Misinformation of the Year

››› ››› SIMON MALOY & JULIE MILLICAN

It's still not just Imus

Media Matters for America usually takes the opportunity at the end of the year to name a Misinformer of the Year, an individual or media entity who in that year has made a noteworthy "contribution" to the advancement of conservative misinformation. This year -- a year in which Don Imus was removed from his decades-long radio program following a reference to the Rutgers women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos" (Imus returned to the air in December) -- Media Matters has decided to change the focus of the year-end item. The Imus controversy resulted in intense media attention to the subject of speech concerning race and gender. At the time, Media Matters thought it necessary to remind the media that "It's not just Imus" -- that speech targeting, among other characteristics, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and ethnicity permeates the airwaves, through personalities including Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and Michael Savage. But offensive and degrading speech is not limited to conservative media personalities and "shock jocks," although they are, of course, well-represented on any such list. As Media Matters has documented throughout this year, speech that targets or casts in a negative light race, gender, religion, ethnicity, national origin, and sexual orientation can be found throughout the media, and it often bears directly on politics and policy. That speech has earned the title of Misinformation of the Year 2007.

Race or national origin

  • Fox News host John Gibson, discussing events surrounding the so-called Jena Six during the September 21 broadcast of his nationally syndicated Fox News Radio show, asserted that the demonstrators who had gathered the previous week in Jena, Louisiana, "wanna fight the white devil." Gibson aired news coverage of the Jena 6 protests and challenged protestors' claims that the incidents in Jena were representative of ongoing racism in this country. He said: "[W]hat they're worried about is a mirage of 1950s-style American segregation, racism from the South. They wanna fight the white devil. ... [T]here's no -- can't go fight the black devil. Black devils stalking their streets every night gunning down their own people -- can't go fight that. That would be snitchin'."

    Gibson also stated during the October 10 broadcast of his radio show, while discussing an incident in which a student shot four people at his Cleveland high school before killing himself, that "I know the shooter was white. I knew it as soon as he shot himself. Hip-hoppers don't do that. They shoot and move on to shoot again."

  • Nationally syndicated radio host Michael Savage claimed on Martin Luther King Day (January 15) that "civil rights" has become a "con" and asserted, "It's a racket that is used to exploit primarily heterosexual, Christian, white males' birthright and steal from them what is their birthright and give it to people who didn't qualify for it."
  • On the February 7 edition of the Christian Broadcasting Network's 700 Club, host Pat Robertson said that people who have received too much plastic surgery "got the eyes like they're Oriental" while he put his fingers up to the side of his face.
  • Discussing a dinner with Rev. Al Sharpton at the Harlem restaurant Sylvia's, during the September 19 edition of his nationally syndicated radio program, Bill O'Reilly stated that he "couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks, primarily black patronship." Later, during a discussion with National Public Radio senior correspondent and Fox News contributor Juan Williams about the effect of rap on culture, O'Reilly said: "There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, 'M-Fer, I want more iced tea.' You know, I mean, everybody was -- it was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun. And there wasn't any kind of craziness at all." O'Reilly also stated: "I think black Americans are starting to think more and more for themselves. They're getting away from the Sharptons and the [Rev. Jesse] Jacksons and the people trying to lead them into a race-based culture. They're just trying to figure it out. 'Look, I can make it. If I work hard and get educated, I can make it.'"
  • On the June 18 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Neal Boortz advocated building a "double fence along the Mexican border, and stop the damn invasion." Boortz continued: "I don't care if Mexicans pile up against that fence like tumbleweeds in the Santa Ana winds in Southern California. Let 'em. You know, then just run a couple of taco trucks up and down the line, and somebody's gonna be a millionaire out of that."

    On the June 11 edition of his show, a caller asked, "Why can't we just load them on planes and keep on loading them until they're back?" Boortz later responded, "We're not gonna throw these people out of airplanes with taco-shaped parachutes."

    During his June 21 show, Boortz offered a suggestion he said he got from a listener's email: "When we defeat this illegal alien amnesty bill, and when we yank out the welcome mat, and they all start going back to Mexico, as a going away gift let's all give them a box of nuclear waste." Boortz continued: "Give 'em all a little nuclear waste and let 'em take it on down there to Mexico. Tell 'em it can -- it'll heat tortillas."

  • In his book Day of Reckoning: How Hubris, Ideology, and Greed Are Tearing America Apart (Thomas Dunne Books, November 2007), MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan writes that America is "on a path to national suicide" and later asks: "How is America committing suicide?" answering: "Every way a nation can." He proceeds to claim that "[t]he American majority is not reproducing itself. ... Forty-five million of its young have been destroyed in the womb since Roe v. Wade, as Asian, African, and Latin American children come to inherit the estate the lost generation of American children never got to see." On the November 26 edition of Hannity & Colmes, Buchanan asserted: "You've got a wholesale invasion, the greatest invasion in human history, coming across your southern border, changing the composition and character of your country. You've got the melting pot that once welded us all together, which has broken down."
  • On the May 17 edition of his radio program, Savage labeled Hispanic advocacy group the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) "the Ku Klux Klan of the Hispanic people." Savage also said of NCLR, "This is the most stone racist group I've ever seen in this country!" despite noting, "It's true they haven't hung anybody."
  • During his July 5 radio show, Savage discussed a hunger strike organized by five students in the San Francisco area to show their support for The DREAM Act, a provision of the 2007 comprehensive immigration bill that was blocked in the Senate on June 28 (S.1639). The DREAM (or Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act would provide a pathway to citizenship and other benefits for certain illegal immigrants who entered the United States before the age of 16 if they graduate from high school and enroll in either college or the military. In discussing the students, Savage stated: "I would say, let them fast until they starve to death then that solves the problem. Because then we won't have a problem about giving them green cards because they're illegal aliens, they don't belong here to begin with." The DREAM Act was later brought up in the Senate as a stand-alone bill (S.2205). That bill was also blocked.
  • On the January 16 broadcast of his radio show, O'Reilly agreed with a caller's assertion that illegal immigrants "bring corrupting influences" to the United States, including "a third-world value system" that "can corrupt the education system." O'Reilly replied: "Absolutely. And that's why the dropout rate is so high."

Gender

  • During the December 17 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, while discussing endorsements Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) received for her presidential campaign, host Chris Matthews claimed: "Every day I pick up the paper and there's another quote out there from somebody who's a wannabe, saying whatever the Clinton people told them to say apparently." Moments later, Matthews asked Financial Times U.S. managing editor Chrystia Freeland: "[A]ren't you appalled at the willingness of these people to become castratos in the eunuch chorus here or whatever they are?"
  • On the March 20 edition of MSNBC show, Tucker Carlson said of Hillary Clinton: "[T]here's just something about her that feels castrating, overbearing, and scary." Carlson has also said: "[W]hen she comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs."
  • Nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh repeatedly used the expression "testicle lockbox," suggesting that Clinton has one.
  • On the March 15 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Glenn Beck said: "Hillary Clinton cannot be elected president because ... there's something about her vocal range." He went on to say, "There's something about her voice that just drives me -- it's not what she says, it's how she says it," adding, "She is like the stereotypical -- excuse the expression, but this is the way to -- she's the stereotypical bitch, you know what I mean?" Beck also asked: "[A]fter four years, don't you think every man in America will go insane?" and pleaded, "I'm sorry for being such a pig. But please, America. Please. I don't think I could do it for four years. I mean, sure the country is going to go to hell in a handbasket, but could we make this about me for a second? I just don't think I could take it from her." He also said that "there is a range in women's voices that experts say is just the chalk, I mean, the fingernails on the blackboard."
  • On November 12, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (AZ) fielded a question from a woman who asked, "How do we beat the bitch?" On the November 14 edition of CNN's American Morning, during a discussion with co-anchor Kiran Chetry about McCain's response to the question, Politico chief political correspondent Mike Allen said, "[W]hat Republican voter hasn't thought that? What voter in general hasn't thought that?"
  • On the October 15 edition of MSNBC's Tucker, Carlson asserted that "the Clinton campaign says: 'Hillary isn't running as a woman.' ...Well, that's actually completely false, considering the Hillary campaign -- and I get their emails -- relentlessly pushes the glass ceiling argument. 'You should vote for her because she's a woman.' They say that all the time." Guest Cliff May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, responded: "At least call her a Vaginal-American."
  • Discussing Rep. Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) speech following her election as the nation's first female Speaker of the House, Limbaugh noted on the January 5 broadcast of his show that Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC) said that, in Limbaugh's words, "his 2-year-old daughter ... is inspired by Nancy Pelosi's ascension to the speakership." Limbaugh then commented, "His 2-year-old can't possibly know who Pelosi is other than as a cartoon figure on television. Maybe Pelosi breastfed him, I don't know, when the kid was pregnant. Who knows? She's capable of doing everything else." Limbaugh later added: "[L]ook at Ms. Pelosi. Why, she can multitask. She can breastfeed, she can clip her toenails, she can direct the House, all while the kids are sitting on her lap at the same time."
  • On the December 12 broadcast of his radio show, Savage referred to Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Pelosi as "yentas," said Harman should "[g]o home and cook verenikis," and suggested that the three were in office because they "have rich husbands who put them in power with their money, so they could have a little hobby in between getting their nails done." Savage later asked his "board operator" if he would rather "be waterboarded for 30 seconds or eat Jane Harman's ravioli" and whether he'd rather "be waterboarded or eat Nancy Pelosi's tortellini."

Religion

False attacks on Obama

  • On January 17, the conservative online news magazine InsightMag.com published an article headlined "Hillary's team has questions about Obama's Muslim background." The article alleged that "researchers" connected to Clinton's campaign had "discovered" that Obama "was raised as a Muslim by his stepfather in Indonesia," and "spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa, or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia." The article cited only unnamed "[s]ources close to the background check" on Obama. The story was quickly debunked by CNN and others, who found that the Indonesian school Obama attended as a child was not a "madrassa," and that claims of Obama's "Muslim background" were based largely on incomplete and inaccurate reporting. After investigating these claims, the Chicago Tribune reported that "Obama was not a regular practicing Muslim when he was in Indonesia." Moreover, as ABC News chief political correspondent Jake Tapper noted in a January 25 ABCNews.com post, the allegation that the Clinton campaign was behind the Obama smear was a "charge that remains unproven and unsubstantiated." Despite the Insight article's thin sourcing and the fact that it was quickly debunked, the article became a flash point for a smear against Obama that has persisted in the media.
  • On January 23, KSFO Morning Show hosts Melanie Morgan and Lee Rodgers repeated the accusation that "researchers connected to" Clinton have said that Obama "spent at least four years in a so-called madrassa, or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia." Rodgers stated that Obama "went to a Muslim school, a madrassa they call it ... those things are funded by Saudi Arabia," adding, "It's basically a school for terrorists." Morgan noted that there was "controversy" surrounding the InsightMag.com story, but that "Insight magazine is standing by its story," and also charged that the story came from the presidential campaign of former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC).
  • On the June 25 broadcast of his radio show, Savage said that Obama was "indoctrinated" by a "Muslim madrassa in Indonesia."
  • In the April 12 edition of her "Notebook" video blog, CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric asked, "Is America ready to elect a president who grew up praying in a mosque?" and proceeded to repeat debunked rumors surrounding Obama's childhood years in Indonesia. Couric claimed that Obama's "background sparked rumors that he had studied at a radical madrassa, or Quranic school -- rumors his campaign denied, declaring that Obama is now a practicing Christian." But Couric did not note in her initial posting that the rumors had been debunked. Couric's "Notebook" was later updated to note that the madrassa "rumors [were] later disproved" and that the source for the claim that Obama "grew up praying in a mosque" later backed off that assertion.

Smearing Obama's church

  • During the "Obameter" segment on the February 7 edition of MSNBC's Tucker, Carlson claimed the church "sounds separatist to me" and "contradicts the basic tenets of Christianity," a subject Carlson said he was "actually qualified to discuss." Carlson pointed to the "disavowal of the pursuit of 'middleclassness' " in the church's tenets, calling the church's mission a "racially exclusive theology" and "a theology that ministers to one group of people, based on race." Carlson claimed that Trinity's theology is "racially exclusive" and "wrong," adding that "it's hard to call that Christianity."
  • On the February 28 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Hannity stated that "many" call Trinity "separatist," adding that "in some cases, even drawing comparisons to a cult." Guest Erik Rush, a columnist for the conservative website WorldNetDaily, said that the church's "scary doctrine" is "something that you'd see in more like a cult or an Aryan Brethren Church or something like that." Hannity has also repeatedly accused Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright -- Trinity's pastor -- of holding "these black-separatist views, about the Black Value System" without mentioning Wright's explicit denial on the March 1 edition of Hannity & Colmes that his church embraces separatism. And on the December 19 edition of Hannity & Colmes, Hannity said: "You know, Barack Obama's pastor... has this whole list of the Black Value System. It seems like he's supporting a segregated church."

Coulter's comments about Jews

  • During the October 8 edition of CNBC's The Big Idea, host Donny Deutsch asked right-wing pundit Ann Coulter: "If you had your way ... and your dreams, which are genuine, came true ... what would this country look like?" Coulter responded, "It would look like New York City during the [2004] Republican National Convention. In fact, that's what I think heaven is going to look like." She described the convention as follows: "People were happy. They're Christian. They're tolerant. They defend America." Deutsch then asked, "It would be better if we were all Christian?" to which Coulter responded, "Yes." Later in the discussion, Deutsch said to her: "[Y]ou said we should throw Judaism away and we should all be Christians," and Coulter again replied, "Yes." When pressed by Deutsch regarding whether she wanted to be like "the head of Iran" and "wipe Israel off the Earth," Coulter stated: "No, we just want Jews to be perfected, as they say. ... That's what Christianity is. We believe the Old Testament, but ours is more like Federal Express. You have to obey laws."

    After a commercial break, Deutsch said that "Ann said she wanted to explain her last comment," and asked her, "So you don't think that was offensive?" Coulter responded: "No. I'm sorry. It is not intended to be. I don't think you should take it that way, but that is what Christians consider themselves: perfected Jews. We believe the Old Testament. As you know from the Old Testament, God was constantly getting fed up with humans for not being able to live up to all the laws. What Christians believe -- this is just a statement of what the New Testament is -- is that that's why Christ came and died for our sins. Christians believe the Old Testament. You don't believe our testament." Coulter later said: "We consider ourselves perfected Christians. For me to say that for you to become a Christian is to become a perfected Christian is not offensive at all."

Attacks on Islam or Muslims

  • On the March 14 edition of Fox News' Your World With Neil Cavuto, Richard "Bo" Dietl, a private investigator and former New York City Police Department detective, discussed a lawsuit filed by six imams who were removed from a US Airways flight in 2006 and suggested that instead of flying, passengers such as the aforementioned imams should "call their cousin up there, Ali Baba Boo, and go by cab."
  • On the June 12 edition of The 700 Club, following a report on Muslims in Minneapolis seeking religious accommodations at school and work, Robertson stated, "Ladies and gentlemen, we have to recognize that Islam is not a religion. It is a worldwide political movement meant on domination of the world. And it is meant to subjugate all people under Islamic law." He characterized the American Muslim community as "Islam light" and went on to say Muslims "want to take over and we want to impose Sharia on you. And before long, ladies are going to be dressed in burqas and whatever garments they would put on them, and next thing you know, men are going to be allowed to have wife-beating and you'll be beheading adulterers and so on and so forth."
  • On the October 4 edition of his CNN Headline News show, Beck hosted Sharida McKenzie, a Muslim American who had recently organized the Muslim Peace March, to discuss a report that a Toronto mosque's website "says that Muslims should stay completely away from Halloween, Christmas, New Year's, anniversaries, birthdays, and Earth Day." During the discussion, Beck asked: "But how do we know the difference -- I mean, you're reasonable. How do we know the difference between you and those that are trying to kill us?"

Sexual identity or orientation

  • During a March 2 speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Coulter said she "can't really talk about" Democratic presidential candidate and former Sen. John Edwards (NC) because "you have to go into rehab if you use the word 'faggot' " -- a comment that drew loud applause from the CPAC audience. Then on the March 6 broadcast of Hannity's nationally syndicated radio show, Coulter defended her comment, explaining: "I don't think there's anything offensive about any variation of faggy, faggotry, faggot, fag. It's a schoolyard taunt. It means -- it means wussy." She went on to conclude that "faggot" is a "totally excellent word."
  • In 2007, Savage claimed that same-sex marriage "makes me want to puke" and that same-sex parenting is "child abuse"; blamed sexual reassignment surgery for the Columbine massacre; pointed to sexual reassignment surgery and lesbian fertility clinics in claiming that the September 11 terrorist attacks "was God speaking"; referred to Media Matters as "a gay smear sheet," the "homosexual mafia," and the "gay Mafioso"; and declared that a "loving, kind lesbian" is "the type that stuffed ovens in Hitler's concentration camps."
  • On the July 11 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly objected to the San Diego Padres' decision to host a gay pride night and a children's hat giveaway promotion during the same July 8 baseball game, claiming that "cluster[ing]" gays near children is "insane" and "inappropriate." After a viewer challenged him by noting that "kids are around gays every day, O'Reilly elaborated on his position on the July 12 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, saying that "thousands" of gays in one place "can be confusing to children."
  • In an August 21 post on his CBNnews.com blog, Christian Broadcasting Network senior national correspondent David Brody addressed a federal complaint filed against then-presumptive Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson by blogger Lane Hudson, writing: "Well, now Fred Thompson has an angry girlfriend. His name (don't go there) is Lane Hudson." Since then, Brody had appeared three times on NBC's Meet the Press and four times on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the 2008 presidential race. Despite referring to a male blogger as Thompson's "angry girlfriend," Brody was invited to appear on the September 9 broadcast of Meet the Press to discuss the election.
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