Right-wing media have spent months promoting a deceptive data chart from the anti-choice Americans United for Life that on September 29 became the cornerstone of Rep. Jason Chaffetz's (R-UT) cross-examination of Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards at a House Oversight Committee hearing aimed at defunding the organization. The chart's data is out of proportion and neglects to document numerous services performed by the women's health care provider to make it appear as if most of what Planned Parenthood does is pregnancy terminations.
On June 26, 2000, presidential candidate George W. Bush shared his view of immigrants and Latino-Americans in a speech before the 71st National Conference of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). "Latinos come to the U.S. to seek the same dreams that have inspired millions of others: they want a better life for their children," Bush said, calling immigration "not a problem to be solved," but "the sign of a successful nation."
With campaign strategist Karl Rove "acting as his guide," Bush went on to champion "compassionate conservatism" throughout his first presidential campaign, with an unprecedented -- for the GOP -- Hispanic outreach effort as its centerpiece. To this day, no Republican candidate has come close to winning as much of the Hispanic vote as Bush did in 2000 -- (34 percent) and 2004 (44 percent).
Ten years on, George's brother Jeb has tried to strike a similarly compassionate tone on immigration in his own quest for the White House. In April, 2014 -- more than a year before he declared his candidacy -- Jeb Bush told Fox News' Shannon Bream that many immigrants who enter the United States illegally often do so as "an act of love" for their families.
In the span of a few election cycles, "compassionate conservatism" on immigration has evolved from a winning Republican campaign strategy to a major liability for GOP presidential candidates. That shift is due in large part to the growing influence of conservative media in the debate over immigration.
Though George W. Bush won two terms as a "compassionate conservative," he never succeeded in passing immigration reform in Congress. That failure was due in part to the mobilization of right-wing media, which coalesced in the wake of his 2004 re-election. "You could say that talk radio killed President Bush's attempts at immigration reform," Frank Sharry of America's Voice told The Washington Post in 2013. "They started to lurch to the right, they wanted to give Bush a bloody nose, the conservative media mobilized."
Conservative media's opposition to immigration reform, led by talk radio, has only intensified since the defeat of the Senate immigration bill Bush supported in 2007: Rush Limbaugh recently claimed that the "colonization" or "invasion" of "illegal aliens" creates a "destructive" subculture in the U.S.; Laura Ingraham said that Congress's "Hispanic Caucus" should be renamed the "Open Borders Caucus" and claimed that migrant children were spreading diseases to "public school kids across the country;" and Texas radio host Michael Berry claimed that killings by "illegal aliens" are "not a rare occurrence."
At the same time, right-wing radio hosts have worked tirelessly to pull Republican politicians to the right on immigration, often by inciting anti-Hispanic sentiment among listeners. Rush Limbaugh has told the GOP to ignore the "non-factor" Hispanic vote. Laura Ingraham told her listeners that former Colorado U.S. Senate candidate Cory Gardner needed to move closer to the views of the extreme right on immigration, like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Chuck Grassley.
Perhaps the most extreme example of right-wing talk radio's hostility toward immigration came in August of 2015. Iowa Caucus GOP kingmaker and radio host Jan Mickelson, who has hosted several 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls on his show, proposed on-air that the state of Iowa enslave undocumented immigrants, saying, "Put up a sign that says at the end of 60 days, if you are not here with our permission, can't prove your legal status, you become property of the state. And then we start to extort or exploit or indenture your labor." Mickelson has previously said that he assumes that someone is not "here legally" if they have a Hispanic-sounding name and a history of involvement with the police.
Fox News has also become a major driver of right-wing fearmongering on immigration. The network's personalities regularly disparage immigrants as criminals and murderers and use derogatory and racist terms like "illegals" and "anchor babies" to describe undocumented immigrants. They also attack Hispanic civil rights groups and indiscriminately show stock video footage of immigrants crossing the border during on-air discussions about immigration. Fox News personalities have peddled the harmful and false stereotype that Hispanics immigrants are all criminals. As Sean Hannity once told his millions of radio listeners: "You want to talk about crime? Well what do you think -- who's coming from Latin America and Mexico? Are they rich, successful Mexicans, Nicaraguans, El Salvador residents? No! Why would they leave if they're so successful?"
Unsurprisingly, Fox's immigration coverage has been heavily influenced by the views of extreme anti-immigrant groups like FAIR, NumbersUSA, and Center for Immigration Studies - groups that Bush's former commerce secretary, Carlos Gutierrez, named as part of the right-wing coalition that derailed immigration reform in 2007.
Conservative media's disparaging treatment of Latinos and immigration is especially problematic given the lack of positive depictions of Latinos in mainstream media. According to a study by Columbia University, news "stories about Latinos constitute less than 1% of news media coverage, and the majority of these stories feature Latinos as lawbreakers."
The National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) and Latino Decisions found that media stereotypes in news media about Latinos fuel negative and "hostile" attitudes, making it even harder to have reasonable or compassionate conversations about immigration reform. It's no surprise, then, that talk radio and Fox News audiences also exhibit "significantly more anti-immigrant and anti-Latino affect relative to other media consumer groups."
Conservative media's harmful coverage of immigration isn't purely motivated by animus towards Latinos; it's also a product of a media economy that incentivizes media outlets to make their coverage as sensational as possible, even if that means scaring audiences with unrealistic depictions of Latino criminality. Political media often thrives by making policy disputes as high-stakes as possible. In the case of immigration, that means emphasizing the "threat" posed by immigrants to the predominantly white, older Americans who consume conservative media. As Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) has pointed out, "it's a financially driven enterprise and market share matters":
"While it's conservative in its orientation, it's a financially driven enterprise and market share matters. And playing to the prejudice of their audiences or reinforcing them - as opposed to engaging in enlightened and intellectual debate - is pretty widespread." The best example, he said, is immigration reform: "Here's an area we have to deal with, we've got to come to an accommodation. But the opposition, especially of talk radio, makes that almost impossible. Who in the conservative media is arguing for some kind of comprehensive immigration reform? Almost nobody."
"Today's conservative media now shapes the agenda of the party, pushing it to the far right," writes Jackie Colmes, author of a Harvard study which examined conservative media's impact on conservative politicians. According to Colmes, the GOP's rhetoric and policy positions on immigration have largely followed conservative media's lead, despite the party's own advice about developing better relationships with Hispanics.
The shrinking divide between conservative media and GOP policy on immigration helps explain why presidential candidate Donald Trump has soared in Republican voter polls by telling wildly false and exaggerated horror stories about Mexican immigrants. Trump is essentially mirroring the fear-based, fact-free approach to immigration popularized by conservative media outlets like Fox News. "[Roger] Ailes knows that Fox made Trump, politically, and that the two are made for each other," wrote Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky. And as former Reagan administration official Bruce Bartlett told Mother Jones, "Trump is sort of the most obvious example in which Fox is exercising outside influence on the Republican electoral process. I think without Fox, he would not be running, let alone a serious candidate." Various Fox News personalities have applauded Trump's immigrant smears -- echoing years of the network's own anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Largely because of the influence of anti-immigration, right-wing media, GOP politicians are losing the space they once had to call for a more compassionate tone on immigration and towards Latinos. It's a symptom of a political landscape that's blurred the divide between profit-driven conservative infotainment -- which often plays up racist and xenophobic stereotypes about Latinos -- and mainstream Republican politics.
Fox Business host Stuart Varney praised a misleading campaign video ad produced by a super PAC supporting Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina without mentioning that the ad contains deceptively-edited audio and video aimed at smearing Planned Parenthood and defending Fiorina's previous lies about the organization.
Mainstream media are calling out conservative outlets such as Fox News for connecting the Black Lives Matter movement to the deaths of police officers and increases in crime, writing that such claims "have a lack of evidence" and are based on "junk science and political opportunism."
From the February 28 edition of SiriusXM's Media Matters Radio:
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As controversy surrounding Bill O'Reilly and his previous claims of harrowing "combat" journalism escalates, and as more than half-a-dozen former CBS News colleagues raise doubts about his storytelling, this would be the moment when most news organizations would step in and announce that an internal review was underway to ascertain the truth. Nervous about having its credibility diminished and committed to being accurate and fair, most major news organizations would take steps to stop the bleeding via a thorough review of the facts.
But not Fox News.
Ignoring the conscience blueprint recently set down by under-siege news outlets such as NBC News, CBS News and Rolling Stone, Fox instead has hunkered down and allowed O'Reilly to mount his own public, and increasingly erratic, defense that's built around obfuscation and name-calling. The result is that rather than containing the controversy, first sparked by David Corn's and Daniel Schulman's report in Mother Jones, Fox and its most famous host have allowed questions to multiply on a daily bases.
Now, the unanswered questions not only center around allegations that O'Reilly misled people for years by claiming he reported from the "war zone" during the Falklands War. (He did not.) New questions persist about the street protest O'Reilly covered soon after the end of the war; a street protest in Argentina's capital, 1,200 miles away from the fighting on the Falkland Islands. O'Reilly's former CBS colleague Eric Engberg, who was in Buenos Aires at the time with O'Reilly, claims virtually everything the Fox host has said about his Argentina work is erroneous.
"Bill O'Reilly's account of a 1982 riot in Argentina is being sharply contradicted by seven other journalists who were his colleagues and were also there at the time," reported CNN's Brian Stelter. One former CBS cameraman called O'Reilly's description of the events as "outrageous."
In other words, it's seven vs. one, so far. And in four days O'Reilly hasn't been able to produce one person who can corroborate his version of the Argentina story. Given those damning circumstances, most news organization in America would be anxious to get to the truth via an internal or even independent review.
But not Fox News.
The author of Sons of Wichita, the new biography of the Koch brothers, never got the interviews he wanted with the archconservative billionaires. But he says the family nonetheless kept a close eye on his research, deploying the "very aggressive P.R. operation" they have used for years to silence media criticism.
"I had a senior person at [Koch Industries] basically tell me, 'Yeah, that is our strategy, we hit back and over time because of doing this the mainstream press has sort of learned a lesson to be careful about what they say about us,'" said Daniel Schulman, the book's author and a senior editor at the progressive Mother Jones magazine. "I would describe it as pugilistic, [which] is often their style in general."
Despite the lack of support from its subjects, Schulman's book is a fascinating portrait of the often bitter relationships between the four brothers -- Charles, David, Bill, and Frederick -- whose sprawling political empire has become a dominant force in the right-wing movement.
Schulman said the company's efforts to find out about his research and stop some from cooperating is not unusual, noting the Koch brothers and Koch Industries, the company at the root of their vast wealth, have a history of both intimidating reporters and seeking to counter negative coverage.
"People in the media certainly have what they would call their war stories dealing with Koch Industries," Schulman said in a lengthy interview with Media Matters. "There is a range of experiences. They have a very aggressive P.R. operation." He added, "I should also say that I like a lot of people I was in communication over there, they were nice people. But they were aggressive."
Schulman, whose book was published last week, said he began his research by writing a formal inquiry letter to each of the four brothers. He said only Frederick, the least involved in the company, would meet with him -- and then said he would only discuss his family if he received veto power over any third-party source material. Schulman declined.
At Koch Industries, which is headed by David and Charles, initial reaction was curious and somewhat cooperative, Schulman said. But it never amounted to any access to the two top executives.
"At one point they flew out to even talk to the publisher," Schulman recalled about a Koch executive. "They wanted to make sure this was going to be a fair book, they saw Mother Jones and immediately thought the worst. I was speaking to people there throughout the process, but they would never give me access to David or Charles, which I think was unfortunate because I do think that they had not much to lose and a lot to gain. I think these guy are all very interesting and should have their stories told."
But Koch Industries' interest did not end there, Schulman said
"I certainly got the sense that there were ... certain people [to whom] they were probably saying, 'don't talk to him.' I definitely got that impression," Schulman said. "I definitely talked to people who said, 'yeah, I spoke to Charles and he said he would prefer that I don't speak to you.'"
The Koch concerns about the book went even further, Schulman said.
Appearing on Fox & Friends in the wake of a Florida jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin, Geraldo Rivera's claim that Martin brought about his own death by dressing in a hooded sweatshirt the night of the killing was shocking, but not surprising. Echoing earlier comments he made on the program, Rivera proclaimed: "You dress like a thug, people are going to treat you like a thug."
It was shocking because the idea of a well-paid commentator going on television and blaming an unarmed teen for being shot while walking home inside a gated community because he wore a hoodie -- because he tried to look like "a thug" as Rivera put it -- is repellent.
So yes, Rivera's comments were shockingly awful and irresponsible. As was his claim that the all-female jury "would have shot and killed Trayvon Martin a lot sooner than George Zimmerman did." But his comments weren't surprising, because Fox News and too much of the right-wing media have spent the last 16 months zeroing in on the memory of a dead teenager and doing their best to denigrate it.
Apart from the far right's gleeful and disrespectful response to the not guilty verdict, there remains a separate thread of loud tastelessness that dates back to 2012 and focuses on the victim for all the wrong reasons, suggesting he somehow got what he deserved. (Or what he "sought.")
Remember the fake, menacing photo of Martin that right-wing sites passed around last year? And when The Daily Caller published tweets from the slain boy's closed Twitter account? Tweets that conservatives then used to portray the teen as a thug?
This week, Fox favorite Ten Nugent practically danced on Martin's grave, accusing the dead teenager of being a "dope smoking, racist gangsta wannabe" who was "responsible" for being shot by a volunteer neighborhood watchman on the night of February 26, 2012.
Comments by Rivera, Nugent and others were proof that a smear campaign was in full swing this week and a reminder the attacks are a continuation of the foul smears first unleashed in the wake of the killing. At the time, the attacks were an ugly attempt to justify Martin's death, to shift the blame away from the gunman, Zimmerman, and to cloud the debate about Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law. (Rivera in 2012: "I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin's death as George Zimmerman was.")
Trayvon Martin deserves better. Indeed, every victim, and particularly every victim of gun violence in America, deserves better than to have a well-funded media machine like the one led by Fox News targeting shooting victims for endless attacks on their character and on the choices, large and small, they made while alive.
There's something spectacularly misguided about wanting to turn an unarmed shooting victim, an unarmed minor, into the bad guy and blame him for walking home with Skittles and an iced tea. But that's what conservatives in the press have been doing, on and off, for nearly a year-and-a-half now.
As companies cut ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) following a campaign led by ColorOfChange, Fox News has defended the conservative legislation organization, accusing ColorOfChange of using "fascist tactics" and inviting ALEC supporters and officials on to defend their actions. ALEC, an organization that drafts model bills for conservative state lawmakers, has pushed for controversial "Stand Your Ground" and voter ID laws across the country.
For somebody who runs around the media landscape demanding the press fix its mistakes, Andrew Breitbart turns an amazingly blind eye when his own sites are caught fabricating information. And Breitbart remains quite disciplined in terms of ignoring repeated requests that his sites fix blatant factual errors.
Recently, Mother Jones, MediaBugs, and a New York Times reporter all highlight the hypocrisy that fuels Breitbart and his sites.
Specifically, on Sept. 6, Breitbart's Big Government published a piece that made this claim [emphasis added]:
Nature Journal of Science, ranked as the world's most cited scientific periodical, has just published the definitive study on Global Warming that proves the dominant controller of temperatures in the Earth's atmosphere is due to galactic cosmic rays and the sun, rather than by man. One of the report's authors, Professor Jyrki Kauppinen, summed up his conclusions regarding the potential for man-made Global Warming: "I think it is such a blatant falsification."
Slight problem. Profession Jyrki Kauppinen was not one of the report's authors.
Not very complicated, right? Breitbart's blogger made a glaring error in the first paragraph of his piece and that error ought to be acknowledged and corrected. Ah, but this is Andrew Breitbart we're talking about.
New York Times environmental writer Andrew Revkin noticed the "cosmic" blunder and submitted it to MediaBugs, a site that tries to keep the press honest. MediaBugs contacted Big Government and informed editors about the error. Then via Twitter, MediaBugs requested several times that Breitbart address the misinformation. But as Mother Jones notes, he won't respond and nobody at Big Government will concede the error was made, or make any effort to correct it.
Right-wing media figures have recently promoted a study co-written by David Yerushalmi claiming in part that more than 80 percent of U.S. mosques feature texts that promote or support violence. However, as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has noted, Yerushalmi has "a record of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black bigotry."
A March 31 post on Mother Jones magazine laid out the right wing's history of deceptive and misleading "sting videos." The post summarized what was included in the videos, what was edited out, Andrew Breitbart's involvement, and the lasting effects of each project. From Mother Jones:
Most national media have yet to report on whether Sen. John McCain -- a member of the "Founding Board" of the nonpartisan voter education organization Project Vote Smart -- has been removed from the board for his failure to answer and return the group's Political Courage Test, which asks candidates about what policies they would support on a wide range of issues.