The right-wing's Benghazi scandal-mongering entered the realm of self-parody after Fox News let Sen. Lindsey Graham blame the Russian invasion of Ukraine on the Obama administration's handling of the 2012 attacks in Libya -- the latest attempt in a series of conservative alchemy experiments trying to turn tragedy into political gold.
On March 4, Sen. Graham (R-SC) tweeted that the crisis in Ukraine "started with Benghazi," blaming the Obama administration's response to the attacks for 'inviting' aggression from Russia.
Graham made the same accusation on March 3 during Fox News' On The Record with Greta Van Susteren. At Van Susteren's prompting, Graham claimed that the Russian aggression in Ukraine "in many ways started with Benghazi, when our consulate was overrun and our first ambassador was killed in thirty-something years in the line of duty ... You're sending absolutely the wrong signal to our foes."
VAN SUSTEREN: I can't tell whether you ripped the president more on foreign policy or the Washington Post Editorial Board when they described it fantasy. But you said that the president has a weak and indecisive policy that invites aggression.
GRAHAM: Right. This is a symptom of greater problem. It really, in many ways, started with Benghazi, when our consulate was overrun and our first ambassador was killed in thirty-something years in the line of duty. Three other brave Americans died and not one person has been held accountable. You're sending absolutely the wrong signal to our foes around the country.
The bizarre claim was swiftly ridiculed, but it didn't even seem to register with the Fox host. That's hardly surprising -- right-wing attempts to smear political opponents with Benghazi attacks have been disconnected from reality for some time.
As Russian president Vladimir Putin flexes his military muscles by invading Ukraine in violation of multiple international treaties, right-wing pundits are fawning over the "macho" leader's strength while complaining that President Obama wears "mom jeans" and is weak on foreign policy.
In the wake of Russia's apparent invasion of the Crimean Peninsula -- an area within the sovereign territory of Ukraine -- right-wing media have renewed their crush on the Russian leader, praising his strength and equestrian skills after TIME's Michael Crowley tweeted a photo of Obama on a bicycle and Putin on a horse, saying the juxtaposition "does kind of capture the moment."
Fox Nation made the photo its "Pic of the Day" and published a "highlight reel of Putin doing macho things" like "performing karate," riding a horse and a motorcycle (though disappointingly not at the same time), and tranquilizing a tiger.
Fox host Bill O'Reilly discussed the photo on his primetime show March 3rd, saying the photo depicted the "contrasting styles" of Putin and Obama. "Putin sees himself as a macho man who's going to do pretty much what he wants," O'Reilly said. "The president sees himself as a renaissance man who wants to accommodate."
On the March 3 edition of Fox News' Hannity, contributor Sarah Palin questioned the "potency" of President Obama saying, "People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates."
Other Fox pundits have followed the same theme. Foreign policy expert KT McFarland tweeted, "Putin seizes countries, Obama threatens maybe to kick Russia out of the G-8 club. Bet Putin's sorry now! Winners write history, not whiners". Frequent Fox guest Rudy Giuliani lavished Putin with praise, saying that in contrast with Obama, Putin is "what you call a leader."
Of course, no one praising Putin's leadership mentions his penchant for repressing dissent and stymieing the freedoms of his people. But at least he can fend off a wild animal without his shirt on.
Will Ferrell was the target of conservative ire this week after tweeting a picture encouraging uninsured Americans to get health care coverage.
On February 24, Ferrell's "Funny Or Die" humor website tweeted a photo of the comedian holding a sign with the words #GetCovered, a hashtag affiliated with the Department of Health and Human Service's efforts to encourage young people to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act's new health care exchanges.
Cue the wrath of right-wing media figures.
Fox News gave Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) an uncritical platform to continue pushing anti-labor falsehoods about a recent attempt to unionize a Volkswagen (VW) plant in Chattanooga, TN.
On February 14, the VW plant in Chattanooga voted against joining the United Auto Workers (UAW) union by a vote of 712-626. Prior to the vote, Corker and third party anti-labor groups like Grover Norquist's Center for Worker Freedom (CWF) waged an anti-UAW publicity campaign that threatened workers with claims that unionizing would hurt jobs and the economy of Tennessee. Days after stating that he believed it was not "appropriate" to make public statements about the unionizing effort, Corker issued one anyhow, telling workers that if they rejected the union, VW would reward the plant with a new product line:
I've had conversations today and based on those am assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga.
But VW AG rebuffed statement, saying "There is no connection between our Chattanooga employees' decision about whether to be represented by a union and the decision about where to build a new product for the U.S. market."
On the February 19 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer interviewed Corker, who repeated the claim that the vote to unionize was tied to decisions about new product lines for the plant. Remarkably, Hemmer failed to push Corker on this point or even note that VW directly rejected his accusations.
Two unsubstantiated claims from AOL CEO Tim Armstrong about his company's cuts to retirement plans elicited two very different reactions from one Fox News segment.
Last week, AOL's chief executive officer Tim Armstrong announced that the company was paring down retirement benefits because of the high costs of two employees' "distressed babies" and the increased costs of health care resulting from the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare). Armstrong later apologized for the statement about the two employees and the company restored the cuts to 401(k) plans.
Discussing the story on Fox's America's Newsroom, host Martha MacCallum performed a rhetorical dance that led an ostensibly critical segment of Armstrong's comments into a fact-free attack on the ACA and a defense of corporate scapegoating.
MacCallum prefaced the segment by noting that, insofar as Armstrong was blaming any babies for cuts to employees' retirement, she felt that the comments were "unfortunate." But then she spring-boarded into her main focus: AOL wouldn't have to do these things if there wasn't a war on business spearheaded by Obamacare. According to MacCallum, AOL's decision to cut 401(k)s "does reflect a reality, an underlying reality, that a lot of companies are facing -- finding ways to make ends meet," yet she never clarified whether AOL is one of the companies facing such an undefined "underlying reality."
She offered an aggressive defense to Fox contributor Leslie Marshall's point that when companies struggle, their executives often do not. "It's always the big, bad company," MacCallum said. "Big, bad corporate America ... is it right to not acknowledge that these companies are under pressures that they were not under before?"
On the February 7 edition of Fox News' Special Report, guest host Chris Wallace set up a segment on proposed carbon emission regulations by protesting that "President Obama has declared climate change a fact," despite "objections from many dissenters."
Correspondent Doug McKelway followed up with a report that continued to cast doubt on the existence of climate change and featured a professional climate misinformer, Climate Depot's Marc Morano, whose financial ties to the fossil fuel industry went undisclosed.
Of course, it wasn't just Obama who declared "climate change a fact" -- scientists did. In fact, a full 97 percent of climate experts "agree humans are causing global warming."
Fox News responded to the announcement that CVS would no longer sell cigarettes by criticizing the pharmacy chain and leveling attacks at President Obama after he expressed support for the company's decision.
On February 5, CVS Caremark announced that it would stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at its pharmacy stores by the beginning of October. The move was met with praise from health organizations like the American Cancer Society and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation's largest philanthropy dedicated to public health. President Obama also weighed in on the decision with a statement of support, saying it was a "profoundly positive" move and will help advance efforts "to reduce tobacco-related deaths, cancer, and heart disease, as well as bring down health care costs."
As if on cue, Fox News responded to Obama's praise by manufacturing a controversy over the CVS decision.
On Fox's The Real Story, host Gretchen Carlson approached the CVS decision with suspicion and a remarkably uninformed premise, asking, "Is it OK legally ... to restrict tobacco availability in a private store like this?" She questioned her guests as to whether they would continue shopping at CVS and observed that, "For people who smoke, you know, they have a right to buy cigarettes. It's not illegal."
Congress is debating whether to give the president the authority to fast-track a massive free trade agreement -- the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- between the U.S., Canada, and 10 nations from the Asia-Pacific region. The nations involved in the talks account for nearly 40 percent of the world's GDP and 26 percent of the world's trade, but weekday evening television news broadcasts have largely ignored the topic.
Fox News host Greta Van Susteren suggested that "Stand With Wendy" -- a campaign slogan affiliated with state senator Wendy Davis' (D-TX) gubernatorial campaign in Texas -- was "code" language being used to ridicule her disabled opponent, Greg Abbott (R-TX). Van Susteren all but ignored the origins of the slogan, which was popularized after Davis' now-famous filibuster in the Texas legislature weeks before her opponent entered the race.
On the January 27 edition of Fox News' On The Record, Van Susteren invited gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott to talk about the race against Davis. During the segment Van Susteren expressed concern that "websites associated with" the Davis campaign were employing language about standing with Wendy in order to mock Abbott, who has used a wheelchair since he was partially paralyzed by a falling tree many years ago.
"I think that's code, 'standing up,' said Van Susteren. "I actually think if I were running against someone who was in a wheel chair, the last -- I would be mortified if the word 'standing' appeared in any of my literature, if only on the off chance that I might hurt someone who's in a wheel chair or say something to people who are disabled. And I don't see that she's ever disavowed it." Van Susteren acknowledged Davis' filibuster, but said she finds it "too coincidental" and recommended Davis apologize for the slogan, "which may have another meaning."
A new right-wing media narrative is brandishing out-of-context statistics on inherited wealth to argue that lower-income Americans are disproportionately benefiting from inherited wealth transfers, unlike the wealthiest Americans who earn their wealth with hard work.
As a national dialogue heats up over the problem of global and domestic income inequality, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and others are rushing to the defense of the wealthiest Americans by claiming that low-income Americans simply don't work as hard as their wealthy peers. As evidence, the conservative outlets are pointing to a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) study showing top income brackets inherit a smaller percentage of their wealth than do lower income Americans, a finding that, according to National Review's Kevin Williamson, proves that rich Americans "work more -- a lot more."
The January 22 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends hosted Williamson to discuss his theory, and co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck introduced his segment by saying, "It's easy to assume that the rich inherit their money without earning it. But in reality, under 15 percent of top income earners inherit their wealth, while more than 40 percent of lower income earners inherit theirs." Fellow co-host Brian Kilmeade added, "So how does the rich really make their money? ... By hard work! That's the conclusion. Wealthy households tend to have four times the amount of full-time workers than poorer households."
Rush Limbaugh read from the National Review post on the January 21 edition of his radio show, stating that "The middle class and the poor, a greater percentage of their assets come from inheritance than from working, rich Americans. The country would be far better off if more people actually lived the way the top 20 percent do. If they actually worked like the top 20 percent do."
Ignoring the fact that Limbaugh, Friends, and National Review are attacking a straw man -- they never identify anyone who is arguing that wealthy Americans don't work hard -- their argument omits an important statistic from the BLS study they cite: The average value of "wealth transfers" (of which inheritances are a large percentage) to low-income Americans versus those to wealthier Americans.
BLS did indeed find that among the households in the highest income brackets, transfers accounted for only 12.6 percent of net worth. What Fox and the like omit is the fact that the average value of wealth transfers received by the top 1 percent of U.S. households was a whopping $1,045,200 in 2007. That's twenty-five times the average value of inheritances for households in the lowest income bracket, whose average inheritance was $42,000 the same year. For lower-income earners, 42 grand is a large chunk of their total wealth. But the average wealth of households in the top 1 percent isaround $16,439,400 -- so a million dollar inheritance is not as impactful.