Another chapter in the right-wing media's campaign against Attorney General Eric Holder was launched yesterday as they attacked Holder's efforts to discourage people from violating the District Of Columbia's gun laws as detailed in a speech Holder gave in 1995. Not surprisingly the 17-year-old speech about trying to convince young men not to illegally carry guns instantly became the latest excuse to use the ATF's failed Operation Fast and Furious to attack Holder.
Following Breitbart.com's release of a short portion of Holder's speech, Glenn Beck's The Blaze, The Daily Caller and Breitbart.com's own Mary Chastain all pushed the highly tenuous connection to Operation Fast and Furious. As Media Matters noted this morning, Holder's speech addressed his role of U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and efforts to teach young people in the city that "it's not hip to carry a gun anymore," an action that was illegal in the District Of Columbia at the time.
The Blaze opened with the suggestion that "New video of Eric Holder from 1995 has surfaced, and it may put "Fast and Furious" in a much broader perspective." The Daily Caller similarly suggested a connection saying "The revelation that Holder wanted to "brainwash" people into being "anti-gun" appears to be supported by what Congress and the American people have learned about Operation Fast and Furious." Breitbart.com's Chastain asserted that Fast and Furious was about providing Holder with "material" for the "anti-gun curriculum" described in this 1995 speech.
Despite a tremendous amount of hand waving, these attacks fail to personally link Holder to the initiation or approval of the controversial tactics used in Fast and Furious. As accurately noted by Charlie Savage in his December New York Times profile of Holder, "no documents or testimony" have disproved Holder's statement that he didn't know about Fast and Furious as it was underway.
Further, Bush-era investigations featured similar 'gun walking' tactics as those used in Fast and Furious. Rather then suggesting those investigations were gun control plots, Fox News and right-wing media outlets rushed to defend the Bush-era programs. The Democratic staff of the House Oversight Committee released a report in January documenting the three similar operations conducted under the Bush administration out of the ATF's Arizona offices.
Neither the Bush-era gun walking investigations or the dearth of evidence regarding Holder's purported connections to the tactics used in Fast and Furious have slowed down the right-wing media's increasingly nonsensical attacks against Holder.
The case of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed African-American teenager who was tragically gunned down near his home in the Florida suburbs late last month, has begun to receive national media attention. The potential impact of Florida's gun laws has become a front-and-center issue at some outlets as the events in question receive scrutiny.
On the evening of February 26, Martin was returning from the local 7-Eleven to the apartment of his father's fiancé with a pack of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea when he was spotted by George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old Hispanic man legally carrying a concealed handgun who acted as a neighborhood watch volunteer in that gated community. According to recordings released late Friday, Zimmerman called 911 from his car to report Martin as a "real suspicious guy" and "a black male" with "his hand in his waistband," then left the car to pursue the youth against the dispatcher's recommendation.
A struggle then occurred which ended with Zimmerman shooting and killing Martin. Zimmerman has not been arrested by police after stating that he had acted in self-defense. This has resulted in a public outcry and demands for the Department of Justice to intervene.
Media outlets have noted that Florida's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law may have effectively immunized Zimmerman from prosecution. As Mother Jones points out, Florida courts have found that under that statute, "defendant's only burden is to offer facts from which his resort to force could have been reasonable" while "the State has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense." This has led to a legal situation wherein it is possible for someone to kill a member of a rival gang in a shootout, claim they were acting in self-defense, and avoid prosecution.
On Friday, The New York Times noted the role that Florida's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law may play in the case:
Florida's self-defense law, known as Stand Your Ground, grants immunity to people who act to protect themselves if they have a reasonable fear they will be killed or seriously injured.
"Stand Your Ground is a law that has really created a Wild West type environment in Florida," said Brian Tannebaum, a criminal defense lawyer in Florida. "It allows people to kill people outside of their homes, if they are in reasonable fear for their lives. It's a very low standard."
The Breitbart empire isn't letting the massive humiliation following this month's Hug-gate manufactured controversy discourage them from further "Vetting" of President Obama and his administration. In their latest effort, they've discovered that as U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia nearly 20 years ago, now-Attorney General Eric Holder publicly discussed a campaign to... wait for it... encourage people in that city not to break the law.
The premise of these Breitbart.com "Vetting" pieces is that decades-old comments and connections of Obama and his advisers somehow tell us more about their agenda than what they have actually done in office. Gun violence prevention is a particularly ripe area for this effort: conservatives have desperately tried to maintain their fiction that the Obama administration is on the verge of a confiscatory gun crackdown, even as the White House makes little effort to push for even the mildest gun control legislation.
Thus, as Breitbart.com editor-in-chief Joel Pollak breathlessly explains:
Breitbart.com has uncovered video from 1995 of then-U.S. Attorney Eric Holder announcing a public campaign to "really brainwash people into thinking about guns in a vastly different way."
Holder was addressing the Woman's National Democratic Club. In his remarks, broadcast by CSPAN 2, he explained that he intended to use anti-smoking campaigns as his model to "change the hearts and minds of people in Washington, DC" about guns.
Pollak goes on to write that in his speech, Holder said that he wanted a campaign involving television ads and celebrities to convince young people in D.C. that it is "not cool, that it's not acceptable, it's not hip to carry a gun anymore." The implication from Pollak -- and the other right-wing media outlets now picking up on his post -- is that this is evidence that Holder is virulently anti-gun. Some are even echoing right-wing conspiracies to bizarrely link the video to the ATF's failed Operation Fast and Furious.
What the right-wing media never get around to mentioning is that in 1995, when Holder gave the speech, it was illegal to possess a handgun in Washington D.C.
In other words, in calling for efforts to teach young people that "it's not hip to carry a gun anymore," Holder, the chief prosecutor for the District of Columbia, was discussing a campaign to encourage citizens of his jurisdiction not to break the law.
What a bombshell!
This morning's edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom hosted Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips to discuss efforts by Tea Party leaders to pressure Republican congressional leadership regarding the ATF's failed Operation Fast and Furious.
Media Matters has previously noted that Phillips has a questionable claim to genuine Tea Party leadership and has made many inflammatory, conspiratorial and extremist statements that call into question the media's treatment of Phillips as either a mainstream or authoritative Tea Party figure.
Not surprisingly, Phillips spent the interview promoting the right-wing conspiracy theory that Fast and Furious was a plot to promote gun control instead of a failed law enforcement investigation. Phillips:
It [Fast and Furious] should be investigated, but we also have to remember the program itself was a partisan program. This was never a law enforcement sting as you described it earlier, this was purely a political operation. You send the guns down to Mexico, therefore you support the political narrative that the Obama administration wanted supported; that all these American guns are flooding Mexico, that they're the cause of the violence in Mexico and therefore we need draconian gun control laws here in America. So because the whole operation itself was political, yes by all means Congress should be all over this.
The suggestion that Fast and Furious was a gun control plot became a central talking point for the gun lobby last year and Fox News has been glad to help promote the conspiracy theory in spite of a report by House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) saying the purpose of Fast and Furious was to "identify other members of a trafficking network and build a large, complex conspiracy case."
There is no debating that Washington D.C.'s laws include some of the most extensive anti-gun violence regulations in the United States. Since the Supreme Court ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller overturned the city's ban on handguns, right-wing media figures and the gun lobby have complained that the law is still too restrictive. So restrictive that Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller told FoxNews.com that "they are stopping the law-abiding people from getting guns to protect themselves."
But two recent segments on Fox News demonstrate the gun lobby's media allies can't get their story straight. If they're complaining about the current gun laws, then D.C.'s laws are terrible and it's practically impossible for the law-abiding to get guns to protect themselves. If they're looking to criticize the pre-Heller gun ban then suddenly it's time to start talking about how D.C.'s violent crime has improved since the gun ban ended, presumably because people can get guns to protect themselves. The complaints about the "worst" guns laws in the nation suddenly disappear when the topic changes.
In a February 25 segment Fox hosted Miller, who complained that D.C. has the "worst laws in the country in terms of getting a legal gun." Miller cited rising crime rates from the first two months of 2012 in the city as a reason to own a gun.
Media Matters has previously discussed the right-wing media's efforts to malign Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's suggestion that Egypt look to South Africa's constitution for guidance as they draft Egypt's new Constitution. Ginburg's inoffensive suggestion that Egypt look to constitutions drafted more recently than the U.S. Constitution was aggressively distorted to suggest Ginsburg represented a "perverted judicial philosophy." The description was categorically nonsense. Ginsburg's full comments show her admiration for how the U.S. Constitution has served America and persevered over time.
With a new strain of the long running attacks against liberal Supreme Court Justices created, it comes as no surprise to see the National Rifle Association signaling that they're integrating the Ginsburg smear into their 2012 campaign.
The NRA's lobby shop has been pushing the depiction of Obama's future Supreme Court nominees and Ginsburg herself as broadly hostile to the U.S. Constitution:
But it was a much bigger shock when the [New York] Times reported in the same story that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a sitting associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and grande dame of the Court's liberal voting bloc, shares the Times' dim view of the Constitution. Ginsburg said "I would not look to the United States Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012." Her personal recommendations would instead include "the South African Constitution, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the European Convention on Human Rights."
None of this should come as a surprise. One wonders, for example, if Justice Ginsburg even looks to the United States Constitution when interpreting it in 2012. [...]
While it is lamentable that the Times cannot see the greatness of our Constitution, it is far more troubling that Justice Ginsburg cannot. And most troubling of all is the possibility that if elected to a second term, President Obama could appoint even more justices who share Justice Ginsburg's views.
NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre also made potential Obama Supreme Court appointees a central focus in his speech at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, calling Justices Sonia Sotamayor and Elena Kagan "two of the most rabidly anti-gun justices in history." LaPierre also belittled Ginsburg, saying she looked like a "giddy school girl" when she hugged President Barack Obama at the State of the Union address, and suggested her comments on Egypt called into question her oath to "uphold and defend our Constitution."
Speaking to Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox pledged a piece of the gun lobby's reported $225 million dollar war chest to making the Supreme Court an issue in every Senate race in 2012. It remains to be seen whether their distortion of Ginsburg's constitution comments will be a part of that effort.
National Rifle Association chief lobbyist, Townhall.com columnist, and Daily Caller contributor Chris Cox is currently pushing for Tennessee state legislation that would prevent employers from banning their employees from storing guns in their vehicles in company parking lots while opposing any compromise that would allow employer exemptions for special circumstances. Tennessee business leaders and law enforcement groups oppose the legislation.
Yesterday's testimony by Attorney General Eric Holder before a House Appropriations subcommittee concluded without the theatrical fireworks that many of his recent appearances before Congress have included. The hearing was so comparably calm that Holder even mentioned that he appreciated the more even-keeled tone of the questions even though some were critical of his tenure at the Department of Justice.
So naturally the right-wing media cherry-picked a brief moment where Holder showed somewhat heightened emotions and made that moment the focus of their hearing coverage, saying Holder was "not able to hold back his emotions," and describing Holder "losing his cool" as he "slammed the table" in response to congressional questioning.
Fox News America Live host Megyn Kelly teased a segment on Holder's testimony by saying "wait until you hear what's ticking off Eric Holder today," later describing an exchange between Holder and Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) by saying that Holder was "not able to hold back his emotions."
The Daily Caller's Matthew Boyle apparently found this angle so compelling that he wrote a highly derivative article adding little more than misleading hyperbole and bit of background information. Boyle has previously pushed a narrative of Holder of being unable to control his temper, claiming that he "lashe[d] out" during an exchange with a Daily Caller employee. In a separate article solely about complaints from conservative critics about this purported "loss of control," Boyle even paraphrased an activist suggesting Holder may be "dangerously unstable."
Boyle continued that depiction today, writing about the exchange with Rep. Yoder in an article headlined "Holder loses cool during House hearing when asked about the ATF's failed operation Fast and Furious." Boyle:
A visibly frustrated Attorney General Eric Holder slammed the table when responding to a question about Operation Fast and Furious during a Tuesday budget hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies.
This is a highly exaggerated description of Holder's testimony, in which Holder forcefully said that he ordered use of the controversial gun-walking tactics associated with Operation Fast and Furious to be stopped as soon as he became aware of them. Watch the exchange highlighted by Boyle and Kelly:
The National Rifle Association has long pushed the suggestion that their electoral efforts were responsible for both George W. Bush's victory in 2000 and Republicans winning control of Congress in 1994. As evidenced by NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre's recent speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, it's a key talking point cited as evidence that the NRA will be able to defeat President Obama in this year's presidential election as well as a cautionary tale for progressives not to push for gun violence prevention legislation.
Recently the narrative of the NRA's massive electoral power has extended beyond the usual gun lobby sounding boards. A recent article by UCLA constitutional law professor Adam Winkler in The Daily Beast that argued that the NRA's electoral strength would doom Obama should he propose even modest proposals and suggested the 1994 midterms elections were evidence that talking about gun violence prevention "will hurt Democrats all the way down the ballot."
A December Bloomberg News report chronicling the NRA's massive fundraising apparatus similarly noted the belief that the NRA hurt Al Gore in 2000. The narrative was also reflected in a report by Reuters that reported that passing gun violence prevention measures, such as the 1994 assault weapons ban, leads to "sharp backlashes" from voters.
However, a detailed new analysis suggests that the NRA's past electoral impact is massively overblown.
The most recent installment of a Think Progress series examining the electoral strength of the NRA by American Prospect contributing editor Paul Waldman (who previously worked for Media Matters) debunks the long running narrative that the NRA had a huge impact on the 1994 and 2000 elections, calling this a "mistaken reading of history." According to Waldman, "what the NRA claims credit for usually turns out upon closer examination to be nothing more than elections in which Republicans do well," while when Democrats win, as they did in 2006 and 2008, "the NRA is quiet."
The National Rifle Association is running into a problem as it rolls out its "Trigger the Vote" voter registration campaign: several of the campaign's spokesmen have histories of inflammatory comments.
Last week we noted NRA board member Ted Nugent's record of extremism, but he's not alone. Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, points out of fellow board member and Full Metal Jacket actor R. Lee Ermey:
At a "Toys for Tots" fundraiser held in December 2010, Ermey delivered a fiery speech, telling those in attendance, "We're having a big problem this year. The economy really sucks. Now I hate to point fingers at anybody, but the present administration probably has a lot to do with that. And the way I see it they're not going to quit doing it until they bring this country to its knees. So I think we should rise all rise up and we should stop his administration from what they are doing because they are destroying this country. They're driving us into bankruptcy so that they can impose socialism on us." These comments generated so much public attention and outrage that Ermey was forced to apologize.
It's obviously less than ideal for the NRA to have as its standard bearer someone who called on Americans to "rise up" to stop President Obama from "destroying this country" by imposing "socialism." And so when Ermey visited Fox News to promote the NRA's efforts, he made sure to pick up a complimentary Hannitization. Here's how he described Ermey's comments:
HANNITY: You are great American. God bless you and appreciate you being on the program.
You know, you made these comments about the president that you deal with "Toys For Tots." You said this economy really sucks and you were talking about administration, "Toys For Tots," wasn't doing as well as they would in a good economy.
And they're not going to quit until they bring this country to its knees. I'm sick and damn tired of it. I know you are too. You got thunderous applause. You said, well, the Marine Corps will be here forever, but the administration won't. And then you said, you kind of sorry, you regretted it. I didn't think what was offensive about it.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) earlier this month, I had the opportunity to speak with David Keene, president of the National Rifle Association (NRA). As an Air Force veteran myself, I was specifically interested in learning more about the NRA's support of an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2011.
What the NRA describes as a "pro-Second Amendment provision" is legislation that prohibits the Defense Department from "collecting or recording any information relating to the otherwise lawful acquisition, possession, ownership, carrying, or other use of a privately owned firearm." In short, the amendment, signed into law along with the underlying act in January 2011, bars commanders from even questioning their troops about privately-owned firearms kept off-base.
The NRA's involvement with this defense legislation rose more than a few eyebrows. Senior military leaders reportedly say the "law will make it virtually impossible to get private weapons out of the hands of some potentially suicidal soldiers." The Christian Science Monitor reported that General Peter Chiarelli, the 2nd ranking officer for the Army, "expressed concern...that this law amounts to a prohibition on commanders engaging in vital discussions with US soldiers about weapons and personal safety":
"I am not allowed to ask a soldier who lives off post whether that soldier has a privately owned weapon," he says.
While commanders are permitted to ask troops who appear to be a danger to themselves or others about private firearms - or to suggest perhaps locking them temporarily in a base depot - if the soldier denies that he or she is thinking about harming anyone, then the commander cannot pursue the discussion further.
Nearly half of all soldiers who commit suicide use a firearm, General Chiarelli points out. He added that "suicide in most cases is a spontaneous event" that is often fueled by drugs and alcohol. But "if you can separate the individual from the weapon," he added, "you can lower the incidences of suicide."
During our interview, David Keene, who said his own daughter is in the Army and currently deployed in Afghanistan, was unapologetically sold on the idea that troops "have to deal with their problems, not with the group of tools that they have... if you have depression and depression creates a suicidal situation if you don't have a gun, you'll use something else. And there are a million ways to commit suicide."
Keene's statements fly in the face of analysis by public health experts, who say that many suicide attempts are impulsive and that the high lethality of guns makes suicide attempts using them much more likely to succeed. His claims are also inconsistent with my own experiences as a veteran who deployed to a combat zone.
In his latest Washington Times column, "American rock 'n' roll, sporting and political activist icon" and National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent criticizes MSNBC in response to Pat Buchanan's announcement that he is departing the network. According to Nugent, Buchanan "was fired by MSNBC for doing nothing more than voicing his rock-solid conservative thoughts" on the air.
Nugent also criticizes "leftists" for using "anti-American guerrilla warfare tactics" by attempting to "silence" conservatives, adding that their "real message" is "intolerance, zealotry, bigotry and hate."
As Buchanan noted in his column, his parting from MSNBC came in the face of sustained criticism from Media Matters, Color of Change, the Human Rights Campaign, and the Anti-Defamation League, among others, in response to Buchanan's lengthy record of bigoted comments.
Nugent, of course, has his own history of inflammatory rhetoric.
Late last month, the National Gun Victims Action Council (NGAC) announced a boycott of Starbucks starting Valentine's Day, stating that the company's policy of allowing "guns and assault weapons to be openly carried in its stores (in 43 states) and concealed and carried in its stores (in 49 states)" was unacceptable. In response, prominent gun bloggers and activists called for a Starbucks "appreciation day" - a decision that now seems to causing them some blowback.
Nearly two years ago, Starbucks turned down a request from gun violence prevention advocates to join Peet's Coffee, California Pizza Kitchen, IKEA, and other chains and exercise their right to refuse to allow individuals carrying firearms in in their stores. In the latest action seeking to convince the corporation to shift its position, NGAC urged a boycott, with its CEO Elliot Fineman stating that "Starbucks allowing guns to be carried in thousands of their stores significantly increases everyone's risk of being a victim of gun violence" and that the company's "steadfast support of the NRA's lethal pro-gun agenda damages its 'socially conscious company' brand."
Immediately after the NGAV issued its release, prominent gun blogger Sebastian wrote that in response he was "going to declare February 14th Starbucks Appreciation Day, by encouraging gun owners to head to Starbucks to buy some of their fine coffee and pastry products." According to the Los Angeles Times, there were reports of such "buycotts" in several states, including Washington, Hawaii, Tennessee, and Michigan.
But yesterday, Sebastian took to his blog with a slightly different message: stop appreciating Starbucks:
I notice there's still quite a lot of pictures of guns and coffee appearing on Starbucks' Facebook page. I would like to note that Starbucks never asked for their brand to be associated with gun rights; all they want to do is sell coffee. ... By all means, let's keep the gratitude pouring into corporate, and pouring into their coffers, but I think we ought to let Starbucks' brand go back to just being about great coffee. That means not engaging in, what in a person-to-person analogy would be walking up to the barista, and continuing to stick pro-gun stickers all over her, and handing her guns. She didn't ask for that. She just wants to serve you coffee.
The blogger added that gun advocates should stop turning Starbucks' facebook page "into a battleground."
Sebastian refers to the fact that large portions of the company's page now look like this:
Apparently even he realizes that most Americans prefer that businesses have a "no guns" policy, and that this type of action could backfire.
Today for the fourth time the Daily Caller has written about the Ryan Jerome, the New York City tourist and former Marine that was arrested last September for illegally carrying a concealed firearm. They currently have the story splashed across their front page:
The right-wing media is engaged in a campaign to falsely suggest New York City tourists are in danger of having "their lives destroyed" because New York has stiff penalties for illegal gun possession. In fact, New York prosecutors have repeatedly used their discretion to reach plea agreements for misdemeanor charges that keep people that made honest mistakes and are arrested for carrying concealed guns illegally out of jail.
Not surprisingly given The Daily Caller's status as a gun lobby propaganda dumping ground, they continued the depiction of New York's strong gun laws as callous, despite yet again a New York prosecutor showing a willingness to consider the mitigating circumstances of the alleged crime.
This morning's Politico Playbook reports that the National Rifle Association will again be featuring sometime rocker, Washington Times columnist, and NRA board member Ted Nugent in their voter registration campaign.
In his 2010 spot for the group, the Nuge alternatively wielded an AR-variant rifle and a guitar and proclaimed himself "cocked, locked, and ready to rock, doc" before urging viewers to go to an NRA website to register to vote.
In recent years, Nugent has drawn far more attention for his vicious and extreme rhetoric than he has for his music. This is apparently of concern to his publicist, who last year rejected an email interview with Media Matters after receiving our questions, several of which focused on those questionable comments.
The NRA, however, appears to have no problem associating with someone who called Barack Obama a "piece of shit" and Hillary Clinton a "two-bit whore," referred to the Muslim community as "rude and stupid," said "[i]f it was up to me, if you uttered the word 'gun control,' we'd put you in jail," and uses homophobic language. (Nor have those comments kept Nugent off of Fox News.)
Below, with assistance from our archive and that of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence's MeetTheNRA.org, Media Matters presents Nugent's top 10 most inflammatory, offensive, and extreme comments.
10. After The Tucson Shooting, "Conservatives Should Turn Up The Rhetoric." In the wake of last year's tragic mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that left six dead and 19 injured, including horrific injuries to then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), many condemned the sort of hateful, insurrectionist rhetoric that spurs on episodes of anti-government violence.
Nugent, on the other hand, used his Washington Times column to state that while "liberals and others who should know better are calling for political rhetoric to be toned down," he believes that "conservatives should turn up the rhetoric." He added that "[o]nly softheaded, feel-good fantasizers from the cult of denial could believe that toning down the political rhetoric will somehow keep lunatics from doing loony things." He went on to urge his readers to "[e]xpose, isolate and eliminate liberals and their fuzzy-headed policies" and to "do America a favor and crush liberalism."