On a seemingly never-ending hunt for bad news about Hillary Clinton and her political prospects, the New York Times recently published a front-page article about how the former first lady is busy trying to mend fences between herself and African-Americans, "the constituency that was most scarred during her first bid for the presidency."
Under the headline, "Eye on 2016, Clintons Rebuild Bond With Blacks," the Times claimed the turbulent Democratic primary from 2008 left deep wounds and assumed Hillary Clinton's appearances before black audience this year represented a pointed effort to fix that.
Usually when trying to assess a voting community's perception of a politician or public figure, reporters consult polling data. In this case the Times did not. Certain that Hillary needed to "rebuild" a "bond" with black voters, the Times chose to ignore all the polling data that indicates she currently enjoys extraordinary support among black voters. Indeed, including polling results in the article would have completely undercut the premise. (Why would you "rebuild" a bond that's amazingly strong?)
Instead, the Times omitted any reference to a Quinnipiac poll from this summer that found 88 percent of black voters view her favorably. The Times also ignored the recent NBC/WSJ poll that found in a hypothetical match-up against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Clinton would receive 83 percent of the black vote, versus Christie's four percent. As Political scientist John Sides noted, "Among black voters, any negative feelings about Hillary Clinton were erased long ago."
As for Bill Clinton, a Fox News poll from this year revealed that 90 percent of "non-whites" view the former president favorably.
The Times piece seemed to be little more than an attempt to pick at a five-year old political wound, while glossing over the fact that the abrasion's been healed for years. It was the Times trolling around in search of a conflict and justifying the creation of a dedicated beat devoted to the former secretary of state when, in this case, no conflict exists. (What's next for the daily, a look at how Clinton has to "rebuild" her bond with middle aged women?)
The baffling Times article was just the latest, and perhaps the most egregious, example of a new school of commentary that's cropped up around the Clintons, and specifically around speculation regarding Hillary's presidential plans in 2016. Not content with what-if columns, articles and panel discussions, the press increasingly spends significant time and energy conjuring up what could go wrong if Clinton ran.
Despite Clinton's enviable position with regards to her sky-high name recognition, a proven ability to fundraise, and her strong favorable ratings, the starting point for much of the Clinton coverage lately is She Might Be Doomed. (The New Yorker's Amy Davidson has already declared Clinton's 2016 campaign to be a "predestined" "train wreck.") Does anyone remember two years worth of He Might Be Doomed coverage for George W. Bush when he emerged as the clear Republican front runner well before the 2000 campaign?
That's not to suggest that Clinton is off limits from tough, skeptical coverage and commentary. She's not. But pretending she has to rebuild a relationship that's not broken? That's not skepticism, that's just spin.
Right-wing media claimed opposition to the Affordable Care Act influenced the Virginia governor election despite polls that show the health reform law was an insignificant factor in the race.
Following Republican Ken Cuccinelli's defeat in the Virginia gubernatorial race, conservative media blamed the Republican Party establishment for not supporting Cuccinelli's right-wing agenda.
Fox News lent credence to True the Vote's fearmongering over Obamacare and voter registration during the network's 2013 election night coverage, never acknowledging the extremist nature of the tea party group.
When signing up for health insurance on the HealthCare.gov exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), customers are prompted with the option to register to vote. This is due to the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which requires state agencies engaged in public assistance to offer voter registration services, including the state and federally-run exchanges.
According to True the Vote (TTV), an activist tea party group which describes itself as an election watchdog organization, the registration option will "corrupt" voter rolls and lead to "bogus voter registrations." As evidence, the group links to a report from Demos, a liberal think tank, detailing how many Americans could potentially register to vote because of the ACA. True the Vote's theory is that health care navigators like Planned Parenthood -- organizations that assist people in exploring their insurance options in the exchanges -- will use the registration information "in political activities."
A November 5 Special Report package treated True the Vote's conspiracy theory as a damning revelation. Host Bret Baier introduced the segment by saying, "The president's plan is not just about making sure everyone has insurance. There is also a not-so-subtle political objective."
Fox correspondent Shannon Bream then profiled True the Vote's concerns, featuring TTV president Catherine Engelbrecht's claims that "the implications of this are mind-blowing."
BREAM: Pursuant to the National Voter Registration Act, state agencies that provide public assistance are also required to give applicants the opportunity to register to vote. A number of states believe that includes the health care exchanges. ... The Demos document also stresses that navigators be trained to walk applicants through the voter registration process, but it's the navigators critics are worried about, saying groups with partisan agendas like Planned Parenthood shouldn't be handling voter information. True the Vote, which calls itself a citizen-led organization aimed at restoring integrity to the U.S. election system, says it's been unable to get any answers about how the voter registrations are being transmitted or verified. And worries about the potential for confusion.
What Fox never admits is that True the Vote is a discredited organization with a partisan agenda.
After months of support from conservative talk radio and other right-wing media, commonwealth Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli failed to win the race to become Virgnia's next governor. Even before Election Day, conservative commentators like Mark Levin had already begun lashing out at "RINOs" and Republicans like Karl Rove for not sufficiently supporting Cuccinelli.
Conservative Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor George Will cherry-picked outlier examples of campaign finance violations while ignoring legitimate concerns about the potential for big-money donors to corrupt elections and balloted measures .
In his October 30 column, Will attacks campaign finance reform and celebrates the Supreme Court's infamous Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for large donors to corrupt elections with outsized contributions. Will highlights a pair of lower-court cases where judges struck down regulations on political speech that affected seemingly small-time civic participation to downplay the danger of political corruption, conveniently overlooking how these decisions might make it easier for large corporations to obfuscate their own political participation:
Brick by brick, judges are dismantling the wall of separation that legislators have built between political activity and the First Amendment's protections of free speech and association. The latest examples, from Mississippi and Arizona, reflect the judiciary's proper engagement in defending citizens from the regulation of political speech, a.k.a. "campaign finance reform."
In 2011, a few like-minded friends and neighbors in Oxford, Miss., who had been meeting for a few years to discuss politics, decided to work together to support passage of an initiative amending Mississippi's Constitution. The amendment, restricting the power of the state and local governments to take private property by eminent domain, was provoked by the U.S. Supreme Court's 2005 Kelo ruling that governments could, without violating the Fifth Amendment ("nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation"), take property for the "public use" of transferring it to persons who would pay more taxes to the government.
The Mississippi friends and neighbors wanted to pool their funds to purchase posters, fliers and local newspaper advertising. They discovered that if, as a group, they spent more than $200 to do these simple things, they would be required by the state's campaign finance law to register as a "political committee." And if, as individuals, any of them spent more than $200 supporting the initiative, they must report this political activity to the state.
Mississippi defines a political committee as any group of persons spending more than $200 to influence voters for or against candidates "or balloted measures." Supposedly, regulation of political activity is to prevent corruption of a candidate or the appearance thereof. How does one corrupt a "balloted measure"?
The answer to this question should be obvious, and even Will begrudgingly admits "there is some slight informational value in knowing where money supporting a voter initiative comes from." Although Will doesn't mention it, the judge in the Mississippi case clearly left the door open for future regulations of political speech, giving a nod to the possibility of improper influence with respect to ballot initiatives:
Significantly, the Court does not hold that Mississippi may not regulate individuals and groups attempting to influence constitutional ballot measures. Instead, the Court holds only that under the current regulatory scheme, which is convoluted and exacting, the requirements are too burdensome for the State's $200 threshold.
Nevertheless, Will goes on to call the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United -- one that allowed a tsunami of corporate money to enter the election process -- an "excellent" one. But even Citizens United noted the corrupting danger of unchecked money in the political system, and transparency was explicitly recognized as the critical protection against such a problem.
Fox News provided airtime to Milton Wolf, a self-described tea party conservative who was billed as "Obama's second cousin, once removed," to promote his campaign and ask for donations to finance his challenge to Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) in the Republican primary.
Appearing on The Real Story, Wolf told host Gretchen Carlson he was running to stop Obama from "destroying America." He accused Obama of failing to understand American exceptionalism, and attacked the Affordable Care Act, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and his primary opponent. At the end of the interview Wolf gave out his website address and told Carlson that "your viewers can contribute, can get on our website, and they can help us get this job done." Laughing, Carlson told him, "you may be a doctor but you're a good politician already, you know how to talk."
Rush Limbaugh wants to know why George Will can root for Obamacare to fail without consequence while he faced criticism for hoping Obama fails, sentiments that are "the same thing" according to the radio host.
Newly-crowned Fox contributor George Will appeared on Fox News Sunday's online after-show Panel Plus on October 27 to discuss glitches in Healthcare.gov. Will told the panel, "Of course I want Obamacare to fail. Because if it doesn't fail, it will just further entangle American society with a government that is not up to this."
To Rush Limbaugh, Will's remarks reflected the same sentiment Limbaugh himself expressed back in 2009. Because "if you want Obamacare to fail," Limbaugh reasoned, "you want Obama to fail."
Indeed, four days before then-President-elect Barack Obama took office in 2009, Limbaugh infamously declared that he "hope[s] Obama fails," a refrain he repeated that day and throughout Obama's presidency.
Part of the impetus behind this sentiment, Limbaugh explained at the time, is that he did not want the government involved in health care:
LIMBAUGH: Look, what he's talking about is the absorption of as much of the private sector by the US government as possible, from the banking business, to the mortgage industry, the automobile business, to health care. I do not want the government in charge of all of these things. I don't want this to work.
Now, Limbaugh is attempting to drag George Will under the bus with him. On the October 28 edition of his radio program, Limbaugh aired Will's remarks about his desire for Obamacare to fail, and claimed this was the "same thing" he had said in 2009 for "the exact same reasons":
The National Review Online is trying to push back on the mea culpa of a judge who now thinks strict voter ID does in fact impermissibly discriminate, maintaining its long-standing position as a supporter of election changes that have been widely denounced as blatant forms of voter suppression.
In 2007, well-known and respected conservative Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld a voter ID law in Indiana that was the first in a wave of increasingly stricter restrictions on the right to vote passed by Republican-controlled legislatures. Affirmed by a splintered Supreme Court, as the sole high-profile legal decision on the sort of unnecessary and redundant voter ID laws that are now widely promoted by the GOP, Crawford v. Marion County Elections Board has been incessantly trumpeted by right-wing media as the legal underpinning for their obsession with election changes that are documented to suppress the vote.
Now that Posner has bluntly admitted he was wrong and the evidence shows that strict voter ID is "now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than fraud prevention," NRO is resorting to smearing the judge's integrity and intelligence.
Legal contributor Hans von Spakovsky, the repeatedly discredited champion of photo voter ID laws as the alleged "solution" to the virtually non-existent "problem" of in-person voter fraud, responded to the news of Posner's recent admission by claiming the judge had "been taken in" by the "Left's well-oiled propaganda machine." NRO's in-house legal expert, Ed Whelan, asserted that a switch in judgment by the judge was "weak" and praised a Washington Post columnist who attacked the judge as unethical for speaking publicly.
Von Spakovsky's attempt to rebut Posner's revelation by pointing to increased turnout in communities of color was a rehash of his continued failing of Statistics 101. As has been explained to von Spakovsky and others by statisticians, academics, and congressmen, just because more persons of color are voting now as the country grows more diverse doesn't mean that overly restrictive voting changes aren't suppressing the vote.
Not only is this confusing causation with correlation, but suppressing the vote also occurs when it becomes harder to do, not just when it is blocked entirely. The federal judge who blocked Texas' strict voter ID law because 600,000 to 800,000 citizens do not have easy access to the supporting documentation needed for the new identification requirements held that "a law that forces poorer citizens to choose between their wages and their franchise unquestionably denies or abridges their right to vote."
Fox News' Carl Cameron highlighted a misleading attack ad by Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli while simultaneously smearing his opponent, Terry McAuliffe, as having "had character questions for decades."
During an October 18 report on Happening Now, Cameron aired a portion of a new Cuccinelli campaign ad which portrayed McAuliffe as a "corrupt insider" by attempting to link him to Joseph Caramadre, a Rhode Island businessman who recently pleaded guilty to wire fraud. Cameron claimed that Cuccinelli has "been battling really hard" and "making sure that voters get all the goriest details about scandals that are currently under investigation related to this Democratic nominee."
Cameron did not provide any context for the ad, failing to point out that McAuliffe was only one of dozens of passive investors with Caramadre -- a group that includes a police chief, a state supreme court justice, and a Catholic priest. In fact, according to the Associated Press, "There is no allegation of wrongdoing by McAuliffe or that he or other investors knew of efforts to defraud the terminally ill."
Cuccinelli has faced his own questions regarding the ethicality of his conduct while Virginia Attorney General, something Cameron omitted.
Cameron would do well to turn a critical eye toward Cuccinelli's attacks on McAuliffe. A Washington Post fact check of a previous Cuccinelli ad found, "From what is publicly known, there are no federal inquiries directly into McAuliffe's conduct. It would be a stretch to say otherwise."
Photo Credit: Tyler Hansen.
From the October 17 edition of Cumulus Media Networks' The Mark Levin Show:
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From the October 17 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
A new study of public opinion regarding voter ID laws found that viewers of Fox News are much more likely to support those measures than other media consumers, and that individuals who wrongly believe voter fraud is common are more likely to support voter ID laws. These two groups have one thing in common -- exposure to right-wing misinformation about voter fraud.
In recent years, GOP-controlled state legislatures have been passing a series of measures ostensibly designed to protect the integrity of elections -- laws that, for example, require voters to present a government-issued photo id when attempting to cast a ballot. Given the absence of any significant voter fraud crisis in America and the fact that such laws negatively and disproportionately affect the ability of traditionally Democratic-voting demographics to cast a ballot, many have argued that these laws are meant only to stifle political opposition to the Republican party by making it harder for Democrats to get elected -- even Republicans have admitted as much.
On October 4, Public Opinion Quarterly published a study conducted by two professors at the University of Delaware titled, "The Foundations of Public Opinion on Voter ID Laws." The study found that "perceptions of voting fraud as 'common' are associated with support for voter ID laws." The study also found that Fox News viewers "are particularly likely to support voter ID laws, though no other forms of media use are significantly related to support."
Voter fraud is not common. As the study noted, a state-by-state analysis of voting fraud conducted by the Carnegie Corporation of New York found "there were 2,068 cases of reported fraud among the millions of votes cast from 2000 to 2011. Over half of these cases of fraud involved problems with absentee ballots, which require no identification." A study by NYU's Brennan Center for Justice found in-person voter fraud to be "more rare than death by lightning," and a New York Times investigation found "virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections."
Additionally, voter ID laws can disenfranchise voters -- particularly minorities, students, and the elderly. The Brennan Center conducted a poll which found that 11 percent of Americans say they do not possess government-issued photo identification, and this number includes "25 percent of African Americans, 16 percent of Hispanics, and 18 percent of persons aged 65 and older."
Although the study does not determine a causal relationship between exposure to Fox News and the false belief that voter fraud is common, this effect would not be surprising. Fox News frequently misinforms viewers about voter ID laws and the threat of voter fraud. Below is just a sample of the kind of slanted coverage Fox presents.
The University of Delaware study notes that so far, many Americans remain relatively unfamiliar with voter ID laws. According to the authors, this suggests that "support for voter ID laws is susceptible to political communication effects." Fox News, which often functions as the communications arm of the Republican Party, has not been shy about exploiting this vulnerability.
Fox jumped on a baseless and easily debunked conspiracy theory about a Democratic politician just days before Election Day.
The Daily Caller caused a stir on October 14 by publishing a story promoting flimsy claims that Newark Mayor and New Jersey senatorial candidate Cory Booker does not actually live in New Jersey. In the article, writer Charles Johnson and "filmmaker" Joel Gilbert (more on him in a minute) interview a handful of Booker's "supposed neighbors" claiming he has "never" lived in Newark and may actually live in New York, but provide no substantial evidence to support their claims.
After the story was promoted widely by conservative online media and subsequently adopted by Steve Lonegan, Booker's opponent in this week's special senate election, it fell apart. Buzzfeed explains that while "there is no clear evidence to support claims Booker lives elsewhere," property records and other documentation suggest that he does, in fact, live in Newark.
Slate's David Weigel points out another reason the story doesn't pass the smell test: the involvement of Joel Gilbert. Gilbert -- the "filmmaker" whose interviews served as a central facet of the Caller piece -- is best known for Dreams from My Real Father, the documentary he released in 2012 arguing that President Obama is the secret love child of communist poet Frank Marshall Davis.
Weigel explains that the misfire on Booker may be "only the second-flimsiest story that [Daily Caller] has published about a New Jersey politician this year," following that publication's ill-fated series of stories claiming New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez had short-changed prostitutes in the Dominican Republic.
Despite the story being entirely unconvincing and coming in part from a disreputable conspiracy theorist, it of course made it into the Fox News bubble, because it targeted a Democrat. (Fox had previously heavily promoted the Caller's series on Menendez, as well.)
The Associated Press took down a false story that jumped the gun in order to accuse Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe of lying to federal investigators. Before the AP killed the story, however, the right-wing media had already amplified the false report.
In an October 9 article, AP political writer Bob Lewis reported that McAuliffe had allegedly "lied to a federal official investigating a Rhode Island estate planner now imprisoned for receiving death benefits on annuities secured on terminally ill people without their knowledge." The AP's report was based on court documents alleging that an individual identified only as "T.M." had lied to a postal inspector about participating in a death benefit fraud:
The McAuliffe campaign responded after the AP published its report, denying that the "T.M." identified in the court documents was McAuliffe and pointing out that "he was not interviewed by law enforcement on April 20, 2010; rather, he was in Richmond for a day of meetings." The campaign further stated that McAuliffe was a "passive investor" and "he was never involved in the referral of any annuitants to Mr. [Joseph] Caramadre, ever."
Shortly after posting the report, the AP withdrew it. Lewis also issued a retraction, tweeting, "The error was mine and I take responsibility for it." But before the story was withdrawn, it was picked up by several media outlets and amplified by right-wing blog Hot Air, which stated:
Normally in an October surprise like this, one would suspect dirty tricks by the opposing campaign. That doesn't appear to be the case here, though. This isn't an old report uncovered in oppo research, but a new filing in a federal court. McAuliffe's name only got linked to the Caramadre case today. Ken Cuccinelli is the current AG of Virginia, but there isn't any apparent connection between the state AG's office and a federal investigation in Rhode Island, at least not at the moment.
So at least for the moment, this looks like a very big and unspinnable problem for Team McAuliffe, and not just in the campaign. Lying to federal investigators is obstruction of justice, which is a very significant felony -- as Scooter Libby can attest. McAuliffe is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but that's only in the legal sense, not the political sense.
Hot Air also updated its blog after the AP story was withdrawn.
UPDATE: On October 10, The Associated Press issued the following statement:
The initial alert moved on AP's Virginia state wire at9:45 p.m. The story was withdrawn one hour and 38 minutes later. That was an hour and 38 minutes too long. As our retraction said, "The indictment did not identify McAuliffe as the 'T.M.' who allegedly lied to investigators."
UPDATE 2: According to the Huffington Post, the Associated Press has fired both Bob Lewis and editor Dena Potter and is expected to reprimand another unnamed editor:
The Associated Press has fired a reporter and editor over an erroneous Oct. 9 report that Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe lied to an investigator in a federal fraud case, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The AP retracted the article in question roughly an hour and a half after publication, and last week, suspended its author, veteran political reporter Bob Lewis.
According to sources, Lewis has since been fired. He could not be reached for comment.
The AP has also fired Dena Potter, a Richmond-based news editor for Virginia and West Virginia.
When reached by phone, Potter instructed this reporter to call Paul Colford, the AP's Director of Media Relations. Colford declined to comment on personnel matters.
Another editor is expected to be reprimanded over the incident, according to sources.