The ties between conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and right-wing megaphone Matt Drudge remain strong, with Jones revealing that he spent time yesterday with one of Drudge's employees and crediting Drudge with pushing one of his conspiracy theories "into the mainstream media."
Matt Drudge, who has described 2013 as the "year of Alex Jones," promoted Jones' website, Infowars, 244 times over the last two years and 50 times since the year began on The Drudge Report. Conservatives have urged Drudge to stop linking to Jones after the latter suggested the Boston Marathon bombings were a "false flag" attack perpetrated by the federal government.
On his radio show today, Jones said he was "hanging out" with The Drudge Report's Joseph Curl at a hotel in Houston, Texas where the pair tried "to crash the private Bush-Cheney party" being held in concert with the dedication ceremony for President George W. Bush's presidential library.
Matt Drudge has long been conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' biggest ally. According to a Media Matters review, the heavily-trafficked Drudge Report has promoted at least 50 separate articles at Jones' Infowars website in 2013, and has linked to at least 244 different articles on the site in the past two years.
Drudge announced this week that he had privately told friends that 2013 would be the "year of Alex Jones." Considering Drudge's penchant for promoting Jones and his Infowars website, those comments are more of a promise than a prediction.
Alex Jones is a radio host famous for pushing absurd conspiracy theories about a host of issues, including that the U.S. government perpetrated or was otherwise involved in the 9-11 attacks, the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Space Shuttle Colombia disaster, and the Aurora movie theater shooting.
Jones has lately made headlines for his most recent conspiracy that the Boston Marathon bombings were a "false flag" attack staged by the government. Drudge has provided several links to Jones' site in the days since Jones started floating Boston conspiracies, including an article highlighting the father of the bombing suspects claiming his sons had been set up.
The links to Jones' site in the wake of the Boston bombings are not surprising; he has sent a steady stream of traffic there in 2013.
Among the fifty Infowars pieces promoted by Drudge so far in 2013: a story mulling over claims that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may have been "surreptitiously" given cancer, possibly by the U.S. government; numerous articles promoting conspiracies about supposedly ominous ammunition purchases made by the Department of Homeland Security; and a story comparing Obama to "other tyrants" -- including Stalin, Hitler, and Mao -- that have "used kids as props."
Drudge has been consistently linking to Jones' site for years (Drudge Report also features two permanent links to the Infowars mainpage). Among the 244 Infowars articles Drudge has promoted since April 2011:
The right wing media's promotion of a widely-debunked Alex Jones conspiracy theory about the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) ammunition acquisitions prompted House Republicans to hold a hearing to investigate. The theory, which assigns some sinister motivation behind the recent ammo purchases, first gained traction on the websites of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones before finding its way to Fox News and Fox Business and finally to the halls of Congress.
On April 25, Republican Reps. Jim Jordan (OH) and Jason Chaffetz (UT) held a joint hearing "to examine the procurement of ammunition by the Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General." The hearing followed right wing media reports speculating about the reasons for the acquisitions.
The conspiracy theory picked up steam in March 2012 after a series of reports were posted to Alex Jones' InfoWars.com, including one that claimed "it's not outlandish" to conclude that the government, "is purchasing the bullets as part of preparations for civil unrest." An opinion piece at The Daily Caller cited the reports to suggest that the Obama administration is planning to kill thousands of American citizens. The DHS purchases were brought up on Fox News, prompting Fox and Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade to ask, "why they need all those bullets." And while covering the story, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs wondered why the government was "arming up" while trying to "disarm American citizens."
Forbes contributor Ralph Benko wrote that "It's Time For A National Conversation," and called for Congressional action:
If Obama doesn't show any leadership on this matter it's an opportunity for Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, to summon Secretary Napolitano over for a little national conversation. Madame Secretary? Buying 1.6 billion rounds of ammo and deploying armored personnel carriers runs contrary, in every way, to what "homeland security" really means.
Reps. Jordan and Chaffetz answered that call.
As Media Matters has previously noted, the claim that DHS is stockpiling ammunition for some ominous purpose is simply wrong. In reality, the Associated Press reported that while DHS did buy 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition, the government bought the bullets in bulk to save money on ammunition used in training and in the field. As the AP noted, "More than 90 federal agencies and 70,000 agents and officers used the department's training center last year." On a separate occasion, Media Matters reported that DHS responded that ammunition purchases are lower than in previous years and that while the law allows DHS to set purchase contracts of billions of rounds in order to reduce prices and save money, the government hasn't actually purchased nearly that many rounds.
Alex Jones, who has called President Obama the "global head of Al Qaeda," and claimed that the terrorist attacks in Boston, New York City, and Oklahoma City were carried out or sponsored by the government, has gained influence with the right wing media. Recently, Drudge Report's Matt Drudge promised that 2013 would be "year of Alex Jones."
UPDATE: The hearing on Alex Jones' conspiracy theory inspired new legislation that's now before Congress. On April 26, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) introduced bills in both chambers of Congress in order to limit federal agencies from stockpiling ammunition. From Inhofe's statement (emphasis added):
"President Obama has been adamant about curbing law-abiding Americans' access and opportunities to exercise their Second Amendment rights," said Inhofe. "One way the Obama Administration is able to do this is by limiting what's available in the market with federal agencies purchasing unnecessary stockpiles of ammunition. As the public learned in a House committee hearing this week, the Department of Homeland Security has two years worth of ammo on hand and allots nearly 1,000 more rounds of ammunition for DHS officers than is used on average by our Army officers. The AMMO Act of 2013 will enforce transparency and accountability of federal agencies' ammunition supply while also protecting law-abiding citizens access to these resources."
Fueled by a report from the conservative Boston Herald, right wing media outlets such as Fox News, the New York Post, and the Washington Times, are demonizing government assistance programs by tying them to the heinous terror attacks committed at the Boston Marathon. Conservative blogs used sensationalized headlines and rhetoric to make their attacks, like RedState's "Does The US Welfare System Benefit Jihadists?" and Monica Crowley's "Nice Return on Our Investment, Huh?"
On April 24, 2013, the Boston Herald published a report that claimed, "Marathon bombings mastermind Tamerlan Tsarnaev was living on taxpayer-funded state welfare benefits even as he was delving deep into the world of radical anti-American Islamism."
On the April 24 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, host Bill Hemmer hyped the report and complained that "taxpayers were giving money to at least one of the bombing suspects."
In reality, the right-wing smear uses an absurd guilt-by-association non sequitur in an attempt to smear government spending programs. But where does this logic end? The Tsarnaev brothers presumably used taxpayer funded roads to physically reach the Boston Marathon finish line. Will right wing media next attack government spending on highway maintenance for literally paving the way for the Boston terror suspects to commit their crimes?
Conservatives are trying to take advantage of the horrific attacks to taint the public perception of yet another policy they dislike. Since the terrorist attack on April 15, the right wing media has exploited the tragedy in Boston to smear Islam, immigration reform, education, a member of Congress, the Obama administration's foreign policy, and even the constitutional rights of American citizens.
UPDATE: During his radio program, Rush Limbaugh also jumped on this bandwagon. Limbaugh claimed the Herald's report shows "another great example of your tax dollars at work."
LIMBAUGH: Now we hear that the entire Tsarnaev family was on welfare. How could he not be an Obama supporter?
So we have another great example of your tax dollars at work. Your tax money helped to pay for the explosives, as well as Tamerlan's at least two trips back to Dagestan, his late model Mercedes, his $900 shoes. No wonder this guy hated America.
On April 23 Matt Drudge, owner and operator of the right-wing content aggregator The Drudge Report, tweeted that he "privately told friends" that 2013 would be the "year of Alex Jones." Drudge has linked to the radio host and conspiracy-monger several times following the Boston Marathon bombings.
On his personal twitter feed, Drudge predicted that 2013 would be the "year of Alex Jones," praising his show as "one hell of a broadcast in such homogenized media!" In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, Drudge linked to articles on Jones' website Infowars, including stories that called Boston a "police state" during the manhunt for the alleged perpetrators, and a post accusing the Obama administration of covering up the involvement of a Saudi student who was later declared a victim of the attack:
Jones made news following the April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon after he suggested that the blasts were staged by the U.S. government, calling the event a "false flag":
Jones elaborated on his initial comment during his show later that night, 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."
President Obama is "now the global head of Al-Qaeda" while "simultaneously invoking the threat of terrorists domestically to destroy the bill of rights."
The Oklahoma City Bombing was "carried out by intelligence agencies" with "Bill Clinton's involvement."
The government is using products like juice boxes to "encourage homosexuality with chemicals so that people don't have children."
The U.S. government was behind the 9/11 attacks. Jones describes himself as being on "the front lines of the growing global information war from ground zero to the occult playgrounds of the power-mad elite. Jones predicted the attacks on September 11th, 2001 and is considered one of the very first founding fathers of the 9-11 Truth Movement."
The government has set up FEMA concentration camps in America, and "the military-industrial complex is transforming our once free nation into a giant prison camp."
President Obama is transforming the United States into "something that resembles Nazi Germany, with forced National Service, domestic civilian spies, warrantless wiretaps, the destruction of the Second Amendment, FEMA camps and Martial Law."
The BP oil spill "could have been manufactured."
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.
In this report:
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?"