Libel and slander cases are increasingly viewed as long-shot legal propositions that aren't worth the effort required to see the cases to completion only to suffer defeat. But three high-profile libel suits against media organizations are bucking that trend and making their way through the legal system. Two of them have already cleared steep judicial hurdles, opening the way for the discovery phase and possible jury trials. All involve well-know conservative media defendants: National Review, the New York Post and Glenn Beck's The Blaze.
As Media Matters has documented for years, newsroom standards for conservative journalists leave much to be desired and outlets routinely trample over established norms of responsible behavior. But has the recklessness reached such heights, and have the attacks become so slanderous, that courts will rule against the offending media outlets? And if so, how high could the penalties run?
"Damages for every case come down to whatever the jury wants them to be," former New York Times general counsel George Freeman tells Media Matters.
Responding to speculation that a pricey courtroom loss could drive National Review out of business, publisher Jack Fowler assured readers in January that the magazine has libel insurance to cover damages, although he conceded "our insurance does not cover all the costs related to the suit." But even if the three outlets avoid a big jury loss, simply paying the legal fees becomes tantamount. "The costs can be absolutely staggering," says Robert Drechsel, professor at the University of Wisconsin who specializes in media law.
Not surprisingly, the three headline-making suits revolve around hot-button issues for the right-wing media: last year's Boston Marathon terror bombing case, which led to the suits against the New York Post and Beck, and the political jousting over climate change, which pits National Review versus Penn State meteorology professor Michael Mann.
"All three are plausible libels suits," says Drechsel.
When a mass shooting occurs, conservative media rush to blame mental health, video games, a lack of armed people present, and even liberal values -- anything but the fact that the shooter was able to get a gun.
But the single proximate factor in all mass shootings, and in all gun violence really, is that it is easy for dangerous people to access high-powered firearms. Lack of access to firearms typically makes it difficult for would-be mass murderers to carry out their plans. For instance, experts say mass stabbings are extremely rare in the United States. To the contrary, 69 percent of all homicides are committed with a gun. Of 37 public mass killings since 2006, 33 involved firearms, while the Boston Marathon bombings, an incident involving a car, and two cases of arson accounted for the other four incidents.
Furthermore, academic research has linked the easy availability of firearms to homicide. According to numerous studies, "where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide." Compared to other high income nations which typically more strongly regulate the availability of firearms, the United States' gun homicide rate is 19.5 times higher, leading to an overall homicide rate that is 6.9 times higher. Research has also shown, "across developed countries, where guns are more available, there are more homicides. These results often hold even when the United States is excluded."
Following the April 2 shooting at Fort Hood that left three victims dead and 16 others wounded, conservative media have refused to acknowledge the role of easy access to firearms in shootings and have instead claimed mass shootings are caused by video games, mental health problems, the "culture war," and by a deficiency in the number of firearms carried by the general public.
Climate "skeptics" have latched on to a myth that scientists predicted global cooling in the 1970s. However, as even a Fox News anchor pointed out in 2006, there was never a consensus on cooling in the 1970s the same way there currently is on global warming -- in fact, the majority of the scientific literature at the time was predicting warming. Yet that hasn't stopped Fox from regurgitating this myth ad nauseum:
While some on Fox News have claimed that "global cooling was the consensus" in the 1970s to dismiss the current climate science consensus in its entirety, a realistic examination of the scientific literature shows the opposite is true. In 2006, the American Meteorological Society (AMS) took a look at published papers from the 1970s and found that a consensus around global warming -- not cooling -- was beginning to emerge. Of 71 peer reviewed studies on climate change from 1965 to 1979, only seven articles predicted global cooling -- less than ten percent -- while well over half (44 studies) predicted global warming. Even 40 years ago, predictions of global cooling were only on the fringe of climate science.
There were indeed a couple of magazine articles published in that era that overhyped theories of "global cooling," but they were cherry-picking the science. For instance, Newsweek ran a nine-paragraph, back-page article titled "The Cooling World" in 1975 and Time magazine ran an article titled "Another Ice Age?" in 1974. Despite these magazine articles' infamy among climate "skeptics," they never made the cover as Fox News or internet hoaxes would have you believe.
If there was a global cooling "scare," it was more of a media wrongdoing than a failure of scientists.
Time's Bryan Walsh accurately summarized the situation:
The reality is that scientists in the 1970s were just beginning to understand how climate change and aerosol pollution might impact global temperatures. Add in the media-hype cycle -- which was true then as it is now -- and you have some coverage that turned out to be wrong. But thanks to the Internet, those stories stay undead, recycled by notorious climate skeptics like George Will. Pay no attention to the Photoshop. It's the science we should heed -- and the science says man-made climate change is real and very, very worrying.
The video in this report was created by Coleman Lowndes and John Kerr with voiceover by Todd Gregory.
Conservative media's incessant campaign to demonize the Common Core State Standards, often confined to the right-wing bubble, is now playing out in local politics.
Over the past year, the Common Core State Standards have been at the center of a heated national education debate. Released in 2010 by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, with input from parents, school officials, teachers, and experts, Common Core is "a set of clear college- and career-ready standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts/literacy and mathematics." Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have voluntarily adopted the Common Core standards, though news out of Indiana this week has reduced that number.
On Monday, Republican Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed legislation withdrawing the state from Common Core, even though the state had already started implementing the standards. A release from Pence's office stated, "I believe our students are best served when decisions about education are made at the state and local level."
Pence's statement buys into one of the many myths popularized by conservative media about Common Core -- that it's a federal takeover of education, guilty of "central planning." Other prevalent myths are that it creates a class curriculum, teaches wrong answers, injects partisan ideology, dumbs down standards, and data mines children's information.
These myths and more have made the Common Core debate so vitriolic that states are actually changing the name of their standards because the mere phrase "Common Core" has become "toxic." New York is negotiating to delay Common Core-based tests, and an Oklahoma Senate panel voted to repeal Common Core earlier this week. As the Associated Press reported on Monday, "the Common Core initiative has morphed into a political tempest fueling division among Republicans."
These state-level decisions come on the heels of a robust campaign from various misinformers in the right-wing media who consistently use inflammatory language and stoke fears to mislead about the standards.
Here are the five most incendiary media figures and outlets fueling the Common Core outrage machine.
Fox News' misinformation on Common Core has been well-documented. The network appears to have no idea how the standards actually work, accusing them of everything from "sneak[ing] in partisan lessons" to creating doctors who might "operate on the wrong knee." Fox & Friends co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck even falsely invoked Common Core to back an attempted book ban in North Carolina.
There is perhaps no louder voice against Common Core than conservative author and columnist Michelle Malkin. From her "Stop Common Core" Twitter list to her plethora of anti-Common Core columns at National Review Online, Malkin routinely uses inflammatory rhetoric to demonize the standards. She has given out "Biggest Common Core Jerk" awards and referred to "Common Core jerkitude" as a "bipartisan disease." She's referred to the standards as a "lab-rat testing experiment," called them a "Trojan horse for lowering [expectations]," and claimed they create "a Big Brother gold rush and an educational Faustian bargain." Her constant, erroneous insistence that Common Core is a "top-down" approach that the Obama administration is using to "corrupt education" leaves little doubt that Malkin will leave no stone unturned in her relentless and false attacks on the standards.
Roughly one year ago, conservative commentator and founder of The Blaze.com Glenn Beck turned his attention to Common Core on his BlazeTV show, claiming that "our kids are going to be indoctrinated with extreme leftist ideology" because progressives "jammed this through in the dead of night." Beck went so far as to declare that "We will not save our country unless we save it first from this attack."
Since then, TheBlaze.com has repeatedly distorted the conversation on Common Core often through hyperbolic headlines posted on the site:
NPR reported earlier this year that Beck "has often led the push" against Common Core:
The mainstream business wing of the Republican Party strongly backs Common Core, arguing that raising standards is vital to creating the next-generation American workforce. But in an echo of the rifts in the GOP nationally, the Tea Party branch has been critical of the new standards.
Conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck has often led the push. On his show The Blaze, he often charges that Common Core will undermine student individuality and teacher autonomy, and that it marks a dangerous takeover of local control by federal bureaucrats pushing a leftist agenda.
"This is a progressive bonanza, and if it's allowed to be in our schools in any form and become the Common Core of America's next generation, it will destroy America and the system of freedom as we know it," Beck told his audience last year.
Dr. Susan Berry at the conservative news site Breitbart.com writes frequently about the supposed perils of Common Core. She has pushed the myth that Common Core dumbs down "standards and curricula for all students in order to achieve a social justice agenda." She has also turned to conservative groups like The Heartland Institute and Heritage Foundation to propagate the false assertion that Common Core is a "national takeover of schooling" and that the "Obama administration is intent on controlling what is taught at each grade level in schools across the United States."
Berry has claimed that the standards are "part of a world-wide initiative that may ultimately serve to make American values and practices secondary to global sharing." After Bill Gates appeared on ABC to discuss his foundation's funding of Common Core, Berry went so far as to ask: "The question is, why is a college dropout non-mathematician being asked to defend the Common Core math standards?"
Right-wing news site the Daily Caller has posted dozens of articles about Common Core, often with photos of school assignments and incendiary headlines like, "Here's PROOF Common Core aims to make America's children cry," and, "How MORONICALLY HARD can Common Core math make subtraction?" Many are sourced from Michelle Malkin's Twitchy website. Various myths accompany its inflammatory rhetoric, including claims that the lessons derived from Common Core amount to "authoritarian propaganda" and that Common Core critics oppose "centralized" education. Like Breitbart's Susan Berry, the Daily Caller has also turned to the conservative Heartland Institute to push the falsehoods about Common Core, including that it is "a national monopoly on education."
In the continued battle over Common Core, even supporters have acknowledged that implementation has not been smooth, and that the process needs improvement. But these media figures and outlets doing their damndest to ensure that the national conversation on Common Core is steered in a distorted direction only make it harder to have a reasonable discussion.
For more on the lies and truths about Common Core, visit Media Matters' Mythopedia Project.
In the four years since the signing of the Affordable Care Act, right-wing media has engaged in a campaign to undermine the law in any way possible, frequently resorting to lies, myths, and misinformation. Among the most prominent and long-lasting of these myths are claims that the law amounts to socialized medicine, will harm the economy, provides federal funding for abortions, kills thousands of jobs, and of course, creates death panels.
To find out the truth behind other health care reform myths, visit Media Matters' Mythopedia project.
Clinging to persecution fantasies that seem to grow darker each year, conservative voices continue to hype doomsday scenarios in which President Obama is scheming to confiscate firearms, socialize American medicine, silence his critics through brute political force, and wage violent class warfare. Allegedly under siege at every turn as their freedoms are stripped away, conservatives embrace an imagined status as perennial victims.
The result? Wallowing in self-pity and convinced of the dark forces moving against them, conservatives launch attack after attack, insisting they're fighting forces at home akin to Hitler's Nazi storm troops. They complain louder and louder that America has become like Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler when 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.
Nazi analogies aren't new and conservatives didn't trademark them. But the cries have become far more frequent during Obama's sixth year in office.
Four years ago, Fox News chairman Roger Ailes accused the management of National Public Radio of having "a kind of Nazi attitude" for firing commentator Juan Williams. Former Fox host Glenn Beck frequently immersed himself in offensive Hitler rhetoric during Obama's first years in office, while the then-burgeoning Tea Party movement did the same. And so did Rush Limbaugh, who obsessed over Obama-Nazi comparisons in 2009: "Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate."
In 2009, the Anti-Defamation League, led by Holocaust survivor Abe Foxman, documented the Tea Party's growing reliance on "Nazi comparisons" as a way to express its anti-Obama rage. Yet today the Nazi claims arrive effortlessly and on a depressingly regular basis as conservatives line up to compare this president, his allies, and this country to one of the worst chapters in civilized history.
The thoughtless rhetoric not only captures how detached Obama's critics have become from reality (not to mention the blanket insensitivity involved), but it also reveals the bizarre view conservatives have of their alleged political strife.
Fox News contributor Dr. Ben Carson recently claimed America is now "very much like Nazi Germany" in that it has a government "using its tools to intimidate the population." Carson defended the insulting comparison by suggesting American conservatives are being targeted and intimidated by the government: "Maybe if I don't say anything, I won't be audited, people won't call me a name."
Audited? Name-calling? Historical note: Those were certainly among the least painful afflictions Jews suffered during the Nazi reign of terror. "I know you're not supposed to say 'Nazi Germany,'" said Carson. "But I don't care about political correctness."
Many conservatives lashed out at Coca-Cola for their Super Bowl advertisement featuring a multilingual rendition of "America the Beautiful." Fox contributor Allen West declared that America is "on the road to perdition," Fox host Eric Bolling complained that it was wrong to use America the Beautiful, and someone at Breitbart News even wrote that the ad shows America is "no longer a nation ruled by the Constitution." And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
But anchorwoman Brenda Wood of WXIA in Atlanta demolished these myths in her segment 'Brenda's Last Word.' Wood explained how diversity is what America is built on, citing Emma Lazarus' sonnet 'The New Colossus' on the Statue of Liberty. Wood also touched on the absurdity of nativists rallying around a language from another country, and she pointed out the identity of the woman who wrote the words to 'America the Beautiful.'
We told you so.
We told you back when Glenn Beck was a Fox News host that he was a blight on our media and political culture and was doing great harm to the country. Beck now admits as much himself. Returning for an appearance on Fox this week, Beck recalled his time there by conceding he made "an awful lot of mistakes." "I think I played a role," Beck reflected, "in helping tear the country apart. "
Sure there's reason to be skeptical about Beck's latest public confession. He told Megyn Kelly he regretted dividing Americans while at Fox between 2009 and 2011. But he didn't stop peddling hateful conspiracies when he left for his own independent network. In 2013, as the city of Boston and nation recoiled from the Boston Marathon terrorist attack, what did Beck do? He led a mindless crusade against an innocent Saudi national student who was actually injured in the blast.
And keep in mind, Beck's network, The Blaze, is currently in the middle of a marketing campaign to convince cable operations around the country to add his channel to their television offerings. It would make sense for Beck to strike a conciliatory public tone in hopes of addressing fears that operators might have about hosting the guy who was too crazy for Fox News.
So yes, I'm reluctant to assume Beck's apology means serious change is in order, or to pretend his entire media empire doesn't revolve around feeding his loyal followers an hourly dose of Obama Derangement Syndrome programming.
But if we take Beck's comments at face value they amount to a complete vindication for Media Matters, which helped lead the charge in highlighting his dangerous rhetoric, and warned about the long-term implications of Beck's effort to use cable TV to tear the country apart.
Federal prosecutors announced Thursday that they are charging conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza with violating campaign finance laws. D'Souza has been a mainstay in the conservative media for years, and his outlandish theories have received heavy promotion from outlets like Fox News and prominent conservatives like Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh.
Reuters reports that D'Souza "has been indicted by a federal grand jury for arranging excessive campaign contributions to a candidate for the U.S. Senate," allegedly reimbursing "people who he had directed to contribute $20,000" to the unnamed candidate.
D'Souza made waves during the 2012 presidential election thanks to 2016: Obama's America, a shoddy "documentary" he made smearing the president as "anti-American." Though the movie was filled with nonsensical theories and inaccuracies, it became a surprise box office success thanks in no small part to hype by conservative media outlets.
Fox News and Fox Business repeatedly went to bat for D'Souza's movie, hosting him at least five times in the run-up to its wide release. (To give a sample of the tone of the segments, Lou Dobbs told his audience, "We've got a much better fate awaiting us if we just will simply awaken to what Dinesh is revealing in the wonderful movie, '2016,' August 10.")
In 2010, D'Souza was at the center of a firestorm for penning an article for Forbes magazine arguing that President Obama is animated by an "anticolonial" worldview imprinted on him by his father. In keeping with his usual scholarship, D'Souza's anticolonial theory was utter nonsense, but was nonetheless widely championed by major conservatives, including then-Fox contributor and soon-to-be presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, then-Fox host Glenn Beck (repeatedly), and Rush Limbaugh.
Though he has seemingly kept a somewhat lower profile recently, D'Souza is -- or at least was -- reportedly working on a sequel to Obama's America to release this year.
While it remains to be seen how D'Souza's conservative media allies will handle his indictment, Matt Drudge is already getting the conspiracy theory ball rolling, claiming the charges are evidence that Attorney General Eric Holder is "unleashing the dogs" on Obama critics.
The National Rifle Association pushed a false history of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s views on firearms in order to promote gun ownership in a video commentary released on the national holiday commemorating the slain civil rights hero's birthday.
Gun rights activists frequently distort history by citing a 1956 attempt by King to acquire a gun permit as evidence that King favored gun ownership. This ignores that King later repudiated his earlier action, concluding, "How could I serve as one of the leaders of a nonviolent movement and at the same time use weapons of violence for my personal protection?"
In a January 20 video, Colion Noir -- one of several commentators hired by the NRA to produce videos for NRANews.com -- claimed that King would have "happily struggled with envy" over Noir's concealed handgun permit. Noir then related King's attempt to acquire a gun permit and falsely claimed that after failing in that endeavor, King filled his house with people carrying guns:
NOIR: Dr. King was a nonviolent man, but even he understood the realities of self-defense and protecting his home and his family in the face of life-threatening violence. This is why he tried to apply for that gun permit when the house where his wife and daughter lived was firebombed. When Dr. King was denied, he did the next best thing and surrounded himself with people with guns. Which was evidenced by one of Dr. King's advisors describing his home as an "arsenal."
Viewing gun rights as under attack after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the National Rifle Association and its backers in conservative media spent 2013 using inflammatory rhetoric to attack critics and promote an uncompromising pro-gun agenda.
Both the NRA and its conservative media allies frequently attempted to draw modern-day parallels between Adolf Hitler's murder of millions during the Holocaust and the Obama administration's post-Newtown proposal to advance gun safety. One ugly event at the NRA's annual meeting saw the NRA's main political opponent illustrated as a Nazi, leading to condemnation from Jewish organizations.
Even victims of gun violence and the families of those killed at Sandy Hook could not escape the wrath of right-wing media, who insultingly called them "props" of the Obama administration, as if they were unable to think for themselves. The NRA similarly politicized the armed protection of President Obama's daughters in a widely criticized TV spot.
Ted Nugent, perhaps the best known member of NRA leadership, turned heads when he dubbed Trayvon Martin a "dope smoking, racist gangsta wannabe" after the deceased Florida teenager's killer was acquitted. Even given his past racially inflammatory rhetoric, Nugent shocked many by piling on his Martin comment with a weeks-long tirade in which he endorsed racial profiling and claimed that the African-American community has a "mindless tendency to violence." The NRA declined to comment.
The year also featured a number of bizarre claims from the NRA, including the host of an NRA-produced television show comparing critics of his elephant hunting to Hitler, NRA head Wayne LaPierre's claim that gun ownership was essential to "survival," and NRA past-president Marion Hammer's comparison of an assault weapons ban to racial discrimination.
What follows are 12 lowlights from a year punctuated by extreme NRA rhetoric:
On a rainy morning in October, Fox News reporter Doug McKelway sat in the passenger seat of a car cruising around the Washington, D.C., Beltway, delivering a live update to Fox & Friends.
McKelway was there to report on the arrival of what was supposed to be thousands of truckers protesting the Obama administration, an event that Fox and other conservative outlets had already given a significant publicity boost.
"What are you seeing there? Are there truckers all over the place, Doug?" asked Fox & Friends co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck.
Struggling against a janky satellite connection, McKelway explained, somewhat awkwardly, "We had expected to see literally dozens if not hundreds of trucks preparing for this protest. Instead, we saw maybe two, maybe three."
"So far, it's a light turnout ... but you never know. It could surge," co-host Brian Kilmeade reassured viewers.
It never did.
While the failed "Truckers Ride for the Constitution" was portrayed by conservative outlets like Fox as a gathering of Americans with reasoned objections to the Obama administration, it was actually co-organized by a fringe conspiracy theorist who apparently believes, among other things, that President Obama and Osama bin Laden are literally the same person.
That the rally had become mainstream news in the first place despite the outlandish views of its organizers -- to the extent that Fox News had a reporter driving around attempting to offer live reports on it -- was emblematic of the way fringe figures and conspiracy theories permeated the media in 2013.
Tonight CNN will air an hour-long interview its employee S.E. Cupp did with Glenn Beck, who is also her boss at Beck's own news network. CNN failed to disclose this conflict of interest while promoting the special in an interview with Cupp.
CNN will air the interview on the December 20 edition of Piers Morgan Live. Cupp, a co-host on CNN's Crossfire, is also a contributor on TheBlaze TV, the conservative news network Beck founded and heads.
CNN's New Day gave Cupp a platform to promote the special without mentioning the conflict of interest during a December 20 interview on New Day. At no point during that segment did Cupp or hosts Chris Cuomo and Kate Bolduan note that Cupp also works for Blaze TV, that Beck is her boss, or the inherent ethical conflict in having her interview Beck over the CNN airwaves.
On New Day, Cupp said that her boss is "funny, he says it how he means it," which is "why people love Glenn." She also acknowledged that Beck has said some "controversial things," and concluded that the fact that he supposedly "abstains from the political process ... makes him a very honest critic but for those of us who work within the political process and would like to make it better that's a little frustrating."
Media Matters has previously suggested some questions that a credible interview between Cupp and Beck would include.
Tomorrow night, CNN will feature the odd spectacle of its employee S.E. Cupp interviewing Glenn Beck, her boss at The Blaze, where she also serves as a contributor.
According to an article on The Blaze promoting the interview, "It is likely the two will discuss Beck's latest book, 'Miracles and Massacres: True and Untold Stories of the Making of America,' the creation of TheBlaze and current events."
Considering Cupp's relationship with Beck, it's unlikely he's due for a primetime grilling on CNN. In the event she wants the interview to be more than an exercise in self-promotion, Media Matters came up with a handful of questions for Cupp to ask Beck:
According to a tweet from Cupp, her CNN interview with Beck has been rescheduled due to the ice storm in Texas.
This coming Friday, CNN will once again turn over its airwaves to everyone's favorite caliphate-spotting, end-times-prophesying, gold-huckstering bad novelist: Glenn Beck. He will be the special guest for the entirety of the December 6 edition of Piers Morgan Live, which will be guest-hosted by S.E. Cupp, the co-host of CNN's Crossfire who pulls double duty as a contributor to Beck's news venture, The Blaze. Beck's return to CNN (he decamped from the network in 2008, describing the newsroom environment as a "pit of despair") will "likely" feature, according to The Blaze, a discussion of "Beck's latest book, 'Miracles and Massacres: True and Untold Stories of the Making of America,' the creation of TheBlaze and current events."
So CNN will have a conservative pundit interview her own boss about his various business ventures for an entire hour, which should allow plenty of time for all the various conflicts of interest this presents to come to the fore.
But if CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker is to be believed, this is the sort of programming we should come to expect from CNN going forward. "We're all regurgitating the same information. I want people to say, 'You know what? That was interesting. I hadn't thought of that,'" Zucker told Capital New York during a recent interview. "The goal for the next six months, is that we need more shows and less newscasts."
If you're looking to send a message that you're prioritizing "attitude" (Zucker's word) and showmanship over actual useful information, an hour-long primetime interview with Glenn Beck is an excellent way to do that.
According to a tweet from Cupp, her CNN interview with Beck has been rescheduled due to the ice storm in Texas.