Many Fox News hosts and pundits rushed to brand recently released Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl as a deserter and a traitor, but Shepard Smith took a different line by saying he was "disgusted" by the rush to judgment, cautioning that Bergdahl is innocent until proven guilty.
On May 31, the White House announced it had secured the release of Bergdahl from the hands of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Right-wing critics of President Obama began reporting as fact that Bergdahl had been a deserter and collaborated with the enemy, despite the fact that an investigation into the matter has not yet taken place.
On the June 3 edition of Shepard Smith Reporting, host Smith took umbrage at the reporting, saying, "If you desert or commit treason, you have to be proved to have done so. We can't just decide because some people come on television and yakety yak, and we've got a report of this and a report of that and that's what happened. As the Army said, as the Pentagon said, you bring them home. You bring them home first, and then you investigate."
Fox News broadcast a story on immigration with on-screen text that read "Illegal Dumping," evoking a connection between immigrants and garbage.
On the June 4 edition of Fox & Friends, host Steve Doocy teased an upcoming segment about undocumented immigrants, apprehended in Texas and awaiting deportation proceedings, being dropped off at a Phoenix bus station by the Department of Homeland Security. Images of children disembarking from buses were displayed on screen with text that read "Illegal Dumping," a phrase commonly used to describe the unlawful disposal of garbage or other unwanted items.
Fox has a history blanketing its immigration reporting with controversial terms and text. Last year, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists condemned the network for smearing the children of undocumented immigrants as "Children of the Corn." And Fox frequently draws connections between undocumented immigrants and violent criminals.
Fox News wasted no time tying the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American captive held by the Taliban, to the 2012 Benghazi attacks.
Bergdahl, an American captive held by the Taliban since 2009, was released on May 31, pursuant to an agreement between the White House, the government of Qatar (acting as an intermediary), and the Taliban. Right-wing media responded to the exchange of five Guantanamo detainees for Bergdahl with attacks and misinformation.
Fox News quickly linked the prisoner exchange to the 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi. Appearing on Fox host Sean Hannity's radio program, Fox correspondent Catherine Herridge speculated on the timing of Bergdahl's release, suggesting it was "interesting" because the deal was struck just as excerpts from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's forthcoming memoir appeared in the news.
HERRIDGE: What I do find significant, and I don't know if you would agree with me or not, is how the talking point coming out of the White House is clearly that they are determined not to leave our service men and women behind. I don't know if this is a coincidence, or whether I'm in effect reading too much into it, but I find it interesting or noteworthy that that is the message out of the White House at the same time that the whole Benghazi controversy is going to be resurrected with Hillary Clinton's book and one of the main allegations is that the administration left our people behind to fend for themselves in Benghazi.
The hosts of Fox's The Five made a more explicit connection. Co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle set up a segment on the purported Bergdahl-Benghazi connection by noting that the Obama administration "says it's committed to leaving no man behind. That's why it's spent so much time trying to rescue former POW Bowe Bergdahl. But what about the four Americans killed in Benghazi?" Co-host Eric Bolling followed up by saying that, in contrast to the Bergdahl release, the Obama administration expressed no "sense of alarm" at the fact that Americans died in Benghazi.
Both hosts repeated the tired smear that the Obama administration didn't do everything it could to rescue the Americans under attack. The absurd and baseless implication that President Obama negotiated the release of an American captive in order to secure some kind of political gain demonstrates the lengths to which Fox News and right-wing media will go to politicize the tragedy. From missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 to the Chris Christie bridge scandal, Yom Kippur, and Monday Night Football, right-wing media and Fox News appear to see everything that happens through a Benghazi lens.
For more on the right-wing media's misinformation campaign on Benghazi, click here.
Fox News adoringly highlighted the story of a 92-year-old Texas woman after she started "raising a stink" about her struggle to vote under the state's new draconian voter ID law, treating her story as an isolated case and ignoring thousands of Americans disenfranchised by similar laws.
A stringent new voter ID law enacted June of 2013 in Texas obstructed the ability of 92-year-old resident Ruby Barber to cast a ballot. From the New York Daily News:
Ruby Barber, a senior citizen in the small town of Bellmead, Texas, had been unable to vote because she could not find her nearly century-old birth certificate that she'd need to obtain a voter ID under a new state law.
"I'm sure (my birth) was never reported because I was born in a farmhouse with a coal oil lamp," Barber, 92, told the Waco (Texas) Tribune. "Didn't have a doctor, just a neighbor woman come in and (delivered) me."
The host of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Martha MacCallum and reporter Casey Stegall offered glowing support for Barber and her struggle to vote, praising her plucky persistence to get back her right to vote. But Fox treated Barber's case as an isolated one -- a hiccup in an otherwise necessary policy to combat voter fraud.
The reality is that Barber represents a much larger group of Americans disenfranchised by Texas' new voter ID law where - up to 800,000 Texas voters, according to the League of Women Voters of Texas.
Dinesh D'Souza, the right-wing media darling who conservatives had claimed was targeted for prosecution because he is a critic of the Obama administration, has pleaded guilty to charges of campaign finance fraud.
D'Souza, famous for producing an anti-Barack Obama film rife with lies and outlandish claims, was indicted by the FBI in January and accused of violating campaign finance laws by "arranging excessive campaign contributions to a candidate for the U.S. Senate," and allegedly reimbursing "people who he had directed to contribute $20,000" to the unnamed candidate. On May 20 D'Souza pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws and making false statements. He will be sentenced in September and likely faces imprisonment of ten to 16 months.
Right-wing media figures -- many of whom went to bat for D'Souza's flawed film -- rallied to the filmmaker's defense following his initial indictment, claiming he was being prosecuted for his political beliefs. Fox News host Sean Hannity labeled D'Souza "the latest victim to be targeted by the Obama White House." Matt Drudge accused Attorney General Eric Holder of "unleashing the dog" on "Obama critics," and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones responded to the charges, saying, "This is like Nazi Germany ... once they're done with these guys, they're coming after you and I." Radio host Laura Ingraham characterized the indictment as being "more about stifling political dissent" than any serious allegations of wrongdoing, and Rush Limbaugh described it as an effort to "criminalize" conservatives.
During one such interview in February, Fox host Megyn Kelly said the charges "raised red flags for some because D'Souza, who has pleaded not guilty, is behind the box office hit 2016: Obama's America, a film that is very critical of the president." D'Souza responded that he couldn't speak about the case specifically, but that he knows "for a fact" that Obama was personally unnerved by his film and said, "I am a public critic of the president, and I do recognize this has made me, to some degree, vulnerable to some forms of counter-attack."
This right-wing media defense was reportedly part of a deliberate plan by D'Souza. The New York Times reported in April that, in a conversation with one of his alleged straw donors, D'Souza said 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.'"
Conservative pundits were more than happy to oblige this desire. Now will those who championed D'Souza's virtuousness finally condemn his crimes?
For her part, Ingraham will not. She responded immediately to news of the plea by downplaying the seriousness of the crime and doubling down on her claim that D'Souza was prosecuted for political reasons.
The Media Research Center (MRC) drew an ugly and factually inaccurate comparison between billionaire Warren Buffett's charitable donations to women's health organizations and felon Kermit Gosnell, a convicted murderer who performed botched, illegal abortions.
A May 13 post from the Media Research Center (MRC) labeled Buffett the "billion-dollar king of abortion," alleging that the Berkshire Hathaway CEO financed "abortion groups" to the tune of $1.2 billion via the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation. The MRC piece, as well as a FoxNews.com op-ed written by MRC's Dan Gainor, tried to make the case that Buffett and convicted murderer Gosnell are two sides of the same abortionist coin:
May 13, 2014, marks one year since Philadelphia abortion Dr. Kermit Gosnell was convicted of first-degree murder "in the deaths of three babies who were delivered alive and then killed with scissors at his grimy, 'house of horrors' clinic," according to the Associated Press. Gosnell instantly became the face of abortion in the prolife community.
But there's another, more recognizable face pushing abortion in the U.S. - liberal billionaire Warren Buffett. The so-called "Oracle of Omaha" has donated more than $1.2 billion to abortion organizations from 2001 to 2012.
That's equal to the cost of roughly 2.7 million first-trimester abortions - more than twice the number of abortions that occur in an entire year in the United States. Unlike Gosnell, however, everything Buffett has done has been entirely legal. But Buffett does share something else in common with the abortionist. Both their stories have been largely unreported.
Conservative outlets like FreeBeacon.com and The Drudge Report echoed MRC's accusations.
The conservative media figures who lionized racist Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy made a feeble attempt at saving face by claiming this entire saga was never about Bundy, it was always about "land grabs" that are depriving hard-working Americans of their property rights. Yet some of these same figures have turned a blind eye to the actual land grabs taking place across the heartland of America at the hands of fossil fuel interests and the Republican state legislators that have supported their cause.
Fox News abandoned the rancher, and some of his most vocal cheerleaders in right-wing media distanced themselves from his racist remarks, while remaining loyal to his cause. "The ranch standoff," remarked Fox News host Sean Hannity, "was not about a man named Cliven Bundy." Instead, he argued, it was about average Americans being "victimized by eminent domain."
Bundy's standoff had nothing whatsoever to do with eminent domain, as he did not own the land that he was grazing his cattle on without payment. But the oil and gas industry, wielding the power of state eminent domain statutes, has actually snatched away land from ranchers in middle America.
If we take Hannity at his word that he believes himself to be the champion of average Americans whose homes have been threatened by land grabs, then one would imagine he's used his prominent public profile to help folks like Julia Trigg Crawford, a north Texas property owner whose land was unceremoniously stripped away from her control by TransCanada, the oil company pushing for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Despite Crawford's objections, TransCanada went forward with the construction and subsequent operation of the southern portions of the pipeline on her property thanks to a Texas statute that "grants eminent domain authority to pipeline companies that simply check a box on a one-page form." Her case is currently in court.
One would also imagine that Hannity has championed the cause of Raymond Hill, who had part of his land seized after he refused TransCanada's offers to buy his part of his land in east Texas because he wanted to preserve the peace and quiet his property offered. Crawford and Hill are just two of dozens of landowners in Texas whose property has been seized by TransCanada to build the Keystone XL pipeline.
Instead, Hannity and others in right-wing media have been highlighting another bogus dispute in Texas over federal land that has been settled law for decades -- trying to frame it as the Bureau of Land Management trampling the rights of law-abiding Americans.
Following weeks of campaigning to turn Nevada welfare rancher Cliven Bundy into an American folk hero for anti-government conservatives, Sean Hannity responded to Bundy's recent racist comments, calling them "deplorable" but maintaining that the real issue is government overreach.
After Bundy and his armed supporters threatened violence against federal law enforcement officials attempting to execute court orders pertaining to his decades-long trespasses on federal land, Hannity and others in the right-wing media rallied around the rancher and fanned the flames of a stand-off between the parties. Hannity hosted the rancher on his radio program and Fox News show multiple times, praising the rancher for being "willing to fight" the federal government.
Bundy has said he doesn't recognize the federal government's existence and issued threats of violence to government authorities intent on holding him accountable for breaking the law, but it was a racist tirade to the press and supporters -- in which Bundy speculated that black Americans might be "better off as slaves, picking cotton" rather than "being under government subsidy" -- that finally caused Hannity to distance himself somewhat from the rancher.
Caught between a choice of denouncing or embracing a man he's spent countless hours building up as a freedom-loving David entrenched in a battle against the Goliath of federal government, Hannity instead chose to reject and deflect -- arguing on his prime time news show that though Bundy's comments were racist, bigoted, and "beyond disturbing," the real issue is that government is out of control. From the show:
Fox News gave Republican senate candidate Rep. Tom Cotton (AK) the royal treatment, giving airtime to his latest campaign ad and inviting him on for a softball interview with host Eric Bolling, who failed to challenge Cotton on his faulty assertions that the Affordable Care Act is "failing" for the people of Arkansas.
Filling in for Neil Cavuto, Fox's Bolling took the reins of Fox's 4 p.m. show Your World and invited Cotton on the program for the second time this month. The Fox host aired the entirety of the senate candidate's latest campaign ad, then proceeded to ask a series of open-ended questions, many loaded with an anti-Democratic premise.
"I read somewhere where Senator Pryor said that he would vote for Obamacare if he had to do it all over again," Bolling said. "You want to comment on that?" Bolling then allowed Cotton the opportunity to attack the health care law as a "failure" without noting for Cotton or viewers that Obamacare is working for the people of Arkansas.
Conservative media figures that embody messages of misogyny and hate will take center stage at a GOP candidate forum in Iowa, despite the party's own acknowledgment that future electoral victories hinge upon the development of a more tolerant platform.
After Mitt Romney's loss in the 2012 presidential election, the Republican National Committee drafted a series of recommendations on how to evolve and grow the party into a force that can win consistently in the 21st century. To a large extent, the plan recommended reaching out to women and minorities, after Democrats won both groups by healthy margins that year. The RNC report recommended "developing a forward-leaning vision for voting Republican that appeals to women." It went on to suggest that the party needs "to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate that we care about them, too."
But in a move that seems in total opposition to those recommendations, the Iowa Republican candidates for U.S. Senate, as well as Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), have chosen to partner with Fox News contributor Erick Erickson, radio host Steve Deace, and The Family Leader, an anti-gay organization headed by Bob Vander Plaats, to conduct a forum for the candidates on April 25.
Despite his role as "moderator" for the event, Erickson's far-right views on women and minorities are anything but moderate. Erickson has argued that businesses that serve gay couples are "aiding and abetting" sin, that proposed anti-discrimination laws are part of a war on Christians waged by "evil" gay rights activists, and that marriage equality is akin to incest. According to the pundit, gay people are definitely "on the road to hell."