The witness list for the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on Loretta Lynch, the highly regarded nominee for attorney general, indicates the process will be a forum for right-wing media favorites and myths but will have little to do with her qualifications.
Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, has long been praised across the political spectrum as a model federal prosecutor. Lynch has been confirmed twice as a U.S. attorney -- including by some of the same Republican senators now in control of the Judiciary Committee -- and news of her nomination in November brought a new round of support, including from conservative law enforcement sources.
Current New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton called Lynch "a remarkable prosecutor with a clear sense of justice without fear or favor." Former FBI director Louis Freeh wrote in a letter to Judiciary Committee leadership that he couldn't think of "a more qualified nominee" and was "happy to give Ms. Lynch my highest personal and professional recommendation." Freeh also wrote that he had spoken with "several of my former judicial colleagues who echo this support, and note that Ms. Lynch has gained a terrific reputation for effectively, fairly and independently enforcing the law." Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who worked with Lynch on an infamous police brutality case, has said "if I were in the Senate, I would confirm her."
Fringe right-wing media outlets and figures initially ignored this broad support and attacked Lynch anyway. The effort was spectacularly unsuccessful, as they mixed up the nominee with an entirely different Loretta Lynch and then claimed that her membership in Delta Sigma Theta, one of the country's leading African-American sororities, was "controversial."
Leading Fox News figures were better informed about the New York nominee, most notably News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch, who immediately noted Lynch had a "reputation for fairness and strict legality." In an O'Reilly Factor segment with Megyn Kelly on November 10, Bill O'Reilly said he was "heartened" she would be the new attorney general. In response, Kelly praised Lynch:
KELLY: I have to say that I think this is the person who should be the most acceptable to the right wing or the Republicans in this country of anybody who President Obama was considering. She is a straight shooter. First of all, she would be the first black female attorney general, right? I mean, that in and of itself is a pretty amazing accomplishment. Went to Harvard undergrad, went to Harvard Law School. She has no close ties to the White House. She is not some firm ideologue or partisan. She has prosecuted Democrats and Republicans. She's been a hero on gang crime, on terrorism.
Republican senators have been similarly honest about Lynch's record, admitting that she "seems to be a solid choice" and will instead use her hearing as a forum for grievances they have with the administration and outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder. The new chairman of the committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), told Politico: "All I can tell you is that immigration is going to be a big part of it. ... Not because of her views on immigration, but of the president's action on immigration and the extent of what she feels he's acted in a legal way."
Unfortunately, a review of the newly released witness list reveals that the Republican choices for this "proxy war of sorts" rely heavily on right-wing media favorites who frequently spread debunked smears and myths:
CNN contributor Newt Gingrich revived a debunked claim about Boko Haram's designation as a terror group in order to attack former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Speaking to attendees at the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Gingrich claimed that the Obama administration, currently and during Clinton's tenure at the State Department, is not doing enough to confront terrorism threats. As evidence, Gingrich pointed to Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group based in Nigeria, saying, "Boko Haram has ten thousand fighters, and last year Boko Haram killed more people than Ebola. But the State Department for years, under Secretary Clinton, wouldn't even list them as a terrorist group."
The implicit argument of Gingrich's attack is dishonest -- experts, including a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria appointed by President Bush, opposed designating Boko Haram a terror group out of concern it would empower the extremist group. Instead, in 2012 the State Department under Clinton designated the individual leaders of Boko Haram as "foreign terrorists." Reuters reported that the move was historic, noting it was the "first time [State] has blacklisted members of the Islamist group." Boko Harm went on to receive designation as a terrorist group in 2013.
Gingrich's smear was right out of the conservative media playbook. Fox News and other right-wing outlets spent considerable time suggesting Clinton and the Obama administration tried to appease Boko Haram, even suggesting the administration was partially responsible for the failure to save 300 young girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014.
Fox News established close ties with Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, as each used one another to amplify smears against the Obama administration related to the Benghazi attacks in 2012. Now Graham is cashing in the credibility and profile Fox and Benghazi helped him build, announcing he's exploring a run for president in 2016.
Fox News celebrated Duke University's decision to cancel planned weekly broadcasts of Muslim calls to prayer from the campus chapel, crediting viewers and outraged citizens' public outcry over the "unequal treatment" being given to Islam relative to Christianity for the university's reversal. But Fox reports glossed over the real reason behind Duke's move: security threats stemming from an anti-Islam backlash to the plan.
Duke University abandoned plans to allow Islamic students to broadcast a weekly call to prayer from the university chapel after receiving a "credible and serious security threat," according to a university spokesman. Raleigh's WRAL noted that the initial decision to allow the three-minute long calls to prayer "caused a national furor," citing a Facebook post by Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist Rev. Billy Graham, in which he attacked Duke's decision because "followers of Islam are raping, butchering, and beheading Christians, Jews, and anyone who doesn't submit to their Sharia Islamic law."
Fox News, which also responded to the initial announcement with outrage, celebrated the university's reversal. On Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy validated the public outcry, saying "There is no amplified Christian message ... It just seemed like they were including the Muslim faith, but they were excluding all the others." He attributed Duke's reversal to viewers contacting the university: "A lot of you made your opinion known, a lot of people contacted Duke, and they have done a 180."
Co-host Brian Kilmeade consoled Duke's Muslim community by saying, "If you do want to pray at the right time, you can get a watch."
Doocy briefly acknowledged that a security threat played into the university's decision, but glossed over its impact or the nature of the threat. Later, a news report on Fox's America's Newsroom ignored the security threat entirely, as host Martha MacCallum quipped, "Community outcry prompted this change ... They got some word from donors as well, from what I hear. That helped them expedite that decision."
While Fox celebrated the successful outcry, Omid Safi, director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center, told The Atlantic that there were "numerous verified instances of credible threats" against members of the university community:
"My disappointment is primarily directed toward people who find it acceptable to have recourse to violence, even the threat of violence, to make the point they want to make--particularly if they see these threats as being substantiated by their own religious conviction," Safi said. "We all know about the Muslim community having our crazies, but it seems like we don't have a monopoly on it."
These threats follow weeks of ramped up Islamophobic vitriol on Fox News and right-wing media as a whole, in which conservatives have largely abandoned even the appearance of tolerance after attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. One Fox host brazenly confessed, "I'm an Islamophobe ... You can call me it all you want. "He was joined by a carousel of extreme voices pushing myths about the dangers of the Muslim community.
In the wake of deadly terrorist attacks on a satirical newspaper in Paris, Rush Limbaugh declared, "There has never been an anti-Muslim backlash after any act of Muslim terror."
Limbaugh's statement, which he made on his January 8 radio show, is wrong on every level. In addition to the vicious rhetorical backlash against the Muslim faith from conservative media figures, Agence France-Presse reported on January 8 that at least three mosques in France have been attacked since the event.
The public backlash against the Muslim community -- and communities perceived to be Muslim -- after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon has been well-documented.
Fox News anchor and Supreme Court correspondent Shannon Bream reacted to a Paris terror attack by suggesting certain skin tones are more typical of "bad guys" than others.
On the January 7 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered, the panel of hosts discussed the terror attack on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that left 12 dead. Co-host Kennedy Montgomery suggested profiling may not always be an effective prevention policy because "sometimes bad guys don't look like bad guys."
Bream echoed the sentiment and wondered whether the ability to identify the skin color of the assailants in Paris would have helped law enforcement in this case. Bream suggested profiling may not be effective in situations where criminals are wearing masks or where the tone of their skin doesn't "look like typical bad guys," apparently implying that certain skin tones should raise red flags for law enforcement:
BREAM: That's my question about these guys. If we know they were speaking unaccented French and they had ski masks on, do we even know what color they were, what the tone of their skin was? I mean, what if they didn't look like typical bad guys? As we define them when we think about terror groups.
The hosts also weighed other options for preventing similar attacks in the United States. Montgomery recommended arming all American citizens, saying, "I think the best thing that Americans can do is arm themselves."
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.