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.
Since Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) revealed a plan to introduce legislation banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, members of the right-wing media have launched hysterical, and often false, attacks against her proposal to crack down on weapons like the one used in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.
In two December 27 pieces published on Brietbart.com, contributor AWR Hawkins grossly exaggerated the scope of Feinstein's legislative proposal to suggest that the assault weapons ban would require that all firearms be registered with the government and claim that "the details of Senator Dianne Feinstein's pending assault weapons ban show that her real goal is to ban handguns."
Sen. Feinstein's actual proposal allows current owners of assault weapons to keep their firearms so long as the owner fulfills a registration requirement and includes no mandate to register firearms that are not assault weapons. While the proposed ban would cover some handguns with military characteristics, Hawkins' claim that the legislation would lead to a general handgun ban is based on the speculation "that as soon as a public crime is committed with a double-action revolver, Feinstein and Co. will try to add those to the list as well."
But an even bigger problem lurks -- right now the focus is only on "assault weapons" and semi-auto handguns, however, as soon as a public crime is committed with a double-action revolver, Feinstein and Co. will try to add those to the list as well.
The bottom line: If we are foolish enough to embrace a ban on any weapon in the coming Congress then we are unwittingly embracing a ban on every weapon.
Hawkins repeated these claims on National Rifle Association News, calling the proposed assault weapons ban "garbage" and "anti-freedom to the core."
Right-wing media have inconsistently responded to House Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) failed attempt to pass his proposed "Plan B" to resolve the so-called "fiscal cliff" standoff, including praising conservative Republicans who opposed the measure, expressing regret that the measure didn't pass, questioning the viability of Boehner's speakership, and blaming President Obama for the plan's failure, despite Obama's concessions to the GOP.
Breitbart.com is in the midst of a hiring spree that promises to generate more pageviews and money for the publication while keeping its readers chasing Obama administration conspiracies for the next four years.
The publication is reportedly offering reporters from other right-wing outlets big salary increases and annual bonuses to sign four year contracts. It's no wonder that the website has money to spend; in at least one month this fall Breitbart.com passed its rivals to take the lead as the highest trafficked right-wing news site. Traffic drives ad sales, which, together with venture capital, has filled the publication's coffers.
What's significant is what Breitbart.com has done to build the traffic, and who they're planning on hiring with the resulting profits.
Breitbart.com was an important piece of the right-wing media bubble that kept conservatives blissfully unaware of major events during the 2012 election and focused on flawed efforts to "vet" President Obama. The publication fixated on efforts to reveal aspects of Obama's youth and college years, claiming that the media hadn't sufficiently put the president under the microscope in 2008 and set out to correct their failures.
Thus a major right-wing news site spent its resources during the last election running massive investigations into topics like the president's 20-year-old hug of a Harvard Law professor and the claims his literary agent made about his memoir in a 1991 pamphlet. Meanwhile, they worked overtime to try to discredit the vast weight of polling that suggested Obama was cruising to reelection. And shackled to their base, Mitt Romney and the rest of the GOP's officeholders were taken along for the ride, latching on to the sorts of claims that made sense inside the right-wing bubble and nowhere else.
Woefully misleading their audience apparently brought in enough money for Breitbart.com to make fat offers to staffers at other right-wing media publications. And they're using it to bring in more "talent" that will keep the Breitbart.com gravy train running and their audience in the dark.
Matthew Boyle was the first to "enlist in Andrew Breitbart's army" in order to "go to war" against "leftwing outlets" like "The New York Times, Politico, [and] NBC News" after several years working at The Daily Caller. His December 2 announcement came less than 14 days after his previous employer had all but retracted one of his stories.
After Time magazine announced that Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown Law student who advocated for reproductive health coverage, would be one of 40 candidates for its "Person of the Year" award, the right-wing media reacted with vicious attacks on Fluke. The right-wing media have consistently attacked Fluke since Rush Limbaugh responded to her congressional testimony earlier in the year by calling her a "slut" and a "prostitute."
Right-wing media are attempting to portray President Obama as anti-Israel and pro-Hamas in light of the conflict between Israel and Gaza, ignoring recent public praise of the Obama administration from Israeli officials.
In the wake of President Obama's re-election, right-wing media outlets and figures compared the president to a dictator, called for a revolution, and baselessly suggested impeachment.
Right-wing media are scrambling to politicize Hurricane Sandy, attacking media outlets for reporting that Obama has returned to the White House to monitor the response to the storm, which could affect 60 million Americans.
As Hurricane Sandy bears down on the east coast, Breitbart.com is reporting that President Obama's "proposal for the upcoming budget sequester would cut nearly $900 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, including disaster relief, food and shelter, and flood management at both the federal and state levels." This is absolutely false: the report they characterize as the White House's "sequester proposal" is actually a legally required estimate of how scheduled automatic budget cuts will impact discretionary spending, and inveighs strongly against allowing those cuts to take effect.
The debt-limit deal passed in 2011 (with the support of over two-thirds of House Republicans, including GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan) required both parties to find a way to cut the deficit by $1.2 trillion, or face steep, automatic cuts across the board starting in January 2013 -- the sequester. On August 7, President Obama signed into law the Sequester Transparency Act, which required the White House to "submit to Congress a detailed report on the sequestration" that provides "an estimate for each category of the sequestration percentages and amounts necessary to achieve the required reduction."
The White House Office of Management and Budget released that report in September. Contrary to Breitbart.com's misreading, the report does not propose cuts to FEMA or any other agency but rather enumerates the cuts that are required by the statute. The introduction to the report makes this clear (emphasis added):
The percentage cuts in this report, and the identification of exempt and non-exempt accounts, reflect the requirements of the laws that the Administration is applying. With the single exception of military personnel accounts, the Administration cannot choose which programs to exempt, or what percentage cuts to apply. These matters are dictated by a detailed statutory scheme. The Administration does not support these cuts, but unless Congress acts responsibly, there will be no choice but to implement them.
So no, the White House is not "propos[ing]" FEMA cuts through the sequester. And that should come as a relief to FEMA, given the many enthusiastic calls for cutting its budget it's seen coming from Republicans lately.