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."
"Whether it's true or not, we have to wait to see."
That's the caveat Fox News legal correspondent Bob Massi provided to viewers after reporting a baseless conspiracy theory about the government's motivation for enforcing the law against a Nevada cattle rancher who has been defying court orders for decades.
For years, cattle rancher Cliven Bundy defied legal orders instructing him to remove his cattle from a publicly owned allotment of land in the Nevada desert. Bundy, who says he does not recognize the authority of the federal government, initiated a decades-long conflict in 1993 when he began refusing to pay grazing fees related to his cattle's use of lands referred to as the Bunkerville allotment. An escalating series of judicial orders eventually led to the revocation of his grazing rights and orders to remove his cattle. In April, officers from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which stewards the land in question, began impounding the cattle in order to pay off the nearly $1 million Bundy owes in unpaid fines and grazing fees.
The conflict reached a boiling point on Saturday, when Bundy and hundreds of protesters, including militia members, initiated a standoff with authorities. Violent rhetoric associated with the movement led BLM to abandon its efforts to round up the cattle.
Fox News legal correspondent Bob Massi was still near the Nevada ranch after the standoff wound down, and he issued several reports on the April 14 edition of Fox & Friends speculating that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was behind a nefarious plot to bar Bundy's cattle from public lands in order to build a solar power plant there at the behest of a Chinese energy firm. Massi made sure to point out that he was repeating these claims without knowing "whether it's true or not."
MASSI: As Eric just said, the present director of the Bureau of Land Management is Harry Reid's former political adviser. And it's been reported, whether it's true or not, one of the things that the ranchers have said -- and I've interviewed Ryan, who's the son of Mr. Bundy, his sister Susan -- that they believe that there's plans out here for some solar energy projects out here that Reid has basically endorsed. There's one at State Line in Nevada, there's one in San Bernardino. And it's also been reported, whether it's true or not, that, Senator Harry Reid when he went to China made some kind of deal with a Chinese manufacturer over there to actually put in the solar plants over here in the state of Nevada and in California and Utah. Whether it's true or not, we have to wait and see, but there's no question I'll tell you this: Being here since 1974, anything that happens in Nevada, Harry Reid's behind it one way or the other.
The claims about Harry Reid's involvement appears to have originated with conspiracy-monger Alex Jones, whose website Infowars.com alleged that BLM wants to remove Bundy's cattle "in order to make way for solar power stations."
As the theory goes, BLM has studied the possible impact of solar power plants in certain portions of the Nevada desert. BLM has a new director, Neil Kornze, who is a former Reid adviser. Reid's son is an attorney at a law firm that represents a large Chinese energy firm who wanted to build a solar power plant in Nevada, and Reid has himself expressed support for the project. Ergo, Kornze is Reid's puppet at the BLM, who is strictly enforcing the law against Bundy in order to place a solar power plant on land where Bundy's cattle have been trespassing for more than 15 years.
Unfortunately, a quick glance at a map illustrates that the Alex Jones dots don't connect. Bundy's ranch and the allotment in question are located north and west of Lake Mead, near Bunkerville, NV. Per Reuters, the proposed site for the Chinese power plant was "90 miles south of Las Vegas" near Laughlin, NV. And the land currently being studied by BLM for possible solar development (dubbed the "Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone") is north east of Lake Mead and well south west of the Bunkerville allotment.
The desert tortoise has become a symbolic scapegoat for right-wing media figures running defense for an anti-government cattle rancher who's threatening to wage a range war against federal law enforcement officers.
Conflict has erupted in Nevada between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the family and supporters of rancher Cliven Bundy, a man who has refused multiple court orders to remove his cattle from public land. Bundy has stated that he does not recognize federal law and in fact argued in court in 1998 that the United States government didn't own the land in question (he lost). Now BLM officers and contract cowboys have begun confiscating Bundy's herd. And the scofflaw rancher has emerged as a right-wing folk hero after repeatedly stating that he owns firearms and is willing to "do whatever it takes to gain our liberty and freedom back."
At the center of the controversy -- according to right-wing media figures -- is the formerly endangered (and still threatened) desert tortoise. When Bundy's grazing rights were modified by BLM in 1993, it was in part to protect the species, which inhabits the same publicly-owned desert areas trodden by Bundy's cattle and was at the time on the brink of extinction.
That's where the connection to the tortoise ends, however. In 1993, Bundy began refusing to pay grazing fees required by the new rules. This led to an escalating series of reprisals from the judicial system that culminated in an order to confiscate Bundy's cattle in order to repay $1 million in fines and fees that over 20 years later remained unpaid. The current enforcement has less to do with protecting the tortoise, and more to do with Bundy's refusal to comply with the law or recognize the legitimacy of the federal government.
Nevertheless, right-wing supporters of Bundy's stand have tried to pin the conflict on the tortoise and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which is being depicted in negative terms ranging from being dismissed as irrelevant and economically harmful to becoming the basis for conspiracy theories about unlawful land grabs by Big Government.
On Fox, the situation afforded the network the opportunity to perpetuate the conservative narrative that the ESA unjustly puts the rights of wildlife above the rights of people. One host declared, "We're not anti-turtle, but we are pro-logic and tradition." His co-host sarcastically (and inaccurately) described the government's position as "get the cows off so they can have the desert tortoise live there in peace."
David Blackmon, a Forbes contributor, penned a piece titled, "Using Snipers To Protect A Tortoise." (It's since been taken down, but cached here). In it, Blackmon argued that protecting the desert tortoise was merely a pretext being used by the government "with the clear expectation of running the Bundys off the land entirely."
As evidence that the protection of the tortoise is a scam, some in conservative media have pointed to the Bureau of Land Management itself, claiming it's been euthanizing tortoises and/or "planting" them in the desert in order to make a case that they're endangered.
In fact, a BLM tortoise conservancy in Nevada was forced to shut down due to budget cuts. Prior to its closure, the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center had to make the difficult decision to put down the tortoises that carried disease or were too feeble to survive on their own. The others were released back into the wild.
But despite how real the concerns about the future of desert tortoise may be, the reality is that the right-wing media is simply providing cover to a rancher who refuses to obey the law.