For weeks, conservative media have embraced Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who engaged in an armed standoff with federal agents after refusing to pay decades worth of federal grazing fees on public land. The support persisted even as Bundy and his supporters were engaging in revolutionary, insurrectionist rhetoric and repeated threats of violence against government authorities.
Bundy took this even further on April 19, when he made overtly racist comments during one of his daily press conferences. From the New York Times (emphasis added):
"I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro," he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, "and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids -- and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch -- they didn't have nothing to do. They didn't have nothing for their kids to do. They didn't have nothing for their young girls to do.
"And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?" he asked. "They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom."
Though Nevada coverage of the Bundy standoff has made it clear that Bundy is breaking the law, right-wing media, and Fox News in particular, have propped up his cause with a PR campaign that romanticizes his lawlessness and the armed militia groups that helped him force a standoff with federal agents. On Fox alone, Bundy received a total 4 hours and 40 minutes of its prime-time programming between April 5, when Bundy's story broke, and April 17:
Fox figures have been aggressive in supporting Bundy's fight with the federal government, led by Fox host Sean Hannity. Hannity interviewed Bundy on his Fox show Hannity, on April 9, sympathizing with the rancher's claims and arguing that allowing Bundy's cattle to graze on public lands "keeps the price of meat down for every American consumer." In the following days, Hannity escalated his rhetoric, arguing that federal agents have "drawn the wrong line in the sand here," praising Bundy because he "like[s] anybody that's willing to fight," and stoking fears "of what this government is capable of doing." Hannity also repeatedly predicted a violent outcome, saying, "This can spiral out of control," and, "If it keeps going, this is going to end very, very badly." He even demanded, "The government needs to stand down" because "I'm telling you, [it is] my opinion that this crisis could come to a head, and lives could be lost." He has refused to apologize for touting the standoff, and has doubled down on his support when his hypocrisy on the rule of law was highlighted.
Other Fox figures have downplayed Bundy and his supporters' threats of violence, agreeing that Bundy and his supporters demonstrate "the resistance of patriotic Americans," supporting the agitators as "good, hardworking Americans" or "law-abiding American citizens -- patriots," even as they concede that Bundy's actions were illegal. Right-wing outlets outside of Fox have made similar arguments. National Review Online's Kevin Williamson called the presence of armed agents "inflammatory" and compared Bundy to Gandhi. The Drudge Report recklessly hyped the growing fear of a violent standoff between anti-government militia members and federal forces.
Some of Bundy's conservative media supporters seem undeterred by his repulsive comments. Radio host Dana Loesch, who has already used Bundy's standoff to invoke Benghazi, said his comments were "odd and sounds offensive," but also defended him, saying:
I hope no one is surprised that an old man rancher isn't media trained to express himself perfectly. He seems to be decrying what big government has done to the black family -- which big government has negatively affected not just the black family, but all families regardless of ethnicity -- so perhaps he included that in his remarks against big government? I'm just trying to figure out how he even got to the point of discussing it and yes, it's justified to have a healthy suspicion of the New York Times.
On the April 24 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, co-hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, on the other hand, demonstrated what rational coverage of the Bundy's lawlessness looks like, noting, "it's the kind of conservatism that undermines everything that conservatives should be about":
On April 25 the National Rifle Association kicks off its three-day annual meeting, hosted this year at the home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, which will feature far-right conservative media figures known for extreme rhetoric.
Tourism officials expect more than 70,000 attendees at the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium for the meeting, and attendees will be able to peruse more than 400,000 square feet of exhibition space to enjoy "over 600 of the most spectacular displays of firearms, shooting and hunting accessories in the world!" As in years past, the NRA expects that roughly 80 percent of attendees will be men.
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America -- part of the newly launched 1.5 million member Everytown for Gun Safety organization -- is planning on bringing 100 mothers and 20 gun violence survivors to Indianapolis in order to urge NRA leadership to support requiring background checks on gun sales.
Attendees can also view a number of presentations, the most prominent of which include the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum, the Annual Meeting of Members, and the Stand and Fight Rally. The NRA-ILA forum will feature several prominent GOP officials including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
Far-right conservative figures are a mainstay of these annual meeting events. During last year's Stand and Fight Rally, keynote speaker Glenn Beck depicted then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is Jewish, in a Nazi salute, leading to condemnation from Jewish groups. Other presentations at the 2013 meeting reaffirmed the NRA's hardline stance following the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, including the claim of new NRA president Jim Porter that President Obama would seek "revenge" against gun owners.
In addition to the NRA's own bombastic CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, this year's meeting will feature Ted Nugent, Sarah Palin, radio host Mark Levin, religious hardliner Franklin Graham, and others known for their extreme right-wing rhetoric:
Mark Levin is a conservative commentator best known as the host of The Mark Levin Show, which is a nationally syndicated radio program by Cumulus Media Networks. Levin delivered a video message at the 2013 annual meeting in which he claimed that the Second Amendment protected a "well-armed militia" in case "the federal government got out of control." (The Second Amendment actually calls for a "well regulated militia.") Levin is known for his inflammatory commentary, including the recent claim that the "key" to a Hillary Clinton presidential run in 2016 would be "her genitalia." He has also accused Obama of abusing children, compared marriage equality to incest, polygamy, and drug use, compared supporters of the Affordable Care Act to Nazi "brown shirts," and advocated for Obama to be impeached.
From the April 23 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
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In the wake of the Roberts Court's latest attack on the constitutionality of race-conscious law, right-wing media are mischaracterizing the decision and Justice Sonia Sotomayor's dissent in an a dishonest attempt to frame civil rights precedent as "racial discrimination."
On April 22, the Supreme Court ruled in Schuette v. BAMN, a badly split opinion in which the Court's five conservatives rejected long-established equal protection law under the Fourteenth Amendment to uphold Michigan's voter-approved ban on affirmative action. Right-wing media immediately began misinforming about the case, ignoring the serious consequences it could have for minority rights in the United States. By effectively overruling the "political process" doctrine, which forbids setting up a separate and unequal tier of political participation for a disfavored minority, the conservative justices reopened the door to the rigging of political systems, previously disallowed because of its negative impact on communities of color.
NRO continued its misinformation campaign about Schuette in its April 22 editorial, claiming that affirmative action is itself a form of prohibited racial discrimination. The editorial went on to call Sotomayor's dissent in Schuette "legally illiterate and logically indefensible" and "offers a case study in the moral and legal corrosion that inevitably results from elevating ethnic-identity politics over the law." To bolster the claim that Sotomayor is preoccupied by "ethnic-identity politics," the editors whistled to the 2009 right-wing media smears that the justice was a racist because she once referred to herself as a "wise Latina." From the NRO editorial:
In a perfectly Orwellian dissenting opinion, which she read dramatically from the bench, Justice Sotomayor argued that the decision of the people of Michigan to end racial discrimination is itself an instance of racial discrimination and that the only way to mitigate such racial discrimination is through the mandatory maintenance of racial discrimination. In this opinion she was joined by Justice Ginsburg, with Justice Kagan recusing herself from the case. Justice Sotomayor argued that Michigan's Proposal 2, which mandates race-neutral state policies, is the sort of legislation used to "oppress minority groups." By outlawing racial discrimination, she argued, "a majority of the Michigan electorate changed the basic rules of the political process in that State in a manner that uniquely disadvantaged racial minorities."
Justice Sotomayor is here arguing in effect that if a constitutional referendum doesn't go the NAACP's way, then its effects are invalid. This is not an exaggeration: Justice Soyomayor argues explicitly that Michigan's voters would have been within their rights to, for example, lobby university authorities to adopt race-neutral admissions standards but that by adopting a constitutional amendment insisting on race neutrality, thereby transferring the decision from the education bureaucrats to the people themselves and their constitution, they "changed the rules in the middle of the game." Her opinion is legally illiterate and logically indefensible, and the still-young career of this self-described "wise Latina" on the Supreme Court already offers a case study in the moral and legal corrosion that inevitably results from elevating ethnic-identity politics over the law. Justice Sotomayor has revealed herself as a naked and bare-knuckled political activist with barely even a pretense of attending to the law, and the years she has left to subvert the law will be a generation-long reminder of the violence the Obama administration has done to our constitutional order.
Right-wing media are continuing to misinform about Schuette v. BAMN, the latest Supreme Court rejection of well-established civil rights law.
On April 22, in a splintered decision, the conservative justices of the Supreme Court effectively overturned decades of civil rights precedent and gutted a core component of equal protection law by reinterpreting the political process doctrine of the Fourteenth Amendment. This doctrine, based on Supreme Court cases from the civil rights era, prohibits restructurings of political systems to the specific detriment of a disfavored minority. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found that the state of Michigan's 2006 ban on affirmative action violated this case law by removing this policy decision from the normal political system and writing it into the state constitution.
Contrary to right-wing media's framing of the case, Schuette was never about the propriety of affirmative action, although Michigan's ban has led to decreased minority enrollment and heightened racial tensions on campus. And as Justice Anthony Kennedy's controlling opinion in Schuette reaffirmed, race-conscious admissions policies in higher education remain constitutional. Still, Roger Clegg at National Review Online nevertheless called the case and its deleterious ramifications for the diversity of all future classrooms and students of color in particular "a big loss for racial preferences in the Supreme Court" and "a resounding win for the good guys."
Fox News' senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano took it even further, saying that "the elites who run university systems think they know better than the voters do." When host Eric Shawn asked Napolitano about the precipitous drop in minority enrollment on Michigan campuses since the ban went into effect, Napolitano brushed him off, stating the Schuette decision "lets the voters go either way." He went on to claim that race-conscious admissions were antithetical to "that thing the Civil War was supposed to have resolved":
From the April 22 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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On April 21, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that President Obama plans to use his constitutionally-granted pardon power for certain eligible nonviolent drug offenders serving excessive sentences, a systemic approach to clemency that was most recently used by former Republican President Gerald Ford. In response, Fox immediately turned to right-wing media guests to push the false idea that this proposal is unconstitutional and unprecedented.
Before President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, defendants convicted of selling or using crack received sentences nearly 100 times more severe than those convicted of selling or possessing cocaine -- despite the fact that the drugs are essentially the same thing. Those convicted and punished under the disparate sentencing guidelines were disproportionately black. The Obama administration's decision to use the pardoning power to commute unduly harsh sentences would, according to Attorney General Holder, apply to those offenders who were sentenced under the "old regime."
This proposal would not overturn their convictions, but would shorten their now-outdated sentences.
Fox Business host Lou Dobbs reported on the clemency proposal by asserting the attorney general's explanation for the need to ameliorate systematic discrimination was one of Holder's "fictions" and was "ludicrous" because the Civil War already eliminated slavery. Dobbs also hosted right-wing media figures to accuse the president of "gutting the Constitution and separation of powers doctrine at the same time." Fox News' Special Report pushed a similar narrative, with correspondent Mike Emanuel uncritically repeating a former Bush II official's claim that "this is yet another example of Obama going around lawmakers" before misleadingly claiming "Orrin Hatch said Congress, not the president, has the authority to make sentencing policy. Hatch called on Mr. Obama to work with Congress, rather than, once again, going it alone."
Fox News' Megyn Kelly also took exception to the Obama administration's proposal, hosting NRO contributor Andrew McCarthy on The Kelly File to rail against the announcement. Kelly, upset that "convicted -- convicted" drug offenders might finally have their sentences commuted, characterized the proposal as executive overreach on the part of the Obama administration. McCarthy agreed with Kelly and claimed that Obama's use of the pardon power was a "massive abuse" and tantamount to "rewriting the federal narcotics laws which he personally thinks are too severe."
From the April 21 edition of Comedy Central's The Daily Show:
From the April 21 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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In response to a New York Times report about General Mills' new anti-consumer legal terms connected to its website privacy policies, Forbes came to the defense of the large corporation and its recent attempt to immunize itself from class action lawsuits.
On April 16, The New York Times reported that General Mills had changed its legal terms to include burdensome forced arbitration clauses, contract provisions that force consumers to waive their right to sue or join a class action. In the aftermath of the high-profile publicity and condemnation from consumer advocacy groups, General Mills abandoned the change after complaining their short-lived class action bans were "mischaracterized."
Forced arbitration clauses have become increasingly popular in the wake of Supreme Court decisions upholding the legality of such clauses. Unsurprisingly, forced arbitration is beloved by right-wing media and corporations alike, because they make it exceedingly difficult for injured consumers to join together in a class action.
However, General Mills' forced arbitration agreement was particularly outrageous. According to the Times, the new terms could be interpreted to bind consumers by merely downloading coupons, interacting with the company's website through social media like Facebook, or by entering a sweepstakes or contest, even if they were unaware that they had supposedly relinquished their right to sue.
In a recent column in Forbes, columnist Daniel Fisher responded to the Times by minimizing the importance of class actions as a method of recovery for injured consumers, and hyped forced arbitration clauses as an adequate alternative. Fisher went on to mock the Times for flawed reporting before relying on right-wing talking points about forced arbitration:
The bigger issue is what the Times writers work so strenuously to keep out of their stories. The fight here isn't over individual lawsuits; it's over class actions, those cases that reward lawyers with millions of dollars in cash fees and give their clients little to nothing. In editorials and articles like this, the Times carries water for the class-action bar, which also happens to supply a significant amount of money to the Democratic Party each year. The paper conflates the individual right to sue with the right of lawyers to assemble huge groups of consumers, typically without their knowledge or participation, into zombie armies that can compel companies into settling on lucrative terms.
What do General Mills customers really give up if they agree to an arbitration clause?
[A]rbitration does offer some advantages over traditional litigation. Such as: No lawyer would ever take a small case against General Mills in the first place. The General Mills policy specifies a $200 filing fee, which the company waives in cases involving less than $5,000. And anybody who really wants to preserve his right of jury trial can opt out of the policy entirely by notifying General Mills in writing.
Lawless rancher Cliven Bundy praised "hero" Sean Hannity for promoting his cause during an appearance on a conspiracy radio show during which he also warned a civil war could only be avoided if federal "bureaucrats" are disarmed by county sheriffs.
Bundy has been in conflict with the federal government for decades over his refusal to pay grazing fees for his cattle herd's use of public lands. A recent attempt by the Bureau of Land Management to enforce court orders allowing the confiscation of Bundy's cattle to settle unpaid fees and fines was suspended due to safety concerns after armed militias rallied to Bundy's cause and some militia members pointed guns at BLM law enforcement.
Despite threats of violence from Bundy and his supporters -- and the fact his legal claim against paying grazing fees is incredibly weak -- right-wing media have praised Bundy as a conservative champion standing against an outsized federal government. Amid endless sympathetic coverage on Fox News, host Sean Hannity emerged as the network's leading advocate for Bundy.
Media Matters and others have criticized Hannity's "totally irresponsible" journalism, including his support of Bundy's extreme positions, invocation of the deadly Waco standoff, and his touting of the possibility that the federal government will kill Bundy.
During an April 21 appearance on 9-11 truther Alex Jones' conspiracy radio show, Bundy offered thanks to Hannity for promoting his cause. While he said the men disagreed about whether armed militias are the first or last line of defense against government overreach, Bundy said of Hannity, "He is my hero and he supported me and this movement and I appreciate and love him for it. Support him 100 percent." For his part Jones said, "I want to commend Sean Hannity because he has been really bad on a lot of issues but he has a lot of courage doing the right thing here. So I appreciate him being supportive of this."
In a July 2, 2008 campaign speech in Colorado, Obama called for the expansion of service organizations such as AmeriCorp and the Peace Corps, along with America's Foreign Service. During his speech, Obama said:
OBAMA: We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we've set. We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.
Obama's call for more involvement in civic service organizations was distorted by Fox and the right-wing media, who employed inflammatory rhetoric such as claiming Obama wanted to build a "civilian army" that would be part of the president's "thugocracy" and is "what Hitler did with the SS." Even Fox News CEO Roger Ailes was reportedly concerned that Obama's comments meant he "wanted to create a national police force."
On the April 20 edition of Fox & Friends Sunday, co-host Kelly Wright dredged up the smear while discussing Bundy and his armed standoff with members of the federal government, claiming Obama was "telling Americans that the U.S. needs to beef up its domestic police force. And with the recent raid of Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch, well, his push for a stronger domestic militia could be fulfilled."
From the April 19 edition of SiriusXM's Media Matters Radio:
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Fox figures praised armed supporters of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy as good, patriotic, hard-working Americans, ignoring their threats of violence against Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents and indications that they were willing to put women in children in the line of fire.
Led by Sean Hannity, Fox News has devoted 4 hours and 40 minutes of its prime-time programming to cheerleading for a Nevada range war.
Media Matters examined Fox News' weekday programming from 4 p.m. through 11 p.m. ET since it first started covering the story.
Fox News began agitating for a range war on April 9, sympathetically portraying Cliven Bundy as a folk hero based on the Nevada rancher's refusal for two decades to pay the required fees for grazing his cattle on public land. While Nevada reporters have made clear that Bundy is "clearly wrong" and "breaking the law," Fox has waged a PR campaign romanticizing Bundy and the armed militia groups that fled to his ranch and forced a standoff with federal agents who were executing a court order that allowed them to impound his cattle.
Fox Radio hostTodd Starnes fanned the flames by implying that federal agents could be "strung up" for confiscating Bundy's cattle, regardless of a court order. Even after the Bureau of Land Management announced that it would return the cattle to Bundy, Hannity asked Bundy whether he was worried that government agents might kill him.
Hannity has effectively turned his Fox News show into a public-relations firm for Bundy and the militias backing him, dedicating more than 1 1/2 hours of coverage since April 9 to effectively agitating for armed conflict with the federal government.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of Fox News programs from April 5th to April 17th. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: Bundy, Nevada, ranch!, cattle, Bureau of Land Management. The search included the Fox programs The Five, Special Report, On the Record with Greta van Susteren, The O'Reilly Factor, The Kelly File, and Hannity.