Ben Shapiro, Breitbart.com Editor-At-Large, pushed a baseless conspiracy theory that the sale of The Washington Post to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos revealed "crony capitalist" collusion with the Obama administration, because President Obama visited an Amazon facility in Tennessee a week before the sale was announced.
On August 5, The Washington Post announced Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, was purchasing the paper and affiliated publications for $250 million in cash. In response, Shapiro baselessly speculated that Obama's July 30 visit to an Amazon fulfillment center in Chattanooga, Tennessee -- where he gave a speech focused on the need to raise the minimum wage and support middle-class Americans -- was evidence that "the Post is now Bezos' latest political tool in a crony capitalist effort to work with the Obama administration":
While conservatives and liberals consider the political leanings of Washington Post buyer and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in an attempt to divine how his politics will affect those of the historic institution, the truth appears to be far simpler: the Post is now Bezos' latest political tool in a crony capitalist effort to work with the Obama administration. How else to explain President Obama puzzling decision last week to roll out his corporate tax plan at an Amazon.com fulfillment center?
Bezos spent $250 million of his own money to purchase the Post, which is bleeding money at an incredible rate. He didn't spend Amazon's cash to do so. Nonetheless, the juxtaposition of events is striking. Last Tuesday, Obama visited an Amazon fulfillment center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he toured the facility before touting the company and stumping for Keynesian stimulus measures.
The sale of the Post was supposed to be top-secret, with staffers asked not to tweet about it for ten minutes. But it's more than possible that the Obama administration had some advance notice about the sale, and that Obama appeared at the Amazon warehouse as a sign of good faith to Bezos prior to the move.
As President Obama addressed reactions surrounding the acquittal of George Zimmerman, right-wing media took to Twitter and attacked the president's remarks:
In a press briefing July 19, President Obama responded to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin, saying, "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago...the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that - that doesn't go away." Right-wing media figures responded to the president's remarks with attacks.
Breitbart.com editor-at-large and all-around homophobe Ben Shapiro is convinced that the Supreme Court's decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will result in the IRS rescinding non-profit tax exemptions from churches across the country - a delusional horror story that has no basis in reality.
In a June 26 post for Breitbart.com, Shapiro warned that the end of DOMA will result in the IRS targeting the non-profit tax exemptions of churches that refuse to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies:
Based on Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling, in which the Court majority determined that the Defense of Marriage Act's federal definition of marriage had to incorporate state-based same-sex marriages, Internal Revenue Service regulations could be modified to remove non-profit status for churches across the country.
The DOMA decision makes clear that marriage is a state-to-state issue, meaning that religious institutions that receive non-profit status on the federal level but do not perform or accept same-sex marriages in states where it is legal could have non-profit status revoked. Furthermore, should the IRS move to revoke federal non-profit status for churches, synagogues and mosques that do not perform same-sex marriage more generally, the Court could easily justify that decision on the basis of "eradicating discrimination" in religious education.
A few things to note here:
1. The DOMA Decision Had Nothing To Do With Tax Exempt Statuses For Churches. The Supreme Court's decision in Windsor v. United States dealt exclusively with whether the federal government should be allowed to deny federal benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married in their state. Allowing married gay couples to file joint tax returns has nothing at all to do with whether churches are required to perform same-sex weddings to maintain their tax exemptions.
2. Every State With Marriage Equality Already Has Exemptions For Churches. In every single state that's legalized marriage equality, churches are exempt from having to perform same-sex weddings. No church in America has ever been forced to perform a same-sex wedding. Laws like DOMA only deal with the civil definition of marriage, not the religious celebration of weddings.
Still, to support his claim, Shapiro cites two incidents.
The first is the 1983 Supreme Court decision in Bob Jones University v. United States, in which a religious school lost its tax exempt status due to its ban on interracial dating. What Shapiro fails to mention is that the decision explicitly excluded churches from its scope:
We deal here only with religious schools - not with churches or other purely religious institutions.
Shapiro also cites the 2006 case of Boston Catholic Charities, which voluntarily withdrew from adoption services rather than serve same-sex couples. Again, that incident didn't deal with a church, and has been debunked for a number of other reasons.
Shapiro joins a long line of conservative commentators in confusing civil marriage with religious marriage ceremonies, as well as confusing marriage laws with anti-discrimination laws.
From the June 27 edition of Fox News' America Live:
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The argument by conservative media that former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and other survivors of gun violence who supported a failed Senate compromise to expand background checks on firearms sales are "props" of the Obama administration is both hypocritically partisan and logically flawed.
Right-wing media are unable to acknowledge that President Obama's gun violence prevention agenda mirrors the priorities of gun violence survivors, who are not mere "props," to pass stronger gun laws. As Greg Sargent of The Washington Post notes, "the families want to stand with the President at events for a fairly obvious reason: Obama is fighting for the same things they want":
All of this aside, the "props" line is actually an insult to the families, posing as a defense of them. It implies that the families, in lobbying on these issues, are not thinking for themselves. In reality, the families want to stand with the President at events for a fairly obvious reason: Obama is fighting for the same things they want. Indeed, one of the family members, Mark Barden, who lost his son Daniel in the shooting, voluntarily stood with the president at the White House yesterday as Obama reacted to news of the Senate vote, and thanked Obama for his leadership. Needless to say, if Barden felt like he was being exploited or used as a prop, he wouldn't be thanking the president. [emphasis in original]
Logical flaws aside, those who would call Newtown families and other gun violence survivors "props" fail to acknowledge that presidents routinely evoke the experiences of victims in advocating for policies that would prevent future tragedies.
In 1991, former President Ronald Reagan evoked his own experience of being shot by a would-be assassin, as well as the experiences of others wounded in the 1981 attack in order to advocate for background checks on gun sales. In a New York Times op-ed Reagan wrote about his press secretary, Jim Brady, who was grievously wounded in the attack by a man who acquired a gun despite a lengthy history of serious mental illness. Brady would go on to lend his name to the legislation -- the Brady bill -- that mandated a background check for gun sales conducted by licensed dealers:
From the April 15 edition of Fox News' America Live:
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Right-wing blogs took President Obama's comments about gun violence prevention out of context to claim that he complained about being constrained by the Constitution. The full text of his comments, however, shows that he was praising the genius of the document rather than lamenting that the Second Amendment prevents him from confiscating guns.
On April 3, President Obama gave a speech in Colorado to raise support for strengthening gun laws following the passage of new gun violence prevention measures in the state. During his speech, Obama attempted to put gun owners' possible concerns over these measures to rest:
One last thing I'm going to mention is that during this conversation -- I hope you don't mind me quoting you, Joe. Joe Garcia, I thought, also made an important point, and that is that the opponents of some of these common-sense laws have ginned up fears among responsible gun owners that have nothing to do with what's being proposed and nothing to do with the facts, but feeds into this suspicion about government.
You hear some of these quotes: "I need a gun to protect myself from the government." "We can't do background checks because the government is going to come take my guns away."
Well, the government is us. These officials are elected by you. (Applause.) They are elected by you. I am elected by you. I am constrained, as they are constrained, by a system that our Founders put in place. It's a government of and by and for the people.
And so, surely, we can have a debate that's not based on the notion somehow that your elected representatives are trying to do something to you other than potentially prevent another group of families from grieving the way the families of Aurora or Newtown or Columbine have grieved. We've got to get past some of the rhetoric that gets perpetuated that breaks down trust and is so over the top that it just shuts down all discussion. And it's important for all of us when we hear that kind of talk to say, hold on a second. If there are any folks who are out there right now who are gun owners, and you've been hearing that somehow somebody is taking away your guns, get the facts. We're not proposing a gun registration system, we're proposing background checks for criminals. (Applause.)
Don't just listen to what some advocates or folks who have an interest in this thing are saying. Look at the actual legislation. That's what happened here in Colorado. And hopefully, if we know the facts and we're listening to each other, then we can actually move forward.
The next day, Fox Nation claimed that Obama "complain[ed] he's 'constrained' by the Constitution" in his speech, linking to an article from The Blaze that also failed to provide the full text of his comments:
Breitbart.com's Ben Shapiro similarly wrote on April 3 that "[t]he natural inference [of Obama's remarks] seems to be that if it were not for the Constitution, Obama would indeed pursue a federal gun seizure. Like the villain at the end of every Scooby Doo cartoon, Obama's offhand protest suggests that if it weren't for those darn kids, he would have gotten away with it. Except that the kids are the founders, and 'it' is massive gun control."
But the full transcript of Obama's speech shows that he never expressed a desire to confiscate Americans' firearms or lamented that the Second Amendment prevents him from doing so. In fact, he was approvingly citing the Constitution's protection of individual rights while telling people to be informed about the new gun legislation instead of succumbing to gun proponents' claims that guns will be taken away, and he reminded voters that they could hold the government accountable at the ballot box if they felt their rights were threatened.
The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) bills itself as an event convened to "crystallize the best of the conservative thought in America" that will showcase "all of the leading conservative organizations and speakers." Media covering CPAC 2013 should know that the conference's speakers, from the most prominent to the lesser-known, have a history of launching smears, pushing conspiracy theories, and hyping myths about the validity of President Obama's birth certificate.
From the March 7 edition of Premiere Radio's The Sean Hannity Show:
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From the February 28 edition of Fox Business Network's Lou Dobbs Tonight:
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Fox News rewarded Breitbart.com editor at large Ben Shapiro with an appearance less than a week after Shapiro publicly embarrassed himself over a fraudulent story linking Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel to the apparently nonexistent group "Friends of Hamas."
Over the past few weeks, Shapiro has been skewered for attempting to smear Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel by reporting that (according to "Senate sources") he had received money from a shady group called "Friends of Hamas."
After Shapiro's story imploded when it came to light that there's no evidence that "Friends of Hamas" actually exists, some in the conservative media suggested that their movement needed to police its own to maintain credibility. That accountability will not come from Fox News, which hosted him today and did not ask him about his failed smear.
Shapiro appeared for a discussion of the recent exchange between Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward and the White House over the sequester - a topic that countless other pundits could have discussed. During the segment, Shapiro attacked the media for allegedly being too soft on the Obama White House. From the February 25 America Live segment, hosted by Megyn Kelly:
A widely discredited rumor about Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel could cause headaches for Lou Dobbs, who endorsed that rumor on his Fox Business show.
New York Daily News reporter Dan Friedman wrote on Wednesday that he was the unintentional source of a rumor that Hagel had received funding from a terrorist-friendly group called "Friends of Hamas."
That rumor was spread in right-wing media circles by Breitbart.com's Ben Shapiro, who carelessly reported earlier this month that Hagel was paid to speak to a group called "Friends of Hamas." But, as detailed by Slate's Dave Weigel and by the New York Daily News, that organization does not actually exist. Here's Friedman's explanation (emphasis added):
On Feb. 6, I called a Republican aide on Capitol Hill with a question: Did Hagel's Senate critics know of controversial groups that he had addressed?
Hagel was in hot water for alleged hostility to Israel. So, I asked my source, had Hagel given a speech to, say, the "Junior League of Hezbollah, in France"? And: What about "Friends of Hamas"?
The names were so over-the-top, so linked to terrorism in the Middle East, that it was clear I was talking hypothetically and hyperbolically. No one could take seriously the idea that organizations with those names existed -- let alone that a former senator would speak to them.
This baseless rumor was not confined to the Breitbart.com fringe. On Feb. 11, Lou Dobbs claimed the rumor has "a ring to it" after National Review Online columnist Andrew McCarthy brought it to Dobbs' Fox Business show:
Now that the truth is revealed, will Dobbs tell his audience that he fed them rumors?
This post has been updated for accuracy.
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?
If you want to appreciate how vast the digital divide is that historically separates conservative failures and liberal accomplishments online, and if you want to add some context to the recent New York Times Magazine feature article on how Republicans' chronic online shortcomings dim the party's electoral chances, just look at how the two camps were marking their time in recent days.
Working with Republicans on Capitol Hill trying to block Chuck Hagel's nomination to become Secretary of Defense, Breitbart's Ben Shapiro recently posted a report suggesting Hagel had allegedly received "foreign funding" over the years from a terrorist-friendly group called Friends of Hamas, but that the payments were being kept secret. The allegation served as part of the right wing's relentless campaign to smear Hagel as being anti-Israel.
Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, National Review columnist Andrew McCarthy, and AM talker Hugh Hewitt all hyped Breitbart's conspiratorial narrative about Hagel's nefarious connections with Friends of Hamas.
Slight problem. Last week, Slate's David Weigel detailed how Friends of Hamas doesn't actually exist. And as New York Daily News reporter Dan Friedman explained, he unwittingly started the Friends of Hamas rumor when he posed the Hagel question to a GOP aide in the form of "an obvious joke." According to Friedman, he asked about both Friends of Hamas and the "Junior League of Hezbollah," and thought that the "names were so over-the-top, so linked to terrorism in the Middle East, that it was clear I was talking hypothetically and hyperbolically."
The GOP aide then apparently shared the Friends of Hamas inquiry with other partisans and Friedman posits that from there it found its way to Breitbart, which published it in the form of "news" under Shapiro's byline. Tellingly, the fact that the scary sounding group doesn't exist didn't stop a right-wing site from pushing the tall tale; a tale that quickly ricocheted across the conservative media landscape and was touted as a Deeply Troubling Development.
It was against that backdrop of routine right-wing dysfunction that the Times published its lengthy article. Author Robert Draper argued -- and many Republican operatives agreed -- that the GOP's perennial online failures have made it almost impossible for the party to communicate effectively with younger voters; voters who have developed a deeply hostile perception of the GOP brand. (i.e. "Polarizing," "narrow-minded.") Draper didn't make reference to the Friends of Hamas debacle, but it could have served as a useful example of how routinely unserious online pursuits have become among Republican boosters.