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."
Local journalists covering Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy's case stress he is no victim and is breaking the law, regardless of conservative media's sympathy for his defiance of government orders to remove cattle from federal land.
Those reporters and editors -- some who have been covering the case for 20 years -- spoke with Media Matters and said many of Bundy's neighbors object to his failure to pay fees to have his cattle graze on the land near Mesquite, NV., when they pay similar fees themselves.
"We have interviewed neighbors and people in and around Mesquite and they have said that he is breaking the law," said Chuck Meyer, news director at CBS' KXNT Radio in Las Vegas. "When it comes to the matter of the law, Mr. Bundy is clearly wrong."
Bundy's case dates back to 1993, when he stopped paying the fees required of local ranchers who use the federally owned land for their cattle and other animals. Local editors say more than 85 percent of Nevada land is owned by the federal government.
Bundy stopped paying fees on some 100,000 acres of land in 1993 and has defied numerous court orders, claiming the land should be controlled by Nevada and that the federal government has no authority over it.
Last year a federal court ordered Bundy to remove his cattle or they would be confiscated to pay the more than $1 million in fees and fines he's accumulated. The confiscation began earlier this month, but was halted because the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had "serious concerns about the safety of employees and members of the public" when armed militia showed up to block the takeover.
But for local journalists, many who have been reporting on him for decades, that image is very misguided.
"He clearly has captured national attention, among mostly conservative media who have portrayed him as a kind of a property rights, First Amendment, Second Amendment, range war kind of issue," Meyer noted. "That's how it has been framed, but the story goes back a lot longer and is pretty cut and dry as far as legal implications have been concerned."
He added that, "Cliven Bundy and his supporters are engaged in a fight that has already been settled. There are a number of people around these parts who have strong reservations about Bundy's actions."
Las Vegas Sun Editorial Page Editor Matt Hufman said depicting Bundy as a victim is wrong.
"The BLM had court orders against him in the 90s telling him to get off federal land," Hufman said. "He's got a bunch of these arguments about state's rights, it's not federal land, blah, blah, blah. All of the arguments have been knocked down."
Nevada media outlets failed to disclose the Big Oil interests behind a group offering cheap gas in the state this week to mislead voters about Obama's energy policies, including the false claim that the administration's energy policies are responsible for high gas prices. The bizarre stunts -- involving a walking, talking, anthropomorphic gas can -- were funded by groups largely financed by the Koch brothers, major conservative political donors who have significant oil interests. These groups are pushing policies that will benefit the Koch empire, not American consumers.
From the Associated Press:
Dozens of people lined up at a Reno gas station Tuesday to buy gasoline for $1.84 a gallon as part of a political event.
The cheap gas was offered by the Gas Can Man, a group funded by a [PAC called] Morning in America, focusing on energy policy. The conservative group Americans for Prosperity also funded the event.
A spokesman for the Gas Can Man told KOLO-TV that the event was supposed to remind voters that gas prices are high.
Spokesman Michael Findlay says that gas was $1.84 a gallon in the month of President Barack Obama's inauguration.
The Las Vegas Sun noted that as "people filled up their tanks, they stood in the shadow of AFP's campaign bus emblazoned with the slogan: Obama's Failing Agenda. One man registered voters." The paper quoted an Americans for Prosperity representative claiming the stunt was an exercise in "citizen education":
For the organizers of the event, the cheap gas offering wasn't a handout for those in need.
"It's citizen education," said Nick Vander Poel, of Americans for Prosperity. "This is issue awareness. We're educating them on the issues."
But the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Las Vegas Sun, and local television stations failed to disclose in their reports that the Gas Can Man and the cheap gas-campaign dubbed the "Million Can March" is funded by oil industry barons pushing policies that, if enacted, would line their own pockets but do nothing to lower the price of gas (the Sun disclosed the Koch ties, but neglected to mention their role in the oil industry).
In two separate blog posts and a weekly column, Las Vegas Review-Journal publisher Sherman Frederick responded to criticism from Media Matters by attacking the organization as "intellectually criminal" and "little more than a tool of government." However, he has yet to actually rebut any of the substance of the original item documenting his falsehoods and smears.
Frederick claimed that "'Media Matters' criticism should be a badge of courage for any non-Kool-Aid drinking journalist." And he suggested that there is some sort of conspiracy involving Media Matters, Sen. Harry Reid and the IRS:
The more troubling question that should interest independent minds is why Media Matters reaches all the way out to Nevada to squirt its partisan poison.
Might it have anything to do with Sen. Harry Reid's election woes? He has already said he hopes the Review-Journal, his chief critic in Nevada, goes out of business. And then Media Matters pops up to help? Maybe it's just a coincidence. You'll forgive me, however, if I brace myself for a "random" IRS audit and maybe a couple of unannounced federal inspections down at the newspaper.
Frederick also wrote in his latest column:
The good news is that Media Matters doesn't mean much when it comes to actual readers. They've posted their bile for several days and only garnered five comments. Five comments? Hell, I can get five comments by posting a blog that says "the sky is blue." For the curious, you can catch my blog and other Las Vegas news at "lvrj.com."
Actual readers? Let's see:
The original item cataloguing Frederick's falsehoods was posted on March 22. As you can see, Media Matters ranked far higher in traffic than the website of the Las Vegas Review-Journal in the "several days" since the item was published.
Frederick also responded to Joe Strupp's blog post today, which noted criticism from observers and former employees of the Review-Journal, including this comment from Jon Ralston:
"Those who are critical of the Review-Journal were thrilled to see someone assemble many of his inflammatory pieces in one place," said Jon Ralston, a former Review-Journal columnist who now writes for the Las Vegas Sun. "It is one thing for someone to be a local embarrassment; it is another thing to be a national embarrassment."
Frederick responded to Strupp and Ralston:
It is worth noting that after calling everybody they could, the only working journalist they could get on the record was Jon Ralston, a competitor who likes to think he's the king of political reporting in Nevada. In fact, he's a cracked bell journalistically -- very unreliable when it comes to the big stories in which certain "sources" seem to be able to get to him and spin him.
Frederick also wrote:
I invite you to take a look at the Media Matters site, to view for yourself how this intellectually criminal outfit tries to pass itself off as a journalism site. In fact it is all about politics they don't agree with. I'm surprise [sic] they haven't taken issue with my movie reviews and restaurant recommendations.
Not yet, anyway.
In recent reports, McClatchy News Service and the Las Vegas Sun falsely suggested that Gov. Sarah Palin supports benefits for same-sex partners of state employees. In fact, while Palin did veto a bill that would have prevented state officials from granting spousal benefits to same-sex couples, she stated that she did so because the Alaska attorney general had advised her that the bill was unconstitutional, not because she supported spousal benefits for same-sex couples.