Several conservative media figures are in an awkward position this morning after Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher they've spent weeks lionizing and comparing to civil rights heroes, was quoted by The New York Times saying appalling things about "the Negro."
In a story published late Wednesday, the Times reported on a news conference Bundy held on Saturday, in which he "wondered," among other things, whether blacks were "better off as slaves":
"I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro," he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, "and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids -- and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch -- they didn't have nothing to do. They didn't have nothing for their kids to do. They didn't have nothing for their young girls to do.
"And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?" he asked. "They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom."
Bundy's racism follows weeks of conservatives championing his cause and comparing his fight with the federal government to those of fugitive slaves, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King Jr.
Radio host Bryan Fischer -- a hateful, anti-gay conspiracy theorist -- used his show to praise former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson for having "taken the Underground Railroad" off the "media plantation."
Sharyl Attkisson, a former CBS reporter with a history of shoddy journalism, has recently made the media rounds alleging (without evidence) that she was the victim of liberal political bias during her time at the network. Attkisson's allegations of bias have since been embraced by conservative media outlets.
She found a new ally today in Fischer, who devoted a segment of his radio program to playing clips of her recent appearance on CNN's Reliable Sources (during which she floated an absurd conspiracy about Media Matters being paid to attack her work).
Fischer introduced the segment by explaining that it's "obvious" the media is "biased" in various ways, including "toward the homosexual agenda." According to Fischer the mainstream media is "nothing more than a propaganda arm for liberals in politics, and for the Obama administration in the current circumstances."
Turning to Attkisson's exit from CBS, Fischer explained, "Occasionally, you will have somebody that will escape from the plantation. They will get on the Underground Railroad and they will surface free from the restraints and the chains of the liberal media plantation. And that's happened to Sharyl Attkisson."
Fischer went on to praise Attkisson as a "very good reporter for CBS News," and someone who was "doing good journalistic work on the Benghazi deal."
He later returned to his slavery comparisons, calling mainstream reporters "slaves to promote the liberal agenda" and again celebrated Attkisson for having "taken the Underground Railroad off the plantation."
Fischer is an anti-gay bigot and conspiracy theorist who has claimed, among many other things, that "Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews." He has also warned that the military is being trained to use "lethal force" on conservative and Christian groups; called on the government to prohibit mosques from being built in the United States; and lamented that U.S. does not have similar ant-gay laws as those recently enacted in Russia.
Why would WND dispatch Jerome Corsi to London to publish a series of reports on the trial of a conspiracy theorist? As is often the case with Corsi and WND, there's an utterly bizarre explanation: the guy on trial thinks President Obama's mother isn't his real mother.
After the nonsensical conspiracy that President Obama lacked a proper American birth certificate was finally put to rest when he released the long-form version of that document in 2011, birther conspiracy theorists have forged increasingly convoluted and bizarre allegations to try to keep the story alive. Right-wing fringe sites like WND -- which, not coincidentally, sells a wide range of birther swag at its online store -- have spent the years since the release of the long-form certificate desperately trying to breathe life back into the conspiracy. Based on things like a smudged stamp ink and a supposedly-hidden "smiley face" in the long-form certificate, writers like Corsi have declared the document to be a forgery (a ridiculous claim also endorsed by people like Donald Trump).
Hand-in-hand with the conspiracy that Obama lacks or is hiding an authentic birth certificate, conspiracy theorists have also obsessed over the idea that Barack Obama Sr. is not the president's real father. Candidates for the "real father" have included Malcolm X, an unidentified "American black," "some Indonesian," and, most prominently, Communist poet Frank Marshall Davis. (The latter theory was the focus of an inane 2012 "documentary," which found fans in Corsi and Fox News contributor Monica Crowley.)
In an article filed earlier this week from London, Corsi highlighted the outlandish claims of Michael Shrimpton, "a middle-aged London barrister by profession and self-proclaimed intelligence expert." Shrimpton is currently awaiting trial in England for allegedly intentionally misleading the British government by falsely claiming terrorists planned to detonate a nuclear weapon during the 2012 Olympics that he claimed was stolen from a sunken Russian submarine.
Dinesh D'Souza, the conservative filmmaker and author charged this January with violating federal campaign finance laws, allegedly said that while he might eventually admit his guilt, he would initially plead innocent because it would give "him a window of opportunity to get his story out there." Conservative media have been happy to lend him a hand in doing so.
In January, federal prosecutors announced that D'Souza was being charged with filtering excessive campaign donations through straw donors to Republican Wendy Long, a friend of his who lost her 2012 campaign to unseat Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. D'Souza pleaded not guilty to the charges.
According to The New York Times, D'Souza's lawyer is claiming that the conservative pundit is being "targeted...because of his consistently caustic and highly publicized criticism" of President Obama. (The prosecution has called these claims "entirely without merit.") The Times also reports that prosecutors claim to have a recording made by the husband of a woman D'Souza was "involved with romantically" who was "one of the alleged straw donors." According to the woman, D'Souza said that if he were eventually charged, he might plead not guilty to help "get his story out there":
Prosecutors also said they had obtained a copy of a recording made surreptitiously last October by the husband of a woman Mr. D'Souza was involved with romantically around the time of the donations, when Mr. D'Souza was separated from his wife. In making the recording, the husband was not acting at the government's direction, prosecutors said. The woman, Denise Joseph, was one of the alleged straw donors.
Ms. Joseph was recorded as saying that Mr. D'Souza had told her that if he were charged he might plead guilty, but would initially plead not guilty because that "gives him a window of opportunity to get his story out there," the government said. Ms. Joseph had no comment, her lawyer said.
Conservative media have been crucial in helping D'Souza "get his story out there" -- his allies on Fox News, talk radio, and right-wing online outlets have loudly and repeatedly claimed that D'Souza is a victim of persecution because of his political beliefs.
After debuting in 2013 to major media coverage and virulent opposition from conservative activists, Karl Rove's Conservative Victory Project political group is seemingly defunct. According to FEC filings, as of March 31, the group has $667 cash on hand after taking in only $2,214 in the first quarter of 2014.
Rove's Conservative Victory Project was announced in a 2013 New York Times article, which explained that the Fox News contributor and former Bush administration official was joining forces with "the biggest donors in the Republican Party" to create a group which would "recruit seasoned candidates and protect Senate incumbents from challenges by far-right conservatives and Tea Party enthusiasts." The Times reported that the "project is being waged with last year's Senate contests in mind, particularly the one in Missouri, where Representative Todd Akin's comment that 'legitimate rape' rarely causes pregnancy rippled through races across the country."
Numerous conservative figures responded to the announcement by loudly and repeatedly ripping Rove and Conservative Victory Project for its supposed betrayal of true conservatives and attempts at "fratricide." Several conservative activists went so far as to pen a letter to Crossroads donors imploring them to refuse to give money to the new group.
Whether it's directly attributable to the backlash or not, conservatives need not worry about Rove's Conservative Victory Project influencing Republican primaries this year, because the group is all-but-inoperative. As Media Matters previously reported, in the second half of 2013, Rove's group only brought in $10,798, ending the year with only $200 in cash on hand. The trend continued in the first quarter of 2014, with Conservative Victory Project apparently doing no fundraising. Between January 1 and March 31, the group brought in only $2,214, all of which came one of Rove's other political groups, American Crossroads.
While Conservative Victory Project is seemingly dead in the water, Rove's American Crossroads Super PAC continues to rake in millions of dollars, investing some of it in Republican primaries. National Journal explains that in the wake of the Conservative Victory Project kerfuffle, Crossroads' primary spending has shown the group to be "risk-averse" and treading lightly, avoiding criticizing Republicans aggressively and looking too much like the group is "handpicking" establishment candidates.
In an interview with Fortune, News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch credited Fox News with having "absolutely saved" the Republican Party, praising the network for giving "voice and hope to people who didn't like all that liberal championing thrown at them on CNN." But Fox News has not just given "voice and hope" to conservative news watchers. The network has been instrumental in helping Republicans for years by actively promoting and fundraising for GOP candidates, serving as a staging ground for numerous network employees to prep runs for office, championing Republicans' legislative goals, and systematically smearing and lying about an immeasurable number of Democrats, progressives, and any policy initiatives the network found insufficiently conservative.
During the same exchange, Murdoch reportedly bristled at the suggestion that Fox promotes the tea party, potentially at the expense of the GOP:
Does it bother you at all, Rupert, that there is a view that Fox News has contributed in a big way to the political discontent in the U.S., degraded the political process, and maybe, in spotlighting the Tea Party, even hurt the Republican Party? I think it has absolutely saved it. It has certainly given voice and hope to people who didn't like all that liberal championing thrown at them on CNN. By the way, we don't promote the Tea Party. That's bullshit. We recognize their existence.
But Murdoch's assertion that it's "bullshit" that Fox News promotes the tea party is, well, bullshit. Simply put, today's tea party probably wouldn't exist -- at least not at its level of influence and notoriety -- without the integral role Fox News played in promoting the first round of tea party events during Obama's first year in office.
Even given the warped standards by which Fox News' journalistic ethics are often viewed, the network's early promotion of the tea party is still staggering to revisit. In the early months of 2009, Fox News personalities on several different programs aggressively plugged the supposedly upstart tea party movement. The network even held its own events on April 15 of that year that they branded "FNC TAX DAY TEA PARTIES." Fox News hosts Glenn Beck (who has since left the network), Neil Cavuto, Sean Hannity, and Greta Van Susteren all broadcast live that day from various tea parties around the country.
A Texas judge dismissed a complaint based on claims from a video produced by conservative fabulist James O'Keefe after special prosecutors ripped the video as "little more than a canard and political disinformation."
In February, O'Keefe and his Project Veritas group released a video investigation of progressive organization Battleground Texas. In the video, O'Keefe accuses the group, which he labels "the new ACORN," of using "potentially illegal methods to change elections." The allegation hinged on O'Keefe repeatedly pointing to a part of the Texas Election Code, which states that "the registrar may not transcribe, copy, or otherwise record a telephone number furnished on a registration application."
An organizer from Battleground Texas -- which has worked to register voters in the state -- says in the video that the group has taken phone numbers from the applications, which they will use to reach out to people and encourage them to vote closer to the election. A quote from Texas Secretary of State Nandita Berry's office included in the video suggests that the Battleground Texas organizers may in fact have been in violation of the law.
Following outrage from Republican officials, complaints were filed with the secretary of state's office about the claims from the video. A Texas judge eventually appointed two special prosecutors -- one of whom is reportedly a Republican -- to investigate the allegations.
On Friday, the special prosecutors released a report recommending the case's dismissal, which a judge granted. As first reported by Texas blog Burnt Orange Report, the recommendation for dismissal from the special prosecutors is withering, attacking, among other things, "unprofessional" aspects of O'Keefe's video.
According to the prosecutors, the language about copying telephone numbers from registration applications "applies only to the official county registrar, not to a volunteer deputy registrar." Further, they conclude that "three recent attorney general opinions hold that one's telephone number on a voter registration is not confidential information."
After labeling the Veritas video "little more than a canard and political disinformation," the prosecutors recommend that the complaint "be dismissed for insufficient evidence and failure to state an offense." San Antonio Judge Raymond Angelini subsequently signed an order dismissing the complaint.
The dismissal of the complaint is merely the latest egg in O'Keefe's face, whose work has repeatedly been marred by misinformation and incompetence and condemned by law enforcement reviews. Last year, O'Keefe agreed to pay $100,000 to an ACORN employee he had smeared as part of his fraudulent ACORN sting.
A copy of the special prosecutors' recommendation for dismissal, courtesy of Burnt Orange Report, is below.
Five years ago, Fox News expanded its online presence with "Fox Nation." Early promos for the site told viewers that it's "time to say 'no' to biased media and 'yes' to fair play and free speech," while promising that Fox fans had finally found "a place to call home." Similarly, the "Statement of Purpose" on the site announces that it is dedicated to "the core principles of tolerance, open debate, civil discourse, and fair and balanced coverage of the news."
But after its launch, the site quickly turned into -- in the words of former Fox News producer Joe Muto -- the "seedy underbelly of the Fox News online empire." Fox Nation has for years openly cheered Republican politicians and policies, actively organized for the tea party, smeared Democrats and progressives, engaged in blatant race-baiting on a near-daily basis, and routinely elevated nonsense from the conservative fringe.
So while Fox Nation is celebrating its fifth birthday and its self-proclaimed role as a "defender of the Constitution and the home of hot debates," Media Matters looks back at some (but nowhere near all) of the lowlights from the site's first five years.
One of Fox News' more bizarre ethical violations has drawn to a close. After devoting a week of segments to promoting a Republican Senate candidate's fundraising ploy, Fox & Friends plagiarized the idea and spent another week passing it off as their own.
As Media Matters previously reported, last month Nebraska Republican Ben Sasse released a March Madness-themed competition featuring a bracket of 64 alleged Constitutional violations by the Obama administration.
Fox & Friends eagerly latched onto the "Constitutional Madness" bracket, devoting significant time to it on their March 21, 22, 24, 25, and 26 broadcasts. While promoting the Sasse campaign's bracket, both the hosts and on-screen text repeatedly credited Sasse with coming up with the idea. Fox hosts also adopted the Sasse campaign-approved branding that the Nebraska Republican is known as "the anti-Obamacare candidate."
After originally telling viewers to weigh in on Facebook and Twitter, Fox & Friends started directing viewers to vote in the competition at the Sasse-operated constitutionalmadness.com. (Sasse himself also directed viewers to visit the website during his appearance on the March 24 edition of Fox & Friends.)
The Sasse campaign was likely thrilled by the publicity boost, because the entire competition was a thinly-veiled effort to farm email addresses and solicit donations. Visitors to constitutionalmadness.com are greeted with a large "CONTRIBUTE!" button. Filling out a bracket automatically redirects people to the Sasse campaign's fundraising page, and in order to complete the bracket in the first place, you have to give the Sasse campaign your email address.
Inevitably, since filling out a bracket on March 26, Media Matters has been emailed fundraising solicitations from the Sasse campaign, including one on March 29 urging people to contribute before the end of the fundraising quarter.
But a strange thing happened in the middle of Fox & Friends' promotion of Sasse's "Constitutional Madness": the show kept running segments charting the progress of the competition, but stopped crediting Sasse for the idea. Instead, Fox & Friends started directing people to vote at their show's own website, where they had plagiarized much of the original bracket.
Over the past week, Fox & Friends has run numerous segments promoting the "Constitutional Madness" bracket created by Republican Nebraska Senate candidate Ben Sasse. While Sasse's bracket is ostensibly an attempt to determine the worst constitutional violation among supposed Obama administration scandals, in reality it's a thinly-veiled attempt to collect donations and email addresses. Fox News liked the Sasse idea so much they eventually plagiarized it for FoxNews.com.
To coincide with the NCAA's annual March Madness basketball tournament, last week Sasse's campaign released a bracket of 64 alleged constitutional violations by the Obama administration. Sasse is a former Bush administration official running in a Republican primary to fill Mike Johanns' Senate seat in Nebraska. The bracket is made up of a panoply of Fox News-promoted pseudoscandals, including things like "death panels."
Fox & Friends has given the bracket a major publicity boost, discussing it at length on its March 21, 22, 24, 25 and 26 broadcasts. During some of the segments, Fox hosts -- and Sasse himself, who appeared on March 24 -- directed viewers to the competition website and pushed people to cast a vote. The network has also hyped how "thousands of people" are voting in the competition, which has gotten "a lot of buzz" -- thanks in no small part to Fox's efforts.
Visitors to constitutionalmadness.com -- many of whom likely did so after hearing about it on Fox News' highly-rated morning show -- are greeted with a green "CONTRIBUTE!" button above the actual voting process.
In order to submit votes, visitors must give the Sasse campaign their email address, which will undoubtedly be used for later fundraising pitches. After submitting a vote, the site redirects to the Sasse campaign's donation page, with the $100.00 donation option helpfully pre-selected. Text on the landing page reads, "Thanks for playing! Will you help fight back against Constitutional overreach by making a donation to the campaign today?"
On its March 26 broadcast, the show promoted its own version of the competition and encouraged viewers to visit the Fox & Friends website to cast votes.
Much of the language on Fox's version of the bracket is pulled directly from the Sasse campaign website, but Fox offers no attribution anywhere on its site. To the contrary, Fox News claims it's "our Constitutional Madness Bracket" and "we put together a 'Constitutional Madness' bracket." Fox also lifted language from other sources in writing "background" information about the alleged constitutional violations.
Fox News of course has routinely worked to bolster the political ambitions of Republicans, including those on its own staff. But even by the network's warped ethical standards, its week-long promotion of Sasse's campaign ploy has been egregious.
In 2010, the Democratic Governors Association filed a complaint (later dismissed) against Fox News after the network ran the campaign web address of former Fox employee and then Republican gubernatorial candidate John Kasich.
A rundown of Fox's "Constitutional Madness" hype is below.