First lady Michelle Obama has responded to conservative criticism over her Academy Awards appearance, saying it was "absolutely not surprising" that her participation in the ceremony set off a national conversation.
On February 24, Obama made a surprise appearance via satellite at the 85th Academy Awards where she helped announce the Best Picture Oscar winner. Academy officials invited the first lady to take part in the presentation.
Following the first lady's appearance, right-wing media falsely suggested that her participation was unprecedented, ignoring that former presidents and former first lady Laura Bush had previously participated in the ceremony. Right-wing media also smeared Obama, calling her appearance "obscene" and claiming she made the ceremony about her.
Obama responded to that criticism on Thursday, saying it was "absolutely not surprising." From the Associated Press:
Michelle Obama says it was "absolutely not surprising" to her that her satellite appearance at the Academy Awards ceremony provoked a national conversation about whether it was appropriate, after some conservative critics accused her of selfishly crashing the event in an attempt to upstage it.
She attributed the chatter to a culture shift that has spawned legions of bloggers, tweeters and others who talk about anything and everything all the time.
"Shoot, my bangs set off a national conversation. My shoes can set off a national conversation. That's just sort of where we are. We've got a lot of talking going on," the first lady said only somewhat jokingly Thursday before an appearance in Chicago, her hometown. "It's like everybody's kitchen-table conversation is now accessible to everybody else so there's a national conversation about anything."
Chuck Hagel's anticlimactic Senate confirmation to become the nation's next Secretary of Defense, passed by a vote of 58 to 41, stood in sharp contrast to the frenzied weeks of partisan fighting, and the often breathless media coverage that surrounded the unprecedented battle over President Obama's pick.
The Washington Post this week tallied up a scorecard to determine whether the furious Republican effort had been worth it. Republicans used up valuable political capital fighting a lost cause, but the Post claimed the party wouldn't suffer politically for its obstructionist ways. Indeed, for Republicans there wasn't "a whole lot of downside " in trying to derail Hagel.
Unfortunately, that's probably true. The Beltway press has made sure Republicans have routinely paid no price for their radical behavior, which means ugly stalling tactics will likely continue under Obama, as Republicans now try to grind the government to a halt on numerous fronts.
During the months-long Hagel debacle, in which the traditionally routine, bipartisan confirmation process was upended by Republicans, we learned some uncomfortable truths about the mainstream press and the right-wing media.
For instance we learned that, thanks to the Friends of Hamas debacle, conservative media sites continue to have much more in common with propaganda than they do journalism. We learned that even the piercing right-wing echo chamber, with conservative outlets working in concert with Republicans in Congress to amplify falsehoods, wasn't enough to sway the Hagel debate.
We learned that the hermetically sealed information bubble is still firmly intact. Reminiscent of the bubble that hyped the Mitt Romney "landslide" that never materialized last November, conservatives in the press assured followers for weeks that Hagel's nomination was doomed, that he'd soon be withdrawing his name, or he'd be rejected outright by angry Democrats.
We learned that non-starter crusades like the Hagel one are perfectly suited for the increasingly obsessive, phony outrage formula that so many right-wing outlets have adopted. (As blogger Charles Johnson noted on Twitter, the day Hagel was easily confirmed by the Senate, Breitbart.com's homepage featured no less than fourteen anti-Hagel headlines.)
Zeb Colter, an anti-immigrant character from World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) that has recently drawn the ire of right-wing pundits like Glenn Beck, would be right at home in the conservative media. Many of Colter's bigoted and flawed arguments have been the right's stock-in-trade for years.
Beck targeted the Colter character on his radio show, arguing that Colter is "demonizing the Tea Party." Beck also accused the WWE of "mocking me for standing up for the Constitution." Beck's co-host Stu Burguiere complained: "It seems that the villain, the guy you're supposed to hate, is this stereotype of a conservative that I've never met."
Colter currently appears on WWE programming alongside wrestler Jack Swagger, spouting a lot of heated anti-immigrant rhetoric in the middle of a scripted feud with Mexican-born wrestler Alberto Del Rio. According to WWE, Colter's rhetoric is intended to "to build the Mexican American character Del Rio into a hero given WWE's large Latino base."
WWE explains that in order "to create compelling and relevant content for our audience, it is important to incorporate current events into our storylines."
Talk about lowering the bar to can't-miss depths.
In its Sunday, page-one profile of partisan "provocateur" and Free Beacon founder Michael Goldfarb, the New York Times pointed to a report the right-wing site published this month, which raised questions about a speech Chuck Hagel gave in 2007. Free Beacon claimed Hagel had called the State Department "an adjunct to the Israeli foreign minister's office."
The report represented yet another missile fired by the sprawling, well-funded, far-right smear campaign to obstruct Hagel's nomination as Secretary of Defense. (A campaign that seems destined to fail, by the way.)
Writing up Goldfarb's supposed successes, the Times treated the Hagel report as a singular Free Beacon victory. (Sen. Lindsey Graham mentioned it on the floor of the Senate!) Even though, as the Times itself point out, Hagel denied the quote and no video was ever found to confirm it. Additionally, one professor who was present at the speech adamantly denied Hagel ever made the State Department comment.
But hey, other than that Free Beacon totally nailed the anti-Hagel story.
Also, note that Goldfarb has a long history of making stuff up, calling it news, and then refusing to admit to his published fabrications. The Times, in its puffy profile about how Goldfarb deftly outwits liberals, failed to mention that troubling career trait.
Coming in the wake of last week's Friend of Hamas debacle at Breitbart.com, the Times' toast to the factually challenged Goldfarb raises questions as to how the mainstream media treat disingenuous players inside the GOP Noise Machine. (Historically, the press has played nice with them.)
The good news about Ben Shapiro's colossal Breitbart failure with regards to his bogus claims about the (fictitious) Friends of Hamas group that allegedly had nefarious ties with Hagel? It helped shine a spotlight on the type of dishonest skullduggery that goes on within the conservative blogosphere on a nearly daily basis. The bad news is too many publications analyzed the Breitbart debacle against the backdrop of journalism and fact finding.
It's time for journalists to give up the ghost and stop pretending that lots of players on the far right media spectrum even try to engage in journalism as it's commonly defined. (Thankfully, some exceptions exist.)
It's not journalism. It's not even partisan opinion journalism. It's proud propaganda. More and more, it's the intentional spreading of rumor and misinformation for political gain. (And often done in conjunction with the Republican Party.) For too long, the press has allowed right-wing players to hide behind the shield of journalism, and then acted surprised when they cut egregious ethical corners.
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:
Right-wing media are falsely suggesting that First Lady Michelle Obama's Academy Awards appearance is unprecedented, ignoring that former presidents and former First Lady Laura Bush have previously participated in the ceremony.
On Sunday, Obama made a surprise appearance via satellite at the 85th Academy Awards where she helped announce the Best Picture Oscar winner. According to a spokesman for Obama, the Academy contacted the first lady about being part of the ceremony.
Washington Post political blogger Jennifer Rubin, however, accused Obama of "feel[ing] entitled" to "intrude" on the ceremony, arguing that Obama's "celebrity appearance" made her seem "small and grasping":
It is not enough that President Obama pops up at every sporting event in the nation. Now the first lady feels entitled, with military personnel as props, to intrude on other forms of entertaining (this time for the benefit of the Hollywood glitterati who so lavishly paid for her husband's election). I'm sure the left will holler that once again conservatives are being grouchy and have it in for the Obamas. Seriously, if they really had their president's interests at heart, they'd steer away from encouraging these celebrity appearances. It makes both the president and the first lady seem small and grasping. In this case, it was just downright weird.
Fox News Radio reporter Todd Starnes likewise wrote on his Twitter feed that Obama "probably felt like she was entitled to upstage" the Oscars and accused the first lady of making the ceremony about her. Breitbart.com called her appearance "obscene, and rather frightening in what it suggests about how low we have fallen as a nation."
In fact, former presidents and former First Lady Laura Bush have participated in Academy Awards ceremonies. In 2002, Bush appeared at the Oscars in a taped appearance. From the Chicago Tribune:
The documentary history montage was put together by director Penelope Spheeris, whose remarkable "Decline of Western Civilization" rock documentaries likely have never been even close to nominated.
And the show's marvelous "What do the movies mean to you?" opening segment was done by director Errol Morris, whose groundbreaking work, from "Thin Blue Line" through "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control," has also been criminally neglected.
It was bracing to see people from Laura Bush to Jerry Brown to Mikhail Gorbachev interviewed, and mind-bending to hear film titles such as Russ Meyer's "Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill" and William Castle's "The Tingler" mentioned on usually sacrosanct Oscar airspace.
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.
Conservative media are pushing selectively cropped footage of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey as evidence that President Obama was "AWOL" the night of the Benghazi attack. In reality, Panetta and Dempsey emphasized that Obama's involvement was appropriate and that the White House was kept "well-informed" throughout the night.
After outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testified before Congress on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, The Weekly Standard selectively cropped a portion of his testimony and blogged that Panetta found Obama to be "absent" the night of the assault. The Weekly Standard's attack on Obama subsequently made the conservative media rounds to Fox Nation, The Drudge Report, The Daily Caller, Breitbart.com, and Fox News.
In its post titled "Panetta: Obama Absent Night of Benghazi," where this smear seemingly originated, The Weekly Standard highlighted Sen. Kelly Ayotte's (R-NH) questions to Panetta as proof of Obama's absence:
AYOTTE: Did you have any further communications with him that night?
AYOTTE: Did you have any further communications - did he ever call you that night to say, "How are things going? What's going on? Where's the consulate?"
PANETTA: No, but we were aware that as we were getting information on what was taking place there, particularly when we got information that the ambassador, his life had been lost - we were aware that that information went to the White House.
AYOTTE: Did you communicate with anyone else at the White House that night?
AYOTTE: No one else called you to say, "How are things going?"
Right-wing media are attacking New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an advocate of stronger gun laws, for traveling with armed security. These attacks are illogical given that Bloomberg supports the right of citizens to own guns.
The attacks are based on a video of senior Talk Radio Network investigative reporter Jason Mattera asking Bloomberg during a Washington, D.C. ambush interview, "in the spirit of gun control, will you disarm your entire security team?"
But contrary to the premise of the Mattera's question, Bloomberg does not oppose the rights of citizens to own firearms. In a joint letter with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino explaining the goals of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition, he wrote:
We support the Second Amendment and the rights of citizens to own guns. We recognize that the vast majority of gun dealers and gun owners carefully follow the law. And we know that a policy that is appropriate for a small town in one region of the country is not necessarily appropriate for a big city in another region of the country.
Responding to President Barack Obama's inauguration address this week, Joel Pollak, an editor at Breitbart.com, wrote about the president's allegedly dastardly attack on the Supreme Court that unfolded during his address to the nation on Monday.
Pollak excitedly claimed that by mentioning his support for gay marriage in his inauguration speech, Obama was trying to bully Supreme Court Justices who were in attendance that day. By stating publically his belief, Obama was attempting to intimidate (to "attack") the judicial branch of the government because the Supreme Court has before it a pending case about gay marriage and the president's comment meant he was instructing the Court on how it "ought to rule."
Alongside Pollak at the Breitbart site, Ben Shapiro, typing excitedly, wrote that Obama, via his address, had "attempted nothing less than an assault on the timeless notion of liberty itself." (That sounds bad.) Shapiro separately attacked Obama for the "brutal name calling" he used in his inauguration speech, even though Shapiro couldn't locate any insults hurled by the president in his address.
Shapiro and Pollak were just two predictable voices within the right-wing media, marshaled as always by Fox News, who freaked out over Obama's inauguration addresses. Going into Monday, readers, viewers and listeners weren't sure exactly what conservative voices were going to be outraged about, but it was foregone conclusion, since the day featured Obama, that they'd find something trivial to Get Very Upset About. (Answer: He was too partisan!)
Being outraged, and especially being outraged about made-up claims, like Obama's imaginary "name-calling" on Monday, has become a signature of the far right movement over the last four years. It's also blossomed into Fox News' entire business model. Fox News makes a pile of profits each year overreacting to imagined Obama slights.
The question is, has the Fox model of the phony Outrage Machine damaged the conservative movement? Is it standing in the way of Republican progress and electoral success?
Writing at his site RedState this week, conservative CNN commentator Erick Erickson beseeched fellow partisans to drop the outrage shtick and to move into more substantial areas of debate. "Conservatives, frankly, have become purveyors of outrage instead of preachers for a cause," he wrote. "Who the hell wants to listen to conservatives whining and moaning all the time about the outrage du jour?"
Erickson's point is dead on. The amount of time and energy conservatives devote to utterly trivial bouts of phony outrage now seem to consume the movement, or at least the media portion of it. But it's unlikely Fox News and its legion of copycat whiners in the press will heed Erickson's wise advice. They're too busy super-serving a radical niche and making money off the faux Outrage Machine.
After President Obama announced an executive action clarifying that doctors are permitted -- but not required -- to discuss gun safety with patients, conservatives in the media trumpeted a number of falsehoods, including the baseless claim that Obama is requiring doctors to report all gun owners to law enforcement.
As President Obama readies his push for new measures to help curb gun violence, conservative writers, including a USA Today columnist, are calling the unfolding gun debate a "distraction" and a "red herring" designed by the White House to focus attention away from what's really important in America, the national debt.
Dismissing the implications of a steady string of mass shootings, including the Newtown, CT elementary school massacre, gun advocates in the media accuse the president of fabricating the need for action or attention on the issue. He's being an "opportunist" who's "picking a fight" on guns, they insist.
The dismissive claim actually runs counter to a popular right-wing mantra this month that the Obama administration's gun control efforts stand as the precursor to a looming civil war, and that Obama's true tyrannical nature will be revealed.
Either way, portraying 30,000 gun deaths each year in America as a "distraction," and especially portraying the issue of school gun killings as a "red herring," strikes me as tasteless.
Nonetheless, in his USA Today column, conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds suggested Obama is purposefully focusing on guns in order to keep attention off "the country's financial situation." Left unmentioned by Reynolds was the fact that gun violence was thrust to the forefront of Obama's second-term agenda because a madman massacred kids and teachers inside a Connecticut school with a Bushmaster .223 semi-automatic rifle. Meaning, Obama's trying to deal with the issue of gun violence in a public way because gunmen keep going on shooting rampages across the country.
On the topic of gun violence in America, Reynolds' column remained silent. He was only interested in blaming Obama for allegedly manufacturing a diversion. (In his December 25 column, Reynolds lodged a similar complaint, insisting, "They'd rather have us talking about gun control" than the national debt.)
Following Reynolds' lead, Powerline blogger John Hinderaker apologized for having recently weighed in on the issue of gun control. Why apologize? Because Hinderaker now realizes gun control, gun violence, and shooting sprees represent a "distraction" from what really matters, the debt.
And writing at Breitbart.com, AWR Hawkins could barely mask his contempt for anyone who thinks guns represent an issue of importance in America today. Accusing the president of trying to "seize on the emotions of those who operate emotionally rather than rationally," the blogger wrote that any effort to curb gun violence in the wake of the Connecticut mass murder was a "red herring" designed to "redirect all emotion" away from what really matters.
I wonder if Newtown families agree.
Right-wing bloggers are promoting a proposed Wyoming law that aims to nullify new federal laws to prevent gun violence, but the Supreme Court has ruled that state nullification is unconstitutional and even conservative legal experts have agreed with this assessment.
Conservative media have reacted to pledges by Democrats to strengthen gun violence prevention laws after the massacre of 20 young children at Sandy Hook Elementary School by invoking Hitler and warning of revolution. Now several conservative media outlets are promoting a proposed Wyoming law that aims to nullify several possible federal gun violence protection measures.
State lawmakers in Wyoming have proposed a bill that aims to nullify any federal laws banning assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, or requiring firearms to be registered. The bill states that federal employees who attempt to enforce such laws can be imprisoned for up to five years. Major conservative blogs and news websites are promoting the law, cheering it as a move against "gun grabbers."
Fox Nation hyped the story with the headline: "Wyoming Tells Washington Gun Grabbers To Back The Hell Off."
The Drudge Report also highlighted the Wyoming legislation with the headline: "WY Lawmakers Propose 'Gun Protection' Legislation To Thwart Feds."
And Breitbart.com stated that "Wyoming threatens arrest for federal gun grabbers."
But the Supreme Court has rejected attempts by states to nullify federal law.