After right-wing folk hero Cliven Bundy was caught on camera delivering a racist tirade, Media Matters looks back at the conservative media figures who propelled him into the national spotlight.
Fox figures praised armed supporters of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy as good, patriotic, hard-working Americans, ignoring their threats of violence against Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents and indications that they were willing to put women in children in the line of fire.
Fox News correspondent Todd Starnes defended rancher Cliven Bundy in his lawless stand against the federal government. Referencing federal employees' actions in legally confiscating Bundy's cattle because of unpaid fees and fines, Starnes said: "Don't they still have laws on the books about cattle rustling out in Nevada? ... Back in the day, they used to string folks up for stealing cattle."
Bundy is a Nevada rancher who has for decades refused to pay the federal government the fees required to allow his cattle to graze on public lands. Last year a federal court ruled that Bundy had to remove his cattle or they would be confiscated to pay the roughly $1.2 million in fees and fines he's accumulated. The confiscation began earlier this month, but was halted because the Bureau of Land Management had "serious concerns about the safety of employees and members of the public."
Bundy does not recognize federal authority over the land in question, and he and his armed supporters have repeatedly threatened violence against the federal government. Despite his lawlessness, Bundy has become a cause célèbre for many in the right-wing media.
During an appearance today on the radio program of Republican strategist Alice Stewart, Fox's Todd Starnes championed Bundy as an example of Americans "saying enough is enough" with the federal government.
"We do know that the feds returned some of the cattle that they had taken from the Bundy Ranch. What I find interesting, though, Alice, is don't they still have laws on the books about cattle rustling out in Nevada?" Starnes said. "Back in the day, they used to string folks up for stealing cattle."
Starnes later claimed that the Bundy incident shows that "Americans have really reached a boiling point here" and Americans have finally said, 'You know what? We're not going to stand by and let the Constitution be tramped.'"
He also took the opportunity to link the situation to the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, stating: "Look at all the government firepower that was out there at that ranch. They had more guns there than they did at the consulate in Benghazi ... if only Ambassador [Christopher] Stevens had been a protected tortoise."
Despite his own inflammatory rhetoric, Starnes did caution against the behavior of some Bundy-supporting militia members, saying it's "very disturbing" they were "[s]eeming to taunt the federal agents. And I think that they need to be very careful about that."
Right-wing media responded to news that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is resigning by lobbing personal attacks against the secretary and demonizing health care reform.
To hear conservative media tell it, the resignation of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich following an outcry over Eich's support for the 2008 referendum that banned same-sex marriage in California is merely the latest sign that a new era of anti-conservative persecution has arrived. That narrative undergirds the right's campaign against LGBT equality and is essential to understanding conservative support for measures that would enshrine anti-LGBT discrimination into law.
On April 3, just two weeks into his tenure, Eich announced his decision to step down as Mozilla's CEO. The revelation that Eich had contributed $1,000 to the anti-marriage equality Proposition 8 campaign had triggered fierce criticism from Mozilla employees, companies like OkCupid, and gay rights activists. As Slate's Mark Joseph Stern noted, the campaign for Proposition 8 was about far more than a simple disagreement over the definition of marriage. Supporters ran stridently homophobic ads accusing gay people of wanting to turn children gay, "mess up" children by introducing gay marriage into the curriculum, and conceal the truth about marriage and reproduction.
The virulently anti-gay propaganda behind the Prop 8 campaign - and the measure's subsequent passage -served to compound the sense of vulnerability among the gay community, which faces discrimination in housing, healthcare, public accommodations, and earnings, and is disproportionately targeted by hate crimes. Given the vitriol that motivated the Prop 8 fight, many supporters of LGBT equality objected to Eich's appointment to Mozilla CEO.
In the right-wing universe, however, it's conservative Christians whose rights are under assault. While Eich's decision to resign was an example of the free market at work - precisely the solution many libertarians and conservatives have long prescribed for anti-gay bigotry - conservative media figures greeted his departure with cries of totalitarianism and bigotry, condemning the "intolerant" LGBT movement for its role in the controversy.
Rush Limbaugh wasted no time in comparing Eich's critics with Nazis, declaring on his April 4 program that "'[f]ascist' is probably the closest way" to describe them (emphasis added):
When it was discovered that Brendan Eich had donated a $100 [sic] to Proposition 8 four years ago, the literal... What is the proper name for people who engage in this kind of behavior? "Fascist" is probably the closest way. You can call 'em Nazis, but nevertheless they went into gear, and immediately Brendan Eich was described as "filled with hatred" and anti-gay bigotry all over the tech media.
Breitbart.com's Ben Shapiro sounded a similar note, launching an anti-Mozilla campaign on his website TruthRevolt.org to protest the company's "fascistic crackdown":
Fox News reporter and serial misinformer Todd Starnes failed to disclose that the source for his latest bogus religious liberty horror story is the vice president of sales at the publishing house promoting Starnes' latest book - a book that, conveniently enough, warns of growing "intolerance" against American Christians.
On March 29, Starnes reported that five-year-old Gabriella Perez had been rebuked by a teacher for trying to pray in her Oviedo, FL school lunchroom. The girl recounted the alleged episode in a YouTube video posted by her father, Marcos Perez. Starnes' report featured an original interview with Perez, who told Starnes that he had long had concerns about "issues and agendas we see in the culture war."
But on April 1, the Orlando Sentinel raised doubts about the credibility of Perez's story. According to the Sentinel's report, none of the staff who could have been at the cafeteria at the time of the incident recall witnessing the student being spoken to about prayer. The staff member who allegedly spoke to Gabriella Perez hasn't been identified, and the school has reiterated that it has no policy prohibiting students from praying.
The Sentinel also revealed that Marcos Perez is the vice president of sales at Charisma House, the publisher of Starnes' soon-to-be-published collection of religious liberty horror stories, God Less America: Real Stories from the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values (emphasis added):
School officials have not interviewed Gabriella, who was pulled from the school by her parents the day after the video was posted. The Perezes said they accelerated existing plans to home school her. Her father is vice president of sales at Charisma House, a Lake Mary-based Christian book publisher. The company is currently promoting the book "God Less America: Real Stories from the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values," by Fox News host Todd Starnes. Starnes reported on the lunch prayer controversy for Fox News Radio. Marcos Perez said he did the interview with Starnes because "I'm passionate about the cause." He seemed distressed by any notion of ulterior motives. Using his family to promote a book "would be egregious," he said. "I'm a father first, a VP of sales second."
As Right Wing Watch noted, Perez was recently featured in a press release promoting Starnes' book.
Starnes' report on the alleged incident now includes an editor's note disclosing Perez's employment at the top of the article:
Fox News used a misleading report from the anti-immigration Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) to accuse the Obama administration of "destabilizing the nation" by releasing undocumented immigrants with criminal backgrounds. In fact, data show that the Obama administration has met its enforcement mandate to prioritize the deportation of immigrants with criminal convictions, which has resulted in a substantial increase of such deportations.
Referring to gay people as "homosexual" is a practice that's quickly falling out of favor with major news outlets due the term's often pejorative connotation and frequent use by opponents of LGBT equality. But Fox News has yet to update its language when referring to gay and lesbian people.
On March 23, The New York Times published a piece exploring the often derogatory connotation of the term "homosexual." Writing for the Sunday Styles section, the Times' Jeremy Peters noted that experts increasingly view "homosexual" as an offensive and stigmatizing term, even if many people still see the term as relatively "innocuous" (emphasis added):
To most ears, it probably sounds inoffensive. A little outdated and clinical, perhaps, but innocuous enough: homosexual.
But that five-syllable word has never been more loaded, more deliberately used and, to the ears of many gays and lesbians, more pejorative.
" 'Homosexual' has the ring of 'colored' now, in the way your grandmother might have used that term, except that it hasn't been recuperated in the same way," said George Chauncey, a Yale professor of history and an author who studies gay and lesbian culture.
Consider the following phrases: homosexual community, homosexual activist, homosexual marriage. Substitute the word "gay" in any of those cases, and the terms suddenly become far less loaded, so that the ring of disapproval and judgment evaporates.
Some gay rights advocates have declared the term off limits. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or Glaad, has put "homosexual" on its list of offensive terms and in 2006 persuaded The Associated Press, whose stylebook is the widely used by many news organizations, to restrict use of the word.
George P. Lakoff, a professor of cognitive science and linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, has looked at the way the term is used by those who try to portray gays and lesbians as deviant. What is most telling about substituting it for gay or lesbian are the images that homosexual tends to activate in the brain, he said.
"Gay doesn't use the word sex," he said. "Lesbian doesn't use the word sex. Homosexual does."
Peters highlighted use of the term by anti-gay figures like Rush Limbaugh, whose comments on the "homosexual" NFL prospect Michael Sam and the efforts of the "homosexual lobby" to defeat Arizona's anti-gay discrimination bill smack of contempt.
Use of the term is also pervasive at Fox News - and not just from the likes of the network's hate group mouthpiece Todd Starnes, who recently warned that "Christians are trading places with homosexuals" in the military. Just as the network insists on misgendering transgender subjects, Fox also has no qualms about regularly referring to gay men and lesbians by a term many of them shun.
Fox employees from Megyn Kelly to Sarah Palin continue to use the word "homosexual" to describe gays and lesbians. Fox Supreme Court reporter and pro-discrimination champion Shannon Bream teased a forthcoming segment on "homosexual adoption":
Fox's "Medical A-Team" member and anti-LGBT pop psychologist Keith Ablow uses the term "homosexual sex" while criticizing pro-gay advertisements.
And Fox's Bill O'Reilly was recently mocked for a segment in which he attacked the Girl Scouts for "leaning left," seizing in particular on the organization's employment of a spokesman who participated "in a punk rock band with homosexual overtones":
Guinness announced that it will not participate in the New York City St. Patrick's Day parade due to the parade's exclusion of LGBT groups, prompting outrage and calls for boycott from right-wing media figures.
Several right-wing media figures reacted with outrage on Twitter after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have permitted businesses and individuals to refuse to serve gay couples and individuals.
Fox News Radio reporter Todd Starnes effusively praised hate group spokesman Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association (AFA) as "one of the most intelligent talk show hosts in the country." Fischer is notorious for making rabidly homophobic statements, including the claim that gay men caused the Holocaust.
During a February 24 appearance on American Family Radio's Focal Point with Bryan Fischer, Starnes and Fischer discussed a halted Federal Communications Commission (FCC) study that would have examined how well newsrooms are meeting the public's "critical information needs" on key public policy issues. Right-wing media hyped the study as an invasive survey that could lead to the federal government dictating news coverage.
While the FCC has backed off the study following public comment, Fischer said it "sounded" like the FCC is "reloading" and will proceed with the study anyway. In his discussion of the study, Fischer accused the Obama administration of trying to censor anti-gay views. Starnes agreed, suggesting that the Bible could soon be censored or outlawed. The Fox commentator praised Fischer's analysis of the FCC study as emblematic of why Fischer is "one of the most intelligent talk show hosts in the country":
Right-wing media figures, led by Fox News, have launched a campaign against the Girl Scouts accusing the group of indoctrinating young girls into liberal politics. The accusation has been propped up by misleading claims, ludicrous oversimplifications, and frequently repeated myths about the organization, which focuses on empowering girls.
Fox News has spent the last several months championing anti-gay business owners who refuse to serve gay customers - depicting efforts to prevent discrimination as threats to religious liberty. Now, with several states debating bills that would legalize homophobic discrimination in business and employment, Fox News is now defending the extreme, anti-gay segregation policies it helped to create.
The push to legalize anti-gay discrimination first came to public attention on February 12, when the Kansas House of Representatives passed a bill authorizing individuals and businesses to refuse any services "related to, or related to the celebration of" any union - effectively allowing blanket protection for the denial of services to gay couples. After a storm of negative publicity, the State Senate has shelved the bill.
Similar bills have recently died in Idaho, South Dakota, and Tennessee, but the Arizona legislature has sent its own license to discriminate measure to Republican Gov. Jan Brewer's desk.
The wave of anti-gay segregation measures is the culmination of a concerted right-wing strategy, bolstered by Fox News, to cast anti-gay discrimination as an integral part of religious freedom.
Long before the public outcry over Kansas' license to discriminate bill, Fox threw its weight behind businesses whose owners refuse, ostensibly on religious grounds, to serve gay and lesbian couples - precisely the form of discrimination that conservative state legislators have sought to legalize.
As part of Fox's continued conflation of homophobia and Christianity, the network has repeatedly defended discrimination by anti-gay business owners as an essential part of religious liberty.
On December 10, Fox & Friends hosted Colorado baker Jack Phillips and his extremist Alliance Defending Freedom-affiliated attorney to discuss a court ruling that Phillips had violated the state's anti-discrimination law by refusing to serve a same-sex couple. The segment featured a graphic proclaiming "The Death Of Free Enterprise," while co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck asked Phillips why he thought he shouldn't have to discard his "personal religious beliefs just to make a buck."
Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers and Fox News Radio reporter Todd Starnes continued their feud over Kansas' anti-gay segregation bill, with Powers calling Starnes out for "lying" in his criticism of her opposition to the measure.
The feud between Starnes and Powers began on February 19 with a USA Today column in which Powers challenged supporters of a Kansas bill which would have allowed businesses to refuse to serve gay and lesbian couples on religious grounds. "Christians backing this bill," Powers charged, "are essentially arguing for homosexual Jim Crow laws." Powers' Fox colleagues Starnes and Erick Erickson swiftly criticized the column and defended the Kansas bill as an effort to protect religious liberty.
Starnes reignited the feud with a February 20 tweet alleging that Powers - an evangelical Christian who quoted religious opponents of the Kansas bill in her column -- showed an ignorance of Christianity:
Powers pushed back, accusing Starnes of lying:
Starnes continued to take umbrage at the comparison between Jim Crow laws and "license to discriminate" legislation, charging Powers with "smearing people" who supported the legislation and accusing his critics of "playing the race card":
Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers condemned a legislative push in Kansas to legalize religiously-motivated anti-gay business and employment discrimination, contradicting Fox News' pattern of defending anti-gay discrimination and sparking criticism from Powers' Fox News colleagues.
In a column for USA Today published on February 19, Powers blasted a Kansas bill that would have allowed businesses to refuse services to same-sex couples based on the owner's religious views. Since its passage by the state House of Representatives on February 12, the bill has been shelved by the Kansas Senate. Powers took issue with supporters of "homosexual Jim Crow laws" using Christianity to justify anti-gay bigotry - a common practice at Fox News (emphasis added):
Whether Christians have the legal right to discriminate should be a moot point because Christianity doesn't prohibit serving a gay couple getting married. Jesus calls his followers to be servants to all. Nor does the Bible call service to another an affirmation.
Christians backing this bill are essentially arguing for homosexual Jim Crow laws.
Christians serve unrepentant murderers through prison ministry. So why can't they provide a service for a same-sex marriage?
Some claim it's because marriage is so sacred. But double standards abound. Christian bakers don't interrogate wedding clients to make sure their behavior comports with the Bible. If they did, they'd be out of business. [Evangelical pastor Andy] Stanley said, "Jesus taught that if a person is divorced and gets remarried, it's adultery. So if (Christians) don't have a problem doing business with people getting remarried, why refuse to do business with gays and lesbians."
Maybe they should just ask themselves, "What would Jesus do?" I think he'd bake the cake.
Powers' Fox colleague Erick Erickson made clear that he wasn't a fan of her column, tweeting a link to a blog post that criticized her position and called the right to refuse service essential to "the common good." Erickson called the post "your must read of the day":