Nothing captures the absurdity and insincerity of conservative media quite like Comedy Central's The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Media Matters takes a look back at Stewart and Colbert's best takedowns of 2014.
As a polar vortex entombed much of the nation in freezing temperatures in January, right-wing media went into high gear trying to exploit the weather event as evidence that global warming is a myth. Scientists disagree with this claim, and as Time's Bryan Walsh noted, "not only does the cold spell not disprove climate change, it may well be that global warming could be making the occasional bout of extreme cold weather in the U.S. even more likely."
Jon Stewart nipped the narrative in the bud on the January 6 edition of The Daily Show.
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly interviewed President Obama before the NFL's Super Bowl XLVIII and used the opportunity to rattle through a series of questions about the many phony scandals ginned up by his network over the previous months.
On the February 4 edition of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart defended Obama's combative response to some of O'Reilly's questions, noting that it's true that Fox News promotes and generates scandals for the sole purpose of undermining his presidency.
"That is exactly what Fox does every day," said Stewart. "With the exception of the one hour every two weeks where John Stossel exposes how homeless people are scamming the system."
In late February, Bill O'Reilly joined a chorus of conservative media figures launching sexist attacks against Hillary Clinton, suggesting her gender would somehow disqualify her from serving as President of the United States. "There's got to be some downside to having a woman president, right?" asked O'Reilly.
Stephen Colbert agreed on the March 5 edition of The Colbert Report, satirically noting that the election of a female president like Clinton would almost inevitably spark a chain of global reactions culminating in an Afghan invasion of America, shark attacks and the complete demise of the nation.
Right-wing media turned its attention to Nevada in April, when rancher Cliven Bundy orchestrated an armed stand-off with federal law enforcement officials trying to enforce millions of dollars in court judgments against him. Sean Hannity and others ran to the rancher's defense, holding him up as a champion against big government.
The Daily Show's Jon Stewart tried to wrap his head around the movement, noting that Bundy was in violation of the law and Hannity in particular purports to be a vigilant advocate for the rule of law -- when it suits him.
Conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch joined aspiring Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) at the Kentucky Derby in May, prompting questions about the influence Murdoch's media empire -- including Fox News -- could play in boosting Paul's political aspirations.
On the May 6 edition of The Colbert Report, Colbert congratulated Paul on catching Murdoch's eye, but warned that the mogul might still be "playing the field" when it comes to 2016.
In June, the Obama administration negotiated the release of America's last remaining U.S. service member being held behind enemy lines -- Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Conservatives rushed to scandalize the event and smear Bergdahl as a deserter, going so far as to suggest his father's long beard made him look like a Muslim, and thus in their minds was more likely to share a hatred for America with his son.
On the June 9 edition of The Daily Show, Stewart lambasted Fox News' obsession with the beard, pointing out the obvious -- "Not all Muslims have beards, and not all people with beards are Muslims."
In July, the influx of undocumented minors fleeing violence in Central America by way of the U.S.-Mexico border had grown into a humanitarian crisis. Right-wing media used the problem to criticize Obama anytime he was seen enjoying a leisure activity. One of the loudest complaints was that the president was photographed playing pool in Colorado when he should have been, according to conservatives, touring the Texas border.
His actions were even worse than previously attempts to destroy America, Colbert explained on July 15. Obama was now "slacking off at destroying America." Colbert went on: "It's clear what's going on here. The president has senioritis."
On August 9, unarmed teenager Michael Brown was gunned down by a Ferguson, MO police officer. His death sparked outrage and protests across the country against police brutality and systemic discrimination against young, black men. Yet conservative media leaped to demonize Brown, blaming him for his death and staunchly denying the fact that law enforcement treats African-Americans with any less respect than they do whites.
Stewart called them out on The Daily Show, asking "Do you not understand that life in this country is inherently different for white people and black people?" Citing the fact that white Fox hosts expressed more outrage over the imaginary 'War on Christmas' than they have over the existence of racism, Stewart argued: "Imagine that if instead of having to suffer the indignity of [the War on Christmas], imagine that instead of that, on a pretty consistent basis, you can't get a cab, even though you're a neurosurgeon, because you're black."
Footage of Obama saluting Marines with a cup in his hand as he exited Marine One elicited horror from right-wing media, who feigned shock at the "disrespectful" and "degrading" salute. Hannity accused Obama of having "complete disrespect for the men in women in uniform" and asked, "Would President Bush ever do that?"
Of course, several photos exist of Bush saluting troops while cradling his Scottish Terrier, Barney, in his arms. Stewart blasted Hannity for his "cognitive dissonance" on September 25, answering his question about Bush: "Would President Bush ever salute the troops with a cup of coffee in his hand? And the answer is no. Because his hands were too filled with dog."
Conservative media stood up as defenders of street harassment in October, building off their frequent denial of gender inequality to lecture women on being appreciative of catcalling and harassment. Fox's The Five, for instance, justified catcalls by arguing that men "mean it in a nice way" or in admiration of a woman's youth.
The Daily Show exposed the ridiculousness of such mentality on October 2, imaging a world where women gush over "competing in a beauty pageant on the way to work every day."
In November, Obama took executive action to prioritize the deportations of dangerous undocumented immigrants and grant certain other immigrants the right to stay and work in the U.S. The plan was met with cries of "tyranny" and "Emperor Obama" from right-wing media figures, who accused the president of issuing "executive amnesty."
Colbert mocked the hyperbole on the November 20 edition of The Colbert Report, playing Halloween horror music and declaring, "My great grandfather did not come here from Ireland to see this country overrun by immigrants":
When Eric Garner was killed after Staten Island police placed him in a chokehold, medical examiners ruled his death a homicide. But in December, a grand jury declined to indict the officer who killed him, reigniting protests around the country over racial discrimination in law enforcement. Garner's last words, "I Can't Breathe," became a rallying cry for justice -- and a target for conservative media. Fox News went to great lengths to defend the police and criminalize Garner, accusing those who highlighted systemic racism as disrespectful to law enforcement.
Stewart went on the offensive following the grand jury decision, refuting conservative's refrain that the criminal justice system is applied equally to all races:
Fox News devoted a mere 16 minutes to Benghazi the day of the House Select Committee's second hearing on the attacks, a congressional investigation the network invested years to create.
Right-wing media, and Fox News in particular, have exhausted more than 1,000 segments over the past two years in a breathless effort to manufacture a political controversy out of the 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya that left four American personnel dead. The culmination of this slog of right-wing lies was the formation of the GOP-led House Select Committee on Benghazi, which the network had demanded.
As the committee held its second hearing December 10, however, Fox paid it little mind. The network never cut to broadcast the hearing live, as it's done many times before during previous Benghazi hearings. And between 6 am and 3 pm, Fox devoted only 16 minutes and three seconds to any discussion of Benghazi at all.
Many of those 16 minutes discussed Benghazi without acknowledging the ongoing hearing. The network devoted several minutes to discussing details from The Wall Street Journal on a recently released State Department review of security in Benghazi. Fox's mid-day talk show Outnumbered spent much of its airtime suggesting the Benghazi attacks would spell trouble for any Hillary Clinton presidential campaign (there remains no evidence to support this assumption). Outnumbered's Benghazi segment lasted nearly 9 minutes, accounting for more than half the network's Benghazi coverage for the day.
Happening Now, the 11 AM news show broadcast during most of the Select Committee hearing, ignored the topic of Benghazi altogether.
This apparent ennui regarding the Select Committee's endeavors comes on the heels of a November House Intelligence Committee report reaffirming that many of the Benghazi smears peddled by Fox and others were distortions of the truth or outright lies. Previous nonpartisan investigations have done the same.
Nevertheless, Fox News led up to Wednesday's hearing with a smattering of attacks on the Intelligence Committee report, suggesting it was "soft" on the Obama administration.
Methodology: Data based on a Snapstream search for "Benghazi" among Fox News Channel transcripts from 6 AM - 3 pm on December 10, 2014.
Fox's John Stossel claimed that "there is no good data showing secondhand smoke kills people," ignoring years of studies and a 2014 Surgeon General report that determined millions of Americans have died as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke.
On the December 4 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, John Stossel pointed to anti-smoking legislation as an example of needless government interference in Americans' personal freedoms. He justified his position with the claim that "no good data" exists demonstrating that secondhand smoke kills people (emphasis added):
KILMEADE: America is called the land of the free. But is it really? A recent study finding Americans assessment of their personal freedom has fallen dramatically. In 2010, the U.S. Was ranked number nine out of 140 countries. That ranking in terms of freedom has now dropped to 21. John Stossel saw that stat and has taken action. He blames control freaks. Who are these people, you ask? They are your elected officials. The host of "Stossel" on our sister network Fox Business Channel is here to explain prior to his show tonight. John, what are you talking about? How did we lose these freedoms?
STOSSEL: They always want to help us. We're going to make you a little safer. So they pass another rule, and another rule. The president released 3,000 right before Thanksgiving. They never take them away. Take cigarette smoking. Yeah, they kill smokers. But there is no good data showing secondhand smoke kills people. Nevertheless, banned -- I don't smoke. I'm glad they banned it on airplanes and places. But can't smokers have some bars? In 22 states, no bars. It used to be no smoking sections. Now nowhere can a smoker gather with people.
KILMEADE: Right. Now they say the number is 22,527 U.S. municipalities have banned it. You're saying if I'm a business owner, whether I like smoking or not, if I think I can make a profit by having a smoking restaurant, I should be able to have it.
STOSSEL: It's your property, yeah, why can't you? What happened to freedom?
Nearly 2.5 million Americans have died as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke since 1964, according to a 2014 Surgeon General's report prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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.