which released the new documents at the prosecutors' request.
Fox News adoringly highlighted the story of a 92-year-old Texas woman after she started "raising a stink" about her struggle to vote under the state's new draconian voter ID law, treating her story as an isolated case and ignoring thousands of Americans disenfranchised by similar laws.
A stringent new voter ID law enacted June of 2013 in Texas obstructed the ability of 92-year-old resident Ruby Barber to cast a ballot. From the New York Daily News:
Ruby Barber, a senior citizen in the small town of Bellmead, Texas, had been unable to vote because she could not find her nearly century-old birth certificate that she'd need to obtain a voter ID under a new state law.
"I'm sure (my birth) was never reported because I was born in a farmhouse with a coal oil lamp," Barber, 92, told the Waco (Texas) Tribune. "Didn't have a doctor, just a neighbor woman come in and (delivered) me."
The host of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Martha MacCallum and reporter Casey Stegall offered glowing support for Barber and her struggle to vote, praising her plucky persistence to get back her right to vote. But Fox treated Barber's case as an isolated one -- a hiccup in an otherwise necessary policy to combat voter fraud.
The reality is that Barber represents a much larger group of Americans disenfranchised by Texas' new voter ID law where - up to 800,000 Texas voters, according to the League of Women Voters of Texas.
Fox host Steve Doocy couldn't think of one Republican "who wants to take away the right to vote," despite the frenzy of GOP-led states passing voting restriction laws and the acknowledgement of a Republican politician that the efforts are aimed to win elections.
On May 21, Fox & Friends jumped on former DNC chairman Howard Dean for reportedly stating at a campaign event in Colorado that Republicans are "not American" because they "think it's OK to win by taking away the right to vote." To co-host Steve Doocy, Dean's remarks amounted to a "new low," because no Republican "wants to take away the right to vote":
DOOCY: Excuse me, Dr. Howard Dean. Name one Republican who wants to take away the right to vote. There are Republicans who view that, you know, you should be qualified to have the vote. Only those who are registered and legitimately can vote, those are the ones who should vote. But take away the right to vote? I don't know anybody who's up to that standard.
A long-time supporter of Dinesh D'Souza, Megyn Kelly hosted the right-wing media darling after he pleaded guilty to campaign finance fraud to resuscitate the myth that his indictment was political payback.
D'Souza, who rose to right-wing media darling status after producing an anti-Barack Obama film rife with lies and outlandish claims, was indicted by federal prosecutors in January, charged with violating campaign finance laws by "arranging excessive campaign contributions to a candidate for the U.S. Senate," and allegedly reimbursing "people who he had directed to contribute $20,000" to the unnamed candidate.
After D'Souza's initial indictment, Fox host Megyn Kelly provided D'Souza a platform to push the myth that his indictment was political retribution. Kelly said the charges raised "red flags for some because D'Souza, who has pleaded not guilty, is behind the box office hit 2016: Obama's America, a film that is very critical of the president." D'Souza responded that he couldn't speak about the case specifically, but that he knows "for a fact" that Obama was personally unnerved by his film and said, "I am a public critic of the president, and I do recognize this has made me, to some degree, vulnerable to some forms of counter-attack."
Then, on May 20 D'Souza pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws and making false statements, and will be sentenced in September, facing up to two years in prison.
And still, Megyn Kelly continued to champion D'Souza, hosting him that evening to keep alive the myth that D'Souza's indictment was political retribution. Kelly asked D'Souza whether his guilty plea was what the Obama administration "wanted all along," and highlighted people who claimed that the prosecution was political, asking "is this about Dinesh D'Souza or is this about upholding campaign finance laws?" During the interview, Kelly again hid the fact that Fox News had aggressively pushed the myth that D'Souza's indictment was political payback for his criticism of Obama:
Dinesh D'Souza, the right-wing media darling who conservatives had claimed was targeted for prosecution because he is a critic of the Obama administration, has pleaded guilty to charges of campaign finance fraud.
D'Souza, famous for producing an anti-Barack Obama film rife with lies and outlandish claims, was indicted by the FBI in January and accused of violating campaign finance laws by "arranging excessive campaign contributions to a candidate for the U.S. Senate," and allegedly reimbursing "people who he had directed to contribute $20,000" to the unnamed candidate. On May 20 D'Souza pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws and making false statements. He will be sentenced in September and likely faces imprisonment of ten to 16 months.
Right-wing media figures -- many of whom went to bat for D'Souza's flawed film -- rallied to the filmmaker's defense following his initial indictment, claiming he was being prosecuted for his political beliefs. Fox News host Sean Hannity labeled D'Souza "the latest victim to be targeted by the Obama White House." Matt Drudge accused Attorney General Eric Holder of "unleashing the dog" on "Obama critics," and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones responded to the charges, saying, "This is like Nazi Germany ... once they're done with these guys, they're coming after you and I." Radio host Laura Ingraham characterized the indictment as being "more about stifling political dissent" than any serious allegations of wrongdoing, and Rush Limbaugh described it as an effort to "criminalize" conservatives.
During one such interview in February, Fox host Megyn Kelly said the charges "raised red flags for some because D'Souza, who has pleaded not guilty, is behind the box office hit 2016: Obama's America, a film that is very critical of the president." D'Souza responded that he couldn't speak about the case specifically, but that he knows "for a fact" that Obama was personally unnerved by his film and said, "I am a public critic of the president, and I do recognize this has made me, to some degree, vulnerable to some forms of counter-attack."
This right-wing media defense was reportedly part of a deliberate plan by D'Souza. The New York Times reported in April that, in a conversation with one of his alleged straw donors, D'Souza said that if he were charged "he might plead guilty, but would initially plead not guilty because that 'gives him a window of opportunity to get his story out there.'"
Conservative pundits were more than happy to oblige this desire. Now will those who championed D'Souza's virtuousness finally condemn his crimes?
For her part, Ingraham will not. She responded immediately to news of the plea by downplaying the seriousness of the crime and doubling down on her claim that D'Souza was prosecuted for political reasons.
Right-wing media are cherry-picking newly released emails from Judicial Watch to allege that the Washington D.C. office of the IRS initiated the flagging of Tea Party groups, omitting the full email chain that reveals the Cincinnati IRS office first flagged Tea Party applicants for tax-exempt status for further review.
Now that the 2014 midterm elections are just around the corner, right-wing media are dragging out some of their favorite attacks on voting rights, despite the fact that these myths have been thoroughly debunked.
While defending the Supreme Court's decision to undo decades of precedent and policy in campaign finance law, hosts of Fox News' The Five falsely suggested that unions can donate unlimited amounts of money to political candidates. In fact, unions are barred from directly donating to candidates and political parties.
In its April 2 decision on McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court decided that overall campaign contribution limits, previously set at $123,200 per individual per two-year election cycle, were unconstitutional. This allows future contributions to be spread among an unlimited number of political candidates, political parties, and PACs.
On April 4, as The Five co-host Bob Beckel criticized the decision and explained that these contribution limits were passed into law following the Watergate scandal, his fellow hosts Dana Perino and Eric Bolling claimed that unions face no limits on contributions, while there were limits on individuals.
But Perino and Bolling are incorrect. While unions, as well as corporations, can as of the 2010 Citizens United decision spend unlimited amounts on elections, they are still barred from direct contributions to candidates or political parties -- which is what the McCutcheon case was about. As USA Today explained:
It's the most important campaign-finance ruling since the high court's 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts independently to influence elections.
The limits on campaign contributions had stood for nearly 40 years. The high court drew a distinction between those contributions, which it said could lead to corruption, and money spent independently in its landmark 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling. Independent spending was expanded in the Citizens United case to include unlimited spending by corporations and labor unions.
Independent expenditures, which unions are allowed to make, are not the same as direct contributions to political candidates and political parties. A guide to federal election rules from The Campaign Legal Center states: "Corporations and labor unions are prohibited from using treasury funds to make a contribution to candidates, political parties, and many types of PACs."
Right-wing media champions of voter purges have been quiet in response to a federal appeals court's decision that Florida officials' attempts to remove noncitizens from voter rolls clearly violated federal law, which protects citizens from these overbroad and error-riden challenges.
Shortly before the 2012 election, Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) and his Secretary of State Kenneth Detzner (R) undertook an effort to purportedly purge the state's voter rolls of noncitizens. The Department of Justice challenged the purge in court, arguing that Florida had violated federal law that prohibits states from booting voters off the rolls within 90 days of a federal election. This law is in place to prevent depriving citizens of the vote because of faulty database checks, performed without enough time to correct the state's errors.
At the time, right-wing media outlets like The Wall Street Journal and National Review Online were overwhelmingly supportive of Governor Scott and his attempts to block people from voting. WSJ's senior editorial writer Jason Riley dismissed the DOJ's challenge, since "[t]he Obama Administration sees racial animus and voter-suppression conspiracies in any Republican-led effort to improve ballot integrity." NRO contributor Hans von Spakovsky also dedicated numerous posts to the issue, calling the DOJ's lawsuit "spurious," and evidence of "politics and ideology driving the legal decision-making" at the agency "as opposed to nonpartisan, objective analysis of the facts and the law."
Von Spakovsky had even more to say on the subject. In a different post about the case in 2012, he complained about the DOJ's "lawlessness" in its attempts to restore the voting rights of affected citizens in Florida:
Time and again, the Holder Justice Department has exhibited politically driven law enforcement. But its latest instance of lawlessness is absolutely brazen.
This goes far beyond Holder's previous actions, such as belittling claims of voter fraud and trying to stop voter ID and other reform measures intended to improve the integrity of the election process. This letter would directly abet vote thieves in a key state as Holder's boss seeks reelection [in 2012].
The Wall Street Journal editorial board was quick to support a Supreme Court decision on campaign finance, in which the conservative justices once again ignored legal precedent and usurped the role of Congress to legislate complicated policy.
On April 2, the Supreme Court decided McCutcheon v. FEC (also known as "the next Citizens United"), and held that overall campaign contribution limits -- previously set at $123,200 -- were unconstitutional. Although the Court did not rule on the individual campaign limits of $5,200 per candidate in the two-year election cycle, the conservative justices struck down the aggregate limits, allowing future contributions to be spread among an unlimited amount of candidates, political parties, and PACs. Although Congress had set those overall campaign limits in the wake of the Watergate scandals to guard against institutional corruption or the appearance of corruption -- a goal repeatedly upheld by the Supreme Court -- the Court in McCutcheon ignored this precedent, judicially narrowing future regulation so that "Congress may target only a specific type of corruption -- 'quid pro quo' corruption."
The WSJ, which has been misinforming about this case from the beginning, was predictably pleased with the outcome in McCutcheon. Although the WSJ editorial board lectures about fidelity to the law when it comes to legal decisions that might affect corporate wealth, it was not so bothered at the Court's rejection of precedent in McCutcheon. In an April 2 editorial, it celebrated the decision as a win for "the core promise of American liberty" and applauded the Court for "walking back" a "historic blunder." In fact, the WSJ really only had one complaint about the McCutcheon decision: why didn't conservative Chief Justice John Roberts go even further?
In its original First Amendment sin, Buckley v. Valeo in 1976, the Court said government can regulate political contributions to limit the risk of "quid pro quo" corruption. That is, money in return for a political favor. But Congress has gone well beyond that narrow definition of corruption to include trying to limit some donors but not others or simply the amount of money in politics.
We wish the Court had gone further and overturned all of Buckley, as Justice Clarence Thomas urged in his concurring opinion. As he put it, Buckley is now "a rule without a rationale" given how much the Court has eroded its original logic. But the Justices didn't need to go that far to overturn overall donor limits, and Chief Justice Roberts prefers incremental legal progress. Justice Thomas is nonetheless a John the Baptist on political speech, and the current majority may vindicate his logic in a future case.
We hope it's soon given the pernicious doctrine laid out in the dissent joined by all four liberals. "The First Amendment advances not only the individual's right to engage in political speech, but also the public's interest in preserving a democratic order in which collective speech matters," wrote Justice Stephen Breyer (his italics).
"Collective speech" sounds Orwellian as a legal doctrine that invites government as a leveller of free speech and is alien to the U.S. constitutional tradition. The scary thought is that the Court is only one heart attack away from gutting the core promise of American liberty.
After the conservative justices gutted the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, right-wing media complained that criticisms of the legal challenge were overblown because other provisions of the VRA remain intact to fight voter suppression. But now some of those same right-wing media figures have begun to flip-flop on that position, arguing that another crucial component of the VRA is unconstitutional as well.
From the March 5 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
James O'Keefe, a right-wing performance artist known for his undercover videos that supposedly "expose" progressive "fraud," has released a new video falsely accusing conservative Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) of "excluding whites" from protection under his new Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA), a distortion of this bipartisan bill that has already been repeated in the National Review Online.
O'Keefe's new video shows him mysteriously dressed in camouflage, dancing to New Order's "Round and Round," and ultimately "confronting" Sensenbrenner at a town hall meeting about supposedly alarming anti-white language in the VRAA. Sensenbrenner, as he has in the past, began working on both sides of the aisle on this new VRA legislation last year, after the Supreme Court gutted crucial voter suppression protections in Shelby County v. Holder.
In the video, O'Keefe lectures Sensenbrenner on his own bill, claiming that "[i]n the legislation, it seems to contain language that explicitly removes white people from the protections of the Voting Rights Act." Sensenbrenner interrupts O'Keefe to correctly point out that the law "does not do that. There is nothing targeting people by race in the Voting Rights Act." O'Keefe eventually accuses Sensenbrenner of "doing the work of [U.S. Attorney General] Eric Holder and the race-hustlers with this language in the bill."
Fox News host Megyn Kelly hid the fact that her colleagues pushed baseless claims that conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza was politically targeted by the FBI after he was indicted for breaking campaign finance laws.
On February 21, Kelly hosted D'Souza to defend himself from a recent FBI indictment that charged him with campaign finance fraud and to promote his latest anti-Obama film. Kelly reported on a letter sent by four Republican senator to the FBI claiming there is a perception that D'Souza "may have been targeted because of his outspoken criticisms" of President Obama. Kelly then went on to list only Alan Dershowitz as among those who questioned the motivation behind the charges, saying the charges "immediately rais[ed] red flags for some because D'Souza, who has pleaded not guilty, is behind the box office hit 2016: Obama's America, a film that is very critical of the president":
Fox News hosts were among those that claimed the charges were politically motivated, a fact that Kelly failed to mention. While interviewing D'Souza on January 31, Sean Hannity said he was the "latest victim to be targeted" and that he was placed on the president's "enemies list." Hosts of The Five joined in by saying they believed the charges were "politically motivated" and that they are an example of liberals "rediscovering their inner Stalin." Others on Fox have criticized the indictment as an example of "conservatives under attack."
In its continued opposition to the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and a proposed amendment to this historic law, The Wall Street Journal published a misleading op-ed by Hans von Spakovsky, an unreliable contributor to the National Review Online.
The op-ed of von Spakovsky, a right-wing activist who has called the "modern 'civil rights' movement" indistinguishable from "discriminators and segregationists of prior generations" and whose attempts to fearmonger about "virtually non-existent" voter fraud have been repeatedly discredited, followed a WSJ editorial that compared the bipartisan attempts of Congress to update the VRA with that of "Jim Crow era Southerners."
Although this new effort to strengthen the VRA through the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 has prominent Republican support, von Spakovsky claimed "[t]his bill really isn't about the [Supreme Court's recent Shelby County v. Holder] decision. It is about having the federal government manipulate election rules to propagate racial gerrymandering and guarantee success for Democratic candidates." From the WSJ op-ed, which defended the conservative justices' gutting of the VRA in Shelby County and smeared the subsequent bipartisan efforts to repair the damage:
Before Shelby County, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act required certain states to get "preclearance" from the federal government before making any voting changes. But the Supreme Court ruled that the formula to determine which jurisdictions were covered was unconstitutional because it was based on 40-year-old turnout data that did not reflect contemporary conditions. Census Bureau data show that black-voter turnout is on a par with or exceeds that of white voters in many of the formerly covered states and is higher than the rest of the country. We simply don't need Section 5 anymore.
In Shelby County, a radical break from precedent that has been described by experts as "on a par with the Court's odious Dred Scott and Plessy decisions and other utterly lamentable expressions of judicial indifference to the ugly realities of racial life in America," the bitterly divided Supreme Court struck at the heart of the VRA's efficacy by dismantling its "preclearance" process.
Even as the conservatives did so, however, Chief Justice John Roberts explicitly told Congress to fix this formula that requires covered jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to submit election changes for federal review before implementation. Contrary to von Spakovsky's strange assertion that "this bill really isn't about" Shelby County and is "an attempt to circumvent" the decision, this new bipartisan legislation is actually a direct response to Roberts' invitation to Congress to "draft another formula based on current conditions."
Admittedly, this new formula is more complex than von Spakovsky's preferred method of determining voter suppression by "turnout data," a confusion between correlation and causation that has been described as a rudimentary failure of "Statistics 101." Rather, Section 5 of the VRA imposes the preclearance process on jurisdictions with an incorrigible track record of suppressing votes based on race, and the formula to determine this discrimination has been changed in the new legislation to incorporate a comprehensive and rolling 15-year record.
The claim of the op-ed that the old formula led to "unwarranted objections" on the part of the Department of Justice toward alleged voter suppression is also inaccurate; this preclearance mechanism has been extremely effective at stopping racially discriminatory election changes. In fact, the two cases that von Spakovsky highlights both involved Section 5 successes.