Right-wing media are continuing to defend Indiana's newly-enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and dismissing concerns that the law could provide cover for religious individuals or business owners intent on discriminating against LGBT customers. In fact, RFRA has been used as a defense against discrimination claims in the past, New Mexico's version was used against a gay couple just recently, and supporters of these expanded forms of RFRA have explicitly pointed to anti-gay sentiment as their intent.
Since the passage of Indiana's RFRA, right-wing media have erroneously claimed that criticism of the law is overblown, because it does nothing more than mirror the federal version of RFRA and RFRAs in other states. But Indiana's law is more expansive than other versions because it provides a legal defense to both private individuals and for-profit businesses in lawsuits even where the government is not a party, and unlike several other states who have passed RFRAs, Indiana lacks a statewide law that protects LGBT residents from discrimination.
Conservative media figures like National Review's Rich Lowry have also argued that Indiana's RFRA will not be used as a license to discriminate against LGBT customers because if RFRA laws "were the enablers of discrimination they are portrayed as, much of the country would already have sunk into a dystopian pit of hatred." Right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt also downplayed the potential legal ramifications of Indiana's law, claiming on his show that the federal version of RFRA has "been the law in the District of Columbia for 22 years [and] I do not know of a single incident" of the law being used to discriminate against gay people. He did not address the fact that it is the newer state versions that have sparked the current outrage.
On the March 31 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy made a similar argument in an attempt to pretend fears of the law's discriminatory effects were baseless, claiming that Indiana's RFRA is not "anti-gay" because it has "never not once" been used as a legal defense by religious business owners accused of anti-LGBT discrimination:
Right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt allowed former Florida Governor and potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush to make false claims on his radio program about Indiana's recently passed "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" (RFRA) without challenging Bush's statements, and was wrong about the law himself.
Hewitt, who will be asking questions on the panel* for a Republican presidential debate, has been described as a more serious right-wing radio host than other conservative figures, and someone who is more likely to hold his guests accountable for their comments. But in this case, not only did Hewitt fail to do that, he also made the same false claims about Indiana's law.
The law, signed by Governor Mike Pence (R), allows individuals and businesses to cite their religious beliefs as a legal defense against discrimination claims of those denied services due to sexual orientation or gender identity. The law is facing extensive criticism, with calls to boycott the state increasing.
On March 30, Hewitt hosted Jeb Bush on his radio show. During the interview, Hewitt asked for Bush's opinion of the law, pointing out that not many Republicans had defended Pence for signing it. Bush said he agreed with the law, claiming it was similar to laws in other states, such as Florida, and at the federal level. Hewitt misleadingly conflated the federal 1993 RFRA currently in effect in the District of Columbia with the newer -- and broader -- state versions of which Indiana is the latest example (emphasis added):
BUSH: I think Governor Pence has done the right thing. Florida has a law like this. Bill Clinton signed a law like this at the federal level. This is simply allowing people of faith space to be able to express their beliefs, to be able to be people of conscience. I think once the facts are established, people aren't going to see this as discriminatory at all.
HEWITT: Yeah, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed in 1993. It's been the law in the District of Columbia for 22 years. I do not know of a single incident of the sort that Tim Cook was warning about occurring in the District in the last 22 years.
BUSH: But there are incidents of people who, for example, the florist in Washington State who had a business that, based on her conscience, she couldn't be participating in a gay wedding, organizing it, even though the person, one of the people, was a friend of hers, and she was taken to court and still in court. Or the photographer in New Mexico. There are many cases where people, acting on their conscience, have been castigated by the government. And this law simply says the government has to have a level of burden to be able to establish that there's been some kind of discrimination. We're going to need this. This is really an important value for our country to, in a diverse country, where you can respect and be tolerant of people's lifestyles but allow for people of faith to be able to exercise theirs.
Contrary to Hewitt's and Bush's claims, neither other state RFRAs nor the federal RFRA have the same reach as Indiana's law, which explicitly includes corporations as opposed to only people, and allows religious beliefs to be used as a legal defense against an anti-discrimination claim in civil cases even when the government is not involved.
Right-wing media has a long history of serving as Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-TX) biggest cheerleaders, dating back to Cruz's 2012 Senate victory which he credited to Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and Glenn Beck, showcasing the influence of conservative media in shaping election outcomes.
Following Cruz's announced bid for the 2016 GOP nomination for president, Media Matters looks back at some of right-wing media's most effusive praise of Cruz.
After Cruz announced his candidacy, Hannity featured the senator in an hour-long special on the March 23 of edition his Fox News show. Hannity highlighted Cruz's campaign announcement speech, and allowed Cruz to promote his platform.
Hannity has fantasized about a Cruz campaign for years before the official campaign launch. During Cruz's February 26 speech at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Hannity jumped on the main stage to proclaim that with Cruz, "we can fundamentally transform America" in 2016.
After Cruz announced the launch of his campaign, Rush Limbaugh praised Cruz, suggesting that he "might be the smartest man in Congress."
In July 2014, Rush predicted that if Ted Cruz continued his rise in "dominant influence," he would lead a nascent Republican "revival" that is "just awaiting leadership."
In September 2013, Limbaugh lashed out at Fox News' Brit Hume for alleging that Cruz was influenced by Limbaugh and other conservative media in his repeated efforts to defund Obama's health care law. Limbaugh defended Cruz, asserting that "Ted Cruz isn't afraid of anybody," and went on to praise the Republican senator, saying "Ted Cruz is fighting for freedom in the greatest tradition of American freedom fighters." Limbaugh added that in his efforts to defund the health care law, "Ted Cruz is attempting to  marshal the support of the American people ... in the greatest traditions of the American founding and the existence of the country."
Beck praised Ted Cruz after the launch of his campaign, championing Cruz's "long, long, impressive resume," saying "you can't pigeonhole him as stupid," adding "I can't wait to see him in a debate."
On his radio show in December 2013, Beck likened Cruz to Ronald Reagan saying, he "may be our Ronald Reagan because that guy does not take prisoners. That guy is a thousand times smarter than 99 percent of the politicians I have ever met."
After Cruz announced his candidacy, Laura Ingraham applauded him for "stand[ing] firm for the constitution," and claimed Cruz will be tough competition for Republicans because he represents "more of a traditionalist point of view" and a more "Reagan-esque" form of conservatism.
Levin railed against Fox News for "trashing" Ted Cruz after the senator launched his campaign, likening Cruz to Reagan, and asserting that like Cruz, Reagan would have been "trashed all over" Fox News.
In August 2013, Levin declared Cruz "one of the bright lights of the Republican Party" for "exciting the base" after he "demonstrated that he can beat the establishment as he did" during his 2012 Senate campaign. Levin defended Cruz from a "vicious, vile, poisonous attack by the establishment including Bush staffers."
In June 2014, Hugh Hewitt proclaimed that Cruz "may be the smartest senator," telling Joe Scarborough on his radio program, "he's just not gonna back down and we need some of that in our party." Hewitt went on to compare Cruz to Reagan, saying he has "the same demeanor" as Reagan, "the same kind of charisma, easy affability and smart, smart, smart."
"The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself."--The RNC's post-2012 election report.
Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) fumes about "gotcha" questions from "clueless" political reporters and vows not to be distracted by them on the campaign trail. Fox News host Bill O'Reilly blames the media for the swirling controversies surrounding his "combat" reporting, and even levels an on-the-record "threat" against a New York Times reporter for daring to cover the story. And now the Republican Party announces it's teaming up with partisan, conservative media partners to help host primary debates in an effort to make the forums more appealing for candidates.
The first three Republican debates will air on CNN and will be co-presented by the Salem Media Group, a major player in right-wing talk radio. (Its CEO is also politically active in conservative causes.) Salem talker Hugh Hewitt has been invited to be among those asking candidates questions at the first debate. Afterwards, Republican participants will "be invited to join Hewitt to talk candidly about the event," according to a press release. A Salem talk radio host will be included in each of the three debates.
In shifting some of the debate control away from independent journalists, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus is following through on his promise last year to make the debates more GOP-friendly and to tap media participants "who are actually interested in the Republican Party."
It's true that there's nothing inherently wrong with having a talk radio partisan like Hewitt in the mix on the night of a debate. Different perspectives should always be welcome. But the inclusion of unabashed Republican cheerleaders for this year's forums appears to be driven out of fear and distrust of the news media, not out of a GOP desire for inclusion. Indeed, the move has an undeniable whiff of paranoia about it.
Right-wing media's outrage over President Obama's upcoming speech outlining plans to improve enforcement of the immigration system included accusations that Obama is engaging in "home-grown tyranny," calls for his impeachment, and even a Hitler comparison.
Fox contributor Charles Krauthammer declared on The Hugh Hewitt Show that President Obama is "clearly a narcissist," pointing to the president's use of the words "I" and "my." However, one example he provided is inaccurate while another was also used by Obama's predecessor, President George W. Bush.
In December 2012, BuzzFeed's McKay Coppins reported that in the wake of their devastating electoral defeat, Republicans were looking to "break their Fox addiction" by working with mainstream outlets, not just conservatives ones. "As operatives are increasingly realizing," Coppins wrote, "many of these outlets have limited reach beyond the fervent Republican base, and the talking points politicians declaim often resonate only in the conservative echo chamber."
A year and a half later, the reaction to Coppins' latest piece shows one roadblock to GOP efforts to reach out to mainstream media and the voters who don't get their news from ideological sources: a jealous right-wing media that wants increased access to Republican leaders.
Coppins' April 28 BuzzFeed profile chronicled how Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is "doing something rather unprecedented for a Republican: He is spending unchoreographed time with poor people," purportedly in order to inform his policy-making in that arena. The BuzzFeed writer was given exclusive access to Ryan during one such trip to visit the impoverished. His article drew swift criticism from progressives who said that Coppins credulously accepted Ryan's rhetoric on the issue while downplaying the impact that the massive cuts to poverty-fighting programs in Ryan's budget would have on the poor if it were implemented.
But right-wing outlets have a very different critique of the article: They think it made Ryan look bad, proving that he never should have cooperated with Coppins in the first place.
Breitbart's Matthew Boyle writes that Ryan "comes across as a deeply awkward millionaire paralyzed by political correctness as he struggles to identify with a black church congregation," citing two anecdotes from the piece. He concludes that Ryan's aides should not have granted Coppins access in the first place. The idea that the Republican congressman from Wisconsin might actually have been awkward in that situation goes unmentioned, with the implication that if Boyle had been the one traveling with Ryan, he'd have reported a more flattering piece.
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt likewise writes that the Coppins profile did not "do much or even any good" for Ryan, and bemoans how Republican press aides "resist having their bosses sit down with their natural allies in the center-right press" instead of giving access to mainstream reporters. He provides a list of reporters at The Daily Caller, TownHall.com, the Weekly Standard, and The Washington Free Beacon, concluding, "Don't ask me why they were not invited along with Ryan but McKay was. Part of the ongoing epic fail of Beltway GOP communications strategy. Hopefully it will change before 2016 arrives."
Boyle and Hewitt are criticizing Ryan for following a strategy that Republican operatives had identified as necessary to improve the party's national standing and win presidential elections.
The Republican National Committee's analysis of the 2012 election found that if the GOP wanted to win national elections, it had to change the minds of voters who believe the party "does not care about people," particularly those living in poverty. Ryan's effort to speak out on poverty seems consistent with that report's advice.
But as the operatives Coppins spoke with in 2012 pointed out, it's difficult to shift the poverty narrative if Republicans only talk about the issue with conservative reporters, as Hewitt and Boyle suggest.
Of course conservative journalists will always want more access and scoops. But demanding them at the expense of mainstream outlets traps the GOP between their conservative media supporters and their desire to win elections.
From the October 7 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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Conservative media are selectively and deceptively quoting from an exchange between CNN's Dana Bash Senate and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to make it appear as if he dismissed the plight of cancer-stricken children being denied access to clinical trials due to the shutdown of the federal government. In fact, Reid said that legislators should fully fund the government, rather than force different groups to fight over funding.
Specifically, conservatives are claiming that Reid replied to a reporter's question, "If you can help one child with cancer, why wouldn't you?" by saying "why would we want to do that?" In fact, Reid was responding to Sen. Chuck Schumer, who had interjected, saying "why pit one against the other?"
On October 1, the federal government was shut down after conservative Republicans refused to pass legislation funding operations unless that funding was tied to the defunding or delay of Obamacare. As part of an effort to avoid political damage from that unpopular decision, House Republicans have called for piecemeal bills that would fund some parts of the federal government, including the National Institutes of Health and national parks.
There is an odd excitement in the right-wing media over an exchange between MSNBC host Karen Finney and conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt. The right-wing talker invited Finney on his program after she linked the rhetoric of Ted Cruz to that of Joe McCarthy, an unsurprising comparison considering the Texas senator's previous hunts for communists on the Harvard Law School faculty.
Instead of discussing Cruz's behavior, however, Hewitt decided to discuss the history of McCarthyism, ostensibly defending the Wisconsin senator.
"Was Alger Hiss a communist?" Hewitt asked. Finney responded, "I think that's distracting from the point I was trying to make."
Finney continued, "And the point I was trying to make was, you had Joe McCarthy was on a mission to root out communism in the government, and he did it in such a way that created a hysteria that was very unhealthy for this country. Do you really disagree with me on that?"
Hewitt refused to engage with Finney's question and refused to discuss the damage McCarthy had done, just like he refused to acknowledge the damage to our discourse caused by Ted Cruz's behavior. This is after Finney explicitly stated, "Obviously, spying on this country and betraying this country is absolutely wrong. Of course it is."
Hewitt somehow views Finney's hang-up as a victory. However, what this interview demonstrated was Hewitt's inability to defend the rhetoric Cruz and others use within Hewitt's own party. Instead he chose to engage in a 50-year-old conversation involving Alger Hiss that has no relevance to today's discussions.
Finney later tweeted that she hung up because Hewitt "was interested in a shout fest not an honest conversation." And she was absolutely right.
Conservative media figures are taking a partial quote from President Obama out of context in order to attack him as reacting callously to the deaths of U.S. diplomatic personnel.
In an appearance taped today for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, President Obama was asked if communication between government personnel had failed to provide "the optimal response" to the Benghazi attacks. Obama replied in part: "If four Americans get killed, it's not optimal. We're going to fix it. All of it. And what happens, during the course of a presidency, is that the government is a big operation and any given time something screws up. And you make sure that you find out what's broken and you fix it."
Conservative media figures like Matt Drudge, Monica Crowley, Hugh Hewitt, Mary Katherine Ham,John Podhoretz, Jonah Goldberg, Erick Erickson and outlets like Fox Nation all used early reports of Obama's comments to attack him, with several falsely suggesting that Obama had said the deaths of American personnel in Benghazi, and not the communications effort, was "not optimal."
When you live inside a bubble, denial comes easy. And for conservatives in the media searching for an explanation for why President Obama seems increasingly well positioned to win re-election, denial comes way too easy.
After four years of relentlessly condemning Obama as an historic failure and all around bad person, conservatives are desperately trying to explain the disconnect between their dire Obama denunciations and the on-the-ground political reality about Obama's polling surge. They need a scapegoat, and pollsters have been cast in the role.
Just as left-leaning community organizers at ACORN were selected as unlikely scapegoats for John McCain's loss in 2008, pollsters today have been tapped by the far right as conniving conspirators in cahoots with Democrats to seal another election for Obama.
Recall that four years ago little-known ACORN was allegedly trying to flood ballot boxes with fraudulent votes. The rhetoric was so persistent that a 2009 poll found a majority of Republicans believed ACORN "stole" the election for Obama, who defeated McCain by more than nine million votes.
This year, instead of producing too many votes, pollsters are allegedly doing the opposite - making sure fewer people cast a ballot on Election Day. Teaming up with the media, pollsters are suppressing the vote by concocting phony results; by skewing the data. That drumbeat of results is supposedly designed to "depress Republican enthusiasm," which in turn hands victories to the Democrats.
"The intended effect is to suppress Republican turnout through media polling bias," said Romney's pollster John McLaughlin this week. And who was way ahead of McLaughlin and the Romney campaign in pushing the polling conspiracy claim? Rush Limbaugh, of course.
From September 10 [emphasis added]:
The polls are just being used as another tool of voter suppression. The polls are an attempt to not reflect public opinion, but to shape it. Yours. They want to depress the heck out of you, and they want to suppress your vote.
It's hard to imagine a campaign conspiracy more unbelievable than 2008's ACORN fantasy, where underfunded activists somehow "stole" the election from the mighty Republican campaign machine. But today's Alice-in-Wonderland polling plot seems to surpass it in terms of being nonsensical. (i.e. Why would professional pollsters cook the books for Obama and then run the risk of ruining their reputation for accuracy?)
Right-wing media figures have been hyping the economic plan that GOP presidential contender Tim Pawlenty presented in a June 7 speech. But economic experts, including prominent conservative economists, have called Pawlenty's plan unrealistic, "a joke," and "patently ridiculous."
As we noted this morning, conservative blogger and radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt is bemoaning the fact that Republican candidates for president are participating in debates hosted by "traditional media" outlets, such as CNN because the questions, Hewitt is certain, are bound to be unfair. (Hewitt seems to know beforehand which questions will, and will not, be asked.)
The critique is a curious one because in 2007 when progressives launched a successful campaign to stop Democratic candidates from legitimizing Fox News by allowing Rupert Murdoch's channel to sponsor Democrats debates, the right-wing media went bonkers condemning the move as cowardice.
Cue Roger Ailes:
The candidates that can't face Fox, can't face Al Qaeda. And that's what's coming.
Of course, Democrats had ample reason to shun Fox News. Namely, it's not a legitimate news organization. Today however, neither Hewitt nor anyone else can make a coherent argument that that's the case for CNN. And it's not just CNN. Hewitt complains about all "mainstream media" debate questioners during the campaign season. (Instead, he prefers "GOP-organized debates with GOP-selected questioners.")
Oh, and did I mention the right-media went bonkers when Fox News was snubbed during the last White House campaign cycle? The snub represented "a kind of breakdown in the democratic process." It was akin to Stalinist intimidation. And poor Bill O'Reilly could barely see straight, as he wildly denounced Democrats as Nazi's for refusing Fox News' debate invitations.
Conservative media figures have claimed that the National Labor Relations Board is seeking to ban companies from moving to states with lax labor laws by filing a complaint against Boeing's decision to move the production facility for its new 787 Dreamliner to South Carolina. In fact, the NLRB's general counsel has alleged that Boeing moved its 787 production line in retaliation for strikes by Boeing workers at its Seattle-area plant, which, if proven true, constitutes a clear violation of federal labor laws.