A Wall Street Journal editorial defended the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) over its role in the creation of pro-gun Stand Your Ground laws, without noting that the Journal's parent company, News Corp., has reportedly been a member of ALEC since 2010.
The August 7 Journal editorial claimed efforts to fight "stand your ground" legislation were part of a "campaign to suppress political speech," and attacked Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) for questioning whether supporters of ALEC -- a conservative organization backed by corporate giants that tailors model bills for state legislatures -- also supported the controversial legislation:
The campaign to suppress political speech has found its next tactic, using outrage over Trayvon Martin's killing in Florida as a hammer. On Wednesday, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin sent a letter to corporate and nonprofit supporters of the American Legislative Exchange Council, asking them to disclose their positions on stand-your-ground legislation that ALEC supported in Florida in 2005.
ALEC is a group of state legislators from around the country that promotes center-right reform ideas, mostly on economic issues. It has had success spreading those ideas, which has made it a target of liberal activists trying to cut off its funding.
Enter Mr. Durbin. "Although ALEC does not maintain a public list of corporate members or donors, other public documents indicate that your company funded ALEC at some point during the period between ALEC's adoption of model 'stand your ground' legislation in 2005 and the present day," Mr. Durbin writes in the letter to groups and companies that have donated to ALEC.
Since support for ALEC doesn't "necessarily mean" that it endorses every position taken by the organization, Mr. Durbin continues, he is "seeking clarification" on whether companies that have "funded ALEC's operations in the past currently support ALEC and the model 'stand your ground' legislation." Oh, and by the way, the letter concludes, he intends to make the responses public at a Congressional hearing in September.
Nowhere in the editorial is it disclosed that the Wall Street Journal's parent company, News Corp., was reported to be a member of ALEC in 2012, a disclosure problem that has occurred before. The Center for Media and Democracy reported in May 2012 that:
Documents obtained and released by Common Cause show that News Corp. was a member of ALEC's Telecommunications and Information Technology Task Force as of April 2010. Adam Peshek, who staffs ALEC's Education Task Force, told Education Week that News Corp. has been a member of both ALEC's Education Task Force and Communications and Technology Task Force since January 2012.
The Journal also misleadingly downplayed ALEC's efforts to spread Florida's Stand Your Ground law throughout the country, only noting that the organization "supported [the legislation] in Florida in 2005." But ALEC adopted a virtually identical law as part of the model legislation it then pushed through state legislatures throughout the country with the assistance of the NRA.
Colorado newspaper The Pueblo Chieftain is credulously reporting on an alleged "ethics complaint" by Democratic State Sen. Angela Giron, which, according to a Colorado ethics watchdog group, will be "almost certainly dismissed as frivolous."
The Chieftain's reporting on the complaint -- that Giron posted her state email address and phone number on her campaign website -- is latest piece of questionable Chieftain coverage of the recall campaign targeting Giron over her support for stronger gun violence prevention laws.
Following the Colorado General Assembly's passage of legislation to expand background checks on gun sales and limit firearm magazine capacity to 15 rounds, Giron and three other Senate Democrats who supported the gun violence prevention measures were subject to recall petition drives. On July 18, a Denver judge certified recall petitions against Giron and Senate President John Morse, setting the stage for a September 10 recall election.
According the top local news story in the August 3 edition of the Chieftain, "An Avondale man sent an ethics complaint in an email to the Colorado Secretary of State's office Friday" alleging that Giron "is using her state-provided email address and phone number on her campaign website." The complainant reportedly does not live in Giron's district, but contacted the Secretary of State because "he is not a fan of her politics, especially her votes on the state's gun control laws." The story also quoted Becky Mizel, chairwoman of the Pueblo County Republican Party, who falsely claimed that "Angela Giron has chosen to use state resources and taxpayer money for her own political gain," and added that she was "disgusted" by Giron's actions.
In response to the Chieftain article, left-leaning political blog Colorado Pols noted that a number of Colorado state legislators -- both Republicans and Democrats -- feature state contact information on their campaign websites. In fact, a Media Matters review of Colorado's 100 General Assembly members' campaign websites found that 53 members listed a state phone number, e-mail address and/or mailing address.
Furthermore, the allegation against Giron is likely baseless and was not accurately reported by the Chieftain.
A new study finds that in June and July, a single website allowed sellers of more than 15,000 firearms in ten states to utilize the loophole in federal law allowing people to buy guns on the Internet without passing a criminal background check -- a loophole that conservative media claim doesn't exist.
Background checks -- designed to keep guns out of the hands of the dangerously mentally ill and convicted felons, who are banned by law from owning firearms -- are mandatory at retail stores under federal law. Between 1994 and 2009, nearly 1.8 million applications for firearms transfers were denied to prevent prohibited purchasers from buying guns. But private sellers who sell guns over the Internet or at gun shows are not required to perform such checks. In April, federal legislation aimed at requiring a background check on nearly every gun sale, termed the Manchin-Toomey amendment, failed to overcome a Senate filibuster, even though an overwhelming majority of Americans support such a law.
Prior investigations have found that this loophole for private sales is frequently exploited by gun traffickers and used to supply firearms to criminals, and that many Internet sellers are willing to complete sales even after being informed that would-be buyers couldn't pass a criminal background check. Nonetheless, conservative media have insisted that no such Internet or private sales loophole exists.
In a new study, the center-left think tank Third Way examined June and July listings in ten states whose senators did not support Manchin-Toomey (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, and Tennessee) on Armslist.com, a web portal devoted to gun sales. According to Third Way:
- 15,768 for sale ads listed by private sellers of firearms.
- 5,168 of these ads were for semi-automatic weapons, including assault weapons.
- 1,928 ads were from prospective buyers asking to buy specifically from private sellers (thereby ensuring that no background check is required).
- 1,018 private individuals were selling four or more firearms simultaneously.
- Many listed numerous weapons for sale at the same time. One person had 22 separate guns listed for sale in Arkansas, while another listed 21 in Nevada, and a third listed 21 in Ohio.
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent compared himself to a "black Jew" in Nazi Germany while discussing widespread criticism he has faced after making a series of inflammatory comments on race.
Since the July 13 acquittal of George Zimmerman, Nugent has used his media platform to stereotype African Americans as violent and make disparaging comments about deceased Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. As a result, he has faced calls for his removal from the NRA's board of directors, criticism in cable and print media, and a boycott of an upcoming concert in New Haven, Connecticut.
Responding to his critics during an August 1 interview with Mark Reardon on NewsRadio 1120 KMOX, Nugent said he was "like a black Jew in Nuremberg 1938 and the Brownshirts can't stand me. So I'll just keep derailing their trains, shall we say."
A Colorado paper defended its conduct in a state legislative recall campaign by dismissing critics' conflict of interest charges while failing to provide adequate context of an email a newsroom executive sent to a senator involved in the recall.
Earlier this year, the Colorado legislature passed a series of bills aimed at strengthening gun laws, including requiring background checks for private transactions and limiting the rounds of ammunition in magazines. Soon after the bills passed, local gun-rights supporters began a recall drive on four Democratic senators who supported the new laws. Two of the petition drives failed; however, Sen. Angela Giron (D) and State Senate President John Morse (D) will face a recall election slated for September 10.
On March 3, while the gun bills were still being debated in the legislature, Ray Stafford, general manager of the Pueblo Chieftain sent an email from his Chieftain account to Giron declaring his opposition to a package of bills seeking to strengthen the state's gun laws. In the email, in which he claimed the bills represented "a challenge to our Second Amendment," Stafford disclosed his position at the newspaper and said he was "responsible for the entire newspaper, including the newsroom." Critics charged that this email was a threat to the senator due to the Stafford's top position at the paper.
In response to Stafford's actions, the paper's assistant publisher and vice president, Jane Rawlings, wrote that Stafford used his affiliation in the email "as a way of identification, as he still is fairly new to the area." Although Rawlings said that after "a careful review of The Chieftain's coverage" she found the paper provided balanced coverage, Morse said Stafford essentially "threatened" Giron with critical coverage and that Giron "was in the paper and on the front page for a week straight, including within pictures that weren't very flattering, almost deliberately." Morse's account has been corroborated by local television station, KDVR-TV.
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent endorsed the conspiracy theory that President Obama's birth certificate is a forgery in his regular column for conspiracy website WND.
Riffing on a recent claim by Obama that his critics promote "phony scandals" involving his administration, Nugent wrote in his July 31 column that "more of us believe in the American hero Sheriff Joe Arpaio's thorough investigation into your phony birth certificate and phony history than the phony media's smoke and mirrors."
In July 2012 Arpaio, a controversial Arizona sheriff, announced that a "Cold Case Posse" under his direction determined that Obama's "long-form birth certificate was manufactured electronically and that it did not originate in a paper format as claimed by the White House." The "Cold Case Posse" reportedly attempted to uncover evidence that Obama was born in Kenya.
Nugent also suggested in his column that Obama is engaged in a "Saul Alinsky inspired attack on America" which involves "intentionally implementing the 'Rules for Radicals' agenda so appropriately dedicated to Satan."
Beyond his endorsement of birtherism, Nugent made a number of inflammatory attacks on Obama including accusing him of engaging in "phony racism" and suggesting that Nidal Hasan, the man allegedly responsible for a 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood, is Obama's "Allah Ahkbar buddy."
National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre criticized President Obama for saying that Americans should disregard those who say "tyranny is always lurking just around the corner," before warning that the administration is attempting to "disarm citizens on multiple fronts -- a step at a time -- not only of their firearms, but of their free speech"
The NRA often engages in hyperbolic language to suggest that Obama wishes to form a tyrannical government and destroy the Second Amendment. From LaPierre's July 30 op-ed appearing on conservative news website The Daily Caller:
Specifically, Obama signaled what he sees as dangerous political speech in his May, 2013 [Ohio University commencement] address:
"Unfortunately, you've grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate sinister entity that's at the root of our problems. Some of these voices also do their best to gum up the works. They warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices."
As members of the oldest civil rights organization in the nation, NRA members know tyranny when we see it. Five million strong, we proudly "gum up the works" when those "works" are designed to destroy American liberty, be it attacks on rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment or the First Amendment.
"Tyranny." That's Obama's word. The president is right about one thing: Many people are, indeed, warning about tyranny "lurking just around the corner."
Referencing controversy over the Internal Revenue Service's use of improper screening methods when reviewing tax-exempt status for some non-profit groups, LaPierre wrote, "Obama cannot erase the Second Amendment without crippling or controlling exercise of the First Amendment. And that's exactly what is at the heart of the ongoing scandals involving the vindictive assault on conservative Americans by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)."
In fact, this characterization is overblown. There is no evidence of White House involvement in the use of improper screening methods by the IRS. Furthermore, despite initial reports that only conservative non-profits were targeted, it was later revealed that the IRS also used improper screening techniques on liberal organizations as well.
Still, in his opinion piece LaPierre described the IRS as "the president's thug arm" and implored readers to elect candidates who will "root out and prosecute what has morphed from the corruption of the 'Chicago way,' into the much more sinister Obama way," adding that he hopes "Obama's 'transformation' of our nation and our culture" can be stopped.
Among the many connections between right-wing media and the conservative legal movement as revealed in Mother Jones' report on Groundswell, the leading participation of conservative Justice Clarence Thomas' wife on issues that may be before the Supreme Court raises significant conflict of interest concerns.
Virginia "Ginni" Thomas has not been shy about her tea party activism on topics that come before Justice Thomas and present a clear conflict, pursuant to the Code of Conduct for United States Judges. However, because Supreme Court Justices refuse to be bound by these rules of ethics, Justice Thomas continues to participate in decisions that his wife is involved in through her right-wing advocacy, activism that in some cases is paid.
The recent Groundswell memoranda obtained by David Corn of Mother Jones reveal that these conflicts are getting worse.
Ginni Thomas was the founder and leader of Liberty Central, a political nonprofit "dedicated to opposing what she characterizes as the leftist 'tyranny' of President Obama and Democrats in Congress." The group was funded by Harlan Crow, frequent patron of the Thomas' projects and causes and a financial supporter of right-wing campaigns such as the "swift boat" attacks on then-presidential candidate John Kerry and the advertising push to confirm President George W. Bush's Supreme Court nominees. Crow also serves on the board of the American Enterprise Institute, whose Edward Blum brought the two most recent attacks on the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action before the Supreme Court. Justice Thomas favored Blum's positions against progressive precedent on both civil rights issues.
Ginni Thomas' direction of Liberty Central was heavily criticized in the run-up to the Supreme Court's decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act because Justice Thomas "was planning to rule on the healthcare law when his wife, a conservative lobbyist, has made so much money challenging the law." As U.S. News & World Report explained, this paid activism continued even after Ginni Thomas stepped down from Liberty Central to form a separate lobbying firm, Liberty Consulting:
[J]ust days after healthcare law was upheld (with Clarence Thomas dissenting), new financial forms show that Thomas's wife, Ginni, continued to rake in a profit from opposing healthcare reforms in 2011--even after she previously came under fire for doing so.
According to Thomas's 2011 financial disclosure report form, filed on May 15 and obtained Friday by Whispers, the Thomas's invested up to $15,000 in the political lobbying firm Liberty Consulting, where Ginni Thomas continues to earn a salary and benefits. The firm lobbied actively against the healthcare law, according to liberal news magazine Mother Jones.
Ginni formed Liberty Consulting after she was criticized for her work at Liberty Central, a non-profit tea party organization that also lobbied against the health care law.
In March of this year, Liberty Central was the subject of a letter sent to the IRS by Common Cause, a nonprofit that works for government accountability. The letter argued that Liberty Central violated the proportionality rule for non-profits because the majority of its activities were designed to help Republican candidates.
Ginni later stepped down from Liberty Central, but her involvement in conservative politics extends beyond these two groups. Among Ginni's former employers is the Heritage Foundation, another vocal critic of the healthcare law. She also currently works as a "special correspondent" for the conservative website The Daily Caller.
In January 2011, Justice Thomas "inadvertently" left out information about his wife's employment, including earnings over the past 13 years that added up to as much as $1.6 million.
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:
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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:
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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."