As the most famous and powerful news organization in America, the New York Times prides itself on leading the press pack. And as the media world fragments into smaller and smaller slices, it's the Times that can still set the agenda like few other outlets can.
The good news for the Times in 2015 was that its collective fingerprints were all over key chapters of the year's campaign coverage. The bad news is the Times would probably like those fingerprints to be lifted.
Because rather than being heralded for its groundbreaking campaign work, the newspaper's editors and reporters spent an awful lot of time last year answering criticism about the paper's sloppy and erroneous coverage of Hillary Clinton, and specifically answering for why the Times newsroom and its opinion pages seemed obsessed with knocking down the Democratic frontrunner and getting key facts wrong in the process.
By the summer, the Times' Clinton miscues and slights had piled so high that there was a growing consensus among media watchers that the daily had allowed its disdain for Clinton to color its coverage, and that the Newspaper of Record was in desperate need of a course correction.
Boston Globe columnist Michael Cohen:
There's also no getting around the fact that the Times coverage of Hillary Clinton is a biased train wreck.
New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen:
I have resisted this conclusion over the years, but after today's events it's fair to say the Times has a problem covering Hillary Clinton.
Three times last year, the Times presented would-be blockbuster stories that targeted Clinton with overheated tales of unethical, and possibly illegal, behavior. And three times last year, the Times swung and missed, badly.
Clinton became synonymous with "email" in 2015 when the Times in March broke the story that she had used a private account while serving as secretary of state. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell had also used a private email account while in office (and Jeb Bush had done something similar while serving as governor in Florida), but the Times argued Clinton's action was deeply secretive. The Times also accused Clinton of having possibly "violated federal requirements" with her use of personal email for official government business, specifically citing the Federal Records Act. It was that hint of criminality that gave the story so much pop in the press.
But it turns out that hint of criminality was invented by the Times, as several news outlets subsequently confirmed: Clinton did nothing illegal with her email account. (Ten days after its original dispatch, the Times published a new story that undermined the more heated claims from its original dispatch.)
Nonetheless, in the wake of its misleading email scoop, the Times led a months-long attack against Clinton. Times columnists published a series of weird condemnations (Maureen Dowd likened the Clintons to the Iranian regime) and often couched them in oddly personal terms. (i.e. Clinton's "prickly" and her "forced smile" is "practically cemented in place.") It was all part of the media's anti-Clinton guttural roar about emails, unleashed by the Times.
How heavy-handed did the Clinton bashing get? For one email story, the Times created an illustration in which Hillary Clinton, the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state, was portrayed as the Wicked Witch of the East, crushed to death by a smartphone.
The following month the Times doubled down on its Clinton crusade by forming a puzzling pact with Rupert Murdoch's right-wing media empire in order to promote an anti-Clinton attack book that was riddled with errors. The latter part wasn't surprising, since the book was written by a Republican partisan with a long history of corrections, retractions, and mistakes.
Relentlessly hyped by the right-wing media, including Murdoch's Fox News, New York Post and Wall Street Journal, the tome, Clinton Cash, tried and failed to paint a damning portrait of Clinton as a secretary of state who altered U.S. foreign policy based on donations to the Clinton Foundation charity.
Even before its publication, the Times trumpeted Clinton Cash as the "the most anticipated and feared book" of the campaign season, instantly elevating the book's status among the Beltway media.
The Times then signed an unusual "exclusive" arrangement to use author Peter Schweizer's reporting as a springboard for an enormous, front-page Times piece that tried to show how donations to the Clinton Foundation influenced Clinton's& State Department when it signed off on the sale of Uranium One, a Canadian company with uranium mining claims in the U.S., to the Russian atomic energy agency, Rosatom. But the piece was little more than an unsubstantiated, connect-the-dots Clinton hit piece that even Beltway media insiders conceded failed to deliver. (NBC News noted the Times report didn't "hold up that well.")
But the Times still wasn't done with Clinton Cash. A Times reporter actually appeared on a Fox News 60-minute, anti-Clinton special, The Tangled Clinton Web. Based on Clinton Cash, the special, of course, represented a mishmash of half-baked Clinton conspiracies and loopy what-ifs that proposed Hillary and Bill Clinton operated at the center of a supposed vast web of international bribes and payoffs.
The show was pure Fox trash. Yet there featured amidst the purposeful misinformation was a New York Times reporter.
Talk about damaging the Times brand.
Footnote: Scores of news organizations that did not sign a Clinton Cash "exclusive" promptly found a multitude of mistakes in the book and reported them out, raising further questions about the Times' news judgment.
On July 23, the Times uncorked perhaps the biggest newsroom blunder of the campaign season when Michael Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo erroneously reported that two inspectors general were seeking a criminal probe of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email account while serving as secretary of state. The botched story began to unravel immediately simply because no such criminal referral targeting Clinton existed. Less than 24 hours after being published, the Times' exclusive morphed into a giant headache as the paper was widely ridiculed for not only getting the referral story wrong, but for then awkwardly trying to limit the original damage via stealthy online edits.
If you had to rank the newspaper's three enormous 2015 failures in order of awfulness, the Times' bungled "criminal" investigation story was the worst. A stellar example of bad reporting coupled with equally poor editing and oversight, the July fiasco was the event that really drew back the curtain. (The Times' public editor called the sorry chapter a "mess" that had damaged the paper's reputation.)
Media Matters for months, and indeed for years, had been raising red flags about the Times' Clinton coverage. But it wasn't until the "criminal" debacle that outside voices began to coalesce around the idea that there was something fundamentally, almost systematically, hostile with the Times' Clinton coverage.
To get the big "criminal" story that wrong on so many levels, and then to completely botch the correction process? That doesn't happen in a vacuum. It springs from a newsroom mentality where getting the Clintons is the top priority and where corners are invited to be cut. It's a hot house environment where careers are boosted by generating anti-Clinton buzz (see reporter Jeff Gerth's Times rise in the 1990s); where snark and suspicion -- rather than healthy skepticism -- are the cornerstone of the coverage.
How the Times ever went to print with a completely erroneous report that the Democratic frontrunner for president was the target of a criminal investigation, we'll never know. Because although Times reporters and editors demand transparency and accountability from the politicians they cover (and especially from Hillary Clinton), the daily offered little insight into what caused the July debacle, other than editors blaming anonymous Times sources for getting the story wrong (something that is becoming a trend), not Times reporters and editors for publishing an entirely erroneous story that could have changed the course of a presidential campaign.
"This story demands more than a promise to do better the next time, and more than a shrug," wrote Norm Ornstein in The Atlantic. "Someone should be held accountable here, with suspension or other action that fits the gravity of the offense."
2015 produced some egregious Times missteps. Looking ahead, there's plenty of time left in the 2016 campaign for the Times to prove itself to be an honest broker.
Here are two snapshots from this year's campaign coverage. Both captured common media themes at the time and were likely seen as savvy insider takes within the D.C. pundit class.
When news broke on March 2 that Hillary Clinton had used a private email account and server while secretary of state, National Journal's Ron Fournier sprang into action. Churning out five Clinton doomsday columns in nine days, he immediately suggested the email revelation meant that, "maybe Hillary Clinton should retire her White House dreams" because "she doesn't seem ready for 2016."
According to Fournier, Clinton's emails had possibly derailed her entire campaign. Her White House dreams might have been dashed.
Fast forward to August 2. As Donald Trump's campaign continued to gain momentum while Jeb Bush's campaign slid backwards week after week, The New York Times' Jonathan Martin filed an upbeat piece on how Trump's rise actually represented good news for Bush. In fact, according to the Times, some Bush supporters were "all but giddy" over Trump's surge in the polls because his run was bound to unravel, leaving the Florida Republican as the beneficiary.
Let's agree that Clinton and Trump were the two biggest political stories of 2015. And these were the two tales the Beltway press wanted to tell for large chunks of the year:
Wrong and wrong.
Clinton's campaign was never in the dire state that the press claimed it was. And Trump, it turns out, appears to be a perfect messenger for today's increasingly radical and intolerant Republican Party. He's the Fox News id, which is why he's winning over the demagoguery wing of the GOP.
With Clinton, the press missed the mark because journalists seemed to be blinded by a personal dislike of the candidate and let that seep into the coverage. Determined to oversee a competitive primary campaign, the press went all in on a far-fetched narrative that the wheels were falling off Clinton's campaign and that she was an awful candidate.
With Trump, the press missed the mark because journalists appeared unwilling to tell the truth about today's GOP. Clinging to the idea that Republicans are simply center-right mirror images of Democrats, the timid press danced around the radical, fact-free revolution underway within the GOP; a radical-right revolution that was clearly fueling Trump's success.
I understand that campaign seasons take unexpected turns and I'm not claiming that in January I knew Donald Trump would be the GOP frontrunner at end of 2015. (Did anybody?) What I am saying is the campaign press, for the most part, lost its way because it wed itself to tired narratives and refused to acknowledge changing facts on the ground.
And that's why the avalanche of doom-and-gloom Clinton coverage this year seems almost comical in retrospect given her current standing.
Obviously, scrutiny is a part of any campaign equation and no candidate should be immune from it. But the media's Clinton analysis this year was so often oddly personal and wrapped in a doomsday tone that it simply didn't mirror reality. "The national media has never been more primed to take down Hillary Clinton," Dylan Byers observed in Politico in May.
The media's collective resentment erupted into plain view with the arrival of email story, which was packaged as part of a larger narrative about Hillary: She operates with a maniacal drive for power and will stop at nothing to achieve it. And the private emails proved it.
So was it a maniacal drive for power that prompted Colin Powell to use a private email account while secretary of state and to then fail to retain them? Was that the reason Jeb Bush during his tenure as governor of Florida used a private email account, a private server, and then self-selected which of his emails would be released to the public? Was it maniacal power that fueled the Bush White House to skirt federal law and allow 22 staffers, including then-Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, to use Republican Party-issued email accounts to conduct government business? (The emails soon went missing.)
We don't know because the press didn't much care about Powell and Bush and Rove and their private emails. For the press, the only private email story that mattered was Clinton's because it offered us a window into her allegedly crooked soul.
At times, it just seemed the press was incapable of covering Clinton with any amount of common sense. Remember the media insanity over Clinton's campaign trail lunch stop at a Chipotle in Ohio, and how the press reviewed the video of Clinton's fast food order like it was the Zapruder film, mining every morsel of information for a deeper Clinton meaning? (Hint: Sometimes a meal is just a meal.)
Politico confirmed Clinton first ordered "a blackberry Izze, which she decided she didn't want after she read the ingredients, so [the server] replaced it with an iced tea." And yes, according to Bloomberg, "The change from the meal totaled less than a dollar, but it was pocketed rather than deposited in the tip jar as many customers at the restaurant do."
The Clinton press hysteria peaked several different times (see the Clinton Foundation witch hunt in May), including late September and early October. In September, the Washington Post averaged more than two Clinton email missives every day of the month. The coverage and commentary became so bonkers that Democratic strategist, and Fox News contributor, Joe Trippi was moved to ask, "Has the political punditry class lost its collective mind?"
Here's a memorable passage from that era, via a Post piece on "Clinton's struggling presidential campaign":
October began with sobering news for her supporters. Clinton raised barely more in political donations over the summer than Sanders, her stronger-than-expected challenger, despite a formidable campaign organization and the mantle of Democratic front-runner.
The Post was quite clear: Recently released fundraising figures that showed Clinton had taken in $28 million during the months of July, August and September represented "somber news" for the Democratic frontrunner.
What did the Post leave out of its story? The fact that Clinton's $28 million set a new fundraising record for a non-incumbent candidate "before his or her third quarter of campaigning."
Meanwhile, busy trying to bury Clinton's run last summer, the press completely sleepwalked past the story of Jeb Bush's imploding campaign, even though all the telltale signs were there. Fast forward to today and Clinton's polling at 56 percent in the primaries and Bush is polling at five percent. But boy last summer, there's no question who the Beltway press tagged as the Biggest Loser: Clinton.
My guess is the press originally walked past the Bush train wreck because so many journalists were convinced Trump's rise was a passing fad and that Bush, the so-called "establishment candidate" would soon rebound in the polls while Trump slid downward.
Time after time, reporters and pundits, still using old, sensible rules of campaign conduct, assumed Trump had reached a tipping point via his outrageous rhetoric. And time after time Republican voters showed there was nothing Trump could say or do that would dent his appeal.
At least twice last month The New York Times stressed GOP voters might soon turn away from Trump in favor of "more sober-minded candidates"; that they'd potentially take "a more sober measure of who is prepared to serve as commander in chief."
Wrong and wrong.
Confession: I have no idea what's going to unfold on the campaign trail in 2016. But I do know the press would be better off reporting the facts, rather than being tied to outdated narratives that don't reflect reality.
Does that ratio seem out of whack? That's the ratio of TV airtime that ABC World News Tonight has devoted to Donald Trump's campaign (81 minutes) versus the amount of TV time World News Tonight has devoted to Bernie Sanders' campaign this year. And even that one minute for Sanders is misleading because the actual number is closer to 20 seconds.
For the entire year.
That's the rather stunning revelation from the Tyndall Report, which tracks the various flagship nightly news programs on NBC, CBS and ABC. The Report's campaign findings cover the network evening newscasts from January 1 through the end of November.
The results confirm two media extremes in play this year, and not just at ABC News. The network newscasts are wildly overplaying Trump, who regularly attracts between 20-30 percent of primary voter support, while at the same time wildly underplaying Sanders, who regularly attracts between 20-30 percent of primary voter support. (Sanders' supporters have long complained about the candidate's lack of coverage.)
Obviously, Trump is the GOP frontrunner and its reasonable that he would get more attention than Sanders, who's running second for the Democrats. But 234 total network minutes for Trump compared to just 10 network minutes for Sanders, as the Tyndall Report found?
Andrew Tyndall provided the breakdown by network of Sanders' 10 minutes of coverage, via email [emphasis added]:
CBS Evening News: 6.4 minutes
NBC Nightly News: 2.9 minutes
ABC World News: 0.3
But how can they be? ABC News, for instance, clearly devoted more than 20 seconds to covering the Democratic debates, which featured news of Sanders, right?
As Tyndall explained to me, the number "counts stories filed about the Sanders campaign or from the Sanders campaign. Obviously he is mentioned in passing in other coverage of the Democratic field overall, specifically his performance in the debates."
So in terms of stand-alone campaign stories this year, it's been 234 minutes for Trump, compared to 10 minutes for Sanders. And at ABC World News Tonight, it's been 81 minutes for Trump and less than one minute for Sanders.
Other Tyndall Report findings:
*Trump has received more network coverage than all the Democratic candidates combined.
*Trump has accounted for 27 percent of all campaign coverage his year.
*Republican Jeb Bush received 56 minutes of coverage, followed by Ben Carson's 54 minutes and Marco Rubio's 22.
Did you notice the Bush figure? He's garnered 56 minutes of network news coverage, far outpacing Sanders, even though he is currently wallowing in fifth place in the polls among Republicans. And you know who has also received 56 minutes of network news compared to Sanders' 10? Joe Biden and his decision not to run for president.
Meanwhile, I can hear supporters of Ted Cruz complaining that based on Tyndall's analysis, the Texas Republican has only received seven minutes of coverage this year and look where he is in the polls. That's a fair point. But also note that Cruz has only recently risen in the primary polls, whereas Sanders has been a solid second for many, many months. (A new poll this week shows Sanders leading the New Hampshire primary.)
Close observers of trends in network news might also say ABC's paltry Sanders coverage isn't surprising considering the network's flagship news program has recently backed off political coverage, as well as hard news in general.
From the Washington Post this summer:
"World News" devoted half as many minutes to Washington stories as CBS did during the first four months of the year, and about 40 percent less than did NBC, according to Andrew Tyndall, who tracks the networks' newscasts through his eponymous newsletter.
In perhaps a first for a national newscast, "World News" no longer has a full-time correspondent reporting on Congress. Such stories are handled on an ad hoc basis by reporter Jonathan Karl, whose primary beats are the White House and political campaigns.
In this case though, that explanation doesn't work because while World News Tonight might be shying away from news out of Washington, D.C., Tyndall's analysis shows ABC has produced more campaign coverage this year than CBS Evening News; 261 minutes vs. 247 minutes for CBS.
Look at that ABC number again: 261 minutes devoted to campaign coverage this year, and less than one minute of that has specifically been for Sanders. How does that even happen?
So no, Sanders didn't get virtually ignored this year by World News Tonight because the show's cutting back on campaign coverage. Sanders got virtually ignored by ABC because there was a conscious decision to do so.
And before anyone suggests ABC has somehow been in the pocket of the Clinton campaign and that's why Sanders got slighted, note that World News Tonight has set aside roughly the same amount of time this year to cover Republican-fed controversies surrounding Clinton's email and details about the Benghazi terror attack, as it has to cover Clinton's actual campaign.
Any way you look at it, 81:1 is a ratio that means there's something very wrong with the campaign coverage.
Image via Marc Nozell via Creative Commons License
Back on September 17, as Donald Trump basked in the post-Labor Day glow of being the Republican Party's undisputed frontrunner, he spoke to a boisterous crowd in New Hampshire and took a question from an especially boisterous fan. "We have a problem in this country. It's called Muslims. We know our current president is one. You know he's not even an American," said the Trump t-shirt-wearing man. "We have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That's my question: When can we get rid of them?"
Trump reassured the agitated man: "We're going to be looking at a lot of different things."
Turns out one of those "things" under review was Trump's stop-the-presses, are-you-kidding-me? proposal this week to implement "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on." (Yes, it's likely unconstitutional. Yes, logistically it's not possible.)
The announcement dropped so many jaws that not only did key Republicans denounce the move, but lots of conservative commentators also rushed to deplore Trump's shortsighted extremism.
But boy, talking about shutting the barn door about three months too late. These are many of the same players who enabled Trump's bigoted rise and cheered his derogatory, especially when its target was the White House. The conservative media helped lay out a blueprint of fear and paranoia for him.
As Nathan Lean noted in his book, The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims, back in August 2006, Fox News guest Mike Gallagher suggested an "all Muslims checkpoint line" at American airports. And after the Fort Hood shooting in November 2009, Fox's Brian Kilmeade suggested "special screenings" for Muslim U.S. soldiers.
Talk radio fearmongers and cable television personalities have "created an environment where people are comfortable expressing these kind of sentiments," noted CNN's Michael Smerconish this week. Indeed, Trump's right-wing media cohorts helped him unleash the hounds of bigotry and now some in conservative circles are desperately searching for a harness?
They're not going to find it.
In August, I suggested that Fox News, via the unwieldy Trump charade, had "eaten the Republican primary season" and that the "slow-motion fiasco is only going to get much, much worse for Republicans."
Has it ever.
Trump is now on the verge of devouring the entire Republican Party in terms of its branding and what it stands for in the minds of voters. How can the GOP reach out to mainstream, independent voters next November when Fox News defends, or explains away, Trump's bouts of birtherism and Islamophobia -- while he leads the Republican polls?
Actually, note that most conservative commentators deplored Trump's outlandishly unconstitutional anti-Muslim plan. But not all. On Fox News Tuesday morning, the crew blamed Obama for essentially forcing Trump to take the radical leap. (Fox's Kilmeade did concede Trump's idea "seems extreme.")
And yes, we've seen Fox (and Rush Limbaugh and right-wing bloggers) employ that same backstop technique in the past, like after Trump lied about "thousands" of people in Jersey City, N.J., cheering the September 11 attacks.
Indeed, huge chunks of the conservative media signaled to Trump long ago that no matter what lie he concocted and no matter how many people he smeared, they would support his campaign of cultural paranoia. Maybe he interpreted that as a green light for suggesting we ban Muslims from coming to America?
Politically, Trump's radical move represents a train wreck for the GOP and the conservative movement. "You can either defend the indefensible (Trump's ridiculous proposal), or spend your valuable time and energy policing your own side," explained conservative Matt Lewis at the Daily Caller.
But again, there's thick irony surrounding today's whining because the conservative media created Trump and his off-the-rails campaign. In fact, they've been building it for years. Specifically, you can trace the origins back to 2011 when Fox News decided to sponsor Trump's months-long resurrection of the long-debunked "birther" crusade. By doing so, Fox gave Trump a national platform where he won over converts on the fringe, many of whom to this day assume Obama's a foreign-born Muslim.
In his new book about the conservative movement, BuzzFeed's McKay Coppins writes how Trump over time lassoed what the author calls the Fringe Establishment, which includes talk radio and blocks of the far-right, Obama-hating conservative media:
An entire right-wing media ecosystem has sprung up, where journalist-warriors flood social media with rumors of sharia law coming to suburbia and hype a fast-approaching "race war" in America targeting whites. The Republican establishment -- a loose coalition of party committees, moderate donors and business interests -- once hoped to harness this tremendous new energy to recapture the White House.
Instead, the Fringe Establishment is the one doing the harnessing.
Fox News now awkwardly straddles that line between Fringe Establishment and the Republican establishment. And Fox News should be taking on most of the slings and arrows from Republicans who are furious about Trump and damage he's inflicting.
Circle back to this August tweet from Gabriel Sherman, who penned a biography of Fox News chairman Roger Ailes: "Trump is what Ailes did to the GOP."
But is Trump simply appealing to the Fox News and AM talk radio base of the GOP? Is he simply appealing to a blanket of Islamophobia that's been relentlessly stoked by the far-right press? Here are some key findings from the latest survey from Public Policy Polling:
*67% of Trump voters support a national database of Muslims in the United States.
*51% want to see the mosques in the United States shut down.
*Only 24% of Trump supporters think Islam should be legal at all in the United States.
For Fox News, it's mission accomplished. For the GOP, it's an unfolding nightmare.
P.S. In terms of understanding the dynamic playing out within the conservative media, an October piece on the unfolding Republican "crack-up" from the Daily Caller is helpful. At the time, the piece examined the internal split between establishment and grassroots forces over Rep. Paul Ryan's rise to Speaker of the House. But this lengthy excerpt is useful if you understand the GOP's populist-nationalists faction represents Trump's most ardent supporters, and why the Republican Party can't restrain them:
On the other side is a faction that's best described as populist-nationalists. Immigration is starting to become the core issue for this group, along with the belief that America is in serious decline, that elites are completely out of touch with the heartland and business interests aren't synonymous with national interests. They're willing to accept, and even encourage unorthodox positions among conservatives, such as higher taxes on billionaires.
The conservative establishment counts its members as most of the think tanks, foundations and publications that have been the bedrock of the conservative movement for ages.
The populist-nationalists includes talk radio, Breitbart News and a few prominent conservative columnists like Ann Coulter.
The establishment, being the heir to the quintessential conservative institutions of the past, wants to purge the populists from their midst. The problem is the populists have connected with a large swath of the base that has lost complete interest in the orthodox movement position.
The establishment has declared total war on Donald Trump and is starting to pour millions into attack ads and has published hundreds of hit pieces on the insurgent billionaire. In spite of these efforts, Trump remains at the top of the polls and doesn't look to be going away anytime soon.
That's because the base has embraced The Donald, and so has talk radio.
Fox News doesn't like dirty words.
That -- and that alone -- seems to be the takeaway after two Fox contributors were suspended yesterday after they went on the air and called the president of the United States a "total pussy" who's afraid to fight terrorists, and for not giving a "shit" about the threat they pose.
In a forum known for noxious rhetoric and schoolyard taunts, "pussy" and "shit" apparently went too far in Fox's never-ending dive to the bottom.
But anyone who's surprised by the epithets probably hasn't been paying attention to Fox News' truly ugly take on American politics and the way President Obama was been singled out for mindless, degrading ridicule for years.
Sadly, calling Obama a "pussy" who doesn't "give a shit" represents the next logical/malicious chapter when you've spent seven years trying to portray the president as a monster of historic proportions who's committed to stripping citizens of their liberties and getting them addicted to government dependencies like a drug dealer. This is what happens when you've spent the majority of the last decade weaving dark fantasies about the president as unworthy of the Oval Office and feverishly depicting him as a heartless traitor who resents America.
When you view the president, as a person, as being utterly beneath contempt and undeserving of respect, "pussy" and "shit" are bound to tumble out eventually.
Fox executives insisted the insults went beyond acceptable boundaries. But it was telling that Fox host Stuart Varney let contributor Ralph Peters ramble on for six additional sentences after calling Obama a "pussy" before stepping in and offering an admonishment: "You can't use language like that on the program, OK? I'm sorry."
And let's also acknowledge that Fox has zero track record of penalizing its popular hosts and contributors for their often-egregious transgressions. It seems Fox only discovers its ethics manual when B and C-list players like Peters are involved. Fox famously refused to forcefully punish Glenn Beck and his violent, unhinged rhetoric. The network only parted ways with Beck when selling advertising on his toxic shows became impossible; which meant the host was costing Fox lost revenue.
So here's an admittedly incomplete list of offenses that don't rise to level of suspension for Fox News employees -- or for regular guests, getting booted off the Fox airwaves:
*Calling Obama a racist.
*Likening Obama to "a skinny, ghetto crackhead."
*Calling Michelle Obama fat.
*Wishing somebody would shoot Obama.
*Admittedly lying on-air about Obama having "advocated socialism."
*Announcing "all terrorists" are Muslim.
*Suggesting George Soros will have you killed.
*Habitually lying about your own journalism career.
*Condemning Obama for "chugging a few 40s" in a pub.
*Hypothesizing about the death of Obama's daughters at Benghazi.
*Urging people to "punch" Obama supporters in the face.
*Stating Obama was hosting a "hoodlum in the hizzouse," when the president of Gabon came to the White House, and having the segment accompanied by a graphic with the words "Hoods in the House."
*Claiming Obama doesn't want to protect Americans from terrorism.
*Saying "Nazis" run public radio in America.
Of course, that last example involved Fox News chairman Roger Ailes. So it's easy to see why the channel employs such invisible standards when it's run by somebody who compares NPR hosts and producers to Nazis.
Another day, another Donald Trump lie about the 9/11 terror attacks.
Appearing on Face the Nation, Republican frontrunner Trump told host John Dickerson that prior to the attacks, the wives of the 9/11 hijackers "knew exactly what was going to happen" and were flown "back to Saudi Arabia" days before the hijacked plane strikes.
This is complete nonsense. As The Washington Post explained, "There is no support for Trump's claims ... virtually all of the hijackers were unmarried." And anyone who followed news of the attacks, and the subsequent years-long investigation, ought to know that. But on Face the Nation, Dickerson didn't flinch when Trump floated his latest 9/11 lie; Dickerson didn't question Trump's absurd claim.
Then following his CBS appearance, the New York Times reported that Trump was "fuzzy" on his 9/11 facts and that the wives tale didn't "align" with "the timeline and details of the hijacking of the planes." Additionally, the Times suggested Trump was simply "having trouble keeping some details straight about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks."
Incredibly, nowhere in the dispatch did The Times explain that the Trump wives story represents bad fiction. (i.e. Most of the 9/11 terrorists weren't even married.)
This is getting ridiculous. And The Times really needs to drop this advance class in euphemisms and start explaining to news consumers exactly what Trump is doing: Lying.
There's no question the press remains befuddled by Trump's staying power in the wake of his documented falsehoods. Many journalists seem to cling to the outdated and naïve notion that most Republican primary voters will turn on Trump once he was shown to be dishonest and slightly unhinged.
The good news is journalists have not let Trump's lies go undetected. There has been aggressive fact-checking. But with his defining lying streak, Trump is trying to rewrite all the campaign rules and bowl over the media's watchdog role, which means polite fact-checking won't be enough. Where are the endless pieces looking into Trump's dark character and the search for clues as to what drives him to be such a cavalier liar?
Let's be honest: Donald Trump is basically Alex Jones running for president. (Fittingly, Trump went on Jones' show last week for a mutual lovefest.) But news consumers are not having that portrait painted in the press.
We can draw a straight line from CNBC's Republican debate -- when candidates erupted in anger at the supposedly nasty, liberally biased questions -- and Trump's subsequent untruth that he saw video of "thousands and thousands" of people in Jersey City, N.J. celebrating when the World Trade Center towers fell on 9/11. The allegation was part of Trump's larger, anti-Muslim crusade to close down mosques in America.
We can draw a straight line because the two are inexorably linked and illuminate what's going on with Trump and the press today: There's a game of intimidation going on, and the press seems to be losing.
Yes, the 9/11 claim has been repeatedly fact-checked and debunked. (How could it not be?) But in the two weeks after unfurling his demonstrably false and bigoted 9/11 lie, the press is still grappling with how to treat Trump's titanic whopper. And it's two weeks later and I still haven't seen this headline produced by a major news organization: "Trump Lies About Jersey City Reaction To 9/11."
Instead, I've seen these kinds of headlines that emphasize Trump's 9/11 "claim" and his "remarks":
"Trump Says 9/11 Claims Being Proven" [Boston Herald]
"Trump Sticks By Controversial 9/11 Remarks, Christie Says He's Wrong" [McClatchy Newspapers]
The fact is Trump lied about seeing "thousands" of Muslims celebrating. His spokeswoman has since said the number he cited wasn't important. But of course the number ("thousands") was the entire basis for the provocative claim.
If Trump had said he remembers seeing a "handful" of people celebrating on 9/11, nobody would've cared because extremists exist everywhere. "Thousands," though, implied a shared, cultural/criminal experience among Muslims in Jersey City. "Thousands" implied a fifth column plotting against the United States; a sprawling, dangerous faction of traitors who likely needed to be locked up.
It's not just coverage of the 9/11 lie that's lacking and timid.
From the Chicago Tribune on the controversy surrounding Syrian refugees (via Nexis, emphasis added):
Instead, several criticized Obama's plan to allow some 10,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S. over the next year.
Trump, at a rally in Beaumont, Texas, said Obama would allow 250,000 refugees in and called that idea "lunacy."
In the first sentence, the Tribune noted Obama's plan is to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States. In the second sentence, the Tribune noted Trump didn't like Obama's plan because it would allow in 250,000 refugees. But the Tribune article never acknowledged that Trump's figures are bogus.
I understand most political journalists often view the L word ("liar") as the ultimate taboo, and there's just no way polite reporters can call politicians liars. "The most impolite candidate in American political history relies on the politeness of his interviewers to get away with lying," noted MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell.
But guess what? There's nothing wrong, or incendiary, or biased about using "liar" when it's accurate. Even when the liar is today's GOP frontrunner. In fact, especially when the liar is a political frontrunner eying the White House.
It's clear that Trump's taking advantage of press etiquette and its firm reluctance to call him what he is, a congenital liar:
*Trump claims the United States is about to take in 250,000 Syrian refugees.
*Trump promotes a claim that black people are responsible for most white homicides.
*Trump says there are up to 34 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
*Trump claims the "real" unemployment rate is up to 42 percent when counting those who stopped looking for work.
*Trump says he got to know Russian President Vladimir Putin "very well" because they appeared on 60 Minutes on the same night.
False. (The interviews were recorded in different countries.)
*Trump says the U.S. has "the highest tax rate anywhere in the world."
Again, the good news, as the links above indicate, is that those lies have been fact-checked.
But my guess is any of those fabrications would not only have been a game-changer for a prominent Democratic candidate, it would likely have been a game-ender in the eyes of the Beltway press. Lies like that would have signaled Hillary Clinton, for instance, was unfit for office and pundits would've have hammered that point relentlessly.
Remember last summer when Clinton gave an interview and said she and her husband were "dead broke" when they left the White House in early 2001. And remember the media eruption that her (accurate) statement produced, as pundits and reporters spent days and even weeks castigating Clinton for what they claimed was an erroneous claim?
Clinton told the truth about a rather trivial matter and she got pummeled in the press. Trump tells an outrageous lie about a deadly serious topic and the press can't quite figure out what to call it. (Tellingly, I haven't seen any Beltway media declarations about how they're poised to "take down" Trump, the way it proudly stood poised to "take down" Clinton last summer.)
Everyone agrees we've entered a whole new world with the Trump candidacy, and specifically with Republican voters' refusal to penalize him for spinning provable fabrications on a daily basis. It's a brand new world on the campaign trail for Trump and the press. And so far, and Trump is winning.
Risking severe whiplash injuries, Fox News and the rest of the conservative media have tried to execute a sudden about-face following the Planned Parenthood terror attack in Colorado Springs last week. Scrambling for political cover in the wake of the gun rampage and news that alleged shooter Robert Dear likely targeted Planned Parenthood for political purposes, conservative commentators quickly rewrote their long-held talking points about inciting violence.
Here's the spin that the conservative press, along with the Republican Party, is now desperately trying to push: When you call people "baby killers" and "murderers" and claim organizations sell "baby parts" for profit, you're in no way promoting violence. And you're in no way responsible if a like-minded person takes matters into his own hands, opens fire on a Planned Parenthood facility, shoots eleven people, murders three, and then reportedly makes reference to "no more baby parts" when the carnage is over.
Why the whiplash injuries? Because for the last year Fox and its allies have been warning that rhetoric kills. And specifically, rhetoric from Black Lives Matter activists gets police officers killed. (There's no evidence to support that claim.) And for that, Democrats, including President Obama, are to blame for the so-called "war on cops."
So in a matter of just a few days (i.e. pre-Colorado Springs vs. post-Colorado Springs), Fox News has thrown away its established playbook and quickly written a new one where everyone should just chill about incendiary political taunts that are seen as being violent and potentially deadly. (Going one step further: "So what" if far-right rhetoric inspires killings?)
Amidst the Fox News flip-flop, which brand of activist rhetoric is actually producing bouts of targeted violence today? As 2015 unfolds against the backdrop of Black Lives Matter protests, note that the number of officers shot and killed in the line of the duty has gone down this year.
By contrast, Planned Parenthood has experienced a spike in attacks on its facilities and employees this year, most likely the result of a coordinated smear campaign against the organization in the form of duplicitous videos, which kicked off last summer and have been heavily promoted by Fox News and other conservative media.
In fact, rather than producing violence as Fox suggests, Black Lives Matter protesters last week in Minneapolis were the target of gun violence. Four men have been charged in the shooting of five black protesters. Three of the arrested were reportedly fascinated "with guns, video games, the Confederacy and right-wing militia groups."
In May, after NYPD officer Brian Moore was killed, Fox host Eric Bolling responded by suggesting liberals and their "war on cops" was at fault. According to Bolling, "The 'anti-cop left' in America seems to be ... fueling some of this hatred and, you know, murderous streak that's going on against cops."
As mentioned, there is no "murderous streak" against cops in this country. And as Vox recently noted, "The goals and message of Black Lives Matter have nothing to do with harming police officers in any way. The movement is explicitly concerned with reducing the racial disparities found in the criminal justice system."
In December 2014, following the killings of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, Fox News could not wait to blame the killings on rhetoric. The coverage of the New York killings leaned heavily on assigning a larger cultural, collective blame for activists who protested police misconduct, and Democrats who expressed support for the Black Lives Matter cause.
Today's media contrast is startling. Following the Planned Parenthood attack, Fox News contributor and National Review editor Rich Lowry insisted that a "broad-based movement shouldn't be tarred by the crimes of one individual."
You mean a broad-based movement like Black Lives Matter?
National Review's Andrew McCarthy previously disagreed. Twelve months ago he wrote, "Cop killing is thus a foreseeable, if not inexorable, consequence of tolerating the movement as a well-intentioned display of our commitment to free speech."
Cop killing was a foreseeable consequence of "violent rhetoric," McCarthy stressed, insisting the New York City cop killer last year was "patently inspired by" police protesters.
Tragically, a policeman was among the victims last week in Colorado Springs. (A total of five officers were shot.) So what has McCarthy written about the anti-abortion "enablers" and the Planned Parenthood shooter being "patently inspired" by protesters? What's McCarthy's take on the dangerous, "foreseeable" connection between violent rhetoric and cop killing in the wake of the Planned Parenthood terror attack?
The answer is, nothing. McCarthy hasn't bothered to address the issue at National Review. And that's where the conservative media denial comes in.
Keep in mind that Robert Dear's former wife described him as "extremely evangelistic." He was previously seen handing out anti-Obama pamphlets. He reportedly mentioned "no more body parts" after he was arrested. He made "anti-abortion" and "anti-government" comments to investigators. And he arrived at Planned Parenthood with a duffel bag full of guns and ammunition.
Also, this from the New York Times' reporting [emphasis added]:
One person who spoke with him extensively about his religious views said Mr. Dear, who is 57, had praised people who attacked abortion providers, saying they were doing "God's work." In 2009, said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concerns for the privacy of the family, Mr. Dear described as "heroes" members of the Army of God, a loosely organized group of anti-abortion extremists that has claimed responsibility for a number of killings and bombings.
Partisans on the right can pretend the motivation for the killing spree will remain an eternal mystery. But a plausible link obviously exists. As does a plausible link between blood-soaked verbal attacks against Planned Parenthood and the possibility they inspire people to commit violent, and even deadly, acts.
*November 22: Armed vigilantes who gathered outside a Dallas area mosque announced they were going to publish the home addresses of local Muslim worshipers and label them "Muslim sympathizers."
*November 23: A man was arrested for leaving a phony explosive device at a Falls Church, Virginia mosque. The suspect allegedly also threw two smoke bombs and a Molotov cocktail toward the building.
*November 23: A Black Lives Matter protester was kicked, punched, and choked at a Donald Trump rally.
*November 24: Four men have been arrested in connection with a shooting at a Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis. Three of the suspects reportedly were fascinated "with guns, video games, the Confederacy and right-wing militia groups."
If we scan back a few more weeks we see an equally troubling trend:
*November 11: "Two men described by authorities as white supremacists have been charged in Virginia with trying to illegally buy weapons and explosives to use in attacks on synagogues and black churches."
Meanwhile, recent months have seen a plague of terror attacks targeting Planned Parenthood facilities, to the point where the FBI in September warned that "it is likely criminal or suspicious incidents will continue to be directed against reproductive health care providers, their staff and facilities." (The current campaign of terror and harassment is not a new one.)
As CBS reported [emphasis added]:
At that time, there had already been nine criminal or suspicious incidents in seven states and the District of Columbia. In one incident, someone poured gasoline on a New Orleans Planned Parenthood security guard's car and set the vehicle on fire.
According to the FBI, there was another incident in July in Aurora, Colorado, in which someone poured gasoline around the entrance of a Planned Parenthood facility there, causing a fire.
So, in just the last three months we've seen a car set on fire, Molotov cocktails allegedly thrown at a house of worship, terroristic threats leveled against a family, liberal protesters gunned down by radicals, and a medical facility stormed by an anti-abortion/anti-government gunman who killed civilians and a policeman.
What portrait do those events paint in your mind? And is that portrait of radical homegrown violence and terrorism the one you've seen conveyed in the press following the Colorado Springs terror attack?
It's not the one I've been seeing.
Media Matters for years has documented how Fox News in particular has used a blinding double standard in terms of casting wide, cultural and religious aspersions when covering terror attacks involving Muslim attackers, versus how it deals with homegrown political violence from the right. (It was Fox News' Brian Kilmeade who once confidently declared, "Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.")
But the problem extends beyond Fox News. The larger conservative media echo chamber seems to have convinced the mainstream press that domestic terrorism, often carried out by white American men, somehow doesn't pose the same threat and doesn't need to be treated as a lurking menace the way ISIS terrorism does. (That heightened sense of panic also fanned the right-wing media hysteria about Syrian refugees.)
In other words, the endless dots of domestic terrorism in the U.S. simply are not connected to portray a larger danger to our safety. (For more recent examples of deadly plots and attacks see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)
The simple truth is that from neo-Nazis killers, to a rash of women's health clinic bombings and attacks, as well as assaults on law enforcement from anti-government extremists, acts of right-wing extreme violence continue to unfold regularly in the United States.
It's a well-established fact that since September 11, 2001, "nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims." Yet those kind of deadly, homegrown attacks are often treated as isolated incidents that are mostly devoid of politics.
There were many telltale signs that differentiated the Planned Parenthood coverage of homegrown terrorism and how the press has covered previous Jihadist attacks.
Thinking back to around-the-clock coverage produced in the wake of the terrorist massacre in Paris this month, it was impossible to miss the differences in tone and content.
There appeared to be very little media hand wringing about why law enforcement has trouble tracking homegrown terrorists, how attackers are able to plan their assaults without detection, if their churches or houses of worship need to be more closely monitored, and whether Christian religious leaders are doing enough to speak out against radicals who may be in their midst.
Note that just hours after the Planned Parenthood gunman gave himself up, CNN dropped its shooting coverage in order to air The Sixties at 10 p.m, while the next day's Wall Street Journal did not include any articles about the deadly assault on its front page. (The shooting was listed among World-Wide news on the front page, but the full article ran inside the paper.)
By contrast, imagine if a Muslim gunman had opened fire at an American shopping center on Black Friday, shot eleven people, and killed three, including a police officer. Do you think CNN would have broken away from programming just hours after the shooter was apprehended in order to air a pop culture documentary? Or that the Wall Street Journal would have played that story on A3 the next day?
Also note that on the broadcast network Sunday morning talk shows two days after the Planned Parenthood attack, eleven current Republican elected officials or presidential candidates were hosted on the programs, compared to just one Democrat. That, despite the fact the Democratic Party has been outspoken in its defense of Planned Parenthood, while the GOP has worked hard to demonize it.
On CBS' Face the Nation, where no Democratic politicians appeared, host John Dickerson asked just two questions about the Planned Parenthood terror attack during the 60-minute program. (By contrast, Dickerson devoted an entire segment to a panel discussion about presidential books.)
Following Colorado Springs, there was also a steady media focus on the shooter's possibly unstable mental state, with the suggestion being that that held the key to understanding the killings. But I don't remember rounds of discussion about the mental state of Islamic terrorists following the Paris massacre. From the media's perspective, religious extremism provided the entire motivation. That's certainly possible, but why the separate standard for American bouts of terror?
We're long past the point where homegrown terrorism should be called what it is, and for the press to connect the dots that join together a large and menacing threat at home.
It was déjà vu all over again recently when some in the press rushed to announce that current events suddenly threatened to derail Donald Trump's unorthodox campaign.
The first supposed hurdle came in the form of Trump's bizarre, 95-minute rant in Iowa where he belittled and insulted one of his opponents, Ben Carson. The New York Times reported, "some Republicans believe that his scathing attacks on Mr. Carson -- and voters who support him -- will backfire." The Boston Globe highlighted "some observers" who argued that "Trump may have finally gone too far, hurting his standing at the top of most polls and also adding to worries among Republicans about their field this season."
Then in the wake of the Paris terror attack, The Wall Street Journal suggested the killings, "could shake up the 2016 presidential race, reminding voters of the high stakes and potentially boosting candidates who put their governing experience front and center."
The Times twice last week stressed that GOP voters might turn away from Trump in favor of "more sober-minded candidates"; that they'll take "a more sober measure of who is prepared to serve as commander in chief."
Sober-minded candidates? Have these people been watching the spectacle that is the Republican campaign season for the last six months?
There was no backlash -- quite the opposite. Trump and his xenophobic campaign continue to soar in the GOP polls as he unfurls an endless stream of outrageous proposals. (Bring back U.S.-sanctioned torture! The government needs to close down some American mosques!)
Fact: Trump really has emerged as the perfect Fox News era candidate. He's a bigoted nativist. And he's a bullying, congenital liar who wallows in misinformation. In the process, he's winning over the demagoguery wing of the Republican Party that's been feasting off far-right media hate rhetoric for years.
Now, by successfully neutralizing enough members of the press, Trump's created space for himself to maneuver while espousing jaw-dropping rhetoric that in the past would have been considered disqualifying for any candidate.
After months and months of predicting the "beginning of the end" of Trump's run, the press ought to forthrightly concede he could represent the GOP next November, while at the same time aggressively chronicle the unprecedented extremism that's propelling his run.
Instead, the campaign press today seems poorly equipped to handle what's happening to the Republican Party, and especially over the last ten days since the Paris attack. That signature press timidity seems to spring from a larger reluctance to face the reality of today's GOP.
Desperate to keep alive a long-outdated, asymmetrical model that suggests partisan battles in Washington, D.C., are fought between center-left Democrats and center-right Republicans, the press simply doesn't want to acknowledge the GOP's radical right turn. But it's that defining lurch that's opened the door for a possible Trump win.
Meaning, you can't understand Trump's surge without understanding that the GOP has dismantled the guardrails; that it's now anything goes.
"There is a party center that two decades ago would have been considered the bedrock right, and a new right that is off the old charts," wrote Norm Ornstein, one of the few mainstream media observers who for years has been forcefully clear about the Titanic shifts within the Republican Party in response to Barack Obama's presidency.
To be fair, some of the he's-peaked coverage and commentary has been driven by so-called Republican "elites" who continue to cling to the dream that a "moderate" Prince Charming will magically emerge and save the party from Trump's possible electoral ruin.
Still, there appears to be large overlap between the GOP establishment and the Beltway media in terms of a deeply held belief that Trump doesn't really represent today's Republican Party, and that someone as garish and ill-informed as him could never been selected as the party's nominee.
"For months, the GOP professional class assumed Trump and [Ben] Carson would fizzle with time," reported the Washington Post. In truth, you could replace the phrase "GOP professional class" with "Beltway journalists" from that sentence and it would still be just as accurate.
And it's not just Trump who's wallowing in outrageous rhetoric or radical initiatives. After the Paris terror attack, Ted Cruz claimed Obama "does not wish to defend this country." Ben Carson suggested refugees should be screened as they might be "rabid dogs." Gov. Christie warned against the looming dangers of orphaned toddlers. And Jeb Bush proposed a religious test for refugees from Syria.
Meanwhile, Marco Rubio suggested it's about more than closing down some mosques in America (Trump's idea): "It's about closing down any place, whether it's a cafe, a diner, an internet site, any place where radicals are being inspired."
Collectively, and covering the span of just a few days, the GOP's post-Paris outburst represented some of the most extreme campaign rhetoric heard in many, many years. But you wouldn't necessarily know it from the often-unsure coverage.
That faulty coverage extends beyond the hot-button refugee coverage. At a Saturday Trump rally in Birmingham, Alabama, a Black Lives Matter protester interrupted the Republican's speech and was quickly attacked by Trump supporters who pushed the man to the ground and pummeled him.
Look at how CBS News reported on the event:
Really, a "fight" broke out? Like a back-and-forth physical confrontation between two sides? Not quite. All available evidence suggests a black protester who interrupted Trump's speech was quickly jumped and then beaten, kicked, and choked by a crowd of white Trump supporters. (Though his campaign originally said they did not "condone this behavior," the next day, Trump suggested the protester deserved to get "roughed up.")
We've never seen a campaign like Trump's in modern American history. We've never seen a candidate soar to the front of the pack for months on end while espousing such divisive and often bigoted rhetoric. That's why it's long past time for the press to take off any lingering blinders: Fox favorite Trump is a truly radical candidate and he represents today's truly radical Republican Party.
"What's going to happen when those Syrian refugees open fire in a Chick-fil-A"? Fox News' Todd Starnes, November 17.
The bile is coming in over the transom so quickly it's getting hard to keep up, as the conservative media signal their latest xenophobic and Islamophobic outburst, this time targeting refugees fleeing war-torn Syria.
Not interested in having a serious debate about how or when to accept mostly Muslim refugees in the wake of the Paris terrorist massacre, Fox News is sponsoring a far-right hate brigade that not only targets refugees, but President Obama, too.
It's a bigoted bank shot for conservative commentators: Accuse Obama of coddling would-be terrorists (including widows and orphans) who are viewed as encroaching on our borders. Or so goes the battle cry, which accuses the president of abdicating America's national security -- and allegedly doing so on purpose.
*Fox's Jesse Watters: Obama is inviting in "the barbarians at the gate."
*Fox's Andrea Tantaros: "Everything that the president is doing seems to benefit what ISIS is doing."
In other words, there's a dark, invading force that Obama won't stop. In fact, he seems intent on welcoming it across the border so it can wreak havoc here at home.
Indeed, watching the Fox meltdown over refugees you might think, 'This is unique brand of rhetorical manure.' I mean, Obama putting Muslim refugees above the safety of Americans? Opting for a "forced infiltration"? But if you hit the rewind button to October and November 2014, then you remember, 'Oh yeah, they did pretty much the exact same thing twelve months ago with their full-scale meltdown over a domestic Ebola outbreak that never happened.'
Is this now becoming an annual autumn tradition? Some Fox talkers are even connecting the refugee/Ebola dots, although they fail to see it as problematic. "He's imported illegal aliens," said Watters of Obama. "Remember he brought all of the Ebola victims into this country?"
Remember Ebola, indeed.
In terms of sheer fearmongering, Fox News led the wild, right-wing pack. There was Elisabeth Hasselbeck suggesting America be put on lockdown, and her Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy absurdly claiming the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention was lying about Ebola because it's "part of the administration." (Naturally, Fox also promoted a conspiracy theorist who claimed the CDC was lying when it cautioned people not to panic.)
Andrea Tantaros fretted that people who traveled and showed symptoms of Ebola will "seek treatment from a witch doctor" instead of going to the hospital, while Rush Limbaugh implied Obama wanted Ebola to spread in America.
That last point is key to understanding the levels to which Fox talkers and their allies sink in their Obama Derangement Syndrome, both in 2014 and in 2015: The Obama administration didn't supposedly bungle the Ebola scare because it was incompetent. It bungled Ebola because Obama wanted Americans infected.
*Laura Ingraham: Obama's willing to expose the U.S. military to "the Ebola virus to carry out this redistribution of the privileged's wealth."
*Michael Savage: Obama "wants to infect the nation with Ebola" in order "to make things fair and equitable" in the world.
*Fox's Keith Ablow: Obama won't protect America from Ebola because his "affinities, his affiliations are with" Africa and "not us ... He's their leader." Ablow added, "We don't have a president who has the American people as his primary interest."
It's just ugly, rancid stuff; the kind of hate speech that has rarely passed for 'mainstream' conservative rhetoric in modern American politics. (For the record, the Obama administration was "vindicated" for the way it handled the Ebola scare, NBC News recently noted.)
Twelve months later we're witnessing the same kind of toxic sewage (what else should we call it?), as Fox leads the campaign to condemn the president of the United States a terrorist-sympathizer who can't be trusted to deal with Syrian refugees.
It's important to note that during the media's Ebola scare last year, lots of mainstream press outlets produced egregiously bad reporting that not only failed to illuminate the public, but it played into the fear the GOP was trying to whip up during the midterm election season. (Sen. Rand Paul: Ebola is "incredibly contagious.")
"Here's What Should Scare You About Ebola" read one overexcited New Republic headline, while CNN's Ashleigh Banfield speculated that "All ISIS would need to do is send a few of its suicide killers into an Ebola-affected zone and then get them on some mass transit, somewhere where they would need to be to affect the most damage."
To date, we haven't seen the press regularly duplicate that kind of recklessness with the refugee story, although there have been some notable stumbles.
Let's hope the press resists Fox News' siren call for more bigotry.