Traveling overseas last week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, currently surging in Republican primary polls, stepped into trouble when he was asked if he accepts the theory of evolution. "I am going to punt on that one," said Walker, instantly creating news. "That's a question a politician shouldn't be involved in one way or another. I am going to leave that up to you."
Coming just days after likely White House hopefuls New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) stumbled badly over the issue of vaccinations, and at a time when many leading Republican leaders deny the reailty on climate change, Walker's evolution slip-up highlighted the party's penchant for getting tangled up in fights over science. And not just he latest scientific discoveries, but long-settled science.
Shifting into damage control mode in the wake of the "punt," the conservative press swooped in, established a secure perimeter around Walker and announced, 'No more evolution questions!' They're "silly," "ridiculous," "nonsense," "not serious" queries, came the angry proclamations.
"The Hazing of Scott Walker," lamented the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto.
The hand wringing sprang up overnight as partisan defenders announced that asking a possible candidate about his or her acceptance of evolution was suddenly Completely Out Of Bounds and represented a Deeply Offensive Inquiry. The goal? "Conservatives want to change what questions are acceptable and natural for reporters to ask," noted Bloomberg's David Weigel.
In other words, they're trying to work the refs at the outset of the campaign season.
But conservatives may have a tough time pushing reporters off the evolution questions simply because politicians, and specifically presidential candidates from both parties, have been asked about evolution for years and nobody seemed to mind. But suddenly it's Katie bar the door? Suddenly it's all an elaborate trap journalists have set for Republicans?
It is according to Fox News' George Will. On February 12, he conceded, "We should be able to come to terms with the fact when asked about evolution you say yes." But Will harrumphed that questions about evolution are "a standard way of trying to embarrass Republicans." (Isn't it only embarrassing if Republicans are embarrassed by their own answers?)
In truth, Walker's evolution query was actually the opposite of a trick, or gotcha, question. The governor wasn't pressed on the spot to make a tricky math calculation or to comment on an obscure scientific theory. He was simply asked to acknowledge a firmly-established scientific fact. What could be easier, when you think about it?
Media outlets are reporting that Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) will attempt to block the confirmation of Loretta Lynch as U.S. attorney general on the grounds that the president's "illegal executive amnesty for illegal immigrants would be implemented" by the nominee. However, in reports about the January 28 hearing in which Vitter explained his "huge concern" about the "unconstitutional" executive actions on immigration, both mainstream and right-wing media failed to note that the statutory provision the senator relied on was not only the wrong one, it was out-of-date.
Lynch, the federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of New York, has been widely praised across the political spectrum, and multiple conservatives -- including current Republican senators -- support her nomination. Her credentials are so strong, even right-wing media favorites called to her confirmation hearing by GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed she was unobjectionable. Nevertheless, from the moment President Obama nominated Lynch, conservative media have attempted to smear her -- attempts that have been riddled with spectacular mistakes.
Right-wing media are now hitching their opposition to Lynch to the positions of Vitter, who has repeatedly stated he will do his best to block the nominee's confirmation because she does not oppose the president's executive actions on immigration. On her radio show, Laura Ingraham hosted Vitter and agreed with his opposition to Lynch because of her support for "executive amnesty," repeating the debunked myth that Lynch believes there is a legal right for undocumented immigrants to work. Breitbart.com, which has struggled mightily to successfully criticize the nominee, also highlighted Vitter's obstructionist intentions toward Lynch, noting that "Lynch's outspoken support for President Obama's executive amnesty" was in part responsible for the current Republican delay on an up-or-down vote.
Mainstream outlets have reported on Vitter's antipathy toward Lynch as well, based on her support for the "reasonable[ness]" of the justification for the immigration actions. These reports have specifically noted that the senator laid out his case for the illegality of deferred action for certain undocumented immigrants at her recent hearing, where he accused the administration of flouting the law by assigning Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) and the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to the Department of Homeland Security. As Vitter said during the hearing, "I've read the plan, and the plan as I read it is for all of that to be done in the Department of Homeland Security. So my question would be, what is the statutory basis to allow that, when under the statute -- not some order, not some legal opinion -- the statute, the law, word by word it says the attorney general is in the middle of that decision[.]" The Washington Post, for example, included a photo of the oversized copy of 8 U.S. Code § 1182(d)(5) that Vitter displayed as he repeatedly questioned the nominee for agreeing with the White House's legal defense of the immigration actions. Vitter finally remarked, "Well, again, I'll have to be following up for the fourth time, but that'll be a central question. The plan is not for the attorney general to be in the middle of this at all. The statute says that 'the attorney general is.' Why aren't we following the statute?"
Unfortunately, both right-wing and mainstream media reporting on Vitter, the January 28 hearing, and his opposition to Lynch have failed to note that Vitter's questioning was referring to the wrong part of the law, which has since been superseded.
Conservative media have been quick to use "religious liberty" as an excuse for forgiving all kinds of homophobic rhetoric in the public square. But an employment discrimination complaint against Ford Motor Co. reveals the ugly logical conclusion of the right's conflation of Christianity and anti-gay bigotry.
Conservative media have worked to conflate blatant homophobia and mainstream Christianity, usually in order to defend prominent right-wing homophobes. For instance, Fox News figures rallied to the defense of the Benham brothers, whose HGTV reality show was canceled in May after their history of bigotry was exposed. Fox host Megyn Kelly claimed that while "gay rights are more and more protected in this country," the same didn't hold for "Christian beliefs and Christian rights." Similarly, Sean Hannity deflected criticism of the homophobia expressed by Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson, excusing it as nothing more than "old-fashioned, traditional Christian sentiment and values."
In keeping with that reasoning, a Michigan man named Thomas Banks filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on January 28 against his former employer, Ford. Banks was fired in August after he allegedly violated Ford's anti-harassment policy. According to the EEOC complaint, Banks responded negatively to a shared online article outlining Ford's LGBT-inclusiveness:
For this Ford Motor should be thoroughly ashamed. Endorsing and promoting sodomy is of benefit to no one. This topic is disruptive to the workplace and is an assault on Christians and morality, as well as antithetical to our design and our survival. Immoral sexual conduct should not be a topic for an automotive manufacturer to endorse or promote. And yes - this is historic - but not in a good way. Never in the history of mankind has a culture survived that promotes sodomy. Heterosexual behavior creates life - homosexual behavior leads to death.
Banks is being represented by the anti-LGBT legal group Liberty Institute, which claims that Ford Motor Co. violated Bank's religious liberty by punishing him for his "sincerely held religious beliefs." The Liberty Institute actually cites Banks' "sincerely held religious beliefs" seven times in the first two paragraphs of its complaint:
Right-wing media are baselessly connecting the Obama administration and the State Department to a local Israeli campaign against current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In fact, American political consultants from both parties have been independently working in Israeli campaigns for decades -- including former Obama aides who have worked for Netanyahu.
Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen wrote on February 2 that a former Obama campaign staffer went to Israel "to oust Netanyahu," suggesting the former staffer would not do this work "if he thought Obama opposed it" and implying the administration was "actively working to defeat Netanyahu":
Obama's 2012 national field director, Jeremy Bird, was headed to Tel Aviv to manage a grass-roots campaign to oust Netanyahu. Bird would not be working to defeat Netanyahu if he thought Obama opposed it. Can you imagine Karl Rove going to London while George W. Bush was in office to help conservatives oust Prime Minister Tony Blair? It further emerged that the group behind Bird's anti-Netanyahu effort has received State Department funding and lists the State Department as a "partner" on its Web site.
But before this false idea hit the Post, it bubbled up from the right-wing media echo chamber.
Two policy groups in Israel, OneVoice and Victory 15, are currently working together to promote platforms that reportedly "are not friendly" to Netanyahu ahead of the upcoming election.
The groups have also partnered with American consulting group 270 Strategies, which is headed by Jeremy Bird, a former Obama campaign staffer. OneVoice began working with 270 Strategies in 2013, long before the Israeli elections were announced.
There is a long history of U.S. political consultants from both parties working for Israeli political campaigns. As the New York Times reported, former Obama campaign strategist Bill Knapp worked as an adviser to Netanyahu in 2009. Josh Isay, whose firm worked on the Obama campaign, has also worked for Netanyahu. Bill Clinton campaign strategists James Carville and Stanley Greenberg worked for an Israeli Labor Party candidate in 1999; up until recently Republican strategist Arthur Finkelstein worked for Netanyahu.
Nevertheless, conservatives have jumped on 270 Strategies' current work to falsely accuse the Obama administration -- and President Obama personally -- of attempting to influence Israeli politics.
In particular, the right-wing criticism revolves around the administration's response to Rep. John Boehner's (R-OH) recent announcement that Netanyahu was invited to speak before the U.S. Congress without President Obama's knowledge shortly before Israel's election, an unusual intervention in foreign policy and almost-unheard of action between heads of state. Conservatives claim that 270 Strategies' work with OneVoice proves Obama is either retaliating against Netanyahu or engaging in a similar effort to meddle in foreign politics; but again, 270's work on the ground in Israel began long before this most recent disagreement, and it is typical for American political consultants to engage in Israeli politics.
Fringe blogs Gateway Pundit and PJ Media led the charge, publishing the "report" on January 26 claiming "The Obama administration is backing the campaign to defeat Netanyahu." The Drudge Report hyped an inside look at the "HQ of ex-Obama staffers' anti-Bibi campaign," right below a story labeled "White House ratchets up criticism of Netanyahu." Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) even followed up with a blog on Breitbart.com to ask, "Has President Obama launched a political campaign against Prime Minister Netanyahu?"
Fox News also picked up the claim, with host Megyn Kelly suggesting that the administration sent an Obama "field general" to help Israel "elect Netanyahu's opponent":
[The Obama administration says] that they're fine, they are not going to interfere with the Israeli election, they don't want anything to do with that and yet, we have reports yesterday that this guy Jeremy Bird, who was the field general for Obama's re-election campaign is helping in Israel elect Netanyahu's opponent and to replace the current government there. Pure coincidence?
When Kelly's guest Joe Trippi then explained that former campaign staffers frequently work on international campaigns -- on either side of various issues -- National Review's Rich Lowry attempted to argue that "you cannot find anyone significant around President Obama who would ever go to work for Bibi Netanyahu, which, again, goes to the animosity they have to this man personally and for the point of view he represents."
Many of the media outlets took the smear further, by also claiming that tax-payer dollars were funding the campaign. OneVoice briefly received a one-time grant for about $200,000 from the State Department, which ended in November 2014. As State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki noted in a briefing, the grant "ended before there was a declaration of an Israeli election."
Nevertheless, media outlets such as the Daily Caller insisted that OneVoice was currently "backed by the Department of State" and labeled it "Kerry's Diplomatic Protection Racket." Kelly even suggested that OneVoice "should be forced to return the $200,000 to the taxpayers."
Now, this right-wing distortion of the facts has made it all the way to the Post.
Conservative media outlets hyped a misleading Breitbart report on an "Islamic Tribunal using Sharia law" in Texas to fear monger that the tribunals could supersede federal law. But the tribunals are completely voluntary and do not override federal law.
Breitbart.com is incorrectly claiming that Loretta Lynch "undercut the legal argument" supporting President Obama's executive action on immigration, when in reality she did no such thing.
On January 28, Lynch appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee for her confirmation hearing to become the next attorney general of the United States. Lynch is widely considered by people on both sides of the aisle to be a well-qualified pick for the post, but she still faced tough questions from Senate Republicans who, as The New York Times put it, wanted "assurances she would break from some of the practices" of current Attorney General Eric Holder.
One line of questioning in particular centered around Lynch's thoughts on the legality of Obama's recent executive action on immigration that will defer deportation proceedings for some undocumented immigrants. Legal experts agree that the president's action, which will provide temporary administrative relief for certain undocumented parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents who pass a background check, is "clearly within his discretionary power." Immigrants whose deportations are deferred under this form of prosecutorial discretion are then eligible to apply for work authorization permits and driver's licenses (depending on the state) -- a benefit that was not introduced by Obama, but rather is permitted under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and the Real ID Act of 2005, respectively.
Breitbart.com, a site that once spectacularly confused nominee Lynch with a completely different Loretta Lynch in its rush to smear her qualifications, made yet another error in reporting on the confirmation hearing. A January 28 post on Breitbart claimed that Lynch "[p]erhaps by accident" had "undercut the legal justification the president has given for his executive amnesty for millions of illegal aliens during her confirmation hearing." Aside from incorrectly defining the president's immigration actions as "amnesty" -- a mistake that other conservative media figures like Fox News' Megyn Kelly have avoided -- Breitbart homed in on an exchange between Lynch and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who asked about limitations on using prosecutorial discretion to prioritize deportations. Breitbart quoted Lynch's response:
I think that if a prosecutor were to come to the view that they had to prioritize one crime over another, you would always still want to retain the ability -- even if it was an area that was not an immediate priority -- if for example it became one. Because if a particular neighborhood was being victimized, or again to use your issue of speeding, there were deaths resulting from that. You would want to have the ability to, if you could, take resources and focus on that issue. It might not be the first priority but you would want to have the ability to go back and deal with that issue.
Breitbart went on to argue that, in her response, "Lynch effectively admits that what Obama has done with executive amnesty -- providing legal documentation and work permits for millions of illegal aliens, thereby legalizing their status in the United States -- far exceeds any reasonable definition of prosecutorial discretion. She also said that prosecutors should keep the door open to prosecuting an illegal action that isn't currently a priority if it becomes one eventually. So even if illegal immigration isn't a priority right now for whatever reason, prosecutors need to be able to go after that crime later."
What she said does not "undercut" the policy at all. By definition, the executive actions (which are reversible themselves) that grant temporary administrative relief by deferred action "keep the door open" and allow law enforcement "to go after that crime later," as Lynch stated. The hint is in the name of the actions, which Breitbart did not cite: the "case-by-case" Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) and the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programs.
Given the fact that it would be impossible for law enforcement to deport every person currently living in the United States without the appropriate documentation, it is essential to prioritize some removals over others. Lynch's comments do not undermine the administration's position, which she said was "reasonable" -- they simply explain how prosecutorial discretion, such as DAPA and DACA, works in practice.
The witness list for the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on Loretta Lynch, the highly regarded nominee for attorney general, indicates the process will be a forum for right-wing media favorites and myths but will have little to do with her qualifications.
Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, has long been praised across the political spectrum as a model federal prosecutor. Lynch has been confirmed twice as a U.S. attorney -- including by some of the same Republican senators now in control of the Judiciary Committee -- and news of her nomination in November brought a new round of support, including from conservative law enforcement sources.
Current New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton called Lynch "a remarkable prosecutor with a clear sense of justice without fear or favor." Former FBI director Louis Freeh wrote in a letter to Judiciary Committee leadership that he couldn't think of "a more qualified nominee" and was "happy to give Ms. Lynch my highest personal and professional recommendation." Freeh also wrote that he had spoken with "several of my former judicial colleagues who echo this support, and note that Ms. Lynch has gained a terrific reputation for effectively, fairly and independently enforcing the law." Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who worked with Lynch on an infamous police brutality case, has said "if I were in the Senate, I would confirm her."
Fringe right-wing media outlets and figures initially ignored this broad support and attacked Lynch anyway. The effort was spectacularly unsuccessful, as they mixed up the nominee with an entirely different Loretta Lynch and then claimed that her membership in Delta Sigma Theta, one of the country's leading African-American sororities, was "controversial."
Leading Fox News figures were better informed about the New York nominee, most notably News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch, who immediately noted Lynch had a "reputation for fairness and strict legality." In an O'Reilly Factor segment with Megyn Kelly on November 10, Bill O'Reilly said he was "heartened" she would be the new attorney general. In response, Kelly praised Lynch:
KELLY: I have to say that I think this is the person who should be the most acceptable to the right wing or the Republicans in this country of anybody who President Obama was considering. She is a straight shooter. First of all, she would be the first black female attorney general, right? I mean, that in and of itself is a pretty amazing accomplishment. Went to Harvard undergrad, went to Harvard Law School. She has no close ties to the White House. She is not some firm ideologue or partisan. She has prosecuted Democrats and Republicans. She's been a hero on gang crime, on terrorism.
Republican senators have been similarly honest about Lynch's record, admitting that she "seems to be a solid choice" and will instead use her hearing as a forum for grievances they have with the administration and outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder. The new chairman of the committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), told Politico: "All I can tell you is that immigration is going to be a big part of it. ... Not because of her views on immigration, but of the president's action on immigration and the extent of what she feels he's acted in a legal way."
Unfortunately, a review of the newly released witness list reveals that the Republican choices for this "proxy war of sorts" rely heavily on right-wing media favorites who frequently spread debunked smears and myths:
Right-wing media maligned Obama's economic policy initiatives announced during his State Of The Union address as both divisive class warfare and Santa Claus-style giveaways.
Fox News and other conservative media outlets are attacking gun safety group Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) by falsely claiming that the group insulted slain Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle. But CSGV did nothing of the sort. The attacks rely on blaming CSGV for statements made by commenters to its public Facebook page.
Kyle was a decorated veteran of the Iraq War who was well known for having 160 confirmed kills. In January 2013, Kyle published a book about his experiences, but was murdered just days later at a shooting range by a veteran allegedly suffering from PTSD. Kyle's life story has been turned into a movie, American Sniper.
During the January 13 edition of Fox & Friends, host Heather Nauert falsely claimed, "This morning the anti-gun group Coalition to Stop Gun Violence is blasting Kyle, inviting its Facebook users to trash the American hero." On-screen text included "Dishonoring A Hero" and "Anti-Gun Group Trashes Chris Kyle."
The January 13 edition of Fox & Friends First similarly claimed CSGV was "trashing Chris Kyle" and "taking swipes at the U.S. military's most lethal sniper," and later displayed a graphic asking, "Should This Group Be Trashing One Of Our Military Heroes Who Defended Our Freedom?"
The smear likely originated from a January 12 article at the conservative Washington Examiner that claims CSGV "is targeting Clint Eastwood's potential Oscar nominee 'American Sniper." As evidence, the Examiner links to an October 2, 2014, post by CSGV on its Facebook page that calls the upcoming movie an "Interesting project," while linking to a USAToday.com article about the film:
Right-wing media rushed to exploit the deadly attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris. But this is just the latest in right-wing media's long history of politicizing tragedy to push political objectives.
Right-wing media quickly offered Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) glowing praise and endorsements after they announced plans to challenge Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) for the Speaker of the House position.
Right-wing media websites continued to undermine their credibility in 2014 by peddling a number of false, ridiculous, and bigoted smears. Here are the top smears from conservative websites The Daily Caller, Breitbart.com, and The Washington Free Beacon.
This year saw clean energy technologies become cost-competitive with fossil fuels and gain prominence worldwide. The fossil fuel industry, desperate to stymie clean energy's continuing expansion, enlisted conservative media to do their bidding and attack clean technologies in every shape and form. From stoking fears about public transit being a form of "government control," to providing one-sided stories falsely predicting clean energy's downfall, here are the media's six most absurd attacks on clean energy this year.
1. 60 Minutes Produces "Poor Piece Of Journalism" To Attack Clean Energy
In January, CBS' 60 Minutes aired a report titled, "The Cleantech Crash," which attempted to label clean energy a "dirty word." The report was widely criticized by reporters, government officials, and clean energy advocates alike for offering a one-sided look at renewable energy and narrowly focusing on a few failures while ignoring the majority of clean energy's success. Two of the guests interviewed in the report later criticized it for selectively airing their comments to provide an overly negative portrait of the industy and for "fail[ing] to do the most elementary fact checking and source qualification."
Further, the report made no mention of climate change, which as energy reporter Dana Hull pointed out is "the whole point of cleantech, after all: using the promise of technology and innovation to try to wean our economy off of fossil fuels."
Right-wing media outlets manufactured phony outrage over President Obama's recent remark on ESPN Radio that he usually watches SportsCenter while working out in the morning. In 2007, President Bush similarly admitted to watching ESPN while working.
Right-wing media outlets hyped widely discredited research from the Heritage Foundation to push the myth that President Obama's executive actions on immigration will cost the U.S. economy more than $2 trillion in federal benefits paid to those undocumented immigrants whose deportations are deferred. But Obama's exercise of prosecutorial discretion on behalf of certain undocumented parents of U.S. Citizens and lawful permanent residents does not confer federal means-tested benefits and economists report that allowing more immigrants to legally work will raise revenues and boost the economy.