Some conservative media pundits suggested 2016 presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) may have disqualified himself from the presidency after his opposition to the National Security Agency's bulk phone collections program caused parts of the PATRIOT Act to lapse.
Media are hyping claims that Carly Fiorina's 2016 bid for the GOP presidential nomination renders the Republican "war on women" neutral -- because both parties now have women running for office -- dismissing how Fiorina's policy positions would harm women.
The Clinton Foundation returned to the headlines this week and once again the topic was promoted with lots of media hand-wringing. The problem is, it's not always clear journalists understand what the foundation does. At least it's not clear based on the media coverage.
The news this week came from a Wall Street Journal article reporting that once Hillary Clinton left her job as secretary of state, the Clinton Foundation lifted its ban on donations from foreign governments. The ban was reportedly first put in place at the request of the Obama administration, which wanted to alleviate any possible conflicts of interest with its new secretary of state. When Clinton became a private citizen again in 2013, the foundation once again accepted money from foreign governments.
"A spokesman for the Clinton Foundation said the charity has a need to raise money for its many projects," the Journal reported.
The Journal article stressed that some ethics experts thought it was bad form for the foundation to accept foreign donations because Hillary Clinton is expected to run for president. The following day, Republican partisans piled on, insisting Hillary herself had accepted "truckloads of cash from other countries." (She had not; the foundation had.) The Beltway press largely echoed the Republican spin and lampooned the foundation's move.
Did the original Journal article raise an interesting question? It did. If and when Hillary formally announces her candidacy, will the foundation have to revisit its position on accepting foreign government donations? It likely will. But the only way the story really worked as advertised this week was to casually conflate the Clinton Foundation, a remarkably successful global charity organization, with Hillary's looming campaign coffers, and to suggest everyone who's giving to the foundation is really giving to her presidential campaign.
In order to make that allegation stick, Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post simply suggested there's no difference between a global charity and "a PAC or campaign entity." (That kind of changes everything.)
The only way the story gained traction, and this has been true of Clinton foundation coverage for years, was for journalists to pretend the foundation isn't actually a ground-breaking charity, in order to make vague suggestions that it's one big Clinton slush fund where money gets "funneled." ("Money, Money, Money, Money, MONEY!" was the headline for Maureen Dowd's scathing New York Times attack column about the foundation in 2013.)
Traveling overseas last week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, currently surging in Republican primary polls, stepped into trouble when he was asked if he accepts the theory of evolution. "I am going to punt on that one," said Walker, instantly creating news. "That's a question a politician shouldn't be involved in one way or another. I am going to leave that up to you."
Coming just days after likely White House hopefuls New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) stumbled badly over the issue of vaccinations, and at a time when many leading Republican leaders deny the reailty on climate change, Walker's evolution slip-up highlighted the party's penchant for getting tangled up in fights over science. And not just he latest scientific discoveries, but long-settled science.
Shifting into damage control mode in the wake of the "punt," the conservative press swooped in, established a secure perimeter around Walker and announced, 'No more evolution questions!' They're "silly," "ridiculous," "nonsense," "not serious" queries, came the angry proclamations.
"The Hazing of Scott Walker," lamented the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto.
The hand wringing sprang up overnight as partisan defenders announced that asking a possible candidate about his or her acceptance of evolution was suddenly Completely Out Of Bounds and represented a Deeply Offensive Inquiry. The goal? "Conservatives want to change what questions are acceptable and natural for reporters to ask," noted Bloomberg's David Weigel.
In other words, they're trying to work the refs at the outset of the campaign season.
But conservatives may have a tough time pushing reporters off the evolution questions simply because politicians, and specifically presidential candidates from both parties, have been asked about evolution for years and nobody seemed to mind. But suddenly it's Katie bar the door? Suddenly it's all an elaborate trap journalists have set for Republicans?
It is according to Fox News' George Will. On February 12, he conceded, "We should be able to come to terms with the fact when asked about evolution you say yes." But Will harrumphed that questions about evolution are "a standard way of trying to embarrass Republicans." (Isn't it only embarrassing if Republicans are embarrassed by their own answers?)
In truth, Walker's evolution query was actually the opposite of a trick, or gotcha, question. The governor wasn't pressed on the spot to make a tricky math calculation or to comment on an obscure scientific theory. He was simply asked to acknowledge a firmly-established scientific fact. What could be easier, when you think about it?
As Mitt Romney is reportedly considering a third presidential run, several conservative media figures are calling foul, labeling the idea "too stupid" and suggesting another Romney bid would be "preposterous."
After repeatedly claiming he was done with running for president, last Friday Romney apparently reversed course, telling a group of Republican donors in New York City, "I want to be president." Since then, Romney's team has reportedly been working "to reassemble his national political network."
As part of his efforts to kickstart another run, Romney reportedly reached out to several conservative media figures.
According to The Washington Post, he recently invited Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham to his ski home to discuss "politics and policy," and also made phone calls to CNN analyst Newt Gingrich and Fox News contributor Scott Brown. In a subsequent appearance on The O'Reilly Factor, Ingraham initially told viewers that between Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Romney, her support would "probably be a tie between Romney and Walker." Pressed by O'Reilly, she added, "I'll just say Romney because he's been through the grist mill before." (Ingraham explained that Romney had made her and her daughter "cocoa and soup" when she visited his ski house.)
During an appearance on Fox News' Your World, Brown said that when Romney recently called him, "I encouraged Mitt to run." Brown told Fox News viewers that Romney "was right" on a variety of issues and that he "absolutely" wants Romney to join the race.
But not everyone in the conservative movement is as supportive.
In an article for the New York Times, reporter Jonathan Martin writes that despite the "excitement among his loyalists in the Republican donor class" for another Romney run, "interviews with more than two dozen Republican activists, elected officials and contributors around the country reveal little appetite for another Romney candidacy."
Romney also faces a hurdle in several prominent conservative media figures and outlets that are less than enthusiastic about the idea of another Romney run.
After a long period of dishonestly flacking for Mitt Romney, Washington Post conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin appears to have given up on him and is urging him not to run for president a third time.
In two recent blog posts, Rubin reacts negatively to the news that Romney is considering running for president in 2016. She writes that "another Romney run is preposterous" and that Romney donors and advisers pushing for a run "might want to rethink what they are doing."
As New York's Jonathan Chait points out, "Jennifer Rubin, the political commentator most consistently loyal to Romney in the last cycle, has turned against him."
During the 2012 campaign, nobody stuck by Romney like Rubin.
She hailed Romney's convention speech as proof "he can rise to an occasion," said he was "more forthcoming on immigration" than President Obama and described Romney's campaign team as "skilled." She said the presidential debates "recast the race and vaulted Mitt Romney into a position to win the race."
Of course, when the campaign was over and Romney had lost, Rubin wrote a post that revealed she knew how dishonest she had been all along, admitting that the "convention speech was a huge missed opportunity," describing the communications team as "the worst of any presidential campaign I have ever seen" and that Romney needed "more than a good month" on the campaign trail "to be successful."
Rubin appears to be positioning herself to be a booster for former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who announced that he is exploring a presidential run. Rubin said "Bush's experience and inside knowledge of his father's and brother's campaigns may be an unappreciated asset" and described a Spanish-language video on his PAC's website as "quintessential Bush -- upbeat, policy-oriented and, yes, conservative."
Considering her track record with Romney, how can we believe what she's saying now?
After President Obama repeated the assessment of James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, of the intelligence community's initial view on the threat posed by the Islamic State, media are accusing Obama of "throwing the intelligence community under the bus."
Media are attacking Hillary Clinton as "out of touch" after she noted that she worked to pay off millions in legal debt by accepting speaking engagements. But Clinton's speaking income is consistent with other high-profile politicians, and she has long supported efforts to reduce poverty and income inequality.
Right-wing media are working to muddy the significant legal distinction between religious, nonprofit corporations and secular, for-profit corporations in response to recent Supreme Court arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, in which Hobby Lobby argues that secular, for-profit corporations should receive an unprecedented religious exemption from the Affordable Care Act's "contraception mandate."
Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin falsely claimed an Obama administration push to expand opportunities for young men of color was unconstitutional and discriminatory, comparing it to the failed Arizona "Jim Crow" bill which would have allowed businesses to discriminate against gay couples.
President Obama announced on February 27 a $200 million, five-year initiative called "My Brother's Keeper," which intends to expand opportunities for young, at-risk men of color, ensuring they have access to health, nutrition, high-quality early education, and job opportunities, while partnering with police and local communities to reduce violence. The president will sign an order establishing an interagency task force to assess existing federal programs and recommend areas which can be expanded and improved upon, but as The New York Times reported, the initiative will rely "little on the government," and instead will largely come from the business community and nonprofits.
In her Post blog the following day, Rubin falsely characterized this push as a "federal program" which would discriminate against white men, claiming it was potentially unconstitutional and attacking the administration for using "victimhood as a political weapon" to divide the country:
The problem with hyping gender and racial differences is not simply the increased resentment and divisiveness it creates but also that it uses victimhood as a political weapon. Pretty soon words like "discrimination" lose meaning. It seems you are either for an inclusive society -- devoted to diminishing racial, ethnic, religious and other distinctions -- or you're not.
Like the Arizona anti-gay law, no good can come from a program that divides up the population by these categories.
The proposed Arizona legislation, which failed this week after Republican Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the measure because it could result in "negative consequences," would have allowed businesses to deny service to gay people on religious grounds. The bill was so extreme that even multiple Fox News personalities compared it to Jim Crow laws in the racist South, noting it was "profoundly unconstitutional" and "potentially dangerous."
My Brother's Keeper, on the other hand, is not a law which could codify segregation and endorse impermissibly discriminatory practices. In fact, Rubin's criticism of the program as "flat-out unconstitutional" manages to mangle both her source and constitutional law. Rubin exaggerated a National Review Online blog, which was far more careful than her description conveyed -- likely in recognition of the fact that race-conscious law is not and has never been automatically illegal. If state action uses race as a criteria and someone sues, a court must first carefully scrutinize the government's reasons and only then decide whether the program is constitutional. It's not even clear that the government "task force" for this partnership controls the funding and administration of these private programs, making the reference to its constitutionality and the Fourteenth Amendment likely irrelevant.
Despite Rubin's fear mongering about a discriminatory society, My Brother's Keeper merely seeks to improve opportunities for young Americans -- Americans who have historically been the victims of discrimination. As the Times reported, the president's inspiration for the initiative came from the national conversation about race, and the statistical reality that young black men are still disadvantaged in this country:
Mr. Obama said the idea for My Brother's Keeper occurred to him in the aftermath of the killing of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager whose death two years ago sparked a roiling national debate about race and class. He called the challenge of ensuring success for young men of color a "moral issue for our country" as he ticked off the statistics: black boys who are more likely to be suspended from school, less likely to be able to read, and almost certain to encounter the criminal justice system as either a perpetrator or a victim.
"We just assume this is an inevitable part of American life, instead of the outrage that it is," Mr. Obama told an audience of business leaders, politicians, philanthropists, young black men from a Chicago support program, and Mr. Martin's parents. "It's like a cultural backdrop for us in movies, in television. We just assume, of course it's going to be like that."
"These statistics should break our hearts," he added. "And they should compel us to act."
According to Washington Post conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin, the Democrats are doomed.
That's the takeaway from the 650-word piece Rubin published yesterday under the headline, "The Democrats' demise." According to Rubin, the "far right has fallen on hard times" while the Democratic Party "as a political force" is "spent" and "surviving precariously on the potential for wacky opponents and fading star power." By her telling, the time is ripe for "the mainstream Republican Party" -- ie, people Rubin supports -- to "reestablish itself as the responsible party of reform."
This is Jennifer Rubin's shtick -- her political allies are always on the rise, and her political enemies are always on the run (a week before the 2012 election Rubin wrote that it was "possible" that Obama could lose Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota). The fundamental flaw in her latest rosy assessment of the GOP's prospects - which she of course does not address -- is the overwhelming, near-historic unpopularity of the Republican Party.
Right-wing media outlets are falsely claiming that workers voluntarily reducing hours due to provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is evidence that the law is harmful to the economy, ignoring economists' opinions about its role in reducing economic insecurity.
An inaccurate new media narrative claims that while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie answered extensive questions about his role in a scandal plaguing his administration, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has yet to face questions regarding the September 2012 attacks on a diplomatic facility in Benghazi. In fact, Clinton has repeatedly addressed the Benghazi attacks, including answering 150 questions during a five hour congressional hearing on the attacks.
In an effort to control the political damage stemming from scandals plaguing his administration, Christie held a nearly two hour long press conference with state and national media to answer questions regarding his aides' involvement in the politically-motivated closing of lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge
Following Christie's press conference, conservative media pivoted from Christie's scandal to attack Clinton, claiming that she had never addressed Benghazi in the same way.
On January 19, The Boston Globe's Joan Vennochi wrote, "If New Jersey Governor Chris Christie must answer for four days of traffic jams on roads leading to the George Washington Bridge; surely Clinton has the same obligation to address a deadly assault that the bipartisan committee found 'preventable.' " In a January 22 piece, conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin complained that Christie was receiving undue scrutiny while Clinton received very little attention in the "mainstream media" and had not had to endure a "two-hour bearing-of-the-soul press conference," as Christie did:
No car company would dare manufacture a car with as vast a blind spot as that which plagues the pro-Hillary Clinton mainstream media.
There is no interest and never has been in investigating how she missed the infiltration of jihadis into Benghazi, Libya. No curiosity simmers about how she could have been unaware of the dire security situation that her ambassador faced. Accountability? Confession? No two-hour bearing-of-the-soul press conferences are needed. Benghazi was not at her level. No responsibility, no culture of cover-up. None.
TAPPER: Christie, it's also the nature of Christie to go out there and give a two-hour plus press conference and answer all those questions, although he has laid low since then. But still, that was one of the longest press conferences in modern American politics. Hillary Clinton was on her way out, and you know, I can't tackle her. I haven't had a chance to interview her since Benghazi happened. I don't even know, has she done interviews? I think she did some interviews on her way out.
HEWITT: It's a pretty stark contrast, isn't it, between Christie's two hour longest day press conference and Hillary hiding?
TAPPER: So a big contrast between Christie's press conference and most politicians in scandals, but certainly, of course what you've said is right. I mean, most politicians don't then go out there and give two hour press conferences. John McCain did like a 90 minute one after Keating Five.
But Clinton has faced questions from both the media and members of Congress about her role as Secretary of State during the attacks in Benghazi. As Tapper alluded, in a February 2013 interview with the Associated Press, Clinton confronted those critical of her actions during the attacks. She also testified for five hours in front of hostile Senate and House committee members -- testimony that was covered extensively in the press. The Huffington Post pointed out that during her testimony Clinton faced almost 150 questions from Democrats and Republicans:
At the Jan. 23 hearings before two congressional panels, Clinton faced some 150 questions from 48 House and Senate members, split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Nearly half of those queries fit into a small handful of broad categories: What happened to memos or other warnings about the security situation before the attack? -- 25 questions, from 10 different lawmakers. Why had the administration put a mission in Benghazi in the first place? -- 20 questions, from 10 lawmakers. When exactly did the administration know that the Libya attack was terrorism and not part of a broader regional protest about the video? -- 22 questions, from eight lawmakers. (The repetition of questions did not produce notably different answers from Clinton.)
Nearly every question was asked more than once. Many were packed together in a tight bundle, as part of the legislator's opening remarks.
In a rational world, that would settle the dispute over Benghazi, which has further poisoned the poisonous political discourse in Washington and kept Republicans and Democrats from working cooperatively on myriad challenges, including how best to help Libyans stabilize their country and build a democracy. But Republicans long ago abandoned common sense and good judgment in pursuit of conspiracy-mongering and an obsessive effort to discredit President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who may run for president in 2016.
This new narrative continues the right-wing media's campaign to distract from the ongoing scandals plaguing Christie's administration by pivoting to Benghazi -- for Fox News in particular, the Christie scandals have been all about Benghazi. But the repeated collapse of these narratives demonstrates why traditional media should not get fooled by another Benghazi Hoax.
If you are a woman, you no longer have the same rights you had 41 years ago.
January 22 is the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, in which the court ruled that women have a constitutional right to choose to have an abortion.
But in the intervening decades, that right has largely disappeared, a process helped by media outlets that have misinformed on these safe and legal health procedures.
Thanks to Supreme Court rulings that came after Roe, states are now free to regulate and restrict abortion so long as new laws do not impose an "undue burden" on a woman's right to choose. But state legislatures are currently testing what qualifies as an undue burden, and in 2013 alone 70 different anti-choice restrictions were adopted in 22 states across the U.S. In fact, according to the Guttmacher Institute, more abortion restrictions have been enacted in the past three years than in the entire previous decade.
In December, Ian Millhiser and Tara Culp-Ressler published a thoughtful piece about this process at ThinkProgress headlined, "The Greatest Trick The Supreme Court Ever Pulled Was Convincing The World Roe v. Wade Still Exists." They argued that while a woman's right to choose an abortion is still ostensibly covered by the constitution, the reality is that right is increasingly restricted to just wealthy women who happen to live in (or are able to travel to) one of the few states that will still permit them the opportunity to exercise that right.
This sustained attack on women's rights is fast becoming a key issue for politicians in the 2014 midterms. But the media have also played a sizeable role in this process, contributing to the vanishing power of Roe by allowing anti-choicers to control the conversation.
This past weekend on Meet the Press, David Gregory offered up a tough question for Rudy Giuliani after the former New York City mayor tried to deflect attention from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's bridge scandal by pointing to the now-deflated allegations that the IRS had mishandled the non-profit applications of conservative groups. "I think it's fair to point out that for those who have raised that issue, what they said is the culture was created by President Obama for this kind of abuse to have occurred," said Gregory of the IRS story. "That link has never been proven or established. But if that's your standard, then isn't Governor Christie accountable for creating a culture where this kind of abuse could've occurred and been ordered by top lieutenants?"
As Gregory noted, conservatives spent months claiming that while no evidence links President Obama or the White House to improper IRS actions, the president was nonetheless culpable because the agency's bureaucrats agents were subconsciously responding to Obama's anti-Tea Party rhetoric by going after his political enemies. This "Bureaucrat Whispering" theory never made much sense, and was largely rendered moot after the IRS "scandal" largely fell apart.
As Gregory points out, intellectual honesty should lead the proponents of the IRS Bureaucrat Whispering theory to grapple with the possibility that Christie, whose pattern of bullying and abuse of power is well-known, created a culture in which his top aides and appointees felt comfortable creating a four-day traffic jam as a means of political retribution. But that hasn't happened.
In reality, responses to the Christie scandal from the advocates of the Bureaucrat Whispering theory include Fox News contributor Erick Erickson minimizing the bridge story as "routine hardball politics" and claiming that the "only difference is that Christie's staff put it in emails, which was not smart." Meanwhile, Washington Post writer Jennifer Rubin has pretended Christie's bullying reputation is an invention of the media.
And then there's Kimberley Strassel.
The Wall Street Journal columnist and editorial board member wrote at least three separate columns last year explaining how the White House was "involved in the IRS's targeting of conservatives" because President Obama's Tea Party criticisms created an "environment in which the IRS thought this was acceptable." According to Strassel:
President Obama and Co. are in full deniability mode, noting that the IRS is an "independent" agency and that they knew nothing about its abuse. The media and Congress are sleuthing for some hint that Mr. Obama picked up the phone and sicced the tax dogs on his enemies.
But that's not how things work in post-Watergate Washington. Mr. Obama didn't need to pick up the phone. All he needed to do was exactly what he did do, in full view, for three years: Publicly suggest that conservative political groups were engaged in nefarious deeds; publicly call out by name political opponents whom he'd like to see harassed; and publicly have his party pressure the IRS to take action.
After spending thousands of words discussing how President Obama's speeches trickled-down to IRS bureaucrats and impelled their actions, here's Strassel's sole mention at the Journal of Christie's aides ordering political retribution, from her January 16 column: "And now back to our previously scheduled outrage over the Chris Christie administration's abuse of traffic cones on the George Washington Bridge."
The comment came, of course, in the middle of a piece otherwise dedicated to trumping up a new IRS scandal.
Strassel addressed the Christie story in greater detail on the Journal's weekly Fox News program. But when Journal editorial editor Paul Gigot asked her on January 12 whether the story demonstrates "a culture of payback," in Christie's administration, she blamed the inherent corrupt political environment of the state, not the state's governor.
GIGOT: But, Kim, are there any lessons here we can take away about Gov. Christie's management style? Is there really possibly a culture of payback, a thin-skinned attitude on his staff? "You cross us, we're going to go after you"? And is that a message you want to take to a campaign in 2016?
STRASSEL: Look, New Jersey is a rough place to play politics. One of the things we haven't mentioned here is: Does it really surprise anybody that this happened in New Jersey? And, yes, there probably are members of his staff that come out of that New Jersey political environment and do have that approach. I think what voters, however, are going to look at is his argument that he is a straight shooter and he handles problems when they come up. And that's what he tried to do this week. And that's the message he'll take when he goes out.
Strassel isn't the only conservative running from the Bureaucrat Whispering charge now that it risks damaging one of their own. "That's a very, very ambiguous and amorphous charge that the culture created it. My goodness, you know, things go wrong in every administration," Giuliani explained on Meet The Press. "People would do things. They thought I wanted it. I didn't. I had to straighten it out. I'd have to say, 'I don't want it.'"