Fox News continues to ignore its previously favored Republican Congressman who is currently being hailed as a civil rights champion for supporting the revitalization of the Voting Rights Act.
Fox News has been spending an inordinate amount of negative attention on race relations, anti-discrimination law, and civil rights advocates and organizations in the aftermath of the not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman murder trial. High-profile Fox News hosts and personalities have dismissed any concern for the role that systemic racial discrimination played in the profiling and killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, and have attacked anyone who suggests otherwise as "race hustlers" and part of a "grievance industry."
Simultaneously, another significant news event involving systemic racial discrimination is under way. Both houses of Congress just completed initial hearings on how to fix the Voting Rights Act of 1965, an event Fox News barely covered.
This hugely important civil rights law, which protects the right to vote against illegal voter suppression on the basis of race, was severely weakened by a conservative majority of the Supreme Court in the recent Shelby County v. Holder decision. But a bipartisan coalition seeking to repair the damage is currently forming, led on the Republican side by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee led the overwhelmingly bipartisan reauthorization of the VRA in 2006.
Sensenbrenner also was recently a frequent authority on Fox News due to his expertise on the interaction of civil liberties and national security, a topic Fox News repeatedly focused on after revelations about National Security Agency surveillance. During this time, Fox News host Sean Hannity was particularly effusive in praise of Sensenbrenner's principles and stature, even calling on the congressman to defend the Fox News host's character against charges of hypocrisy. However, in the wake of Shelby County and Sensenbrenner's immediate condemnation of the Supreme Court for striking down the core of the VRA, Fox News ignored their formerly favored guest, despite his obvious relevance to the many voting rights pieces it aired.
This absence of Sensenbrenner on Fox News now that he has renewed his strong defense of civil rights and condemnation of systemic racial discrimination was especially noticeable during the week when both the House of Representatives and the Senate held VRA hearings.
Sensenbrenner was an invited guest to the Senate hearing (a "civil rights icon" in his own right, according to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)) where he blasted Shelby County and reminded the senators that he "did not expect my career to include a third reauthorization of the VRA, but I believe it is a necessary challenge. Voter discrimination still exists, and our progress toward equality should not be mistaken for a final victory."
Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox, broke from Fox News hosts and contributors by tweeting support for the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform bill.
In a July 14 tweet, Murdoch called on House Speaker John Boehner to allow for his chamber to vote on the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform package. Boehner has previously committed not to bring the package up for a vote in the House:
A number of host and contributors of 21st Century Fox's subsidiary Fox News have expressed a view opposite of Murdoch's, either denouncing the Senate plan or calling for House Republican obstruction of any comprehensive immigration reform effort.
On the July 10 edition of his Fox News show, Sean Hannity praised Boehner for not allowing the Senate bill to be voted on in the House, saying, "the decision by the leadership not to take the Senate bill is a good first step" to fixing the immigration system. He also advised that they take their time to get it right.
During the Hannity segment, Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin offered her "qualified applause and praise" of Boehner's commitment to not bring the Senate bill up for a vote.
Additionally, Fox News contributors Laura Ingraham and Bill Kristol have both endorsed Republican obstruction of immigration reform efforts, claiming that any reconciliation of a potential House immigration reform bill and the Senate bill would be disastrous.
Other Fox News figures have staked out a different position, articulating support for the Senate's immigration reform effort. During the July 10 edition of his Fox News show, Bill O'Reilly explained that House Republicans killing the Senate immigration reform bill would "mean the chaotic status quo would remain and the Southern border would not be made more secure." And Fox News contributor Karl Rove said on Fox News Radio that while he doesn't think the Senate immigration reform bill is perfect, he wanted "the process to continue."
For Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has been a "dream come true," according to The New York Times' Timothy Egan. In a July 11 post on the Opinionator blog titled "The Charade of Darrell Issa," Egan detailed how Issa's numerous congressional investigations, despite being predicated on "half-truths and conspiracies," have given the conservative media much fodder for content.
For Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, it's a dream come true, all the things they've been ranting about, finally getting the imprimatur of official business. For Darrell Issa, the congressman given free rein to free range in half-truths and conspiracies, it's what he's always wanted. He's a player! He exists to give Fox and friends programming.
But then, after millions of dollars in investigative forays, the wheels come off the ride. Fast and Furious -- that gunrunning scheme into Mexico by federal agents, known to conservatives as a vast conspiracy by Obama to bring on gun control -- is traced to the White House, just as Issa predicted. Except, it was George W. Bush's White House, where the practice of letting guns cross borders originated in a similar program called Operation Wide Receiver. Move along.
Solyndra, the subsidizing of a money-losing solar energy company, and the tragedy of Benghazi -- Watergate-level cover-ups, yes? They both sank with truth that was much more banal and sad. Next.
In May, Issa hit it big with a story about Internal Revenue Service field agents questioning the nonprofit claims of Tea Party groups. This was "a targeting of the president's political enemies," said Issa. Again, don't worry about facts, he could trace it to Washington somehow -- "we're getting to proving it," he said.
He never proved "it," of course. Just the opposite. Upon closer examination, it was found that the I.R.S. was aggressively targeting liberal groups, as well, flagging those with "progressive" or "medical marijuana" in their names. D'oh!
By now, it should be obvious that Representative Issa, a Republican from California who is one of the wealthiest members of Congress, is not the least bit interested in governing, a sentiment shared by a majority of his fellow nihilists in the House. Immigration reform -- the most significant thing lawmakers could do in this decade -- is a critically ill patient in the emergency room of the Republican House.
Issa made his governing intentions clear three years ago, when he told Rush Limbaugh that President Obama "has been one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times." He later took back the comment, but his motive was exposed for the method that would follow: he would exercise all of his official power to prove a sinister narrative. He would do exactly what he accused Obama of doing, using government muscle to harass his political enemies. Anything that disproves his narrative -- e.g. I.R.S. targeting of liberals -- is swept aside. He starts with a conclusion and works his way back.
The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol and The National Review's Rich Lowry are calling on House Republicans to obstruct comprehensive immigration reform efforts by not passing any immigration reform bills out of the chamber.
In a July 8 op-ed titled "Kill the Bill" cross posted on The Weekly Standard and The National Review's websites, Kristol and Lowry argued that House Republicans should not pass any immigration reform legislation. Doing so would obstruct immigration reform efforts by preventing Senate and House representatives from meeting to reconcile the differences between the Senate's bill and any bill that may pass the House:
House Republicans may wish to pass incremental changes to the system to show that they have their own solutions, even though such legislation is very unlikely to be taken up by the Senate. Or they might not even bother, since Senate Democrats say such legislation would be dead on arrival. In any case, House Republicans should make sure not to allow a conference with the Senate bill. House Republicans can't find any true common ground with that legislation. Passing any version of the Gang of Eight's bill would be worse public policy than passing nothing. House Republicans can do the country a service by putting a stake through its heart.
Others in right-wing media have proposed a similar strategy of obstruction. On the June 25 edition of her radio show, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham and guest Kristol endorsed obstruction, arguing that the House and the Senate reconciling their immigration reform bills would result in a problematic law and should therefore be avoided. In addition, during the June 13 edition of Fox News' Hannity, guest Ann Coulter warned that "if the House passes anything concerning immigration" and conference with representatives from the Senate, the resultant bill "will come out an amnesty bill." She claimed that if a reconciled bill passed, "the country is over."
Right-wing media have long encouraged Republicans to engage in obstruction, including on the appointment of President Obama's second-term nominees and stricter gun violence prevention laws.
Conservative Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, was a frequent legal authority for Fox News until he announced that he was part of a bipartisan effort to reauthorize the key provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) that the Supreme Court recently struck down.
In the past two months, Fox News has repeatedly turned to the legal expertise of Sensenbrenner, former Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee, on issues ranging from the investigation of national security leaks by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to the powers of the National Security Agency (NSA) under the Patriot Act.
Fox News host Sean Hannity, in particular, has expressed his admiration for Sensenbrenner's stature, hosting him on the June 17 edition of his show and informing the long-time congressman that "you're one of the guys that has always been on principle, which I admire and I know you have been there a while, fighting the good fight every day."
Indeed, Hannity appears to have specifically invited Sensenbrenner onto his show that day so the congressman could defend him from Media Matters' observation that the Fox News host was wildly hypocritical in his criticism of the NSA's current surveillance practices. Hannity subsequently praised Sensenbrenner's defense of the Fox News host and his legal explanation of the Patriot Act - legislation the congressman ushered through the House as Judiciary Committee chair - as "enlightening, edifying."
Sensenbrenner is also well-known for leading the effort to pass another overwhelmingly supported bipartisan bill signed into law by Bush: the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA, which the Supreme Court just infamously gutted in Shelby County v. Holder.
Because Congress accumulated extensive evidence to update and justify the VRA's selection of jurisdictions whose election changes remain subject to federal review due to their inability to stop suppressing the vote on the basis of race, Sensenbrenner has repeatedly defended Congress' reauthorization work. Sensenbrenner even filed an amicus brief for the Supreme Court in strong support of the VRA against the right-wing challenge in Shelby County, which the conservative bloc of the Supreme Court ignored.
Now, although Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), current chair of the Judiciary Committee and another Republican who voted to reauthorize the VRA in 2006, is conspicuously silent, Sensenbrenner is helping lead the bipartisan effort to once again pass the VRA provision that was struck down in Shelby County. As reported by The Hill:
A House Republican who led the last push to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act exhorted lawmakers Wednesday to join him in bringing the law back to life.
The day after the Supreme Court quashed the anti-discrimination statute, Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) urged lawmakers to cast aside their differences and restore the rejected provisions for the sake of voter protection.
"The Voting Rights Act is vital to America's commitment to never again permit racial prejudices in the electoral process," Sensenbrenner, the second-ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday in a statement.
"This is going to take time, and will require members from both sides of the aisle to put partisan politics aside and ensure Americans' most sacred right is protected."
Right-wing media misleadingly hyped a congressional hearing to falsely claim that disability fraud is leading to increased claims and depleting the Social Security Disability Trust Fund. However, testimony from a Social Security Administration official at the hearing revealed that fraud is not a major problem in the disability program and demographic changes explain increased disability claims.
The National Review editorial board used the murder conviction of Kermit Gosnell to push for an abortion ban it acknowledges to be unconstitutional that would outlaw all abortions after 20 weeks, even in cases when the health of the mother is at risk.
Gosnell was convicted on May 13 for murdering three infants while breaking Pennsylvania abortion laws and preforming procedures that bore no resemblance to legal women's health services. Despite these facts, right-wing media have repeatedly sought to use Gosnell's violent acts to attack legal and safe abortion procedures in the United States.
A June 11 National Review editorial took these efforts further by using the Gosnell conviction to promote legislation that would severely limit access to safe, life-saving procedures. The editorial board hyped a bill introduced to the House Judiciary Committee by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) that seeks to ban abortions performed after the 20th week of pregnancy. The bill does not provide exceptions to the ban in cases when the health of the mother is at risk, or in cases of rape or incest, and only permits abortions in cases where the life of the mother is threatened. The National Review acknowledged that "the bill is at odds with current Supreme Court jurisprudence," but urged Congress to "fight" for it anyway, claiming the Gosnell conviction revealed current abortion laws are immoral.
The National Review's endorsement of Franks' bill by linking it to the Gosnell murders ignores the realities of legal abortion in the United States. As Media Matters has previously noted, the Supreme Court has become increasingly anti-choice, repeatedly limiting the rights of women to terminate pregnancies. Currently, the Supreme Court has ruled that abortions are "legal so long as the fetus isn't 'viable,' which is usually around 24 weeks," and abortions performed after that point are already severely restricted by law. The vast majority of states prohibit abortions after fetal viability or 24 weeks, and just a few provide an exception when the life of the mother is threatened or in cases of rape or incest. Abortions after week 21 are extremely rare, making up only about 1 percent of all abortions, and are very safe. A medical study published in 2012 concluded that "[l]egal induced abortion is markedly safer than childbirth. The risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion."
As Salon's Irin Carmon noted, many women went to Gosnell's clinic "because they felt they had no alternative." The Gosnell case revealed the need for women to have access to safe, affordable, and legal abortion services -- the same services that Franks' bill seeks to unconstitutionally limit and outlaw. Right-wing media's support for this legislation and continued demonization of abortion puts women's legal right to protect their health under threat.
Fox News dishonestly dismissed a Democratic congressman's statement that the mystery of who began the IRS' inappropriate targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status has been solved.
Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, appeared on CNN's State of the Union on June 9 where he explained that a Cincinnati-based IRS manager told congressional interviewers that a screener under his supervision brought a tea party group's application for tax-exempt status to his attention, and that he then sent the case to a Washington office for assistance. In a letter to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the committee, Cummings further explained that the IRS manager "said he then instructed his team of screeners to identify similar cases" and that the manager told interviewers that "he took this action on his own." The screener under this manager's supervision was also interviewed, and he "acknowledged developing search terms" that that Inspector General's office called "inappropriate" in its report. This is consistent with the Inspector General's finding that the IRS Determinations United in Cincinnati "developed and used inappropriate criteria to identify applications from organizations with the words Tea Party in their names."
But Fox's coverage of Cummings' statement withheld all of this information from the network's viewers. Fox & Friends merely aired Cummings' conclusion on CNN that "the case is solved" before giving Virginia Attorney General and Republican candidate for governor Ken Cuccinelli a platform to air his grievances against the IRS. America's Newsroom similarly aired only Cummings' conclusion and brought on Fox contributor Stephen Hayes to comment, with Hayes also refraining from detailing what the IRS manager told interviewers while questioning why Cummings is putting so much emphasis on the manager's answers.
Fox has been pushing the discredited assertion that the White House or IRS officials in Washington drove the IRS' actions, claiming that partial transcripts of interviews with IRS employees prove that Washington was behind the inappropriate targeting, even though Republicans have admitted they lacked evidence for that. Fox also said that a former IRS commissioner's visits to the White House show that the agency was coordinating with the White House to target conservative groups, when in fact he mostly met with staffers charged with implementing the Affordable Care Act.
Fox News promised that it would "not leave" live coverage of the House hearings on the IRS controversy while paying only lip service to the simultaneous Senate hearings on the epidemic of sexual assaults in the military.
On June 4, the House Ways and Means Committee held another round of hearings on the IRS' inappropriate criteria for scrutinizing conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. The same day, the Senate Armed Services Committee held hearings on the increasing problem of sexual assaults in the military, featuring testimony from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and top officers from each military branch.
Fox's America's Newsroom aired live footage of the House's IRS hearing before it began, then stayed live for witness testimony and congressional questioning. When cutting live coverage for commercial breaks, co-host Bill Hemmer assured viewers, "We have to take a commercial, we got to pay some bills here, but we will not leave this hearing."
By contrast, Fox only went live to the sexual assault hearing before it started, airing footage of representatives, staffers, and media figures waiting for the hearing to begin. Next to a splitscreen of the committee room, co-host Martha MacCallum and correspondent Jennifer Griffin discussed the military's growing problem for approximately three minutes before MacCallum cut away, explaining, "You can watch that hearing on our website at FoxNews.com. Click on the link on the homepage. We've got dueling hearings going on this morning."
The epidemic of sexual assaults in the military is a growing problem. A Department of Defense report estimated that 26,000 incidents of sexual assault occurred in 2012 and that 62 percent of victims who reported the assault faced retaliation. During Tuesday's hearing, in testimony Fox did not air, Army Gen. Ray Odierno described the problem: "Sexual assault and harassment are like a cancer within the force -- a cancer that left untreated will destroy the fabric of our force."
America's Newsroom continued with live coverage of the House IRS hearings for the bulk of the two-hour program, never again mentioning the Senate hearings on military sexual assaults.
From the June 4 edition of Current TV's Talking Liberally:
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From the May 29 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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Fox News falsely claimed Ambassador Thomas Pickering was "reluctant to testify" to Congress about his investigation into the September 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, ignoring Pickering's volunteering to testify in a public hearing.
Republican Rep. Darrell Issa (CA), Chair of the House Oversight Committee, has subpoenaed Pickering, the co-chair of the independent Accountability Review Board that investigated the State Department's handling of the Benghazi attacks, to testify before Congress on the investigation's findings.
On Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy claimed Pickering was "reluctant to testify" and had to be "forced" to do so with the subpoena, implying that this undermined Pickering's credibility as an investigator. On-air text also claimed Pickering was "worried" and "reluctant to testify":
In fact, as Politico reported on May 17, the subpoena issued by Issa was in response to "a letter from Pickering volunteering to appear before the committee," and the subpoena was only necessary because Issa demanded a private hearing instead of the public hearing that Pickering requested:
Pickering and and Admiral Michael Mullen have requested the ability to respond publicly to criticism of a review the two retired officials conducted of the Benghazi attacks.
But Issa is insisting that Republicans and Democratic staffers get a pre-testimony crack at the witnesses by interviewing them behind closed doors first, saying staff and members have only had access to an unclassified version of the Accountability Review Board report on Benghazi.
A copy of Pickering and Accountability Review Board co-chair and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen's letter to Issa volunteering to testify explains that Pickering felt a private hearing was inappropriate, because "the public deserves to hear your questions and our answers."
Fox News Sunday selected Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, attorneys who represented witnesses at a Republican-led hearing on the attacks at a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, for its "power players of the week," an unfortunate choice given that both individuals misled Fox News and its viewers about allegations of threats and intimidation against their clients and about efforts by the administration to prevent their clients from testifying.
Though Fox News Sunday aired certain aspects of Toensing and diGenova's biographies, the segment neglected to mention that the two have a history of poor professional conduct, including criticism from a Democratic congressman for inappropriate behavior and actions while they worked as congressional investigators due to their constant media appearances attacking President Clinton. They were also accused of having a conflict of interest for representing a Republican committee chairman under Justice Department investigation while simultaneously serving as special counsel to the committee in a separate investigation. More recently, Toensing pushed the false claim that outed CIA agent Valerie Plame had not been covert, in addition to other falsehoods.
On April 29, Fox's Special Report aired video of Toensing claiming that people who wanted to testify on Benghazi "have been threatened," which Fox & Friends aired the following morning. Toensing was also cited by Special Report on April 29 in reporting the allegations that "the Obama administration is trying to intimidate potential whistleblowers into silence" and that possible witnesses were having their careers threatened. And a May 6 FoxNews.com article by Fox Washington correspondents James Rosen and Chad Pergram sourced a claim that a witness named Mark Thompson "has been subjected to threats and intimidation by as-yet-unnamed superiors at State, in advance of his cooperation with Congress" to diGenova, who was representing Thompson.
But testimony by the witnesses at a GOP-led hearing on May 8 and subsequent interviews of their attorneys on Fox News revealed that Toensing and diGenova misled the network by claiming that their clients had suffered threats, intimidation, and orders to keep quiet. When asked on Fox's Your World on May 9 about claims that Thompson had been threatened, diGenova replied that Thompson "actually hasn't said that," and explained that his client "didn't feel intimidated."
Gregory Hicks, another witness at the hearing -- represented by Toensing -- explained under questioning that he had not been told not to speak to congressional investigators, only that he was required to have a State Department attorney present while doing so. Hicks also explained that, in contrast to claims that the administration tried to silence him, he was interviewed twice by the State Department's independent Accountability Review Board that was created to investigate the Benghazi attacks. Hicks' testimony further contradicted Toensing's April 29 claim to Special Report that careers were being threatened when he explained that "the overriding factor" in his determination to not return to his post in Libya was to remain with his family in the United States.
From the May 19 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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Leading up to yesterday's House Oversight Committee hearing on Benghazi, the conservative media worked diligently to drive home the idea that the "whistleblowers" who testified had been silenced and were unable to make their voices heard to Congress or other investigative authorities. Much of that narrative was driven by Republican attorney Victoria Toensing, who portrayed her own struggles with bureaucratic red tape as evidence of an administration cover-up. Fox News' Special Report cited Toensing on April 29 in reporting on allegations that "the Obama administration is trying to intimidate potential whistleblowers into silence."
But the testimony of Gregory Hicks, one of the three witnesses at yesterday's hearing, put lie to the notion that the administration was suppressing his voice and opinion. Hicks, we learned, had already spoken with Congressional investigators in Libya. And he had been interviewed -- twice -- as part of the State Department's independent internal investigation. That, combined with the fact that other Benghazi survivors and witnesses have spoken to the FBI, the State Department, and Congress, dismantles the idea that the administration worked to keep Hicks or his cohorts from being heard.
Hicks caused a brief stir yesterday when he testified to Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) that he had been told by the State Department "not to allow the [regional security officer], the acting deputy chief of mission, and myself to be personally interviewed" by Rep. Jason Chaffetz when the Utah Republican led a Congressional delegation to Libya to investigate the Benghazi attacks. Some conservatives misinterpreted Hicks' testimony to mean that Hicks had been ordered not to speak to Chaffetz, period. Hicks, however, later clarified his remarks when questioned by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-NY), explaining that he had been told not to speak to Chaffetz without a State Department attorney present.