The IRS "scandal" keeps on failing to live up to its initial hype, but certainly not for lack of trying. The fracas that was once billed as the worst DC scandal since Watergate has slowly, steadily deflated despite conservative efforts to blow life into it, and the media have almost completely lost interest in the story. As both Steve Benen and Alex Seitz-Wald observe, this lack of press attention to the IRS scandal's undoing verges on reckless, given the insane amount of coverage and hype it received at the outset.
But how did we even get to the point where the IRS scandal became a "scandal?" Everyone lost their minds and jumped to conclusions based on incomplete information that, in the end, turned out to be wildly off-base. We were repeatedly told there was a "there" there before anyone bothered to check what was there. The latest attempt to keep the IRS scandal alive by National Review and the Wall Street Journal exhibits those same traits: accusing the IRS and the Federal Election Commission of inappropriately colluding against conservative non-profits without actually knowing what happened.
The National Review reported on July 31 that "Embattled Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner and an attorney in the Federal Election Commission's general counsel's office appear to have twice colluded to influence the record before the FEC's vote in the case of a conservative non-profit organization," according to e-mails leaked to the publication be the House Ways and Means Committee. (At this point we should know better than to implicitly trust selectively leaked "scandal"-related emails from Congressional Republicans, but here we are.)
According to the conservative magazine, in 2009 a FEC official emailed Lerner inquiring after the tax exempt status of a group called American Future Fund, which was under investigation by the commission following a complaint by Minnesota Democrats over the group's alleged political activities. National Review refers to the group's tax status as "confidential taxpayer information" of the sort that the IRS is prohibited from sharing, though it's not immediately clear that this information is indeed "confidential." The IRS maintains a public list of organizations that have been granted tax exempt status, and tax-exempt groups are required by law to make public their "exemption applications, determination letters, and annual returns." The IRS issued a statement saying the email exchange indicates "that neither person wanted the IRS to provide the FEC with anything other than publicly available information," and Lerner's attorney told the Washington Post that "anyone in the world could get that information."
Right-wing media are misrepresenting an Illinois bill to falsely accuse President Obama of hypocrisy.
On July 19, in remarks on Trayvon Martin, Obama called for a review of Stand Your Ground laws, which made it legal for people to defend themselves with lethal force if they believe their lives or safety are in danger, even if they can retreat. Conservative media figures responded by distorting a 2004 bill Obama supported while serving as a state senator in Illinois to accuse him of hypocrisy.
During an appearance on Fox News' America's Newsroom, guest and conservative radio host David Webb, pointing to Obama's remarks, accused the president of "political hypocrisy," claiming, "In 2004, it was President Obama who co-sponsored a bill in Illinois that strengthened the Stand Your Ground law."
John Fund, a Fox News contributor and National Review columnist, wrote that Obama "co-sponsored a bill that strengthened his state's 1961 Stand Your Ground law" despite spending "part of his surprise appearance at last Friday's White House press briefing urging that the Stand Your Ground laws that exist in 31 states be reexamined."
Likewise, conservative blogger Jim Hoft wrote: "On Friday Barack Obama called for a review of the controversial Stand Your Ground laws that were at the heart of the killing of Trayvon Martin. But back in 2004 Illinois state Senator Barack Obama co-sponsored legislation expanding the state's Stand Your Ground laws."
"Stand your ground" is substantively different than what Obama backed in Illinois. He backed a tweak to the "castle doctrine," which reads like this.A person is justified in the use of force against another when and to the extent that he reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to prevent or terminate such other's trespass on or other tortious or criminal interference with her real property (other than a dwelling) or personal property, lawfully in his possession or in the possession of another who is a member of his immediate family or household or of a person whose property he has a legal duty to protect.
"Stand your ground" takes the concept of the castle doctrine and turns it into a traveling force field of sorts. Here's Florida's language:
A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
It should also be noted that Florida enacted the first Stand Your Ground law in 2005, a year after the Illinois bill in question had passed.
Radio host Mark Levin attacked 21st Century Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch and Fox News Channel for "bias" in pro-immigration reform reporting, continuing to grow the divide between conservative talk radio hosts and the network.
On the July 15 edition of his radio show, Levin -- who has previously called the immigration reform bill a "disgusting disgrace" and a "crap sandwich" -- discussed a recent tweet by Murdoch, chairman and CEO of Fox News' parent company 21st Century Fox, that declared Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) was correct about the immigration reform effort and expressed support for the immigration reform bill. Levin then accused Fox News of biased reporting on immigration reform and accused "a number of hosts" who support immigration reform of not reading the bill:
This isn't the first time Levin has taken issue with what he referred to as "our favorite cable channel." On the July 12 edition of his show, Levin attacked Fox News contributor Karl Rove over his support for immigration reform saying, "you know what number Karl Rove never puts on that whiteboard? His win-loss percentage."
Earlier this month, both Levin and fellow conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh appeared on Fox, but neither was asked about immigration reform, despite their well-known outspokenness on the immigration reform effort. After Limbaugh's interview, he went on his radio show to criticize the network and claim that Fox wouldn't allow him to discuss the immigration reform effort. Yet, after walking back his comments, Limbaugh was allowed to speak on the topic during Fox News' The Five for almost ten minutes.
In addition to a conservative radio schism, conservatives in print media have also pitted themselves against one another over immigration, most recently between New York Times columnist David Brooks -- an immigration reform supporter -- and National Review's Rich Lowry and The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, who wrote an op-ed calling on House Republicans to "[put] a stake through" comprehensive immigration reform.
The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol and The National Review's Rich Lowry are calling on House Republicans to obstruct comprehensive immigration reform efforts by not passing any immigration reform bills out of the chamber.
In a July 8 op-ed titled "Kill the Bill" cross posted on The Weekly Standard and The National Review's websites, Kristol and Lowry argued that House Republicans should not pass any immigration reform legislation. Doing so would obstruct immigration reform efforts by preventing Senate and House representatives from meeting to reconcile the differences between the Senate's bill and any bill that may pass the House:
House Republicans may wish to pass incremental changes to the system to show that they have their own solutions, even though such legislation is very unlikely to be taken up by the Senate. Or they might not even bother, since Senate Democrats say such legislation would be dead on arrival. In any case, House Republicans should make sure not to allow a conference with the Senate bill. House Republicans can't find any true common ground with that legislation. Passing any version of the Gang of Eight's bill would be worse public policy than passing nothing. House Republicans can do the country a service by putting a stake through its heart.
Others in right-wing media have proposed a similar strategy of obstruction. On the June 25 edition of her radio show, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham and guest Kristol endorsed obstruction, arguing that the House and the Senate reconciling their immigration reform bills would result in a problematic law and should therefore be avoided. In addition, during the June 13 edition of Fox News' Hannity, guest Ann Coulter warned that "if the House passes anything concerning immigration" and conference with representatives from the Senate, the resultant bill "will come out an amnesty bill." She claimed that if a reconciled bill passed, "the country is over."
Right-wing media have long encouraged Republicans to engage in obstruction, including on the appointment of President Obama's second-term nominees and stricter gun violence prevention laws.
Following the Supreme Court's decision to strike down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), National Review contributor Mark Krikorian responded by smearing Muslims. He wrote on Twitter that the decision all but assured the legalization of polygamy, which would see "spousal immigration from Muslim world ... ballon":
Krikorian went even further, stating that while bestiality would not be legalized, "there's no longer any grounds for barring polygamy or incest [between] adults":
Krikorian, the executive director of the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies, writes regularly for the National Review and its blog, The Corner. He is frequently promoted in the media as an expert on immigration issues.
The National Review editorial board used the murder conviction of Kermit Gosnell to push for an abortion ban it acknowledges to be unconstitutional that would outlaw all abortions after 20 weeks, even in cases when the health of the mother is at risk.
Gosnell was convicted on May 13 for murdering three infants while breaking Pennsylvania abortion laws and preforming procedures that bore no resemblance to legal women's health services. Despite these facts, right-wing media have repeatedly sought to use Gosnell's violent acts to attack legal and safe abortion procedures in the United States.
A June 11 National Review editorial took these efforts further by using the Gosnell conviction to promote legislation that would severely limit access to safe, life-saving procedures. The editorial board hyped a bill introduced to the House Judiciary Committee by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) that seeks to ban abortions performed after the 20th week of pregnancy. The bill does not provide exceptions to the ban in cases when the health of the mother is at risk, or in cases of rape or incest, and only permits abortions in cases where the life of the mother is threatened. The National Review acknowledged that "the bill is at odds with current Supreme Court jurisprudence," but urged Congress to "fight" for it anyway, claiming the Gosnell conviction revealed current abortion laws are immoral.
The National Review's endorsement of Franks' bill by linking it to the Gosnell murders ignores the realities of legal abortion in the United States. As Media Matters has previously noted, the Supreme Court has become increasingly anti-choice, repeatedly limiting the rights of women to terminate pregnancies. Currently, the Supreme Court has ruled that abortions are "legal so long as the fetus isn't 'viable,' which is usually around 24 weeks," and abortions performed after that point are already severely restricted by law. The vast majority of states prohibit abortions after fetal viability or 24 weeks, and just a few provide an exception when the life of the mother is threatened or in cases of rape or incest. Abortions after week 21 are extremely rare, making up only about 1 percent of all abortions, and are very safe. A medical study published in 2012 concluded that "[l]egal induced abortion is markedly safer than childbirth. The risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion."
As Salon's Irin Carmon noted, many women went to Gosnell's clinic "because they felt they had no alternative." The Gosnell case revealed the need for women to have access to safe, affordable, and legal abortion services -- the same services that Franks' bill seeks to unconstitutionally limit and outlaw. Right-wing media's support for this legislation and continued demonization of abortion puts women's legal right to protect their health under threat.
The cover of the June 3 issue of National Review shows a caricature of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with exaggerated features and playing a fiddle in front of what appears to be the attacked U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya engulfed by flames. The cover, as TPM noted, is likely "an allusion to the Roman Emperor Nero, who is said to have 'fiddled while Rome burned.' "
According to PBS, history has implied that Nero himself set the fire that burned Rome, so that he could rebuild the city more to his liking:
History has blamed Nero for the disaster, implying that he started the fire so that he could bypass the senate and rebuild Rome to his liking. Much of what is known about the great fire of Rome comes from the aristocrat and historian Tacitus, who claimed that Nero watched Rome burn while merrily playing his fiddle. Gangs of thugs prevented citizens from fighting the fire with threats of torture, Tacitus wrote. There is some support for the theory that Nero leveled the city on purpose: the Domus Aurea, Nero's majestic series of villas and pavilions set upon a landscaped park and a man-made lake, was built in the wake of the fire.
Unlike Nero, Clinton is documented to have been active at the time of the attack in Benghazi. Gregory Hicks, former deputy chief of mission in Libya, testified to a House committee on May 8 that Clinton called him the night of the attack for a report of the events:
HICKS: I think at about 2 p.m. -- 2 a.m., sorry -- the Secretary, Secretary of State Clinton called me along with her senior staff were all on the phone and she asked me what was going on and I briefed her on the developments. Most of the conversation was about the search for Ambassador Stevens. It was also about what we were going to do with our personnel in Benghazi. And I told her that we would need to evacuate and she said that was the right thing to do.
By all accounts, the Heritage Foundation study that would have been the conservative media's cudgel to defeat comprehensive immigration reform a second time is all but rotting in the ground, buried under accusations of anti-immigrant and race-based bias. Beyond losing all credibility, its conclusions that reform will total at least $6.3 trillion have been exposed as bogus by the most respected conservative groups and immigration experts.
In fact, the only people left willing to defend Heritage are part of an anti-immigrant movement that mainstream conservatives are reportedly trying to confine to the fringe. But that hasn't stopped right-wing media outlets from amplifying these voices in an effort to tank a bipartisan immigration proposal currently being debated in the Senate.
In a column published by WND and Human Events, Pat Buchanan defended Heritage and Jason Richwine, the co-author of the study whose writings that race and intelligence are genetically linked forced his resignation.
As The Washington Post reported, Richwine wrote in his Harvard doctoral dissertation that Latinos are undesirable as immigrants because, he argued, they have lower IQs than white Americans. Other controversial comments by Richwine surfaced, including his claim that "psychometric testing has indicated that at least in America, you have Jews with the highest average IQ, usually followed by East Asians, and then you have non-Jewish whites, Hispanics, and then blacks."
After citing a series of examples he argued showed "greater 'underclass behavior' among Hispanics," Buchanan warned that by granting legal status to the country's population of undocumented immigrants -- most of whom are from Latin American countries -- "America in 2040 is going to look like Los Angeles today." He added: "America in 2040 will be a country with whites and Asians dominating the professions, and 100 million Hispanics concentrated in semiskilled work and manual labor."
In his criticism of the Heritage study, American Action Forum president and former Congressional Budget Office head Doug Holtz-Eakin explained to a congressional committee:
You have to be very careful about the assumptions you make. We know that the labor force participation of first-generation immigrants is higher than the native-born. If you go to the second generation where people often worry about the take-up of public programs -- there are more college degrees in the second-generation immigrants than the native-born. There are more advanced degrees, graduate degrees. There's higher rates of labor force participation among those. So it's not the case that program participation is higher than in the native born population on the whole.
Buchanan has repeatedly stated that the influx of undocumented immigrants is "not immigration" but "an invasion of the United States of America." He has warned that America is "committing suicide" while "Asian, African, And Latin American children come to inherit the estate." He once argued against immigration reform by citing the views of white nationalists.
This is the core group of people who have joined Buchanan in defense of Heritage and Richwine's scholarship. It is basically a "who's who" of the anti-immigrant extremist establishment that continually argues against non-white immigrants and groups:
The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed on the Voting Rights Act by Edward Blum, founder of the in-house legal project of the right-wing's Donors Trust, but failed to disclose his ties to the Supreme Court's VRA case, Shelby County v. Holder. The op-ed, which identifies Blum as a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and director of the Donors Trust-supported Project on Fair Representation, recycles misinformation about the challenge that has been extensively and widely debunked.
In the wake of recent election failures are more Republican leaders now counseling a break from Fox News' patented style of relentless partisan attack? Are they suggesting the party distance itself from the monotonous mode of Obama attacks that Fox has made synonymous with the GOP?
According to reports from the National Review Institute's recent gathering in Washington, D.C, some calls for common sense moderation seem to be making the rounds. They're being coupled with the admission that the type of campaign stories Fox obsessed over last year turned out to distractions at best, and electoral losers at worst.
With Fox this month posting its worst primetime ratings in more than a decade, the time would seem right for a Republican re-examination of its near total dependence on the cable outlet and its unique brand of paranoid programming.
Last week I wrote about how one prominent conservative voice, Erick Erickson, was begging fellow partisans to ditch the faux outrage that's become so prevalent in right-wing circles. Erickson urged them to move into areas of more substantial debate and argued the self-pitying shtick does nothing to build a movement or get candidates elected. It also doesn't do any good for the Republican Party's image, as its recent 26 percent approval rating indicates. (Whether Erickson believes his own advice has come into question; he's now leaving CNN to go to work for Fox, the operators of the dubious Outrage Machine)
Some of the chatter from the National Review Institute's summit was in the same vein, as Republicans seek to build, and project, a movement that doesn't revolve entirely around Obama name-calling and extended televised freak-outs over imaginary White House slights. (And yes, some of the chatter was just more right-wing extremism, like the claim from Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia isn't conservative enough.)
"Just being 'no,' just being a stopgap isn't enough," Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told attendees, according to a report in Politico, which stressed "GOP standard-bearers" wanted members to "take a deep breath" and concentrate on more than simply loudly opposing Obama. "We have to show prudence," said Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who warned Republicans about avoiding Obama's attempts to divide them.
That certainly doesn't sound like the Fox obstructionist approach. In fact, let's agree that exhibiting "prudence," discretion, and caution doesn't appear anywhere in the Fox News programming blueprint. It's pretty much been banned since January 2009, which is what allowed Fox talkers to depict the president as a "Marxist" "racist" who hates America.
Urging Republicans to throttle back on the Obama Derangement Syndrome act makes sense politically though, since the president remains personally quite popular. Avoiding the Fox-manufactured distractions would also help the GOP.
Described as the crown jewel of civil rights law, the Voting Rights Act has been the target of right-wing misinformation for decades, and a parallel legal assault against its constitutionality will be argued before the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder on February 27. The VRA, enacted to stem voter suppression on the basis of race in the South, contains a provision within it - Section 5 - which identifies the worst historical offenders and requires that election changes in those jurisdictions pass federal review. The current legal challenges to the VRA focus on Section 5, and are the continuation of the same discredited claims lodged against this anti-discrimination law since its inception.
Conservative media figures are taking a partial quote from President Obama out of context in order to attack him as reacting callously to the deaths of U.S. diplomatic personnel.
In an appearance taped today for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, President Obama was asked if communication between government personnel had failed to provide "the optimal response" to the Benghazi attacks. Obama replied in part: "If four Americans get killed, it's not optimal. We're going to fix it. All of it. And what happens, during the course of a presidency, is that the government is a big operation and any given time something screws up. And you make sure that you find out what's broken and you fix it."
Conservative media figures like Matt Drudge, Monica Crowley, Hugh Hewitt, Mary Katherine Ham,John Podhoretz, Jonah Goldberg, Erick Erickson and outlets like Fox Nation all used early reports of Obama's comments to attack him, with several falsely suggesting that Obama had said the deaths of American personnel in Benghazi, and not the communications effort, was "not optimal."
Affirmative action policies that will come before the Supreme Court in the upcoming Fisher v. University of Texas case have long been the target of right-wing misinformation that distort the benefits of diversity in higher education. Contrary to the conservative narrative in the media, these admissions processes serve important national interests by promoting equal opportunity and are based on long-standing law.
John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the UN and vocal critic of the Obama administration, is often sought after by the media for his opinion on foreign policy issues, but his stake in the presidential election -- as a foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney -- is rarely, if ever, disclosed by the outlets that publish him.
In addition to editorials in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, and appearances on Fox News that left Bolton's ties to Romney undisclosed, a Media Matters review found editorials in five additional publications written or co-written by Bolton that left out that key information.
In total, Bolton wrote seven editorials that were critical of Obama's policies for The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, The Washington Examiner, The Weekly Standard and the National Review after he became affiliated with the Romney campaign. None of those op-eds identified Bolton as a member of the Romney team. However, three of those outlets -- the Times, Monitor, and the Examiner -- have reported separately on Bolton's position in the campaign.
Conservative media have claimed that the Obama administration is waging a "war" on "cheap," "clean" coal that will cause blackouts and massive layoffs. In fact, the Obama administration has simply implemented long overdue and legally required clean air regulations to protect public health without hurting electric reliability or employment, and much of the transition away from coal is due to the rise of cheaper, cleaner natural gas.