In an effort to push Fox News' favorite narrative that Christmas is under attack, the network turned to former television star Chuck Norris and former President Ronald Reagan as ammunition for its latest attempt to attack President Obama by casting doubt on his dedication to Christian values and wrongly suggesting he has not spoken publicly about the religious foundations of the Christmas holiday season.
On the November 19 edition of Fox & Friends, hosts read excerpts from a "fiery" online op-ed penned by Chuck Norris, the former star of CBS' Walker: Texas Ranger, echoing Norris' outrage that President Obama has not made public comments on the subject of a Maryland school district's decision to end reference to Christian and Jewish holidays on the schools' vacation calendars rather than include additional vacation days for the observation of Muslim holidays.
"We haven't even hit Thanksgiving, and already the war on Christmas is underway," wrote Norris. Claiming that President Obama has deviated from "the America our Founding Fathers created," his column expressed nostalgia for a time when Republican President Ronald Reagan spoke freely about Christian values during a Christmas speech in 1981:
Let us never forget that there was once a time in the U.S. when people and even presidents weren't afraid to stand for traditional values and encourage others to do the same.
Case in point, President Ronald Reagan, in his 1981 Christmas address, televised and on the radio from the Oval Office for the entire nation and world to hear, said: "At this special time of year, we all renew our sense of wonder in recalling the story of the first Christmas in Bethlehem, nearly 2,000 years ago. Some celebrate Christmas as the birthday of a great and good philosopher and teacher. Others of us believe in the divinity of the child born in Bethlehem, that he was and is the promised Prince of Peace. ... Like the shepherds and wise men of that first Christmas, we Americans have always tried to follow a higher light, a star, if you will. At lonely campfire vigils along the frontier, in the darkest days of the Great Depression, through war and peace, the twin beacons of faith and freedom have brightened the American sky. At times, our footsteps may have faltered, but trusting in God's help, we've never lost our way. ... So let this holiday season be for us a time of rededication. ... Tonight, in millions of American homes, the glow of the Christmas tree is a reflection of the love (of) Jesus. ... Christmas means so much because of one special child."
The hosts of Fox & Friends parroted Norris' column saying "Chuck Norris' point was, remember the time when American presidents weren't afraid to talk about traditional values, as Ronald Reagan did back in 1981," and used the opportunity to highlight a clip of Reagan's speech.
But Norris and Fox's nostalgia omitted the current president's frequent expressions of his Christian faith. Earlier in 2014, President Obama's Easter address contained the following comments about the suffering of Jesus Christ:
OBAMA: For me, and for countless other Christians, Holy Week and Easter are times for reflection and renewal. We remember the grace of an awesome God, who loves us so deeply that He gave us his only Son, so that we might live through Him. We recall all that Jesus endured for us - the scorn of the crowds, the agony of the cross - all so that we might be forgiven our sins and granted everlasting life. And we recommit ourselves to following His example, to love and serve one another, particularly "the least of these" among us, just as He loves every one of us.
Rush Limbaugh outlined a bizarre conspiracy theory in response to reports that President Obama will overhaul the enforcement of the nation's immigration laws, suggesting that undocumented immigrants had prior knowledge of the plan and enticed parentless migrant children across the border in hopes of adopting them as a means to obtaining legal status under the new enforcement scheme.
On November 13, The New York Times reported that the Obama administration would be revamping its immigration enforcement philosophy and may use prosecutorial discretion to protect "up to five million undocumented immigrants from the threat of deportation." The new enforcement plan would "allow many parents of children who are American citizens or legal residents to obtain legal work documents and no longer worry about being discovered, separated from their families and sent away."
Radio host Rush Limbaugh tied the plan to the influx of migrant children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border from Central America earlier this year, suggesting the enforcement plan and the influx were part of a complex amnesty scheme that would grant legal status to the children, adoptive parents, and the biological parents of the children still residing abroad.
His theory breaks down as follows:
Rush Conspiracy Part 1: Every Undocumented Immigrant In America Had Advance Knowledge Of Obama's Enforcement Plan
According to Limbaugh, the wave of child migrants fleeing across the U.S. border away from Central American violence was a premeditated act orchestrated in part by undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who knew about Obama's plan. "That would explain why their parents put them on the train," said Limbaugh. "This is not an accident ... Somebody set this up." He elaborated on his theory further (emphasis added):
LIMBAUGH: Now we know why we have had this flood of illegal alien children for the last year. Every illegal alien in the US must have known this was coming, and they wanted to get their own anchor baby even if they had to adopt one.
The surge in child migrants travelling alone from Central America was in full swing in December 2012. According to reports, only people who have been living in the U.S. for at least 5 years would likely be eligible for deferred deportation and legal status (Other reports indicate the plan might only apply for those who have been in the country at least ten years).
Rush Conspiracy Part 2: The Obama Administration Painstakingly Placed Migrant Children With Undocumented Immigrant Adoptive Parents
Over the summer, some in right-wing media raised fears that the Obama administration "won't say where illegal immigrant children are going" once they arrive in the United States. Limbaugh's conspiracy pulls away the curtain -- Obama has been pairing migrant children with undocumented immigrant families, an act which, under Limbaugh's version of Obama's enforcement plan, will magically grant legal status to each child's adoptive parents (emphasis added):
Election experts have observed that a heavy dose of congressional redistricting after the 2010 elections has polarized the nation and given Republicans an advantage in elections for years to come, but the practice's impact on election outcomes was all but ignored during the major cable news outlets' 2014 election night broadcasts.
HBO's John Oliver did what many others in the media have not by shining a spotlight on the shadowy influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). But ALEC's latest initiative, which has its sights set on molding county and municipal governments, has deeper aspirations than even Oliver's show explored -- and has been almost entirely ignored by the media.
ALEC is an organization funded mostly by corporations and conservative organizations, whose purpose, according to Fortune magazine, is to "bring business-friendly state lawmakers together with lobbyists for corporations." ALEC drafts model legislation designed to push conservative corporate agendas at the state level and does not shy away from boasting about its outsized influence on local lawmakers.
The rash of discriminatory voter ID laws popping up across the country in the past couple of election cycles was largely fueled by ALEC. This year, the group has seen success dismantling clean energy standards.
On Last Week Tonight, John Oliver described ALEC succinctly as "a conservative bill mill which has helped develop model legislation from Arizona's notorious SB 1070 immigration bill to bills expanding private prisons, payday loan companies and for-profit colleges":
OLIVER: It's basically a conservative bill mill which has helped develop model legislation from Arizona's notorious SB 1070 immigration bill to bills expanding private prisons, payday loan companies and for-profit colleges, all of which we've talked about on this very show. In fact, I'm going to list ALEC in the credits for our show as associate producer of creating horrifying things for us to talk about. Great work, ALEC! See you at the end-of-season wrap party, you pieces of shit.
The thing is, ALEC is everywhere. Roughly 1 in 4 state legislators are members, and it's not hard to see why. ALEC makes their jobs troublingly easy. Here's their model electricity freedom bill, which at one point says, "be it therefore enacted that the state of, insert state, repeals the renewable energy mandate." So, as long as you can remember and spell the name of your state, you can introduce legislation.
One reason the group has been able to remain relatively free from public scrutiny is that the media has traditionally failed to cover the connections between ALEC members serving in state legislatures and the ALEC model legislation influencing the bills they introduce -- an issue so blatant that, as Oliver points out, occasionally text is lifted word-for-word from ALEC model bills.
The good news is that over the past couple of years, ALEC's operation has been more frequently exposed to the light of day, and the group has seen sponsors scamper away as a result.
The bad news is that ALEC is expanding its influence to a hyper-local level, which even Last Week Tonight overlooked.
In August, ALEC launched an initiative to take its model legislation beyond statehouses and into city councils and county commissions. This new spinoff, the American City County Exchange, "will push policies such as contracting with companies to provide services such as garbage pick-up and eliminating collective bargaining, a municipal echo of the parent group's state strategies." The corporate influence of the initiative is poignantly illustrated by the group's membership fee disparity: Local council members and county commissioners are required to pay a nominal $100 for a two-year membership. Meanwhile, prospective private industry members must choose between a $10,000 and $25,000 membership fee.
According to a search of the Nexis database, only a tiny number of print news outlets have reported on the new initiative. And as local media outlets face extinction or the possibility of being gobbled up by billionaire media moguls, it falls to the larger outlets that remain to lead the way.
Fox News went to bat for a Virginia lobbyist-turned-farmer unhappy with the easement restrictions agreed to as a condition on the purchase of her property, characterizing the execution of the easement as an attempted "land grab" and government invasion.
On the October 22 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade summarized the story of farmer and right-wing political activist Martha Boneta with the tease, "Caught on camera: A woman's farm invaded by the government." Boneta appeared for an interview to explain how, in the words of co-host Steve Doocy, a "land grab" of her farm was in the works.
Boneta, a GOP donor and so-called "Tea party farmer," complained that because the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) owns conservation easements on her land, the group is conducting "invasive" and "abusive" inspections of the property. She proclaimed, "What we have here is an organization that has the power over thousands of acres of American farm land and yet there is no accountability to the American people or the democratic process."
Conservation easements are legally binding agreements entered into by private parties. And PEC is a private party, with a private property right attached to Boneta's farm that the organization's representatives are responsible for inspecting. Boneta's claim that PEC is "an organization that has the power over thousands of acres of American farm land" is simply her devious way of describing the basic right of a person or organization to purchase and own property and control the conditions upon which they transfer that property.
Conservative media outlets, including Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham, are fanning the flames of Ebola panic and anti-immigrant sentiment by highlighting the unfounded opinions of fringe medical expert Dr. Elizabeth Vliet, the former director of an organization that claimed that undocumented immigrants caused a leprosy epidemic.
After news outlets reported the discovery of an Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States, radio host and Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham hosted Dr. Elizabeth Vliet to inform listeners about the disease. Vliet used the platform to accuse President Obama of "underplaying the risk" of Ebola and suggested the disease could be transmitted through the air, an opinion that runs contrary to widespread medical opinion.
Vliet's facts are completely wrong about Ebola's transmission. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that Ebola "is not spread through the air." A Vox report points out that "basically every health agency in the world agrees" that Ebola cannot be transmitted through the air.
Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham responded to an intruder compromising security at the White House by suggesting "political correctness" played into the Obama administration's decision to hire a female Secret Service agent to guard the entrance, comparing the decision to the nomination of Julia Pierson as the first female director of the agency.
Reports surfaced on September 29 that a man who leapt over the fence of the White House made it all the way into the East Room before being apprehended. Some reports, based on comments from Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Utah), suggested the intruder confronted and overpowered a female Secret Service agent inside the White House entrance.
Ingraham zeroed in on the reported presence of the female Secret Service agent on the September 30 edition of her radio show, comparing the selection of a female agent to that of Julia Pierson, the first female director of the Secret Service, saying, "You get the sense at some point that it's the 'first' that's more important than the common sense."
INGRAHAM: They brought in a woman, first female director -- remember the Obama administration loves firsts. You get the sense at some point that it's the first that's more important than the common sense.
What works -- let's do what works best, ok? Is it to have a woman there or is it just to have a really strong person there? A big, hulking person. Female, male, I don't care. But you get the sense that the first is what really drives their -- floats their boat. They want to be historic. They want it to be an historic appointment, instead of thinking, 'gee, maybe we just need the best people.'
Earlier that morning, on Fox News' Fox & Friends, Ingraham said "political correctness could have been a factor here."
INGRAHAM: The idea that this guy could get in, and then overpower an agent, who I guess was female -- and there are a lot of female agents that are really strong and large. I mean, you do get the sense at some point that political correctness could have been a factor here, right? Because the new female director, who's going to be questioned today, Julia Pierson, came in after that Colombia prostitute scandal with the Secret Service. She's gonna face tough questions. She was a proud career civil servant -- 30 years with the Secret Service. But you do get the sense that with this administration that all these decisions about who gets what position and where they're stationed -- political correctness comes into the decision-making, and this is no place for political correctness. The strongest, biggest, best people have to be at the front of the White House always.
Ingraham's comments about gender come on the heels of her show last week, in which the host suggested that teaching young girls to dress modestly is an important step toward avoiding objectification, misogyny, and date rape.
Laura Ingraham suggested that teaching young girls to dress modestly is an important step toward avoiding objectification, misogyny, and even date rape.
The ABC News contributor and conservative radio host spent a significant portion of her radio program on September 26 praising a Utah high school for refusing entry to about a dozen girls at a homecoming dance because of their "immodest" dresses. According to Ingraham, the teenagers were dressed to appear ten years older, and she argued that while the nation is focused on preventing date rape and misogyny, we should "start with the way we appear in public":
INGRAHAM: These are still girls. There are probably young women, probably 9th or 10th grade. And at the same time we're worried about date rape. At the same time we're worried about misogynistic behavior or making comments about peoples' appearances and bullying and all these other things. How about start with the way we appear in public. The way we treat people. How we speak to them. The language we use. And I'm sure a lot of these girls that dress this way, I'm sure they don't know any better.
"If we are trying to remind people that it's what's inside that counts, your heart, your spirit, the whole person," Ingraham instructed, "let's really ensure that the first thing a young boy sees in a girl is not her cleavage, or, you know, her pubic area because her skirt is so short."
On her Facebook page, Ingraham similarly asked, "Do you think girls dress in a way that invites trouble?"
The third anniversary of the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) found the U.S. military intact and stronger than ever. Despite the utter failure of their previous doomsday predictions to materialize, the same voices of opposition to DADT are now making similar prophecies about potential moves to lift the military's discriminatory ban on transgender people.
Challenges remain for lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members. Three years removed from the repeal of DADT, they still face harassment, discrimination and difficulties obtaining veterans' benefits. One obstacle to equality looms particularly heavy post-DADT: the prohibition on transgender service.
The Pentagon currently prohibits transgender people from serving in the armed forces, a ban that forces over 15,000 men and women currently serving to lie about their identities and deters countless others from enlisting. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has indicated the military may review this policy, which, according to the Palm Center, a research institute focused on sexuality and the military, is without sound medical reasoning and could be lifted without harming readiness.
Unsurprisingly, conservative pundits have railed against proposals to lift the transgender ban.
Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay hate group Family Research Center (FRC) and one of Fox News' favorite social commentators, wrote in a March FRC newsletter that lifting the ban on transgender service members would be a "fatal blow to unit cohesion and readiness" that "could compromise our troops' safety." Perkins tied the issue to military sexual assault rates.
Elaine Donnelly, the president of the anti-gay Center for Military Readiness (who once said that human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were a result of allowing women in the military) echoed Perkins, calling the idea of transgender military service an experiment that puts "an extra burden on men and women in the military that they certainly don't need or they don't deserve" and suggesting it would lead to an increase in sexual assaults.
Conservative commentator Erick Erickson ranted against the mere disclosure of the estimate that 15,000 transgender people are currently serving, and said that President Obama has "turned our military into some sort of weird social experiment." Meanwhile, right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh mocks the idea that transgender people should be allowed in the military with repeated uses of the term "tranny" and his token phrase "add-a-dick-to-me babe."
If the rhetoric sounds familiar, it should. Conservative media used the same attacks in their attempts to preserve DADT or replace it with a discriminatory policy even more extreme.
Three years ago, Perkins argued that repealing DADT would increase military sexual assault rates, undermine morale, and damage recruitment. Donnelly warned that after repealing DADT, "lesbians would take pictures of people in the shower" and gay service members might spread HIV through the ranks.
Erickson predicted the military bureaucracy would "go to war with Obama on the battlefield of public opinion" after DADT, while Limbaugh called the repeal "special treatment" for the gay community and intimated that it would lead to problems with "predation" and sexual harassment:
LIMBAUGH: Now, here's a question. It's an open-ended question. Will straight soldiers, heterosexuals, be able to claim sexual harassment by gays in the military? Or will such claims now be considered hate crimes? How is this gonna play out? Well, you know, because in our culture there are certain templates. It's like women never lie about rape, yet we got this ABC weather babe, you know, women never lie. Children never lie, yet we know that they do. This notion that there is predation in the homosexual community, oh, that never happens. Well, yeah, just like it never happens in the heterosexual. Of course it does. There are predators everywhere out there. Hate crimes are, if you're thinking about it, well, it's even worse than the crime that you commit. So anyway, it's a lot of stuff to shake out, so to speak.
These fears, predictably, proved unfounded. According to a Palm Center report published a year after the repeal of DADT:
Based on the substantial evidence we gathered in our research, we conclude that, during the one-year period following implementation of the policy change, DADT repeal has had no negative impact on overall military readiness or its component parts: unit cohesion, recruitment, retention, assaults, harassment or morale. While repeal produced a few downsides for some military members--mostly those who personally opposed the policy change--we identified important upsides as well, and in no case did negative consequences outweigh advantages. On balance, DADT repeal appears to have slightly enhanced the military's ability to do its job by clearing away unnecessary obstacles to the development of trust and bonding.
Such hateful attacks on transgender service members should disqualify these discredited pundits from commenting on the issue, but with the debate over lifting the transgender service ban heating up, it remains to be seen if media will finally stop offering them opportunities to comment.
Fox & Friends celebrated Sesame Street's 45th birthday by hosting Muppet characters Grover and Abby Cadabby for a light-hearted appearance congratulating them on their longevity. But if the network had gotten its way in 2012, Grover wouldn't have made it past the age of 44 with his show's funding intact.
The Sesame Street program is celebrating the kickoff of its 45th season on PBS, and two iconic Sesame Street characters -- Grover and Abby Cadabby -- visited the set of Fox & Friends on September 17 to answer trivia questions and play and sing with the hosts. Co-host Steve Doocy congratulated the Muppets on their show's durability, and Fox's Heather Childers noted how she "loved Sesame Street as a kid." An on-screen graphic promoted upcoming episodes with the words "More Sunny Days Ahead."
But not long ago, Fox News went all-in attacking Sesame Street and PBS. After then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney called for an end to public funding for Sesame Street and other public broadcasting in 2012, Fox began lobbing personal attacks at the program's most iconic figure -- Big Bird -- in an effort to demonize the show's reception of federal money.