Writers at National Review have whipped themselves into such an anti-gay fervor recently that they're oblivious to the plainly contradictory points they're trying to make as news of prominent gay athletes and discriminatory anti-gay laws continue to generate headlines this month.
The confused commentary resembles something of a last-ditch effort to salvage a small victory in the right wing's losing culture war over gay rights and marriage equality. Just ten years ago the Republican Party successfully used same-sex marriage as a wedge issue against Democrats in the 2004 campaign. Now, conservatives remain in retreat as public sentiment continues to shift (For the first time, a majority of Ohioans support marriage equality.)
"On this particular issue, the cultural wheel has spun so quickly," noted ESPN's Tony Kornheiser, while discussing the breaking news last week that Jason Collins was signing a contract with the Brooklyn Nets to become the first openly gay player in the NBA.
It was Collins' historic coming out story that helped set off a nasty National Review Online screed by contributing editor Quin Hilyer, who condemned "homosexual chic" and "gay mania" in his February 24 essay. Hilyer complained bitterly about how the "professional Left" is "going bonkers" hyping "active homosexuality (or any one of several exotic variants thereof) as an absolute virtue."
"Enough already with the in-our-faceness from the homosexual activists and their aggressively enthusiastic cheerleaders," Hillyer complained. He was especially angry by the recent press attention University of Missouri star football play Michael Sam received as he stands poised to become the first openly gay NFL player. Hillyer was also upset about "attention-grabbing" Johnny Weir who made headlines and won praise for his astute commentary of Olympic ice-skating for NBC this year.
"The problem isn't homosexuality," Hillyer insisted. "But public sexuality. There was a time, a better time, when the sex lives of strangers were nobody's business," he wrote. "Most Americans assuredly don't much care what other people do."
The message to public gays like Sam and Weir: Tone it down!
But here's the contradiction: While claiming nobody really cares what gays do, Hillyer in the same column, and National Review editors the following day in an unsigned editorial, simultaneously applauded right-wing efforts to pass state-wide laws that discriminate against gays.
The editorial board of the National Review ripped into "organized homosexuality" for opposing a measure passed by the Arizona legislature that would allow businesses and individuals to deny services to gay couples on religious grounds, defending the bill as part of the "live-and-let-live" credo.
In an editorial published online on February 24, the conservative publication's editors defended the bill as "necessary," criticizing the "oppression envy" shown by LGBT activists who have opposed the law and rejecting comparisons of the legislation to Jim Crow laws (emphasis added):
It is perhaps unfortunate that it has come to this, but organized homosexuality, a phenomenon that is more about progressive pieties than gay rights per se, remains on the permanent offensive in the culture wars. Live-and-let-live is a creed that the gay lobby specifically rejects: The owner of the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado was threatened with a year in jail for declining to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. New Mexico photographer Elaine Huguenin was similarly threatened for declining to photograph a same-sex wedding. It is worth noting that neither the baker nor the photographer categorically refuses services to homosexuals; birthday cakes and portrait photography were both on the menu. The business owners specifically objected to participating in a civic/religious ceremony that violated their own consciences.
Gay Americans, like many members of minority groups, are poorly served by their self-styled leadership. Like feminists and union bosses, the leaders of the nation's gay organizations suffer from oppression envy, likening their situation to that of black Americans -- as though having to find a gay-friendly wedding planner (pro tip: try swinging a dead cat) were the moral equivalent of having spent centuries in slavery and systematic oppression under Jim Crow. Their goal is not toleration or even equal rights but official victim-group status under law and in civil society, allowing them to use the courts and other means of official coercion to impose their own values upon those who hold different values.
Which is to say, what is regrettable here is not Arizona's law but the machinations that have made it necessary. It seems unlikely that those religious bakers and photographers were chosen at random, or that their antagonists will stop until such diversity of opinion as exists about the subject of gay marriage has been put under legal discipline.
The editors' assertion that the measure only targets services related to same-sex marriage has been debunked by experts. As constitutional law professor Kenji Yoshino of New York University has noted, the measure is written broadly enough that any individual or business owner would be allowed to refuse service to any gay person on the grounds that doing business with a gay person imposed a substantial burden on his or her religious beliefs.
While Fox News contributor and former Sen. Scott Brown ended his financial relationship with the conservative website Newsmax after the company sent his email list controversial solicitations, National Review and the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) tell Media Matters they will continue to let Newsmax send dubious ads to their own email lists.
Newsmax previously used both outlets' email lists to send advertisements plugging the same questionable doctor that caused Brown to sever relations with the company this week.
Brown cut ties with Newsmax on February 5, hours after the media began reporting on a missive the company had sent his political email list trumpeting the Alzheimer's disease cures of Dr. Russell Blaylock. In the email, Blaylock linked fluoridated water and flu vaccines to Alzheimer's and excessive exercise to Parkinson's disease.
In recent years, several prominent conservative outlets and personalities have sent Newsmax-sponsored emails to their followers pushing Blaylock's questionable medicine. In addition to Brown, National Review, and CBN, similar email ads have been sent through Newsmax from Dick Morris, Mike Huckabee, and Herman Cain. Newsmax frequently advertises for dubious health and financial products.
When asked about the questionable claims made in Blaylock's ads and the decision of Sen. Brown to terminate his relationship, National Review Publisher Jack Fowler told Media Matters he had no plans to end his magazine's Newsmax agreements.
"We have a relationship with Newsmax and that's all I'm going to say," Fowler said in an interview Thursday. "I can't speak for what Scott Brown does or doesn't do. I don't know who he has had a relationship with or whatever, but we have a relationship with Newsmax and that's it."
Asked if he had concerns given the questionable elements of Blaylock's claims, Fowler said, "Have a good day."
Chris Roslan, a spokesman for Christian Broadcasting Network, also defended the Newsmax/Blaylock email ads, describing Blaylock as a "qualified medical professional" and stating that "it is not uncommon for medical professionals to have differing points of view on medical conditions and their treatments." But he also pointed out that CBN includes a disclaimer in each email that states CBN does not endorse the products.
CBN attempts to vet all potential advertisers based on multiple criteria including pending legal complaints or conflicts, general business practices and also to make certain that there is no offensive material. CBN also evaluates potential advertisers and products based on their compatibility with the online environment we strive to create and the shared common faith values with our website users.
Regarding Dr. Blaylock, he is a retired neurosurgeon and an author with a very large following. As an M.D. he is certainly qualified to weigh in on the tragic disease of Alzheimer's.
As it is not uncommon for medical professionals to have differing points of view on medical conditions and their treatments - case in point: the use of vitamin supplements - CBN does not, and will not, attempt to validate medical opinions from qualified medical professionals in determining whether an advertisement is appropriate.
CBN includes a disclaimer in every sponsored email stating that the content is a paid advertisement and that it is not an endorsement by CBN. We feel our viewers can determine for themselves whether the content is valuable or not. We have not received a single complaint about this advertisement.
Dick Morris and Mike Huckabee did not respond to inquiries from Media Matters, while a spokesman for Herman Cain declined comment via email.
The right-wing bubble seems impervious to both experts and fact-checkers when it comes to economic truth and the Affordable Care Act.
This week the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its updated economic forecast for the years 2014 to 2024. Right-wing media quickly pounced on its projection that the supply of labor would voluntarily decline by about 2 million workers over the next three years due to the ACA, twisting the findings to accuse the ACA of destroying 2 million jobs. Such misinformation from the conservative bubble was predictable, as the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) put it on February 4:
Opponents of the ACA will try to paint these CBO estimates as evidence that the ACA has "killed jobs" or something like it. That's flat wrong. What the ACA has done is expand the menu of options available to Americans about how to obtain decent health insurance without having their income fall to poverty levels. That menu used to include one option--"go to work for a large employer."
Indeed, subsequent fact-checkers and experts discredited the right-wing media's spin -- As The Washington Post's FactChecker plainly said, "No, CBO did not say Obamacare will kill 2 million jobs," echoing Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors Jason Furman who explained that "CBO's analysis itself is about the choices that workers are making in the face of new options afforded to them by the Affordable Care Act, not something about firms destroying jobs."
But it appears it will take more than facts and experts to penetrate the right-wing echo chamber.
Fox News doubled down on its misinformation on the February 6 edition of Fox & Friends, with an on-air graphic that framed the increased worker flexibility as "Obamacare to cut 2M jobs":
The Wall Street Journal editorial board claimed to "pars[e] this supply-of-labor reasoning" in a February 5 editorial by refusing to acknowledge the distinction between labor supply and job availability:
For years liberals have lamented the jobs crisis and underemployment to castigate Republicans as mean-spirited for opposing more "stimulus" and more weeks of unemployment benefits. But if pervasive joblessness is an economic and social scourge, why celebrate a program that is creating more of it?
Liberals are also trying to spin the CBO report as an endorsement of ObamaCare's alleged health security. Mr. Furman cited the phenomenon known as "job lock," in which people don't switch employers or start their own business to preserve fringe benefits. But job lock is really about employment flexibility, rather than the government extending subsidies so people don't need or want jobs.
A National Review editorial on February 6 characterized the fact-checks as "hilarious," claiming that the ACA was "taking a blowtorch to the work force" and creating a "crater" of lost economic value while mocking the administration:
But the administration still does not seem to be able to get its collective head around the fact that American workers are not just hungry mouths that have to be filled with paychecks: They are people who provide economically valuable goods and services. Those 2.5 million out of the work force may be happier at their leisure, but the economy as a whole will be substantially worse off without their contributions. We could, in theory, simply have the federal government deliver checks to every household and allow each and every one to follow his bliss as he sees fit, but the shelves of the grocery stores soon would be empty. The depth of the Obamacare crater in the labor force isn't some abstract unemployment rate, but the lost value of the work those Americans would have done.
Plugging their ears on the CBO's determination also blinded right-wing media to the CBO's suggestion that the projected changes in the labor supply would increase opportunity for unemployed workers:
If changes in incentives lead some workers to reduce the amount of hours they want to work or to leave the labor force altogether, many unemployed workers will be available to take those jobs--so the effect on overall employment of reductions in labor supply will be greatly dampened.
Following an announcement that House Republican leaders will unveil a set of "principles" for guiding debate on immigration reform, conservative media urged Republicans to reject these and any attempts to pass immigration reform legislation this year. This is the latest in a series of conservative media attacks against the immigration reform effort that began in 2013.
If you are a woman, you no longer have the same rights you had 41 years ago.
January 22 is the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, in which the court ruled that women have a constitutional right to choose to have an abortion.
But in the intervening decades, that right has largely disappeared, a process helped by media outlets that have misinformed on these safe and legal health procedures.
Thanks to Supreme Court rulings that came after Roe, states are now free to regulate and restrict abortion so long as new laws do not impose an "undue burden" on a woman's right to choose. But state legislatures are currently testing what qualifies as an undue burden, and in 2013 alone 70 different anti-choice restrictions were adopted in 22 states across the U.S. In fact, according to the Guttmacher Institute, more abortion restrictions have been enacted in the past three years than in the entire previous decade.
In December, Ian Millhiser and Tara Culp-Ressler published a thoughtful piece about this process at ThinkProgress headlined, "The Greatest Trick The Supreme Court Ever Pulled Was Convincing The World Roe v. Wade Still Exists." They argued that while a woman's right to choose an abortion is still ostensibly covered by the constitution, the reality is that right is increasingly restricted to just wealthy women who happen to live in (or are able to travel to) one of the few states that will still permit them the opportunity to exercise that right.
This sustained attack on women's rights is fast becoming a key issue for politicians in the 2014 midterms. But the media have also played a sizeable role in this process, contributing to the vanishing power of Roe by allowing anti-choicers to control the conversation.
Bloomberg columnist and National Review editor Ramesh Ponnuru picked up the repeatedly debunked right-wing media myth that President Barack Obama is "court-packing" because Senate Democrats are trying to hold up-or-down votes on nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In addition to the fact that filling vacant seats is not actually "pack[ing] the court," the term used to describe FDR's failed attempt to add more seats to the Supreme Court, Ponnuru includes a variety of discredited falsehoods in his column as reasons why Republicans should continue to block Obama's judicial nominees, regardless of their stellar qualifications and bipartisan endorsements.
From his November 12 Bloomberg column:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he intends to force a vote this week on the nomination of Cornelia Pillard to the court. Pillard's is one of three nominations Republicans are opposing. They say the Democrats are trying to pack the court. The Democrats say they're just trying to fill vacancies, and argue that the Republicans' behavior is so abusive they'll restrict the filibuster if it continues.
Republicans should remember what happened the last time we had such a fight, and they shouldn't give in.
Starting in 2003, the Democratic minority embarked on an unprecedented series of filibusters to stop President George W. Bush's appointments to appeals courts. Back then, Republicans said there was a crisis of judicial vacancies needing to be filled. Democrats replied that the courts, especially the D.C. Circuit, were underworked and that the Republicans were trying to pack the courts with like-minded judges. Now the sides are reversed, and so are the talking points.
As it happens, the Republicans have the better of the current argument. They aren't conducting a "blockade" that violates past norms. President Barack Obama's nominees are getting confirmed at a faster pace than Bush's were at the same point in his presidency. One of Obama's nominees, Sri Srinivasan, was unanimously confirmed in May.
And the D.C. Circuit now has even less work than it did when Democrats were blocking nominees. Merrick Garland, the court's chief judge and an appointee of President Bill Clinton, informed the Senate that the number of oral arguments per active judge has fallen over the past decade. So have the number of written decisions issued and appeals taken. Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, says that one judge on the circuit wrote to him to argue that "there wouldn't be enough work to go around" if more were appointed. Grassley has introduced a bill that would shrink the circuit by three seats, and urges the administration to fill vacancies in other circuits.
I'll let you in on a little secret: Nobody on either side of this debate actually cares about how big the circuit's caseload is. What they care about is the court's ideological balance.
Ponnuru goes on to assert that the D.C. Circuit "is actually balanced between Democratic and Republican appointees." This is not the first time right-wing media have trotted out faulty math to to try and argue that the D.C. Circuit is somehow ideologically balanced -- but it just isn't true. In fact, there are six judges on the court who have taken "senior status," a form of quasi-retirement that allows those judges to hear panel cases. Of the six judges who have taken senior status, five are Republican appointees. Far from being "balanced" ideologically, conservative justices outnumber their more liberal counterparts 9 to 5.
There's a growing movement of journalists and pundits who are rooting for the Republican-led impasse over government funding to result in a shutdown of government services. "I'm rooting for a shutdown and you should be too," writes Joshua Green in the Boston Globe. "Shut down the government!" cheers Todd Purdum in Politico. It's not that these writers are actually keen on causing economic disruption: they see it as the only recourse available to correcting the Republican political nihilism that keeps bringing us to the brink of crisis.
It's hard to begrudge them for what seems so cavalier a position -- we may have reached the point of political toxicity that drastic measures of this sort are the only remaining curatives. What is bothersome is the habit of conservative pundits who enable this political dynamic by recognizing the role people like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) are playing in it, but brushing that aside and praising Cruz for exploiting it to achieve mundane, short-term political goals.
After Cruz's 21-hour non-filibuster in support of defunding Obamacare, there was widespread agreement on the left and (much of) the right that Cruz had done little beyond raising his own profile and raising the likelihood that the government would have to shut down.
Writing in Politico, National Review's Rich Lowry marveled at Cruz's speech: "After talking the talk, Ted Cruz wins." Lowry knows that Cruz's policy goals are unattainable ("farfetched to the point of absurdity") and that his politics are causing chaos in Congress at a time when it really needs to get work done, but he views that as secondary to Cruz's accomplishment of riling up conservative base voters:
The Cruz eye-rollers had plenty of occasions to roll their eyes -- perhaps no senator has caused so many colleagues to mutter under their breaths in his first eight months in the world's greatest deliberative body -- but the conservative grass roots stood up and cheered. They are desperate for gumption and imagination and, above all, fight, and Cruz delivered all three during his long, bleary-eyed hours holding forth on C-SPAN2.
We're on the precipice of shutdown because the Republicans can't get their act together, and Cruz's tactics are causing further disarray, and Cruz gets a cookie for making a small slice of the American electorate feel good about themselves?
National Review editor Rich Lowry declared that the civil rights dream of the 1960s has been "won," and thus assertions of ongoing discrimination are "imagined slights and manufactured controversies," a claim that dismisses the current reality of economic inequality and voting rights struggles.
August 28 marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s March on Washington, an event dedicated to calling for civil and economic rights for African-Americans. It was there in 1963 that Dr. King delivered his famous "I Have A Dream" speech, and the events helped bring about enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act. For the anniversary celebration, tens of thousands gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to hear President Obama and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) - a speaker at the 1963 march - give remarks.
In a Politico op-ed the next day, National Review editor Rich Lowry used the anniversary celebration as a vehicle to criticize today's civil rights movement as "an intellectually exhausted disgrace" with leaders who are a "degeneration" to the original effort. This is because, according to Lowry, Dr. King's dream "was a glorious triumph" and the fight for equal rights "is won," while today's movement "subsists largely on imagined slights and manufactured controversies unrelated to the welfare of real people."
As evidence of these "manufactured controversies," Lowry mocked the notion that recent voter ID laws are discriminatory and declared: "What the contemporary civil rights establishment can't bring itself to acknowledge is that cultural breakdown has more to do with the struggles of blacks than any officially sanctioned discrimination." He also ignored the continuing problem of economic inequality between whites and African-Americans.
Lowry's dismissal of the discriminatory nature of voter ID laws is illustrative of falsehoods he's pushed in the past. At least 11 percent of American citizens do not possess a government issued photo ID, and the percentage of African-Americans without a photo ID is even higher - one study estimated the number at 25 percent. Even if a state purports to issue an ID for "free," there are costs associated with obtaining one that amount to a poll tax. As the Brennan Center for Justice determined, voter ID laws "create more burdens for minority citizens."
National Review has published numerous articles this week marking the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.'s seminal "I have a dream" speech. Given its ugly history, the long-running conservative magazine is ill-suited for such transparent attempts to re-appropriate the civil rights movement. National Review opposed major civil rights legislation and published appallingly racist commentary during the height of the civil rights movement.
In an editorial published this morning, the editors of National Review invoke the March on Washington in order to attack the "decrepitude of today's civil-rights movement" and label the original civil rights movement "in a crucial sense conservative" because "it did not seek to invent rights, but to secure ones that the government already respected in principle."
In a nod to the magazine's own shameful history, the editors concede that "too many conservatives and libertarians, including the editors of this magazine" missed what it sees as the centrally conservative and theological arguments underpinning the movement:
Too many conservatives and libertarians, including the editors of this magazine, missed all of this at the time. They worried about the effects of the civil-rights movement on federalism and limited government. Those principles weren't wrong, exactly; they were tragically misapplied, given the moral and historical context. It is a mark of the success of King's movement that almost all Americans can now see its necessity.
It's commendable that the editors are acknowledging the magazine's role in opposing important facets of the civil rights movement. Nonetheless, claiming that National Review "worried about the effects of the civil-rights movement on federalism and limited government" glosses over the odious nature of some of the magazine's writing from the 50s and 60s, when that publication stood athwart history yelling stop as King and his allies fought to end a brutal regime of racial segregation and voter disenfranchisement.
After recent reports that the Syrian government may have used chemical weapons against civilians, media figures have begun to push for U.S. military intervention in the region. But senior military leaders say that engagement could produce a negative long-term outcome.
Last month, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, detailed possible downsides to U.S. military involvement in Syria in a letter to Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI). In addition to possible collateral damage to civilians and the loss of U.S. aircraft, Dempsey notes that a poorly planned military incursion "could inadvertently empower extremists or unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control." Additionally, Dempsey noted that military options could cost taxpayers between $500 million to $1 billion per month.
A review of letters to Congress from dozens of state health departments and attorneys general around the country revealed that abortion in the United States is safe and well-regulated, despite recent media reports to the contrary.
Following the conviction of Kermit Gosnell for the murder of three infants during unsafe medical practices that bore no resemblance to legal abortion procedures, congressional Republicans launched an inquiry into how states monitor and regulate abortion, writing letters to the departments of health and attorneys general in all 50 states asking for details regarding criminal laws, prosecutions, inspections of abortion clinics, and regulations relating to abortion at the state level.
The pro-choice group RH Reality Check reviewed the responses from 38 of the state attorneys general and 31 of the health departments and found that they provide the "most comprehensive picture to date of the reality of abortion services," confirming that "abortion in the United States is highly regulated and overwhelmingly safe":
The responses received to date include thousands of pages of legislation and regulations on a wide range of topics that could relate to abortion. They contain definitions of "ambulatory surgical clinics," criminal statutes addressing feticide and the failure to provide medical care to newborns, and the minutiae of how state health officials must conduct inspections of clinics where abortions are performed. Some states also provided samples of the forms, such as the surveys that clinic inspectors have to fill in as they conduct their visits of abortion facilities, as well as samples of the application forms for facilities wishing to provide abortions. As an indication of how voluminous some of these responses are, Pennsylvania's response ran to 1,250 pages.
An analysis of these documents shows that congressional Republicans will find no support for their arguments in favor of new restrictions on abortion care in the evidence presented by the states. In particular, to the extent that anti-choice advocates claim that women are being put at risk by abortion services, these documents--from the very state entities charged with overseeing and regulating abortion--show the contrary. They show that abortion in the United States is highly regulated and overwhelmingly safe.
In particular, the responses revealed that abortion facilities nationwide are routinely inspected and subject to onerous regulation.
The findings of this congressional survey undermine the media's recent narrative that abortion requires even greater regulation and restriction. NBC, CNN, and Fox News hosts have all hyped the claim that an unconstitutional ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy would be "reasonable." Writers for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal have falsely claimed individual bans on 20-week abortions are popularly supported, and have glossed over the realities of these bills, which could place women and their fetus' health in severe danger. With the exception of a unique segment on MSNBC, media reports on abortion restrictions have largely ignored women's health experts who confirm these unnecessary restrictions will put women's health at risk.
Furthermore, media figures at The National Review, Washington Post, The Weekly Standard, and elsewhere have insisted that the case of Kermit Gosnell is representative of later-term abortions in the U.S., when in fact according to these documents, the Gosnell case was the only reported instance of an illegal "born alive" procedure.
Media Matters has previously noted that despite the fact that abortion is regulated at unprecented levels, with the vast majority of U.S. counties already lacking access to abortion providers, state lawmakers have proposed hundreds of new bills to further limit women's access to safe and legal abortion services. Some of these restrictions have already been struck down, with Bloomberg reporting that state legislatures suffered "a 0-for-8 losing streak after court challenges" reaffirmed that bans on abortion after six, 12, and 20 weeks of pregnancy are unconstitutional under the Supreme Court's rulings that a woman has a right to an abortion up until fetal viability.
The evidence from the congressional inquiry confirms all of these findings: abortion is already safe and well-regulated, despite what lawmakers and the media might say.
The Republican National Committee voted this morning to ban NBC News and CNN from hosting GOP primary debates in 2016. On paper, the vote was to protest plans by NBC and CNN to produce, respectively, a miniseries and a documentary on Hillary Clinton. But there's a whole lot more undergirding this move to exclude these outlets from the Republican debates. The long-standing animus toward the "liberal media" among conservatives has morphed into outright paranoia, and it came to a head during the 2012 campaign when George Stephanopoulos asked a debate question about contraception.
Here's what happened. Rick Santorum talked about contraception a lot during his 2012 presidential campaign. He railed against "the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea" in an October 2011 interview with an evangelical blog. He told NBC's Today on December 29 that contraception "leads to lot of sexually transmitted diseases, it leads to a lot of unplanned pregnancies." On January 2, 2012, just a few days before participating in a Republican debate co-hosted by ABC News, Santorum was asked by then-ABC reporter Jake Tapper about his belief that states should be able to ban contraception. "The state has a right to do that, I have never questioned that the state has a right to do that," Santorum said.
Then, at the ABC/Yahoo News debate on January 7, moderator George Stephanopoulos asked Mitt Romney if he shared Santorum's belief "that states have the right to ban contraception." Romney responded: "George, this is an unusual topic that you're raising. States have a right to ban contraception? I can't imagine a state banning contraception." Shortly afterward, all hell broke loose.
From all corners of the conservative media came accusations that George Stephanopoulos, in asking about contraception, had "coordinated" with Team Obama to lure the Republican candidates into some sort of trap on birth control. Much of the speculation was driven by Dick Morris, which should have been a pretty big red flag in terms of reliability. The theory rested on the assumption that the contraception issue just came out of nowhere, which, of course, is not true -- Santorum was asked about it just five days before the debate by one of Stephanopoulos' colleagues.
National Review editor Rich Lowry launched a deceptive attack on Hillary Clinton for speaking out against voter ID laws that suppress minority voting by pushing falsehoods on the legislation and ignoring the hundreds of thousands of citizens a new voter ID law in North Carolina will reportedly disenfranchise.
On August 12, the governor of North Carolina signed into law a controversial voting bill that "overhauls the state's election laws" by requiring government-issued photo IDs when voting, reducing the early voting period by one week, and ending same-day registration. A majority of North Carolinians do not support the legislation, which is expected to reduce minority turnout.
In a Politico opinion piece, Lowry criticized comments Clinton made at the American Bar Association in which she noted that the Supreme Court's recent decision to strike down a portion of the Voting Rights Act would lead to disenfranchisement, particularly of minority voters, all in the name of the "phantom epidemic of voter ID fraud." Lowry claimed that Clinton was using the issue to play the "race card" in an attempt to "fire up minority voters by stirring fears of fire hoses and police dogs," and pushed a number of falsehoods related to the new North Carolina legislation to falsely claim it was simply part of "the American mainstream" and "a victimless crime."
Lowry's arguments -- which rely heavily on the discredited research of right-wing voter ID activist Hans von Spakovsky, who has been exposed as resorting to shady tactics like scrubbing his fingerprints off the web and "fudging questions of authorship" in his quest to limit voter participation -- include the claim that North Carolina is simply becoming "one of at least 30 states to adopt a voter ID law" and is therefore "common-sense." In fact, only four states besides North Carolina enforce the "strict photo ID" requirement the state passed, which means a voter cannot cast any ballot without first presenting an ID. In other states, if a voter does not have an ID, they have other options for casting a regular ballot, such as establishing their identity with a paycheck or signature match. The majority of states either have no voter ID law or no photo requirement.
The Brennan Center For Justice noted that strict photo ID laws such as North Carolina's "[offer] no real solution" to the little voter fraud states might experience, such as the two cases of alleged voter impersonation that have been referred by the North Carolina State Board of Elections since 2004:
[A] strict photo ID requirement cannot address problems related to long lines, inaccurate voter registration lists, or voter malfeasance like double voting, felon voting, or vote buying. The only type of voter malfeasance that photo ID can address is voter impersonation. A photo ID requirement is the worst kind of electoral policy solution -- it creates an illusion of security while offering no real solution to any identified problem with election administration, while simultaneously creating real consequences for many legal and qualified voters.
Lowry also pushed the idea that a 2008 Supreme Court decision meant the "constitutionality of voter ID isn't in doubt." But according to the Brennan Center, "it is a mistake to presume that the Supreme Court's 2008 decision in Crawford v. Marion County means that all strict voter ID laws would be constitutional in all circumstances," and North Carolina's law will have to be reviewed to ensure it doesn't overburden voters before its constitutionality can be determined. Justin Levitt, previously of the Brennan Center, also disputed claims similar to Lowry's that voter ID doesn't suppress voters because states with voter ID laws had high turnout in some races by noting the comparison was a "correlation-causation fallacy, and anybody who's had statistics for a week can talk to you about it."
But Lowry's disregard for the facts distracts from the real issue: that these laws disenfranchise American citizens. North Carolina's voter ID legislation alone could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of registered voters. As The Nation's Ari Berman reported, 316,000 registered voters in North Carolina don't have the required state-issued ID, and over 100,000 of those individuals are African-American. Furthermore, CBS News reported that 70 percent of African-Americans in North Carolina voted early in 2012, which will now be available on 10 days instead of 17 thanks to this new law.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Coalition for Social Justice have filed suit against the North Carolina law, saying that eliminating several early voting days, same-day registration, and "out-of-precinct" voting will "unduly burden the right to vote and discriminate against African-American voters" in violation of the Constitution. The ACLU explained that early voting particularly helps low-income workers who are more likely to have hourly-wage jobs or childcare concerns that limit their ability to get to the polls on Election Day, and because African-Americans experience higher rates of poverty in North Carolina, "a reduction in early voting opportunities will disproportionately impact voters of color."
Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, noted that when Florida enacted similar laws before the 2012 election, hundreds of thousands of voters were unable to vote due to long lines, burdens which "fell disproportionately on African-American voters." A study by the Orlando Sentinel found that at least 201,000 Floridians were deterred from voting because of hours-long lines at polling stations.
When news broke that William Clark, a longtime aide to Ronald Reagan, had recently passed away, several conservative media outlets quickly posted tributes to the man. Touted as the "most important and influential presidential confidante" in nearly a century, Clark was warmly remembered as a "a great treasure to the nation" and an "inspiration."
By all indications the laurels were well earned and Judge Clark, as he was known, served his country with distinction. What's telling about the warm words written about Clark are how they contrast so sharply with the tone the same type of conservative outlets use to describe current foreign policy and national security advisors who were in any way connected to the terrorist attack in Benghazi last September.
I'm referring to the strangely personal and almost hysterical way pundits have attacked Obama officials, including the president's national security advisor, in the wake of Benghazi, where four Americans were killed, including a U.S. ambassador.
For the right-wing noise machine, Benghazi trumps all. It stands as a singular failure in American foreign policy and represents one of the darkest days in recent U.S. history. It's worse than Watergate, was a bigger story than Hurricane Sandy last October, and symbolizes an unconscionable failure to protect Americans serving abroad.
But here's what's interesting about Clark's recently lauded resume when viewed against the right wing's permanent Benghazi name calling: Clark served as Reagan's national security advisor between 1982 and 1983. On April 18, 1983, Islamic terrorists attacked the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. Sixty-three people were killed, including 17 Americans, eight of whom worked for the CIA.
Five months later local terrorists struck again. During a lengthy air assault from nearby artillerymen, two Marines stationed at the Beirut airport were killed. Then on October 23, just days after Clark stepped down as national security advisor to become Secretary of the Interior, the Marines' Beirut barracks cratered after a 5-ton truck driven by a suicide bomber and carrying the equivalent of 12,000 pounds of TNT exploded outside; 241 Americans were killed, marking the deadliest single attacks on U.S. citizens overseas since World War II.
Reagan had sent 1,800 Marines to Beirut as part of a larger peacekeeping mission following the June 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the Palestine Liberation Organization's withdrawal from the country. But national security experts, including some members of Reagan's administration, warned that the Marines were vulnerable to attack.
In the aftermath, Col. Timothy J. Geraghty, the commander of the Marines in Beirut, said, "It didn't take a military expert to realize that our troops had been placed in an indefensible situation." Conservative columnist William Safire referred to the Beirut debacle as Reagan's "Bay of Pigs."
Conservatives have casually smeared numerous Obama officials over Benghazi for the last eleven months, yet the embassy attacks surrounding Clark's tenure as Reagan's national security adviser apparently did not blemish his long public career.