On February 7, Breitbart.com's Ben Shapiro reported that Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel (according to "Senate sources") received money from a group called "Friends of Hamas." The report spread quickly through the conservative media as damning of Hagel, until Dave Weigel at Slate.com pointed out a salient fact -- there's no evidence that "Friends of Hamas" exists. Now, New York Daily News reporter Dan Friedman is claiming that a joke he shared with a GOP source is the provenance of "Friends of Hamas." In response to their story falling apart, Shapiro and Breitbart.com -- who angrily and self-righteously demand accountability from the rest of the media for every slip-up, real or imagined -- are lashing out and refusing to accept responsibility for publishing a report based on a falsehood.
Before getting into Shapiro's defense of himself for running with the "Friends of Hamas" rumor, it's worth looking at how Breitbart.com treats other media outlets that print stories that end up being untrue. A couple of weeks ago, Washington Post blogger Suzi Parker reported that Sarah Palin, newly free of her Fox News contract, had signed on with Al Jazeera. The story was not true: Parker had picked it up from the Daily Currant, a parody news site, and the Post issued a correction. Breitbart.com's John Nolte ripped into Parker in a February 12 post, letting fly with a barrage of sexist invective ("isn't she precious?") and slamming her journalistic acumen:
But never one to let facts get in the way of a good Narrative, the "we-meant-to-do-that" Post merely added a correction, changed the headline to "Sarah Palin tries to stay relevant," scrubbed the Al-Jazeera references (the original post can be read here), and still ripped Palin for, uhm, being so desperate to stay relevant.
If Parker had a shred of self-awareness, integrity, and dignity, she would have changed the headline to "Too Good To Check," and under it posted an essay about how shallow, smug, bitterly angry partisanship can blind you to common sense.
But that would require having a soul to search.
Nolte was back at it a few days later, demanding that Post media writer Erik Wemple investigate the Parker-Palin screw-up and attacking the Post's "too good to check" mentality:
If Suzi Parker had the power to publish on her own, it's understandable that someone so bitter and joyless could believe what she so desperately wants to believe. But thanks to the Post's own ombudsmen, we now know a Post editor also fell into "too good to check" mode.
Because Parker and this editor obviously didn't know the Daily Currant is a parody site, that means they published a story based on information from a site with which they were unfamiliar. How did that happen? Who was the editor? Has any disciplinary action been taken?
Conservative media are gearing up to target Caitlin Halligan - President Obama's nominee to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals - in their ongoing campaign to block the administration's judicial nominees, a practice that has led Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to lament "we are destroying the United States' reputation in the world as a beacon of democracy."
Right-wing media have a long history of insisting that the Republican Party filibuster and otherwise obstruct judicial nominees who are insufficiently conservative. The resulting court vacancies have led to "judicial emergencies," but right-wing media have made it clear they will not let up as the Senate considers President Obama's nominees to the crucial D.C. Circuit.
Directly after President Obama was re-elected, National Review Online's Ed Whelan urged the Republican Party to block the president's Supreme Court nominees because those without "conservative judicial principles" are "unfit for the Court." On February 14th, the Senate Judiciary Committee once again sent to the full Senate the nomination of former New York Solicitor General Halligan to the second most important court in the country, the D.C. Circuit, which is considered the last stop on the way to the Supreme Court. Whelan has consistently and prolifically joined the right-wing media opposition to Halligan's nomination, and recently made clear he will continue to extend his right-wing litmus test to the entire federal judiciary.
The New York Times highlighted Republican efforts to prevent the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from functioning, in part by leveraging a recent DC Circuit Court of Appeals' decision that drastically limits the president's power to make recess appointments. But the Times understated the decision's role in continuing GOP obstructionism, even as the corporate lobby appears ready to take advantage of it to undo consumer and labor protections.
In Noel Canning v. National Labor Relations Board, a panel of the extremely conservative judicial circuit responsible for reviewing checks on corporate power issued a decision that rolled back decades of case law on presidential recess appointments. Although the case was nominally about one company's challenge to an adverse NLRB decision through a claim that the recess appointments of two board members were illegitimate, the ensuing opinion was so overbroad that the threat to other recess appointments - such as that of the current CFPB director - was immediately apparent.
In reference to Noel Canning's effect on the CFPB, the Times editorialized:
The bureau cannot operate without a director. Under the Dodd-Frank law, most of its regulatory powers -- particularly its authority over nonbanks like finance companies, debt collectors, payday lenders and credit agencies -- can be exercised only by a director. Knowing that, Republicans used a filibuster to prevent President Obama's nominee for director, Richard Cordray, from reaching a vote in 2011. Mr. Obama then gave Mr. Cordray a recess appointment, but a federal appeals court recently ruled in another case that the Senate was not in recess at that time because Republicans had arranged for sham sessions.
That opinion, if upheld by the Supreme Court, is likely to apply to Mr. Cordray as well, which could invalidate the rules the bureau has already enacted. The president has renominated Mr. Cordray, but Republicans have made it clear that they will continue to filibuster, using phony arguments to keep the agency from operating.
After former Sen. Chuck Hagel was nominated as defense secretary, right-wing media outlets attacked him with distorted quotes, and similarly deceptive uses of those quotes surfaced at Hagel's hearing on Thursday.
During the hearing, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) highlighted a statement that Hagel made in a 2006 speech about the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah that was occurring in Lebanon at the time. Cruz claimed that Hagel had accused Israel of committing a "sickening slaughter."
But as Slate's Dave Weigel pointed out, this echoes a distortion promoted by The Weekly Standard. In reality, Hagel said that the "sickening slaughter on both sides must end" (emphasis added). As Weigel explains, Hagel "described the conflict that way -- a sickening slaughter was occurring -- blaming both sides, and quickly following up by criticizing Iran and invoking the 'special relationship'" between Israel and the United States.
Cruz also showed video of Hagel answering questions on an Al-Jazeera show in 2009. One of the questions Hagel fielded on the show was an email that asked:
Can the rest of the world be persuaded to give up their arsenal when the image of the U.S. is that of the world's bully? Don't we indeed need to change the perception and the reality before asking folks to lay down their arms (nuclear or otherwise)?
On the program, Hagel responded, "Well, her observation is a good one, and it's relevant. Yes to her question."
According to Cruz, the clip showed Hagel "explicitly" agreeing that the United States is "the world's bully." This echoes the take of the Washington Free Beacon, which discussed this exchange in a January 9 post misleadingly headlined "Hagel Agrees that America is 'the World's Bully.' " But as is clear from the question itself, Hagel agreed that there is an image of the U.S. as a bully that needs to be corrected.
A teapot tempest erupted today after Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) cited Washington Post political blogger Jennifer Rubin by name today at Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel's Senate confirmation hearing. Post associate editor and senior correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran tweeted, "I hate it when senators refer to WP opinion blogger posts as articles. [Rubin] is NOT a WaPo reporter," which prompted Buzzfeed to proclaim that a "civil war" had broken out at the Post over "the newspaper's reputation for fairness and neutrality." This misses the point of what makes Rubin so problematic for the Post: it's not that she's conservative, or even that she's opinionated. She's dishonest, often flagrantly so, and that dishonesty tarnishes Washington Post's reputation.
Rubin, who essentially served as the Romney campaign's in-house blogger for the Washington Post during the 2012 presidential campaign, has recently led the charge against Hagel's nomination.
Here's a not-at-all exhaustive list of outright lies, misrepresentations, and self-contradictions Rubin has spun while speaking or writing on the Post's behalf:
Rubin invented the idea that State Department personnel in Washington, D.C., watched real-time video of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, a claim later debunked by Washington Post media writer Erik Wemple.
The Wall Street Journal recently joined Fox News in attempting to rewrite a radical and unprecedented federal appellate court opinion to fit their caricature of a "lawless" President Obama. But even as a WSJ editorial picks up Fox News' misrepresentation of the appellate court's sweeping decision on the constitutional legitimacy of presidential recess appointments as a narrow swipe at Obama, the Fox-fueled version is starting to unravel.
On January 29, the WSJ published an editorial that claimed "the latest disdain for the Constitution's checks and balances" was the Obama administration's response to a recent outlier opinion of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. This decision broke with centuries of practice and case law by holding presidents can only make recess appointments when both a vacancy and appointment occur in-between congressional sessions. Specifically, the WSJ was offended that the National Labor Relations Board accurately pointed out the opinion was technically limited to the party that brought the case - despite its serious implications for all other similarly situated plaintiffs - and not only was it not currently in effect, it might be overturned on appeal. From the WSJ editorial, which accused the NLRB of planning to "ignore" the opinion:
So, let's see. First, President Obama bypasses the Senate's advice and consent power by making "recess" appointments while the Senate was in pro-forma session specifically to prevent recess appointments. Then when a federal court rules the recess appointments illegal, the NLRB declares that it will keep doing business as if nothing happened.
Without Mr. Obama's illegal appointments, the board would have been without a quorum and unable to decide a single case. That lawless behavior means more than 200 of the NLRB's rulings in the past year are in limbo. It's bad enough to force those 200 litigants to appeal rulings that are sure to be overturned. But the board wants to keep issuing new rulings though it now knows that a unanimous appeals court has declared them illegal, pending a Supreme Court review that may never happen.
In their rush to frame a federal appellate court opinion as a personal rebuke of President Obama, Fox News host Megyn Kelly and frequent guest Jay Sekulow misrepresented the truly radical and unprecedented nature of a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on presidential recess appointments. Although Kelly and Sekulow erroneously reported that the opinion only affects Obama's recess appointment of members to the National Labor Relations Board, it actually casts doubt on hundreds of presidential appointments and subsequent actions since the 1940s.
On the January 25 edition of America Live, Kelly repeatedly reported that the DC Circuit "clipped President Obama's wings" by holding the Republican-controlled Senate was actually in session when Obama made recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, pursuant to long-standing presidential powers. The NLRB is, of course, a frequent bogeyman for both right-wing media and corporate interests because of its perceived favorability to unions. Kelly and Sekulow, who filed an amicus brief in the case as Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, claimed the decision's holding depended on the fact that the Senate was technically in session because of a new parliamentary trick that gavels the Senate into "pro forma session" even though no business is conducted. This is inaccurate.
Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace allowed Bill Kristol to attack the nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary without disclosing that Kristol is currently waging a full-scale campaign to oppose the nominee. Wallace further failed to challenge Kristol on his previous support of Hagel until he publicly supported a withdrawal from the Iraq War.
Fox News contributor Bill Kristol has been leading a relentless attack campaign against former Republican senator Chuck Hagel, President Obama's nominee for defense secretary. During television appearances and on his site The Weekly Standard, Kristol is actively encouraging the Senate to block Hagel's nomination. The Emergency Committee for Israel, a political advocacy group Kristol founded, has even launched an anti-Hagel website complete with attack ads.
Yet on Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Kristol to opine on Hagel's nomination without any mention of his advocacy to prevent Hagel from becoming defense secretary. After saying Hagel is a "controversial pick for defense secretary," Wallace directed Kristol: "Your comments on Hagel?" Kristol replied, "I don't think Chuck Hagel is the right man to be secretary of defense. We'll see if the United [States] Senate agrees with that." Kristol opposes the nomination on the false grounds that Hagel is hostile to Israel and sympathetic to Iran.
Kristol even interjected Hagel attacks into unrelated conversations.
Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin jumps on the "picking fights" bandwagon and writes that the nomination of Jack Lew for Treasury Secretary shows that Obama is "going to seek confrontation" in his second term. This is a problematic line of reasoning, given that the Republican Senate minority is doing everything it can to ensure confrontation, but Rubin teases out a broader criticism of Obama's nominations thus far, writing in her January 10 post:
It is not merely that President Obama has put up confrontational nominees. He is also replacing senior people with standing and reputations derived independent of his administration (e.g., Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta, Tim Geithner) with confidants who are like-minded, disinclined to question the president or rebut his (often erroneous) thinking.
This is utter hogwash. Let's run down Obama's second term high-level nominees thus far: Sen. John Kerry for State; former Sen. Chuck Hagel for Defense; John Brennan for CIA director; and Jack Lew for Treasury.
Both Kerry and Hagel have standing and reputations derived from a combined 40 years spent in the Senate. Kerry and Obama obviously see eye-to-eye on most issues, but Hagel is a Republican and on more than a few topics he and the president are not "like-minded." Before his name was put forth as a potential Obama nominee Republican senators were singing Hagel's praises as someone who "understands the world better than almost anyone," and John McCain said Hagel would make a "great Secretary of State" in 2006, as McCain was preparing for his own presidential run.
As for Brennan and Lew, both have spent the last four years in the administration, but Brennan's "standing" and "reputation" come from a career spent in the CIA. He was also the first director of the National Counterterrorism Center. Jack Lew is the only nominee for whom Rubin's criticism is even close to accurate, but it's still a stretch. Lew was Bill Clinton's director of the Office of Management and Budget from 1998 -2001, a job he held again under Obama.
There are still at least two nominations to go, now that Labor Secretary Hilda Solis has tendered her resignation and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson has said she will step down. Given the trajectory of the commentary it seems likely that (for conservative bloggers at least) their replacements will be controversial and confrontational figures who owe their careers and reputations to Obama's largesse, no matter who they may be.
President Obama's forthcoming nomination of White House chief of staff Jack Lew for Treasury Secretary is not sitting well with the Wall Street Journal editorial board. The Journal, in an editorial headlined "Team of Liberal Loyalists," criticizes Obama's selection of a "loyalist" for Treasury who will "advance and implement his agenda," rather than a figure who will "offer independent advice."
President Obama is expected to name Jack Lew as his Treasury secretary on Thursday, continuing his cabinet's second-term makeover in his own image. He is assembling a team of personal and ideological loyalists whose job will be less to offer independent advice than to advance and implement his agenda for a larger, more redistributionist government.
What a difference an administration can make. Back in late 2004, as the newly reelected President Bush was mulling Cabinet replacements for his second term, the Journal editorial board weighed in on potential Treasury secretaries. Looking back at his first term, they praised Bush for dumping Paul O'Neill (because he "didn't agree with the President's agenda") and replacing him with John Snow, who "has been loyal and has served honorably."
More than Defense or State, and certainly more than Homeland Security, if there's a single Cabinet post that could ruin President Bush's second term, our choice would be Treasury. So we hope the White House is doing more thinking about the position than it has exhibited so far.
Mr. Bush's first choice, Paul O'Neill, was an unguided missile who didn't agree with the President's agenda and had to be fired. Second choice John Snow has been loyal and has served honorably, though no one we know would describe him as another Andrew Mellon, or even a Robert Rubin, in terms of his clout both inside and outside the Administration. If there was any doubt about this, the nasty recent leak from someone in the White House that Mr. Snow would only be around for a few more months hardly enhanced his stature. Whether he's leaving or staying, the Secretary deserved better treatment.
The Journal did want to see a Bush Treasury Secretary with "the stature to fight the White House tendency to make economic choices for short-term political reasons," but what sort of independent, agenda-free non-loyalist did they have in mind for the position? Donald Rumsfeld. They even wrote favorably of Andrew Card who, like Lew, was chief of staff and ran "a disciplined White House." (They also worried that Card "would be perceived as the choice of the weak-dollar lobby.")
As a bonus let's take a look at Wall Street Journal editorial board member Bret Stephens' November 29, 2004, column on the role of the Cabinet. Per Stephens, the Cabinet is there to be stuffed with loyalists and used as an instrument to enact the president's agenda:
This brings us back to the current administration. George W. Bush is accused of burying cabinet government for good with his appointments of close confidantes Rice, Alberto Gonzales and Margaret Spellings. Nonsense. Contrary to Andrew Sullivan, a cabinet is not something a president governs with; and contrary to Andrew Jackson, it is not something a president governs around. Ideally, a cabinet is what a president governs through. Now that Mr. Bush has moved his own people into the cabinet, he may at last be able to do just that.
The Wall Street Journal discounted and distorted potential Treasury secretary nominee Jack Lew's record, ignoring the economic success he helped foster, in order to claim that Lew is unqualified to be Treasury secretary.
A Journal editorial claimed that Lew did not possess "credibility in the business or financial worlds" and will not make the administration "hospitable to business and private economic growth."
The Journal acknowledged that Lew has twice served as the director of the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB), once under President Clinton and once under President Obama, but discounted that experience. However, as OMB director, Lew was responsible for overseeing the administration's budget proposals and ensuring that the economic impact of any proposed federal regulations was properly assessed. And during Lew's first tenure in that job the federal government saw budget surpluses totaling over $300 billion.
Furthermore, during his time with the Obama administration as OMB director and chief of staff, Lew was part of the team that helped pull the United States out of recession and facilitated steady economic growth.
The Journal also claimed that when he was in the Clinton administration, Lew "was viewed by Republicans as a reasonable liberal they could do business with" but as an Obama administration official, Lew "has been the President's most partisan and implacable negotiator." But this assessment may reflect how the Republican Party has changed rather than any change by Lew.
Experts contend that it is Republican legislators who have dramatically increased the partisanship in Washington. Congressional experts Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, in a Washington Post op-ed and related report concluded that "the Republicans are the problem" when it comes to gridlock and extremism in Washington.
President Obama is busily nominating replacements for the various Cabinet officers and Cabinet-level officials who aren't sticking around for his second term. The emerging consensus in the media is that in doing so, the president is "picking fights" with the Senate GOP minority that will have to vote for or against the nominees. Former Republican senator Chuck Hagel's nomination for Defense Secretary has been cast as an especially provocative move by the White House. It's a curious way to frame the story -- if indeed Obama can be said to be "picking fights" with Cabinet nominees, that's only because Senate Republicans have made clear they'll fight anyone Obama picks. And casting Obama as the disruptive force masks the Republican obstructionism underlying the confirmation fights.
Here's The Hill from January 7:
Obama nominates Hagel for Pentagon, picking fight with Senate Republicans
President Obama on Monday nominated former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to be the nation's next Defense secretary despite warnings of a tough confirmation fight from some Senate Republicans.
Here's the Washington Post, also from January 7:
President Obama picks a confirmation fight. Can he win it?
When President Obama formally nominates Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense later today, he can be certain of one thing: The former Nebraska Republican Senator will face a major fight to win confirmation.
And here's Politico from this morning:
Why President Obama is picking fights with Congress
Barack Obama is looking for a few good fights.
Obama, the same president who campaigned twice on breaking the cycle of conflict in Washington, sees the utility -- even the necessity -- of rattling Republican cages as he plunges into a succession of upcoming battles over the nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, the debt ceiling, $1 trillion in automatic budget cuts, immigration reform and gun control.
Media figures have smeared President Obama's nominee for secretary of defense, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), by misrepresenting Hagel's support for sanctions against Iran and his support for Israel. The media have also cast doubt on the bipartisan support for Hagel's nomination.
CNN distorted former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel's positions on potential U.S. negotiations with Hamas and sanctions on Iran to privilege the bogus argument that the senator is anti-Israel. In fact, Hagel's positions on these issues are not out of the mainstream and are not anti-Israel.
During a report that President Obama is going to nominate Hagel to be secretary of defense, CNN host Zoraida Sambolin played a clip of Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) saying that a Hagel nomination is an "in your face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel." CNN foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty followed up that clip by asserting that Hagel's critics "would question his devotion to anything that would help Israel. He, for instance, believes in talking to Hamas." Dougherty also highlighted the argument that Hagel's views on sanctions against Iran show that he is not sufficiently pro-Israel.
But the position Hagel has taken on Hamas is well within the mainstream and the position he has taken on Iran is not an anti-Israel position, but part of his long-held view that unilateral sanctions do not work. Furthermore, Hagel is supported by high-profile pro-Israel commentators.
Regarding Hamas, in 2009, Hagel co-signed a bipartisan letter suggesting steps the United States could take to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians. One of the recommendations in the letter was that the United States should take "a more pragmatic approach toward Hamas and a Palestinian unity government." The United States has a policy of not negotiating with Hamas, which won Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 and is the de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip, due to its support of terrorism.
The letter stated: "Direct U.S. engagement with Hamas may not now be practical." But it added that Israel has acknowledged Hamas "is simply too important and powerful to be ignored." It recommended that the United States shift its policy "from ousting Hamas to modifying its behavior, offer it inducements that will enable its more moderate elements to prevail, and cease discouraging third parties from engaging with Hamas."
This is far from an extreme or anti-Israel position. The letter was co-signed by two former U.S. National Security Advisers, Zbigniew Brezinski, who served in the Carter administration and Brent Scowcroft, who served in the Ford, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush administrations. Other signers include former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum-Baker (R-KS), former 9/11 Commission co-chair Lee Hamilton, and former Federal Reserve chair Paul Volcker. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen also endorsed the position on Hamas taken by the letter.
Furthermore, the Israeli government itself has said it is willing to talk to Hamas under certain conditions. The Jerusalem Post reported that Israeli President Shimon Peres said that "Israel would be willing to talk to Hamas, if Hamas complied with the three conditions set down by the Mideast Quartet, namely renunciation of terrorism, recognition of Israel and willingness to negotiate with Israel." The Post also reported: "There's nothing wrong with talking to Hamas, Peres clarified, but Hamas won't talk to Israel."
Fox News suggested that former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) may have trouble getting Senate confirmation from fellow Republicans following reports that he is being considered for the position of President Obama's Secretary of Defense. Fox's objection to Hagel follows previous efforts by the network to obstruct Obama's possible Cabinet nominations.
In late November, Foreign Policy reported that Hagel was being vetted for "a possible top national security post in the Obama Administration," including the position of Secretary of Defense that Secretary Leon Panetta will vacate. Senators from across the political spectrum, including Carl Levin (D-MI), Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Jim Inhofe (R-OK) praised Hagel's potential nomination, and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) who specifically praised Hagel's "seriousness and experience."
Despite this praise, Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson claimed Hagel might be opposed by Senate Republicans. Carlson said that Hagel's opposition to the 2007 troop surge in Iraq and his accompanying then-Senator Obama on a trip to Afghanistan and Iraq in 2008 means he is "not a typical Republican" and that "could present some obstacles" to his Senate confirmation.
Indeed, Hagel did voice concerns about the 2007 surge. However, he was not the only Republican to do so. Many Republican senators at the time, including Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Gordon Smith (R-OR), Norm Coleman (R-MN), George Voinovich (R-OH), John Sununu (R-NH) and John Warner (R-VA), all expressed concerns about the 2007 surge.