Media Matters has long noted that the right-wing media is unparalleled in its willingness to throw its weight behind entirely fabricated conspiracies and fake stories. In their world, the Shirley Sherrod controversy was "orchestrated" by the White House to "smear" Andrew Breitbart; the Obama administration deliberately ignored the BP oil spill in order to stop future drilling; and President Obama secretly skipped his daughter's soccer team in order to do... something.
So it should come as no surprise that the right-wing media have turned a controversial program from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) into an elaborate conspiracy directed from the highest reaches of government intended to bolster the case for gun control legislation - even as they acknowledge there is no evidence for this claim.
Last week, the House Oversight Committee held two hearings into the ATF's Project Gunrunner, a division that seeks to halt the flow of firearms to Mexico, and a controversial initiative it began in 2009 called Operation Fast and Furious. According to the committee's report, under Fast and Furious, ATF knowingly allowed guns to be trafficked across the border to Mexico in order to "identify other members of a trafficking network and build a large, complex conspiracy case." Reports indicate that the program may lead to acting ATF director Kenneth Melson's replacement.
But rather than stick to the facts, the right wing has again created an alternate reality. Spokesmen for the National Rifle Association and the Gun Owners of America have used Fox News appearances to declare that what actually happened was a clever plot involving Hillary Clinton and Eric Holder aimed at creating a "river of guns" flowing into Mexico to create "political advantage" and "set the stage for more gun restrictions on the law abiding people in this country."
The right-wing blogosphere has since jumped on the story, but apparently aware of just how far-out all this sounds, they have generally couched the theory in a series of questions or even outward admissions that they have no evidence to support it.
Take Bob Owens, a Pajamas Media blogger who has previously openly discussed armed revolution and written that he hopes that makes Media Matters researchers "feel threatened." This week, Owens has written two articles speculating about whether Fast and Furious was "never designed to succeed as a law enforcement operation at all" and was instead "a PR op for gun control."
In his second piece, Owens writes, "We admittedly do not have any direct evidence of this allegation." That's generally where responsible people decide not to further comment until and unless they actually amass some sort of evidence. But Owens can't do that, you see, because the "circumstantial case... has proven strong enough to have few detractors and raises questions that must be answered."
Right-wing media seized on the leak of an undated, "early working draft" of a proposed transportation authorization bill to suggest that President Obama plans to tax automobile drivers based on how many miles they drive and that the government will use it to spy on their driving habits. But the Obama administration has not embraced such a proposal, and, in any event, such an idea is hardly new or controversial, as House Republicans have passed similar bills.
Looking to buttress their claim that the Environmental Protection Agency's greenhouse gas regulations will do substantial damage to the economy and job growth, Congressional Republicans and conservative media outlets have cited a study of their potential economic effects conducted by Margo Thorning, Chief Economist for the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF).
For instance, the New York Post's Abby Wisse Schachter recently relied heavily on Thorning's analysis to characterize the EPA rules as "an onerous regulation regime that may result in $75 billion drop in capital formation and as many as 1.4 million jobs lost by 2014." ACCF's numbers have also been cited by the Senate Republican Policy Committee, the American Petroleum Institute, the Chamber of Commerce and an Investor's Business Daily op-ed in arguments supporting legislative efforts to prohibit EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. However, the study's conclusions are based on an assumption for which it provides no support.
The ACCF analysis, which Thorning presented to the House Energy and Commerce Committee in February, concludes that "if U.S. capital spending declines by $25 to $75 billion, in 2014 there would be an economy wide job loss of 476,000 to 1,400,000 when direct, indirect and induced effects are included. As a result, GDP would be $47 billion to $141 billion less in 2014." Conservative media outlets that have quoted the study have failed to take note of the word "if" in that sentence. However, the uncertainty underlying the study is important, especially given the fact that Thorning doesn't completely explain the assumptions she uses to get to her estimate of the decline in investment spending (which is in turn used to generate her estimate of job losses.) From Thorning's February testimony [emphasis added]:
When evaluating a prospective investment, business analysts typically add a risk premium to the firm's cost of capital, ranging from 0 to 50% and higher. Assuming that the pending GHG regulations increase the risk premium added to the firm's cost of capital by 30% to 40% and using conservative estimates of the elasticity of investment in response to changes in the cost of capital, it seems likely that U.S. investment could decrease by 5% to 15% over 2011-2014 period compared to the baseline forecast.
"[A] 5% to 15% decline in investment for only the directly affected industries would result in an approximately $25 to $75 billion reduction in investment outlays."
Thorning's testimony directed readers to further details contained in a declaration she submitted to the DC Circuit Court in September in support of a motion to stay the greenhouse gas regulations. But in that declaration, Thorning provides no additional explanation for the assumption that the EPA regulations "increase the risk premium added to the firm's cost of capital by 30% to 40%." From the declaration [emphasis added]:
Right-wing media have recently trivialized or dismissed the potential effects of a federal government shutdown. However, a shutdown could disrupt the economy and many businesses, cause hundreds of thousands of workers to be furloughed, and disrupt numerous public services.
While visiting Brazil this week, President Obama stated at a business summit that the U.S. supports Brazil's efforts to develop the offshore oil discovered there, adding: "When you're ready to start selling, we want to be one of your best customers. At a time when we've been reminded how easily instability in other parts of the world can affect the price of oil, the United States could not be happier with the potential for a new, stable source of energy."
In response, Investor's Business Daily accused Obama of wanting "to increase our dependency on foreign oil," while areas in the U.S. remain off-limits. Fox Nation promoted the IBD editorial with the headline: "Obama Tells Brazil: U.S. Wants to Be Dependent on Foreign Oil":
However, the facts tell quite a different story:
The right-wing media have repeatedly mischaracterized Attorney General Eric Holder's recent reference to "my people" to claim that he is a "black nationalist" or that the Obama Justice Department is motivated by "racial bias." In his statement, Holder actually took issue with the suggestion that a 2008 incident involving the New Black Panther Party was a more "blatant form of voter intimidation" than what occurred in the 1960s; Holder said the suggestion "does a great disservice to people who put their lives on the line, who risked all."
Right-wing media outlets have begun claiming that President Obama has "lost Egypt" due to his reaction to the unrest in that country. But they do not agree on whether Obama lost Egypt because he is too supportive of Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, is not supportive enough, or is doing something else wrong.
The Toronto Sun issued a correction to a column they recently published claiming that George Soros, as a child, "collaborated with the Nazis." This smear has long been popular among conservatives attacking Soros for his support of progressive causes.
Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich recently made news by suggesting that President Obama is engaged in "Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior," but he isn't alone in using the African heritage of Obama's father and grandfather as fuel for ridiculous smears.
Investor's Business Daily editorial, 8/9/10:
[GOP Rep. Tom] Price has good reason to think the Democrats will throw a tantrum on their way out. White House energy and environment adviser Carol Browner said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that an energy bill — likely cap-and-trade — could "potentially" be brought up in a post-election session.
Browner should be reminded that lawmakers are representatives of the people who put them in office. If they are told by voters to back off an agenda, it's their duty to retreat.
Ramming through contentious legislation after they've been asked to leave is not only rude; it also goes against everything their party name is supposed to stand for.
I'm so old, I remember when IBD editorials scoffed at the notion that members of congress in lame-duck sessions should pay attention to election results -- or, as IBD preferred to call them, "popularity contests" and "polls." Here's Investor's Business Daily's November 11, 1998 editorial:
The possibility that the president will be removed from office is now much more remote than it was a week ago. The election seemed to indicate that taking down President Clinton would be politically unpopular. For months, his allies have been saying as much.
The president is not free, though.
Away from the pageantry of our national popularity contests - sometimes called elections - the president's scandals are still a serious matter. The rule of law must not be ignored, many still say.
The elections gave everyone the chance to drop an unpopular process. But parties from both sides are determined to see it through. To them, the rule of law is more important than polls. And for that, they should be commended.
So, to sum up: When IBD wants to impeach a Democratic president against the will of the American people, elections are inconsequential "popularity contests." But when IBD opposes "yet another stimulus," elections are clear expressions of the nation's will that members of Congress have a "duty" to obey.
Conservative media have pushed the dubious claim that the Bush tax cuts were responsible for economic recovery. In fact, economists have stated that the Bush administration's tax policies failed to make the economy grow faster and contributed to a decline in median household income.
Back in April, responding to Bill Clinton's comments that media figures should be careful not to advocate violence, the Washington Examiner's Byron York said that only the "fringes" of the tea party movement are "people who talk about revolution." In order to make this blanket statement, York conveniently ignored Sarah Palin telling the Tea Party convention that "America is ready for another revolution and you are a part of this" and Glenn Beck asserting that "the second American revolution is being played out right now."
Since then, conservative media figures upset with the Obama administration over health care reform, possible immigration reform, and other legislative items they disagree with have apparently become more comfortable with talk of revolt, openly discussing potential "civil war" or a "Second American Revolution."
Glenn Beck has only amped up his rhetoric, insinuating that the administration is intentionally trying to destroy the country and push us towards "civil war," and has even stated outright that he thinks "we're headed for a civil war."
This week, conservative media figures are seizing on an Investor's Business Daily editorial from the weekend that asked in its headline if "Washington's Failures" will "Lead To Second American Revolution." Limbaugh labeled the editorial "amazing" yesterday, adding: "I would not call it a revolution; I'd call it a restoration."
Conservative blogger Bob "Confederate Yankee" Owens -- who was recently hired by the Washington Examiner -- also weighed in on the IBD editorial. In a post titled "A Nation on the Edge of Revolt," Owens discusses how our current Congress has "won in a bloodless coup" and that nations collapse at this point unless "people reform or replace their governments." Owens adds that "reform increasingly seems to be a fleeting option."
While Owens states early in his post that he is not making these statements as "hyperbole," or to "incite violence," he later discusses how "revolution is a brutish nasty business," in which "innocents will fall along with patriots and the corrupt":
Investor's Business Daily columnist Svetlana Kunin attacked Elena Kagan's family and roots in a piece headlined "Elena Kagan And 'The Urge To Alter.' " Kunin noted that Kagan, like Kunin herself had Russian roots, but that Kagan's family left Russia before the Communist revolution. She then attacked Kagan for growing up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan; not having an understanding of the true nature of socialism; having a brother who was involved in radical politics; and writing a college thesis on the socialist movement in the United States.
In the process, Kunin falsely suggested that Kagan embraced socialism in her thesis.
Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is only a decade younger than I. And, judging by her name, I can tell that her grandparents came from the same place I did. Kagan's father was a lawyer, as was mine. My mother was a librarian; Kagan's mother was a teacher. Both families had three children. This, however, is where the similarities end.
Kagan's grandparents most likely left their native land around the time the socialist revolution took place. They emigrated to a country where churches and synagogues existed side by side and where people were allowed to follow their individual pursuits and make profits.
My grandparents and parents lived in a socialist country where people were forced to conform to government dictates in order to survive. God-based religion was eliminated from the public sphere. Churches and synagogues were demolished or converted to other uses.
Kunin later attacks Kagan for writing a thesis on the socialist movement in the United States, having a brother who was involved "in radical causes," and asserts that Kagan "perhaps couldn't relate to Americans who prefer their own life, libert and pursuit of happiness" because she grew up "in the comforts of Manhattan's Upper Westside."
Of course, Kagan did not express personal support for socialism or radicalism in her college thesis. Rather, she explored the historical question of why socialism did not become a major political movement in the United States as it had elsewhere in the world. Specifically, Kagan discussed the rise and fall of socialism in New York City in the early 20th century, with a particular emphasis on why the movement collapsed. Kagan's thesis adviser has said that Kagan has never been a socialist, and one of her college peers described her views in college as "well within the mainstream of the ... sort of liberal, democratic, progressive tradition."
Numerous media outlets seized on a dubious January London Sunday Times report which claimed that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) 2007 statement on Amazon rain forests was "unsubstantiated" and without scientific basis in order to attack the IPCC's credibility and global warming science in general. However, The Sunday Times has now retracted that claim, noting, "In fact, the IPCC's Amazon statement is supported by peer-reviewed scientific evidence." Will these media outlets follow suit?
Media figures have falsely suggested that Vice President Joe Biden admitted the stimulus failed when he said, "There's no possibility to restore 8 million jobs lost in the Great Recession." In fact, the administration said all along that the stimulus would mitigate job losses but that government action alone could not restore all of the jobs lost since December 2007 and that "the private sector needs to do the rest." In addition, private analysts have said the stimulus significantly raised employment over what would have occurred otherwise, and Congressional Budget Office estimates show that the unemployment rate is expected to return to pre-recession levels in the coming years.