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  • Hillary Clinton, Comedians, And How Conservatives Turned An Anonymous Phone Call Into A Clinton Conspiracy

    Slate Explains How Conservative Media Can Create Hillary Clinton Smears

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Slate columnist Michelle Goldberg explained how an unfounded accusation spread throughout conservative media, claiming that Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign team tried to force Laugh Factory to take down a video about her.

    According to the right-wing organization Judicial Watch, "Hillary Clinton's campaign is going after five comedians who made fun of the former Secretary of State in standup skits at a popular Hollywood comedy club." Judicial Watch claimed that a Clinton staffer called Jamie Masada, the comedy club's founder, asking for the names of the actors and for the video to be taken down.

    In her November 19 Slate post, Goldberg explained that the threat to Masada came from an anonymous call that was not confirmed to be from Clinton's campaign and detailed how the unfounded accusation spread through right-wing media, despite the fact that Masada could not verify that anyone from Clinton's campaign had actually contacted him:

    In short order, right-leaning sites including NewsBusters, NewsMax, Mediaite, the Daily Caller, and the Daily Mail aggregated the accusation.

    This seemed bizarre. Even if you buy the most grotesque right-wing caricatures about Clinton's humorlessness and authoritarianism, it's hard to believe that the campaign would be so clumsy, especially at a time when it's going out of its way to make the candidate seem fun. Such a demand would only reinforce the worst stereotypes about Clinton while ensuring that the offending video went viral. Besides, there's nothing in the video itself to attract the campaign's notice: It's less than three minutes long and is mostly stale cracks about Hillary's clothes and age, along with familiar insinuations that she's a lesbian. One of those insinuations is even admiring: "I would love if you become president, divorce Bill, and then you marry a bitch," says Tiffany Haddish.

    Yet there was Masada--a man who has won awards from the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP, and has no discernable right-wing agenda--quoted as saying, "They threatened me. I have received complains before but never a call like this, threatening to put me out of business if I don't cut the video."

    Masada doesn't actually know that the call came from the Clinton camp.

    [...]

    How does Masada know that John was actually from the Clinton camp? He doesn't. "I'm glad I'm not in politics or any of that stuff; you might know more than I do," he says. "Maybe it was a prank, I have no idea. Was it real? Not real? I have no idea. He didn't call back, that's all I can say." Nor is Masada sure how Judicial Watch even heard about the call. "The way I understand it, it's because one of the [Laugh Factory] employees told a couple of people," he says.

    [...]

    What we have here is a small-scale demonstration of how the Hillary smear sausage gets made. It starts with a claim that's ambiguous at best, fabricated at worst, and then interpreted in the most invidious possible light. The claim is reported in one outlet and amplified on Twitter. Other outlets then report on the report, repeating the claim over and over again. Talk radio picks it up. Maybe Fox News follows. Eventually the story achieves a sort of ubiquity in the right-wing media ecosystem, which makes it seem like it's been confirmed. Soon it becomes received truth among conservatives, and sometimes it even crosses into the mainstream media. If you watched the way the Clintons were covered in the 1990s, you know the basics of this process. If you didn't, you're going to spend the next year--and maybe the next nine years--learning all about it.

  • Is Fox News About To Have A Major Conservative Rival?

    Blog ››› ››› BEN DIMIERO

    Conservative Newsmax Media is reportedly set to launch its own 24-hour cable news channel in June. According to a Bloomberg Businessweek profile of Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy, "NewsmaxTV" will position itself as a "kinder, gentler" version of Fox News.

    Ruddy tells Bloomberg that the channel's goal "is to be a little more boomer-oriented, more information-based rather than being vituperative and polarizing." That Ruddy sees an opening for a conservative outlet that is less aggressively partisan than Fox is a good indication of how far to the right that channel has veered during the Obama administration. It's also somewhat surprising, given Ruddy's personal history.

  • "This Is Like Nazi Germany": D'Souza Allies See Conspiracy Behind Indictment

    Blog ››› ››› BEN DIMIERO

    Following the announcement Thursday that conservative commentator and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza has been charged with violating federal campaign finance laws, his allies are claiming that the move is evidence of a conspiracy by the Obama administration to silence its critics.

    D'Souza has been a fixture in conservative media circles for years, and his laughable 2012 documentary 2016: Obama's America became a surprise critical success thanks in part to the support of his media allies. Reuters reports that D'Souza "has been indicted by a federal grand jury for arranging excessive campaign contributions to a candidate for the U.S. Senate," allegedly reimbursing "people who he had directed to contribute $20,000" to the unnamed candidate (reportedly Wendy Long).

    Matt Drudge tweeted that the indictments against D'Souza and former Republican Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell are evidence that Attorney General Eric Holder is "unleashing the dogs" on "Obama critics."

    In a panicked video headlined "Emergency: Obama Launches Purge" posted on his YouTube channel last night, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones told viewers that "America is going over the edge," adding, "I actually am scared." According to Jones, the charges against former Gov. McDonnell are "trumped up garbage" (for what it's worth, conservatives like Byron York disagree, labeling the details "ugly, sordid, damning").

    Pointing to the supposed persecution of D'Souza, Jones claimed that the administration is engaged in much worse behavior and warned, "The issue is here, they can find a mistake in your checking account and claim that it was fraud or wire fraud. They can do it to anybody." According to Jones, "this is like Nazi Germany" and "once they're done with these guys, they're coming after you and I." 

    The description posted on Jones' YouTube channel explains that this is an "Emergency Alert!!!," adding "This is it, we are in deep shit! If they get away with this they will come for all of us, that's how it works!!!" D'Souza has appeared on Jones' program to promote his movie.

  • Conservative Media Sell Out Their Followers To A Disgraced Financial Firm

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Stansberry & Associates, an investment research firm catering to right-wing audiences' fears of President Barack Obama, has been fined $1.5 million for engaging in "deliberate fraud" and profiting from "false statements." Despite its shoddy history, numerous conservative outlets and personalities including Newt Gingrich, Fox Business, Glenn Beck, Mike Huckabee, Alex Jones, WND, and The Washington Times, have helped legitimize the firm and its wild investment schemes. The firm has also enlisted the help of former Fox News contributor Dick Morris, who has frequently promoted the firm in sponsored video pitches.

    Stansberry & Associates was founded in 1999 by Porter Stansberry and claims to have "been predicting the most promising emerging trends and the most influential economic forces affecting the market - with uncanny accuracy - for the past 13 years." Stansberry advertises its services to right-wing audiences with attacks on President Obama and warnings about a forthcoming apocalyptic type collapse of the American government and financial system. Stansberry emails carry subject lines like, "A Survival Secret That Could Save Your Life."

    In 2007, Stansberry and his firm -- then called Pirate Investor LLC -- were ordered by a district court to pay $1.5 million in restitution and civil penalties as a result of a Securities and Exchange Commission complaint. As reported by the Baltimore Sun, Stansberry was accused of "disseminating false stock information and defrauding public investors through a financial newsletter ... They claimed investors could double their money if they paid $1,000 for a stock tip involving Bethesda energy company USEC Inc. In total, 1,217 people purchased the report, although 215 of them got their money back after complaining."

    A judge in 2007 ruled that Stansberry's activity "undoubtedly involved deliberate fraud" and "making statements that he knew to be false." An appeals court later found that "it would take an act of willful blindness to ignore the fact that Appellants profited from the false statements." Stansberry's defense of his actions can be found here, and a group of publishers, including The New York Times ("The Right to Be Wrong"), defended Stansberry's case on First Amendment grounds. 

    The Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General announced on September 12, 2011, that Stansberry & Associates "agreed to pay a $55,000 civil monetary penalty to the Social Security Administration" to settle an allegation it violated the Social Security Act. The firm settled the case by paying the fine while not admitting a violation. SSA's complaint alleged that Stansberry advertised it services by claiming to have information from "insiders" on how to increase your Social Security check, and "the SSA OIG believed that the characterization of Stansberry's SSA contacts as 'insiders' falsely implied that the information was not available to the public. The claimed 'insider' information was, in fact, available to anyone upon request."

    Stansberry's ubiquity among right-wing media outlets is yet another example of conservatives scamming their own audiences through questionable financial schemes.

    Photo Credit: Youtube

  • Dick Morris' Donors Speak Out On His Super PAC Swindle

    Blog ››› ››› ALEXANDER ZAITCHIK

    Morris NewsmaxRetired donors to a super PAC supported by Dick Morris say they are dissatisfied with how their money was spent. It's not hard to see why. 

    As Media Matters reported last week, Federal Election Commission documents show that Morris' Super PAC for America paid nearly $1.7 million, or nearly half of all money the Fox News political analyst and columnist for The Hill helped raise, to Newsmax Media, which manages Morris' for-rent email list.

    The circular scam apparently worked like this: Morris, acting as chief strategist for the group, sent at least 21 emails to his private for-rent email list, urging readers to give generously to the PAC to fund television ads Morris claimed were essential to a Mitt Romney victory. Newsmax.com sent an additional 25 emails to their own list, featuring a similar pitch and often the signature of either Morris or Michael Reagan, a Newsmax columnist and the PAC's chairman. Then a large percentage of the take was directed back to the coffers of Newsmax, which derives significant profits from its ability to rent out its mailing list to various groups.

    Super PACs are unregulated and free to spend their funds however they see fit. But they generally contribute most of their money to candidates or partisan advertising. It is unusual for them to spend half of their revenue on fundraising, and more so for that fundraising to directly profit the PAC's primary spokesperson and strategist. Said Viveca Novak of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political spending: "Spending 50 percent for fundraising and other expenses would be high."

    Morris' own supporters agree. Media Matters contacted more than 100 of his donors using publicly available information from the FEC. A disproportionate number of those listed in the FEC filings are retired, and at least a dozen of those contacted seemed extremely confused in their responses. Many more were openly hostile when asked for comment, especially in response to this reporter's stated association with Media Matters.

    Others were polite and curious to know how Dick Morris spent their money. Richard Clark, a retired farmer in Jefferson, New Hampshire, made two donations totaling $350 to Morris' group. He was taken aback to learn where roughly $160 of it went. "Half of the budget going to fundraising is probably too high, a quarter of the total is probably closer to the maximum," said Clark, who is also disturbed by Morris' wide margin of error in predicting the election's outcome. "Dick Morris' emails convinced me to contribute, but he was way off. I'm less likely to send him money in the future."

    Don Hall, a disabled and retired insurance man in Amarillo, Texas, made five donations to Super PAC for America totaling $1,000. As a longtime fan of Morris' "lunchtime videos," the numbers and implications of the FEC filing disturbed him. "If it is true [that nearly 50 percent of funds went to fundraise through Newsmax and Morris' website] then it would definitely affect my trust in Morris," said Hall. "It would stop all contributions to him in the future." 

  • Right-Wing Media Side With Pro-Romney Forces In Wash. Post's Internal Bain Capital Dispute

    ››› ››› ANDY NEWBOLD & MARCUS FELDMAN

    Right-wing media are touting a Washington Post Fact Checker article alleging that the Obama campaign "failed to make its case" in a new ad claiming that Romney "shipped jobs" overseas. But a different Post article pointing to data from the Securities and Exchange Commission has affirmed that Bain Capital, with Romney as head, "owned companies that were pioneers in the practice of shipping work from the United States to overseas."

  • Right-Wing Media Promote Another Trump Conspiracy: Oil Edition

    Blog ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL

    Fox Nation

    Donald Trump recently declared on CNBC that "Saudi Arabia is doing Obama a big fat favor" by increasing oil production in order to bring gasoline prices down, and that if Obama is re-elected the "favor will be repaid many times over." Fox Nation took this conspiracy even further, calling it a "SECRET SAUDI OIL DEAL TO WIN REELECTION"; Real Clear Politics, Breitbart.com, and Newsmax also promoted Trump's comments.

    This has put conservatives in the bizarre position of claiming that Obama is nefariously lowering gasoline prices in order to help the economy and win re-election, after previously claiming that Obama was trying to raise gas prices.

    And the claim that there is a "SECRET" "DEAL" is ridiculous: it is public knowledge that the U.S. has pressured Saudi Arabia to boost its oil output. The administration's apparent success in doing so undercuts Trump's previous attack that the Saudis were not ramping up production because Obama was a poor "messenger" or was too busy on "his basketball court" or something.

    The Saudis have no incentive to do "Obama a big fat favor" unless it is in their own self-interest. As the Washington Post reported, energy economist Phillip Vergeler believes that Saudi Arabia is trying to "stay in the good graces of United States and Europe" by providing "economic stimulus," but they are also acting in order to slow down shale production in North America and put pressure on Iran.

  • Fox Again Turns To Tabloid For Climate Science

    Blog ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL

    Fox NationThe Daily Mail is a British tabloid that has repeatedly misrepresented climate research. Naturally, it is also one of Fox News' chief sources on climate science.

    Last week the Daily Mail ran a story headlined: "Is this finally proof we're NOT causing global warming? The whole of the Earth heated up in medieval times without human CO2 emissions, says new study." Fox Nation ran a Newsmax summary of the article under the headline "Study Refutes Manmade Warming."

    The Daily Mail, along with Newsmax, Fox, and other conservative media, distorted the very research they are trumpeting. The study's lead author, Professor Zunli Lu, said his paper "has been misrepresented by a number of media outlets" and "does not question the well-established anthropogenic warming trend."

    It is unfortunate that my research, "An ikaite record of late Holocene climate at the Antarctic Peninsula," recently published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, has been misrepresented by a number of media outlets.

    Several of these media articles assert that our study claims the entire Earth heated up during medieval times without human CO2 emissions. We clearly state in our paper that we studied one site at the Antarctic Peninsula. The results should not be extrapolated to make assumptions about climate conditions across the entire globe. Other statements, such as the study "throws doubt on orthodoxies around global warming," completely misrepresent our conclusions. Our study does not question the well-established anthropogenic warming trend.

    Lu also told Peter Sinclair that "The reporter of that Daily Mail article published it anyway, after we told him the angle that he chose misrepresents our work." If this reflects poorly on the quality of journalism at the Daily Mail, what does it say about outlets like Fox who simply parrot the tabloid's inaccurate reports?

  • The Washington Post's Bad Math Tarnishes Innovative Light Bulb

    Blog ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL

    In a front page article on Friday, The Washington Post reported that a $50 LED light bulb manufactured in the U.S. by Philips had won the Department of Energy's L-Prize for using only 10 watts of energy to produce light as bright as a 60-watt incandescent bulb. But the Post completely obscured the consumer savings from the LED's energy efficiency, including in an infographic that had to be corrected because its math was wrong.

    The graphic claimed we would be better off buying 30 incandescent bulbs over 10 years rather than one of the prize-winning bulbs:

    Washington Post

    But as several outlets pointed out, the Post greatly underestimated electricity rates. After correcting for this, the LED bulb that the Post called "costly" actually saves consumers a significant amount of money over time, as the corrected infographic shows:

    Washington Post

    Quite a difference.

  • Callous Climate: Conservative Media Deride Adaptation Aid For World's Poor

    ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL

    As many faith leaders have recognized, climate change presents a massive ethical challenge since those least responsible for global warming are among the most vulnerable to its consequences, including water scarcity, climate-sensitive diseases, and sea level rise. Yet in response to the recent international climate talks, conservative media outlets are mocking developing countries for seeking adaptation assistance, saying they just want to "cash in" on "climate gold."

  • Trump Pulls Out Of "Most Important Presidential Debate In American History"

    Blog ››› ››› BEN DIMIERO

    Having successfully wheedled a significant amount of free promotion for his new book and the upcoming season of his reality show, Donald Trump announced today that he has changed his mind and will not be moderating the Newsmax/ION debate later this month.

    In a statement published by Politico, Trump, after plugging the date of The Apprentice finale once more for good measure, announced that he is unwilling to firmly state that he will not run for president as an independent and will not moderate the debate in order to avoid a "conflict of interest within the Republican Party."

    Not coincidentally, this almost-certain-to-never-happen presidential run is the means by which Trump will -- likely with depressing amounts of success -- continue to drive media interest in himself throughout 2012.

    Trump's decision to bail is embarrassing for Newsmax, even more so than the fact that he was moderating their debate in the first place.

  • Birther To Moderate Newsmax GOP Debate

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    The New York Times reports this afternoon that the right-wing magazine Newsmax will host a Republican debate later this month, and that it will be moderated by Donald Trump, the real estate mogul, reality show host, and nation's most prominent birther.

    Mr. Trump's role in the debate, which will be broadcast on the cable network Ion Television, is sure to be one of the more memorable moments in a primary season that has already delivered its fair share of circus-like spectacle.

    Mr. Trump's own flirtation with running for president this year seems almost quaint (whose birth certificate was he all worked up about?) compared with more recent distractions - like allegations of adultery and sexual harassment, gaffes that seemed scripted from a late-night comedy show, and a six-figure line of credit at Tiffany & Co.

    Almost quaint indeed! Good to know we're at the point where we can shrug off one of the more blatantly racist spectacles in modern American politics. I guess Trump benefits, if that's the right word, from having already been too clownish a figure to let something like birtherism tarnish his reputation.

    And it's no great shock that Newsmax would select a conspiracy-mongering publicity hound as their moderator. Newsmax publisher Chris Ruddy spent the Clinton years flogging the conspiracy theory that Vince Foster's suicide was actually a murder connected to the Clintons.

    But during the Clinton years, people like Ruddy were confined largely to the fringe. These days... well, Mr. Trump has a few questions he'd like to ask.

  • Fox Contributor Uses Artificial "Christmas Tree Tax" Outrage To Insinuate Obama Is Channeling "The Islamic World"

    Blog ››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

    Days late to the artificial war on Christmas trees, Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce is accusing President Obama of displaying "contempt for Christianity" by levying a tax on Christians that she says is rooted in Muslim tradition.

    On November 6, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved a plan initiated by tree farmers during the Bush administration to levy a fee on large tree farmers. The assessment was intended to fund a marketing campaign promoting fresh Christmas trees. Media conservatives quickly launched a false attack on the Obama administration, which subsequently announced that the industry-backed fee would be put on hold.

    Bruce dismissed the undisputed fact that the fee was sought by tree growers, modeled on similar USDA initiatives including the "Got Milk?" and "Beef: It's What's for Dinner" campaigns. Pointing to the innocuous fact that the Obama administration has issued decrees honoring the Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha, Bruce instead argued that the "checkoff" fee -- sought under a 1996 farm act -- is further evidence that Obama is "pandering to Muslims" while showing "contempt for Christianity":

    Oh sure, the Fed is saying it was a marketing fee for the Christmas tree "industry," to supposedly improve the image of the apparently much hated and dreaded tree. The fact is it was a tax meant to fund a board appointed by a federal agency targeting one religion and one religion only -- Christianity.

    There is a precedent for this -- in the Muslim world it's called the "Jizya" -- a tax levied on non-Muslim citizens in the Islamic world, allowing them to practice their religion while being "protected" by the Muslim state.

    In our case, it seems more like an atheistic federal government looking for tribute by those pesky Christians who dare to think there is a higher authority than the permanent political class.

    Bruce's vitriolic screed is being promoted at Fox Nation as evidence of Obama's "War on Christianity."

  • Climate Science Once Again Twisted Beyond Recognition By Conservative Media

    Blog ››› ››› JOCELYN FONG

    "Has a central tenant [sic] of global warming just collapsed?" That's the first sentence of a July 29 Fox News article about a recent study which shows nothing of the sort, demonstrating just how broken climate change coverage is at news outlets like Fox, where scientific illiteracy meets political slant.

    Last week, Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), one of the few climate scientists who think we don't need to worry much about global warming, published a paper purportedly challenging mainstream climate models that is both limited in scope and, by many accounts, flawed. After a Forbes column by James Taylor of the libertarian Heartland Institute misinterpreted the study and declared that it blows a "gaping hole in global warming alarmism," an avalanche of conservative media outlets, including Fox, followed suit:

    Christian Post: Scientist Says His Study May Disprove Global Warming

    Fox Nation: New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hole in Global Warming Alarmism

    Investor's Business Daily: Junk Science Unravels

    FoxNews.com: Does NASA Data Show Global Warming Lost in Space?