For GOP national candidates, navigating the conservative media is kind of like NASA executing a gravitational slingshot: there's a hot, dense center of gravity that you want to get just close enough to so that your campaign rocket ship gets a boost in the right direction. Veer too far and you'll drift into the political void. Get too close and you'll crash hard onto Planet Wingnut.
This complicated act of political physics is becoming a defining characteristic of national Republican politics. Would-be candidates who don't hold elected office or otherwise lack a national platform turn to Fox News for exposure (and in the case of paid contributors, a paycheck). Anyone who wants to make it past the Ames straw poll can't risk drawing the ire of a big name radio host. Of course, as Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum can attest, you can't be too cozy with the activist right either. It's tough to pull off, particularly as talk radio and conservative online media slouch further and further to the right.
Those of us who remember the 2012 election know that presidential candidates who channel the conservative blogosphere and poach talking points from Fox News quickly run into trouble. Mitt Romney's exposition on the 47 percent and his claims about President Obama's global "apology tour" traced their roots back to the conservative blogosphere. Romney (one could argue) indulged in this sort of rhetoric because he felt he had to boost his standing among the Republican base.
With that in mind, we turn to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), whose trip to Iowa last week stoked a round of 2016 speculation. Cruz is a different matter from the likes of Romney. Conservative activists love the junior senator from Texas, and he's a Fox News favorite (a Nexis search shows he's been on Hannity five times this year already). He'll enthusiastically grab onto conservative media narratives and carry them into Senate hearing rooms.
From the July 29 edition of Current TV's Talking Liberally with Stephanie Miller:
Loading the player reg...
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent claimed that he is "the antithesis of a racist" and that instead President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder "are clearly guilty of racism" because "they make public judgments based on the color of someone's skin instead of the content of their character."
In his regular column for conservative website Rare, Nugent attacked the "hateful media" for leveling charges of racism against him after he made a series of racially charged comments in wake of the acquittal of George Zimmerman. According to Nugent, the people he meets across the country are "aghast at the vulgar dishonesty of a media that has plummeted into the soulless abyss of hurling the hateful accusation of 'racism' at [him] and anybody they disagree with."
The real racists, according to Nugent, are Obama and Holder, who he suggests judged Zimmerman -- who was acquitted of murdering Florida teenager Trayvon Martin -- on the basis of his race and not his character:
From the July 27 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
Loading the player reg...
National Rifle Association board member and conservative columnist Ted Nugent continued to stereotype African-Americans as violent, exemplifying a media trend of coverage that exaggerates African-American criminality.
In his regular column for conspiracy website WND, Nugent addressed the topic of race and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, claiming in a July 24 opinion piece that there is a "mindless tendency to violence we see in black communities across America":
Why wasn't Trayvon [Martin] educated and raised to simply approach someone he wasn't sure about and politely ask what was going on and explain he was headed home? Had he, I am confident that Zimmerman would have called off the authorities and everything would have been fine.
Why the nasty "creepy a-- cracker" racism and impulse to attack? Where does this come from? Is it the same mindless tendency to violence we see in black communities across America, most heartbreakingly in Chicago pretty much every day of the week? Where does this come from? And why is it so prevalent?
This type of generalization about African-Americans is in line with racially charged comments Nugent made on entertainer Nick Cannon's podcast on July 23. In advocating for the racial profiling of African-Americans, Nugent said that his views were informed by watching news reports featuring African-Americans accused of rape, burglary and murder:
NUGENT: I think that typically when you see the, I don't even remember the term they use, but the gangs of blacks lately that have been just been going down the downtown streets and breaking windows on cars. We played the Milwaukee state fair a couple years ago and these black mobs were just attacking white folks coming out of the fair. And over and over again I watch the news and here's a rape and here's a burglary and here's a murder in Chicago. 29 shot. 29 blacks shot by 29 blacks. At some point you got to be afraid of black and white dogs if the Dalmatian's doing the biting.
In fact research into media portrayals of African-American crime indicates that media is responsible for creating a perception of criminality that does not reflect reality. According to research by Kelly Welch, an Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Villanova University, African-American criminality is exaggerated due to media portrayals of young African-American men as criminal and racial profiling by criminal justice officials:
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent claimed to be "so anti-racist" that people "would be hard pressed ... to find someone who has fought racism more than [he has]," moments before suggesting that African-Americans should be profiled the same way members of a community might profile a breed of dog that was attacking children.
Nugent's comments, which he made on entertainer Nick Cannon's July 23 podcast, are the latest inflammatory remarks he has made on the topic of race since the July 13 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin.
Referencing July 19 remarks by President Obama that addressed issues of race in the country, Nugent said that a "little old white lady" who "clutches her purse tightly and shivers" when an African-American man joins her on an elevator has not wrongly "prejudged" in the same sense that "stormy clouds" are accurate predictors of a destructive weather event.
Nugent elaborated on this point, saying when "we've witnessed a number of storms that have destroyed homes, and threatened lives, and tipped over cars, I don't think we're prejudging those storm threats. I don't think we are prejudging. I think we are taking evidence, and going, 'uh-oh black clouds coming in, wind is picking up, I think I better head for a shelter.' "
Nugent made a second analogy concerning racial profiling, stating, "I think when you use the word profile, if a Dalmatian has been biting the children in the neighborhood, I think we're going to look for a black and white dog."
Two recent stories based on faulty premises -- an Illinois Review post that falsely claimed President Obama had supported "Stand Your Ground" as an Illinois state legislator, and a since-corrected BuzzFeed report that pushed the erroneous conclusion that gun violence prevention group Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) has suffered a membership drop -- have nonetheless spread throughout the right-wing media.
The cases are not parallel -- Illinois Review is a minor conservative Illinois political blog (their Twitter handle has about 3,000 followers) whose story was too good to check for the right-wing media, while the BuzzFeed story is an unfortunate outlier for a publication that typically produces good reporting. But the articles nonetheless illustrate the first-mover problem of correcting misinformation -- once a charge is levied and begins gaining momentum it becomes difficult to stop, no matter how clearly false the claim, due to the right-wing media apparatus that will push any story considered damaging to progressives.
The basis of the July 22 BuzzFeed article was that MAIG is losing membership ("is finding it hard to keep its membership up") because it has become too strident in its recent push for stronger gun laws. But BuzzFeed's premise was false: MAIG has actually seen an increase in membership during the period the article covered, with more than 100 mayors joining the coalition during that time of increased political action.
Buzzfeed has since updated its article, making a minor change to the text "to reiterate the fact that Mayors Against Illegal Guns is gaining more members than it's losing." But of course, that "fact" completely repudiates the premise of the article.
And of course, the damage has been done. The idea of MAIG shedding membership has already spread through the conservative echo chamber. The story was picked up by a number of right-wing outlets, with Breitbart News and the New York Post stating outright that the story indicated that the group's membership was down overall. The Post article in particular, which ran under the headline "weakened arsenal," linked the group "struggling to replace ex-members" to their focus "on banning weapons and other tough new gun-control measures" (by contrast, a New York Daily News piece cited the BuzzFeed report but framed the story with the fact that the group is larger and growing faster than ever before).
These sorts of misguided stories have an impact on the political debate. One NRA activist, who acknowledged that the number of mayors leaving "isn't a huge blow to MAIG," wrote that BuzzFeed's story "isn't good for MAIG. They will have to counter this meme, and that's good for us. Make them work for it."
Buzzfeed is alleging that the gun violence prevention group Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) "is finding it hard to keep its membership up," citing a few dozen of the group's hundreds of mayors who have resigned their offices, lost re-election, or chosen to leave the group due to "political heat." In reality, the group has seen its membership increase by 17 percent during roughly the period of time the article discusses.
In suggesting that mayors would flee a group that supports stronger gun laws in the face of political pressure from the National Rifle Association, the Buzzfeed article buttresses a long-running media myth that politicians who oppose the NRA should fear being defeated for reelection.
In the article, headlined "Mayors Abandon [NYC Mayor Michael] Bloomberg's Gun Control Group," Buzzfeed called MAIG "a rare group battling in the trenches against the well-organized and deep-pocketed" NRA. The article cites four mayors who "appear not quite to have signed on for that level of political heat" and left the organization because they disagree with some of its recent policy stances. The article further stated:
According to an old version of its member list, saved on a blog dated back to late February, more than 50 mayors who were then listed on MAIG's website are no longer there. Most of the mayors whose names are no longer affiliated with the group are off the list either because they resigned or lost an election, but others have specifically asked to be removed.
BuzzFeed reached out to dozens of the replacement mayors and none of them would confirm if they planned to join the group or if they were even considering it
Buzzfeed reported halfway through the article that, according to the group's executive director, MAIG "is growing much faster than it is shrinking" -- a claim that, if true, would seem to debunk the premise of the story. After all, if the group is replacing members at a faster rate than it is losing them, the group could hardly be said to be "finding it hard to keep its membership up."
The reporter does not appear to have attempted to verify this statement, instead placing it in opposition to the balance of his reporting. But a review of membership lists published on the group's website indicates that MAIG has seen a dramatic increase in mayors choosing to affiliate with the group in recent months.
Buzzfeed did not link to the "old version of its member list" it compared to the group's current roster of affiliated mayors. But the version of the group's membership list saved to the Internet Archive on January 27 lists 857 mayors; the list currently posted on MAIG's website features 1005, an increase of 148 mayors. According to a Media Matters review, MAIG has seen its representation increase in 33 states during that period; it has held level in 6 states and decreased in 8 states.
UPDATE: Buzzfeed has updated their article, changing their original report that MAIG "is finding it hard to keep its membership up" to indicate instead that the group "is finding it hard to maintain some of its members." In a correction appended to the piece, Buzzfeed explained that the change was made "to reiterate the fact that Mayors Against Illegal Guns is gaining more members than it's losing."
Right-wing media are misrepresenting an Illinois bill to falsely accuse President Obama of hypocrisy.
On July 19, in remarks on Trayvon Martin, Obama called for a review of Stand Your Ground laws, which made it legal for people to defend themselves with lethal force if they believe their lives or safety are in danger, even if they can retreat. Conservative media figures responded by distorting a 2004 bill Obama supported while serving as a state senator in Illinois to accuse him of hypocrisy.
During an appearance on Fox News' America's Newsroom, guest and conservative radio host David Webb, pointing to Obama's remarks, accused the president of "political hypocrisy," claiming, "In 2004, it was President Obama who co-sponsored a bill in Illinois that strengthened the Stand Your Ground law."
John Fund, a Fox News contributor and National Review columnist, wrote that Obama "co-sponsored a bill that strengthened his state's 1961 Stand Your Ground law" despite spending "part of his surprise appearance at last Friday's White House press briefing urging that the Stand Your Ground laws that exist in 31 states be reexamined."
Likewise, conservative blogger Jim Hoft wrote: "On Friday Barack Obama called for a review of the controversial Stand Your Ground laws that were at the heart of the killing of Trayvon Martin. But back in 2004 Illinois state Senator Barack Obama co-sponsored legislation expanding the state's Stand Your Ground laws."
"Stand your ground" is substantively different than what Obama backed in Illinois. He backed a tweak to the "castle doctrine," which reads like this.A person is justified in the use of force against another when and to the extent that he reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to prevent or terminate such other's trespass on or other tortious or criminal interference with her real property (other than a dwelling) or personal property, lawfully in his possession or in the possession of another who is a member of his immediate family or household or of a person whose property he has a legal duty to protect.
"Stand your ground" takes the concept of the castle doctrine and turns it into a traveling force field of sorts. Here's Florida's language:
A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
It should also be noted that Florida enacted the first Stand Your Ground law in 2005, a year after the Illinois bill in question had passed.
From the July 22 edition of Current TV's Talking Liberally with Stephanie Miller:
Loading the player reg...
President Obama noted that analysis of the George Zimmerman trial has led to a misguided focus on black crime rates. Indeed, the right-wing media have repeatedly hyped black crime statistics in the wake of the trial, often without acknowledging factors contributing to the problem and perception of black men as criminals.
Fox News host Gregg Jarrett falsely claimed that "Stand Your Ground had nothing whatsoever to do in the [George] Zimmerman case" as a means to attack July 19 remarks made by President Obama on the controversy surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin and Zimmerman's subsequent acquittal. Despite convincing evidence that Stand Your Ground was influential in the trial's outcome, Jarrett said that Obama was either "oblivious" or "simply trying to bring on more acrimony over a controversial subject" by discussing the law.
From the July 19 edition of America Live:
Jarrett's claim that Stand Your Ground (also called "Shoot First" or "Kill at Will") had no bearing on the Zimmerman case is contradicted by the statements of a Zimmerman juror who said the law, in part, provided a legal justification for Zimmerman's actions. The juror's statement was no surprise, as the text of Stand Your Ground was included in instructions to the jury explaining Zimmerman's possible defenses.
Right-wing media is disingenuously suggesting that Attorney General Eric Holder has disarmed George Zimmerman amid reports that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is holding all evidence -- including the gun used to kill Trayvon Martin -- from the Zimmerman trial as part of an ongoing civil rights investigation.
According to The Drudge Report, Zimmerman "can't have his gun back":
Zimmerman, who was acquitted on July 13 of charges of unlawfully killing 17-year-old Martin, is allowed to own a firearm because he is not disqualified from doing so under state and federal law and the current hold on evidence does not prevent him from buying another weapon.
Zimmerman reportedly already owned more than one handgun before the February 2012 shooting. Commenting on the handgun used to kill Martin, Zimmerman's attorney Mark O'Mara, told CBS, "that particular weapon, he should never carry again. There's no reason to carry a weapon that's already killed somebody."
Even after a juror in George Zimmerman's trial for killing Trayvon Martin said that Florida's Stand Your Ground self-defense law influenced the outcome of the case, Fox News hosts and contributors continue to claim otherwise as a means to attack Attorney General Eric Holder for opposing such laws.