Right-wing media have repeatedly misrepresented the latest court opinion finding New York City has been unconstitutionally applying the common police tactic of stop and frisk and are now baselessly citing the murder rate in Chicago as an example of what will occur without this law enforcement practice.
Confronted by the most recent court opinion finding the version of stop and frisk implemented by the New York Police Department (NYPD) unconstitutionally discriminates on the basis of race and without reasonable suspicion, right-wing media have either ignored the constitutional flaws or have inaccurately assumed that the court held all stop and frisks unconstitutional.
In their defense of current practices a federal court found were not consistent with proper stop and frisks as described by the Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio, right-wing media have also claimed that without police unconstitutionally stopping persons of color, New York City will descend into terror and criminality.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board has predicted that "the virtual war zone that was New York City from the 1970s through the early '90s" will return. Fox News hosts and contributors have called ending the unconstitutional practices that purportedly check the "disproportionate percentage of crimes committed by young minority men" and protect "people who are trying to get by, not get killed, not get robbed, not get raped on the streets of New York," a "disaster." The National Review Online editors warned the practice condemned by federal courts is nevertheless what is "prevent[ing] the city's backsliding into its pre-Giuliani state of criminal chaos[.]"
Compounding their dire but abstract warnings of the "mass murder" that will occur, right-wing media are now becoming more specific, pointing to Chicago as the future of a New York City without its current and unconstitutional stop and frisk tactics.
On the August 14 edition of The Five, Fox News host Eric Bolling flatly claimed that the higher murder rate in Chicago is because it doesn't "have stop and frisk," continuing a string of recent Fox News comparisons between the two cities. The New York Post repeated this rhetoric, adding its own long-standing touch of exploiting victims of gun violence to promote stop and frisk as applied by the NYPD.
But right-wing media apparently is unaware Chicago, like many jurisdictions, already has stop and frisk.
Two recent stories based on faulty premises -- an Illinois Review post that falsely claimed President Obama had supported "Stand Your Ground" as an Illinois state legislator, and a since-corrected BuzzFeed report that pushed the erroneous conclusion that gun violence prevention group Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) has suffered a membership drop -- have nonetheless spread throughout the right-wing media.
The cases are not parallel -- Illinois Review is a minor conservative Illinois political blog (their Twitter handle has about 3,000 followers) whose story was too good to check for the right-wing media, while the BuzzFeed story is an unfortunate outlier for a publication that typically produces good reporting. But the articles nonetheless illustrate the first-mover problem of correcting misinformation -- once a charge is levied and begins gaining momentum it becomes difficult to stop, no matter how clearly false the claim, due to the right-wing media apparatus that will push any story considered damaging to progressives.
The basis of the July 22 BuzzFeed article was that MAIG is losing membership ("is finding it hard to keep its membership up") because it has become too strident in its recent push for stronger gun laws. But BuzzFeed's premise was false: MAIG has actually seen an increase in membership during the period the article covered, with more than 100 mayors joining the coalition during that time of increased political action.
Buzzfeed has since updated its article, making a minor change to the text "to reiterate the fact that Mayors Against Illegal Guns is gaining more members than it's losing." But of course, that "fact" completely repudiates the premise of the article.
And of course, the damage has been done. The idea of MAIG shedding membership has already spread through the conservative echo chamber. The story was picked up by a number of right-wing outlets, with Breitbart News and the New York Post stating outright that the story indicated that the group's membership was down overall. The Post article in particular, which ran under the headline "weakened arsenal," linked the group "struggling to replace ex-members" to their focus "on banning weapons and other tough new gun-control measures" (by contrast, a New York Daily News piece cited the BuzzFeed report but framed the story with the fact that the group is larger and growing faster than ever before).
These sorts of misguided stories have an impact on the political debate. One NRA activist, who acknowledged that the number of mayors leaving "isn't a huge blow to MAIG," wrote that BuzzFeed's story "isn't good for MAIG. They will have to counter this meme, and that's good for us. Make them work for it."
The New York Post, whose parent company's board includes the wife of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, accused Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of "sounding like Dr. Strangelove" for his proposal to change Senate rules to end the filibuster for executive branch nominees in the face of historic GOP obstruction.
On July 16, the Senate will be voting on several executive branch nominees that Republicans have opposed. In a recent speech, Sen. Reid said that if Senate Republicans refuse to allow an up-or-down vote on those candidates, he will push a change to Senate rules that will prevent the minority from filibustering executive appointments.
The New York Post reported on Reid's comments by writing in a July 16 article:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is sounding like Dr. Strangelove.
The Nevada Democrat yesterday said he was ready to resort to the "nuclear option" -- blowing up what's left of bipartisan trust in the Senate by jamming through a rules change to end Republican filibusters of President Obama's nominees.
Reed charged that the Democratic-run Senate had to thwart "the power of an extreme minority" stymieing Cabinet nominations.
Unmentioned in the July 16 article was that Elaine Chao, McConnell's wife, sits on the board of directors of Newscorp, the Post's parent company. Like the Post, McConnell has argued that Reid's action would "do permanent damage to this body" and claimed that Reid shouldspend "a little more time working with his colleagues in a collegial way and a little less time trying to undermine and marginalize them."
Senate Republicans have engaged in unprecedented obsctruction of Obama executive branch nominees, who have had to hurdle more cloture votes -- a vote necessary to overcome a filibuster -- than under any other president in the modern era.
Graphic via People for the American Way
Right-wing media are repeating the wildly inaccurate claims of a political advertisement opposing a new police reform bill under consideration in New York City that attempts to bring the city's stop-and-frisk policy into constitutional compliance.
The captains union for the New York Police Department (NYPD) is currently promoting a ludicrous ad in opposition to the proposed Community Safety Act of the City Council of the City of New York. Upon release, the ad was immediately used as the June 19 front page of the New York Post, which dedicated an "exclusive" to the union's false claims that the police reform bill would "ban cops from identifying a suspect's age, gender, color or disability."
In fact, this bill would re-affirm the existing ban on illegal racial profiling by police, expand the class of protected groups, and provide previously unavailable avenues to litigation for civil rights abuses in state court. What the bill by its own terms explicitly would not do - contrary to the ad's depiction of a blindfolded police officer - is prohibit police from continuing to use race or any of the other protected group characteristics as part of a suspect's description. Rather, race and these other criteria cannot be the sole "determinative" factor proffered for a police stop of an individual, consistent with existing law. Absent other reasonable suspicion for the encounter, utilizing race alone as the reason for the police stop has long been illegal.
Following in the footsteps of the New York Post and CNN, however, right-wing media seemingly have not bothered to read the bill - or otherwise research the issue - and instead continue to base their entire analysis on the false ad.
Incorrectly describing the bill's rationale to be "identifying people by their identifying marks is offensive," the National Review Online quoted the Post's write-up of the ad and sarcastically wondered:
So, if a white male in his mid-thirties with a beard and a limp is wanted on suspicion of a crime, the police will be unable to broadcast that fact. Instead, they would have to say that they're looking for a person of undefined age, race, ability, and pogonic status -- and then describe his clothes. In a city of 7 million people, this will presumably work out perfectly, and it certainly won't lead to an increase in the frisking that the bill aims to reduce.
Fox News also repeated this blatant lie as straight news.
CNN distorted the goal of a proposed law to strengthen the ban on illegal racial profiling in New York, erroneously claiming it would not allow police to refer to race, religion, or disability at all when describing a suspect.
CNN ran a segment highlighting a New York Post article on an advertisement from the New York Police Department (NYPD) Captains Endowment Association depicting a blindfolded police officer and asking, "How effective is a police officer with a blindfold on?" The NYPD Captains Endowment Association is fighting the measure claiming that the bill would "ban cops from identifying a suspect's age, gender, color or disability." Even though CNN's law enforcement analyst Mike Brooks, a former police officer, acknowledges that the claims made in the ad may not be true, he goes on to parrot its claims and say that if such a proposal is enacted, "cops aren't going to be able to do their job":
Despite Brooks' assertion, the bill would not ban police officers from using those descriptions to identify a suspect. The bill clearly states that police officers cannot use "actual or perceived race ... as the determinative factor in initiating law enforcement action against an individual, rather than an individual's behavior or other information or circumstances" (emphasis added) to the suspected crime. Law enforcement can still use race and other identifying factors in stopping suspects, as long as it is not the main, or determinative, factor in doing so. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), a fitting description or having a full description of the suspect prior to stopping someone "was the reason for a stop-and frisk just 16 percent of the time in 2011,"despite the fact that 90 percent of people stopped under the NYPD's current stop-and-frisk policy were either black or Latino.
The current stop-and-frisk policy of the NYPD has been largely unsuccessful. Research has shown that the stop-and-frisk policy has never been proven effective and, despite the skyrocketing number of stop-and-frisks, shootings in New York have remained relatively steady. That's because a gun is recovered during a stop-and-frisk less than one percent of the time.
New York Post columnist Arthur Herman called the reported increase in military sexual assaults a "bogus epidemic" because the survey on sexual assaults included all "unwanted sexual contact." But experts have found that any sexual harassment can degrade military readiness and the survey results are consistent with widely used survey methodology.
The Department of Defense released its "Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military" which determined that up to 26,000 service members may have been the victim of some form of sexual assault. In a March 31 column published by The New York Post, columnist Herman claimed the report highlighted a "bogus epidemic." After acknowledging that sexual assault and rape are serious crimes, Herman attacked the parameters of the report, saying "no real solution to any problem can be built around flawed data":
Yet that's precisely what's really going on here -- starting with that report. First off, it's far from comprehensive or authoritative. It's based entirely on a voluntary survey -- and it's wildly anti-scientific to extrapolate from a self-selected group. And only 22,792 service members opted to respond -- roughly 2.2 percent of a military that's 1 million strong.
Even more amazing, the survey never actually asked about sexual assault. Its questions centered on "unwanted sexual contact" -- which can include any number of behaviors, including trying to slap someone on the buttocks, which may be vulgar or inappropriate but hardly rape.
But the survey didn't measure rape, it measured sexual assault, a term that is given a broad definition by the military. For example, the Army Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Program answers the question "What is sexual assault" by including, among other things, "unwanted and inappropriate sexual conduct or fondling":
Media outlets including NPR and Fox News are targeting federal disability benefits programs through a campaign deceptively portraying these programs as wasteful and unsustainable. In reality, these programs have low fraud rates and help the rising number of Americans with severe disabilities survive when they are unable to work.
Prefacing his comments by insisting he knows "how foreign affairs work," Glenn Beck on April 18 announced that his website, The Blaze, was breaking news about the Boston Marathon bombing: A Saudi national student on a student visa and was "absolutely involved" in the Patriot's Day blast was being deported by the U.S. government for security reasons.
Beck went further, claiming the student, or "dirt bag," as the host described him, was "possibly the ringleader" in the bombing that killed three people and injured more than one hundred, and the government was deliberately covering it up.
Beck urged listeners to spread the breaking news via Twitter and Facebook because, he warned, the mainstream media would ignore the revelation. But the right-wing media would pick up the slack. Fox News' Sean Hannity helped launch the story on April 17 and continued to fan it yesterday, claiming the student had previously "been involved with a terrorist or terror activity," while a swarm of right-wing sites pushed the paranoid tale.
By making his wild allegations, Beck was asking listeners to ignore the fact that law enforcement officials had previously, and repeatedly, denied earlier right-wing media claims that the Saudi student had been taken into "custody," or was in any way responsible for the blast.
Indeed, officials at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security both soundly denied the story, explaining that there were two different Saudi nationals: one recovering in a Boston hospital who had witnessed and been injured in the explosions but was not a suspect, and another in ICE custody who was unrelated to the bombing investigation. Beck responded by calling for President Obama to be impeached for what he considered the sprawling government cover-up that now surrounded the student, Saudi Arabia and Al Qaeda.
So yeah, it was that kind of week for the right-wing media. It was a debacle.
In the same week that Pulitzer prizes were announced honoring the finest in American journalism, many in the far-right media worked to set news standards in mindless, awful behavior in the wake of the Boston attack.
Faced with covering the most important American terror news story in a decade, too many players opted to just make stuff up. Prompting witch hunts, they cast innocents as would-be killers and then couldn't be bothered with apologies.
The New York Post has seen three of its supposed scoops about the Boston Marathon bombing fall apart this week. Nonetheless, their editor is unrepentant, lashing out at critics and claiming a "crystal ball" would have been necessary for the paper to publish accurate information.
In a widely criticized move, the April 18 Post front page featured the headline "Bag Men: Feds seek this duo pictured at Boston Marathon" along with a photo of two men holding bags at the event. The article reported that investigators had been "circulating photos of two men spotted chatting near the packed finish line" and also that officials "have identified two potential suspects who were captured on surveillance videos." The Post added that "it was not immediately clear if the men in the law-enforcement photos are the same men in the surveillance videos."
The paper later reported in an online story that the two men they had featured on their front page had been "cleared."
In an email to Media Matters, Post editor Col Allan claimed that when the photo was published this morning, the article stated that the FBI was only emailing the photo to other law enforcement officials and noted "there is no direct evidence linking them to the crime."
"With regard to today's front page emails containing images of the two young men were sent to law enforcement offices, federal and state, at 3pm yesterday seeking information about them," Allan said in an e-mail. "I have a copy of one of those emails sent to a regional office of the FBI. At no point did the Post state they were 'suspects.' Today it is clear they were not involved ... had you loaned us your powerful crystal ball we would have known this before the presses ran."
But, asked specifically if placing the photos on Page One was misleading because it gave the appearance the men were somehow involved, Allan stated via email:
"Common sense would suggest if the FBI emailed pictures of these men standing around the Boston marathon to law enforcement offices asking for information about them it might be newsworthy. We made no judgment about the men. We simply reported the facts. Their photos were emailed by the feds. Information about them was sought. If it is your idea that we or anyone else in the media wait until the complete truth is clear then there is little need for journalists. Only historians. "
Allan also claimed that a previous incorrect Post report on Monday, that 12 people had died in the bombing -- which has yet to be corrected - was also not the paper's fault.
"Our sources were federal authorities who have been reliable in the past," he wrote. "In this event, they and thus we, were wrong. Later Monday our reporting online and in Tuesday's paper accurately reflected the official toll...give your crystal ball a good hard polish and drop it over sometime."
The day of the bombing, the Post also reported that a Saudi national student had been "taken into custody" and was considered a "suspect." That student was also cleared of involvement. In response to questions about that story also falling apart, Allan claimed that "The Post said a Saudi student WAS detained in hospital after the bomb blast. He was not free to go. at 2 am the following morning the federal bureau of investigation raided his flat and took away several bags of material. The next day the authorities stated he was co--operating and not considered a suspect. The post would have required one of your hindsight crystal balls to have known this."
Right before noon on April 16, the New York Post quietly surrendered and conceded its big scoop from the previous day, that 12 people had been killed by the Patriot's Day terrorist attack in Boston, could no longer be sustained.
The concession didn't come in the form of a correction or a clarification. (Rupert Murdoch's money-losing daily rarely bothers with such newsroom niceties). It simply appeared in a news story posted on the daily's website at 11:55 a.m., where any reference to 12 Boston victims was quietly dropped [emphasis added]:
The twin blasts killed at least three people and injured 176 -- including 17 in critical condition, authorities said today.
Four hours later, the Post reaffirmed that it had flushed its big scoop down the memory hole [emphasis added]:
A 29-year-old restaurant manager from suburban Boston and an 8-year-old boy from the city's Dorchester neighborhood were identified today as two of the three people killed in the Boston Marathon bombings.
But that wasn't all.
Right around 3 p.m. on April 16, the Post quietly conceded its other big scoop from the day before was wrong; its claim that a Saudi national student had been taken "into custody" by police, was tagged a "suspect". ("Suspect" was later amended to a "potential suspect.) That second embarrassing concession was announced on the daily's twitter feed:
Investigators rule out Saudi national as a suspect in Boston bombing after searching his apartment nyp.st/Zougoy-- New York Post (@nypost) April 16, 2013
It's not the most pressing question to ponder in the wake of the carnage that exploded in Boston, as authorities search for those responsible. But in terms of journalism and ethics and common sense, the Post's performance does make you wonder how a news organization, and even one owned by Rupert Murdoch, manages to get a story that wrong?
I understand it's the notoriously deceitful New York Post we're talking about. It's one thing to make stuff up about Democrats on behalf of the RNC while the Post proudly plays its role as cog in the Republican Noise Machine. But to completely botch, and so publicly, botch one of the biggest crime story in years?
If there's anything the Post, as a proud big-city tabloid, is supposed to be good at, it's big crime stories; working cop sources as well as sources buried deep inside the FBI and the federal government. The Post is supposed to be wired all across law enforcement, even if the breaking story unfolds in Boston.
So this debacle is bad; really bad. Even for the New York Post.
Conservative media critics have been adamant this week in accusing news organizations of ignoring the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who is charged with killing seven babies and a mother. According to the grand jury report, Gosnell was running a "house of horrors" in which he performed illegal late-term abortions by delivering live babies who were then killed by his staff, all under unsafe conditions. Convinced the liberal media is censoring the story because of its alleged support for abortion, critics have been lamenting the lack of coverage and demanding the disturbing local trial be treated as big national news.
On Fox News' Special Report yesterday, contributor Jonah Goldberg complained that "the media is not covering" the story. Fox News employee Kirsten Powers penned a USA Today column criticizing the country's leading newspapers for not putting the Gosnell story on "the front page." (Powers singled out the New York Times and the Washington Post for allegedly downplaying the Philadelphia trial.)
And on Thursday, Rupert Murdoch's flagship American newspaper, The New York Post, weighed in with an unsigned editorial, "Dead Silence," which condemned the supposed "media blackout" surrounding the story.
Like most of the conservative attacks, the Post's editorial saw a clear case of media bias [emphasis added]:
The trial is receiving intensive coverage in Philadelphia and across the conservative press and Web sites. But national networks and newspapers? Not so much.
The reason seems obvious: Much of our press corps skews to one side on abortion. So even though what Gosnell is charged with is closer to infanticide - an unlicensed abortionist profiting mightily by killing the newborn babies of poor, minority women - somehow it's not news.
Isn't that a scandal, too?
Here's the thing: Up until Thursday's editorial condemning the so-called liberal media for not covering the Gosnell trial, the New York Post hadn't covered the Gosnell trial. Not only hadn't the Post put the story on its front page, where Powers demanded it belonged, but Murdoch's Post hadn't covered the story at all*. Meaning, the Post had been part of the media "silence" surrounding the story; the same silence the Post yesterday condemned.
Note that Murdoch's Wall Street Journal also has not covered the Gosnell trial, according a search of the paper's archives, via the Factiva database.
Fox News figures claimed the U.S. should emulate the United Kingdom by slashing funding to federal disability programs and changing eligibility requirements, despite the fact that U.S. eligibility requirements are already stringent, that the new U.K. benefits tests were largely overturned on appeal, and that research shows changes to disability programs in the U.K. will force thousands of individuals with disabilities into poverty.
The New York Post used three examples of anti-discrimination law violations to scapegoat marriage equality as an infringement upon religious freedom.
In a Tuesday editorial, the Post suggested that marriage equality might undermine religious freedom by highlighting instances where religious institutions supposedly had to violate their beliefs in order to accommodate same-sex couples. From the Post:
The answer is that without clear conscience protections, we will see more religious institutions and individual citizens forced to violate their beliefs or be driven off the public square because their moral views have been deemed officially bigoted.
These fears are not hypothetical. In New York, Yeshiva University was forced to accept same-sex couples in its dorms for married students. In New Jersey, a Methodist association was sued after it would not allow a lesbian couple to use its boardwalk pavilion for a civil union ceremony. In Boston, the Catholic church was forced to get out of adoption because it would not place children with same-sex couples. Without clear conscience protections, we will see more, on everything from access to government facilities to licensing or accreditation.
All of these examples, however, resulted from violations of non-discrimination laws. Yeshiva University was sued on the basis that its housing policy for married couples discriminated against gay and lesbian students who at the time were denied the right to marry. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, only Yeshiva's rabbinical school is religious while the rest of the university is "a secular institution open to students of all religions." The New York Court of Appeals found that Yeshiva's policy was a threat to New York's discrimination laws because its policy of providing housing to married couples had a "disparate impact on homosexual students, because they cannot marry and thus cannot live with their partners in student housing."
The Post's second example is equally as irrelevant to marriage equality. The New Jersey Methodist Church was found to have violated the state's Law Against Discrimination when it refused to allow a same-sex couple to celebrate their civil union in a pavilion owned by the church. In doing so, the church violated the requirements of their "Green Acres" program tax exempt status. One condition of the "Green Acres" tax exemption was that a pavilion the Methodist church owned was to remain "open to the public on an equal basis." Though the church lost its tax exempt status under the "Green Acres" program, it was able to replace its "Green Acres" tax exemption with a similar religious exemption, which allowed the church to continue engaging in discriminatory practices. Currently, New Jersey does not have a marriage equality law.
Finally, the Catholic Charities of Boston were not forced out of facilitating adoptions but instead voluntarily stopped providing public adoption services after Massachusetts' four Catholic Bishops found out that gay parents had been adopting children through the service. The Catholic Charities were free to continue discriminating against same-sex couples in private adoptions, but doing so in public adoptions would have violated a 1989 anti-discrimination law because they received public funds. Even the former board chairman of the Catholic Charities, Peter Meade, spoke out against a Maine anti-equality organization's attempt to paint the Catholic Charities case a violation of religious freedom.
Discredited gun researcher John Lott claimed that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) "dropped over 94 percent" of instances where an individual failed a criminal background check "after preliminary reviews" in order to discount accurate claims that the background check system has stopped over a million prohibited individuals from obtaining a firearm.
Lott's claim is a willful distortion of how the federal background check system works: once an individual is denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) no gun sale occurs, regardless of whether the ATF takes further action.
On to [Senator Chuck] Schumer's second falsehood -- the claim that checks have stopped 1.7 million prohibited sales. In fact, these were only "initial denials," not people prevented from buying guns.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives dropped over 94 percent of those "initial denials" after preliminary reviews. Further review cleared at least a fifth of the other 6 percent.
Lott would have his audience believe that because ATF does not take further action after most denials that the background check system did not actually stop "1.7 million prohibited sales." This claim is blatantly false as a denial means that the sale cannot be completed.