Conservative media figures and their cut-outs in the Republican Party went out in full force Sunday, ready to cast blame and aspersions on President Obama for the closures of U.S. embassies around the world after intelligence suggested a possible al Qaeda attack.
With our embassies around the world under what all acknowledge to be a serious threat, these conservatives saw a political opportunity, cynically using the fear of an imminent terrorist attack to regurgitate year-old smears about Barack Obama's success in the war on terror.
Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, the Iraq War's #1 cheerleader, led the charge with a blog post Saturday, hyperbolically stating, "Al Qaeda's not on the run. We are."
He followed that up on Fox News Sunday, telling host Chris Wallace:
KRISTOL: Four years ago President Obama gave a much-heralded speech as outreach to the Muslim world. And now, four years later we are closing embassies throughout the Muslim world. The year ago the president said Al Qaeda is on the run. And now we seem to be on the run.
Kristol's falsehoods were reflected by other conservatives across the media. Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint also appeared on Fox News Sunday echoing Kristol's attack: "Well, it's clear that Al Qaeda may be more of a threat to us than they were before 9/11 now."
Later in the panel he went on to state, "The instability around the world is clearly related to at least a perception of a lack of resolve of the United States and a perception of weakness."
After criticizing the Senate's bipartisan effort to address rising incidents of sexual assault in the military, The Weekly Standard's editor Bill Kristol doubled-down on his denial of the growing problem as a "pseudo-crisis," adding that conservative legislators' effort to erase the wide-spread retaliation faced by victims of sexual assault who report the crime is "an effort to placate the forces of left-wing legalism and feminist political correctness."
On July 18, Kristol attacked Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) for supporting Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)'s proposal to change the military's chain of command structure for reporting sexual assaults, which attempts to curb retaliation faced by those who report such an assault. Kristol accused the senators of "doing damage to conservatism" and again called the epidemic of sexual assaults in the military a "pseudo-crisis":
It was two Republican senators, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, who, in response to a pseudo-crisis of military sexual assault, popped up to support Democratic legislation that would upend the military judicial system and strip commanders of authority. In their effort to placate the forces of left-wing legalism and feminist political correctness, these Republican senators buy into the calumny that the military officer corps is full of individuals who couldn't care less about the men and women under their command.
What Kristol calls a "pseudo-crisis" is, in reality, nearly 3,400 reported incidents of sexual assault within the ranks in 2012, according to the Department of Defense's (DOD) Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military. That represents a six percent increase from 2011's total reported sexual assaults, a growth DOD called "significant." According to a survey cited in the report, that number would skyrocket to approximately 26,000 sexual assaults if unreported incidents are included, up 35 percent from the previous year's estimate. Even more disturbing, the report found that 62 percent of victims who reported being assaulted faced retaliation as a result.
Military leaders such as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have decried this epidemic as a "crisis," and "a threat to the safety and the welfare of our people and the health, reputation and trust of this institution."
Kristol's statement follows a week of sexual assault denial from his conservative magazine and website, The Weekly Standard.
On July 8, The Weekly Standard published an article titled "Harassing the Military" that declared, "there is no sexual assault crisis," citing the possibility that there may be a greater prevalence of sexual assaults within other communities. Later, a July 16 blog post promoted a U.S. Marine Corps officer's suggestion that the scope of the military's sexual assault problem is exaggerated. That same day, Kristol referred to the bipartisan Senate effort as a "proposal to undermine the military's chain of command on behalf of the pseudo-crisis of military sexual assault."
UPDATE: Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), a former prosecutor of sex crimes and senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, responded to Kristol's depiction of sexual assault in the military as a "pseudo-crisis," saying:
Thousands of reported sexual assaults, and many thousands more sex-related crimes that go unreported-combined with a decades-long inability to seriously address the epidemic-constitutes a crisis. It's a crisis for our military, their morale, and ultimately our national security. For someone who's constantly pushing for additional U.S. involvement in conflicts around the world, you'd think Mr. Kristol would share our goal of ensuring justice for those who are doing the fighting. Instead, his comments illustrate that while there's growing support for our historic reforms, all of us fighting for significant change must continue our effort.
After the Department of Defense reported a significant increase in sexual assault in the military, estimated at nearly 26,000 incidents in 2012, and after military leaders decried the epidemic as a "crisis," The Weekly Standard responded to Congress' preventative actions with sexual assault trutherism, denying the fact that a sexual assault crisis exists within the military.
Radio host Mark Levin attacked 21st Century Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch and Fox News Channel for "bias" in pro-immigration reform reporting, continuing to grow the divide between conservative talk radio hosts and the network.
On the July 15 edition of his radio show, Levin -- who has previously called the immigration reform bill a "disgusting disgrace" and a "crap sandwich" -- discussed a recent tweet by Murdoch, chairman and CEO of Fox News' parent company 21st Century Fox, that declared Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) was correct about the immigration reform effort and expressed support for the immigration reform bill. Levin then accused Fox News of biased reporting on immigration reform and accused "a number of hosts" who support immigration reform of not reading the bill:
This isn't the first time Levin has taken issue with what he referred to as "our favorite cable channel." On the July 12 edition of his show, Levin attacked Fox News contributor Karl Rove over his support for immigration reform saying, "you know what number Karl Rove never puts on that whiteboard? His win-loss percentage."
Earlier this month, both Levin and fellow conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh appeared on Fox, but neither was asked about immigration reform, despite their well-known outspokenness on the immigration reform effort. After Limbaugh's interview, he went on his radio show to criticize the network and claim that Fox wouldn't allow him to discuss the immigration reform effort. Yet, after walking back his comments, Limbaugh was allowed to speak on the topic during Fox News' The Five for almost ten minutes.
In addition to a conservative radio schism, conservatives in print media have also pitted themselves against one another over immigration, most recently between New York Times columnist David Brooks -- an immigration reform supporter -- and National Review's Rich Lowry and The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, who wrote an op-ed calling on House Republicans to "[put] a stake through" comprehensive immigration reform.
Fox News contributor and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol ignored President Obama's history of improving border security when he suggested on Fox News Sunday that the president may choose not to enforce the border security provisions in the Senate's immigration reform bill.
The comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate on June 27 includes strong increases in border security measures. These measures include the placement of 17,000 additional Border Patrol agents, at least 700 miles in fencing along the border, and dozens of additional helicopters and marine vessels to help with border surveillance.
On July 14, Kristol claimed that Republicans can't trust Obama with the border enforcement provisions of the comprehensive immigration bill, asking, "[c]an anyone seriously believe he's not going to waive pieces of, piece of, aspects of a piece of legislation he doesn't like -- border security?"
Washington Post editorial writer Charles Lane responded to Kristol on the show by noting the high level of deportations under Obama's presidency. The facts show that Lane is correct -- deportations are at record highs, with more than 400,000 people deported in FY 2012:
The facts also show that Obama has done much to tighten border security. The number of immigrants with criminal convictions has surged under the Obama administration, nearly doubling from 2008 to 2011. The number of Border Patrol agents has more than doubled since 2001. The number of apprehensions at the Southwestern border has dropped dramatically as these border security measures have increased.
The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol and The National Review's Rich Lowry are calling on House Republicans to obstruct comprehensive immigration reform efforts by not passing any immigration reform bills out of the chamber.
In a July 8 op-ed titled "Kill the Bill" cross posted on The Weekly Standard and The National Review's websites, Kristol and Lowry argued that House Republicans should not pass any immigration reform legislation. Doing so would obstruct immigration reform efforts by preventing Senate and House representatives from meeting to reconcile the differences between the Senate's bill and any bill that may pass the House:
House Republicans may wish to pass incremental changes to the system to show that they have their own solutions, even though such legislation is very unlikely to be taken up by the Senate. Or they might not even bother, since Senate Democrats say such legislation would be dead on arrival. In any case, House Republicans should make sure not to allow a conference with the Senate bill. House Republicans can't find any true common ground with that legislation. Passing any version of the Gang of Eight's bill would be worse public policy than passing nothing. House Republicans can do the country a service by putting a stake through its heart.
Others in right-wing media have proposed a similar strategy of obstruction. On the June 25 edition of her radio show, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham and guest Kristol endorsed obstruction, arguing that the House and the Senate reconciling their immigration reform bills would result in a problematic law and should therefore be avoided. In addition, during the June 13 edition of Fox News' Hannity, guest Ann Coulter warned that "if the House passes anything concerning immigration" and conference with representatives from the Senate, the resultant bill "will come out an amnesty bill." She claimed that if a reconciled bill passed, "the country is over."
Right-wing media have long encouraged Republicans to engage in obstruction, including on the appointment of President Obama's second-term nominees and stricter gun violence prevention laws.
Right-wing media are dishonestly arguing that senators have not had enough time to read the approximately 1,200-page immigration reform bill the weekend before a scheduled vote on it. In fact, the majority of the bill has been online since May, a fact even Karl Rove acknowledged on Fox News to push back against conservative criticism.
The bulk of the bill's 1,200 pages are available online and have been since May 21. On June 21, the Senate added enforcement provisions submitted by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) to the main text of the bill, which total 119 pages.
Those opposed to the legislation, such as The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol jumped on the Corker-Hoeven addition to make the misleading claim that the Senate only had the weekend to review the entire bill before voting on it. As highlighted by Breitbart.com, the Washington Post's Bob Woodward also implied that the Senate was rushing to pass immigration reform, saying on the June 23 edition of Fox News Sunday: "It's proven time and time again, when you pass complicated legislation and no one has really read the bill, the outcome is absurd." Other conservative outlets, like Red State, picked up the misleading narrative, with The Drudge Report showing a picture of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) drinking from a water bottle with the headline, "Senate to vote on bill before reading it":
Right-wing media have urged Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) to abandon comprehensive immigration reform efforts in their continued effort to thwart the Senate's attempt to overhaul the nation's immigration system.
Broadcast and cable Sunday political talk shows featured previously debunked myths about the September 11, 2012 attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
William Kristol wants to go to war in Syria, but he won't say what that war should look like. Appearing on Fox News Sunday to discuss reports of chemical weapons attacks in Syria, the Weekly Standard editor (and noted Iraq war hawk) attacked President Obama as "totally irresponsible" for indicating that he doesn't want "to start another war," saying: "You've got to do what you've got to do."
When host Chris Wallace pointed out to him that there are "no good choices" for intervening in the Syrian conflict and asked, "so what do you do?," Kristol brushed it off without indicating how he thought the president should respond: "You do what you think is best. You're commander in chief, you've got an awful lot of options."
Kristol's call for (non-specific) military action got a boost from Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume, who observed: "There's something to be said for doing something. That if they cross a line, you've got to do something. Now whatever it is may not directly affect the chemical weapons use, but if it directly affects and harms the regime's prospects in the war, that would at least be a consequence."
According to Hume, doing "something" (whatever that is) wouldn't be as difficult as people suspect. "This isn't Mission: Impossible."
From the April 28 edition of Fox News' Fox News Sunday:
Loading the player reg...
The latest print copy of The Weekly Standard contains an unsigned editorial condemning the press for not covering the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who is accused of murder after performing illegal later-term abortions at his Philadelphia clinic. Bill Kristol's magazine insists there's "no conceivable professional justification for the Gosnell blackout." And yet the Weekly Standard's editorial represents the first time the magazine has mentioned the Gosnell trial, which began March 18, in its pages, according to a Nexis search.
It's a pattern we have seen play out again and again in the last week: Indignant conservatives demanding to know why the disturbing Gosnell trial isn't receiving more coverage from the allegedly liberal media, while failing to acknowledge the trial has often been ignored by the conservative press, too.
The lingering question is, why? Why did a Philadelphia trial that conservatives now insist deserves ongoing, front-page national press coverage manage to interest so few right-leaning journalists for so long? Why did the conservative press get caught in the embarrassing position where members complained about a Gosnell "media blackout" when conservative outlets had apparently participated in the blackout? (Note that as of today, Rupert Murdoch's New York Post and still have not covered the trial as a news story and Murdoch's Wall Street Journal has published just a single report.)
I think the simple answer is that the Gosnell story did not involve President Obama, therefore it didn't sustain the attention of the far-right press, which seems fully committed to producing content that only revolves around attacking the president or ginning up phony outrage about his every action.
For four years, the GOP press has confirmed its obsession with documenting how Obama is destroying the Constitution and that he his agenda represents payback against white Europeans who settled the country, that he attempted to "assault" liberty with his second inaugural address, the First Family's vacations cost too much, Bob Woodward was threatened by White House "thugs", inviting school children to White House events is offensive and exploitative, Friends of Hamas donated money to Obama's Secretary of Defense, or whatever other nonsense is being shoveled that given week.
Infected with Obama Derangement Syndrome, conservative journalists often seem incapable of surveying the larger landscape and deciding what's actually newsworthy and important to their cause. They seem incapable of viewing the world through anything but an Obama-hating soda straw. And when looking through that straw in recent weeks, they couldn't see the Gosnell trial because the president was nowhere in sight.
One of the mantras of the American gun lobby, and one repeated constantly by its right-wing media allies, is the absolutist view that new gun restrictions aren't needed because they won't work. That argument is often quickly joined by the fatalistic view that there's nothing we can really do to cut down number of gun deaths in America; that government regulations, including expanded background checks for all gun purchases, would have no impact.
Both views have been on constant display as President Obama urges Congress to take action and pass new control measures.
Fox News contributor Bill Kristol last week insisted he'd seen "zero analysis, zero argument" that any of the proposed regulations would "make any appreciable difference in reducing gun violence and murders." On CNN, conservative Dana Loesch claimed "we have gun laws already on the books," and that new gun proposals would simply represent redundancies.
The companion case to right-wing claim is that gun control regulations won't reduce deaths is that the only way to achieve that goal is to have more guns in circulation will achieve that goal. (That argument is false. Obviously.)
But the clear flaw in the anti-regulation claim is that new government rules have been credited in recent years with drastically reducing the number of U.S. fatalities surrounding another potentially dangerous consumer product: Automobiles.
Look at the data: In 2011, the number of people killed in traffic accidents fell to 32,367, the lowest annual U.S. tally since 1949. (Automotive deaths peaked in 1972, with 54,589.) That decline came despite the fact that in over the last five-plus decades the number of drivers on American roads has exploded: 62 million then vs. 210 million now.
More recently, vehicular deaths plummeted 25 percent between 2005 and 2011, according to the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (Those numbers rose in 2012, ending a seven-year decline.)
What do experts point to for the recent overall reduction in automotive deaths? They credit, in part, state and federal efforts, often done in tandem with car manufacturers, which have made the potentially dangerous act of driving much less deadly.
From CNN in 2011 [emphasis added]:
Experts attribute the change to a variety of reasons, including changes to cars -- such as vehicle rollover protection -- and programs to change driver behavior -- such as campaigns addressing drunk driving, distracted driving and seat belt use. Laws aimed at young people also likely have had an impact, notably older minimum drinking ages and graduated drivers' licenses.
In other words, government regulations have helped dramatically reduce the number of vehicular fatalities in recent years. By treating driving as the obvious public safety issue that it is, and after new regulations were put in place in an effort to improve product safety and consumer behavior, the number of fatalities quickly dropped. Impelled by federal regulations, car manufacturers have made a concerted effort to make their products more safe via air bags, anti-rollover technology, and stronger vehicle roofs. For decades however, automakers waged the "regulatory equivalent of war" against the government's push for airbags and other safety initiatives. Today, those same manufacturers aggressively market new safety features to consumers.
Could a similar government push, aided by manufacturer cooperation, produce a comparable decline in gun deaths? Public safety experts insist the answer is yes. "Absolutely," says Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis.
Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace allowed Bill Kristol to attack the nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary without disclosing that Kristol is currently waging a full-scale campaign to oppose the nominee. Wallace further failed to challenge Kristol on his previous support of Hagel until he publicly supported a withdrawal from the Iraq War.
Fox News contributor Bill Kristol has been leading a relentless attack campaign against former Republican senator Chuck Hagel, President Obama's nominee for defense secretary. During television appearances and on his site The Weekly Standard, Kristol is actively encouraging the Senate to block Hagel's nomination. The Emergency Committee for Israel, a political advocacy group Kristol founded, has even launched an anti-Hagel website complete with attack ads.
Yet on Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Kristol to opine on Hagel's nomination without any mention of his advocacy to prevent Hagel from becoming defense secretary. After saying Hagel is a "controversial pick for defense secretary," Wallace directed Kristol: "Your comments on Hagel?" Kristol replied, "I don't think Chuck Hagel is the right man to be secretary of defense. We'll see if the United [States] Senate agrees with that." Kristol opposes the nomination on the false grounds that Hagel is hostile to Israel and sympathetic to Iran.
Kristol even interjected Hagel attacks into unrelated conversations.
As Republican objections to President Obama's Cabinet picks continue to pile up in the new year, we're watching a strange collision of two favorite media trends inside the Beltway, both of which bolster Republicans.
The first is that Obama hasn't done enough to change the tone in Washington, D.C.; that he hasn't torn down the capitol's stark partisan divide. The second is that, the radical obstructionism Obama faces while trying to change the tone is no big deal. That the monumental obstacles Republicans construct, like opposing Obama's Cabinet picks, represents politics as usual and everybody does it.
It's not and they don't.
In fact, the Hagel story, in which Obama made an effort to change the tone in Washington, D.C. by including a Republican in his Cabinet, only to have the goodwill gesture trampled by Republicans, perfectly captures the skewed way the news media depict modern day politics. And the way journalists who beseech Obama to change the tone give him no credit when he tries.
Instead, we're told Obama is courting controversy, he's picking a fight, because he's doing what newly elected presidents have done for centuries in this country, he's selecting respected, well-qualified individuals whom he trusts to serve in his Cabinet. Writing for Bloomberg, Francis Wilkinson suggested that by nominating a Republican, Obama had intensified the Beltway's "polarization."
If this seems unusual, that's because it is. What's also unusual is that the Beltway press mostly refuses to acknowledge the strange obstructionist ways being adopted by the GOP as these dogged cabinet fights continue to roll out.
As New York's Jonathan Chait noted this week:
The basic assumption is no longer that the president needs only to appoint people who are broadly qualified and not wildly more radical than himself. It's that the cabinet represents a kind of middle ground between the president and the opposing party.
Chait's right. Republicans and their extended right-media attack machine led by Bill Kristol have successfully changed the rules for Cabinet nominees. And the Beltway press has let it happen without an ounce of pushback and, more importantly, without informing news consumers that a radical shift has taken place.