The right-wing website Breitbart.com is promising to "shine a light" on the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) in the coming days, a campaign that comes as corporate sponsors and lawmakers flee the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Media should be cautioned that any efforts to compare the two organizations is without validity, given their contrasting missions, standards of transparency, degrees of corporate influence, and ideologies.
Add Breitbart.com editor-in-chief Joel Pollak to the list of right-wing media dismissing voter identification law concerns despite evidence showing that such laws have kept many eligible voters, including the elderly and racial minorities, from voting.
Pollak writes that "voting rights are not threatened in the least by voter ID laws," adding that "[f]raud, not voter ID, is the only danger."
But evidence paints a clear picture: voter ID laws have kept otherwise eligible voters from having their vote counted. For instance, a May 2008 Los Angeles Times article reported that elderly nuns and college students "were turned away from polls" after Indiana's voter ID law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Additionally a report on voter ID laws from NYU's Brennan Center for Justice found that voter identification and other laws "could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012." Keesha Gaskins, senior counsel for the Brennan Center's Democracy Program, found that the laws are more likely to impact minority voters, writing:
Looking at voter ID laws alone, we know that although 11 percent of Americans lack government-issued photo ID, 25 percent of African-Americans, 16 percent of Hispanics, and 18 percent of elderly voters do not have this form of ID. States have also passed restrictions on early voting and community voter registration drives. Communities of color are more than twice as likely to register to vote with these groups, and they use early voting days at a much higher rate than the general population.
Furthermore, despite Pollak's suggestion that voter fraud is a widespread issue, a Supreme Court plurality found in 2008 that actual instances of voter fraud are few and "scattered." The Brennan Center has found that allegations of voter fraud "simply do not pan out" and distract from "real [election] problems that need real solutions." Even voter ID law proponent and right-wing commentator Hans von Spakovsky has acknowledged that there's no "massive fraud in American elections."
This is going to be an election season unlike any other. And not in a good way.
With a new breed of conservative media outlets making their presence felt during the 2012 campaign season, the emerging general election is being waged by the right with an unmistakable stamp of irresponsibility and a complete lack of adult supervision. Each passing day draws new revelations and guffaws.
Raise your hand if you thought 14 months after the White House released the president's long-firm birth certificate that birther booster Donald Trump would be dominating multiple campaign news cycles. But thanks in part to Fox News and the right-wing blogosphere, led by Breitbart.com, which finds the debunked birther topic fantastically alluring, the birthplace charade powers on indefinitely, complete with Mitt Romney's tacit endorsement.
And who ever thought they'd read a dispatch like the one posted at Politico that announced a small stable of right-wing billionaires are willing to try to buy the November elections by flooding the campaign season with a tsunami of unlimited cash (ten figures), aimed at swamping the media landscape and driving down the approval ratings of Democrats with a nonstop barrage of attacks ads.
Of course, this week Fox News gave the billionaires' secretive super PACs a run for their money by producing its own campaign attack ad. Like Glenn Beck's infamous wake-up appearance three summers ago when he announced to Fox's breakfast audience that Obama was a "racist" with a "deep-seated hatred for white people," Fox & Friends debuting its blistering, four-minute evisceration of Obama, complete with jarring graphics and ominous music, will likely live in cable news infamy.
The brash and unethical move, which had been in the works for weeks and was cheered in real time by Fox hosts, represented yet another door the Fox Team has marched through in its unapologetic transformation into a purely political operation. Tired of playing the middle man and increasingly eager to be the origin of partisan attacks and campaign initiatives (not merely reporting on them), the ad was Fox News' not very subtle nudge to the Republican National Committee: This is how you go after a sitting president!
When a distant Obama controversy was resurrected last week by the president's most fervent media foes, the New York Times noted how Mitt Romney's campaign distanced itself from the debate, and from the president's extreme critics.
The Times reported [emphasis added]:
On Thursday, the Drudge Report posted a link on its Web site to a report that sought to revive the long-discredited assertion that Mr. Obama was not born in the United States.
The Romney campaign has kept a considerable distance from the anti-Obama fringe. It only turns off moderate and independent voters, while stirring up Mr. Obama's base.
But has the GOP campaign really kept its distance? It's true that with last week's resurrection of the long-debunked conspiracy theory about Obama's true birthplace, the Romney campaign showed no interest in embracing the story.
In general though, the Republican Party's presumptive nominee has gone out of his way to embrace the anti-Obama fringe, in the form of today's right-wing media complex. The Romney campaign has built strong ties with Fox News, The Drudge Report, and with an array of far, far-right websites that traffic in every imaginable type of anti-Obama hysteria, and do it on a daily basis.
Indeed, the Romney campaign seems determined to wage a general election campaign battle alongside the anti-Obama fringe, in a way that Sen. John McCain did not four years ago.
Recall that earlier this month the Huffington Post reported that in effort to reach out to right-wing bloggers and online journalists, Romney met with dozens of conservative writers for two hours during an on off-the-record gathering in Washington, D.C. The bull session centered around ways the bloggers and writers could help Romney's campaign with its messaging, and how they could most effectively distribute opposition research on Obama.
In other words, the Romney campaign deputized the right-wing blogosphere. And yes, the bloggers whom Romney so graciously met with represent a Who's Who of the anti-Obama fringe. Among those assembled for the Romney meeting were representatives from American Spectator, Human Events, RedState, Townhall, Powerline and PJ Media, among others.
Here's a sample of their recent work:
No matter how many times they say it, the facts still don't change: The Rev. Jeremiah Wright story was covered endlessly in 2008 by the press, including The New York Times.
But that doesn't stop people like Breitbart's Joel Pollak from pushing one of the right's most beloved, albeit comically inept, lies: The liberal media refused to address the Wright story.
NY Times Ignored Obama's Wright, Focuses on Romney's Mormon Faith
This stubborn untruth is crucial because the far-right's ongoing obsession with Obama's former pastor only makes sense if conservatives can argue it's a new story and that new information is coming out all the time. They need to whitewash the past because Obama foes have to pretend voters were never informed about Obama's association with Wright and his incendiary rhetoric; that the press hid the truth about Obama.
In other words, there needs to be a conspiracy. Or, Obama was never vetted!
For the record, the Times "ignored" the Wright story so often in 2008 that it managed to publish just 200-plus articles and columns that mentioned both Obama and Rev. Wright, according to Nexis. The Times published more than 126 rticles and columns that mentioned Obama and Wright at least three times each, and 33 hefty pieces that mentioned both men at least eight times each.
As we've noted before, the avalanche of non-stop Wright coverage became so intense in 2008 that at one point the press was covering it more closely that Hillary Clinton's campaign, and she was running for president at the time. Also, just five percent of Americans thought the story received "too little" media attention, according to a CBS/New York Times poll in 2008.
Maybe Breitbart editors just have a different definition of "ignored."
For conservatives, it never gets old. It's 2012 and Obama's dedicated media foes are still writing about his possible foreign birthplace.
But now, in a confusing twist, conservatives are demanding the mainstream press pay great attention to the latest Kenya-related blip-of-a-revelation, that a 21-year-old publishing pamphlet not meant for public distribution erroneously claimed that Obama had been born in Kenya. (The author of the pamphlet insists it was a simple mistake.) One Breitbart blogger is now insisting that the press take this story very, very seriously and follow it up with detailed reports. And if journalists don't, well, that's just proof that the liberal media is covering for Obama.
Please note that up until very recently, conservatives were making the exact opposite claim. You'll recall that birtherism, according to some right-wing pundits, was a liberal media conspiracy and the only reason the story lived on was because the Obama-loving press wouldn't stop writing about it in hopes of making the president's opponents look like "right-wing nutjob kooks." (Hint: They didn't need any help.)
The claim, of course, was pure fiction. Last year, it was Fox News that went all-in on the birther story and gave Donald Trump a national platform to embarrass himself with his birth certificate expedition.
Nonetheless, right-wing commentators were in heated agreement: Talk of Obama's birthplace was a deliberate "distraction" cooked up by the press and the White House to keep people's minds off the real issues of the day.
If so, then Breitbart.com is now part of that vast left-wing conspiracy, as the site has morphed into a clearinghouse this week with scores of blog posts about burning questions that surround Obama's birthplace. Or at least the burning question that surrounds a 1991 pamphlet that mentioned his birthplace.
Team Breitbart is making all the strenuous claim that by raising questions about Obama being listed as "Born in Kenya" on an old publishing pamphlet, and blogging about the topic incessantly, they're not wallowing in birtherism. But it's a distinction without a difference, really. Either you purposefully feed this conspiratorial jibberish or you don't.
This week there has been lots of feeding going on and naturally it's been loudly promoted by professional birthers, such as Joseph Farah, who heralded the Breitbart pamphlet story as a "breakthrough." (Although Farah was upset the Breitbart crew was "still reticent about publishing this blockbuster for fear of being labeled 'birthers.'") Breitbart.com contributor Pam Geller also held up the pamphlet story as validation of her previous birther nonsense.
Last year, Karl Rove and Bill O'Reilly, two birther non-believers, were lamenting the story's astonishing staying power when Rove noted, "Every moment that conservatives talk about this, they marginalize and diminish themselves in the minds of independent voters."
Rove and others please take note, it wasn't the liberal media or the Obama White House that forced the entire right-wing blogosphere to, once again, wallow in questions about Obama's birthplace this week. That dubious distinction came from within the heart of the conservative movement, Breitbart.com.
UPDATED: According to a Breitbart post today, the press is now ignoring, or covering up, the site's birther scoop. So, last year the press protected Obama by hyping the birther story. Now the press is protecting Obama by not hyping the birther story.
In a May 18 post, on his blog, RedState, CNN's Erick Erickson praised Breitbart.com for its May 17 "vetting" of Obama, using the post to call Obama a "Composite Kenyan." From his May 18 RedState post:
The Breitbart Crew has done the world a very valuable service in finding a 1991 biography of Barack Obama from his literary agent claiming he was "born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii."
The point is not that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. The point is that Barack Obama has repeatedly been perfectly okay embellishing and having others embellish his qualifications and biography to make himself someone unique instead of just another Chicago politician. The pattern goes back to his job as a "financial reporter". A former colleague of his and Obama fan, way back in 2005, claims Barack Obama really embellished his resume describing his financial related reporting.
[T]he largest point, however, is that the media is yet again caught flat footed, claiming the story is no big deal, irrelevant, or that somehow the Breitbart Crew is in the wrong and peddling Birtherism.
They are not peddling Birtherism. The Breitbart Crew are kind of like illegal immigrants -- doing reporting Columbia journalism grads won't do. In 2008, the New York Times ran a big story on John McCain having an affair with a lobbyist. It got picked up all over the place. Reporters were on the trail. There was no *there* there.
Breitbart.com blogger Ken Klukowski has joined the ranks of right-wing figures hyping the bogus conspiracy theory that the ATF's botched Operation Fast and Furious was actually a secret Obama administration plot to undermine the Second Amendment rather than an operation to bring down Mexican drug cartels. However, the lead Republican investigating the Fast and Furious operation, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), has repeatedly released reports that have debunked this theory.
Klukowski wrote that "the NRA has been pushing for information regarding who knew what in the administration, and any related political objectives being pursued by Team Obama." Klukowski also quoted NRA chief lobbyist Christopher Cox as saying that "[a]ccording to their internal emails, it was all to advance their gun-control agenda."
But in a May 3 memorandum and accompanying report attempting to lay the groundwork for a contempt citation against Attorney General Eric Holder, Issa said that the Fast and Furious operation to allow straw purchasers to buy and transfer guns without being arrested was conceived because law enforcement officials "hoped the weapons, after they were recovered at crime scenes in Mexico, could be traced and linked to cartel operatives including possible high-level financiers, suppliers, and possibly even king-pins."
From Issa's memorandum:
Fast and Furious Conceived
The ATF Phoenix Field Division began Operation Fast and Furious in the fall of 2009 after suspicious weapons purchases led agents to the discovery of an apparent Phoenix-based arms trafficking syndicate. Having been encouraged to devise grander strategies to stop the transfers of weapons to Mexican drug cartels, the Phoenix based agents devised a strategy that went beyond simple arrests or weapons confiscations. They would allow the U.S.-based associates of a Mexican drug cartel to continue acquiring firearms uninterrupted. In doing so, they hoped the weapons, after they were recovered at crime scenes in Mexico, could be traced and linked to cartel operatives including possible high-level financiers, suppliers, and possibly even king-pins.
The operation sought to achieve its lofty goals by focusing on the ringleader of the weapons smuggling syndicate they had identified: Manuel Celis-Acosta. Celis-Acosta was using a then-unknown number of straw-purchasers, including Jamie Avila, to purchase weapons.
At no point in the 17-page memo or accompanying 44-page draft contempt citation against Holder did Issa assert that the program may have had a different, more nefarious purpose.
I hesitate to offer advice to the amateur vetting squad over at Breitbart.com, but here goes: If you have to start a piece with a disclaimer announcing that "Breitbart News is a site that has never advocated the narrative of 'Birtherism,'" then you're doing something wrong.
There is no getting out in front of birther allegations.
The latest installment of the self-serious and wildly incompetent Breitbart.com-led "vetting" of President Obama concerns a 1991 pamphlet published by Obama's former literary agency that erroneously describes Obama as being "born in Kenya." The Breitbartlings claim they're not publishing this as bait for the unkillable birther conspiracy, but rather because... well, even they don't seem too sure:
It is evidence--not of the President's foreign origin, but that Barack Obama's public persona has perhaps been presented differently at different times.
It's actually evidence of the passive voice's capacity for mischief. And while they might not consider this "evidence" of Obama's "foreign origin," all the birther troglodytes out there certainly do.
Later in the piece they say this fits "a pattern in which Obama -- or the people representing and supporting him -- manipulate his public persona." Um... OK? Left unexplained is what benefit/motive Obama and his support network would have in lying about his birthplace in a pamphlet that would be viewed by a vanishingly small audience.
Also, prior to the pamphlet's publication, Obama had apparently been going around telling major newspapers that he was born in Hawaii. When he was elected to the Harvard Law Review in 1990, the New York Times reported:
The new president of the Review is Barack Obama, a 28-year-old graduate of Columbia University who spent four years heading a community development program for poor blacks on Chicago's South Side before enrolling in law school. His late father, Barack Obama, was a finance minister in Kenya and his mother, Ann Dunham, is an American anthropologist now doing fieldwork in Indonesia. Mr. Obama was born in Hawaii.
''The fact that I've been elected shows a lot of progress,'' Mr. Obama said today in an interview. ''It's encouraging."
Similar pre-1991 mentions of Obama's Hawaiian birth can be found in articles by the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press.
So none of this really makes any sense or has any explanation that isn't insane. But's that's unimportant because...
Regardless of the reason for Obama's odd biography, the Acton & Dystel booklet raises new questions as part of ongoing efforts to understand Barack Obama -- who, despite four years in office remains a mystery to many Americans, thanks to the mainstream media.
What are those "new questions"? They don't know. They just know they're questions, and they're new, and the media, and Obama, and whatever.
UPDATE: Teagan Goddard of Political Wire got in touch with the literary agency, and they said it was all just a mistake. "This was nothing more than a fact checking error by me -- an agency assistant at the time. There was never any information given to us by Obama in any of his correspondence or other communications suggesting in any way that he was born in Kenya and not Hawaii."
Conservative media are once again hyping the amount of oil in the U.S. by including oil shale, ignoring that oil companies have found no profitable way to develop that resource.
The most recent flood of misinformation came after testimony by the Government Accountability Office's Anu Mittal about "oil shale," a sedimentary rock that when heated at high temperatures can produce liquid fuels (except gasoline) with a larger carbon footprint than conventional liquid fuels. While some conservative outlets claimed it was major news, the testimony -- which was based on an October 2010 GAO report -- contained no positive developments for oil shale, which has long been known to exist in large amounts in the U.S. but is not commercially viable. Earlier this year, energy expert Robert Rapier wrote, "It is not at all clear that even at $100 oil the shale in the Green River formation will be commercialized to produce oil." Even an editor at the right-wing blog The American Thinker acknowledged that "any large scale operations" for oil shale development would be "prohibitively expensive at this time." And just recently, Chevron gave up its oil shale lease in Colorado.
Mittal noted in her testimony that no technology to develop oil shale "has been shown to be economically or environmentally viable at a commercial scale." But Fox News' nightly news show and CNSNews.com, a project of the conservative Media Research Center, failed to mention that oil shale is not currently commercially viable. Breitbart.com and Investor's Business Daily incorrectly suggested that oil shale is not being developed because of Obama administration policies, rather than economic considerations. And Powerline suggested that oil shale is in fact viable because of the "advance of extraction technology," seemingly confusing oil shale with tight oil from shale rock, which can be extracted via horizontal drilling and hydrofracking.
It's interesting to see that the same people who dismiss the enormous potential of solar and wind power and attack investment in renewable energy are hyping the potential of oil shale. A December 2011 Congressional Research Service report, which classified oil shale as a "sub-economic" resource, stated that "despite government programs in the 1970s and early 1980s to stimulate development of the resource, production of oil shale is not yet commercially viable."
Right-wing media have responded to a Washington Post story detailing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's alleged bullying of a high school classmate by dismissing Romney's reported bullying as "foolish games" and possibly just an attempt to enforce his school's dress code. However, bullying has destructive consequences for victims, including heightened risks of depression and suicide.
After President Obama's historic announcement that he is in favor of marriage equality, many in the right-wing media are refusing to debate the substance of same-sex marriage. Instead, they are casting about for ways to attack Obama's position on marriage that ignore the actual debate.
Conservative media figures are suggesting that a recently released memo from Leon Panetta shows that President Obama doesn't deserve credit for ordering the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. In fact, the memo fits the previously reported timeline of the decision to raid the compound and confirms Obama's role in making that decision.
Last August, The New Yorker reported the details of Obama's decision to order Vice Adm. Bill McRaven, who is in charge of the Joint Special Operations Command, to carry out the raid:
Late on Thursday afternoon [April 28, 2011], Panetta and the rest of the national-security team met with the President. For the next few nights, there would be virtually no moonlight over Abbottabad -- the ideal condition for a raid. After that, it would be another month until the lunar cycle was in its darkest phase. Several analysts from the National Counterterrorism Center were invited to critique the C.I.A.'s analysis; their confidence in the intelligence ranged between forty and sixty per cent. The center's director, Michael Leiter, said that it would be preferable to wait for stronger confirmation of bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad. Yet, as Ben Rhodes, a deputy national-security adviser, put it to me recently, the longer things dragged on, the greater the risk of a leak, "which would have upended the thing." Obama adjourned the meeting just after 7 P.M. and said that he would sleep on it.
The next morning [April 29, 2011], the President met in the Map Room with Tom Donilon, his national-security adviser, Denis McDonough, a deputy adviser, and Brennan. Obama had decided to go with a DEVGRU [SEAL team] assault, with McRaven choosing the night. It was too late for a Friday attack, and on Saturday there was excessive cloud cover. On Saturday afternoon, McRaven and Obama spoke on the phone, and McRaven said that the raid would occur on Sunday night. "Godspeed to you and your forces," Obama told him. "Please pass on to them my personal thanks for their service and the message that I personally will be following this mission very closely." [emphasis added]
For a recent cover article, Time magazine released a memo written by then-CIA director Panetta on the morning of April 29, 2011. Time transcribed the handwritten note:
MEMO FOR THE RECORD Apr. 29, 2011, 10:35 a.m.
Received phone call from Tom Donilon who stated that the President made a decision with regard to AC1 [Abbottabad Compound 1]. The decision is to proceed with the assault. The timing, operational decision making and control are in Admiral McRaven's hands. The approval is provided on the risk profile presented to the President. Any additional risks are to be brought back to the President for his consideration. The direction is to go in and get bin Laden and if he is not there, to get out. Those instructions were conveyed to Admiral McRaven at approximately 10:45 am. [emphasis added]
So, the memo confirms that Obama met with national security adviser Tom Donilon and others on the morning of April 29. Donilon then called Panetta on the phone and told him that Obama had decided to go forward with the raid, and that McRaven was in charge of operational decision-making, as one would expect with any major military operation.
The right-wing media are twisting this final detail -- that McRaven was in control of the operational decisions -- into a suggestion that there was no "gutsy call" by Obama to go forward with the raid.
The Breitbart team has a new entry in its flailing campaign to redefine former Harvard law professor Derrick Bell and critical race theory -- along with President Obama -- as radical. This time around, Breitbart editor-in-chief Joel Pollak offers up the previously known fact that Bell wrote a blurb for Obama's memoir, Dreams From My Father, that was published in the book's first edition.
The "exclusive" part of Pollak's post appears to be a letter that Obama sent to Bell requesting the blurb. Pollak says the letter comes from the New York University archives, which hold Bell's papers. The portion of the letter that Pollak quotes is unremarkable:
As for me, I'm keeping busy in Chicago. I'm currently working at Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland here in Chicago, a small firm specializing in employment discrimination and voting rights/civil rights cases. I'm also teaching a seminar on race and the law at the University of Chicago law school -- your casebook has been an invaluable reference guide for that.
The main reason I'm writing to you, though, has to do with a book that I've been writing, on again, off again, for the past two years. Originally, the book (called Dreams of My Father) was going to be a series of essays on issues of race and class, but as it has evolved it's become a memoir of my family and my experiences as an organizer in Chicago...
Your name came to mind as somebody whose insight I've always appreciated, so I've enclosed an advanced reader's edition of the book. If you have time to read it and think it's worth of a plug, I'd be thrilled...
Pollak goes on to link to a website showing a copy of Dreams From My Father that includes the blurb from Bell.
All of this does nothing to change the fact that Bell is a mainstream figure. It is also not evidence, as the Breitbart team has been insisting, that the media have failed to "vet" Obama and his administration.
Nevertheless, Pollak concludes:
Clearly, Obama's link to Bell was more than just a "hug," but part of a sustained effort to align himself with the radical left--and to be seen by others as a legitimate radical--in the early stages of his public life.
As a reminder of how wrong Pollak is about this, watch CNN's Soledad O'Brien explain the details to him back on March 8: