After the fatal November 27 shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood health care facility, The Washington Post's Dana Milbank called out prominent conservative media figures and Republican presidential candidates for their incendiary rhetoric about abortion, such as characterizing abortion providers as "subhuman killers."
Planned Parenthood came under renewed persecution from conservatives and Republicans after the anti-abortion group Center For Medical Progress released a series of doctored videos, claiming to show Planned Parenthood officials trafficking fetal baby parts. The controversy led to multiple government investigations that have shown Planned Parenthood didn't violate laws in its donation of fetal tissue to scientific research. Since the release of the Center for Medical Progress' videos, the FBI warned of increased attacks on reproductive health care facilities. This "uptick" in violence occurred around the same time congressional Republicans attempted to stop all government funding of Planned Parenthood.
Milbank's November 30 opinion piece highlighted Republican candidates' calls for "outrage" and conservative media figures comparing Planned Parenthood to Nazis after the release of the deceptively edited CMP videos, warning that unhinged individuals may use this rhetoric as "justification to contemplate the unspeakable":
In one sense, I agree with Cruz. The antiabortion movement did not kill those three people in Colorado Springs. The one responsible is the deranged gunman himself. But it's a different matter to ask whether the often-violent imagery used by conservative leaders on abortion is unwittingly giving the unhinged some perverse sense of justification to contemplate the unspeakable.
Just days before the shooting, Cruz trumpeted an endorsement from an antiabortion activist who once called killing an abortion doctor a "justifiable defensive action" and who leads a group, Operation Rescue, where a colleague did prison time for a conspiracy to bomb an abortion clinic.
The activist whose endorsement Cruz celebrated, Troy Newman, is also on the board of the Center for Medical Progress, which made the surreptitious Planned Parenthood videos that prompted Cruz and many other conservatives to accuse the organization of selling "baby parts" -- the phrase Dear allegedly used.
There will always be the irrational and the unstable. But when political leaders turn disagreements into all-out war, demonize opponents as enemies and accuse those on the other side of being subhuman killers, the unbalanced can hear messages that were never intended.
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who has flirted with the idea of using federal troops to block access to abortion, dismissed the Supreme Court's authority and said that we should "protect children instead of rip up their body parts and sell them like they're parts to a Buick."
Rival Carly Fiorina said, incorrectly, that the Planned Parenthood videos showed "a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, 'We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.' "
Chris Christie talked of "the systematic murder of children in the womb to preserve their body parts," while Marco Rubio asked on Twitter: "Where is all the outrage over the planned parenthood dead babies?"
Leading conservative commentators Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh have likened Planned Parenthood practices to those of the Nazis, and Emily's List, an abortion rights political group, has tracked violent or apocalyptic images served up by presidential candidates: Rand Paul said he doesn't think "civilization can long endure" with abortion rights; Ben Carson likened those who have abortions to slave owners; Huckabee talked about the "holocaust" of abortion and compared the morality of Planned Parenthood to that of the Islamic State; and Rubio spoke of people being "pushed into abortions so that those tissues can be harvested and sold for a profit."
After the Colorado shooting, Donald Trump condemned the killing but, asked by NBC's Chuck Todd if he could "understand why people might react this way" to the Planned Parenthood videos, replied: "Well, there's tremendous -- there's tremendous dislike, I can say that."
And of course there's Cruz, who said Planned Parenthood committed "multiple felonies" and who recently signed a letter with other GOP lawmakers saying (falsely) that Margaret Sanger, a founder of the group that became Planned Parenthood, sought the "extermination" of black people.
Following November 27 attack on a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood that killed three people and injured several more, right-wing media pundits immediately denied that violent anti-choice rhetoric may have motivated the shooter. However, anti-choice groups have a history of promoting violence to support their cause. After it was reported that the alleged shooter made comments about "no more baby parts" during questioning, right-wing media echoed the repeatedly debunked anti-choice claim that Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal tissue, arguing that Planned Parenthood "deserves much of the harsh criticism directed toward it."
President Obama is in Paris at a United Nations summit, where nations hope to reach an international agreement on climate change. In response, conservative media figures have resorted to denial, dismissal, and mockery, while criticizing Obama as "simply stupid" and NASA scientists as "talentless low-lives."
From the November 30 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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Since the release of deceptively-edited videos smearing Planned Parenthood, right-wing media have frequently compared abortion providers to the Nazis, referencing Auschwitz and the notorious experiments performed by Josef Mengele.
As reported by Politico, The New York Times has responded to Donald Trump's recent mockery of one of its reporters who helped debunk the presidential candidate's false claim that he saw "thousands and thousands" of Arab-Americans cheering as the World Trade Center collapsed under the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Defending his claim at a campaign rally, Trump chose to mock the disability of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, who covered the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and has recently added to the definitive debunking of the presidential candidate's smear. As reported by Politico, "'We think it's outrageous that he would ridicule the appearance of one of our reporters,' said a spokeswoman for the Times."
Trump can be seen mocking Kovaleski in this clip from Morning Joe:
During a defense of his widely debunked claim that thousands of people in parts of New Jersey with large Arab populations celebrated the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001, Trump performed a derisive impression of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski -- who suffers from a chronic condition that has limited the movement of his arms -- at a rally in South Carolina on Tuesday night.
Citing a 2001 article written by Kovaleski that referred to people allegedly seen celebrating the attacks, Trump said it was "Written by a nice reporter."
Trump went on, "Now the poor guy -- you ought to see the guy: 'Uhh I don't know what I said. I don't remember.' He's going, 'I don't remember. Maybe that's what I said.'" As he spoke, Trump launched into an impression which involved gyrating his arms wildly and imitating the unusual angle at which Kovaleski's hand sometimes rests.
"We think it's outrageous that he would ridicule the appearance of one of our reporters," said a spokeswoman for the Times. The article cited by Trump was written by Kovaleski when he worked for The Washington Post and stated that in the aftermath of Sept. 11, "Law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river."
On Tuesday, after Trump's supporters began citing the article as evidence for the candidate's claim, Kovaleski told CNN, "We did a lot of shoe leather reporting in and around Jersey City and talked to a lot of residents and officials for the broader story. Much of that has, indeed, faded from memory ... I do not recall anyone saying there were thousands, or even hundreds, of people celebrating. That was not the case, as best as I can remember."
Kovaleski suffers from arthrogryposis, a congenital condition that limits the movement of the joints and weakens the muscles around them. As a reporter at the New York Daily News in the late 1980s and early '90s, he covered Trump's business exploits and met with the developer on several occasions.
On November 24, the editorial board of The New York Times called on the media to hold Trump accountable for his "racist lies," adding "[h]istory teaches that failing to hold a demagogue to account is a dangerous act. It's no easy task for journalists to interrupt Mr. Trump with the facts, but it's an important one."
Trump's actions are reminiscent of Rush Limbaugh's mockery of Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's in 2006. Limbaugh at the time accused the actor of "exaggerating the effects" of the disease in an ad, and later suggested that Fox had intentionally over-medicated himself "so you would really, really hate Republicans." Fox News host Sean Hannity defended Limbaugh, saying Fox "[has] a right to speak up, but he also has a right to be criticized. He is a guy that is very political."
From the November 24 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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From the November 24 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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Right-wing media have repeatedly exploited the November 13 ISIS-led terror attacks in Paris to stoke fears about Syrian refugees posing a terror threat in the U.S., falsely claiming that the United States lacks a rigorous refugee vetting system, that most Syrian refugees are adult males "of fighting age," and that, like the attacks in Paris, the Boston Marathon bombing and Ft. Hood shooting were perpetrated by refugees.
From the November 23 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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In a November 23 post for the Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire blog, Patrick O'Connor highlighted how the "anti-establishment" views of conservative talk radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin "are informing the race for the Republican presidential nomination" as polls have found that "roughly a third of Republican primary voters strongly identify with conservative talk radio."
Right-wing radio hosts have repeatedly attacked 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, leading many in the media to assert that Bush has a "serious talk radio problem," and O'Connor noted that accordingly just 3% of "the most avid conservative talk-radio listeners" would vote for him. Conversely, O'Connor said right-wing talk radio listeners ranked Ben Carson and Donald Trump as their top choices, which is unsurprising given that the hosts have repeatedly supported the two candidates. Rush Limbaugh has praised Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric, while Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham have praised him as "refreshing" for being "willing to say things that no one else is saying." Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity have all repeatedly defended Carson amid the candidate's controversial remarks and inconsistencies in his autobiographical claims.
Despite the fact that Republicans once "touted conservative talk radio as a foolproof medium to communicate directly with their most ardent supporters," O'Connor explained that "Republican leaders in Washington are under siege from their own activists." From O'Connor's post (emphasis added):
Consider the folks who regularly tune in to conservative talk radio. These listeners expect a steady diet of Obama-bashing, so it's hardly surprising that not one surveyed for a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll in late October approved of the job Barack Obama is doing as president.
That anger translates to how these Americans view the country as a whole. Some 98% think the country is headed in the wrong direction, a view regularly reinforced on the airwaves by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and other talk-radio hosts who don't have much nice to say about GOP leaders in Washington, either.
A decade ago, Republicans touted conservative talk radio as a foolproof medium to communicate directly with their most ardent supporters. Democrats and liberal groups tried to replicate that success by building their own left-leaning television and radio stations, with far less success.
Now, the tables have turned. Republican leaders in Washington are under siege from their own activists, in part, because conservative radio hosts are almost as likely to rail against the party brass in Congress as they are to lament Mr. Obama's failings in the Oval Office.
The most avid conservative talk-radio listeners ranked retired neurosurgeon Ben Carsonas their top pick, followed by celebrity businessman Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Just 3% gave the nod to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the heir to the party's longest-standing political dynasty, and only a third of these voters said they were even open to voting for Mr. Bush, down from half in September.
Republican presidential contenders would be unwise to write off this bloc; roughly a third of Republican primary voters strongly identify with conservative talk radio, about 10 percentage points higher than the share of GOP primary voters who consider themselves moderate or liberal, according to the survey conducted by the Democrats at Hart Research Associates and the Republicans at Public Opinion Research.
Radio host and Fox News personality Sean Hannity grossly misrepresented a Pew Research poll detailing views of ISIS in countries with significant Muslim populations to misleadingly claim that there are "significant levels of support for ISIS within the Muslim world." The survey actually found that Muslim views of ISIS are "overwhelmingly negative."
On the November 20 edition of The Sean Hannity Show, Hannity claimed that a new Pew poll "reveals significant levels of support for ISIS within the Muslim world." He also alleged that the poll showed that there could be hundreds of millions of ISIS sympathizers and added that "numbers are far greater than the world has acknowledged."
SEAN HANNITY (HOST): How about we look at the poll numbers they put out, and let's talk about whether or not this could be true, because it reveals significant levels of support for ISIS within the Muslim world. They went to 11 representative nation-states -- excuse me, let me finish my question -- and up to 14 percent of the population has a favorable view of ISIS, and upwards of 62 percent can't decide. They don't know whether they have a favorable opinion. Don't you find those numbers chilling?
HANNITY: I am looking at these numbers, between 63 million and 287 million ISIS supporters in just 11 countries.
However, the Pew poll found that the data showed "overwhelmingly ... negative views of ISIS" in the eleven countries. From Pew:
According to newly released data that the Pew Research Center collected in 11 countries with significant Muslim populations, people from Nigeria to Jordan to Indonesia overwhelmingly expressed negative views of ISIS.
One exception was Pakistan, where a majority offered no definite opinion of ISIS. The nationally representative surveys were conducted as part of the Pew Research Center's annual global poll in April and May this year.
In no country surveyed did more than 15% of the population show favorable attitudes toward Islamic State. And in those countries with mixed religious and ethnic populations, negative views of ISIS cut across these lines.
From the November 20 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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"What's going to happen when those Syrian refugees open fire in a Chick-fil-A"? Fox News' Todd Starnes, November 17.
The bile is coming in over the transom so quickly it's getting hard to keep up, as the conservative media signal their latest xenophobic and Islamophobic outburst, this time targeting refugees fleeing war-torn Syria.
Not interested in having a serious debate about how or when to accept mostly Muslim refugees in the wake of the Paris terrorist massacre, Fox News is sponsoring a far-right hate brigade that not only targets refugees, but President Obama, too.
It's a bigoted bank shot for conservative commentators: Accuse Obama of coddling would-be terrorists (including widows and orphans) who are viewed as encroaching on our borders. Or so goes the battle cry, which accuses the president of abdicating America's national security -- and allegedly doing so on purpose.
*Fox's Jesse Watters: Obama is inviting in "the barbarians at the gate."
*Fox's Andrea Tantaros: "Everything that the president is doing seems to benefit what ISIS is doing."
In other words, there's a dark, invading force that Obama won't stop. In fact, he seems intent on welcoming it across the border so it can wreak havoc here at home.
Indeed, watching the Fox meltdown over refugees you might think, 'This is unique brand of rhetorical manure.' I mean, Obama putting Muslim refugees above the safety of Americans? Opting for a "forced infiltration"? But if you hit the rewind button to October and November 2014, then you remember, 'Oh yeah, they did pretty much the exact same thing twelve months ago with their full-scale meltdown over a domestic Ebola outbreak that never happened.'
Is this now becoming an annual autumn tradition? Some Fox talkers are even connecting the refugee/Ebola dots, although they fail to see it as problematic. "He's imported illegal aliens," said Watters of Obama. "Remember he brought all of the Ebola victims into this country?"
Remember Ebola, indeed.
In terms of sheer fearmongering, Fox News led the wild, right-wing pack. There was Elisabeth Hasselbeck suggesting America be put on lockdown, and her Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy absurdly claiming the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention was lying about Ebola because it's "part of the administration." (Naturally, Fox also promoted a conspiracy theorist who claimed the CDC was lying when it cautioned people not to panic.)
Andrea Tantaros fretted that people who traveled and showed symptoms of Ebola will "seek treatment from a witch doctor" instead of going to the hospital, while Rush Limbaugh implied Obama wanted Ebola to spread in America.
That last point is key to understanding the levels to which Fox talkers and their allies sink in their Obama Derangement Syndrome, both in 2014 and in 2015: The Obama administration didn't supposedly bungle the Ebola scare because it was incompetent. It bungled Ebola because Obama wanted Americans infected.
*Laura Ingraham: Obama's willing to expose the U.S. military to "the Ebola virus to carry out this redistribution of the privileged's wealth."
*Michael Savage: Obama "wants to infect the nation with Ebola" in order "to make things fair and equitable" in the world.
*Fox's Keith Ablow: Obama won't protect America from Ebola because his "affinities, his affiliations are with" Africa and "not us ... He's their leader." Ablow added, "We don't have a president who has the American people as his primary interest."
It's just ugly, rancid stuff; the kind of hate speech that has rarely passed for 'mainstream' conservative rhetoric in modern American politics. (For the record, the Obama administration was "vindicated" for the way it handled the Ebola scare, NBC News recently noted.)
Twelve months later we're witnessing the same kind of toxic sewage (what else should we call it?), as Fox leads the campaign to condemn the president of the United States a terrorist-sympathizer who can't be trusted to deal with Syrian refugees.
It's important to note that during the media's Ebola scare last year, lots of mainstream press outlets produced egregiously bad reporting that not only failed to illuminate the public, but it played into the fear the GOP was trying to whip up during the midterm election season. (Sen. Rand Paul: Ebola is "incredibly contagious.")
"Here's What Should Scare You About Ebola" read one overexcited New Republic headline, while CNN's Ashleigh Banfield speculated that "All ISIS would need to do is send a few of its suicide killers into an Ebola-affected zone and then get them on some mass transit, somewhere where they would need to be to affect the most damage."
To date, we haven't seen the press regularly duplicate that kind of recklessness with the refugee story, although there have been some notable stumbles.
Let's hope the press resists Fox News' siren call for more bigotry.
From the November 18 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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