This weekend former Senator Evan Bayh echoed the beliefs of many in the media that the National Rifle Association has only recently moved to the fringe, telling Politico "their position is now in the end zone, not at the 40-yard line."
These extremes were on display at the NRA annual meeting this weekend where Glenn Beck, during a keynote address just days after the announcement that New York's Cablevision would soon begin to carry his Blaze network to millions of households, displayed on the screen a poster-like image of Michael Bloomberg giving the Sieg Heil salute. To equate the Jewish mayor of New York City to Nazis used to be beyond the pale in American politics.
One could say this outrageous hate speech was Beck acting like Beck, demonstrating his herculean effort to prove Godwin's Law, but Nazi comparisons have been part and parcel of the NRA's rhetoric for decades.
In 1995, former President George H.W. Bush resigned his lifetime membership in the organization after Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre signed a fundraising letter that claimed the Assault Weapons Ban passed earlier that year "gives jackbooted Government thugs more power to take away our constitutional rights, break in our doors, seize our guns, destroy our property and even injure and kill us."
Bush told the organization, "your broadside against Federal agents deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor; and it offends my concept of service to country."
The rhetoric might have been new to Bush, but the organization had freely referred to law enforcement officials as "jackbooted thugs" for years. It was only in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing that previously ignored communications, such as direct mail pieces, were scrutinized by the media, outing this disgraceful language.
Kermit Gosnell, currently on trial for murder, appears to be a monster. There are no adjectives strong enough to describe the horrors that a grand jury says took place at the Women's Medical Society.
In recent weeks, anti-choice media figures have been agitating for more coverage of the Gosnell trial in the mainstream press, hoping to inject into public discourse the idea that all clinics performing abortions are the monstrous dens depicted in stark detail in the grand jury report.
I agree - the Gosnell trial does deserve more coverage. Not as a stain on abortion providers but as an indictment of the outcome if the anti-choice movement achieves its goals. Far from the practices of well-established medical facilities, the Women's Medical Society was the modern-day back alley, like those in the pre-Roe era where desperate women were butchered.
The Women's Medical Society's "real business," the grand jury report explicitly states, "was not health; it was profit. There were two primary parts to the operation. By day it was a prescription mill; by night an abortion mill."
To achieve his ends, "Gosnell's approach was simple: keep volume high, expenses low - and break the law. That was his competitive edge."
Conservatives are making the argument that "the reason the media and pro-abortion politicians are ignoring Gosnell's trial is because Gosnell was an abortionist. Seven of his victims were killed after they had been aborted, and one died after she had aborted. Why would people who believe in legalized abortion want to shed negative light on bad things that happen during legalized abortions?"
But these were crimes, not "bad things that happened" within legal structures. What the grand jury established is that Gosnell preyed on poor women, performing illegal abortions in unsanitary conditions. Those on the right have spent ample pixels reciting all the abhorrent practice, but have failed to note the critical component - that the actions they cite are illegal.
Pennsylvania, like other states, permits legal abortion within a regulatory framework. Physicians must, for example, provide counseling about the nature of the procedure. Minors must have parental or judicial consent. All women must wait 24 hours after first visiting the facility, in order to fully consider their decision. But Gosnell's compliance with such requirements was casual at best. At the Women's Medical Society, the only question that really mattered was whether you had the cash. Too young? No problem. Didn't want to wait? Gosnell provided same-day service.
As the anti-choice movement seeks to close the last remaining clinics in North Dakota, Mississippi, Kansas, and Arkansas, the ultimate result of its action will be to drive women into the hands of more Kermit Gosnells.
The fact the right refuses to face is that, as the grand jury explicitly stated, "the real key to the business model, though, was this: Gosnell catered to the women who couldn't get abortions elsewhere."
Those who will be taken advantage of are not the wealthy who can afford to travel to an alternative state where they can receive care, but the low-income who feel trapped by their circumstance. Remove legal and safe options, and women like the victims the right purports to be speaking for will turn to the Kermit Gosnells of the world. And it's the policies of the anti-choice movement that will drive them there.
Zev Chafets wants you to know that some of Roger Ailes's best friends are black.
He makes that point repeatedly throughout his latest tome, Roger Ailes: Off Camera, the product of a year of unprecedented access to Roger Ailes, his employees at Fox News, and his friends and family.
The result is largely an amalgamation of anecdotes that lets its subject off the hook for the most controversial aspects of his 40-year career, either by whitewashing them from the record entirely or by deflecting the reader with misdirection.
Roger Ailes is friends with Jesse Jackson, and he's friends with David Dinkins, Chafets writes, making no mention of the race-baiting ads Ailes ran against the former New York City mayor - designed to exacerbate tensions between the city's black and Jewish populations.
Ailes is a "profane, skydiving, hard-charging producer" is what Chafets gleans from Joe McGinniss's The Selling of the President, describing Ailes' work on the 1968 Presidential campaigns. Missing is the race-baiting quote from the book that has dogged him ever since. While casting one of Nixon's "Man in the Arena" appearances, Ailes strategized with McGiniss about how to utilize racial tensions to his candidate's advantage, telling the reporter: "As long as we've got this extra spot open. A good, mean, Wallaceite cab driver. Wouldn't that be great? Some guy to sit there and say, 'Awright mac, what about these niggers?'"
Last week conservative radio host Neal Boortz issued a challenge via Twitter:
Boortz's challenge came after Media Matters shone a spotlight on his claim that President Obama's reelection represented a bigger threat to the United States of America than Al Qaeda and Adolf Hitler.
After Boortz issued his challenge, I replied via Twitter:
Media Matters scheduled an appearance through Neal Boortz's producer and the debate was set up for today from 10:05 to 10:20 AM - or so we thought.
White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer was right to apologize to Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer after he mistakenly chastised the columnist for claiming that a bust of Winston Churchill that sat in the Bush Oval office had been returned to the British government. Contrary to Pfeiffer's claim that it had never left the White House, that bust was indeed returned and a different bust of Churchill that predated both Obama and George W. Bush still resides in the White House.
But the underlying issue at hand is still unresolved. Krauthammer, in a column about Mitt Romney's gaffe-plagued world tour, was lying. And that lie remains uncorrected. Worse yet, Pfeiffer's apology obscured that lie, allowing another trivial yet damaging falsehood about the Obama presidency to elevate into major media, instead of floundering in the swamps of conservative idiocy.
By claiming that "Obama started his presidency by returning to the British Embassy the bust of Winston Churchill that had graced the Oval Office," Krauthammer used the Washington Post to further a conspiracy dating back to the days of Glenn Beck's chalkboard.
Obama, the legend goes, ordered the bust of Churchill removed from the Oval Office because he, like his paternal grandfather, whom he never met, had adopted the political leanings of a Kenyan anti-colonialist Mau Mau rebel. Never mind that there is no evidence Obama's family was part of the Mau Mau uprising.
Forget the fact the bust was loaned to the Bush White House and therefore returned as a matter of standard operating procedure, not a slap in the face to the British.
Never mind that the bust was replaced with one of our greatest Republican presidents, Abraham Lincoln.
The bust rumor traveled from right-wing blogs, to Glenn Beck, to then-prospective Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who engaged in this colloquy with a conservative radio host:
HUCKABEE: I would love to know more. What I know is troubling enough. And one thing that I do know is his having grown up in Kenya, his view of the Brits, for example, very different than the average American. When he gave the bust back to the Brits -
MALZBERG: Of Winston Churchill.
HUCKABEE: The bust of Winston Churchill, a great insult to the British. But then if you think about it, his perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau Revolution in Kenya is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather.
While throwing his hat in with the birthers by claiming the president had "grown up in Kenya," which received the most attention and helped torpedo his presidential aspirations, Huckabee's errors begin with the bust.
Conservatives have long refused to debate the president's actual positions, instead relying on a Rorschach test of clues as to his hidden agenda. In the vast majority of cases, the Rosetta stones used to decode Obama's hidden agenda are themselves based on lies.
The tragedy of this most recent exchange between Krauthammer and Pfeiffer is that the Washington Post will see no need to correct what is still an obvious falsehood and others in the media will now accept this farcical rube Goldberg version of history as fact.
Those dismissing the relevance of Glenn Beck at Fox News often cite him as a fringe figure, isolated at the network by more mainstream conservatives. Countering that notion, David Brock and I wrote in The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine about the kinship linking the network boss and his prized host:
From the paranoid rants about the creeping threats of communism to odd comparisons between mainstream political leaders and Nazis, Glenn Beck gave voice to some of Ailes's deepest fears about the Obama presidency.
As evidence of this symbiosis we cite a letter from Ailes to a group of rabbis defending Beck's use of Holocaust imagery; specifically Beck had suggested that Jewish Funds for Justice head Simon Greer's belief that putting "humankind and the common good first" were according to Beck "exactly the kind of talk that led to the death camps in Germany." The host added, "a Jew, of all people, should know that."
Ailes replied to the rabbis' request for reasoned discourse writing, "Of course social justice means different things to different audiences, however it has been used in situations leading to fascism, socialism, and communism as well."
Now leaked emails purported to have been sent by Roger Ailes reveal the network boss was not only Beck's defender, but actively sought to promote his brand of extreme rhetoric at Fox. According to Gawker, which obtained the emails:
On November 1, 2010, Ailes sent an email to Bill O'Reilly and his producer David Tabacoff. It contained a partial transcript from a 12-year-old 60 Minutes profile of George Soros in which Soros, a Jew, acknowledged that he posed as a Christian under the Nazi regime and helped confiscate property from other Jews being shipped off to death camps.
The truth was as a fourteen-year-old boy in occupied Hungary, Soros was hidden from the Nazis by a Christian family. The man hiding Soros was assigned to go inventory the estate of a wealthy Jewish family and brought Soros along to protect him. Soros himself was never part of any property confiscation.
Media Matters has a long history with Andrew Breitbart. We've disagreed more than we've found common ground, but there was never any question of Andrew's passion for and commitment to what he believed.
Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today.
In the Spring of 2000, my friend and former colleague Zack Exley arrived in Washington, DC, to observe the protests that had engulfed the city during the World Bank's annual meeting. Driving into Washington from the airport, out the window of his taxi he saw "a teenage white girl with long dreadlocks who wore a homemade t-shirt proclaiming: WE NEED A NEW SYSTEM."
Later that evening he attended a party at the home of then-Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers along with "ambassadors, politicians, esteemed professors and what seemed like the entire combined senior economist staff of the IMF, World Bank and Treasury."
It turned out Larry Summers had seen the girl too and was eagerly telling his guests about an interaction he had with her:
And so I asked the girl: 'What is this new system that you want? Tell me about it!' And the girl had nothing. Nothing! She had no fucking clue what this magical new system was supposed to be. No one is saying that there aren't problems with the world economy the way it is today. But these kids out there -- they don't know what they want!
"Mr. Secretary," said Zack. "You've got 50 economics PhDs in this room who pretty much run the world economy. And you're asking that girl for a better system? Aren't the solutions your job? You admit billions are living in hell, but it's up to that girl to fix it?"
Summers chuckled and the conversation moved on.
More than a decade has passed since Larry Summers saw that teenage girl outside the World Bank, and our domestic and global economy has only further deteriorated. We've seen two burst bubbles; two recessions; two major wars (many more minor skirmishes); lower employment, and higher income inequality. Meanwhile, those with power in our financial, political and media worlds simply cheered or sat on the sidelines feigning powerlessness.
Over the last twenty five days across the media -- with several notable exceptions -- we've seen elites point fingers, chuckle and play punch the hippy while covering the Occupy Wall Street protests. Whether it's reporters at CNN mocking protesters while sympathizing with Wall Street traders; Rush Limbaugh referring to protestors as a "parade of human debris"; or a conservative reporter acting as an agent provocateur at a protest in Washington, DC, at best many in the media seem desperate not to face the fundamental issues at the heart of the demonstrations, at worst they place blame for our failed economy at the feet of the protestors -- mocking them as unemployed drains on the country.
It also comes as no surprise that Fox, which actively worked to build the Tea Party movement, has attacked these grassroots uprisings as "astroturf," and "petulant little children," and compared protestors to the "Unabomber." The Tea Party and Fox News fight to protect our system's fundamental inequalities while Occupy Wall Street is a fundamental challenge to it.
In 2000, Larry Summers tried to outsource fixing a global economic system he bore responsibility for to a girl in dreadlocks. Elites in the media and our political system are now attempting to foist the same responsibility to those camping in Zuccotti Park.
As the New York Times astutely pointed out: "It is not the job of the protesters to draft legislation. That's the job of the nation's leaders, and if they had been doing it all along there might not be a need for these marches and rallies."
If those in the media casting aspersions on the protestors had spent a decade covering the underlying problems with our economy, instead of cheerleading the housing bubble; worked to expose the lies that led our country to war, instead of taking an administration at its word; and not allow themselves to be manipulated by political and media figures whose goal was simply to distort our political processes, there might not be a need to Occupy Wall Street. Instead the dreadlocked girl is still right -- we need a new system.
Fox News' effect on our political culture extends beyond the network's daily cavalcade of ideological and partisan attacks. Its 15 years in existence and nearly 10 at the top of the cable news ratings food chain have ushered in an era of ideological polarization and post-truth politics.
In the middle of the last decade, there were discussions about the impact of citizen journalism conducted by bloggers and its effect on the media. Under the radar, Fox was using its platform and a major cable news channel to contort our political dialogue, creating two Americas and two truths.
As a political consultant, Fox News President Roger Ailes specialized in dividing voters along racial, ethnic, and religious lines. While working for the George H.W. Bush campaign, he told a reporter, "The only question is whether we depict Willie Horton with a knife in his hand or without it," and produced the divisive "Revolving Door."
Ailes used these same tactics on Rudy Giuliani's unsuccessful 1989 campaign for mayor of New York. He was criticized for utilizing a strategy that "prey[ed] upon the fears of the Jewish community."
While Fox has certainly stoked racial fears, pushing bogus, concocted smears in an attempt to connect Barack Obama to the New Black Panther Party, it has also created an environment in which truth, facts, and science no longer are paramount. Fox-created facts rule the day. And its viewers trust the network more than any other source. Climate change? Doesn't exist, according to many on the network. Forget what scientists say. Also did you hear that this "climategate" scandal debunked the entire notion of global warming?
Now as a progressive, I will point out that there is overwhelming consensus among scientists that the Earth is warming. Additionally, "climategate" did nothing to debunk the body of scientific knowledge backing up that claim. However, no amount of evidence presented will convince Fox viewers otherwise. Any presenter not fitting the network's worldview is biased, bought off, stupid, or evil. Stephen Colbert astutely pointed out this worldview at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner when he noted that "reality has a well-known liberal bias." While a laugh line, the outcome of the post-truth era is dangerous: a country not only divided by ideology, but divided along factual lines. Without a common narrative, constructive debate is simply impossible.
This truth dichotomy extends beyond climate science.
The League of Conservation Voters released a poll last week asking, "Do you support or oppose the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requiring reductions in carbon emissions from sources like power plants, cars and factories in an effort to reduce global warming pollution?"
The crosstabs, obtained by Media Matters, are illuminating. Seventy-one percent of Americans supported EPA action. Even a majority of Republicans, 54 percent, were in support of these regulations. Two groups that did not show majority support were those who rely primarily on Fox for television news and information -- 49 percent of whom supported these regulations -- and Tea Party supporters -- 45 percent of whom supported the regulations. Among non-tea party members of the GOP? 70 percent were supportive.
This is no coincidence. Fox News' audience and the Tea Party are essentially one.
Roger Ailes's pronouncement to Howard Kurtz that Fox News was making "course correction" made headlines across the web yesterday. However, his efforts will be hampered by the audience he built. According to Kurtz, "privately, Fox executives say the entire network took a hard right turn after Obama's election, but, as the Tea Party's popularity fades, is edging back toward the mainstream."
This move will be nearly impossible as the core of the network's audience consider themselves members of the Tea Party. According the LCV poll, 59 percent of those who consider Fox News the television outlet where they receive most of their "information about current and political events" also consider themselves to be supporters of the Tea Party, compared with 10 percent for CNN, 13 percent for MSNBC, and 15 percent for network news (NBC, ABC, CBS). Similarly, 60 percent of Tea Party say that they get most of their news and information from Fox, compared to 6 percent for CNN, and 3 percent for MSNBC.