Conservative media are claiming that looser gun safety laws are key to preventing shootings like the one in Canada, a nonsensical stance given that the U.S. has far less restrictions on gun ownership and a higher incidence of gun violence compared to Canada and other high-income nations.
Time Warner Cable News (TWC) orchestrated a phony scandal and boosted Thom Tillis's North Carolina Senate campaign by placing an empty chair for his opponent, Democratic Senator Kay Hagan, at an event it billed as a "debate" -- though it had known for months Hagan would not attend. TWC's stunt resulted in widespread negative media coverage of Hagan and helped amplify GOP attacks on the senator in the midst of a race some experts consider a toss-up.
In early July, Hagan announced that she would attend three debates in the North Carolina Senate race, but would not participate in a fourth debate Time Warner Cable News (TWC) planned to host on October 21. TWC acknowledged that Hagan had declined the invitation, but moved forward with the program, still billing it as a "debate," and placed an empty chair next to Tillis during his appearance. Tillis' campaign was quick to attack Hagan's decision not to attend, hyping the "empty chair in Kay Hagan's place."
When the event was initially proposed, it was billed as a debate between Tillis and Hagan and sponsored by TWC and local papers The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer. The two papers withdrew "after learning that an empty chair would be placed on the set," The News & Observer reported. "We wanted to have a serious discussion with Mr. Tillis about the issues without any gimmicks," News & Observer executive editor John Drescher said, citing an "honest miscommunication" with TWC, "My understanding was that we would tell viewers every 15 minutes that Sen. Hagan had declined our invitation but that we would not have an empty chair." Both The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer referred to the event as an "appearance on a cable TV news show" by Tillis rather than a "debate."
TWC's stunt provided the mainstream media a chance to echo the Tillis campaign's criticism. CNN's chief national correspondent John King highlighted Hagan's absence and the empty chair on the October 22 edition of New Day, but didn't note that her absence had been expected for months. King said, "we're waiting for a good explanation from the Hagan campaign, besides she had other things to do." A CNN article similarly hyped Hagan's absence with the headline: "Hagan absent, Tillis faces off against empty chair," and quipped "This is not your Clint Eastwood empty chair moment from the 2012 Republican National Convention -- but it's close." The article highlighted GOP criticism of Hagan's decision, but did note that she "had already declined."
Right-wing media outlets also seized on TWC's gimmick to attack Hagan. Fox News co-host Ainsley Earhardt claimed on the October 22 edition of Fox & Friends that Hagan "didn't bother to show up" and asked "Why did Kay Hagan bail?" Breitbart ran the story under the headline "Thom Tillis Debates Empty Chair After Kay Hagan Declines Debate Invitation," and the Washington Free Beacon highlighted her absence, saying "Hagan's empty chair was visible throughout the debate." The Weekly Standard also hyped Hagan's absence, publishing direct quotes from the Republican research firm America Rising attacking Hagan for not attending the event.
TWC's stunt comes in the wake of accusations of a cozy relationship between Tillis and the telecom company. Last year, a Republican lawmaker in the NC legislature resigned his position as chairman of the Finance Committee, accusing Tillis of governing with a conflict of interest and citing a "business relationship with Time Warner." Time Warner has also previously donated money to Tillis.
Fox News media critic Howard Kurtz echoed his colleague Shepard Smith's admonishment of media for irresponsible Ebola coverage, highlighting his own network's reporting failures.
Kurtz called out media figures like Fox host Bill O'Reilly, who has demanded the resignation of CDC director Tom Frieden, for reducing their response to Ebola "to a question of which heads should roll."
He contrasted coverage like O'Reilly's to that of Fox's Shepard Smith, who made headlines this week for blasting media's "irresponsible" and "hysterical" Ebola coverage. Smith "challenged his own profession to stop scaring people," Kurtz explained, asking, "Will the media listen?"
From Kurtz's October 17 column:
There's a growing media drumbeat on how to fix the Ebola crisis.
Tom Frieden should resign!
[D]oes anyone really believe that turning CDC over to an acting director will quickly boost the agency's performance?
Bill O'Reilly has demanded that Frieden be fired, calling him the "chief propagandist" for the "dumb and dangerous" approach of expecting airport screening to be able to keep infected people out of the United States.
Another doctor, Fox contributor Manny Alvarez, says:
"I am more convinced than ever that CDC director, Dr. Tom Frieden is not the right person for the job. And I say this because this latest press conference consisted of him telling a room of reporters what anyone who has ever dealt with Ebola in the past should have known...
"Frieden showed up late to the game again on Ebola, which is not acceptable when lives are at stake."
Fox News falsely claimed an indictment filed against alleged Benghazi attacker Ahmed Abu Khattala proves the September 11, 2012, attack was not sparked by an anti-Muslim video. But Fox ignored the fact that Abu Khattala himself reportedly cited the video as his motivation for the attack.
On October 15, Fox & Friends reported that new charges against Abu Khattala allege that he "masterminded the pillage of ... documents, maps and computers, secret stuff" from the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi during the assault. Guest host Kimberly Guilfoyle claimed these details prove Fox's longtime claim that the Benghazi attack was "a planned terrorist attack. Not a spontaneous outburst of some kind of video."
But in reality, planning theft of confidential information during the assault and targeting the U.S. outpost in response to an anti-Muslim video are not mutually exclusive. Abu Khattala reportedly "told fellow Islamist fighters and others that the assault was retaliation for the same insulting video." According to The New York Times:
On the day of the attack, Islamists in Cairo had staged a demonstration outside the United States Embassy there to protest an American-made online video mocking Islam, and the protest culminated in a breach of the embassy's walls -- images that flashed through news coverage around the Arab world.
As the attack in Benghazi was unfolding a few hours later, Mr. Abu Khattala told fellow Islamist fighters and others that the assault was retaliation for the same insulting video, according to people who heard him.
In an interview a few days later, he pointedly declined to say whether an offensive online video might indeed warrant the destruction of the diplomatic mission or the killing of the ambassador. "From a religious point of view, it is hard to say whether it is good or bad," he said.
Despite Fox's claims, the latest indictment against Abu Khattala does not contradict this account. It is unspecific about the timeline, saying that "on or before" the night of the attack Abu Khattala told people that he "believed the [U.S] facility was actually being used to collect intelligence" and that he was "going to do something about the facility." It also reports that the theft of the documents did not take place during the first portion of the attack. Abu Khattala allegedly took part in the initial 9:45 p.m. assault that set fire to the compound, retreated, and then returned to the facility with other conspirators nearly two hours later to "plunder property from the Mission's office."
Fox News has been relentless in claiming that the attack had no connection to the inflammatory video, spending 478 segments attacking administration talking points that mentioned the connection -- though the myth continues to fall flat.
Fox News hosts stoked fears that the United States' ability to respond to Ebola may be weakened by the absence of a Surgeon General, a concern that whitewashes the network's history of smearing the pending Surgeon General nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy.
Following CDC director Tom Frieden's October 13 statement that a Dallas nurse's contraction of Ebola requires hospitals to "rethink" infection control and "double down" on precautions, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy suggested that the administration's response to Ebola is suffering from a lack of leadership without a designated Surgeon General, arguing:
DOOCY: You would normally think that in something like this, the Surgeon General would be in charge, but right now at this point oddly, the United States of America does not have a Surgeon General. His nomination is tied up in politics.
Doocy's concern stands in contrast to Fox News' efforts to stall and politicize the Surgeon General nomination process earlier this year.
Fox personalities repeatedly worked to cast doubt on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination, questioning his strong qualifications and smearing him as "too political" for the job. In March, network host Brian Kilmeade alleged that Murthy "hasn't done much in his career yet," and argued that "you want to be impressed with" a Surgeon General nominee's resume.
CNN Tonight turned to ophthalmologist and fiction writer Dr. Robin Cook to hype unsubstantiated fears about the transmission of the Ebola Virus and the CDC's grasp on the situation.
Presenting Cook as "The Man Who Wrote The Book On Ebola," host Don Lemon called Cook's 1987 fiction thriller Outbreak, which details an Ebola outbreak in the U.S.," prophetic." Lemon allowed Cook to speculate that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cannot adequately protect Americans from Ebola, and that despite the CDC's assertions to the contrary, the virus may live in the air or mutate into a form that can spread as an aerosol.
Cook's theories on the transmission of Ebola are out of step with nearly every expert from international health agencies and the CDC. As Vox reported, "basically every health agency in the world agrees" that Ebola cannot be transmitted through the air. The CDC definitively says: "Ebola is not spread through the air or by water, or in general, by food."
Medical experts further agree that it's highly unlikely Ebola could mutate into a form that alters its mode of transmission. That type of mutation would be unprecedented according to Columbia University virologist Vincent Racaniello, who wrote: "We have been studying viruses for over 100 years, and we've never seen a human virus change the way it is transmitted," and that "There is no reason to believe that Ebola virus is any different from any of the viruses that infect humans and have not changed the way that they are spread."
Fox News is drawing sweeping and unsupported conclusions to accuse the White House of covering up a volunteer's role in a 2012 Secret Service prostitution controversy. Fox's "bombshell" claims are undermined by the fact that it has long been known that a White House volunteer was implicated in the controversy, and by the fact that a bipartisan Senate committee did not substantiate allegations that the White House tampered with an independent investigation into the controversy for political reasons.
Fox News used doctored video of an interview with President Obama to claim his description of briefings he received on the night of the Benghazi attack contrasts with former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's. In reality, their accounts are consistent.
Panetta discussed the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi during a September 7 interview with Fox News host Bill O'Reilly. The Factor -- and subsequently the October 8 edition of Fox & Friends -- exploited the interview to revive the debunked claim that Obama didn't describe the Benghazi attacks as terrorism and conclude "the administration did not want to talk about terror." To make their point, each program featured a clip of the president's interview with O'Reilly in February in which the Fox host asked the president about the "terror" designation. The clip egregiously omits Obama's response to the dialogue, in which the president explicitly says, "When somebody is attacking our compound ... that's an act of terror, which is how I characterized it the day after it happened."
Here's a more complete transcript of the the February 2 interview [omitted portion in bold]:
O'REILLY: Did he tell you, Secretary Panetta, it was a terrorist attack?
OBAMA: You know what he told me was that there was an attack on our compound...
O'REILLY: He didn't tell you [...] he didn't use the word "terror?"
OBAMA: You know, in -- in the heat of the moment, Bill, what folks are focused on is what's happening on the ground, do we have eyes on it, how can we make sure our folks are secure...
O'REILLY: Because I just want to get this on the record...
OBAMA: So, I...
O'REILLY: -- did he tell you it was a terror attack?
OBAMA: Bill -- and what I'm -- I'm answering your question. What he said to me was, we've got an attack on our compound. We don't know yet...
O'REILLY: No terror attack?
OBAMA: -- we don't know yet who's doing it. Understand, by definition, Bill, when somebody is attacking our compound...
OBAMA: -- that's an act of terror, which is how I characterized it the day after it happened.
Fox has spent more than two years and 244 segments propping up baseless allegations that the White House engaged in a Benghazi "cover-up" with accusations that the administration waited weeks to admit to the attacks were "terror" or a "terrorist act," though in reality, Obama called the Benghazi attack an "act of terror" during his Rose Garden speech on September 12, the morning after the attacks and repeated the reference twice the next day, during speeches in Colorado and Nevada.
UPDATE: Scripps College President Lori Bettison-Varga responded in a statement, explaining that she felt sexual assault was not an ideological topic and that Scripps had chosen not to finalize the speaking agreement with Will after his column "trivialized" these cases (emphasis added):
We invited George Will to speak as part of our Elizabeth Hubert Malott Public Affairs Program because he is a prominent conservative commentator, and we believed our community would benefit from the healthy intellectual debate that has been the hallmark of the program since 2006. Over the past eight years, the Malott Public Affairs Program has diversified the educational environment for our students by featuring conservative thought leaders in a widely publicized and well-attended event series. We do not shy away from bringing strong conservative viewpoints into our community.
Sexual assault is not a conservative or liberal issue. And it is too important to be trivialized in a political debate or wrapped into a celebrity controversy. For that reason, after Mr. Will authored a column questioning the validity of a specific sexual assault case that reflects similar experiences reported by Scripps students, we decided not to finalize the speaker agreement.
Scripps College revoked a speaking invitation to the Washington Post's George Will, an act the columnist believes is in response to a piece he wrote in June which trivialized sexual assault on college campuses.
In June, Will used his column to dispute evidence that 1 in 5 women on U.S college campuses experience sexual assault and argued that efforts to fight sexual assault on college campuses have made "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges."
On October 6, a college newspaper called the Claremont Independent reported that the all-female Scripps College had revoked an invitation for Will to speak as part of a program "designed to promote conservative views on campus." Will suggested that the controversial June column was the impetus for the disinvitation, telling the Independent, "They didn't say that the column was the reason, but it was the reason."
According to the Independent, Christopher DeMuth, a member of the program's speaker selection committee who previously served as president of the conservative American Enterprise Institute resigned in response to the revoked invitation.
Will's June 6 commentary on sexual assault was widely criticized. Four senators publicly condemned his comments in an open letter, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch dropped his syndicated column and apologized for publishing Will's "offensive and inaccurate" arguments, and women's rights groups called for the Washington Post to fire him. Will refused to apologize for the the column and later doubled down on the claims. The Washington Post stood by him, telling Media Matters that his comments were "well within the bounds of legitimate debate."
CNN host Chris Cuomo argued that professor of religion and author Reza Aslan's heated arguments against anti-Muslim bigotry on CNN recently demonstrated "what people are fearful of when they think of" Islam.
On September 29, Aslan was a guest on CNN Tonight, where hosts Alisyn Camerota and Don Lemon discussed what they called the "primitive treatment in Muslim countries of women and other minorities" while on-air graphics asked, "Does Islam promote violence?" Aslan responded saying he felt CNN was over-generalizing, arguing "you're talking about a religion about 1.5 billion people and certainly it becomes easy to just simply paint them all with a single brush":
ASLAN: You know, this is the problem, is that these conversations that we're having aren't really being had in any kind of legitimate way. We're not talking about women in the Muslim world, we're using two or three examples to justify a generalization. That's actually the definition of bigotry.
On a follow-up segment on the October 2 edition of CNN Tonight, which noted that the network had taken criticism& for the original interview, Camerota and Lemon acknowledged Aslan's argument but defended the premise of their original segment, saying it was important to "ask the question." CNN host Chris Cuomo agreed. He argued that while the hosts shouldn't generalize, and should distinguish the practice of the religion from the practice of individual nations, Aslan's "tone was angry," so he "wound up kind of demonstrating what people are fearful about when they think of the faith, which is the hostility of it":
CUOMO: Also, his tone was angry. He wound up kind of demonstrating what people are fearful about when they think of the faith in the first place, which is the hostility of it. Look, here's what you guys were exposing yourself to. This is the state of play in journalism today. The Muslim world is responsible for a really big part of religious extremism right now. And they are unusually violent. They're unusually barbaric in the places where it is happening. And it's happening there more there than it is in other places. Do you therefore want to generalize? Of course not. But you do want to call a situation what it is. It's not a coincidence that ISIS begins with an I. I mean, that's what's going on in that part of the world. Doesn't mean other faiths can't be violent and other cultures can't be violent, but you shouldn't be afraid of the question.
Watch the original CNN Tonight interview with Aslan here: