Right-wing media are making sexist and outrageous claims in an attempt to smear Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis over her divorces.
The Dallas Morning News reported January 18th that Davis had been 21, not 19, by the time she got a divorce, a seemingly-minor contradiction to previous statements in which she had described herself as a teenage-single mother. In a statement to Buzzfeed, Davis explained that she had been separated from her first husband "on [her] way to a divorce" by 19, living alone with her daughter in a trailer for a time.
Exactly how young Davis was when she took care of her daughter on her own while facing economic hardship is a small, but understandable, question. Conservative media, however, are blowing the legitimate questions about Davis' backstory out of proportion while making sexist attacks on Davis' character and implying she is not fit for public office.
On January 20, Rush Limbaugh called Davis a "babe" and a "genuine head case," and claimed the new details proved she needed a man to be successful, as her second husband helped pay for her law school. Limbaugh concluded that her life story was full of "fraud and deceit ... her entire biography has been embellished and falsified by her."
Radio host Mark Levin also suggested that Davis was a "good Democrat gubernatorial candidate" because she is a "liar" and because there were "allegations -- I stress, allegations -- of adultery."
In two posts on his blog, Fox News contributor Erick Erickson used the divorce in an attempt to portray Davis as an unstable and unreliable mother, with two posts headlined, "Documents Show A Texas Court Ordered Wendy Davis to Stay Away From Drugs and Alcohol" and "Wendy Davis' Ex Asked a Court to Order Her Not to Use Drugs Before Seeing Her Kids."
But Erickson conveniently ignored that a temporary restraining order, or TRO, is common practice in divorce cases involving children, and can include restrictions on alcohol and drug consumption. Tommy Christopher at Mediaite effectively laid out how Davis' restraining order was typical, and an example of a petition form for the TRO is available on the Texas Law Help website, showing that drug and alcohol provisions are included on the form.
Erickson has repeatedly attempted to smear Davis, whom he demeaningly refers to as "Abortion Barbie." Last November, Erickson absurdly suggested that Davis was unfit for public office because she had claimed "mental health issues" in a 1996 lawsuit. Erickson once again showed his unfamiliarity with the law; the language he cited is required boilerplate for the Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) claim Davis brought against a Texas newspaper.
These attacks on Davis are extreme, but they also follow a predictable pattern. The Barbara Lee Family Foundation has studied every female candidate for governor in the past, and found that women running for executive office often are placed on an "Ethical Pedestal," which perpetuates the myth that women are more innately honest than men -- allowing male opponents to undermine them by simply questioning their integrity:
To distract from what really matters -- the policies, priorities, and platforms of each candidate -- male opponents often strike early with attacks questioning a woman's integrity. It's a well-worn strategy.
We saw this happen in Senator Elizabeth Warren's race against then-Senator Scott Brown in 2012, when he repeatedly questioned her integrity, and we're already seeing it in State Senator Wendy Davis's race against Attorney General Greg Abbott in Texas.
Media Matters looks back at the best of the worst of right-wing media's treatment of women in 2013.
Conservative media figures have attacked House Speaker John Boehner for accusing tea party groups of undercutting Republican Party interests, claiming that Boehner did so to facilitate passage of "amnesty" in 2014. But the "amnesty" label that right-wing figures affix to immigration reform has been disputed even by Republican lawmakers opposed to reform.
Indeed, the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate imposes severe hurdles and makes undocumented immigrants wait 13 years before they can even begin to apply for citizenship.
As the Washington Post explained:
One of the weaknesses of the public conversation about immigration is that any proposal under which the final result for some undocumented immigrants is citizenship gets labeled "amnesty." But in reality, most proposals put a ton of hurdles between such immigrants' current status and that goal.
The Post included this graph from the Center for American Progress, which drives home the absurdity of calling what basically amounts to a 13-year wait -- that may or may not result in citizenship -- an "amnesty":
As the Post reported on December 12, Boehner criticized tea party and ultra-conservative groups who came out against a recently passed bi-partisan budget deal, calling them "misleading" and without "credibility," and saying they are "working against the interests of the Republican Party."
The latest development in the never-ending soap opera of congressional budget negotiations is that Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) are close to reaching a limited deal to partially replace spending cuts imposed earlier this year (the much-maligned sequestration). The details of the deal are not known, but that hasn't stopped conservative activist groups and pundits from denouncing Ryan -- a long-time conservative hero for his austere budget proposals -- as a sellout.
The Washington Post laid out what little is known about the emerging deal:
Senior aides familiar with the talks say the emerging agreement aims to partially repeal the sequester and raise agency spending to roughly $1.015 trillion in fiscal 2014 and 2015. That would bring agency budgets up to the target already in place for fiscal 2016. To cover the cost, Ryan and Murray are haggling over roughly $65 billion in alternative policies, including cuts to federal worker pensions and higher security fees for the nation's airline passengers.
Salon's Brian Beutler notes that if the deal ends up looking like this rough outline, then there's no real reason for conservatives to be all that upset: "If inked, it wouldn't raise revenue through the tax code, and would protect the Defense Department from sequestration's most severe cuts. At the same time, some of the savings in the deal would likely come out of the hide of federal workers."
And yet, the outcry from activists was swift. Groups like Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity, and FreedomWorks are urging conservative members of Congress to vote against the budget deal, even though they don't know what the deal actually looks like.
Appearing on Fox News on December 10, Stuart Varney trashed the deal, calling it "a handshake deal. It does absolutely nothing to resolve the basic problems which we're facing. It does not tackle entitlement reform, it does not tackle tax reform, and it does nothing to drastically reduce the debt."
Fox News contributor Erick Erickson lashed out at gay rights activists for fighting against anti-LGBT business discrimination, suggesting that they are "evil" and that their effort to ensure equal treatment for LGBT customers is an intolerant campaign to "silence good."
In a December 9 post for his RedState.com blog, Erickson responded to a Colorado judge's recent ruling that a Denver baker violated the state's anti-discrimination law when he refused to serve a same-sex couple. Erickson endorsed anti-gay discrimination on the basis of religious views, writing that the ruling further imperils religious liberty and provides yet another example of how "your sexual preference instead of your faith" matters more in modern society (emphasis added):
Surely there are plenty of bakers who would bake a cake for David Mullins and Charlie Craig, the gay men who wanted the cake. But they went to Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Denver, CO. When Phillips declined because of his religious beliefs, Mullins and Craig went to the ACLU, which in turn complained to the state that Phillips was discriminating.
There will be no accommodation between gay rights activists and those seeking religious freedom to opt out of the gay rights movement. Gay rights activists demand tolerance for their lifestyle, but will not tolerate those who choose to adhere to their religious beliefs.
Increasingly, courts around the country are siding with the gay rights movement against those relying on the first freedoms of the country. While many would prefer to sit this out, they will be made to care.
Evil preaches tolerance until it is dominate and then it seeks to silence good. We are more and more rapidly arriving at a point in this country where Christians are being forced from the public square unless they abandon the tenets of their faith. In our secular society, Christianity is something you do on a Sunday and who you sleep with defines you.
For Christians defined by their faith, this paradigm of being defined by your sexual preference instead of your faith is deeply troublesome and will see more and more of these stories crop up.
Legal experts have already debunked Erickson's claim that anti-discrimination laws pose a threat to private religious views. As University of Pennsylvania law professor Tobias B. Wolff and Slate's Mark Joseph Stern have noted, there's a clear difference between holding anti-gay views personally and operating a business in the public marketplace that discriminates against people because of who they are.
Erickson professes his dislike for the notion that "who you sleep with defines you," but it's Erickson himself who's obsessed with denying people rights simply on the basis of their sexual orientation. Would Erickson feel as comfortable telling an interracial couple that "there are plenty of bakers who would bake a cake for them," but that racist bakers should have the right not to provide them one?
That Erickson sees nothing wrong with subjecting same-sex couples to the whims of business owners' personal views underscores the right-wing media's apparent belief that "who you sleep with" is perfectly legitimate grounds for public discrimination.
For Erickson to cloak his defense of anti-gay discrimination in a purported concern for "tolerance" is particularly rich, given his willingness to solicit donations for the extremist Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization working internationally to criminalize homosexuality.
Conservative media are applauding House Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) decision to refuse negotiations on immigration reform between the House and Senate, which likely means the end of comprehensive immigration reform this year. This decision comes after months of right-wing media telling Republicans to obstruct any and all action to pass comprehensive immigration legislation.
Fox News contributor Erick Erickson is urging conservatives in Congress to separate the debt ceiling and budget fights as part of a strategy to "undermine Obamacare," and is attacking Republican leaders who he claims want to merge them and preserve Obamacare.
Under the headline "This is the Strategy. Now Do It.", Erickson, whose bellicose strategies are often favored by Tea Party members, writes on his RedState blog that "Republican Leaders are begging us to merge the continuing resolution fight and debt ceiling fight" because "They want to conflate it with the debt ceiling so they can do a grand bargain and leave Obamacare alone. He singles out Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) for criticism over his October 8 Wall Street Journal op-ed on debt ceiling negotiations, stating that that Ryan "wants a grand bargain and not once mentions Obamacare. Not once."
Fox News contributor Erick Erickson used the "female reproductive system" as a metaphor to chide Washington, D.C. Republicans over defunding Obamacare.
In a September 17 post at his RedState blog, Erickson wrote that he "cannot use the word" he wanted to use to describe Washington Republicans who are supposedly "surrender[ing]" on the issue of defunding Obamacare. Accompanied by a photo of Code Pink protesters dressed as female reproductive parts, Erickson likened the GOP to the word he apparently couldn't use:
More Americans oppose Obamacare now than at any time. As rhetoric on defunding Obamacare has gone up, so has Republican popularity and opposition to Obamacare. A full quarter of the American public wants Congress to actually blow up Obamacare. When is the last time a full quarter of the whole population wanted Congress to do any one thing?
More than half want Obamacare either destroyed or substantially changed.
But the GOP, its allies in the press and pundit core, and its very leadership are such [insert euphemism of choice related to the female reproductive system] that they'd rather plan their surrender before making their retreat. [emphasis added]
Erickson has a history of sexist comparisons, including referring to the first night of the Democratic National Convention in September 2012 as the "Vagina Monologues." Recently, he claimed that people who defend female breadwinners are "anti-science" because males are "typically...the dominant role," and referred to Texas State Senator Wendy Davis as "Abortion Barbie."
Conservatives are using a comment from former President Bill Clinton's speech at the memorial celebrating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington to falsely suggest that background checks are required for all gun sales.
During his speech, Clinton stated, "A great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon."
Clinton appeared to refer to two conservative legislative priorities: Their passage in several states of voter ID laws and other laws that make it harder for people to vote, especially low income and minority voters; and their effort to block earlier this year federal legislation to strengthen and expand the background check system to prevent felons and the dangerously mentally ill from purchasing firearms.
Responding to Clinton's comment, Fox News contributor Erick Erickson facetiously wrote on his RedState.com blog that Clinton had "called for the elimination of background checks to purchase guns." Erickson claims that "purchases of firearms in every state must go through a firearms background check" and thus concludes that since one "does not even need photo identification in every state to vote... I take this statement to mean Bill Clinton wants background checks for gun purchases eliminated."
At TownHall.com, fellow Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich similarly wrote:
Clinton's words came in reference to voter identification laws being passed all over the country which require voters to show government issued photo identification in order to vote. Federal gun laws also require people purchasing firearms to show government issued photo identification. In addition, firearms purchasers are required to undergo a background check.
In fact, under federal law background checks are only required on those who seek to purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer; no such check is needed for those who buy them from private sellers, including at gun shows and online.
National Review editor Rich Lowry criticized Senator Ted Cruz's effort to defund Obamacare as "a grass roots-pleasing slogan," adding to the conservative media divide over Republican plans to defund the health care law by threatening a government shutdown.
Republican politicians, including Cruz (TX) and Senator Mike Lee (UT), have threatened to shut down the government in order to stop funding health care reform. That approach has earned criticism from other Republicans, such as Senator Richard Burr (NC), who called it "the dumbest idea I've ever heard of."
Writing in Politico, Lowry argued against Cruz's strategy, dismissing it as "a grass roots-pleasing slogan" and unrealistic:
His push to defund Obamacare this fall is a grass roots-pleasing slogan in search of a realistic path to legislative fruition. Cruz never explains how a government shutdown fight would bring about the desired end. The strategy seems tantamount to believing that if Republican politicians clicked their wing tips together and wished it so, President Barack Obama would collapse in a heap and surrender on his party's most cherished accomplishment.
Lowry's criticism adds to an already wide split among right-wing media on GOP threats to shut down the government.
RedState.com compared an Oregon law protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination to China's Cultural Revolution, an ideological purification campaign in which an estimated one million Chinese died between 1966 and 1976.
In an August 20 blog post, RedState front page contributor streiff decried the "never ending [sic] war waged by homosexual activists on people of faith," exemplified by Oregon's 2007 Equality Act, which bans anti-LGBT discrimination in categories like employment, public accommodations, housing, and education. RedState cited the case of a bakery that refused to provide a wedding cake to a same-sex couple to advance its claim that supporters of LGBT equality are at war with religion. The conservative website expressed outrage that under the law, the bakery had to treat the lesbian couple's "shabby simulacrum of marriage" the same as any other marriage:
For the crime of refusing to participate in a shabby simulacrum of marriage a family business is now being investigated by the State of Oregon and, unless they toss away their religious beliefs, will be fined perhaps to the point of bankruptcy. According to the article there are no caps on the fines allowed under the law.
Right-wing media erupted in outrage over New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's decision on August 19 to "reluctantly" sign into law a bill banning "conversion therapy" for gay, lesbian, and bisexual minors, attacking Christie's decision as an affront to religious freedom, the epitome of government overreach, and a boon to child molesters.
As Christie noted in signing the law, the American Psychological Association (APA) opposes "ex-gay" therapy as harmful and scientifically unsound. Reports have exposed the cruel, degrading, and disturbing tactics employed by "ex-gay" therapy organizations, and a staggering 92 percent of former "ex-gay" patients report that they experienced harm as a result of the treatment.
On his radio program, Sean Hannity ignored the fraudulent quackery of "ex-gay" therapy to frame the debate as a matter of religious freedom. "Is there freedom of religion anymore, or is that banned in New Jersey?" Hannity asked, before concluding that it "sounds like" the answer is the latter:
Erick Erickson doubled down on his sexist attack on Texas State Senator Wendy Davis as "Abortion Barbie," writing on RedState that the moniker "fits perfectly" and recommending it be used on the campaign trail. Erickson writes:
Abortion Barbie fits perfectly and I hope that moniker haunts [Wendy Davis] on the campaign trail. She is, after all, intent on building a national name for herself through abortion and pink shoes. I'm sure MSNBC will send her tampon earrings to go with the other accessories.
Let me quickly explain this to Erick. Applying the moniker "Barbie" to Wendy Davis in that context specifically demeans her based on physical attributes. Erickson also connotes the stereotype of "Barbie" representing a shallow and empty headedness. This is inherently sexist.
Anytime a female politician is singled out simply based on looks -- including certain attacks on Sarah Palin -- it's incredibly problematic.
Furthermore as the punch line of his joke, Erickson tosses in a shot at MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry wearing tampon earrings to protest women having their menstrual products taken from them as they entered the Texas State Capital. For Erickson the state aggressively attempting to control women's reproductive health is a joke.
In the world of Erickson his sexist remarks are fine because Davis "is ignorant of the horrors of Kermit Gosnell." Never mind that according to experts the Gosnell case has "nothing to do with the way in which the standard of care and later abortion procedures are performed in the United States." Any excuse to make a sexist attack.
For Erickson, whose history includes both odd sexist remarks and a defense of indefensible remarks by Todd Akin, recommending a sexist messaging assault as an electoral strategy belies just how the conservative media views the recommendations of the Growth and Opportunity project - the report written by the Republican National Committee after the 2012 elections on how to improve their electoral standing. Its findings are clearly being ignored.
While some Fox News hosts and contributors such as Sean Hannity and Sarah Palin have supported a right-wing Republican plan to defund Obamacare by threatening a government shutdown, other Fox News contributors like Karl Rove and Charles Krauthammer have criticized the idea as unworkable and "nuts."
Republican Senator Mike Lee (UT) threatened to shut down the government in order to stop funding health care reform -- signed into law in 2010 and found to be constitutional in 2012. He proposed that Republicans refuse to vote for any continuing resolution -- a measure that continues funding the operations of the federal government until a budget and annual appropriations can be passed -- that includes funding for the continued implementation of health care reform.
Other Republicans are critical of this approach, with Senator Richard Burr (NC) calling it "the dumbest idea I've ever heard of." Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman noted in a July 25 New York Times column that even Republican leaders now recognize that confrontations like this threat to shut down the government will "inflict substantial harm on the economy."
Despite this, some Fox News hosts and contributors have rallied in support of the right-wing Republican brinksmanship plan. On the July 23 edition of his radio show, Fox host Sean Hannity hosted Lee and expressed support for the effort. Two days later on his radio show, Hannity called the issue a "litmus test" for the conservatism of Republicans and threatened to primary any Republican who did not support the effort.
In a July 25 RedState post, Fox News contributor Erick Erickson similarly wrote that Republicans who did not support the defunding effort should be challenged in primary elections:
Why would Republicans keep funding a law that hurts so many people and is so unpopular? Why would they do that?
Republicans in Congress have a choice this fall with the latest continuing resolution. They can choose to not include funding for the implementation of Obamacare. Negotiate everything, but make that their line in the sand. If the Democrats choose to shut down the government over an unpopular law that hurts people, it is their choice. Republicans should not fund Obamacare.
Any Republican who chooses to fund Obamacare should be primaried. The advertisements write themselves. Republicans, by voting to fund Obamacare, are putting people out of work, driving up healthcare costs, and hurting families. Republicans are not listening to voters who hate the law if they fund Obamacare.
Fox News contributor Sarah Palin also jumped on the government shutdown bandwagon, arguing on the July 30 edition of Hannity that using a government shutdown as leverage to defund Obamacare was "common sense."
Other Fox News contributors have found the idea of government shutdown over health care reform to be "ludicrous" and "nuts." On the July 30 edition of America's Newsroom, Fox News contributor Jonah Goldberg said that the idea "works fantastically well for fundraising when you want to go and run in 2016 for president" but is "ludicrous" as a winning legislative strategy.
Earlier this week Sean Hannity expressed his support for Utah Senator Mike Lee's plan to hold America hostage -- unless Obamacare is defunded, Lee has threatened to block appropriations bills, resulting in at least a partial shut down of the government.
Hannity followed up yesterday by suggesting this nihilistic vision for the legislative process should be a "litmus test." He further specified "either you Republicans get off your backside and stand as a bold contrast to Obamacare and make a courageous stand, or get out of the way and we'll primary you and we'll get rid of you."
Rush Limbaugh joined in, telling his audience "one last chance to stop" Obamacare is the upcoming continuing resolution budget fight, making the point that Republicans "denying Obama and the Democrats" the ability to fund the government is a "crucial thing."
Senator Lee's efforts spawned a full-fledged campaign by the conservative media. At Redstate.com, Fox News contributor Erick Erickson asked his readers to call targeted Republican senators and "ask that they sign the Mike Lee letter" which specifically states that its signers "will not support any continuing resolution or appropriations legislation that funds further implementation or enforcement of Obamacare."
Erickson continued in his blog post: "It is important to get their signatures on that letter or we can presume they will fund Obamacare."
Conservative radio host Dana Loesch followed suit by launching a campaign targeting her home state senator Roy Blunt, demanding he too sign Lee's letter.
Fortunately for the country, some members of the Senate Republican Conference do not share the same self-flagellating desires of the conservative media.