Fox News is helping New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) rehabilitate his political career even as investigations into the George Washington Bridge scandal continue, suggesting that Christie's appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) indicates a comeback for the governor.
While other conservative media figures have panned Christie's March 6 CPAC appearance, Fox celebrated the "standing ovation" he received and characterized the appearance as a "comeback." Fox Nation proclaimed,"The Comeback Has Begun!"
On the March 7 edition of America's Newsroom, co-host Martha McCallum painted a sunny picture of Christie's reception at CPAC, saying, "Now, you know America loves a comeback kid, so is Chris Christie that comeback kid right now?" MacCallum went on to ponder Christie's 2016 presidential prospects: "And then you have Chris Christie, who says, 'Look, you know what? We have to win elections.' And he is seen as somebody who may have an easier time of it on a national stage."
Later in the segment, MacCallum asked guest Stephen Sigmund, "If you were advising him, Stephen, what would you tell him to do from here on in to sort of get past this Bridgegate thing and put himself back on track?"
"This Bridgegate thing" caused Christie's popularity to plummet after news broke that his aides played a central role in shutting down several lanes of the George Washington Bridge for four days in September, intentionally triggering disastrous traffic jams in the town of Fort Lee as a means of political retribution.
Christie's chances of getting past the scandal soon, as MacCallum suggests, seem thin -- it is still being investigated by both the New Jersey Legislature and the FBI as evidence linking Christie to the lane closures builds.
Fox has gone through extraordinary lengths to shield Christie, who is widely presumed to be running for president in 2016, from the scandal's fallout, even complaining that the media won't simply move on from the scandal. Indeed, Fox's history of cozy relationships with Republican presidential contenders is well-documented.
Fox dishonestly framed the current National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) case examining outside influence in the Chattanooga Volkswagen union vote as an attack on Sen. Bob Corker's free speech, ignoring that the board has no authority to constrain political speech.
On February 14, workers at the Chattanooga, Tennessee Volkswagen plant voted down a proposal to join the United Auto Workers (UAW) union by a vote of 712 - 626. The vote came after an extended media campaign which culminated on February 13, the day before the scheduled vote, when Corker falsely alleged that if the workers voted against the union, the plant would be rewarded with a new product to manufacture. His claim was immediately rejected by Volkswagen.
The UAW appealed for a re-vote, contending that the "coordinated and widely publicized coercive campaign" by Corker and others infringed on the workers' right to "employee free choice."
But on the March 6 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck framed the fallout of Corker's threats and the impending investigation as "what happens when one of America's most powerful unions doesn't get its way," and as an effort by the UAW to get "a whole new set of rules" if the votes are recast. Hasselbeck then turned to guest Sen. Bob Corker to explain the pending NLRB decision, asking whether the UAW's objection to his threat was really an attempt to stifle free speech:
HASSELBECK: This is a freedom of speech issue, is it not? I mean, The president was out there speaking on behalf of the unions. You were certainly speaking on behalf of your constituents. You worked long and hard to get Volkswagen there from the beginning. Actually had initial meetings in your home. [...] They're telling you you can't speak, but yet the president can? Is this a double standard when it comes to freedom of speech?
CORKER: Yes. And I think, you know, we'll have to see. The UAW has been given until Friday to add additional arguments to their case. You're right, the president weighed in during the election process also. Again, this has happened time and time in the past and never, never before has the NLRB ever overruled because politicians have been involved in this way. So look, I -- you're right. I built the industrial part that Volkswagen is located on when I was mayor with others, recruited them to our state, had been involved with them for five years. Know the management up and down the line, have been, you know, have relationships there. And for me to express concerns about what it would mean to our community and our state over time is something that I think people elect me to do. So again, this is an interesting case. Hopefully even though this is Obama's NLRB, these are his appointees, hopefully they will do the right thing here and not try to muzzle people that are elected by people in their state.
Fox's attempt to frame the NLRB decision as an issue of free speech is dishonest. Offering workers a second chance to consider unionization isn't the same thing as "muzzling" Corker, and giving workers some distance from his comments isn't, as Hasselbeck claimed, a UAW ploy to implement "a whole new set of rules." As former NLRB general counsel Fred Feinstein explained, "the NLRB has no authority over Sen. Corker and cannot control what he says." At most, he said, the Board could conclude that Corker's comments had unfairly tainted the election and could "conceivably order a new one."
The NLRB is responsible for protecting workers legal right to "engage in protected concerted activities-group action to improve wages, benefits, and working conditions and to engage in union activities and support a union," and works to ensure that workers are free of coercion while maintaining their right to "free choice" during union elections. The NLRB typically focuses on whether unions or companies have been involved in illegal coercion of workers during a union vote, but third-party coercion is still a concern. The Huffington Post explained that the NLRB could make the case "that Corker's highly detailed statement created an atmosphere of coercion."
The UAW is only asking for a re-vote, which, if granted, would only allow the unionization of the plant with a majority vote. That's a far cry from Fox's claim that the UAW is planning to "take over" the Volkswagen plant and block officials' free speech in the process.
Media are distorting Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state by fixating on her attempt to reset the U.S. relationship with Russian in order to make Russia's invasion of Crimea a political issue in the 2016 presidential election. But Clinton has long maintained that Russian President Vladimir Putin is untrustworthy and helped negotiate Russian cooperation on Iran sanctions and use of Russian airspace for the war in Afghanistan.
In recent months, conservative media figures have undermined efforts by labor groups to organize across the United States, demonizing labor unions in the process. These anti-union attacks are largely reliant on myths alleging negative side-effects of union participation.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (SC) sparked backlash when he sent an absurd tweet blaming the Russian invasion of Ukraine on the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. But Graham's tweet followed in the footsteps of conservative media, who have repeatedly attempted to link Benghazi to a variety of unrelated events, or invoke the tragedy to deflect conservatives from scrutiny.
Here are just a few examples of things conservative media have linked to Benghazi:
1. Openly Gay NFL Prospect Michael Sam. Washington Times columnist Steve Deace accused President Obama and the media of using openly gay NFL prospect Michael Sam as an excuse to divert attention from Benghazi and other alleged "failures" of the Obama administration. According to Deace, liberals pounced on Sam's coming out in February in order to advance "LGBTQ propaganda" -- and to shift focus away from the 2012 attack on the American diplomatic mission.
2. Ted Nugent. CNN political commentator Ben Ferguson invoked Benghazi in order to inexplicably shield NRA board member Ted Nugent from further scrutiny for calling President Obama a "subhuman mongrel." On CNN's New Day, Ferguson argued that Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott's loyalty to Nugent was no different than Obama's loyalty to former UN Ambassador Susan Rice, whom Ferguson falsely labeled a liar for her comments about Benghazi.
3. Chris Christie's Bridgegate. Fox & Friends devoted five segments during its January 10 broadcast to the scandal surrounding Republican Gov. Chris Christie and his administration's involvement in deliberate traffic gridlock across the George Washington Bridge as political retribution against a local mayor. But in every segment purporting to discuss Christie, the hosts and guests brought up Benghazi to attack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
4. The Boston Bombing. In April 2013, Rush Limbaugh invoked the New Black Panthers, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Fast and Furious, and Benghazi to pre-emptively attack Obama's handling of the Boston bombing suspect, who had been apprehended by police and charged that day with using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction.
5. Monday Night Football, The New iPhone, And Yom Kippur. The week of the one-year anniversary of the Benghazi attacks, Fox & Friends aired an image of events that were supposedly distracting Americans from the anniversary and the ongoing conflict in Syria, including Monday Night Football, the NYC primary elections, the launch of the latest iPhone, and the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur.
Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano made the evidence-free claim that Attorney General Eric Holder personally approved low-level Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) undercover stings that have recently come under criticism because of their use of faulty investigative techniques.
ATF storefront sting operations -- where undercover law enforcement agents set up sketchy storefronts to attract drugs and firearms which are then taken off the street -- came under scrutiny in January 2013 with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's investigative reporting on a Milwaukee sting known as Operation Fearless. According to the Journal Sentinel, Operation Fearless "resulted in a string of mistakes and failures, including an ATF military-style machine gun landing on the streets of Milwaukee and the agency having $35,000 in merchandise stolen from its store." A follow-up report identified six other problematic storefront stings conducted by ATF.
The ATF has acknowledged flaws in the storefront sting process and has issued new guidelines that aim to prevent future debacles. At the same time ATF has also pointed to more than 250 convictions obtained and over 1,300 firearms recovered as a result of the stings. The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General is also conducting a review of four of the 37 undercover storefront operations conducted by ATF. The ATF is cooperating with the investigation and currently has no active storefront sting operations.
Fox News is trying to pin the blame for the failed stings on Holder. On the March 4 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy introduced the idea of Holder's supposed involvement in the stings by stating, "So it's a dumb idea, it's a bad idea, it's an illegal proposition. Okay, who's at the head of the Department of Justice? Eric Holder. Would this have been approved by him?"
Napolitano replied, "I don't know personally if it was approved by him, but it's almost inconceivable after Fast and Furious that something of this magnitude could happen without him knowing. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and say he had to approve it because it involved too much expenditure of money and too much manpower. They set it up in 40 different cities."
This baseless accusation is the latest attempt by Fox News to use failed ATF law enforcement operations as a way to bludgeon Holder.
From the March 4 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Fox News promoted an effort to ban Isabel Allende's award-winning novel The House of The Spirits, thanking a North Carolina mother for a "keeping up the good fight" and using her campaign to lob yet another off-base attack at the Common Core educational standards.
On the March 3 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck reported that "parents are outraged over a new book being assigned to their high school students containing references to abortion and prostitution," and was quick to tie the book to the Common Core educational standards -- falsely labeling them the "Common Core classroom curriculum." She welcomed North Carolina mother Chastity Lesesne on to discuss:
The campaign to censor The House of The Spirits in North Carolina's Watauga County school district has sparked national scrutiny in recent weeks. As Michael Keegan, president of the free speech advocacy organization People for The American Way noted, Lesesne's censorship attempt ignores that "The House of Spirits is an internationally renowned work that is taught in high school Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs throughout the country." Chris Brook, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union-NC Legal Foundation, also warned of the "the slippery slope of banning books that promote critical thinking and classroom dialogue" and urged district officials to vote "in favor of the freedom to read."
Promoting censorship is an unusual position for Fox given that the network has previously cited First Amendment concerns as reasons to reject anti-bullying policies, allow anti-gay discrimination, contest a private company's decisions, and even offer a pro-fracking film undeserved awards.
Fox News ran with misleading figures and false comparisons after Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel outlined a five-year Pentagon budget to stoke fears that the budget will harm the military.
Conservative media are latching on to the climate change denial of Patrick Moore, who has masqueraded as a co-founder of Greenpeace. But Moore has been a spokesman for nuclear power and fossil fuel-intensive industries for more than 20 years, and his denial of climate change -- without any expertise in the matter -- is nothing new.
Fox News' misleading attempt to downplay the involvement of right-wing groups in the prominence of anti-Obamacare advertisements fell apart after a later segment on Fox revealed the heavy involvement of conservative special interest groups in promoting the campaign ads.
On the February 27 edition of Fox's Fox and Friends, co-hosts Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Clayton Morris, and Brian Kilmeade attacked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for pointing to conservative special interest groups as the origin of Obamacare attack ads. Hasselback asked viewers to "actually look at the facts" before running a graphic to show that political donations from the Koch brothers came in at 59th in overall political donations:
Fox's narrative that conservative groups are not heavily involved in the political process was debunked a short time later on Fox News itself. On America's Newsroom, Peter Doocy admitted that the Obamacare horror story advertisements heavily promoted on the network have, in fact, been funded by right-leaning organizations, calling groups like Americans for Prosperity "very involved" in pushing campaign ads:
MACALLUM: Peter, how involved are these outside groups really in the early ad campaigns we're seeing?
DOOCY: Very involved, Martha. Especially the right-leaning Americans for Prosperity who has already spent to $30 million since late summer to introduce America to people they say are victims of obamacare.
Reid was correct in tying these advertisements to right-leaning groups. The Washington Post's Fact Checker notes that the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity "has run about 50 anti-Obamacare ads since July."
Another Washington Post article quotes Tim Phillips, the president of American for Prosperity, saying that the health care law "has been the predominant focus of both our grass roots and our advertising efforts." This is evidenced by the $30 million the group has put forth on attack advertisements, 95% of which has gone towards ads that specifically target the Affordable Care Act. The article also noted that Americans for Prosperity is not the only conservative group creating these ads:
In Senate races, where control of the chamber is on the line, all but $240,000 of the $21.2 million that super PACs are spending on television advertising has gone into attacks centered on the health-care law, said Matt Canter, deputy executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The exceptions were ad buys in three states that criticized Democratic senators for supporting President Obama's judicial nominees.
Fox News distorted comments by Democratic congressional candidate Alex Sink about the need for immigration reform, completely misinterpreting the meaning of her remarks to cast them as outrageous and beyond the pale. In fact, as the Miami Herald noted, Republican lawmakers have made similar comments in the past without the hint of the conservative outrage Sink's comments have received. Moreover, the comments broadcast by Fox were not Sink's full remarks on the topic.
During a candidate forum in Florida hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, Sink addressed the need for immigration reform by stressing the fact that coastal communities rely heavily on immigrant labor and that without reform, employers are put "in a position of hiring undocumented and illegal workers":
SINK: Immigration reform is important in our country. It's one of the main agenda items of the beaches' Chamber Of Commerce for obvious reasons. Because we have a lot of employers over on the beaches that rely upon workers, and especially in this high-growth environment, where are you going to get people to work to clean our hotel rooms or do our landscaping? And we don't need to put those employers in a position of hiring undocumented and illegal workers.
Discussing those comments on Fox & Friends, guest host Clayton Morris twisted the meaning of those words, claiming what Sink really said was "we need immigration reform so we can have illegal immigrants doing landscaping and cleaning hotels." Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck added: "Because what would we do without that, she's saying." Morris continued: "How would our hotels be cleaned?"
Co-host Brian Kilmeade also stated: "She was winning by 2 points prior to those remarks. I don't know if this is going to send her numbers south."
In fact, Sink was making the opposite point: We need immigration reform so that employers, particularly those in high-growth areas like coastal communities, don't resort to hiring unauthorized labor. For a network that has been stridently opposed to immigration reform because of the impact such labor has on the workforce, Sink's comments should have been greeted favorably.
When it comes to public education, Fox News loves to demonize the Common Core State Standards, a set of standards for K-12 students crafted by governors and state school officials across the country. The network has falsely characterized the standards as everything from too difficult to partisan brainwashing, and given credence to the lie that Common Core is a federally mandated program.
On February 26, while discussing Obamacare enrollment numbers, Fox & Friends' Heather Nauert invoked Common Core, saying, "I think they're doing Common Core math down in Washington. It doesn't all add up. You just throw some numbers together."
Nauert's misleading comparison is just the latest in a string of attacks on Common Core from Fox News, making it apparent that the network fails to understand how the standards work.
Fox News' Brian Kilmeade invited dubious sources Richard Minter and Scott McEwen on to discuss whether the Obama administration's move toward "weakening the Navy SEALs to be diverse and politically correct" led to three unnecessary deaths and whether the outcome would "have been different if these SEALs were not white?"
Kilmeade introduced guests Richard Miniter and Scott McEwen, authors of Eyes on Target, and bizarrely invoked race to set up a conversation over whether the White House is weakening the Navy SEALs in pursuit of diversity and political correctness:
KILMEADE: It's one of our military's most notorious tragedies. Four Navy SEALs on a top secret Taliban mission and only one survives. But would that be -- would the outcome have been different if these SEALS were not white? An explosive new book claims our politically correct White House is weakening the Navy SEALs to be diverse and politically correct. Scott McEwen and Richard Miniter, authors of Eyes on Target, are here to explain.
McEwen quickly clarified that his book does not suggest the race of the SEALs was a factor in the tragedy in Afghanistan, but he added that he had concerns that the White House is "trying to make them politically correct" by changing the SEAL culture with regard to rules of engagement, codes of conduct, and gender inclusion.
From there, the interview turned to the 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, devolving into a fact-free recitation of Fox's favorite myths. Miniter claimed that two of the Americans who died in the assault, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, had been denied military aid from U.S. military bases in the Mediterranean and drones in the area and left to die. Miniter went on to attack then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice for her early description of CIA intelligence on the attack, claiming that if she has no regrets about her statements, then "she is on very strong medication."
That Miniter gets the facts wrong on Benghazi is no surprise: he has already been discredited as an author. The pair of authors misrepresented the role of Doherty, who was part of the rescue team the pair said didn't exist.
And their claims that further assistance could have been sent from U.S. military bases have been debunked by Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who criticized the conservative media's "cartoonish impression of the military."
And even Fox has admitted that its long-term effort to smear Susan Rice for her& September 16 descriptions of the attack were dishonest, as Rice's talking points represented the best intelligence available at the time.
Fox News' coverage of the September 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, has long been marked by gross inaccuracies and outrageous smears. In the face of overwhelming evidence, a source like Miniter is clearly a last resort. His previous books have relied on dubious sources, misreadings of the evidence, and outright lies.
As fact checkers investigated and debunked claims made in an ad attacking the Affordable Care Act, Fox News and other conservative media used a cancer patient's illness to defend the spot's dishonesty.
The episode is part of an ongoing pattern in the conservative media of promoting anecdotal Obamacare horror stories that have fallen apart under scrutiny.