Right-wing media have baselessly speculated for months that Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) was injured in a physical altercation, and now, a Las Vegas man claims to have invented the false rumor to see whether it might become fodder for the conservative media bubble.
In the months that followed, right-wing media ran wild with speculation that Reid was lying about his injuries -- on the March 27 edition of his radio program, Rush Limbaugh claimed Reid was "behaving like somebody who may have been beaten up." Breitbart.com published an "investigation" into Reid's story, going so far as to obtain "a copyrighted digital image" of the model floor plan of Reid's home is based on, and claiming it had "uncovered facts that appear to discredit Reid's version of the home exercise," such as the distance between his shower door and his bathroom cabinets. John Hinderaker, who runs the conservative Powerline blog, helped spearhead the conjecture. Only four days after Reid's injuries were reported, Hinderaker noted that "[s]ome are speculating that he had a run-in with Las Vegas underworld characters," though admitting there "is zero evidence for that." On March 28, Hinderaker asked: "Was the Senate Majority Leader in the pocket of the Mafia? That seems like a question worth exploring."
With the right-wing rumor mill churning, a Las Vegas man has come forward saying he duped the conservative talking heads with phony rumors about Reid. Lawrence Pfeifer told the Las Vegas Sun on April 26 that he "started a false rumor that the injuries suffered by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid several months ago were the result of an attack by Reid's brother ... after becoming appalled that right-wing political blogger John Hinderaker published a rumor that Reid's injuries stemmed from an assault by a Mafia enforcer." Using the name Easton Elliott in his dealings with Hinderaker, "he pitched his fake story about the Reid brothers' supposed fight to Hinderaker, author of the Power Line blog, to test whether the blogger would publish it."
Pfeifer's false story first appeared in an April 3 Powerline post which relayed the account of Easton Elliott. Hinderaker reported that Elliot had seen Reid's brother, Larry Reid at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on New Year's Eve, bloodied and "visibly intoxicated":
Some time between 10:00 and 11:30 p.m., a man entered the meeting. His appearance was striking: there was blood on his clothing, beginning around his midsection. His left hand was swollen. He appeared to be somewhat intoxicated and was visibly agitated. He introduced himself as "Larry."
In a group discussion that was heard by a number of people, Larry said that he had just had a fight with a family member. Larry said he had been at a family get-together, and he didn't remember much about the fight because he had blacked out. When he came to, he was rolling on the ground, fighting with a family member, and his clothes were bloody. Now, he said, he was frightened that the Secret Service would come after him.
Easton Elliott didn't think much more about Larry until, several weeks later, he saw a newspaper story about Larry Reid, Harry Reid's brother, being arrested for DUI and assaulting a highway patrolman. The story was accompanied by a photograph, and Elliott immediately recognized Larry Reid as the "Larry" who had attended the AA meeting on New Year's Eve.
Pfeifer told the Las Vegas Sun that he had included details that "should have been seen as red flags, including that AA allows intoxicated individuals to attend meetings on New Year's Eve and Christmas Eve."
But the tall tale spread quickly through right-wing media. Limbaugh read parts of the Powerline post on his show, saying "Hinderaker can't vouch for it. Neither can I. But if what he says about the AA meeting is accurate, then the inferences seem reasonable ... So, bottom line, somebody attacked Harry Reid on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day." Glenn Beck talked about Elliott's allegations on his radio show, saying that if the details could be verified, "this one I could believe." World Net Daily reported the allegations in a post titled "Was Harry Reid really pummeled by a relative?," while The Gateway Pundit called Reid's brother "the main suspect in his brutal beating." Hinderaker even pushed the rumor when he guest-hosted The Laura Ingraham Show, saying "any normal person who just looks at the photographs that have been released of his face ... the first thing you would say is, that guy got beaten up."
Hinderaker attempted to explain running with the fake rumor in an April 26 post, saying that he never attempted to verify Pfeifer's rumor about Reid and that his "constant theme has been to call for an investigation of what appear to be obviously suspicious circumstances."
Taking their cues from the Drudge Report, right-wing media are echoing a London Telegraph columnist's false claim that scientific agencies intentionally adjusted years of weather station data to show a global warming trend that isn't really there, which the author dubbed the "biggest science scandal ever." But far from being a scandal, historical temperature records are routinely subject to peer-reviewed adjustments to account for changes to measuring instruments, the time of day measurements are taken, and other factors -- and they do not negate a global warming trend.
Charles and David Koch, brothers and the oil barons who are already shaping the 2014 midterm elections according to recently leaked audio recordings, are often portrayed as environmentally responsible advocates of the free-market that are unfairly targeted by Democrats. However, their political influence, which benefits the fossil fuel industry and their own bottom line, is unparalleled.
Republican and conservative media figures lauded a report from CBS' 60 Minutes on the September 2012 Benghazi attacks, using it to advance their attacks on the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton. But that report has since come under fire following the revelation that the piece's key Benghazi "eyewitness" had previously claimed he was nowhere near the compound on the night of the attack.
While Hurricane Irene slammed the East Coast over the weekend, right-wing media responded by criticizing President Obama, claiming that he "politicize[d]" Irene and that his hurricane briefings were nothing more than a "pathetic" "command center photo-op." This comes days after the right-wing media's latest bout of Obama Derangement Syndrome, when they absurdly attacked Obama for being on a golf course when the East Coast earthquake struck.
Following the terrorist attacks in Norway by anti-Muslim fundamentalist Anders Behring Breivik, the right-wing media have leapt to defending their own Islamophobic response to the attacks, often by making absurd claims like calling Breivik a "jihadist."
A few days ago, right-wing blogger John Hinderaker enthusiastically endorsed a "slick" new video released by a group called Senate Accountability Watch attacking Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) for wanting to "regulate your internet use." It features a military family, two video game-playing schlubs, and an elderly woman all using the internet to enrich their lives until a faceless "Al Franken" pushes the huge red "REGULATE INTERNET" button on his desk and shuts off their internet access.
The message of the video is, as Hinderaker puts it, that net neutrality "is a bad idea because it is being promoted by Al Franken," and the implication is that net neutrality legislation would allow government officials to restrict access to the internet (net neutrality is actually aimed at preventing governments and internet service providers from doing that). The message isn't exactly new or compelling, Hinderaker's endorsement notwithstanding. Far more interesting is the brief, sordid history of Senate Accountability Watch -- an organization founded by a controversial Republican operative for the sole purpose of harassing Al Franken.
Senate Accountability Watch was founded in August 2010 by Jeff Larson, a direct marketing tycoon who worked closely with former Sen. Norm Coleman, whom Franken narrowly defeated in the drawn-out 2008 Minnesota Senate election. Larson just recently signed on as the Republican National Committee's chief of staff. In September 2010, Senate Accountability Watch filed a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee over an email Franken's campaign committee sent out promoting Franken's role in supporting net neutrality. Larsen filed another complaint with the Federal Election Committee in December claiming that Franken's PAC and other Democratic groups had violated election laws by accepting donations from a "foreign national," British comedian Eddie Izzard.
Neither complaint succeeded. The Senate Ethics Committee dismissed Larson's allegations, saying they "do not merit further review," and Larson actually petitioned to withdraw his FEC complaint when he learned that Izzard is a legal resident of the United States and thus entitled to make political donations. The FEC later dismissed the complaint.
Senate Accountability Watch's failed ethics complaints are only the most recent of Jeff Larson's political misadventures.
Larson earned a considerable amount of notoriety during the 2000 South Carolina Republican primary when his direct marketing firm, FLS, conducted a series of robocalls on behalf of George W. Bush smearing Sen. John McCain. Eight years later, McCain hired FLS to conduct robocalls tying Barack Obama to William Ayers.
Larson was also at the center of two political controversies in the 2008 election cycle. In June 2008, National Journal revealed that Sen. Norm Coleman had been renting a Capitol Hill apartment from Larson at the extremely low price of $600 per month. Larson was a longtime ally and client of Coleman's; FLS billed the senator for $1.6 million in services going back to 2001. The Washington, DC-based ethics group CREW filed an ethics complaint against Coleman, claiming he had "violated the Senate gifts rule by accepting lodging from Republican operative Jeff Larson."
In October 2008, Larson found himself in the spotlight again when it was revealed that the Republican National Committee had reimbursed him for $130,000 in clothing he purchased for then-vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
Thus far there doesn't seem to be any indication that Larson's anti-net neutrality video will air on television, and it hasn't earned much notice beyond Hinderaker's blog.
And what's so funny is conservatives are utterly blind to the double standard in play here.
As we noted last night, Glenn Beck and others are outraged that some union protesters rallying against budget cuts in Wisconsin are waving signs labeling the state's Republican governor a "dictator."
How dare they??
Now adding to the hit parade of offended observers is conservative John Hinderaker at Powerline. Behold his insight [emphasis added]:
A common theme of the union demonstrators in Madison today was that Governor Walker is a "dictator." This showed up on sign after sign. It sheds light, I think, on how public union members in particular, and liberals in general, think. What is going on here is that the voters of Wisconsin have elected a Republican Governor and--overwhelmingly--a Republican legislature, precisely so that they can get the state's budget under control.
Playing the dictator card "sheds a light" on how liberals think, claims Hinderaker, speaking on behalf of a movement that's been calling Obama a dictator for two years running.
Ironic, dontcha think?
Hinderaker goes on to argue that it's not dictators liberals dislike, it's democracy. Of course, last time I checked Obama was democratically elected. In fact, he won in an electoral landslide. And in 2008, Democrats democratically won control of the House and the Senate. Yet the Obama-hating chorus has been calling the president a dictator for nearly 100 weeks now. So what gives?
On that point, Hinderaker offers no insight. Instead, he just plays dumb.
The right-wing media have seized on a Wikileaks cable to claim the Obama administration "betrayed" the United Kingdom by revealing data to Russia regarding the sale of nuclear material. In fact, the information was passed in compliance with nuclear arms treaties and "with respect to the longstanding pattern of cooperation," as officials in both the U.S. and U.K. governments have confirmed.
Following President Obama's State of the Union address, right-wing media predictably declared his speech speech "boring," "dull," and "flat" -- terms they have consistently used to describe most speeches Obama has given in the past two years.
Fox News has run repeated segments attacking some progressive media figures and politicians for suggesting that political rhetoric from the right inspired the recent tragic shootings in Arizona. In doing so, Fox has whitewashed right-wing media figures who have attempted to describe Loughner as a liberal and pin the shooting on "the left."
Right-wing media figures have called GOP senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell "a bit of a flake," not "qualified as [a] leader," and someone with a "checkered background" who does not "evince the characteristics of rectitude and truthfulness and sincerity and character." Nevertheless, these media figures have endorsed O'Donnell because, in the words of Karl Rove: "I'm for the Republicans in each and every case."
In the run-up to Delaware's Republican Senate primary, conservative media figures noticed that their colleagues are "lazy and unfair" "idiot[s]" and "mouthpieces for the Republican establishment" who engage in "ranting, not serious arguments" and whose commentary consists of "smear tactics," "mischaracterizations," "exaggerated claims," "slander," and "attributing sinister or corrupt motives to those who disagree with them."
Two recently released polls show that an increasing number of Americans believe the falsehood that President Obama is a Muslim. According to the Pew Research Center, 60 percent of people who believe this false claim cite the media as the source of that information -- and, indeed, the right-wing media have incessantly promoted this lie.
Powerline's John Hinderaker (Time's 2004 blog of the year) appears to be trying to set a smears-per-word record with his latest attack on President Obama. In just 310 words of original text, Hinderaker calls the president "post-American" (twice), accuses Obama of having an "above-America persona," of "posturing" as "a citizen of the world who has graced America by condescending to be our President and to instruct us," and says Obama has a "lack of connection to any identifiable Christian tradition" (ignoring, for example, Obama's stated Christianity, daily prayers and frequent Bible-reading, and the fact that he was, you know, baptized.)
Most insidiously, Hinderaker repeatedly suggests that it is reasonable to believe, as many people falsely do, that Obama is Muslim*:
The Pew poll, as reported by the Associated Press, finds confusion about Obama's most basic beliefs:
Americans increasingly are convinced -- incorrectly -- that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, and a growing number are thoroughly confused about his religion.
I love that "incorrectly." The AP has evolved into an opinion machine, so it's rare and a little startling to see it stand up so boldly for a "fact." He's not a Muslim, dammit!
Notice the scare quotes around the word fact? And the mockery of the AP for directly saying Obama is not a Muslim? Hinderaker dropped the subtlety in his conclusion:
We're not sure who he is, exactly, but he certainly isn't one of us. Given the currents that swirl through world events these days, being a Muslim is one interpretation of Obama's exoticism. Those who construe Obama in this way may well be wrong, but it is not hard to understand why they interpret his aloof non-Americanism in this way.
Hateful nonsense like this is far more responsible for the false belief that Obama is Muslim than is Obama's own "exoticism."
* Earlier this year, I explained why suggestions that Obama is Muslim are fairly labeled "smears" despite the fact that being Muslim is not a bad thing:
These complaints of "unseemly" denials are reminiscent of hand-wringing during the 2008 presidential campaign about whether it was appropriate to refer to the false claims that Barack Obama is Muslim as "smears." There is nothing wrong with being Muslim -- but of course those were smears. For one thing, they were false. For another, they falsely portrayed Obama as a liar. That's enough to qualify as a "smear" right there. But you also have to consider the intent, and likely effect, of the claims. Those alleging Obama to be Muslim certainly meant to harm him, and it isn't hard to imagine that they did so. Calling that a smear, then seems perfectly reasonable -- indeed, the claims smeared Muslims, too, as they implied that being Muslim is bad.
UPDATE: Slate's David Weigel neatly summarizes Hinderaker's post: "To be American is to agree with John Hinderaker; to disagree is to be a Muslim."