The argument by conservative media that former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and other survivors of gun violence who supported a failed Senate compromise to expand background checks on firearms sales are "props" of the Obama administration is both hypocritically partisan and logically flawed.
Right-wing media are unable to acknowledge that President Obama's gun violence prevention agenda mirrors the priorities of gun violence survivors, who are not mere "props," to pass stronger gun laws. As Greg Sargent of The Washington Post notes, "the families want to stand with the President at events for a fairly obvious reason: Obama is fighting for the same things they want":
All of this aside, the "props" line is actually an insult to the families, posing as a defense of them. It implies that the families, in lobbying on these issues, are not thinking for themselves. In reality, the families want to stand with the President at events for a fairly obvious reason: Obama is fighting for the same things they want. Indeed, one of the family members, Mark Barden, who lost his son Daniel in the shooting, voluntarily stood with the president at the White House yesterday as Obama reacted to news of the Senate vote, and thanked Obama for his leadership. Needless to say, if Barden felt like he was being exploited or used as a prop, he wouldn't be thanking the president. [emphasis in original]
Logical flaws aside, those who would call Newtown families and other gun violence survivors "props" fail to acknowledge that presidents routinely evoke the experiences of victims in advocating for policies that would prevent future tragedies.
In 1991, former President Ronald Reagan evoked his own experience of being shot by a would-be assassin, as well as the experiences of others wounded in the 1981 attack in order to advocate for background checks on gun sales. In a New York Times op-ed Reagan wrote about his press secretary, Jim Brady, who was grievously wounded in the attack by a man who acquired a gun despite a lengthy history of serious mental illness. Brady would go on to lend his name to the legislation -- the Brady bill -- that mandated a background check for gun sales conducted by licensed dealers:
Right-wing media used a straw man argument to defend the Republican-led filibuster of a gun violence prevention bill, claiming that the legislation wouldn't have stopped the massacre at a school in Newtown, Connecticut, and ignoring that there are approximately 30,000 gun deaths in the U.S. each year.
On April 17, the U.S. Senate rejected gun violence prevention legislation that included a compromise amendment to expand background checks crafted by Democratic Senator Joe Manchin (WV) and Republican Senator Pat Toomey (PA).
An April 17 Wall Street Journal editorial dismissed the defeated bill as "a liberal wish-list that wouldn't have stopped the next mass murder." Likewise, Breitbart.com featured two blog posts that claimed that gun violence prevention legislation would not have stopped the school shooting in Newtown. In one of these posts, Breitbart.com went so far as to accuse President Obama of throwing a "tantrum" after the vote, saying that "he used the Newtown disaster--or, in the eyes of many critics, exploited it--to make an argument about the urgent need for new laws, even if such laws would not have prevented the Newtown atrocity itself."
Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer made similar comments on the April 17 edition of Special Report with Bret Baier, saying that the proposal was "irrelevant" and "would not have" stopped the Newtown shooting:
KRAUTHAMMER: The question is, would it have had any effect on Newtown? If you're going to make all of these emotional appeals -- you saying you're betraying the families, you've got to show how if this had been law it would have stopped Newtown. It would not have. It is irrelevant.
Fox contributor Laura Ingraham went even further on the April 18 edition of her radio show, dismissing the bill by claiming that "criminals will be criminals":
INGRAHAM: The real things we can do to stop violent crime, we can actually have an economy that spins off jobs, have policies that don't encourage more lawlessness in our inner cities. Encourage families to stay together, fathers to stay with their, you know, the mothers of their children. All of these things. I mean we have a cultural and moral collapse in our society. You see it in many ways and many iterations of it. But we're supposed to believe that if only these background checks were in place, all -- Newtown wouldn't have happened, Aurora wouldn't have happened, Gabby Giffords wouldn't have been shot, none of this would have happened.
As Newtown parent Mark Barden explained in his April 17 statement at a White House press event, the argument that background checks would not have prevented the Newtown shooting is irrelevant, because the legislation's purpose was to save lives in the future:
Expanded background checks wouldn't have saved our loved ones, but still we came to support the bipartisan proposal from two senators, both with "A" ratings from the NRA -- a common-sense proposal supported by 90 percent of Americans. It's a proposal that will save lives without interfering with the rights of responsible, law-abiding gun owners.
Fox News is attacking a new Maryland anti-pollution measure as a "rain tax," adopting the misleading frame of local politicians. But the program doesn't tax rain -- it taxes surfaces that lead to more pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, a vital ecosystem that generates major revenue for surrounding states.
The program was signed into law in 2012 to meet an Environmental Protection Agency-issued pollution diet for the states surrounding the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The diet was required under the national Clean Water Act and instituted in response to "continued poor water quality" in the Bay. In order to pay for pollution management and habitat restoration, Maryland is instituting fees based on paved surfaces, which funnel a huge amount of pollution-laden stormwater runoff into gutters, eventually contributing to algal blooms and "dead zones" that kill fish and shellfish.
But following the lead of some local politicians, Fox News is misleadingly labelling it as a "rain tax," attacking the program on nine different Fox News or Fox Business programs between April 11 and 14. For instance, Neil Cavuto criticized the program on his Fox Business show, incorrectly characterizing it as a fee levied because some homes "disproportionately benefit from mother nature":
But Maryland's plan does not tax households that receive more rainfall -- it taxes surfaces that ferry more pollution to the Chesapeake Bay. As the EPA explains, the great size of the Chesapeake Bay watershed in comparison to the Bay itself -- "a ratio much higher than any other comparable watershed in the world" -- makes it "highly susceptible to actions taken on the land, including those associated with agriculture, development, transportation and wastewater treatment." A significant amount of the nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that reaches the Bay from stormwater runoff comes from Maryland. Plain soil acts as something of a filter and buffer for this pollution, and impervious surfaces take that benefit away.
Right-wing media outlets are criticizing the Washington attorney general for enforcing non-discrimination laws against a florist who refused to offer her services for a same-sex wedding.
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit on April 9 against Arlene's Flowers and Gifts, a florist that refused to supply flowers for the wedding of a same-sex couple due to her religious beliefs. According to the lawsuit, the florist violated the state's Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits businesses from discriminating against customers on the basis of sexual orientation.
Right-wing media outlets have jumped on the story, touting it as evidence of the gay community's hostility towards religious freedom.
American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer cited the incident as an example of "homofascism":
Breitbart.com and National Review Online (NRO) are using today's Equal Pay Day holiday to misinform about gender wage inequality. Right-wing media have routinely downplayed and obscured legitimate concerns about wage inequality.
Equal Pay Day was created by the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) in 1996 as a public awareness event to illustrate the gap between men's and women's wages. According to a White House proclamation released on Equal Pay Day in 2012, "National Equal Pay Day represents the date in the current year through which women must work to match what men earned in the previous year, reminding us that we must keep striving for an America where everyone gets an equal day's pay for an equal day's work."
Breitbart.com and NRO both posted a video today that claims the gender wage gap is a myth, positing that the gap fails to account for women's choices, which are primarily responsible for any discrepancies in salary. The video comes from the conservative Independent Women's Forum, a group The New York Times described as "a right-wing public policy group that provides pseudofeminist support for extreme positions that are in fact dangerous to women."
Although the wage gap has decreased since the 1963 passage of the Equal Pay Act, women's earnings remain far below that of men. A report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) found that "in 2011, women working full time in the United States typically were paid just 77 percent of what men were paid, a gap of 23 percent." According to the National Women's Law Center, the wage gap for minority women is even worse: African-American and Hispanic women make 64 and 55 cents for every dollar their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts earn. The claim that personal choice is responsible for the gender wage gap has also been debunked, mostly recently in the AAUW's 2013 Gender Pay Gap Report.
Breitbart.com and NRO's misleading claims about gender wage inequality follow a long trend of right-wing media's misinformation on equal pay. Here are just a few examples since 2012:
Right-wing blogs took President Obama's comments about gun violence prevention out of context to claim that he complained about being constrained by the Constitution. The full text of his comments, however, shows that he was praising the genius of the document rather than lamenting that the Second Amendment prevents him from confiscating guns.
On April 3, President Obama gave a speech in Colorado to raise support for strengthening gun laws following the passage of new gun violence prevention measures in the state. During his speech, Obama attempted to put gun owners' possible concerns over these measures to rest:
One last thing I'm going to mention is that during this conversation -- I hope you don't mind me quoting you, Joe. Joe Garcia, I thought, also made an important point, and that is that the opponents of some of these common-sense laws have ginned up fears among responsible gun owners that have nothing to do with what's being proposed and nothing to do with the facts, but feeds into this suspicion about government.
You hear some of these quotes: "I need a gun to protect myself from the government." "We can't do background checks because the government is going to come take my guns away."
Well, the government is us. These officials are elected by you. (Applause.) They are elected by you. I am elected by you. I am constrained, as they are constrained, by a system that our Founders put in place. It's a government of and by and for the people.
And so, surely, we can have a debate that's not based on the notion somehow that your elected representatives are trying to do something to you other than potentially prevent another group of families from grieving the way the families of Aurora or Newtown or Columbine have grieved. We've got to get past some of the rhetoric that gets perpetuated that breaks down trust and is so over the top that it just shuts down all discussion. And it's important for all of us when we hear that kind of talk to say, hold on a second. If there are any folks who are out there right now who are gun owners, and you've been hearing that somehow somebody is taking away your guns, get the facts. We're not proposing a gun registration system, we're proposing background checks for criminals. (Applause.)
Don't just listen to what some advocates or folks who have an interest in this thing are saying. Look at the actual legislation. That's what happened here in Colorado. And hopefully, if we know the facts and we're listening to each other, then we can actually move forward.
The next day, Fox Nation claimed that Obama "complain[ed] he's 'constrained' by the Constitution" in his speech, linking to an article from The Blaze that also failed to provide the full text of his comments:
Breitbart.com's Ben Shapiro similarly wrote on April 3 that "[t]he natural inference [of Obama's remarks] seems to be that if it were not for the Constitution, Obama would indeed pursue a federal gun seizure. Like the villain at the end of every Scooby Doo cartoon, Obama's offhand protest suggests that if it weren't for those darn kids, he would have gotten away with it. Except that the kids are the founders, and 'it' is massive gun control."
But the full transcript of Obama's speech shows that he never expressed a desire to confiscate Americans' firearms or lamented that the Second Amendment prevents him from doing so. In fact, he was approvingly citing the Constitution's protection of individual rights while telling people to be informed about the new gun legislation instead of succumbing to gun proponents' claims that guns will be taken away, and he reminded voters that they could hold the government accountable at the ballot box if they felt their rights were threatened.
Fox Nation attacked President Obama for attending an Easter service at a church where dozens of presidents have worshipped, claiming he had a "pastor problem" because the Easter sermon given by the church's reverend touched on politics.
On March 31, Easter Sunday, Obama and his family attended services at St. John's Church, known as "The Church of the Presidents" due to the attendance of many presidents since James Madison. According to Washington Post reporting, the rector of the church, Reverend Luis Leon, delivered a homily in which he highlighted past discrimination that he felt was rooted in religious-right extremism:
It drives me crazy when the captains of the religious right are always calling us back ... for blacks to be back in the back of the bus ... for women to be back in the kitchen ... for immigrants to be back on their side of the border.
Based on reporting on Leon's Easter service sermon, Fox Nation claimed on Monday that Obama has a "pastor problem":
Based on his record, Leon is not controversial. Leon previously delivered the benediction at Obama's second inauguration, replacing a more controversial selection. He also delivered the invocation at the second inauguration of President George W. Bush. Bush reportedly counted Leon as a close friend and dined with him at the White House:
(Image via Berryacademy.net)
Right-wing media are claiming that the federal government spent money on research grants and other expenses for puppets during the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, despite the fact that the grants were all paid prior to the budget cuts.
On Wednesday, Breitbart.com attacked the administration for stopping tours of the White House as a result of budget cuts in a post titled "U.S. Spends $1.18 Million On Puppets Amid Sequester," and claimed the government could "cut federal 'puppet expenditures' to keep the people's house open." The website listed spending from the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, among other sources, as federal spending on "puppets and puppetry-related expenses."
Fox Nation hyped the Breitbart.com post, labeling it a "report":
Fox & Friends joined in on Thursday when co-host Steve Doocy said: "1.18 million, that's how much the government has spent on puppets since 2009. That's enough to pay for more than a year's worth of White House tours."
However, the grants and contracts that Breitbart.com cited were all paid prior to 2013. A screenshot of the search terms used by Breitbart.com reveals the most recent grants were paid in fiscal year 2012, which ended on September 30, 2012. Sequestration took place on March 1, 2013, almost six months later.
Despite the claims of Fox News and Breitbart.com, these expenditures have nothing to do with the cancelation of White House tours. The spending cited by Breitbart.com did not come out of the budget of the Secret Service, which made the decision to stop providing security for the tours due to its own budget cuts under the sequester.
A misleading NPR report has become fodder for a right-wing media campaign to scapegoat federal disability benefits, despite the fact that the rise in disability claims can be attributed to the economic recession and demographic shifts, and that instances of fraud are minimal.
NPR reported that the rise in the number of federal disability beneficiaries was "startling" and claimed it was explained by unemployed workers with "squishy" claims of disability choosing to receive federal benefits rather than work. Right-wing media called the report "brilliant," and used it to further the myth that the increase in the number of individuals receiving disability benefits reveals fraud in the system.
Breitbart.com's Wynton Hall wrote that NPR's "eye-opening" piece uncovered a disability program "fraught with fraud." Fox Nation promoted the piece with the headline, "Every Month, 14 Million People Get a Disability Check from the Government..." The National Review Online's blog called the piece "brilliant," while the Washington Examiner's editorial offered it as evidence that disability benefits provide "a voluntary life sentence to idle poverty." The Drudge Report linked to the NPR story and to the Breitbart.com article:
But as Media Matters previously noted, these reports failed to include crucial facts that explain the rise in disability benefits. The recent financial crisis and the rising rate of child poverty have made more children eligible to receive benefits through the Supplemental Security program, while the growth in the number of adults receiving benefits through Social Security Disability Insurance since the 1970s is largely explained by increases in the number of women qualifying for benefits. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained, as women have joined the workforce in greater numbers over the past few decades, more women are eligible for disability benefits, resulting in higher numbers of beneficiaries.
Furthermore, in a report published in March 2012, the Government Accountability Office found that improper payments of disability benefits are not a widespread problem, and accounted for less than four percent of total improper payments made by federal agencies in fiscal year 2011.
Esquire's Charles P. Pierce has criticized Breitbart.com for reporting the specific location where President Obama's teenage daughters are vacationing for spring break, warning that such actions by the "'rightwing entertainment complex' are going to get someone killed."
On Monday, Breitbart.com's Matthew Boyle published the location and the name of the resort where the Obama daughters are staying for spring break, ignoring the long-standing journalistic tradition that media outlets should not report on a president's minor children when they are not attending "official and semi-official events."
Pierce responded to Breitbart.com in a blog post, arguing that there was "no possible news value" to the report other than to incite readers and that "[s]ooner or later" the "'rightwing entertainment complex' are going to get someone killed":
What possible interest does this serve, except to titillate the dark and envious nether parts of Boyle's 22 readers? (No link, because fk that pudgy little monster.) There is no possible news value to this. Sooner or later, the frolicks of what my pal Boehlert calls the "rightwing entertainment complex" are going to get someone killed.
Breitbart.com writer Matt Boyle reported on the specific location where President Obama's teenage daughters are vacationing for spring break, ignoring the decades-old journalistic tradition that media outlets should not report on a president's minor children when they are not attending "official or semi-official events" for privacy and security reasons.
Agence France-Presse (AFP) and other news websites similarly reported on a trip Malia Obama took to Mexico in March 2012. At the request of the White House, those media outlets that reported on her spring break vacation in Mexico soon deleted the story from their websites. Politico, which itself removed some details about the trip due to security concerns, received a statement from Kristina Schake, Michelle Obama's communications director about why the stories were disappearing:
From the beginning of the administration, the White House has asked news outlets not to report on or photograph the Obama children when they are not with their parents and there is no vital news interest. We have reminded outlets of this request in order to protect the privacy and security of these girls.
The Washington Post's Paul Farhi reported at the time that this is part of a longstanding and informal agreement between successive administrations and the White House Correspondents' Association, and that "traditional news organizations have long abided by such arrangements":
Presidential administrations have long been protective of the first family's minor children, and reporters in Washington have mostly observed the taboo on stories or photographs of them outside official and semi-official events. The ban on such coverage has existed through many administrations by informal agreement with the White House Correspondents' Association, which represents the interests of journalists who cover the president.
But Breitbart's Matt Boyle disregarded such tradition and related security concerns when he posted an "exclusive" report on Breitbart.com detailing where the Obama daughters were vacationing for spring break. Boyle said that the White House declined to comment and that the Secret Service told him they don't "confirm or deny trips for anyone under the agency's protective detail, including Sasha and Malia."
As part of an ongoing campaign attacking the credibility of journalist Gabriel Sherman, who is writing a forthcoming book about Fox News, Breitbart.com accused him of violating the privacy of network president Roger Ailes' family. After the story's publication, Sherman received a violent threat from one of the site's readers.
Writing at Breitbart.com, Celia Bigelow claimed that Sherman, a New York magazine reporter who has broken a number of stories about Fox News and is the author of a forthcoming book on the network, is writing a "hatchet-job biography" about Roger Ailes. According to Bigelow, Sherman has "reportedly has been observed violating the privacy not only of Ailes himself but also of the Ailes family."
Bigelow also wrote that Sherman "has been seen many times snooping around Putnam County, NY, where the Ailes family maintains a weekend home" and accuses him of "targeting" Ailes' wife. She concludes that Sherman "has crossed the line -- the honor-code line, that is."
Bigelow offered little evidence to back up her claims about Sherman, only a tweet in which Elizabeth Ailes complains about Sherman following her on Twitter -- a public forum.
Despite widespread recent criticism of the role conservative media outlets played in the 2012 election and its aftermath, most attendees at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference had a positive view of the current state of right-wing journalism.
The calls for reform of conservative media are unconvincing to journalists who have found that the current model has given them a large audience.
Mike Opelka, editor-at-large for Glenn Beck's The Blaze, said the popularity of conservative media proves that they are doing good work.
"Fox dominates the conservative cable media," he said. "We [The Blaze] are averaging 10 million uniques a month. I think it is on target for what we like. We are a center-right source and we think they like what we give them."
Dana Loesch, the conservative radio talk show host whose past work for the Breitbart family of conservative news websites helped generate appearances on CNN, Fox News and ABC News, also gave high marks to conservative outlets.
"I think they are doing a really good job," she said of her fellow right-wing media outlets. "It's a good market, I always think there is an appetite for conservative media because there are a lot of people, myself included, who think you don't get that perspective when you turn it on, CBS, NBC, the channels like that."
Their optimism comes at a time when numerous media voices, including several prominent conservatives, have raised questions about the state of conservative media following a 2012 election in which right-wing media outlets convinced their readers, viewers, and listeners that Mitt Romney was cruising towards a comfortable win over a villainous President Obama. Last week, American Conservative published an extensive piece critical of "groupthink" among "several conservative publications."
Similarly, in a February post at his influential Red State website, new Fox News contributor Erick Erickson criticized the conservative "echo chamber" for "trying so hard to highlight controversies, no matter how trivial" at the expense of basic reporting.
But these concerns, alongside a recent flurry of embarrassments (like the Breitbart.com "Friends of Hamas" debacle), were not shared by most at CPAC, who were quick to paint a rosy picture of their work in interviews with Media Matters.
President Obama has nominated Thomas E. Perez as Secretary of Labor. Right-wing media used this announcement to push false attacks about Perez based on his service in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and other civil rights work and advocacy.
Top conservative media voices spoke out on the need to keep stories accurate and in-depth, while at the same time citing some of the right-wing media's worst stumbles as points of honor during a panel discussion Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
It has been a rough few months for the right-wing media. After a variety of observers pointed to its ineffectiveness during the 2012 election, it has come under fire again over the last month as major stories from The Daily Caller and Breitbart.com have imploded.
But such concerns were largely ignored during the CPAC panel titled "Survivor: Conservative Media," which was billed as an examination of the future of right-wing publications. This comes as little surprise, given that representatives from both the Caller and Breitbart.com were featured panelists.
Moderated by Scottie Hughes of the Tea Party News Network, the panel included Katie Pavlich, news editor at Townhall.com and a Fox News Contributor; Seton Motley, a Breitbart.com columnist; Keith Urbahn, co-founder of Javelin; and Lars Larson, a conservative radio talk show host.
While defending their past work, each appeared to espouse traditional journalistic values of accuracy, in-depth reporting and balance.
"Listen to what everyone else is saying, but don't be afraid to break from the pack," Larson said. "When there is a story, get on it, because there are too many stories that are a sleeper. Fast and Furious was a sleeper for a long time."
Larson referred to the botched ATF mission, which Pavlich and others had baselessly spun as a a conspiracy by the Obama administration to implement stronger gun laws.