Right-wing media have repeatedly exploited the November 13 ISIS-led terror attacks in Paris to stoke fears about Syrian refugees posing a terror threat in the U.S., falsely claiming that the United States lacks a rigorous refugee vetting system, that most Syrian refugees are adult males "of fighting age," and that, like the attacks in Paris, the Boston Marathon bombing and Ft. Hood shooting were perpetrated by refugees.
Right-wing media seized on the November 13 terror attacks in Paris to make at least five false or misleading claims about Syrian refugees, past statements from Hillary Clinton, President Obama's strategy against ISIS, the release of Guantanamo Bay detainees, and how guns in civilian hands could have supposedly changed the outcome of the attacks.
Political reporters and media critics chided Fox Business for its handling of the November 10 Republican presidential debate, pointing out that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) faced few substantive questions and was allowed to completely avoid controversial topics like immigration reform and his personal finances.
Despite the crowded field of Republican presidential candidates, conservative talk radio seem unified on their favorite: Donald Trump.
Thanks to talk radio, Buzzfeed News' Rosie Gray noted in her August 27 article "The Real Media Machine Behind Trump: Conservative Talk Radio," "you can almost listen to pro-Trump News all day." Gray pointed how "some of the biggest names in conservative talk radio -- Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, and Savage -- have praised Trump and his bashing of the politically correct left and Republican establishment":
Unlike cable news, conservative talk radio speaks directly to the disaffected conservative base fueling Trump's rise. Rush Limbaugh's is still the most-listened-to talk radio program in the country, pulling in 13 and a quarter million weekly listeners, according to estimates in Talkers magazine, an industry publication (Limbaugh himself has estimated it in the past at 20 million). Talkers puts Sean Hannity in second, with 12.5 million. Mark Levin ties with Glenn Beck (a Trump critic) for fourth, with 7 million. Savage has more than 5 million, according to Talkers' estimates.
And if you're someone who listens to a lot of talk radio, you can go from Ingraham to Limbaugh to Hannity or Savage to Levin in a day and hear nary a word of displeasure with Trump.
Though many hosts have avoided a formal endorsement, they've heaped praise on the candidate and signaled to their listeners that Trump is their guy.
Indeed, Limbaugh has spent the summer praising Trump for tapping into the base Republicans need to win and for his "ability to illuminate" issues. Hannity has lauded Trump as "impressive and refreshing," while Ingraham has claimed he resonates with voters because he's willing to say what "no one else is saying."
It's not mere compliments spewing from talk radio -- the conservative pundits are championing Trump's offensive and dangerous proposals. And as Gray noted, "[i]f Rush Limbaugh or Mark Levin or Sean Hannity or Laura Ingraham decide that birthright citizenship is going to be a big issue, then lo, it becomes the issue of the week, or month." She went on:
And right now, Trump's embrace of hardline immigration ideas like ending birthright citizenship matches up perfectly with the policies that some of these hosts have been promoting for some time. The Trump-inspired debate over immigration is allowing them to mainstream ideas that once didn't have much purchase, the birthright citizenship question being a notable recent example. Both Levin and Limbaugh have seized on a quote by Sen. Jacob Howard, the original sponsor of the Citizenship Clause, that they're using to bolster their case that the 14th amendment doesn't guarantee citizenship to the children of people in the country illegally. Laura Ingraham has also referenced it.
Limbaugh has bragged that Trump's smear of Mexican immigrants as "rapists" and criminals is similar to what he's been saying on the radio for years. On birthright citizenship, Limbaugh applauded Trump's call to end the constitutional right, saying Trump "has people standing up and cheering." Hannity and Levin joined forces to declare that "Trump was right" on the 14th Amendment.
The praise should come as no surprise, as Trump's call to end birthright citizenship is itself taken from right-wing talk radio talking points. For years, Ingraham and Levin have been demanding an end to birthright citizenship, which Levin dismissed as a "nut-job policy" and Ingraham attacked as "nonsense."
Right-wing media figures jumped to the false conclusion that 305 Clinton emails contained classified information after the State Department announced that those emails were under review by intelligence agencies. In reality, it is not yet clear how many of the emails, if any, contained classified material, and such reviews are "common in large FOIA requests that involve documents from multiple agencies."
BuzzFeed News reported that Breitbart.com may be accepting "financial backing" from GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump in exchange for "fawning headlines," according to sources inside the conservative outlet.
Trump has received mixed reviews following the first GOP primary debate -- though declared one of the winners of the night, mainstream and conservative media alike have condemned his subsequent attacks on Fox News host and debate moderator Megyn Kelly.
Within the conservative media war over Trump, Breitbart.com has consistently taken his side, devoting numerous front page headlines to hyping Trump's excuses that his attacks on Kelly were justified and taken out of context. The outlet has long been giving Trump credit for sparking the debate over illegal immigration after he deemed Mexican immigrants "rapists" and criminals, while the GOP candidate has seemingly gleaned several of his talking points from Breitbart.com, such as the myth of 34 million undocumented immigrants and his notorious birther claims.
Now, four sources at Breitbart.com have reportedly "complained since at least last year that the company's top management was allowing Trump to turn Breitbart into his own fan website," according to an August 9 article by BuzzFeed News, calling their employer's fawning over Trump "despicable" and "embarrassing":
Inside the most pro-Trump news outlet on the right, some employees say the billionaire candidate has provided financial backing in exchange for fawning headlines -- a charge management strongly denies.
According to four sources with knowledge of the situation, editors and writers at the outlet have privately complained since at least last year that the company's top management was allowing Trump to turn Breitbart into his own fan website -- using it to hype his political prospects and attack his enemies. One current editor called the water-carrying "despicable" and "embarrassing," and said he was told by an executive last year that the company had a financial arrangement with Trump. A second Breitbart staffer said he had heard a similar description of the site's relationship with the billionaire but didn't know the details; and a third source at the company said he knew of several instances when managers had overruled editors at Trump's behest. Additionally, a conservative communications operative who works closely with Breitbart described conversations in which "multiple writers and editors" said Trump was paying for the ability to shape coverage, and added that one staffer claimed to have seen documentation of the "pay for play."
Breitbart.com's senior staff denied the charges, telling Buzzfeed, "We have no financial relationship with Donald Trump as an investor, advertiser or in any other capacity at this time -- nor have we ever. The insinuation that we do -- or did -- is a lie."
Fox News contributor Erick Erickson endorsed a congressional candidate's assertion that "the homosexual movement" is "destroying America."
On July 22, Georgia Republican Jody Hice won the Republican primary to succeed Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) in the state's 10th congressional district. In the wake of Hice's victory, BuzzFeed's Andrew Kacynski highlighted 11 examples of Hice's history of inflammatory commentary on LGBT issues.
The passages Erickson endorsed included Hice's claim that "the homosexual movement is ... destroying America by aggressively seeking to destroy traditional families, religion, and marriages for the purpose of removing all societal moral boundaries":
The item Erickson thought most conservatives would "maybe" agree with concerned Hice's suggestion that gay people can change their sexual orientation:
Two recent stories based on faulty premises -- an Illinois Review post that falsely claimed President Obama had supported "Stand Your Ground" as an Illinois state legislator, and a since-corrected BuzzFeed report that pushed the erroneous conclusion that gun violence prevention group Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) has suffered a membership drop -- have nonetheless spread throughout the right-wing media.
The cases are not parallel -- Illinois Review is a minor conservative Illinois political blog (their Twitter handle has about 3,000 followers) whose story was too good to check for the right-wing media, while the BuzzFeed story is an unfortunate outlier for a publication that typically produces good reporting. But the articles nonetheless illustrate the first-mover problem of correcting misinformation -- once a charge is levied and begins gaining momentum it becomes difficult to stop, no matter how clearly false the claim, due to the right-wing media apparatus that will push any story considered damaging to progressives.
The basis of the July 22 BuzzFeed article was that MAIG is losing membership ("is finding it hard to keep its membership up") because it has become too strident in its recent push for stronger gun laws. But BuzzFeed's premise was false: MAIG has actually seen an increase in membership during the period the article covered, with more than 100 mayors joining the coalition during that time of increased political action.
Buzzfeed has since updated its article, making a minor change to the text "to reiterate the fact that Mayors Against Illegal Guns is gaining more members than it's losing." But of course, that "fact" completely repudiates the premise of the article.
And of course, the damage has been done. The idea of MAIG shedding membership has already spread through the conservative echo chamber. The story was picked up by a number of right-wing outlets, with Breitbart News and the New York Post stating outright that the story indicated that the group's membership was down overall. The Post article in particular, which ran under the headline "weakened arsenal," linked the group "struggling to replace ex-members" to their focus "on banning weapons and other tough new gun-control measures" (by contrast, a New York Daily News piece cited the BuzzFeed report but framed the story with the fact that the group is larger and growing faster than ever before).
These sorts of misguided stories have an impact on the political debate. One NRA activist, who acknowledged that the number of mayors leaving "isn't a huge blow to MAIG," wrote that BuzzFeed's story "isn't good for MAIG. They will have to counter this meme, and that's good for us. Make them work for it."
Buzzfeed is alleging that the gun violence prevention group Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) "is finding it hard to keep its membership up," citing a few dozen of the group's hundreds of mayors who have resigned their offices, lost re-election, or chosen to leave the group due to "political heat." In reality, the group has seen its membership increase by 17 percent during roughly the period of time the article discusses.
In suggesting that mayors would flee a group that supports stronger gun laws in the face of political pressure from the National Rifle Association, the Buzzfeed article buttresses a long-running media myth that politicians who oppose the NRA should fear being defeated for reelection.
In the article, headlined "Mayors Abandon [NYC Mayor Michael] Bloomberg's Gun Control Group," Buzzfeed called MAIG "a rare group battling in the trenches against the well-organized and deep-pocketed" NRA. The article cites four mayors who "appear not quite to have signed on for that level of political heat" and left the organization because they disagree with some of its recent policy stances. The article further stated:
According to an old version of its member list, saved on a blog dated back to late February, more than 50 mayors who were then listed on MAIG's website are no longer there. Most of the mayors whose names are no longer affiliated with the group are off the list either because they resigned or lost an election, but others have specifically asked to be removed.
BuzzFeed reached out to dozens of the replacement mayors and none of them would confirm if they planned to join the group or if they were even considering it
Buzzfeed reported halfway through the article that, according to the group's executive director, MAIG "is growing much faster than it is shrinking" -- a claim that, if true, would seem to debunk the premise of the story. After all, if the group is replacing members at a faster rate than it is losing them, the group could hardly be said to be "finding it hard to keep its membership up."
The reporter does not appear to have attempted to verify this statement, instead placing it in opposition to the balance of his reporting. But a review of membership lists published on the group's website indicates that MAIG has seen a dramatic increase in mayors choosing to affiliate with the group in recent months.
Buzzfeed did not link to the "old version of its member list" it compared to the group's current roster of affiliated mayors. But the version of the group's membership list saved to the Internet Archive on January 27 lists 857 mayors; the list currently posted on MAIG's website features 1005, an increase of 148 mayors. According to a Media Matters review, MAIG has seen its representation increase in 33 states during that period; it has held level in 6 states and decreased in 8 states.
UPDATE: Buzzfeed has updated their article, changing their original report that MAIG "is finding it hard to keep its membership up" to indicate instead that the group "is finding it hard to maintain some of its members." In a correction appended to the piece, Buzzfeed explained that the change was made "to reiterate the fact that Mayors Against Illegal Guns is gaining more members than it's losing."
Newly hired BuzzFeed D.C. editor Benny Johnson described President Obama as a "truly committed statist" with a "seedy past" and "extremist ideas" who believes "there is no God above the state" and who acts as "a celebrity-in-chief."
Analyzing the presidential campaign in the wake of the first debate, Time's Mark Halperin wrote on October 10 that Mitt Romney's sudden "rush to the center" politically had emerged as the key topic - "the central tactical issue"-- for the Barack Obama's team to address. Halperin stressed it would be a challenge for Democrats because the Romney's campaign's "brazen chutzpah knows no bounds."
How odd. At the first debate Romney had so brashly reinvented himself by shifting his position on taxation, immigration and health care away from the Republican Party, that the onus was on Obama to counter Romney's slick maneuver. In other words, Romney's flip-flops, according to Halperin, were a major problem for the Obama campaign, not for the Republican who late in the game unveiled a new political persona. (Farewell "severely conservative.")
It's also telling that on October 10, Halperin considered Romney's makeover into a moderate to be the campaign's dominant issue. Yet one week earlier on the night of the first debate when Halperin graded both participants, the pundit made no reference to Romney's "rush to the center." In real time, Halperin heaped praise on Romney's style "(Started strong, level, and unrattled -- and strengthened as he went along") as well as his substance ("He clearly studied hard.")
Final grade, Romney: A-
Between the first debate and October 10, Romney's brazen flip-flops were not subject to any serious critique from Time's political team. What coverage Romney received for altering his campaign positions (aka his "tack toward the political center") mostly revolved around how conservative activists reacted to Romney's sudden embrace of moderate rhetoric. (They're totally fine with it.) Time was much less interested in what the about-faces said about Romney's candidacy, his character or what his presidency might look like.
The fact that the Republican candidate had radically altered his positions on core domestic issues just one month before Election Day was not treated as a campaign evolution that reflected poorly on Romney. To the contrary, it was largely portrayed as a savvy move by the Republican.
Time's soft peddling of Romney's broad reinvention was typical of how the Beltway press has politely covered the candidate's latest chameleon turn.
Trying to ignite a controversy by fabricating a quote from an Obama campaign deputy, members of the conservative press on Thursday lashed out at Stephanie Cutter for something she didn't say about the terrorist attacks on the United States embassy in Benghazi.
The gotcha attack received a crucial early boost from a BuzzFeed reporter who mischaracterized what Cutter said while appearing on CNN yesterday.
Pressed about key questions that remain about the embassy attack last month and what the security status was on the ground in Benghazi when four American were killed, Cutter noted on CNN that the topic had become politicized [emphasis added]:
In terms of the politicization of this -- you know, we are here at a debate, and I hope we get to talk about the debate -- but the entire reason this has become the political topic it is, it's because of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. It's a big part of their stump speech. And it's reckless and irresponsible what they're doing.
Cutter clearly stated that she believed the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate had become a partisan political issue in the U.S. because Republicans were making it one during the campaign season.
That's not exactly a novel observation. As Republicans prepared to hold a recess hearing this week into the attack, a New York Times published an article headlined, "Before Hearings on Libya Attack, Charges of Playing Politics." And the paper's editors explained that they kept coverage of the hearing off the front-page, in part, because the issue had become so "politicized." (Fox News has led that "scandal" charge for weeks).
Romney himself shocked many observers when, as the Libya crisis was still unfolding, the candidate accused the Obama of sympathizing with "those who waged the attacks.'
"The conventional wisdom emerged in Washington almost immediately on Wednesday: Mitt Romney's handling of the violence in Egypt and Libya was a disaster," CBS News soon reported. The article quoted a prominent Republican strategist saying that Romney's reaction had suggested his "first instinct is to try to score political points."
Cutter pointing out the issue had evolved into a "political topic" isn't controversial or remotely outrageous. So the conservative media embellished the meaning of Cutter's remarks. They invented a controversy and ginned up the faux outrage by insisting Obama's deputy campaign manager said the Libya attack is only of importance, is only an issue at all, because of Republicans.
Cutter: Benghazi Is Only An Issue 'Because of Romney and Ryan'
Stephanie Cutter: Mitt Romney is "Entire Reason" Benghazi Attacks are a National Issue
Obama Spokesman Stephanie Cutter: Benghazi Is Only an Issue Because of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan
Obama Campaign Official Stephanie Cutter: Benghazi Terrorist Attack 'Only an Issue because of Romney and Ryan'
Michelle Malkin's Twitchy:
Appalling disgrace: Stephanie Cutter says 'Benghazi Only An Issue Because of Romney and Ryan'
Note that several of the headlines included the phrase 'only an issue' in quotation marks, indicating it's a direct quote from Cutter. (Twitchy headline: "Cutter Says"). But it's not a direct quote because Cutter didn't say that. Instead, conservatives seemed be quoting a tweet from a reporter and then pretending it was a Cutter quote.
The tweet came from BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski who tweeted an inaccurate description of Cutter's CNN appearance:
That wasn't accurate. And "is only an issue" represented Kacynski's interpretation of what Cutter said, not what she actually said. In subsequent tweets, Kaczynski inserted more accurate language, but conservatives preferred his original, off-the-mark "only an issue" telling of the tale and used to attack Cutter.
If Obama's deputy campaign manager thought the attack on the U.S. embassy were only an issue today because of the Romney and Ryan, she likely would have said so. Instead, she superficially said it became a political issue (a partisan issue) because Romney and Ryan were campaigning on it, which is true.
BuzzFeed's Ben Smith only needed 40 minutes of a 90-minute debate to pick the "winner."
Mitt Romney, trailing in the polls, needed to prove tonight that he could stand on stage with President Barack Obama as an equal and a plausible president of the United States.
He did that in the crucial first 40 minutes of Wednesday night's debate, addressing Obama respectfully, even warmly -- but then tangling with a sometimes hazy and professorial Obama on taxes and deficits.
"You don't just pick the winners and losers -- you pick the losers," he told Obama of his energy investments, sliding time and time again into a second person singular address calculated to level the rhetorical playing field.
Calling a game in the middle of the fourth inning isn't standard practice in any league.
UPDATE: Conservatives like Sean Hannity quickly began highlighting Smith's early call of a Romney victory:
Today during a Univision forum, President Obama explained the lessons he'd learned during four years in office, telling moderators Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salines: "The most important lesson I've learned is that you can't change Washington from the inside. You can only change it from the outside. That's how I got elected, and that's how the big accomplishments like health care got done, was because we mobilized the American people to speak out."
Buzzfeed reported on Obama's remarks, focusing on the phrase "you can't change Washington from the inside" and claiming that Obama "seemed to undercut a central premise of his 2008 election, and even to raise questions about the urgency of re-electing the president. The comment reinforces the perception that Obama could not accomplish what he set out to do."
That's completely backwards from what Obama actually said. Look at it again, watch the video -- the president credited the outside pressure from Americans as key to the big changes he has enacted while in office (i.e. health care reform). It's a fairly straightforward political message: change happens in Washington when Americans get involved and pressure political leaders to act.
How that "seems to undercut a central premise of his 2008 election" or "reinforces the perception that Obama could not accomplish what he set out to do" -- he cited specific accomplishments and went on to say that he planned to use this lesson as a strategy to achieve more in a presumptive second term -- is anyone's guess.
But the overriding urge seems to be to transform this into a "gaffe," stripping or ignoring context where necessary.
Here's the video and transcript of Obama's remarks.
OBAMA: The most important lesson I've learned is that you can't change Washington from the inside. You can only change it from the outside. That's how I got elected, and that's how the big accomplishments like health care got done, was because we mobilized the American people to speak out. That's how we were able to cut taxes for middle-class families. So something that I'd really like to concentrate on in my second term is being in a much more constant conversation with the American people so that they can put pressure on Congress to help move some of these issues forward.