Following the arrest of two journalists covering the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, some conservative media figures are attacking the reporters for being insufficiently deferential to police, doing "the opposite of journalism," and trying to make the story about themselves.
Protests in Ferguson are ongoing following an August 9 incident that resulted in a police officer shooting and killing unarmed teenager Michael Brown. On August 13, Huffington Post reporter Ryan J. Reilly and Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery were both detained by police in a Ferguson McDonald's.
Initially, both Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post and I were asked for identification. I was wearing my lanyard, but Ryan asked why he had to show his ID. They didn't press the point, but one added that if we called 911, no one would answer.
Then they walked away. Moments later, the police reemerged, telling us that we had to leave. I pulled my phone out and began recording video.
An officer with a large weapon came up to me and said, "Stop recording."
I said, "Officer, do I not have the right to record you?"
He backed off but told me to hurry up. So I gathered my notebook and pens with one hand while recording him with the other hand.
As I exited, I saw Ryan to my left, having a similar argument with two officers. I recorded him, too, and that angered the officer. As I made my way toward the door, the officers gave me conflicting information.
One instructed me to exit to my left. As I turned left, another officer emerged, blocking my path.
"Go another way," he said.
As I turned, my backpack, which was slung over one shoulder, began to slip. I said, "Officers, let me just gather my bag." As I did, one of them said, "Okay, let's take him."
Multiple officers grabbed me. I tried to turn my back to them to assist them in arresting me. I dropped the things from my hands.
"My hands are behind my back," I said. "I'm not resisting. I'm not resisting." At which point one officer said: "You're resisting. Stop resisting."
While some conservative media figures have been critical of the arrests, others are responding to the incident by lashing out at the reporters and media coverage of the incident.
Right-wing media personalities took victory laps following the Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, in which the Court ruled that closely held corporations cannot be required to provide health coverage for employees that includes contraception if the employer has a religious objection.
Right-wing media have responded to a Supreme Court justice's decision to temporarily block the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) birth control mandate by falsely claiming that abortifacients are included in the coverage required by the health care law.
As the government shutdown loomed and then became a reality, right-wing media figures have called for maintained Republican commitment to keeping the government closed until Democrats agree to significant changes to the Affordable Care Act.
Fox News and other media outlets in recent weeks have aggressively tried to revive the claim that President Obama's Affordable Care Act (ACA) includes "death panels," a myth that has been repeatedly debunked and is undermined by the law itself.
Members of conservative media are trumpeting a government report indicating that gun homicides have fallen as proof that the need for stronger gun laws is unwarranted, while ignoring multiple factors that could account for the decrease. At the same time, firearm violence continues to be a problem as firearm homicides have fallen less than serious violent crime in general and the rate of gun violence in the United States still far outpaces other high-income nations.
In a May report, the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) indicated that the number of gun homicides fell 39 percent from 18,253 in 1993 to 11,101 in 2011. The Pew Research Center adjusted the figures to represent per capita rates in its report on the BJS data, finding that the incidence of firearm homicide has fallen 49 percent during that time period.
Right-wing media have quickly seized upon this data to dismiss the need for stronger gun laws. According to the National Review Online's Charles C. W. Cooke, the BJS and Pew reports make "embarrassing reading for those who spend their time trying to make it appear as if America is in the middle of a gun-crime wave." John Nolte of Brietbart.com wrote, "This report not only proves the media wrong, it proves the NRA right." Conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin wrote that the reports represent "rotten data for anti-gun advocates trying to revive the Newtown, Conn., anti-gun legislative package." Townhall's Katie Pavlich, who is also a contributor at Fox News, added, "Once again more guns do in fact equal less crime."
But there is no logic to their arguments that data from the reports constitutes evidence against proposals to strengthen gun laws. Gun availability has been repeatedly linked to higher incidence of firearm homicides, and firearms remain the driving factor of homicides, with 70 percent of murders involving guns. According to an October 2012 report from BJS, the rate of serious violent crime declined 75 percent between 1993 and 2011, meaning that gun homicides are declining at a slower pace than overall crime.
Other factors may help explain the fall of gun crime since the early 1990s including reductions in lead levels, the end of the crack epidemic, advances in medicine that allow more gunshot victims to survive their wounds, and a declining rate of gun ownership.
On February 7, Breitbart.com's Ben Shapiro reported that Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel (according to "Senate sources") received money from a group called "Friends of Hamas." The report spread quickly through the conservative media as damning of Hagel, until Dave Weigel at Slate.com pointed out a salient fact -- there's no evidence that "Friends of Hamas" exists. Now, New York Daily News reporter Dan Friedman is claiming that a joke he shared with a GOP source is the provenance of "Friends of Hamas." In response to their story falling apart, Shapiro and Breitbart.com -- who angrily and self-righteously demand accountability from the rest of the media for every slip-up, real or imagined -- are lashing out and refusing to accept responsibility for publishing a report based on a falsehood.
Before getting into Shapiro's defense of himself for running with the "Friends of Hamas" rumor, it's worth looking at how Breitbart.com treats other media outlets that print stories that end up being untrue. A couple of weeks ago, Washington Post blogger Suzi Parker reported that Sarah Palin, newly free of her Fox News contract, had signed on with Al Jazeera. The story was not true: Parker had picked it up from the Daily Currant, a parody news site, and the Post issued a correction. Breitbart.com's John Nolte ripped into Parker in a February 12 post, letting fly with a barrage of sexist invective ("isn't she precious?") and slamming her journalistic acumen:
But never one to let facts get in the way of a good Narrative, the "we-meant-to-do-that" Post merely added a correction, changed the headline to "Sarah Palin tries to stay relevant," scrubbed the Al-Jazeera references (the original post can be read here), and still ripped Palin for, uhm, being so desperate to stay relevant.
If Parker had a shred of self-awareness, integrity, and dignity, she would have changed the headline to "Too Good To Check," and under it posted an essay about how shallow, smug, bitterly angry partisanship can blind you to common sense.
But that would require having a soul to search.
Nolte was back at it a few days later, demanding that Post media writer Erik Wemple investigate the Parker-Palin screw-up and attacking the Post's "too good to check" mentality:
If Suzi Parker had the power to publish on her own, it's understandable that someone so bitter and joyless could believe what she so desperately wants to believe. But thanks to the Post's own ombudsmen, we now know a Post editor also fell into "too good to check" mode.
Because Parker and this editor obviously didn't know the Daily Currant is a parody site, that means they published a story based on information from a site with which they were unfamiliar. How did that happen? Who was the editor? Has any disciplinary action been taken?
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney threw his right-wing media cheerleaders under the bus when he stated that his comments about 47 percent of Americans were "completely wrong." Prior to this statement, the right-wing media had embraced Romney's comments and even encouraged them to be used on the campaign trail.
Some conservative media figures are praising Clint Eastwood's performance from the final night of the Republican National Convention, in which the actor spoke to an empty chair representing President Obama. Eastwood rambled on at length, engaging in an awkward, one-person back and forth with the imaginary president that was meant to critique Obama's policy record.
Politico reported that "the Romney family seemed less than thrilled when the camera panned to them" during Eastwood's "disjointed moment." The Washington Post said Eastwood's performance "looked bizarre on the television screen." The New York Times spoke to Romney aides, who anonymously described the performance as "strange, " "weird," and "theater of the absurd."
In an attempt to shield Mitt Romney's campaign from criticism that many of its claims against the Obama administration are based on falsehoods, conservative media have resorted to attacking fact-checkers, accusing them of liberal bias or of "shilling" for the Obama campaign. This is in keeping with the position of the Romney campaign, which has said, "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers."
One of the animating principles of the right-wing blogosphere is that the mainstream media are composed almost entirely of snooty liberals who work in concert to promote progressive interests, elect Democratic officials, and suppress conservative thought.
It's a useful trope, in that it angries up the faithful and provides a convenient scapegoat for when the American public rejects conservative policies and/or politicians. However, it often butts up against the reality of a disjointed and hypercompetitive media landscape in which pageviews, not ideology, rule the day -- which itself is broken up into segments that must be "won."
Thus, when the press start reporting on something like the Obama administration's loan guarantees to the failed solar company Solyndra in ways that do not reflect well on the administration, the adherents of the "liberal media bias" theory have to somehow square the circle.
Enter Breitbart footsoldier John Nolte, who argues that the press are only reporting on Solyndra because we're too far from the election for the story to matter:
For now, these media reports might help to drag Barack Obama down into the thirties approval-wise, but we're only in the middle of the second act of The One's political story which means plenty of time remains for the thrilling 2012 comeback climax the MSM is most certainly crafting this very day.
You see, there's no mustache-twisting villain yet. Republicans haven't chosen a front-runner. But once the Right has a standard-bearer, the MSM will have their target -- their villain -- and Solyndra, the rise in poverty, chronic unemployment and even a second Great Recession will disappear from media-memory like last week's thrilling chapter of "The Perils of The One!"
Nolte also posits that the media are collectively "looking for cover," meaning that when Nolte and his comrades inevitably accuse them of bias sometime down the road they can hold up Solyndra as evidence of balance:
In the future, when the breathtaking bias they've shown these last few years is thrown in their smug faces, they'll attempt to defend their corruption by pointing to Solyndra in the same way they once pointed to their heavy coverage of Whitewater, which also hit its peak -- wait for it, wait for it -- when it didn't matter.
So the media aren't just liberal: they're diabolically liberal. Also, the Whitewater press frenzy set the table for the Clinton impeachment, which kinda undermines the idea that it ultimately "didn't matter."
The kind of mental gymnastics required to arrive at this explanation are pretty remarkable, and Nolte's theory does less to explain media behavior than the degree to which cynicism born from the "liberal media bias" canard has become inextricably woven into the modern conservative identity.
Today's featured story on Andrew Breitbart's BigGovernment website offers a misguided and deceptive take on the upcoming April 5th Wisconsin Supreme Court election which may determine the final makeup of the court that will decide the fate of Governor Walker's controversial bill to eliminate most of the collective bargaining rights enjoyed by Wisconsin public sector employees. And it openly roots for corporate money to flood the election.
The premise of the post -- written by John Nolte, editor-in-chief of another Breitbart site, BigHollywood -- is that, if the more progressive candidate wins the election, the Wisconsin judiciary might "overturn an election." From the post:
Regardless of your political persuasion, any intellectually honest individual understands that the government requiring an individual purchase something is exactly why our founders created a judicial branch. That's what they're there for. What they're not there for, however, is to use judicial fiat to overturn an election. But that is exactly what the Left in Wisconsin is counting on happening just a few days from now on April 5th. [Biggovernment.com, 3/27/11, emphasis added].
This is outright false, of course. No one is suggesting that the Wisconsin Supreme Court will interfere in an election like the U.S. Supreme Court did when it selected George W. Bush to be president. Nolte argues that if the Wisconsin Supreme Court affirms a lower court decision that the procedure used to pass the collective bargaining bill likely violated a Wisconsin statute, that would overturn an election.
What's particularly strange about this is that Nolte thinks that, in contrast with what might happen in Wisconsin, two lower court decisions deciding that part of the health care reform law is unconstitutional would not overturn the election and is perfectly legitimate. Nolte write: "ObamaCare -- a real federal law requiring every American purchase health insurance -- is also a constitutional issue. Regardless of your political persuasion, any intellectually honest individual understands that the government requiring an individual purchase something is exactly why our founders created a judicial branch."
But if the judiciary overturns an election when it strikes down a law that was a centerpiece of a winning candidate's platform, Nolte has this entirely backwards.
In a post today on Andrew Breitbart's BigHollywood, editor in chief John Nolte writes of "9/11 Truther James Brolin": "For those of you who don't know, James Brolin's Indian name is Creepy Truther Who Mocks 9/11 ... And here [sic] here's Creepy Truther Who Mocks 9/11 referring the 'View' audience to a Creepy Truther website, which I'm sure fellow Creepy Truther, Rosie - fire can't melt steel - O'Donnell, bookmarked immediately."
Appearing on the radio program Deadline Live in February 2007, Michael Moriarty, who played assistant district attorney Ben Stone on Law and Order, was asked by host Jack Blood if he believes "that 9-11 had fingerprints of [an] inside job." Moriarty responded with his "theory" that before 9-11, President "Bush talked to the Bin Laden family in Riyadh" and said he needed "probable cause" to invade Iraq; the "Bin Ladens," in turn, told Bush that "we'll give you probable cause." When asked if he had any doubt that the Oklahoma City bombing was an "inside job," Moriarty replied: "None! There were two seismic reports of explosions, there were no federal -- there were no children of federal employees in the building at the time in the daycare center, and the ATF were nowhere to be found."
In 2007, Blood issued a press release about Moriarty's appearance headlined "Michael Morarty, Emmy/Tony Award Winning Actor says OKC and 9/11 are 'Inside Jobs,'" which was subsequently posted to several 9-11 Truth websites.
"Creepy Truther" Moriarty's last post for Nolte and Breitbart -- about the "New World Order" -- was the site's "featured" post. Then again, consistency on conspiracy theories has never been a strong point for Breitbart's "Big" websites.