Right-wing media personalities have incessantly attacked President Obama's six previous State of the Union addresses -- from calling the speeches "boring" to questioning his decision to invite a wounded veteran to the event -- and have even frequently waged the attacks before the addresses even occurred. Ahead of Obama's January 12 State of the Union address, Media Matters looks back at conservative media's long history of attacking annual addresses.
Before President Obama made his first official State of the Union address on January 27, 2010, right-wing media pundits called the speech "stupid" "propaganda." Fox host Sean Hannity repeatedly referred to the upcoming speech as "propaganda," and former Fox host Glenn Beck told his viewers "you don't even have to watch this stupid speech tonight. I'll watch it for you so you don't have to." Beck added, "I want to hang myself over watching this." Fox Business' John Stossel asked Obama to use the address to apologize for being "arrogant." After his speech, media personalities criticized Obama, and claimed he didn't show enough humility. Stossel said Obama "certainly didn't sound humbled," and only a few minutes into the address, National Review's John Hood criticized Obama's "cadence and rhythm" for coming "across as flippant and arrogant." The talking point wasn't anything new -- frequent Fox guest Ben Stein had predicted that "we'll see Obama with his fake modesty and his fake humility" before the speech took place. Once again, Glenn Beck joined the chorus: "the arrogance from the moment this guy walked in, the arrogance -- there's no humility there."
President Obama made his second State of the Union address on January 25, 2011, and the media predicted it would focus on theatrics instead of substance. Rush Limbaugh directed his listeners to watch a Golf Channel show he appeared in instead of the address, predicting that Obama would "lie for an hour and fifteen minutes." On Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade questioned whether Obama would be sincere, suggesting that the president was merely trying "to make sure he gets re-elected." After the speech, Limbaugh continued to attack Obama's sincerity, saying Obama "just doesn't believe" the "pro-America rah-rah" featured in the speech and suggesting that the speech was plagiarized. Fox & Friends' recap of the debate called the speech "boring."
Continuing their tradition of attacking Obama prior to the address, Fox News hosts criticized the focus on economic security and income equality. On Fox & Friends Kilmeade said that Obama would "bring up the class warfare stuff," while co-host Steve Doocy forcasted that it would "ignite the whole class warfare thing." Co-host of Fox's The Five , Andrea Tantaros predicted the address would be a "very divisive, very evil speech" that is "designed to get people in the audience who are sitting home on their duffs ... angry at their neighbors who are actually going out, who are working hard."
After the address, right-wing media largely continued their "class warfare" narrative. Fox's Doocy doubled down against Obama's focus on income inequality, saying that his comments regarding billionaires paying the same percentage of taxes as their secretaries were intended "to kick off his class warfare campaign." Fox Business' Dave Ramsey even claimed Obama "declared war on success in the name of this class warfare politics."
After President Obama's February 12, 2013 State of the Union Speech, right-wing radio host Mark Levin accused Obama of "lying to the American people" in a "Castro-like speech." Levin criticized the economy under Obama claiming he keeps "proposing more programs, more trusts, more partnerships, more agencies, more spending." A Fox Nation headline echoed Levin's comments: "Obama Pleads For Billions In New Deficit Spending." That same post, however, linked to a FoxNews.com article that reported the full transcript of Obama's comments, explaining that his proposals would be "fully paid for" and that "nothing [he's] proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime."
Before the January 28, 2014 State of the Union, Fox News once again downplayed the address, asking, "Does it matter what the president says?" After the address, Rush Limbaugh was critical of Obama's guest, wounded Army Ranger Cory Remsburg's presence. Limbaugh claimed that Obama invited a wounded veteran to the address to say "look what George Bush is responsible for." Right-wing media also pounced on Obama's comments that climate change demands urgent action and that the debate over it is "settled." Their evidence against the claim? Cold weather and snow across the country.
In the most memorable vitriol from President Obama's January 20, 2015 State of the Union, Rush Limbaugh told his audience he had already written his response before the address: "I hope he fails." Limbaugh then bragged that "that has been my State of the Union response every year. I hope he fails. It is what it is. You can't get more clear cut than that." On his January 21 show, Limbaugh rehashed his reasoning behind boycotting the speech saying that he would have been "insulted as a conservative" and "lied to" and that the address would have been the "next Santa Claus list."
Note: this analysis did not include Obama's 2009 Address to Joint Session of Congress.
Fox Business host John Stossel defended discredited research conducted by John Lott that found more guns equal less crime by falsely claiming Lott's finding had been "replicated" by the National Research Council (NRC).
In fact, when NRC examined Lott's work in 2004, it found there was "no credible evidence" for Lott's conclusions.
Lott is a well-known pro-gun advocate and frequent source of conservative misinformation about gun violence. He rose to prominence during the 1990s with the publication of his book, More Guns, Less Crime, although his conclusion that permissive gun laws reduce crime rates was later debunked by academics who found serious flaws in his research.
In his December 2 syndicated column, Stossel wrote that the accusation that Lott's research has been "discredited" is a "smear." Stossel noted that "Media Matters for America called Lott 'discredited' at least 40 times."
In defending Lott's research, Stossel wrote, "Lott's 'More Guns, Less Crime' study has been replicated often, including by the National Research Council and even by some critics."
That never happened. One of the "major conclusions" of a 2004 study issued by the NRC was that "despite a large body of research, the committee found no credible evidence that the passage of right-to-carry laws decreases or increases violent crime." The study exhaustively examined Lott's "More Guns, Less Crime" theory in reaching this conclusion. (NRC's report also did not "replicate" research, instead it submitted existing research to examination by experts.)
Lott was unhappy with NRC's analysis of his work, and issued a response claiming that the committee members "favored gun control" and suggested that "the National Academy is so completely unable to separate politics from its analyses that it simply can't accept the results for what they are."
In turn, the NRC's executive officer published a letter claiming Lott's response to NRC "contained significant errors" while disputing Lott's claims about the supposedly biased backgrounds of committee members and defending the objectivity of NRC's work.
Critics have replicated Lott's work, but not in the way that Stossel describes. One 2003 analysis of Lott's "More Guns, Less Crime" thesis found that correcting significant coding errors in Lott's work completely undermined his conclusions. In fact, after correcting these errors the data suggested that if anything more permissive concealed carry laws increase crime.
Lott's "More Guns, Less Crime" theory has been repeatedly discredited. David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, offered numerous critiques of Lott's data set in his 2003 book Public Guns Public Health, including descriptions of bizarre scenarios that demonstrated the volatility of Lott's data (emphasis added):
Many of the results for the other control variables do not make sense. For example, the results show both that increasing the rate of unemployment and reducing income will significantly reduce the rate of violent crime. The results indicate that reducing the number of middle-aged and elderly black women (who are rarely either perpetrators or victims of murder) will substantially reduce homicide rates. Indeed, according to the results, a decrease of 1 percentage point in the percentage of the population that is black, female, and aged forty to forty-nine is associated with a 59 percent decrease in homicide (and a 74 percent increase in rape). [Hemenway, Private Guns Public Health, pg. 244]
According to the most recent credible research, permissive concealed carry laws actually increase violent crime, particularly aggravated assault.
In his piece, Stossel stretched in other places to defend Lott. In one instance he described calling attention to an incident Lott was involved in a "smear" despite acknowledging that the claim about Lott is "actually true":
Barrett continued her smear: Lott "actually impersonated a student ... to say what a great professor he is."
That's actually true. On the Internet, Lott once posed as a student to praise his own course. Dumb, yes. Deceitful, too. But it doesn't "discredit" all his research.
Fox Business host John Stossel invited economist Ben Powell to debunk the widely held right-wing media myth that immigration takes jobs away from American workers. Powell explained that immigration actually creates jobs and better opportunities for Americans.
For years, conservative media have claimed that immigrants hurt the economy by stealing jobs from American workers. Powell explained that immigration actually helps the economy and "frees up American labor to do the things we're better suited to do, and that creates jobs."
From the November 9 edition of Fox Business' Stossel:
JOHN STOSSEL: The people who say they take jobs. It's logical. They do take some jobs. So what's your answer to that?
BEN POWELL: That on net they don't take jobs. Immigrants both take jobs and create jobs.
STOSSEL: The seen versus the unseen. Explain that.
POWELL: You can take this camera that I'm looking at right now and you can stick on somebody who used to do, say, landscaping, and you can say, "I used to do this job and look, there's an immigrant doing that job right now." That's the displace -- but also, it frees up American labor to do the things we're better suited to do, and that creates jobs. But those jobs are statistical because jobs are created because of technological changes, changes in resource costs, all sorts of things. So it's hard to stick a camera on the person who got the job, but it's certainly real. Just think about what's happened to the size of the labor force since the end of World War II. We've had massive entry of women, baby boomers, and after 1965, immigrants into the work force. We've roughly tripled the size of the civilian labor force, but we've seen no long-term increase in unemployment. As we've almost tripled the number of workers, we've almost tripled the number of jobs. We have a limitless desire for goods and services. As we get more workers, we put them to work doing those things.
Even the low-skilled ones [immigrants] who don't create businesses that create jobs perform tasks that their labor is better suited to than the American labor. The case for more immigration into the United States as an economic gain to us is the exact same as for international trade in goods and services. It's not about net number of jobs, it's about changing the mix of jobs so that the native-born citizens do the things we're better suited to do. When the brain surgeon hires an immigrant to mow his lawn, that frees him up to do more brain surgeries, making us more productive.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been working to protect Alaska's Bristol Bay, home to the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery, from the adverse environmental impacts of a proposed mineral excavation project called the Pebble Mine. Proponents of the mine have been pushing an array of falsehoods, many of which are being propagated in the media as the EPA's process for evaluating the project was scrutinized in a November 5 Congressional hearing. Here are the facts.
From the October 2 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
From the September 22 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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From the July 22 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Right-wing media outlets are attacking a new rule from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) designed to increase diversity in American neighborhoods, calling it an attempt by President Obama to dictate where people live. But the program merely provides grant money to encourage communities to provide affordable housing and greater access to community resources.
From the June 2 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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From the April 14 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Fox News figures and Republican 2016 hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) are slated to appear alongside Robert Spencer -- one of conservative media's favorite leaders in "Islam bashing" -- at a conference this week, amid cries from Muslim rights groups for Cruz to cancel the engagement.
The Young America's Foundation (YAF) will host the conservative New England Freedom Conference this week in New Hampshire. In addition to Fox Business host John Stossel, Fox contributor Katie Pavlich and Cruz, the event will feature noted extremist Robert Spencer and promised, "If you are interested in public policy, free speech, less government, and a strong national defense, this conference is for you. Along with Senator Ted Cruz, you will hear from Jihad Watch's Robert Spencer about Islamic terrorism and jihad."
Spencer is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center's Extremist Files as "one of America's most prolific and vociferous anti-Muslim propagandists." He's a prominent figure with Jidhad Watch and Stop Islamization of America (SOIA) - two organizations deemed hate groups by SPLC.
Spencer was also described by the Center for American Progress (CAP) in a 2011 report on Islamophobia as one of their five top "misinformation experts." The CAP report highlighted some disturbing facts, including that he and Jihad Watch "were cited 162 times in the nearly 1,500-page manifesto of Anders Breivik, the confessed Norway terrorist who claimed responsibility for killing 76 people, mostly youths," and quotes former Nixon adviser and deputy director of the National Security Council Robert Crane in describing Spencer as "the principal leader... in the new academic field of Islam bashing."
His anti-Islamic rhetoric has solidified Spencer a place as a right-wing media darling, turned to by Fox News and conservative sites like National Review Online as a go-to expert on Islam despite his extreme leanings. Fox turned to Spencer as recently as January to spew Islamophobia during a discussion about the deadly attacks on satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Appearing on Hannity, Spencer cited the "much higher" birth rate of Muslim populations to fearmonger that "Sharia enclaves" will "inevitably grow and continue to grow until, finally, that's all there is."
It is for extremist rhetoric such as this that Muslim advocacy groups like The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) have called on Cruz to cancel his upcoming appearance with Spencer at YAF. In a March 24 press release, the group pointed to the designation of Spencer's organizations as hate groups by the SPLC as one of the reasons why Cruz should step back from the event. "As the first Republican to declare his candidacy for president, CAIR recommends that Senator Cruz reach out to members of the American Muslim and other U.S. minority communities to better understand their issues and concerns, " explained CAIR Government Affairs Manager Robert McCaw.
From the March 12 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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From the March 10 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Republican lawmakers reportedly plan to demand the suspension of first lady Michelle Obama's school lunch program in order to avoid a government shutdown, an ultimatum that follows follows a sustained conservative media campaign against her anti-obesity efforts.
According to The New York Times, congressional Republicans plan "to scale back Michelle Obama's school-lunch nutrition mandates and curtail some clean water regulations in a $1 trillion spending bill that would avert" a government shutdown on December 11. Republicans have staked their ground against a program the Times describes as an attempt to "improve school nutrition by reducing the sodium content and increasing the percentage of whole grains in school lunches."
While Pew polling has found that a majority of Americans agree that "the government should play a significant role in reducing obesity among children," Michelle Obama's efforts to combat childhood obesity have been met with consistent opposition from conservatives, including right-wing media. Here are some of the worst attacks on the first lady's school nutrition initiative:
Healthy School Lunches Are Government Fiat
Michelle Obama Is Too Fat To Lead Nutrition Efforts
Nutrition Standards Caused "Plate Waste" And Hunger
Michelle Obama's Efforts Lead To Higher Pedestrian Deaths
Fox's John Stossel claimed that "there is no good data showing secondhand smoke kills people," ignoring years of studies and a 2014 Surgeon General report that determined millions of Americans have died as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke.
On the December 4 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, John Stossel pointed to anti-smoking legislation as an example of needless government interference in Americans' personal freedoms. He justified his position with the claim that "no good data" exists demonstrating that secondhand smoke kills people (emphasis added):
KILMEADE: America is called the land of the free. But is it really? A recent study finding Americans assessment of their personal freedom has fallen dramatically. In 2010, the U.S. Was ranked number nine out of 140 countries. That ranking in terms of freedom has now dropped to 21. John Stossel saw that stat and has taken action. He blames control freaks. Who are these people, you ask? They are your elected officials. The host of "Stossel" on our sister network Fox Business Channel is here to explain prior to his show tonight. John, what are you talking about? How did we lose these freedoms?
STOSSEL: They always want to help us. We're going to make you a little safer. So they pass another rule, and another rule. The president released 3,000 right before Thanksgiving. They never take them away. Take cigarette smoking. Yeah, they kill smokers. But there is no good data showing secondhand smoke kills people. Nevertheless, banned -- I don't smoke. I'm glad they banned it on airplanes and places. But can't smokers have some bars? In 22 states, no bars. It used to be no smoking sections. Now nowhere can a smoker gather with people.
KILMEADE: Right. Now they say the number is 22,527 U.S. municipalities have banned it. You're saying if I'm a business owner, whether I like smoking or not, if I think I can make a profit by having a smoking restaurant, I should be able to have it.
STOSSEL: It's your property, yeah, why can't you? What happened to freedom?
Nearly 2.5 million Americans have died as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke since 1964, according to a 2014 Surgeon General's report prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.