Time Warner Cable News (TWC) orchestrated a phony scandal and boosted Thom Tillis's North Carolina Senate campaign by placing an empty chair for his opponent, Democratic Senator Kay Hagan, at an event it billed as a "debate" -- though it had known for months Hagan would not attend. TWC's stunt resulted in widespread negative media coverage of Hagan and helped amplify GOP attacks on the senator in the midst of a race some experts consider a toss-up.
In early July, Hagan announced that she would attend three debates in the North Carolina Senate race, but would not participate in a fourth debate Time Warner Cable News (TWC) planned to host on October 21. TWC acknowledged that Hagan had declined the invitation, but moved forward with the program, still billing it as a "debate," and placed an empty chair next to Tillis during his appearance. Tillis' campaign was quick to attack Hagan's decision not to attend, hyping the "empty chair in Kay Hagan's place."
When the event was initially proposed, it was billed as a debate between Tillis and Hagan and sponsored by TWC and local papers The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer. The two papers withdrew "after learning that an empty chair would be placed on the set," The News & Observer reported. "We wanted to have a serious discussion with Mr. Tillis about the issues without any gimmicks," News & Observer executive editor John Drescher said, citing an "honest miscommunication" with TWC, "My understanding was that we would tell viewers every 15 minutes that Sen. Hagan had declined our invitation but that we would not have an empty chair." Both The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer referred to the event as an "appearance on a cable TV news show" by Tillis rather than a "debate."
TWC's stunt provided the mainstream media a chance to echo the Tillis campaign's criticism. CNN's chief national correspondent John King highlighted Hagan's absence and the empty chair on the October 22 edition of New Day, but didn't note that her absence had been expected for months. King said, "we're waiting for a good explanation from the Hagan campaign, besides she had other things to do." A CNN article similarly hyped Hagan's absence with the headline: "Hagan absent, Tillis faces off against empty chair," and quipped "This is not your Clint Eastwood empty chair moment from the 2012 Republican National Convention -- but it's close." The article highlighted GOP criticism of Hagan's decision, but did note that she "had already declined."
Right-wing media outlets also seized on TWC's gimmick to attack Hagan. Fox News co-host Ainsley Earhardt claimed on the October 22 edition of Fox & Friends that Hagan "didn't bother to show up" and asked "Why did Kay Hagan bail?" Breitbart ran the story under the headline "Thom Tillis Debates Empty Chair After Kay Hagan Declines Debate Invitation," and the Washington Free Beacon highlighted her absence, saying "Hagan's empty chair was visible throughout the debate." The Weekly Standard also hyped Hagan's absence, publishing direct quotes from the Republican research firm America Rising attacking Hagan for not attending the event.
TWC's stunt comes in the wake of accusations of a cozy relationship between Tillis and the telecom company. Last year, a Republican lawmaker in the NC legislature resigned his position as chairman of the Finance Committee, accusing Tillis of governing with a conflict of interest and citing a "business relationship with Time Warner." Time Warner has also previously donated money to Tillis.
George Will dismissed Colorado Senate candidate Cory Gardner's support for federal fetal personhood legislation that would outlaw abortions and some birth control measures nationwide, suggesting that Gardner's position is irrelevant because the legislation has "zero chance of passing."
In his October 17 syndicated column, Will sought to neutralize some of the most controversial parts of Gardner's record: his past support for a statewide personhood bill in Colorado and current co-sponsorship of the Life At Conception Act in Congress:
Gardner favors over-the-counter sales of oral contraceptives. In addition to being common sense, Gardner's proposal is his way of making amends for formerly advocating a state constitutional "personhood" amendment (it is again on the ballot this year and will be decisively rejected for a third time) and for endorsing similar federal legislation that has zero chance of passage. By defining personhood as beginning at conception, these measures might preclude birth control technologies that prevent implantation in the uterus of a fertilized egg.
While Gardner has denied that the federal bill is personhood legislation that would broadly roll back women's reproductive rights, independent fact-checkers and leading health organizations say he is wrong. The language of the Life At Conception Act would give rights to a "preborn human person," which is defined as "each and every member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being."
Will's defense of Gardner's record on personhood is in line with The Denver Post editorial board's October 10 endorsement Gardner, which pardoned his history of opposing marriage equality and abortion rights. National women's group NARAL: Pro-Choice America blasted the Post for endorsing a candidate with positions "that deeply conflict with the paper's previous editorial stances."
National Review editor Rich Lowry equated Kentucky senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes' refusal to disclose which presidential candidate she voted for in 2012 with former Republican Rep. Todd Akin's (MO) stunning claim that it is "really rare" for a woman to become pregnant as a result of "a legitimate rape." Lowry suggested the two positions were politically equivalent "gaffes," whitewashing the fact that Akin's statement was not only absurdly disconnected from scientific reality -- it also happened to reflect actual policy priorities of the Republican Party.
During an October 10 interview with the editorial board of The Louisville Courier-Journal, Grimes said she "respect[ed] the sanctity of the ballot box" when asked if she voted for President Obama in past elections. During an October 13 candidate debate, Grimes reiterated her stance on voter privacy:
GRIMES: This is a matter of principle. Our constitution grants, here in Kentucky, the constitutional right to privacy at the ballot box, for a secret ballot. You have that right, Senator McConnell has that right, every Kentuckian has that right.
GRIMES: I am not going to compromise a constitutional right provided here in Kentucky in order to curry favor on one or other side or for members of the media.
In an October 15 column published by Politico Magazine, Lowry exclaimed that "Alison Lundergan Grimes is the Todd Akin of 2014," and argued that Grimes' stated position defending the secret ballot was "a defining political gaffe" for this election. He likened her comments to then-Rep. Todd Akin's infamous statements about rape and pregnancy, in which Akin stated that pregnancies resulting from rape are rare because, "if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." Lowry argued that the two candidates represented similar levels of political ineptitude, writing that each was "telegenic, mockable and universally condemned."
Grimes' decision to stand on principle with regard to voter privacy has been labeled a "gaffe" by some, but, as MSNBC's Steve Benen pointed out, it is "an issue the media has deemed extremely important, but which actually affects no one."
By comparison, Akin's alarming comments on rape and pregnancy were reflected to varying degrees in actual policy decisions favored by Republican elected officials and candidates. Akin would later attempt to clarify his remarks amid a "firestorm" of controversy, but maintained his opposition to legal abortion access for women -- a constitutional right codified by the Supreme Court in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. In 2012, many prominent Republican candidates and conservative media figures supported banning safe and legal abortion, making the issue a central part of campaign rhetoric.
In October 2012, Indiana Republican senate candidate Richard Mourdock voiced his opposition to abortion "even when life begins in that terrible situation of rape," stating that "it is something that God intended to happen." Around the same time, Republican Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois supported a ban on all abortion, including cases that would threaten the life of the mother. Walsh falsley claimed that "modern technology and science" had solved the problem of potentially life-threatening pregnancies. During a 2007 Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney said "we don't want to have abortion in this country at all, period." He went on to state that it would be "terrific" if Congress passed a bill outlawing abortion, which he would be "delighted" to sign. Romney dodged abortion questions throughout his 2012 campaign, but promised to eliminate federal funding for women's health organizations like Planned Parenthood and vowed to be "a pro-life president."
Outlawing access to abortion remains a lightning rod for conservative media, with some right-wing outlets going so far as to tie debates about legal abortion to the crimes of convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell. Right-wing media figures like Karl Rove have pushed the myth that some forms of contraception are actually forms of abortion, while others such as Bill O'Reilly advanced extremist views on fetal "personhood" that would criminalize most abortions.
There is no appropriate comparison between Akin's extreme rhetoric and false scientific claims, and Grimes' personal defense of privacy at the ballot box.
Fox News Sunday hosted Karl Rove to analyze Senate midterm elections without disclosing his role with political organizations that have spent millions of dollars supporting Republican candidates in those races.
On the October 12 edition of Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace was joined by Rove and Democratic strategist Joe Trippi to discuss "the hottest races" in 2014. While Rove was introduced as "the architect of George W. Bush's two presidential victories" and described in on-screen text as a "former Bush White House advisor," no mention was made of his current political activities or affiliations. Rove commented on three Senate races in which his political groups have made a significant financial investment. Rove said he believed Republican Joni Ernst would win in Iowa because she had "united the party," claimed that voters in North Carolina would reject Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan because it's the only way to "send a message to Obama," and praised Alaska Republican candidate Dan Sullivan's energy policy.
Rove co-founded and advises two political organizations, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, that have spent nearly $8 million dollars against Democratic candidates in the Alaska, Iowa, and North Carolina races, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Rove's political network poured more than $4.5 million in additional spending into those races in support of the Republican candidates.
American Crossroads has also received $300,000 from Dan Sullivan's parents. Sullivan's father reportedly "doesn't know with certainty that the funds will be spent on his son's race," telling Bloomberg News, "That will be up to the discretion of Karl Rove."
This is the second time in four weeks that the program has allowed Rove to provide election analysis without noting his role in attempting to influence those same races.
Later in the broadcast, Fox contributor Carly Fiorina predicted that Ernst and Cory Gardner, the Republican candidate for Senate in Colorado, would win, praising the candidates for "very clear platforms about what they think the priorities of this nation should be." Neither Fiorina nor Wallace noted that Fiorina heads the Unlocking Potential PAC, which has spent nearly $150,000 in support of the Ernst and Gardner campaigns.
Here is the full segment featuring Rove:
Rock The Vote president Ashley Spillane responded to Fox News hosts' criticism of the campaign encouraging young people to vote, saying the hosts' declaration that they don't want young people to vote if they "don't know the issues," is "crazy."
During the October 8 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered, co-hosts Kennedy and Harris Faulkner chided the Rock The Vote "#TurnOutForWhat" campaign aimed at motivating young people to vote in the 2014 midterm elections "for the issues that matter to them." Faulkner claimed the campaign "is about kids getting high, getting drunk," and asked "do you really want to motivate them to vote and be ignorant at the polls?" Kennedy agreed saying "no" she didn't want young people to vote if they don't know the issues.
On October 9, Spillane responded on HuffPost Live, calling the view that young people shouldn't vote "crazy." She further explained that their comments exemplified a "problematic take on youth voting in American media":
Fox News Sunday invited American Crossroads founder Karl Rove to discuss key 2014 midterm Senate races without disclosing Rove's relationship with the super PAC that has poured millions into influencing the outcomes of the Senate races being discussed.
Rove appeared on the September 21 edition of Fox News Sunday to discuss whether Republicans will take the Senate in the 2014 midterm elections. Rove lauded individual Republicans and trumpeted their chances of winning a Senate majority, but complained that "One advantage the Democrats have had is a big cash advantage" -- an argument he has previously used to fundraise for his political groups.
While host Chris Wallace identified Rove as a "former Bush White House advisor" and a Fox News contributor, he failed to disclose Rove's relationship to political groups fundraising to attack Democrats in the Senate.
American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, political groups that Rove co-founded and continues to advise, have spent millions dollars attacking Democrats in the Senate races discussed on Fox News Sunday. Here's a breakdown of the groups' spending during the 2013-2014 election cycle from Open Secrets:
Here's a breakdown of the groups' spending on individual congressional campaigns from Open Secrets:
A New York Times report finds that conservative members of Congress appear more often on Sunday news shows than liberal members, reaffirming Media Matters' data finding overall that guest appearances on Sunday news shows lean right.
A Times analysis of research collected by American University finds that the distribution of guest appearances by members of Congress on Sunday news shows favors conservatives by a margin of 57 percent to 42 percent. The report finds that the ideological tilt also applies to former Congressional members by nearly the same margin.
The parade of politicians on the Sunday morning talk shows veers to the right, not the left.
Conservative members of the current Congress have appeared more often on the network talk shows than their liberal counterparts. Senators and representatives from the conservative end of the ideological spectrum have made 57 percent of the appearances, compared with 42 percent for liberals, according to an Upshot analysis of data collected by American University.
When the Sunday shows have turned to former members of Congress, the same ideological pattern emerges: Conservatives have made 56 percent of the appearances, compared with 41 percent for liberals. As a group, the former conservative lawmakers were slightly more liberal than their current counterparts.
These findings reinforce an analysis from Media Matters that found guest appearances by elected and administration officials on Sunday broadcast news shows in 2013 favored Republicans on at least half of the shows, especially in solo interviews.
Ideology Of Guests On Sunday News Broadcast Shows: More Conservatives Than Progressives. Media Matters found that conservative guests outnumbered progressive guests on three of the four Sunday shows in 2013.
[Media Matters, 1/31/14]
Conservatives Received Majority Of Solo Interviews On Three Of The Four Broadcast News Shows. Three of four Sunday shows also devoted a majority of their solo interviews to conservative guests.
[Media Matters, 1/31/14]
Sunday Broadcast News Shows Invited More Conservative Journalist Guests Than Liberals. A Media Matters analysis found that all Sunday broadcast news shows in 2013 hosted more conservative journalists and pundits than liberals. Fox News Sunday had the largest imbalance with a 49 percent plurality of journalist guests being conservative and only 16 percent being progressive. On the other three broadcast news shows neutral journalists and pundits were the most common, followed by conservatives, and then progressives.
[Media Matters, 1/31/14]
Sunday Broadcast News Shows Dramatically Leaned Conservative During George W. Bush's First Term. A Media Matters study found that during President Bush's first term, Republican/conservative guests outnumbered Democratic/progressive guests, 58 percent to 42 percent. Guest appearances by elected officials and administration representatives also favored Republicans during this period, 61 percent to 39 percent. [Media Matters, 2/14/06]
Footnote: All original analysis conducted by Rob Savillo.
Fox News' embellishments of discredited journalist Sharyl Attkisson's latest Benghazi conspiracy theory have become increasingly detached from reality, most recently morphing into absurd allegations that Hillary Clinton supporters "scrubbed" documents to hide evidence of a supposed State Department effort to funnel weapons to the Islamic State militants in a "mini-Iran Contra" scenario, or, as Fox puts it, "the holy grail" of scandals.
After Attkisson highlighted disgruntled former State Department employee Raymond Maxwell's speculating (he "couldn't help but wonder") that State Department staff "scrubbed" damaging Benghazi documents before the initial investigation, it took just hours for Fox's coverage of the claims to morph from reiteration into full-blown allegations that Hillary Clinton's office had facilitated the destruction of key documents in violation of federal law.
Fox's own Bill O'Reilly raised doubts about whether Attkisson's story constituted a scandal, but Fox's morning show kept the conspiracy drumbeat alive on September 17 edition of Fox & Friends, escalating the speculative claims to even greater heights. Co-host Brian Kilmeade and Fox News contributor Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer speculated that the allegedly removed documents would prove that the State Department enabled an Iran-Contra-like scenario by facilitating the transfer of weapons to Islamic State militants. Insisting that "all roads lead to principal officers," Shaffer imagined that the supposed documents may hide a "direct link" to what he called a "holy grail" of Benghazi allegations, and Kilmeade concluded that "this is almost like a mini Iran-Contra thing":
Fox News' coverage of an evidence-free "bombshell" from Benghazi hoaxster Sharyl Attkisson took just hours to morph from a reiteration of her claim that a disgruntled former State Department employee "couldn't help but wonder" if Hillary Clinton's staff had turned over "scrubbed" Benghazi documents to investigators into full-blown allegations that documents had been "destroyed" -- allegations that remain baseless.
Fox News' live coverage of the Senate Armed Services hearing on U.S. strategy against the Islamic State repeatedly cut away when Senate Democrats held the floor.
On September 16, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the U.S. campaign to counter the terrorist threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Fox News' America's Newsroom aired live coverage of the hearing for nearly 40 minutes without interruption. After opening remarks from Dempsey and Hagel, Fox aired questions from Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), ranking majority and minority members, respectively. Yet when Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) was given the floor, Fox cut away, only rejoining footage once Republican Sen. John McCain (AZ) began questioning.
After airing more than six minutes of McCain's questions, Fox once again cut away during Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson (FL)'s time so that America's Newsroom co-host Martha McCallum could praise McCain for "obviously a very strong line of questioning."
An hour later, the network resumed coverage of the hearing only to highlight "heated" questions from another Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC).
In all, the network aired more than 16 minutes of GOP questions, while showing just over 8 minutes of Democratic questioning, according to a Media Matters count.
An upcoming Fox News special report promises to expose Obamacare problems in New Hampshire, where the network's former contributor Scott Brown is running for U.S. Senate. The special will feature an interview with Brown, who has declared that "Obamacare isn't working" and called the law a "monstrosity."
Airing the night of August 8, "Live Free or Die: Obamacare in New Hampshire" promises to chronicle the effect of the Affordable Care Act on New Hampshire residents, such as a doctor who retired rather than deal with health care reform and a "lesbian [who] opts out of Obamacare, questioning why she should pay for reproductive care she doesn't want or need."
Why the focus on New Hampshire? According to the network, in part because the state is "where this year's election will be key to determining which party controls the Senate." This appears to be the first time Fox has run a special focused on a single state since at least 2012.
Brown himself will participate in the special and promoted it earlier today, tweeting:
Fox is intimately involved with the New Hampshire Senate race, as its former contributor is seeking to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. Brown began teasing his candidacy while still receiving a paycheck from Fox, and recently credited his role on the network with inspiring his campaign for Senate.
From the start, Brown has focused his campaign on his opposition to Obamacare. His website states that the "people of New Hampshire take pride in individual liberty and freedom. Obamacare demolishes both." He went on an "Obamacare isn't Working" tour and has repeatedly criticized his opponent for voting in favor of the law, which he deemed a "monstrosity" in need of repeal.
From the July 28 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Mark Levin Show:
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Conservative media have revived false comparisons of legal abortion to convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell in the wake of a Senate hearing regarding a proposed bill to prohibit states from imposing unusually onerous regulations on abortion clinics, despite the fact that Gosnell's crimes have nothing to do with legal abortion procedures.
On July 15, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Women's Health Protection Act, sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT.) The bill would bar states from enacting laws restricting abortion that are more burdensome than restrictions for similar outpatient procedures.
The hearings sent right-wing media into a frenzy, renewing comparisons between legal abortion and Kermit Gosnell, a former doctor sentenced to life in prison without parole for the three counts of first-degree murder. National Review Online invoked Gosnell in an editorial titled "Gosnell Nation" on July 16. NRO suggested the title of the bill should be renamed to the "Kermit Gosnell Enabling Act of 2014" and provided a detailed description of Gosnell's horrific crimes, claiming the bill would lead to more cases like Gosnell's
A July 15 Fox News report on the bill also cited Gosnell, attributing many new state abortion restrictions to a reaction to his crimes.
But Gosnell's crimes bear no resemblance to legal abortions performed at clinics these state regulations target. The grand jury in Gosnell's case found that "Gosnell's approach was simple: keep volume high, expenses low - and break the law. That was his competitive edge." And University of California reproductive health professor Tracy Weitz has explained that Gosnell's actions have "nothing to do with the way in which the standard of care and later abortion procedures are performed in the United States," and that his practices are "nowhere in the medical literature."
The Blumenthal bill is intended to prevent the harmful effects on women's health that the rapid expansion of state abortion regulations, known as Targeted Regulations of Abortion Provider (TRAP) laws, has had. TRAP laws target abortion clinics for restrictions not imposed on other clinics that provide procedures with similar risk, like colonoscopies. In fact, such onerous and constitutionally questionable regulations have already driven many abortion clinics in the states to close -- which, according to Whole Woman's Health CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller, puts "more women at risk for later term abortions or for illicit abortions outside the medical community."
Since the news of Gosnell's horrific crimes emerged, right-wing media have continuously attempted to tie the case to legal abortions -- the vast majority of which are safe and occur in the first trimester of pregnancy.
Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer attacked the Women's Health Protection Act (WHPA), a newly proposed law that would protect the constitutional right to obtain an abortion, by claiming the federal government has no business legislating reproductive health services -- despite the fact he had previously supported a federal law passed by Republicans that banned a rare late-term abortion procedure.
On July 15, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on WHPA, a proposed bill introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) that could help ensure access to reproductive health services for women by preventing states from passing uniquely and possibly unconstitutionally restrictive abortion legislation. Since 2010, state legislatures have aggressively proposed and enacted a wave of anti-abortion laws, known as TRAP laws, under the guise of protecting women's health. In reality, these laws impose significant burdens on abortion providers by unnecessarily requiring doctors to obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals as well as mandating clinics to comply with seemingly arbitrary "safety" rules and building code provisions. The Women's Health Protection Act would bring an end to these constitutionally-suspect laws by prohibiting states from passing anti-abortion legislation that is any more restrictive than laws that regulate comparable outpatient medical procedures.
Fox News was quick to attack the bill, with host Bill O'Reilly wondering if the senators who proposed it were "executioners." Kelly File host Megyn Kelly was also critical of the legislation, claiming that it would "open the door on late term abortions ... not just to save the mother's life, but to save the mother's health." Kelly went on to invoke the assassination of Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller after suggesting that women had "abused" the health exception provisions of late-term abortion bans.
On the July 15 edition of Fox's Special Report with Bret Baier, Krauthammer argued that, even if the bill passes, "there is no way it would survive constitutional scrutiny because it is such a violation of federalism. This is not the federal government's purview. It belongs to the states."
From the July 15 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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