State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki and her deputy, Marie Harf, have spent the week being attacked by right-wing media. They have been targets of particularly harsh, personal attacks, using language that demeans both women and is almost never used to describe men in similar high-profile positions, regardless of what they say.
On February 19, the Daily Caller equated Psaki to a game where players take turns kicking a bead-filled ball around, when it was announced she has been tapped by President Obama to be the White House Communications Director: "Hacky Psaki: Obama Spokeslady Kicked Back To WH After Stint At State Dept."
The National Review's Ian Tuttle called the two women an incapable "hapless duo" with a "Lucy and Ethel routine" (Harf is blonde, Psaki a red head) who were trying to create a version of the comedy film Legally Blonde at the US Department of State. In a separate piece, the conservative journal of record's Kevin Williamson called Harf "cretinous" and a "misfit who plays Messy Marvin to Jen Psaki's feckless Pippi Longstocking."
It's one thing to disagree with and criticize a strategy or policy, it's another to belittle and undermine a person's intelligence and legitimacy by resorting to misogynist attacks.
I've worked with Jen Psaki, she's no lightweight. While I don't know Harf, according to her bio she spent two years during the Bush administration as a CIA analyst on Middle East leadership issues, has a masters degree in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia, and a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science with concentrations in Russian and Eastern European Studies and Jewish Studies, having graduated from Indiana University with honors.
Despite their credentials, Rachel Campos-Duffy, co-host of Fox News' Outnumbered, mocked the two women by saying they look more like sorority girls than serious professionals. Duffy's comment illustrates that denigrating, sexist comments reducing women to commentary about their looks or their intelligence aren't constrained by gender; nor are they constrained by political party, as attacks leveled from conservatives about Michele Bachmann's migraines illustrated.
The media's absurd 30+ year obsession with Hillary Clinton's appearance and David Letterman's comment that former Governor Sarah Palin had a "slutty flight attendant look" make it clear that almost nothing is out of bounds when criticizing a woman regardless of what she is saying. I say that as someone who -- despite profound substantive differences -- spoke out against the attacks made on both Palin and Bachmann.
What makes the right-wing media attacks against Harf even more egregious -- despite the familiarity of the larger pattern -- is that she is essentially saying the same thing a number of high-profile conservative men have also said previously. Yet those men weren't attacked -- some were even praised.
Harf drew the wrath of conservatives for commenting that "We cannot kill our way out of this war" against the Islamic State during a February 16 interview on Hardball. For this she is being portrayed as a "a damn naïve fool" by conservatives, who ignore her full comments, suggesting that she didn't also talk about the importance of military strikes as well as other tactics:
HARF: We're killing a lot of them, and we're going to keep killing more of them. So are the Egyptians. So are the Jordanians. They're in this fight with us. But we cannot win this war by killing them. We cannot kill our way out of this war. We need, in the longer term - medium and longer term - to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups.
You're right, there is no easy solution in the long term to preventing and combatting violent extremism, but if we can help countries work at the root causes of this - what makes these 17-year-old kids pick up an AK-47 instead of trying to start a business? Maybe we can try to chip away at this problem, while at the same time going after the threat, taking on ISIL in Iraq, in Syria, and helping our partners around the world.
Rush Limbaugh certainly didn't call Admiral Michael Mullen, then chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, a "little girl" or say that he sounded like a "valley girl" when he basically said the same thing about the war in Afghanistan in 2008 testimony:
MULLEN: We can't kill our way to victory, and no armed force anywhere -- no matter how good -- can deliver these keys alone. It requires teamwork and cooperation.
While they were talking about different parts of the world at different times, both Harf and Mullen are making a broader point that given the nature of terrorist threats and the strategies they employ -- from the way they utilize social media, finance their operations, recruit and train from all over the world, targeting those who are most vulnerable to their message -- America must have a strategy that is multi-faceted and multi-national. That strategy includes not only airstrikes but also social media, helping countries build democratic institutions, and stabilizing their economy with the means for people to make a living.
National Review's editorial board is arguing that Senate Republicans should "resist" Loretta Lynch's nomination to become the next U.S. attorney general because the board refuses to believe that "amnesty" is not forthcoming, and it falsely claims Lynch thinks there is a constitutional right for undocumented immigrants to work.
On January 28, Lynch appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where questions from Republican members focused primarily on whether Lynch believes that President Obama's immigration action was legal. Legal experts agree that the action -- which temporarily defers deportations for some undocumented immigrants who meet a series of qualifications and pass a criminal background check -- is a lawful exercise of the president's authority to use prosecutorial discretion to prioritize some deportations over others.
Nevertheless, right-wing media are playing up questions from Republican senators who believe that the immigration order is unconstitutional and attacking Lynch for her responses, even if they don't understand what she said. National Review took it further in a January 29 editorial, claiming that confirming Lynch would be "an abnegation of [Senate Republicans'] November mandate and, even more important, their constitutional duty."
The editorial also claimed that Lynch had "evaded questions" from Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) about whether Obama's "amnesty order" will allow law-enforcement agencies to make decisions case by case. The editorial went on to take Lynch's comments about whether undocumented immigrants have the right to work out of context and ignored her subsequent clarification, calling her remarks "constitutionally insupportable":
In Senate confirmation hearings held this week, Ms. Lynch has evaded questions from Louisiana senator David Vitter about whether the amnesty order will actually be carried out on a "case-by-case basis," as even the administration's own lawyers say is required by law, and from Utah senator Mike Lee and Texas senator Ted Cruz about whether a future president could, under President Obama's rationale of "prosecutorial discretion," decline to enforce tax or labor or environmental laws. But among the things she has stated unequivocally is her belief that the president's executive order is "legal and constitutional." She even went further, telling Alabama senator Jeff Sessions that "the right and the obligation to work is one that's shared by everyone in this country regardless of how they came here." Such an assertion is both ahistorical and constitutionally insupportable. But it is the president's own alarming view, and simply confirms that Ms. Lynch, like Eric Holder, would lend the Justice Department's endorsement to the president's lawlessness.
As even Fox News host Megyn Kelly has admitted, the executive action is not amnesty -- it is an exercise of prosecutorial discretion, common in all forms of law enforcement and not just in the context of immigration. According to Kelly, the word "amnesty" is "a hot-button term that the right uses to sort of get people upset."
Fox News celebrated Duke University's decision to cancel planned weekly broadcasts of Muslim calls to prayer from the campus chapel, crediting viewers and outraged citizens' public outcry over the "unequal treatment" being given to Islam relative to Christianity for the university's reversal. But Fox reports glossed over the real reason behind Duke's move: security threats stemming from an anti-Islam backlash to the plan.
Duke University abandoned plans to allow Islamic students to broadcast a weekly call to prayer from the university chapel after receiving a "credible and serious security threat," according to a university spokesman. Raleigh's WRAL noted that the initial decision to allow the three-minute long calls to prayer "caused a national furor," citing a Facebook post by Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist Rev. Billy Graham, in which he attacked Duke's decision because "followers of Islam are raping, butchering, and beheading Christians, Jews, and anyone who doesn't submit to their Sharia Islamic law."
Fox News, which also responded to the initial announcement with outrage, celebrated the university's reversal. On Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy validated the public outcry, saying "There is no amplified Christian message ... It just seemed like they were including the Muslim faith, but they were excluding all the others." He attributed Duke's reversal to viewers contacting the university: "A lot of you made your opinion known, a lot of people contacted Duke, and they have done a 180."
Co-host Brian Kilmeade consoled Duke's Muslim community by saying, "If you do want to pray at the right time, you can get a watch."
Doocy briefly acknowledged that a security threat played into the university's decision, but glossed over its impact or the nature of the threat. Later, a news report on Fox's America's Newsroom ignored the security threat entirely, as host Martha MacCallum quipped, "Community outcry prompted this change ... They got some word from donors as well, from what I hear. That helped them expedite that decision."
While Fox celebrated the successful outcry, Omid Safi, director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center, told The Atlantic that there were "numerous verified instances of credible threats" against members of the university community:
"My disappointment is primarily directed toward people who find it acceptable to have recourse to violence, even the threat of violence, to make the point they want to make--particularly if they see these threats as being substantiated by their own religious conviction," Safi said. "We all know about the Muslim community having our crazies, but it seems like we don't have a monopoly on it."
These threats follow weeks of ramped up Islamophobic vitriol on Fox News and right-wing media as a whole, in which conservatives have largely abandoned even the appearance of tolerance after attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. One Fox host brazenly confessed, "I'm an Islamophobe ... You can call me it all you want. "He was joined by a carousel of extreme voices pushing myths about the dangers of the Muslim community.
Conservative media outlets promoted an anonymously sourced claim published by U.S. News & World Report that an aide to Hillary Clinton circulated an attack on former Senator Jim Webb. Clinton spokesperson Nick Merrill flatly denied the report, telling Media Matters it was "pure fabrication."
In a story discussing Webb's possible run for the presidency, U.S. News & World Report's David Catanese claimed that "Clinton loyalists are keeping an eye" on Webb as a potential rival for the Democratic nomination. As evidence, Catanese wrote that "the week before Thanksgiving, staffers of Philippe Reines, Clinton's longtime communications guru, pitched talk radio producers on the racy, sexually charged writings in Webb's novels, according to a source."
In a comment to Media Matters, Clinton spokesperson Nick Merrill flatly denied the claim: "There is nothing true about this, it's pure fabrication, and if the reporter who wrote the story would have bothered to ask before printing it, we would have told him that."
Catanese doubled down on his claim in a follow-up report, writing that "of course, the Clinton team is denying Reines' underlings floated the material in the first place" and publishing Merrill's statement that the claim was "an unmitigated lie," before adding, "Our source, granted anonymity, stands by the account."
Several conservative media outlets ran with the anonymous U.S. News report, using it to attack Clinton's character.
The Drudge Report's headline linking to the report said "Team Clinton Already Dishing Oppo on Jim Webb."
New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin called the report evidence that Hillary Clinton was "trying to dirty up Jim Webb," and added, "Mud first, that's Hillary."
National Review's Jim Geraghty asked, "Why on earth would the Hillary team go after Jim Webb this early?" adding, "What is this, some form of mudslinging pregame stretching?"
At HotAir, conservative blogger Ed Morrisey said the story was evidence of "Clintonistas using a kitchen-sink strategy" which "sends a message to other Democrats who might dare to intrude on Coronation II: Hillary's Boogaloo."
American Conservative's James Carden said that "Clinton's team is seemingly alive to the danger a Webb candidacy poses" because of the report that "longtime Clinton henchman Philippe Reines had been pitching talk radio producers unflattering stories about Webb." Carden wrote that the incident "should raise additional questions about the former Secretary's powers of discernment, particularly when it comes to the character of some of her closest advisers."
National Review personalities exploited questions surrounding Rolling Stone's high-profile account of a rape at the University of Virginia (UVA) in order to deny the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses and suggested that women should do more to protect themselves, a response in keeping with the outlet's history of denialist, victim-blaming sexual assault coverage.
From the December 7 edition of ABC's This Week:
In its most recent effort to defend discriminatory and unnecessary strict voter ID laws, National Review Online has resorted in the past week to recycling debunked myths about this type of voter suppression, most recently linking voter ID to noncitizen voting, which is an unrelated issue.
With the midterm elections coming up, right-wing media are aggressively lying about voter ID laws and voter fraud, and NRO is no exception. NRO has previously praised Texas' strict voter ID law -- which has been found to be racially discriminatory in both intent and effect -- called for the remaining protections available under the Voting Rights Act to be repealed or limited, and dismissed concerns over Wisconsin's voter ID law, which has the potential to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters when it goes into effect.
In just the past week, NRO writers have doubled down on nearly all of these poorly supported right-wing positions. National Review editor Rich Lowry defended Texas's strict voter ID law -- which a federal judge determined to be an "unconstitutional poll tax" -- by arguing that the disenfranchisement these laws cause is justified by the potential for in-person voter impersonation, even though that kind of fraud is virtually non-existent. Lowry also incorrectly claimed that strict voter ID laws require the same level of identification needed to buy a gun. NRO contributor Hans von Spakovsky wrote in The Wall Street Journal that "moves to shore up election integrity have been resisted by progressives" who are challenging the legality of voter ID laws "without evidence that such efforts suppress minority turnout" -- despite the fact that a recent report found a decrease in voter of color turnout in two states was attributable to strict voter ID. For good measure, von Spakovsky, a discredited proponent of restrictive election rules, also conflated other forms of voter fraud with in-person impersonation, the only type of fraud voter ID prevents.
The dissembling continued with another NRO contributor, Mona Charen, offering more of the same in a post titled "The Voter-ID Myth Crashes." Charen seized on a contested study of the rate of noncitizen voting to claim that "[b]eing asked to show a photo ID can diminish several kinds of fraud, including impersonation, duplicate registrations in different jurisdictions, and voting by ineligible people including felons and noncitizens," but buried the fact that "[v]oter-ID laws will not prevent noncitizens from voting."
As strict voter ID laws are put into effect ahead of the midterm elections, recent judicial opinions and social science studies continue to poke holes in right-wing media's defense of voter suppression.
National Review editor Rich Lowry equated Kentucky senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes' refusal to disclose which presidential candidate she voted for in 2012 with former Republican Rep. Todd Akin's (MO) stunning claim that it is "really rare" for a woman to become pregnant as a result of "a legitimate rape." Lowry suggested the two positions were politically equivalent "gaffes," whitewashing the fact that Akin's statement was not only absurdly disconnected from scientific reality -- it also happened to reflect actual policy priorities of the Republican Party.
During an October 10 interview with the editorial board of The Louisville Courier-Journal, Grimes said she "respect[ed] the sanctity of the ballot box" when asked if she voted for President Obama in past elections. During an October 13 candidate debate, Grimes reiterated her stance on voter privacy:
GRIMES: This is a matter of principle. Our constitution grants, here in Kentucky, the constitutional right to privacy at the ballot box, for a secret ballot. You have that right, Senator McConnell has that right, every Kentuckian has that right.
GRIMES: I am not going to compromise a constitutional right provided here in Kentucky in order to curry favor on one or other side or for members of the media.
In an October 15 column published by Politico Magazine, Lowry exclaimed that "Alison Lundergan Grimes is the Todd Akin of 2014," and argued that Grimes' stated position defending the secret ballot was "a defining political gaffe" for this election. He likened her comments to then-Rep. Todd Akin's infamous statements about rape and pregnancy, in which Akin stated that pregnancies resulting from rape are rare because, "if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." Lowry argued that the two candidates represented similar levels of political ineptitude, writing that each was "telegenic, mockable and universally condemned."
Grimes' decision to stand on principle with regard to voter privacy has been labeled a "gaffe" by some, but, as MSNBC's Steve Benen pointed out, it is "an issue the media has deemed extremely important, but which actually affects no one."
By comparison, Akin's alarming comments on rape and pregnancy were reflected to varying degrees in actual policy decisions favored by Republican elected officials and candidates. Akin would later attempt to clarify his remarks amid a "firestorm" of controversy, but maintained his opposition to legal abortion access for women -- a constitutional right codified by the Supreme Court in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. In 2012, many prominent Republican candidates and conservative media figures supported banning safe and legal abortion, making the issue a central part of campaign rhetoric.
In October 2012, Indiana Republican senate candidate Richard Mourdock voiced his opposition to abortion "even when life begins in that terrible situation of rape," stating that "it is something that God intended to happen." Around the same time, Republican Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois supported a ban on all abortion, including cases that would threaten the life of the mother. Walsh falsley claimed that "modern technology and science" had solved the problem of potentially life-threatening pregnancies. During a 2007 Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney said "we don't want to have abortion in this country at all, period." He went on to state that it would be "terrific" if Congress passed a bill outlawing abortion, which he would be "delighted" to sign. Romney dodged abortion questions throughout his 2012 campaign, but promised to eliminate federal funding for women's health organizations like Planned Parenthood and vowed to be "a pro-life president."
Outlawing access to abortion remains a lightning rod for conservative media, with some right-wing outlets going so far as to tie debates about legal abortion to the crimes of convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell. Right-wing media figures like Karl Rove have pushed the myth that some forms of contraception are actually forms of abortion, while others such as Bill O'Reilly advanced extremist views on fetal "personhood" that would criminalize most abortions.
There is no appropriate comparison between Akin's extreme rhetoric and false scientific claims, and Grimes' personal defense of privacy at the ballot box.
Conservative media are attacking actor Ben Affleck for comments he made objecting to disparaging generalizations about Islam during a heated exchange with HBO host Bill Maher, using their dialogue as ammunition to continue claiming that the religion has a unique connection to extremism and that Muslims have not done enough to root out religious zealotry.
Conservative media are suggesting that the Obama administration is "working with foreigners to subvert the Constitution" by seeking a climate agreement with other nations without Senate approval, but legal experts agree that because it is not expected to be legally binding, the accord does not require Senate ratification.
Right-wing media personalities blamed President Obama for recent violence in Iraq, blaming the rise of violent militants in the country on Obama willfully refusing to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to leave behind some American forces and instead redeploying all U.S. troops. In reality, the Iraqi government refused to negotiate a viable SOFA with the U.S. despite Obama's efforts to maintain a military presence.
Marriage equality advocate attorneys David Boies and Ted Olson see the media opposition to their cause softening, and believe that while conservative media "are not prepared to embrace marriage equality," they are shying away from the issue because "they think that the wave of the future is against them."
Boies and Olson garnered attention when they joined forces in 2010 to battle California's anti-marriage equality ballot measure, Proposition 8, which was ultimately overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court last summer.
The duo, who had previously worked in opposition during the 2000 Bush vs. Gore case, kicked off a book tour this week to promote Redeeming the Dream, their account of the legal battle for marriage equality and the landmark ruling that struck down Proposition 8.
Prior to an event in Maplewood, N.J. Wednesday night, the lawyers-turned-authors spoke with Media Matters and said they see the media coverage of marriage equality becoming increasingly supportive, marking a notable change from even the recent past.
"The media in my view covered this issue very poorly for many years," Boies said. "The whole area of gay and lesbian rights was something that the media didn't know how to deal with, were a little uncomfortable dealing with it, didn't want in their view, to get too far out ahead of some of their readers. Because it was a sensitive issue [they] didn't cover it nearly as much as they should have."
Now, according to Boies, media figures "are beginning to feel uncomfortable opposing it ... I think there have been a number of people who you might think of as conservative commentators who have either been modestly favorable to us or silent on the issue and waiting to see."
Olson added, "We had one or two favorable Op-Ed pieces by members of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal. National Review has been pretty consistently on the other side of this. Ed Whelan, who writes in the National Review is very, very strong on the other side of the issue. But a lot of the conservative press is staying away from the issue because I think they think that the wave of the future is against them. So that tells you something right there."
"I think the shift's continuing," Boies noted. "I think some of the more conservative media are sort of standing back. They are not prepared to embrace marriage equality, but I do think they see that that is the wave of the future. Remember, as much as between 75 to 80 percent of people under 30 ... liberals, conservatives ... 75 to 80 percent of those people favor marriage equality. You don't want to get crossways with that kind of demographic wave."
Media Matters has documented Fox News' lack of coverage of marriage equality court decisions since the 2013 Supreme Court rulings, with many major cases receiving less than a minute of coverage on the network.
Both Boies and Olson felt they had personally been well-received by both conservative and mainstream media outlets, and that their issue had received fair coverage.
"Lots of different media reacted in different ways, but we were received very warmly, or I was, on Chris Wallace's show, on Fox," Olson recalled. "Of course, places like MSNBC have given us more access than some of the other outlets, but the novelty of the two of us coming together have caused curiosity. I'd say we were fairly favorably well-received in most places."
NRO editor and Fox News contributor Deroy Murdock criticized President Obama for advocating policies that allegedly hurt African-Americans ignoring that the African-American unemployment rate is at a five-year low.
Instead of highlighting the achievement, Murdock criticized Obama in a May 16 post for the National Review Online, going so far as to ask whether Obama's policies are "anti-black":
The conservative media got their candidate with the election of former Bush administration official Ben Sasse in Nebraska's Republican primary for U.S. Senate. Sasse was endorsed by Sarah Palin, Mark Levin, and Erick Erickson, and has been prominently featured on Fox News and in National Review.
Sasse's win capped a bruising primary between him and fellow Republicans Shane Osborn and Sid Dinsdale. Politico noted there was "back-and-forth mudslinging" over conservative credentials even though there "are no clear ideological differences between the candidates, and the 'establishment' and 'tea party' labels associated with the candidates are fuzzy."
Allies of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and a coalition of Nebraska activists supported Osburn, while outside national groups such as FreedomWorks, Tea Party Express, Family Research Council, and Senate Conservatives Fund backed Sasse.
Some of Sasse's biggest boosters were in the conservative media. National Review featured the Nebraskan on the cover of its January 27 issue, calling him a "health-care expert" and "rising conservative star." The Sasse campaign frequently touted the cover on the campaign, and promoted it in a campaign ad: