Yesterday the world mourned the death of Nelson Mandela. In a moving speech, President Obama described the former South African president as a man who through "fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others... transformed South Africa -- and moved all of us." Obama also noted that his first political action was inspired by Mandela -- a protest against South Africa's brutal apartheid regime in the late 1970s, part of a wave of progressive activism that would sweep the country over the next decade and compel the United States to enact economic sanctions against South Africa's government.
American conservatives have a far more complicated history with Mandela, as many of the movement's most prominent figures spent the decade leading up to his release from prison opposing actions geared toward ending South Africa's brutal apartheid regime. In 1986 President Reagan vetoed a bill that would have imposed economic sanctions on South Africa unless it met five conditions, including Mandela's release. Congress overrode that veto. Washington Post columnist George Will derided calls for sanctions and divestment in a 1985 column: "Clearly some of the current campaigning against South Africa is a fad, a moral Hula Hoop, fun for a while."
On the very day Mandela was freed in 1990, conservative icon William Buckley warned that "the release of Mandela, for all we know, may one day be likened to the arrival of Lenin at the Finland Station in 1917" (referring to Lenin's return to Russia from exile and the ensuing Bolshevik seizure of power) and mocked South African opponents of apartheid for their concern with "the question of one-man, one-vote," which he claimed "has not yet hit the United States, whose Senate guarantees most unequal treatment."
American conservatives of the era recognized the brutal repression of black South Africans by the whites, but ultimately determined that ending that system was less important that preserving South Africa as an ally in the Cold War. They pointed to Mandela's ties to South Africa's Communist Party and his history of violent activism and warned of dire results if he were freed and the apartheid government overthrown. (In his statement at the opening of the 1964 trial that ended in his imprisonment, Mandela explained that his African National Congress worked with communists toward the common goal of "the removal of white supremacy." He compared this to the United States and Great Britain allying with the Soviet Union during World War II).
Ronald Reagan neatly summed up the conservative position on South Africa and apartheid in a March 1981 interview with Walter Cronkite:
In an interview with CBS News, Reagan said the United States should still be concerned about South Africa's policy of racial separatism, called apartheid. But he suggested that as long as a "sincere and honest" effort was being made to achieve racial harmony, the United States should not be critical.
Reagan then asked: "Can we abandon a country that has stood by us in every war we have ever fought, a country that is strategically essential to the free world in its production of minerals that we all must have?" [Associated Press, March 23, 1981, via Nexis]
Since Mandela's passing, conservatives in the media have grappled with their movement's actions in light of the fruits his leadership bore. Here's how they're responding, in ways ranging from repugnant to laudatory:
Some conservative hardliners are convinced that they were right about Mandela all along. "Don't Mourn For Mandela" is the headline of Joseph Farah's December 6 column, in which the WND editor highlights Mandela's communist ties and use of violence, writing:
Apartheid was inarguably an evil and unjustifiable system. But so is the system Mandela's revolution brought about - one in which anti-white racism is so strong today that a prominent genocide watchdog group has labeled the current situation a "precursor" to the deliberate, systematic elimination of the race.
In other words, the world has been sold a bill of goods about Mandela. He wasn't the saintly character portrayed by Morgan Freeman. He wasn't someone fighting for racial equality. He was the leader of a violent, Communist revolution that has nearly succeeded in all of its grisly horror.
Farah concludes that someone needs to highlight these "inconvenient truths" because "the Mandela mythology is as dangerous as the terror he and his followers perpetrated on so many innocent victims - white and black."
Similarly, PJ Media's David Swindle headlined his piece on Mandela, "Communist Icon Nelson Mandela Dead at 95." In a post at his Gateway Pundit site, popular conservative blogger Jim Hoft marked Mandela's passing by posting a picture of Mandela with Fidel Castro and highlighting a tweet from a "Communist Party" Twitter account mourning his death.
From the December 3 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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Right-wing media are dismissing President Obama's and Congressional Democrats' work on filibuster reform, a diplomatic agreement with Iran, and immigration reform as merely attempts to distract from the Affordable Care Act.
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Historians are throwing cold water on conservatives' "fundamentally ludicrous" attempts to co-opt John F. Kennedy's legacy on the 50th anniversary of his assassination.
In recent days, several conservative media figures -- including Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Chris Wallace -- have suggested that if Kennedy were alive today, his views would align with conservatives and the Tea Party. But in interviews with Media Matters historians dismissed these claims as "silly" and "bunk."
"It shows me that John F. Kennedy's legacy is so powerful that even those who stand for everything he stood against want to claim his legacy," said Sean Wilentz, professor of history at Princeton University. As for the right-wing pundits' view of a right-wing JFK? "It's bunk," says Wilentz. "John F. Kennedy embraced liberalism. He called himself a liberal, he was grateful to get the nomination of the Liberal Party of New York State. He ran on the liberal line."
Wilentz explained that the idea of him as conservative likely comes from his tax cuts, but he adds, "tax cuts are not necessarily conservative or liberal. The economy was sluggish at that moment, and it was to improve unemployment. Conservatives wanted to radically and dramatically change the income tax, basically collapse it."
Wilentz and other historians pointed to Kennedy's efforts at drafting the first versions of the 1964 civil rights bill, seeking nuclear disarmament, and supporting health and education funding.
"Was he a liberal? Yeah, he certainly thought he was a liberal and he went out of his way to be a liberal," said Edward D. Berkowitz, professor of history and public policy and public administration at The George Washington University. "A pro-government kind of liberalism, you can see that clearly in his domestic program. He was a big advocate of Medicare and federal aid to education."
Jeffrey A. Engle, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University and the author of eight books, said describing JFK as conservtive is "a fundamentally ludicrous claim, which fundamentally misreads Kennedy's actual life and imprints upon Kennedy [the] political views that they themselves like. Kennedy fundamentally believed that the government could and should play a vital role in bettering people's lives, be it in education, civil rights, social welfare or the economy and he simply would not have been a conservative, there is just no way around it."
From the November 21 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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Sean Hannity called the Senate's passage of filibuster reform a "lawless maneuver" despite having supported it in 2005 under Republican President George W. Bush.
After the Senate voted to change the rules on judicial nominees to allow confirmation with a simple majority vote, Hannity called the move a "lawless maneuver," saying "Democrats break the rules":
But in 2005, under a Republican president and Republican-controlled Congress, Hannity called judicial nominations one of the "specific instances in the Constitution where they call for a supermajority," arguing that it was "unconstitutional to filibuster":
HANNITY: Senator [John McCain], one last question before we let you go here.
There are seven specific instances in the Constitution where they call for a supermajority. I believe it's unconstitutional to filibuster. It is not about advice and consent now to ask for a supermajority on judicial nominations. I believe that is not constitutional.
There's been a lot of talk about what we describe as the "constitutional option," which is that the Republicans would unite and vote, and there would be an up-or-down vote on all of the judicial nominations. Do you think that's the right thing to do? Will you support [then-Senate Majority Leader] Senator [Bill] Frist if he does it?
As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pointed out, of the 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominations that have occurred in the history of the U.S. Senate, half have occurred during the Obama administration.
Fox News' Sean Hannity and Eric Bolling seized on a dubious, anonymously sourced report to revive the conspiracy theory that the Bureau of Labor Statistics manipulated unemployment data to help re-elect President Obama.
On November 18, the New York Post cited an anonymous Census Bureau employee to suggest that employment numbers were changed while President Obama was seeking reelection in 2012.
On the November 19 edition of his syndicated radio show, Hannity claimed the report proved that he was right to claim, in October 2012, that unemployment numbers were "altered for political gain."
On the November 19 edition of Fox News' The Five, co-host Eric Bolling also claimed the Post report proved his BLS conspiracy theories:
But not only was the New York Post's report thinly sourced to begin with, CNBC reported today that Julius Buckmon, the Census worker that allegedly fabricated data, has not worked at the Census Bureau since 2011, long before the unemployment report that Fox accused the Obama administration of manufacturing. Business Insider's Brett LoGiurato spoke with a Census spokesperson who confirmed that Buckmon has not worked for the agency since 2011 and that Buckmon "was an employee who was willfully disobeying Census procedures and disobeying the law."
Furthermore, the unnamed source provided no evidence that the September 2012 unemployment rate was either unusual or manipulated. Business Insider's Joe Wiesenthal explained:
The allegation is interesting. It claims that surveyers conducting the Household Survey -- which is what establishes the unemployment rate -- were pressured to fake surveys in order to fill in data gaps, when it was difficult to get adequate response rates on its surveys.
It also claims that instances of bad data being filled in is something that was going back to 2010 -- in other words, this is not a story about the infamous September 2012 jobs report. There's also no allegation here that there was pressure to manipulate the number up. The only claim is that there was pressure to fill in gaps where there was a shortfall in the number of survey respondents.
There may be more information to come to light on this, but at least this particular report doesn't jibe with Welch's claim that something unusual happened with the September report to artificially push the number down.
The Veterans Day edition of Fox News' Hannity spent twice as much time discussing the so-called "War On Christmas" than the actual wars whose veterans we honor on that holiday.
On the November 11 edition of his Fox News show, Sean Hannity hosted Sarah Palin to discuss her newly released book about the "War On Christmas." While Hannity wrung his hands about the latest "unbridled and seemingly unprecedented" attacks on Christmas, Palin opined that "angry atheists" armed with attorneys "want to tell us, they want to tell patriots, they want to tell traditional Americans, that no longer can you acknowledge that Jesus is the reason for the season."
The "War On Christmas" segment lasted only two minutes, but that was twice the amount of airtime Hannity devoted to covering Veterans Day. Only a brief "Veterans Day edition of our video of the day" segment at the end of Hannity's show made any mention of the nation's veterans and the conflicts they braved as part of their service.
Fox News hosts often cover the "War On Christmas" more extensively than they do real wars. During the last holiday season, Fox's Bill O'Reilly dedicated nearly an hour to segments defending Christmas from its alleged assailants, while spending a mere fifteen minutes covering military conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, and Gaza.
After months of support from conservative talk radio and other right-wing media, commonwealth Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli failed to win the race to become Virgnia's next governor. Even before Election Day, conservative commentators like Mark Levin had already begun lashing out at "RINOs" and Republicans like Karl Rove for not sufficiently supporting Cuccinelli.
Following the October 1 rollout of the Affordable Care Act's exchanges, media outlets hyped several anecdotal stories of people who will be negatively affected by the law. These stories have ranged from the misleading to the outright false.
Sean Hannity hosted Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) and Citizens United as they used Fox News as a platform to launch a campaign targeted at ending the so-called congressional exemption to the Affordable Care Act. There's one problem: the congressional exemption does not exist.
On the November 4 edition of Fox News' Hannity, David Bossie, president of the conservative political organization Citizens United, and Vitter joined Hannity to announce a new campaign calling on Congress to "Live By Your Laws." While the segment aired, Citizens United's Twitter account encouraged its followers to "join the movement" with Bossie, Hannity, and Vitter to stop a rule within the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) that allegedly exempts members of Congress and their staffs as well as the White House from having to take part in the ACA's health insurance exchanges. Hannity introduced the segment by playing most of Citizens United's new advertisement.
Contrary to the trio's claims, the reality is that the ACA requires Congress and its staff to obtain health insurance on the exchanges and also prohibits them from receiving subsidies under the ACA. Because of this "special punishment" as The Washington Post's Ezra Klein called it, congressional staffers would be forced to cover the entire cost of their health insurance. To avoid that punishment, the Office of Personnel Management clarified that it would continue to subsidize congressional employees' health insurances costs just like most employers throughout the country do. One Republican lawmaker said of the clarification, "There's no question it was the right thing to do."
From the October 24 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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When he announced hearings this week into the troubled launch and implementation of President Obama's health care reform, Rep. David Camp (R-MI), Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, demanded to know why "after spending over $600 million" the online health care exchange portal, healthcare.gov, doesn't work properly.
In light of the site's systemic failures, that bulging nine-figure price tag ($634 million, to be exact) has produced endless guffaws within the conservative media, where the figure has been adopted as evidence of a policy debacle.
"Who pays $634 million and has three years and screws it up that bad?" asked Fox News' Sean Hannity on October 18. Added Rush Limbaugh: "That website, by the way, the original projected cost: $93 million. The end cost: $643 million. I kid you not."
Wow, $550 million in cost overruns for healthcare.gov since 2010 when the health care reform law was passed?
The life of the $600 million figure appears to be the latest example of how misinformation is fermented within the right-wing media and then adopted as quasi-policy by the Republican Party. After all, Rep. Camp is holding a hearing specifically to determine why the government's $600 million health care website doesn't work, even though the site didn't cost $600 million.
Fox News' Sean Hannity promised to throw a tea party event for Republican Senator Mike Lee (UT), a founding member of the Tea Party Caucus who was instrumental in the Republican-led government shutdown. Hannity and Fox News have a long history of questionable ethics when it comes to supporting tea party causes and candidates.
Lee was an instrumental player in the effort to shut down the government. Indeed, Time magazine dubbed him "The Man Behind The Shutdown Curtain":
On July 17, three months before Sens. Mitch McConnell and Reid forged a deal to open the government and avert default, Lee welcomed the conservative leaders of national grassroots organizations into his office after-hours to discuss tying government funding to the Obamacare battles. Sens. Cruz, Mike Enzi, Jeff Flake, Jim Inhofe, Ron Johnson, Jim Risch, Marco Rubio, and Pat Toomey were in attendance, as well as representatives of Tea Party Patriots, FreedomWorks, and other conservative groups. The room was "packed," said Jenny Beth Martin, President of Tea Party Patriots. Lee spoke first, led the discussion, and asked for support.
"That was the moment that brought everyone together," said L. Brent Bozell III, the founder of the Media Research Center and a participant in the meeting. Bozell said that every outside group agreed with the strategy, and only one senator openly questioned the shutdown or defund tactic. "Mike Lee is the intellectual powerhouse of this entire movement," added Bozell.
Lee has a natural ally in Hannity. The Fox News host cheered the shutdown strategy, urging Republicans as far back as March to shut down the government over the Affordable Care Act:
HANNITY: Republicans right now, if they really want to -- not just symbolically -- if they want to repeal health care, Dr. [Ben] Carson, Obamacare, they've got to shut the government down and be labeled 'the full faith and credit of the United States is in jeopardy.' Which is not true. But if they really want to do that, that's what it will take. I want them to do it.
On the October 23 edition of his Fox News show, Hannity hosted Lee to discuss the Affordable Care Act and the government shutdown. At the end of the interview, Hannity told Lee, "I promise I'll do everything I can do -- we'll go out to Utah, we'll have a big tea party out there, and we'll remind them why you were elected":
This is not the first instance in which a Fox personality has seemingly crossed the ethical line. In April 2010 Hannity caused a controversy by planning to host his Fox show from a tea party rally in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Los Angeles Times reported: