After years of largely ignoring the issue of crime in America, and especially crime in black neighborhoods nationwide, Fox News and the conservative press in recent days have become fixated on the topic. Using the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial to expand the debate about Trayvon Martin's killing into one about race in America, the right-wing media have been relentlessly painting a violent picture of American cities, of "urban decay," and accusing President Obama of ignoring the inner city crisis.
On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace suggested the attention paid to Zimmerman's killing of Martin was misplaced because black-on-black crime is the real issue facing minorities. Appearing on CNN, conservative pundit Newt Gingrich decried inner city violence and lamented how Obama's Department of Justice supposedly hasn't done anything to stop the violence against "those people of color killed," while National Review Online's Heath McDonald suggested only white neighborhoods are safe, implying cities are not. And yes, conservatives have used "black-on-black" effortlessly as code to discuss urban violence since the Zimmerman verdict.
Commentator have specifically targeted Obama's adopted hometown of Chicago and proclaimed it to be a key example of urban violence run wild. Fox's Bill O'Reilly likened the murder rate in Chicago to "many Holocausts." And recently, conservative radio talk show host Dana Loesch attacked Trayvon Martin protesters who failed to express adequate outrage over "the out-of-control murder of young blacks in Chicago," as one sympathetic blogger put it. (Loesch also claimed Trayvon Martin "riots" had "raged" in New York City following the Zimmerman verdict. False.)
But the accusation that while allegedly obsessing over the Martin killing (by simply addressing it), Obama has been ignoring urban areas ravaged by escalating crime stands in stark contrast with crime statistics compiled since Obama took office four years. Even casual new consumers should know that.
In a press briefing July 19, President Obama responded to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin, saying, "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago...the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that - that doesn't go away." Right-wing media figures responded to the president's remarks with attacks.
One of the mantras of the American gun lobby, and one repeated constantly by its right-wing media allies, is the absolutist view that new gun restrictions aren't needed because they won't work. That argument is often quickly joined by the fatalistic view that there's nothing we can really do to cut down number of gun deaths in America; that government regulations, including expanded background checks for all gun purchases, would have no impact.
Both views have been on constant display as President Obama urges Congress to take action and pass new control measures.
Fox News contributor Bill Kristol last week insisted he'd seen "zero analysis, zero argument" that any of the proposed regulations would "make any appreciable difference in reducing gun violence and murders." On CNN, conservative Dana Loesch claimed "we have gun laws already on the books," and that new gun proposals would simply represent redundancies.
The companion case to right-wing claim is that gun control regulations won't reduce deaths is that the only way to achieve that goal is to have more guns in circulation will achieve that goal. (That argument is false. Obviously.)
But the clear flaw in the anti-regulation claim is that new government rules have been credited in recent years with drastically reducing the number of U.S. fatalities surrounding another potentially dangerous consumer product: Automobiles.
Look at the data: In 2011, the number of people killed in traffic accidents fell to 32,367, the lowest annual U.S. tally since 1949. (Automotive deaths peaked in 1972, with 54,589.) That decline came despite the fact that in over the last five-plus decades the number of drivers on American roads has exploded: 62 million then vs. 210 million now.
More recently, vehicular deaths plummeted 25 percent between 2005 and 2011, according to the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (Those numbers rose in 2012, ending a seven-year decline.)
What do experts point to for the recent overall reduction in automotive deaths? They credit, in part, state and federal efforts, often done in tandem with car manufacturers, which have made the potentially dangerous act of driving much less deadly.
From CNN in 2011 [emphasis added]:
Experts attribute the change to a variety of reasons, including changes to cars -- such as vehicle rollover protection -- and programs to change driver behavior -- such as campaigns addressing drunk driving, distracted driving and seat belt use. Laws aimed at young people also likely have had an impact, notably older minimum drinking ages and graduated drivers' licenses.
In other words, government regulations have helped dramatically reduce the number of vehicular fatalities in recent years. By treating driving as the obvious public safety issue that it is, and after new regulations were put in place in an effort to improve product safety and consumer behavior, the number of fatalities quickly dropped. Impelled by federal regulations, car manufacturers have made a concerted effort to make their products more safe via air bags, anti-rollover technology, and stronger vehicle roofs. For decades however, automakers waged the "regulatory equivalent of war" against the government's push for airbags and other safety initiatives. Today, those same manufacturers aggressively market new safety features to consumers.
Could a similar government push, aided by manufacturer cooperation, produce a comparable decline in gun deaths? Public safety experts insist the answer is yes. "Absolutely," says Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis.
From the March 28 edition of CNN's Piers Morgan Live:
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President Obama's reelection has prompted more than a few conservative pundits and journalists to look inward and contemplate the weaknesses of the right-wing media model that obsesses over partisan minutia, eagerly chases phantom scandals, nosedives down ideological rabbit holes, and excludes dissenting voices. It's an interesting discussion, but it's hampered by the fact that the same people calling for change are themselves backsliding into the behaviors they want to correct.
Commentary editor and columnist John Podhoretz offers a pure distillation of this recidivist phenomenon. "Time To Get Serious," writes Podhoretz for the April issue of Commentary, arguing that after 6 years of treating Obama as alternately a "lightweight" political incompetent and a power-mad would-be dictator, and with nothing but two electoral drubbings to show for it, conservatives have to "come to grips" with Obama's political skill:
It's not just the comforting delusion that he's a golf-mad dilettante, but also the reverse-negative image of that delusion--that Obama is a not-so-secret Marxist Kenyan with dictatorial ambitions and a nearly limitless appetite for power. That caricature makes it far too easy for Obama to laugh off the legitimate criticisms of the kind of political leader he really is: a conventional post-1960s left-liberal with limited interest in the private sector and the gut sense that government must and should do more, whatever "more" might mean at any given moment.
Podhoretz's very next paragraph, however, shows that he's not quite ready to take his own advice, as he casts the Obama presidency as a vehicle for "disaster" at home and "nihilistic chaos" globally -- precisely the sort of extremist caricature he says isn't helpful for conservatives:
The notion that Obama is a dangerous extremist helps him, because it makes him seem reasonable and his critics foolish. It also helps those who peddle it, because it makes them notorious and helps them sell their wares. But it has done perhaps irreparable harm to the central conservative cause of the present moment -- making the case that Obama's social-democratic statism is setting the United States on a course for disaster and that his anti-exceptionalist foreign policy is setting the world on a course for nihilistic chaos. Those are serious arguments, befitting a serious antagonist. They may not sell gold coins as quickly and as well as excessive alarmism, but they have the inestimable advantage of being true.
Daniel Larison of the American Conservative observes:
Of course, warning about global "nihilistic chaos" being unleashed by an "anti-exceptionalist foreign policy" is just another example of excessive alarmism that produces the same effects as the attacks Podhoretz wants conservatives to reject. No one outside the bubble of movement conservatives and hard-liners believes that Obama's foreign policy is "anti-exceptionalist" in any sense, much less in the tendentious way that it is being applied here.
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.
The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) bills itself as an event convened to "crystallize the best of the conservative thought in America" that will showcase "all of the leading conservative organizations and speakers." Media covering CPAC 2013 should know that the conference's speakers, from the most prominent to the lesser-known, have a history of launching smears, pushing conspiracy theories, and hyping myths about the validity of President Obama's birth certificate.
When Dana Loesch appeared on CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight to discuss efforts to strengthen gun laws, Piers Morgan introduced her as a "conservative radio talk-show host," but didn't identify her as a CNN contributor. CNN hired Loesch as a political contributor in early 2011, but has been absent from the network in recent months.
When CNN hired Loesch, it said she would "appear across the network's prime time programs, as well as other dayparts and platforms" as part of election season coverage. But in the summer of 2012, when election season was in full swing, Loesch disappeared from CNN. She was on three times in June, twice in July, and did not appear again until her interview with Piers Morgan on Wednesday, according to a search of the Nexis database.
Without any official announcement, CNN reportedly suspended Loesch soon after she defended U.S. Marines accused of urinating on the dead bodies of Taliban forces, saying, "I'd drop trou and do it too." Her comment was widely condemned, including by CNN journalists. (By coincidence, one of the Marines involved in the incident pleaded guilty at a court-martial on Wednesday.)
In December, Loesch reportedly filed a lawsuit against Breitbart.com claiming that the site refuses to publish her work or allow it to be published elsewhere. Loesch was formerly identified as editor-in-chief of Breitbart's Big Journalism site.
CNN contributor Dana Loesch's particular brand of vitriol has been absent from the network's airwaves since July 25. While CNN announced her hiring last year by saying it was "gearing up for the election season," the network has not called on the inflammatory right-wing radio host to comment on political events including the Democratic and Republican national conventions or the presidential or vice presidential debates.
In the first seven months of this year Loesch appeared on CNN dozens of times, sometimes making several appearances a day. But she was on CNN only three times in June and twice in July, and has not appeared since, according to a search of the Nexis database that was confirmed through a search of transcripts in our own database.
Loesch's three-month absence from CNN follows what a CNN executive described as her effective but unannounced suspension earlier this year. The suspension came after Loesch responded to news that U.S. Marines had allegedly urinated on the dead bodies of Taliban forces by saying of the incident, "I'd drop trou and do it too."
The Breitbart.com contributor has a long history of inflammatory comments, both preceding and following her February 2011 hiring by CNN. At the time, the network announced her hiring as part of their effort to "gear up for the election season with the addition of political contributors from across the ideological spectrum," and said she would "appear across the network's prime time programs, as well as other dayparts and platforms."
CNN has not responded to repeated requests from Media Matters regarding Loesch's absence from their airwaves and whether or not she remains employed by the network.
After Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accepted responsibility for the security of diplomats in the wake of the deadly attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya, members of the right-wing media launched a series of sexist attacks, calling her a "doormat" and a "battered woman."
Conservative media are mocking President Obama for countering Mitt Romney's misleading claim that gasoline prices have doubled during his tenure by accurately noting that prices were unusually low in January 2009 "because the economy was on the verge of collapse." But experts including a former American Petroleum Institute economist agree that the economic crisis drove gas prices to artificial lows.
Fox News' Charles Krauthammer didn't like Bill Clinton's convention speech. At all.
While so many commentators, including Republicans, praised the address as perhaps the best Clinton had ever given, the conservative columnist reassured Fox News viewers that not only had former president's "self-indulgent" speech failed to soar, it had actually flopped "beyond the hall."
According to Krauthammer, Clinton made his speech extra long just to annoy Obama; just to get back at him for defeating Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary.
It was that kind of week in the right-wing media. As Democrats gathered in Charlotte to officially nominate Obama, the conservative press tapped into its bottomless reservoir of resentment and slowly came undone, while all the time insisting the Charlotte production was a big failure.
Packed with strange public pronouncements about "slave blood," imprisoning the president, vaginas, aborting people, as well as rancid race-baiting, the right-wing Week in Review captured the unhinged element that powers the conservative movement on the eve of the final election push. And oh yeah, Fox's Dick Morris said Bill Clinton actually wants Obama defeated but won't say so because his "wife is a hostage" and "they'll kill her" if Obama loses.
The reason the meltdown matters is because of the conservative media's outsized influence within the GOP. Since Obama's inauguration, the conservative movement has become, first and foremost, a media-based one. The Republican Party and its presidential campaign now take commands from the far-right press. And don't forget, in May, Romney met for two hours with conspiracy-minded GOP bloggers to map out how the group could help his campaign.
This week, those conservative guiding lights couldn't contain their visceral contempt for all things Democratic. And they didn't even try. Rather than provide analysis (even the sharp-elbowed variety), commentators routinely stooped to embarrassing lows in an effort to tout their hatred.
There was CNN contributor Erick Erickson's off the wall, anatomical convention comparison:
CNN's Dan Loesch, wondering whether Democratic activist Sandra Fluke had been "aborted" from the convention lineup (she was not):
Conservative media figures are defending and applauding Mitt Romney for invoking at a Michigan rally the false conspiracy theory that President Obama was not born in the United States.
From the August 24 edition of KFTK's The Dana Show:
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From the August 21 edition of KFTK's The Dana Show:
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