Following the April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon, radio host Alex Jones was quick to suggest the attacks may have been a "false flag" operation staged by the U.S. government. Jones' reaction is far from surprising; he has made a career out of pushing outlandish conspiracy theories.
Among other conspiracies, Jones has blamed the U.S. government for perpetrating, coordinating, or otherwise being involved in the 9-11 attacks, the Aurora movie theater shooting, the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. But despite Jones' well-known history, he is regularly validated by conservative media figures, politicians, and prominent activists that frequent his program, as well as by right-wing websites that promote his work and mainstream outlets that host him on their networks.
In recent years, former Rep. Ron Paul and current Sen. Rand Paul; Fox News figures Lou Dobbs and Andrew Napolitano; gun activists Ted Nugent and Larry Pratt; and climate misinformer Marc Morano have all repeatedly appeared on Jones' show. His immensely popular website Infowars is also frequently promoted by conservative websites like The Drudge Report.
Shortly following the April 15 Boston attacks, Jones tweeted that "our hearts go out to those that are hurt or killed," but added that "this thing stinks to high heaven" and suggested it was a "false flag" operation.
On a special webcast of his show that aired the night of April 15, Jones elaborated on his suggestion, saying, "You saw them stage Fast and Furious. Folks, they staged Aurora, they staged Sandy Hook. The evidence is just overwhelming. And that's why I'm so desperate and freaked out. This is not fun, you know, getting up here telling you this. Somebody's got to tell you the truth."
As Jones uses yet another national tragedy to push baseless, absurd conspiracy theories, it's worth asking whether there's anything he can say or do to lead media figures, politicians and activists to stop validating him.
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Reuters is purporting to examine how scientists are "struggling" to reconcile short-term temperature variation with long-term climate change, but fails to quote any scientists about the issue.
In an article titled "Climate scientists struggle to explain warming slowdown" that is being promoted by the Drudge Report, Reuters claimed that short-term temperature variability "has exposed gaps" in scientists' understanding of climate change. However, the article didn't quote a single scientist about the temperature trends, instead talking to environmental contrarian and business school professor Bjorn Lomborg and economist Richard Tol, considered a conservative estimator of climate damages, to sow doubt about the quality of climate science (Reuters quoted Dr. Paul Holland, a British Antarctic Survey scientist, about a separate topic at the end of the report).
Perhaps due to this, Reuters characterized the time period since 2000 as a "pause in warming," without mentioning that it included the warmest decade on record or that each of the 12 years since the turn of the century have ranked among the 14 warmest on record.
This map from NASA illustrates the temperature anomaly (or amount above the 1951-1980 average) between 2000 and 2009:
The Drudge Report falsely claimed that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius "scapegoat[ed]" Republicans when she pointed out that political opposition to health care reform has complicated its implementation. Although Sebelius never assigned blame to a specific party, GOP obstructionism has in fact made implementation more costly and more complicated.
Drudge linked to an Investor's Business Daily article which claimed that, in recent remarks to the Harvard School of Public Health, Sebelius "was trying to find a way to blame Republicans for ObamaCare's failures when the inevitable problems start emerging." Drudge's headline for the article read, "Sebelius Scapegoats GOP For Coming Obamacare Mess":
But Sebelius never scapegoated the GOP; she only pointed to the "relentless and continuous" politics and state-level opposition as hindering factors:
SEBELIUS: The second thing that probably has been more difficult is just the politics has been relentless and continuous. And I would say I think there was some hope that once the Supreme Court ruled in July and then once an election occurred there would be a sense that, 'This is the law of the land, let's get on board, let's make this work.' And yet we will find ourselves still having sort of state-by-state political battles and again creating what I think is a lot of confusion. It is very difficult when people live in a state where there is a daily declaration, 'We will not participate in the law,' for them to figure out whether there are any benefits that they actually have a right to access and so getting that word out about setting up the infrastructure has been more complicated.
Although Sebelius never blamed the GOP, it is true that Republican obstructionism has made implementation more difficult and costly than it would be otherwise. The Washington Post's Wonkblog pointed out the "incredible burden on the administration" caused by the GOP's "strategy of harassment and intransigence":
A misleading NPR report has become fodder for a right-wing media campaign to scapegoat federal disability benefits, despite the fact that the rise in disability claims can be attributed to the economic recession and demographic shifts, and that instances of fraud are minimal.
NPR reported that the rise in the number of federal disability beneficiaries was "startling" and claimed it was explained by unemployed workers with "squishy" claims of disability choosing to receive federal benefits rather than work. Right-wing media called the report "brilliant," and used it to further the myth that the increase in the number of individuals receiving disability benefits reveals fraud in the system.
Breitbart.com's Wynton Hall wrote that NPR's "eye-opening" piece uncovered a disability program "fraught with fraud." Fox Nation promoted the piece with the headline, "Every Month, 14 Million People Get a Disability Check from the Government..." The National Review Online's blog called the piece "brilliant," while the Washington Examiner's editorial offered it as evidence that disability benefits provide "a voluntary life sentence to idle poverty." The Drudge Report linked to the NPR story and to the Breitbart.com article:
But as Media Matters previously noted, these reports failed to include crucial facts that explain the rise in disability benefits. The recent financial crisis and the rising rate of child poverty have made more children eligible to receive benefits through the Supplemental Security program, while the growth in the number of adults receiving benefits through Social Security Disability Insurance since the 1970s is largely explained by increases in the number of women qualifying for benefits. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained, as women have joined the workforce in greater numbers over the past few decades, more women are eligible for disability benefits, resulting in higher numbers of beneficiaries.
Furthermore, in a report published in March 2012, the Government Accountability Office found that improper payments of disability benefits are not a widespread problem, and accounted for less than four percent of total improper payments made by federal agencies in fiscal year 2011.
The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin interviewed Tim Miller, executive director of a new conservative political action committee centered on opposition research, who reminisced about how conservative operatives successfully used blogger Matt Drudge to push debunked or thinly-researched smears against Democrats in 2004, describing it as a "great model" that needs to be updated.
In a March 24 post at Rubin's "Right Turn" blog, Miller described his organization, America Rising, as being dedicated to the "collection, dissemination and deployment of opposition research against Democrats," and uses Drudge's DrudgeReport.com circa 2004 as a model to return to (emphasis added):
Last week former Mitt Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades and two young Republican sharpshooters, Tim Miller and Joe Pounder, announced they would set up a new organization, America Rising, devoted to the collection, dissemination and deployment of opposition research against Democrats and a counterpart to the hugely successful American Bridge on the left. On Friday I sat down with Miller and Pounder at a Capitol Hill Starbucks to talk about their new venture.
They plan on instigating nothing less than a revolution in the way the right does and uses oppo research. They are keen on connecting research to communication and every other aspect of campaigns. Pounder tells me, "It must be responsive to the news cycle and polling." Miller jokes that "research has been people sitting in a dungeon or going through trash cans" and then funneling the information up to a press person to send out in a mass e-mail. Miller says, "Now you have to drive the news cycle."
The Romney campaign was certainly hobbled by the Democrats' opposition machine, which cranked out information on everything from Bain to Cayman bank accounts, funneled it to friendly press outlets and the Obama super PAC, and kept the Romney team on perpetual defense. But the problem is not specific to the Romney campaign. Miller recalls, "We had a great model in 2004 -- research guys who fed to Drudge. Drudge drove the mainstream media." But, he says, "in a lot of ways we haven't done a good job of updating [that model]. Over time we rested on our laurels."
In 2006, ABC News highlighted Drudge's influence on media, particularly in the 2004 election cycle, saying, "Republican operatives keep an open line to Drudge, often using him to attack their opponents...And then the mainstream media often picks it up."
Drudge did help drive stories to Fox News, right-wing radio and other outlets during the 2004 presidential election, but much of the blogger's content -- which included discredited attacks on John Kerry's military service -- was thinly-researched, deceptively edited, or flat-out wrong.
The Drudge Report posted a misleading headline that claimed about 89 million people are not working, a number that actually represents all people not in the labor force, which includes people who are not currently looking for jobs.
A March 8 post on The Drudge Report linked to a CNSNews.com article titled "Record 89,304,000 Americans Not In Labor Force," discussing the Bureau of Labor Statistics' February jobs report that showed an unemployment rate of 7.7 percent, the lowest it has been since 2008. The article noted that the BLS defined people not in labor force as "people who have retired on schedule, taken early retirement, or simply given up looking for work." The Drudge Report highlighted the story with the headline:
In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics made clear that there is a distinct difference between people who are unemployed and those not in the labor force. According to its glossary of terms, "unemployed persons" (added link) referred to "persons aged 16 years or older who had not employment" but were available and looking for work. The BLS report found that about 12 million people were currently unemployed, lowering the U.S. unemployment rate to 7.7 percent. The report also showed those not in labor force to be 89,304,000, which, according to the BLS' definition, is a different designation than those unemployed . From the BLS glossary:
Not in the labor force (Current Population Survey)
Includes persons aged 16 years and older in the civilian noninstitutional population who are neither employed nor unemployed in accordance with the definitions contained in this glossary. Information is collected on their desire for and availability for work, job search activity in the prior year, and reasons for not currently searching.
Matt Drudge is comparing the firestorm over whether Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward was threatened in an email by a White House aide to what happened in the Nixon White House, an absurd and ahistorical claim.
Right-wing media frequently compare President Obama to Nixon, highlighting instances in which they believe Obama White House activities rise to the level of the Nixon White House's "Enemies List." But while many conservatives have abandoned Woodward's dubious intimidation claim, late in the afternoon on February 28 The Drudge Report featured the following:
Such a claim displays a staggering ignorance of what Nixon's "Enemies List" entailed. It was an effort directed from the highest levels of the White House to use the power of the federal government to financially damage political opponents, including journalists. And the Nixon White House did more than send mean emails to reporters; its aides actually plotted to kill a critical columnist.
Right-wing media are hyping reporter Bob Woodward's sinister interpretation of an email he received from the White House as a threat against him. But White House officials point out that the email was sent as an apology for previous tension, not a threat -- a claim reinforced by the tone of the emails.
In an interview with Politico, Woodward described a tense conversation with White House economic adviser Gene Sperling. Following the conversation, Sperling emailed Woodward to apologize for his tone, concluding "You're focusing on a few specific trees that give a very wrong impression of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here. ... I think you will regret staking out that claim." In the Politico interview, Woodward interpreted the line as a threat, an interpretation that was immediately picked up by the right-wing media and reported as fact.
Fox News' Sean Hannity called it an example of "intimidation" and "arrogance" by a "fearmongering, demagogue president." Similar claims were made on Fox & Friends and Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight, and it was the top headline on the Drudge Report:
But the emails, released later by Politico, do not bear out Woodward's claim that he was threatened by Sperling. After apologizing for his tone in the earlier conversation, Sperling wrote that "as a friend" he was concerned with the possibility of Woodward reporting inaccurate claims about the debt ceiling deal:
Conservative media are parroting a Republican claim that a federal report says health care reform increases the long-term deficit. In fact, the report says that the deficit would only increase if cost containment measures in the bill were phased out over time, and found that the deficit would decrease if those measures were maintained.
Conservative media are pushing selectively cropped footage of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey as evidence that President Obama was "AWOL" the night of the Benghazi attack. In reality, Panetta and Dempsey emphasized that Obama's involvement was appropriate and that the White House was kept "well-informed" throughout the night.
After outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testified before Congress on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, The Weekly Standard selectively cropped a portion of his testimony and blogged that Panetta found Obama to be "absent" the night of the assault. The Weekly Standard's attack on Obama subsequently made the conservative media rounds to Fox Nation, The Drudge Report, The Daily Caller, Breitbart.com, and Fox News.
In its post titled "Panetta: Obama Absent Night of Benghazi," where this smear seemingly originated, The Weekly Standard highlighted Sen. Kelly Ayotte's (R-NH) questions to Panetta as proof of Obama's absence:
AYOTTE: Did you have any further communications with him that night?
AYOTTE: Did you have any further communications - did he ever call you that night to say, "How are things going? What's going on? Where's the consulate?"
PANETTA: No, but we were aware that as we were getting information on what was taking place there, particularly when we got information that the ambassador, his life had been lost - we were aware that that information went to the White House.
AYOTTE: Did you communicate with anyone else at the White House that night?
AYOTTE: No one else called you to say, "How are things going?"
The Drudge Report and others are suggesting that energy efficiency efforts somehow caused the power outage that occurred during the Super Bowl. But these attempts to scapegoat green energy are wrongheaded -- the outage occurred within the stadium, not among the energy efficient lighting outside the stadium.
Prior to Super Bowl XLVII, the New Orleans Host Committee worked to reduce the environmental impact of the game on and off the field, including by installing an energy efficient lighting display of LEDs outside the stadium.
During the second half of the game, many of the Superdome stadium's overhead lights blinked off, along with scoreboards, CBS-run cameras and other systems. The partial outage lasted for more than 30 minutes. The Drudge Report used the blackout to mock the possible "CURSE" from an efficient lighting display composed of LEDs on the outside of the Superdome:
Many prominent conservative media figures seized on the false implication -- Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich said "it's all [former Energy Secretary Steven Chu's] fault," and the Daily Caller suggested that the energy efficient lighting was the "cause" of the blackout.
But, as Politico and TIME's Mike Grunwald pointed out, these exterior LED lights did not go dark:
The Drudge Report snarkily linked to an Energy Department article published Saturday that praised New Orleans for being at the "Energy Efficient Forefront" and noted that the Superdome "features more than 26,000 LED lights" that conserve energy. However, others quickly pointed out that those are exterior lights, not the lights that went dark inside the dome.
Whatever the cause turns out to be, New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman saw one enduring U.S. tradition alive and well in the blackout aftermath.
"Only in America," he tweeted Sunday night, linking to Drudge's DOE link. "Blackout at Superdome actually becoming a political issue."
Right-wing media are attacking New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an advocate of stronger gun laws, for traveling with armed security. These attacks are illogical given that Bloomberg supports the right of citizens to own guns.
The attacks are based on a video of senior Talk Radio Network investigative reporter Jason Mattera asking Bloomberg during a Washington, D.C. ambush interview, "in the spirit of gun control, will you disarm your entire security team?"
But contrary to the premise of the Mattera's question, Bloomberg does not oppose the rights of citizens to own firearms. In a joint letter with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino explaining the goals of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition, he wrote:
We support the Second Amendment and the rights of citizens to own guns. We recognize that the vast majority of gun dealers and gun owners carefully follow the law. And we know that a policy that is appropriate for a small town in one region of the country is not necessarily appropriate for a big city in another region of the country.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has issued a press release expressing concern over the "inappropriate invocations of Hitler, Nazis, and general Holocaust imagery" in debates about gun violence after the Sandy Hook shooting.
In a related blog post, the ADL wrote: "These comparisons, made by political pundits on national news programs as well by others outside politics, are not only misplaced and offensive, relying on factually incorrect premises and exaggerations, but also deflect attention away from an important national discussion."
Some of their examples of this type of imagery include:
The group spotlighted conservative media figures arguing that the Holocaust could have been averted if Jewish people in Germany had better access to firearms, and explained that "Gun control did not cause the Holocaust; Nazism and anti-Semitism did."
In addition to the instances highlighted by the ADL, Media Matters has documented additional instances of conservative media making references to Nazis and other totalitarians in the midst of discussions about gun violence.
Fox News' Megyn Kelly debunked the right-wing media myth that President Obama will require doctors to ask their patients if they have guns -- a myth pushed by her Fox colleague Andrew Napolitano. In fact, as Kelly noted, Obama's provision simply reiterates that doctors may legally ask patients about a potential lack of gun safety in their homes.
On The O'Reilly Factor Thursday, host Bill O'Reilly discussed Obama's recent executive orders on guns, claiming that the "most controversial part of the president's vision" is a directive clarifying that doctors are not prohibited from asking patients about firearms. After airing clips of Obama and NRA president David Keene speaking about the directive, O'Reilly said that "if it's true that doctors and nurses are being directed by the federal government to make inquiries about guns in some cases, that's troubling."
Guest and Fox News host Megyn Kelly agreed that such a requirement would be troubling if it existed, but explained that "it's not true." Kelly went on to say that Obama's executive order only clarifies that "Obamacare does not prohibit the doctors from asking [patients] about guns" "if they want to ask." She further noted that during the passage of health care reform, the NRA successfully lobbied to ensure the bill contained a provision "saying patients don't have to answer if they are asked by their doctor whether they have a gun."
Kelly is right: Obama only announced that he would "[c]larify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes."
The Drudge Report is again comparing President Obama to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, suggesting that the appearance of children at the press conference on gun laws resembled "tyrants who have used children as props."
On January 9, Drudge linked news that Obama planned to take executive actions to strengthen gun laws to Hitler and Stalin. Drudge made the same comparison on Thursday. The front page of the Drudge Report featured images of Obama surrounded by children at the signing of his executive actions as well as images of Hitler and Stalin holding children. Stalin's image appeared above a link to an Infowars article under the headline "FLASHBACK: Tyrants Who Have Used Children As Props..."
The top link on Drudge was the image of President Obama:
Lower in the page, Drudge featured an image of Stalin holding a child with a link to the Infowars article: