According to press accounts, one of the universal truths about the current government shutdown is that more Republican members of the House have adopted increasingly brazen political strategies because they're elected from safe districts.
Due to the growing polarization of American politics and its voting patterns (along with gerrymandering), Tea Party-aligned Republicans from deeply red districts have embraced unorthodox behavior and unprecedented strategies because local voters staunchly support them even if their agenda is unpopular nationwide. It's that electoral freedom that's produced a new breed of Republican congressmen and women, according to this press telling.
That storyline is deeply flawed, however. It leaves out crucial context, like the simple fact that for decades a huge number of congressional Democrats have enjoyed safe seats. Yet they never equated comfortable victory margins with permission to adopt the extremist measures now displayed by Republicans as they provoke crisis after crisis. The safe seat spin also gives Republicans a pass as they continue to steer the country towards dangerous territory.
Still, that narrative remains a constant.
Explaining the disconnect between the public dismay over the shutdown and stubbornness displayed by GOP politicians, political scientist Larry Sabato told CBS News, "The vast majority are in heavily Republican districts, so general public opinion may be completely against them, but this is actually good for them."
The New York Times explained Republicans face "little personal political risk" for backing the extreme measure of shutting down the government, "because they are elected in overwhelmingly Republican districts." And the New York Post announced that "Until a sufficient number of Republicans start fearing that the blowback threatens their own political skins, the shutdown won't get solved."
Over and over, this account has been embraced by reporters and commentators as they try to explain the increasingly radical, hostage-taking behavior of Republicans who have already forced a government shutdown and who are now threatening to allow the United States to default on its debts; a move that could cause catastrophic damage to the global economy.
Media message: If politicians don't have to worry about re-election, naturally they're going to act more extreme.
Journalists seem to like the 'safe seat' explanation because on the surface it appears to make sense,. (Oh, that's why Republicans are acting so outlandishly.) And journalists also seem to be searching for a quasi-rational explanation or justification for why Republican anarchists in the House are behaving the way they are. But that's the wrong way to approach the story.
The New York Post continued right-wing media fearmongering about the consequences of discontinuing unconstitutional policing methods and electing a Democratic mayor.
Leading up to the federal court decision that held the New York City Police Department (NYPD) unconstitutionally and systematically misapplied the common police tactic of stop-and-frisk, right-wing media repeatedly warned that following the law would send crime rates spiraling up.
Specifically, right-wing media argue that if the NYPD is forced to perform stop-and-frisk constitutionally like other jurisdictions, New York City will revert to its crime rates of the early 1990s, prior to the administrations of the last two Republican mayors. The editorial board of the Post continued this trend, adapting it as an argument against the election of the current Democratic candidate for mayor and prominent critic of the illegal application of stop-and-frisk, Bill De Blasio. From the editorial, which attacked The New York Times for pointing out its previous doomsaying was "nonsense":
The New York Times is doing the city a favor. An editorial Monday declared that New Yorkers need not worry about a return of the violence that ravaged Gotham in the pre-Bloomberg/Giuliani days. In so doing, the paper crystallized the competing messages of this vital election year.
On one side are those who believe there's nothing inevitable about the historically low crime levels New York enjoys today. This side believes that safe streets are the fruit of tough decisions taken by Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, and innovative tactics under Police Commissioners Bill Bratton and now Ray Kelly. This is the side of The Post, the police and mayoral candidate Joe Lhota.
On the other side are those who pretend we've solved this problem forever and the ugliness can never return. This side includes the Times and the man it seems likely to endorse for mayor, Bill "Tale of Two Cities" de Blasio.
That's what's at stake in this election. Back in the days when more than six people a day were killed in New York, versus about one a day today, even the Times worried that New Yorkers "think twice about where they can safely walk." The city felt like "a New Beirut."
Accompanying the Post editorial was a photograph of a man in police custody, with the following bizarre caption: "Here's a scene from your two cities, Bill: In July 1985, Mark Campbell, 26, was charged with second-degree murder for delivering a fatal karate chop to his girlfriend's 17-month-old son -- because the baby's crying kept him awake."
Of course, this tragic murder as described is utterly irrelevant to a discussion of stop-and-frisk tactics, which the Post itself described as a way "to go after bad guys, especially the ones carrying guns." Indeed, a simple Google search quickly reveals that shocking child murders - with or without guns - continued during the administrations of Republican mayors.
Fox News and serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey are baselessly stoking fears that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will force doctors to ask "intrusive" sexual history questions that are already standard medical practice.
In a New York Post op-ed, McCaughey claimed that the health care law will "turn doctors into government agents" by requiring them to ask supposedly "intrusive" questions about their patients' sexual history. McCaughey's op-ed, which cited no evidence to support her claims, was parroted by Fox & Friends First co-host Ainsley Earhardt who said, "Thanks to Obamacare, doctors will be forced to ask patients about their sex life, even if it has nothing to do with the medical treatment that they are seeking at the time":
As Wonkette pointed out, McCaughey offered no evidence for her claims that the ACA changes existing practices. In fact, despite her fearmongering, sexual history questions are routine medical practice. The Centers For Disease Control calls such questions "an important part of a regular medical exam or physical history" and recommends that "[a] sexual history needs to be taken during a patient's initial visit, during routine preventive exams, and when you see signs of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)." In fact, the very questions that McCaughey claims doctors will now be pressured to ask are the exact questions the CDC recommends doctors ask their patients.
The New York Post's editorial board failed to note a recent District Court decision finding the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk program unconstitutional in an editorial defending the program.
The August 23 Post editorial attacked members of the New York City Council who voted to override Mayor Michael Bloomberg's veto of two pieces of legislation that provide more oversight of the stop-and-frisk program. The Post denounced the "attacks by our city's political class on a successful police policy" and applauded mayoral candidate Christine Quinn for noting "that racial profiling is already against the law."
Yet, in its zeal to defend the stop-and-frisk program, the Post forgot to mention a recent decision by District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin which found the New York Police Department's implementation of stop-and-frisk unconstitutional and ordered an independent monitor to oversee the NYPD going forward. Judge Scheindlin found that the "City adopted a policy of indirect racial profiling" without reasonable suspicion in their stop-and-frisk policy and went on to explain:
I also conclude that the City's highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner. In their zeal to defend a policy that they believe to be effective, they have willfully ignored overwhelming proof that the policy of targeting "the right people" is racially discriminatory and therefore violates the United States Constitution. One NYPD official has even suggested that it is permissible to stop racially defined groups just to instill fear in them that they are subject to being stopped at any time for any reason -- in the hope that this fear will deter them from carrying guns in the streets. The goal of deterring crime is laudable, but this method of doing so is unconstitutional.
In addition to being found unconstitutional in its current practice, the program is highly ineffective. The NYPD has touted stop-and-frisk's success in recovering guns, but according to the NYCLU, while the number of stops has increased dramatically almost every year in the last decade, the number of guns recovered has barely gone up. In each year since 2003, fewer than 0.5 percent of stops produced a gun. The program's ability to deter crime is also highly suspect as many cities without the program or that utilize a less constitutionally questionable version have had lower violent crimes rates than New York.
The Post has been notoriously supportive of stop-and-frisk and against the constitutional safeguards in this bill, but even the more ardent supporters of stop-and-frisk have begun to change their opinion after evaluating the facts surrounding the program.
In The New York Times, media reporter Brian Stelter described the launch of Al Jazeera America as "something a journalism professor would imagine" due to its "Fourteen hours of straight news every day. Hard-hitting documentaries. Correspondents in oft-overlooked corners of the country. And fewer commercials than any other news channel."
The conservative media, however, saw the channel's launch today as an opportunity to spread fact-free Islamophobia.
On Fox News, guest Jim Pinkerton described the network as an "Arab news channel" and went on to claim that "many if not most Arabs probably support what Bin Laden was trying to do in terms of killing Americans" before giving the channel credit for its coverage of the Arab Spring and other global events.
Back in February when it was announced the network had purchased CurrentTV, Fox and Friends co-host Steve Doocy asked if Al Jazeera America was "a Trojan Horse for terror":
Right-wing media repeatedly argue that increased turnout of voters of color demonstrates that strict voter ID requirements do not cause voter suppression, a relationship that experts note is a basic confusion of correlation with causation.
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."