Conservative media figures responded to riots following the funeral of Freddie Gray -- an unarmed man who died of severe, unexplained spinal cord injuries while in police custody -- by recommending that participants in the riots be shot, and blaming the outbreak of violence on Democratic leadership, President Obama, public schools, welfare, and single-parent families.
With the Senate poised to finally vote on Loretta Lynch, President Obama's widely praised pick to replace Eric Holder as attorney general of the United States, National Review Online is repeating tired and debunked excuses as it calls on Senate Republicans to "defeat" her nomination.
After waiting far longer than almost every other attorney general nominee in history, Senate Republicans will finally bring up Lynch's confirmation for a vote on April 23. Although there are no legitimate problems with the highly-qualified Lynch herself, her confirmation was still held up for months by the GOP as they blocked an up-or-down vote, even when it was apparent she could be confirmed. This obstruction -- fueled in part by right-wing media smears -- continued interminably despite the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promised in November that Lynch would "receive fair consideration by the Senate."
Senate Republicans, as well as right-wing media, have struggled mightily to find a substantive reason to oppose Lynch's nomination. After a few false starts, they finally settled on the fact that Lynch -- along with hundreds of legal experts as well as the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel -- believes that the president's executive actions on immigration are "reasonable," and has publicly said so.
NRO in particular has been vocal -- and inaccurate -- in its disdain for Lynch, and its latest editorial is more of the same. In an April 22 post, the editors complained that Lynch was no different than the "wildly partisan" Holder, and that "Republicans should vote her down" because it "would be a forceful rebuke to the president." The editorial went on to falsely claim that the president's immigration actions were illegal because they "offer positive benefits" to undocumented immigrants:
But there is little indication that Ms. Lynch would be much better -- and, at a minimum, the top law-enforcement officer should be committed to the law. Yet during her confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Ms. Lynch endorsed the president's lawless November executive amnesty, and indicated that she had no concerns about the precedent it sets for future abuses of power by this or other presidents.
That the legal argument for the president's amnesty is weak is understating it. Unlike the previous amnesties he cites as precedent, the president's Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, or DAPA, is not responding to a particular crisis but is simply the enactment by fiat of his own political wishes. Furthermore, unlike those previous amnesties, the president's offers positive benefits (e.g., work permits) to millions of Americans in the country illegally. Even the administration admits that the order must be executed on a "case-by-case basis," but the number of affected individuals -- somewhere around 5 million -- shows it is simply a new dispensation for an entire class of immigrants. And, of course, for years the president himself maintained that such a sweeping act would be outside his constitutional authority. Ms. Lynch apparently is bothered by none of this.
It's Earth Day, a day on which people around the world put "environmental concerns front and center" to help build "a clean, healthy, diverse world for generations to come." But for the right-wing media, Earth Day signifies something else entirely: The opportunity to engage in another round of conspiracy theories, anti-science claims, and unwarranted attacks. Here's how they are celebrating this year:
Rush Limbaugh celebrated Earth Day by inventing a new and extremely bizarre conspiracy theory: Earth Day has prompted the government to tell people to ignore food expiration dates, which will lead them to "ration" health care and eventually lead to "death panels."
On the April 22 edition of his show, Limbaugh berated the U.S. Department of Agriculture for trying to limit food waste by providing consumers with a tool educating them on the types of foods that have incorrect or overly cautious expiration dates. Limbaugh went on to claim that the government will eventually use expiration dates to ration medicine and health care, and that "there are going to be death panels." He concluded: "All of this has as its root, Earth Day."
Right-wing websites National Review and Townhall thought it was important to "remind" their audiences about the story of Ira Einhorn, who claimed that he was the co-founder of Earth Day and was convicted for murder several years later. Both outlets stated that Einhorn "composted" his girlfriend. Though Einhorm participated in the first Earth Day, leaders and organizers of the original 1970 Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia have made clear that Einhorn inappropriately disrupted the event and played no role in organizing it.
Right-wing media have praised former Florida Governor and possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush's 1999 executive action eliminating race-based affirmative action in higher education admissions. Now, a new report from The Washington Post finds that black student enrollment is in decline at two of Florida's largest four-year schools.
Right-wing media have falsely suggested that the civil rights protections in Indiana's "religious freedom" bill force business owners to endorse messages that they share serious ideological disagreements with. But a recently-decided discrimination case in Colorado debunked this argument, differentiating between discrimination on the basis of ideology and discrimination on the basis of membership in a protected class.
On April 2, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed an anti-discrimination amendment to his state's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) after facing widespread criticism due to the law's potential to authorize anti-LGBT discrimination. To address that danger, the amended law explicitly prohibits individuals and business owners from invoking RFRA to deny services on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Right-wing media were quick to criticize Pence, arguing that the amendment "gutted" the state's RFRA and claiming that the revision would "force" the devout to violate their religious beliefs by holding them accountable to generally applicable civil rights protections. A number of conservative media outlets like The Wall Street Journal took this argument further, falsely claiming that forcing religious business owners to abide by anti-discrimination laws would also "compel" them to serve customers with "politically unacceptable thoughts":
For that matter, should a Native American printer be legally compelled to make posters with an Indian mascot that he finds offensive, or an environmentalist contractor to work a shift at a coal-fired power plant? Fining or otherwise coercing any small number of private citizens -- who aren't doing anyone real harm but entertain politically unacceptable thoughts -- is thuggish stuff.
But a recent "religious discrimination" case from Colorado illustrates how this hypothetical betrays a fundamental inability to understand that the RFRA debate was over discrimination against gay people, not gay "thoughts."
Conservative media figures are lashing out against tentative framework for a historic deal on Iran's nuclear program as a "surrender to Tehran," -- ignoring the widespread approval among diplomats, foreign relations and nuclear weapons policy experts of the agreement between the United States and five other nations aimed at limiting Iranian nuclear ambitions.
A segment on PBS' Newshour provided an example of how media should cover racial disparities in school discipline and educational achievement -- as well as a stark contrast with how right-wing media outlets have covered the same issues.
On the April 1 edition of PBS' Newshour, April Brown reported on the beginning of a new initiative in Washington, DC called the Empowering Males of Color initiative, and noted that some are concerned that the focus on boys of color leaves girls of color behind. The segment featured Kimberlé Crenshaw, a UCLA law professor, who pointed to the greater racial disparity in school discipline for girls than boys. The report went on to cover broader racial disparities in education, including the lower college graduation rate, and after-school programs such as Higher Achievement that are designed to help both boys and girls of color.
The Newshour segment was detailed and thoughtful -- providing a striking contrast with the way these issues have been discussed in right-wing outlets. Bill O'Reilly recently covered programs designed to reduce racial disparities in school discipline by declaring that "liberal mayors all over the country are making it easier for violent students to remain in public schools." National Review Online has published several articles that painted an image of black children as inherently more likely to need discipline: a post by Heather Mac Donald said it was "common sense that black students are more likely to be disruptive"; another post cited the "lack of impulse control" of black students (as evidenced, she argued, by higher crime rates among black people). An NRO editorial described optional guidelines from the Department of Justice and the Department of Education to address these disparities as being the administration's "most foolhardy idea yet"; Fox News host Megyn Kelly bashed that same DOJ policy as "handcuffing our educators" and needlessly "bringing race into it."
Newshour's nuanced discussion on racial and gender disparities in education seems far out of reach for outlets like Fox and NRO, which fall at the first hurdle in attributing racial disparities to the characteristics of children of color, and not systemic injustice.
Right-wing media outlets -- led by Fox's Megyn Kelly -- helped the GOP execute a whisper campaign falsely accusing Hillary Clinton of committing perjury when she left the State Department and demanding to see a separation document to prove their charge. After the Associated Press accepted the premise that a separation document should be produced, the State Department made clear that neither Clinton nor her predecessors, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, were required to sign that document.
Right-wing media are baselessly accusing the Department of Justice of lying to the judge in Texas overseeing the legal challenge against President Obama's immigration actions. They are claiming that a DOJ attorney made false statements in court when she indicated that applications for two new deferred-action programs were not being processed. But these right-wing media figures are wrong. These two programs are not proceeding. The federal government has renewed 100,000 applications for deferred action for immigrants eligible under a 2012 program -- a third category of applicants who are not covered in the case.
Republican officials from 26 states sued the Obama administration after the president signed a series of executive actions on immigration in November. In part, these executive actions temporarily defer deportations for two new categories of eligible undocumented immigrants, such as parents of citizens. These acts of prosecutorial discretion also immediately changed the president's original 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program by extending the deferral period from two years to three, in order to bring it in line with the expiration dates for the new programs. Before the federal government could start accepting applications from immigrants eligible for the two new programs -- a modified version of DACA and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) -- a district court judge in Texas issued an injunction temporarily blocking from going into effect. The third category, under the 2012 guidelines, was not enjoined.
In accompanying court proceedings, under questioning from the judge, the DOJ confirmed that applicants for the two new categories were not yet being processed, as the judge instructed.
Right-wing media have attacked Obama's immigration action since it was announced, and have commended the Texas judge for putting it on hold, even though the legal basis for the injunction is quite shaky. Now conservative media outlets are also claiming that the administration's lawyers lied because the Department of Homeland Security approved or renewed 100,000 applications from the original 2012 DACA program between November 2014 and February 2015 and applied the deferral for three years instead of two -- even though that change was required to be immediately applied.
Conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is adopting right-wing media's talking points yet again, this time implausibly claiming that the Republican-controlled "Congress would act" with an alternative if the court strikes down the Affordable Care Act's health insurance tax credits.
On March 4, the justices heard King v. Burwell, a case that could make insurance subsidies unavailable to some Americans. At issue in the suit is whether a subclause in the law that says subsidies can be disbursed through "Exchanges established by the State" prohibits the IRS from providing tax credits to consumers who bought insurance over the federal exchange. Despite the fact that experts agree that the law clearly makes the subsidies available to everyone, right-wing media have called on the Supreme Court to rule otherwise.
Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell has repeatedly said that there is no contingency plan in the event of an adverse decision in King, and that there is no fix the administration can make to remedy the problem without inviting further legal challenges. Right-wing media jumped at Burwell's comments, criticizing the administration for not having a back-up plan while promoting a series of Republican "alternatives" should the court ultimately strike the subsidies down.
Conservative outlets like The Wall Street Journal and Fox News have done their part to push these plans by hosting numerous op-eds and segments with the authors of these questionable proposals. On the March 4 edition of Fox & Friends, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) joined hosts Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck to promote one such alternative. After Cassidy claimed that the Obama administration has "nothing to say" to consumers who might lose their subsidies, Doocy remarked that "the administration says they don't have a plan B, but apparently the Republicans do." National Review Online has also argued that the Republicans have a viable alternative plan, writing in a recent post that "Senate Republicans aren't leaving anything to chance" and that "there's some conservative intellectual firepower behind" their ideas.
As The Hill reported, these alternatives are "a direct appeal to the Supreme Court justices" that are "intended to make it easier for the court to strike down the subsidies, since Republicans believe the court is more likely to rule in their favor if it believes a plan is in place to limit the fallout."
According to the Urban Institute, 8.2 million Americans, disproportionately women and children, may become uninsured as a consequence of King v. Burwell. But for right-wing media, pointing out the dangerous consequences of the loss of health care subsidies is nothing more than a "scare tactic."
While discussing Oregon's recent political scandal, conservative media are reviving their favorite renewable energy bogeyman - the solar panel manufacturer Solyndra -- to push the false narrative that the clean energy industry is an economic failure that is widely infected with "crony capitalism." Contrary to these claims, Solyndra was never a scandal, and renewable energy sources are increasingly cost-competitive with fossil fuels -- despite historically receiving far less in government subsidies.
When former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber announced he would resign due to the controversy surrounding undisclosed consulting fees his fiancée received while advising him on energy policies, conservative media were quick to compare the controversy to the government loan guarantee and bankruptcy of solar firm Solyndra. As Politico recently explained, the conservative strategy is to use the Kitzhaber scandal as "ammunition" against Democrats and environmentalists who they claim "have propped up failed clean-energy projects" and provided government aid that "ends up financially benefiting only the politically connected companies lobbying for it." Bloomberg News similarly stated that whether or not it is accurate, "[t]he argument being made is that clean energy lobbying is a way for Democrats to get rich."
That's exactly what we've seen in the conservative media. The Washington Times claimed the Oregon scandal once again brings to light "the failures of taxpayer-funded green energy companies such as Solyndra that had political ties to party bigwigs." The National Review Online linked the situation in Oregon to Solyndra and what it claimed were other "green-energy scandals that piled up during [the Obama administration's] first term." The Daily Caller alleged that in the case of both the Kitzhaber scandal and Solyndra, "government supported green energy programs based on political connections." And Fox News also highlighted Solyndra while discussing the Oregon controversy -- twice.
But the simple truth is that the Solyndra episode was never a scandal, a fact that has been proven time and time again. The solar energy firm, which received a federal loan from the U.S. Department of Energy, filed for bankruptcy as a result of plummeting prices for solar panels, as detailed by Greenwire, among others. Conservative media responded by pushing baseless claims that Solyndra used unethical influence in the Obama administration to receive its loan, but an extensive investigation by House Republicans turned up no evidence of wrongdoing.
In addition to pushing the cronyism charge, conservative media have also used the Oregon scandal as an opportunity to broadly claim that renewable energy is not economically viable in the marketplace. For example, National Review Online purported that these sources of energy can't "survive in the marketplace without giant subsidies or special tax favors." During an interview on WSJ Live, Competitive Enterprise Institute's Myron Ebell similarly claimed that "wind and solar and ethanol really cannot survive without handouts from government."
But the reality is that wind and solar power have become increasingly cost-competitive with fossil fuels -- and are actually cheaper than coal and natural gas in some markets -- despite having received far less in government subsidies over the years.
Right-wing media are celebrating Gov. Bruce Rauner's (R-IL) executive order blocking public-sector unions from collecting "fair share" fees from the state employees they represent, even though there is no precedent for such a move. National Review and The Wall Street Journal are praising Rauner for "thinking creatively" by effectively turning Illinois into a "right-to-work" state without legislative approval, even though those same outlets have criticized President Obama for issuing lawful executive orders without Republican input.
Rauner's order specifically targets "fair share" dues that nonmembers in unionized workplaces pay to cover the cost of union representation for their collective bargaining agreements. Illinois law already prohibits fair share fees (as opposed to full membership dues) from being used to fund union political activities, but Rauner nevertheless issued his executive order and wrongly claimed that "an employee who is forced to pay unfair share dues is being forced to fund political activity with which they disagree." A number of states have passed "right-to-work" laws that target these kinds of dues with the express purpose of weakening the bargaining power of unions. But Rauner saved himself some time by ignoring decades of Supreme Court labor-law precedent and imposing the "right-to-work" standard on state employees without running it past the legislature first.
Right-wing media are not particularly concerned with Rauner's unilateral and legally questionable antics. Rauner's lawyers, however, apparently realize the unusual nature of this executive action. On the governor's behalf, they have defensively filed a lawsuit asking a district court to preemptively declare his order legal on the radical assumption that all union activity -- even that related to collective bargaining -- is inherently political.
In a February 11 post, National Review writer Patrick Brennan applauded Rauner's "daring" and legal maneuvering, celebrating that "Rauner's Illinois is in limbo -- and, duly elected, he deserves credit for putting them there." The Journal also praised Rauner in a February 10 editorial for "thinking creatively" since the "Democrats who have a supermajority in the state legislature won't make Illinois a right-to-work state."
This is an interesting about-face on executive orders from these outlets, which have attacked Obama's executive action on immigration in the face of an obstructionist GOP-controlled House as an "abuse of power" and "executive overreach" -- despite there being plenty of legal and historical precedent to support Obama's orders. In a November 16 editorial, the Journal argued that it would "support more liberal immigration but not Mr. Obama's means of doing it on his own whim because he's tired of working with Congress." Similarly, in a November 6 editorial, National Review complained that for Obama to "act on immigration without engaging the country's new congressional majority would be a defiance of the legislative branch, and of the American electorate."
But Rauner's order gets a pass from National Review now, because it is enough that "after a deep legal review, he thinks the fair-share fees are unconstitutional forced expression."
Apparently Rauner's deep legal review involves rewriting the basics of labor law. As the Illinois Economic Policy Institute explained, Rauner's claim that "state workers are forced to pay union dues for political purposes" is "false":
Illinois law does not prohibit labor organizations with state collective bargaining agreements from contributing to elected officials, but it also does not mandate that workers must pay for political activities that are endorsed by their representative union. The Illinois Public Labor Relations Act requires all employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement to pay their "fair share" of the cost of collective bargaining and contract administration. Fair share dues "shall not include any fees for contributions related to the election or support of any candidate for political office" but an employee can make "voluntary political contributions in conjunction with his or her fair share payment" [emphasis added]. Since the 1988 Communications Workers of America v. Beck case in the U.S. Supreme Court, unions are authorized to collect from non-members only fees and dues necessary to perform collective bargaining operations, and workers can object to paying a portion of their dues toward political activities.
As conservative Justice Antonin Scalia explained in a 1991 labor law case, nonmembers who don't pay dues "are free riders whom the law requires the union to carry -- indeed, requires the union to go out of its way to benefit, even at the expense of its other interests. In the context of bargaining, a union must seek to further the interests of its nonmembers; it cannot, for example, negotiate particularly high wage increases for its members in exchange for accepting no increases for others." Without compulsory fair share dues for the collective bargaining agreement from which both non-members and members benefit, unions face a serious "free rider" problem and threat to their financial viability.
Which, for the National Review and the Journal, is clearly the point.
There's no question that the current makeup of the Supreme Court is less sympathetic to the labor movement than it has been in the past. In 2014, the conservative majority ruled that home care workers in Illinois (who are paid with state Medicaid funds but are not full-fledged public employees) cannot be compelled to pay dues to a union they don't want to join, but ultimately declined to strike down a 1977 case that allows public-sector unions to collect "fair share" dues from nonmembers. Even though Justice Samuel Alito's majority opinion questioned the "foundations" of that 1977 ruling -- basically inviting a challenge like Rauner's -- the case is still good law.
In light of this precedent, some might call Rauner's actions an appeal to the "judicial activism" they frequently condemn. The Journal, on the other hand, is calling this "thinking creatively."
An upcoming House Oversight Committee hearing features two conservative media darlings infamous for their anti-immigrant rhetoric and peddling misinformation about voter fraud and election law.
Republicans on the House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing February 12 titled, "The President's Executive Actions on Immigration and Their Impact on Federal and State Elections." The hearing advisory, obtained by Media Matters, promises an examination of the president's executive actions on immigration and how they may affect "federal and state elections, including the issuance of Social Security Numbers and drivers' licenses to individuals covered by the action."
Two witnesses who will be featured at the hearing, according to the advisory, are well known for spreading misinformation in conservative media circles: Kris Kobach and Hans von Spakovsky.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is a repeat guest on Fox News and is often touted by right-wing pundits who support his extreme positions on immigration. He first elevated his profile by pushing a bill that would have directed police officers in Arizona to check the immigration status of those stopped for violations of city and county ordinances, civil traffic violations, and other non-crimes, and would have allowed police to consider race as a factor. Kobach was also instrumental in pushing a Kansas voter registration law that has disenfranchised thousands of American citizens. Appearing on Fox & Friends in March 2014, Kobach tried to cast doubt on the president's immigration enforcement, accusing the administration of "cooking the books" on deportation numbers.
Hans von Spakovsky has been featured on Fox News and on National Review Online for years, demonstrating an unending willingness to distort the truth in the service of restrictive and discriminatory voter ID laws. Spakovsky has repeatedly overstated the prevalence of in-person voter fraud and continues to push for voter ID laws that disproportionately affect minority communities and suppress legal voters. At National Review, Spakovsky characterized the modern civil rights movement as being "indistinguishable" from "segregationists."
This hearing comes on the heels of the Senate's recent hearing on Loretta Lynch, a highly regarded nominee for attorney general, which featured a witness list peppered with habitual conservative media misinformers.
UPDATE: On the eve of the hearing, prosecutors in Kansas are questioning Kobach's voter fraud claims. The Lawrence Journal-World reported that Kobach has asked lawmakers to grant him the "the power to press voter fraud charges because he says prosecutors do not pursue cases he refers."
But federal prosecutors in Kansas say Kobach hasn't referred any cases to them, and county prosecutors report that the cases referred to them did not justify prosecution.
Right-wing media maligned Obama's economic policy initiatives announced during his State Of The Union address as both divisive class warfare and Santa Claus-style giveaways.