Eric Boehlert

Author ››› Eric Boehlert
  • Why The Murdochs Have To Clean House At Fox News

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Butts being grabbed, women being kissed against their will, female employees being ogled at work, promotions being offered in exchange for sex, and the looming threat of being fired for anyone who complained about the degrading harassment.

    Is it just me, or does the recent ugly portrait of Fox News these days in the wake of Roger Ailes’ departure amidst allegations of sexual harassment sound more like a caricature of a sexist work environment at a record company in the 1970s than it does at a news outlet in the 21st century? Not to mention a conservative news outlet that has branded itself the champion of wholesome, Republican values for years. As Fox News’ own Howard Kurtz conceded, “this has been a painful and embarrassing period for the network."

    Indeed. “Current and former employees described instances of harassment and intimidation that went beyond Mr. Ailes and suggested a broader problem in the workplace,” The New York Times reported. “The Times spoke with about a dozen women who said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment or intimidation at Fox News or the Fox Business Network, and half a dozen more who said they had witnessed it.”

    Fox News’ July fiasco first detonated on the sixth when former anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against former network chairman and CEO Roger Ailes. Since then, it’s been a steady stream of allegations aired in the press as current and former employees speak out.

    Ailes was shown the door on July 21, but the stain remains. And that’s why Rupert Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan, who have taken oversight of Fox News, need to clean house.

    On Monday it was reported that longtime Fox News executive Michael Clemente had left the network. His exit was approved by the Murdochs, according to CNN’s Dylan Byers. Byers added, “Network insiders say the move was unrelated to the recent sexual harassment allegations surrounding Ailes, though it's also true that Clemente showed no signs of leaving the network prior to the scandal.”

    For now, James and Lachlan are saying all the right things about wanting to fix Fox News: “We continue our commitment to maintaining a work environment based on trust and respect. We take seriously our responsibility to uphold these traditional, long-standing values of our company.”

    And to their credit, they quickly hired an outside law firm to investigate harassment allegations. The looming question now is, how do the Murdochs deal with the alleged pattern of abuse? Do they hope the story fades away with Ailes’ departure, or do they actually try to make Fox News a place where women feel comfortable working?

    New York’s Gabriel Sherman noted over the weekend that according to people he had spoken to inside the company, “the only way to change the Fox News culture is to move out all of the executives that Ailes had elevated into positions of power.” And he’s right, in part because some of those Ailes-affiliated executives reportedly tried to defend their boss this month by getting Fox hosts to disparage Carlson and her harassment claims.

    The sheer number of allegations swirling around Fox News, as recently reported by New YorkNew York Timesand The Washington Post (among others), remains startling.

    According to a former staffer, Ailes made “jokes that he liked having women on their knees.” Women did not want to be alone with Ailes in closed-door meetings. Ailes allegedly grabbed the buttocks of a young intern in 2002 after she rebuffed his sexual advances. One former employee says Ailes tried to kiss her in 2004, after telling her, “Do you know how to play the game?” According to Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit, he told her in 2015, “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago.” And at a company picnic, Ailes allegedly asked a former “rising star at the network” if she was wearing “panties” while she jumped on a trampoline. 

    But it wasn’t just Ailes.

    Former correspondent Rudi Bakhtiar has detailed how she was fired after she complained that Fox News’ then-D.C. bureau chief offered her a promotion if she agreed to sleep with him. (“I’d like to see the inside of your hotel room.”)

    Meanwhile, Fox News managers tried to set up their employees on dates with their superiors. One current employee alleged a supervisor said she could work on a new assignment if she agreed to give him oral sex.

    And of course in 2004, Bill O’Reilly was accused of sexual harassment by a former producer. The harassment came in the form O’Reilly diving into detailed discussions with a female employee about masturbation, climaxing, and shower fantasies. (The case was quickly settled out of court.)

    Your move, Murdochs.

    The behind-the-scenes story being told is that the Murdoch sons have been embarrassed by Ailes and Fox News for years and have been trying to oust the entrenched chief from his corner office. “This is not principally about sexual harassment,” Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff told the Washington Post. “This is an internal coup.”

    Noted Financial Review columnist Neil Chenoweth, based in Murdoch’s home country of Australia, “It looked like an excuse to dump Ailes, for the minor Murdochs to have their revenge.”

    Now that the sons have finally succeeded, thanks to the threat of outside legal action, are they going to simply remove Ailes, read an outside investigation about rampant sexual harassment allegations, shelve the lecherous findings, and carry on without any kind of radical shift in leadership? It doesn’t seem possible that just one man was responsible for that much alleged harassment.

    Meaning, if James and Lachlan make no concerted effort to fix the widespread problems facing the women working at Fox News, that means James and Lachlan will soon own that problem and that stigma.

    I’m under no illusions Murdoch and his sons will start poaching top scribes from the New York Times or National Public Radio and clean away the dreck and the sludge that now line the editorial halls at Fox News. Boss Murdoch has made his career peddling ugly lies and marketing falsehoods, and he’s happy to make a buck playing the partisan game.

    So no, I don’t expect Fox News to become a beacon of journalism anytime soon. But it's hard to justify allowing Fox News to continue to reward an outdated, hands-on, Mad Men culture. 

  • Ailes, Trump, And The Republican Reckoning

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Who could have scripted a doomsday scenario for the Republican Party that would feature Fox News' Roger Ailes reportedly being ousted as chief of Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing outlet amidst mounting allegations of sexual harassment, the same week political novice Donald Trump secures the GOP’s nomination?

    Last summer, both seismic conservative events were seen as impossibilities by many observers. Yet they’re now unfolding in plain view and both threatening to do grave and lasting damage to the GOP.

    Ailes and Trump are inexorably linked, and together they’ve become like a two-man wrecking crew, wreaking havoc on the GOP.

    Trump’s been denounced as a "vicious demagogue," a "con man," a "glib egomaniac," and "the very epitome of vulgarity" this year. And that’s been from conservative pundits. The Trump nomination has split the GOP like no election in the last half-century. And Republicans owe it, in part, to Ailes. Fox News for years laid the groundwork for Trump’s radical and improbable run.

    Indeed, without Fox News' exaggerated support over the years, and without Fox providing endless free airtime in the form of promotional blitzes to tout Trump as White House material, it's unlikely Trump today would be perched atop the Republican Party. (Trump rival Sen. Ted Cruz lamented as the primary campaign came to a close that Ailes and Rupert Murdoch had “turned Fox News into the Donald Trump network, 24/7.”)

    The hate and paranoia that has permeated Fox programming, especially during the Barack Obama years, reflects Ailes’ bigoted view of America and its supposed pending doom under Democratic leadership. Like his longtime friend Rush Limbaugh, Ailes has been a cancer on American politics for decades. He’s built a career that thrives on fabrications and falsehoods and character assassination.

    Ailes’ brand of hatred and paranoia, once a small, ugly part of the GOP appeal, is now synonymous with the Republican Party, thanks to its nomination of Trump, who rose to birther fame among conservatives via Ailes’ open door policy in 2011.

    As I’ve argued before, Trump is the Fox News id. The ugly, unvarnished, and unapologetic id of an aging white America that’s determined to “take its country back.” Trump’s a bigoted nativist who markets xenophobia and thrives on dividing Americans.

    Sound familiar?

    Last summer it seemed clear that Trump personified the vulgar brand of divisive rhetoric that Ailes helped hallmark and stood ready to unleash deep damage to the Republican Party.

    That damage has been on display all week at the GOP’s Trump convention in Cleveland. How did the Republicans arrive at such a bankrupt place, and who helped lead them down the obvious dead end? Roger Ailes, who years ago began wearing two hats, that of Fox News programming chief, and acting shadow chairman of the RNC. (Ailes reportedly told executives in 2010 that he wanted “to elect the next president.”) And for years, Republican bosses cheered the arrangement, happily abdicating party leadership to an increasingly unhinged group of Fox News talkers and the free airtime they delivered.

    Four years ago, during the Republican primary season, in a column headlined “How Fox News Is Destroying the Republican Party,” I noted:

    For Ailes and company, that slash-and-burn formula works wonders in terms of super-serving its hardcore, hard-right audience of three million viewers. But in terms of supporting a serious, national campaign and a serious, national conversation? It’s not working. At all … It’s what happens when a mainstream political movement embraces a radical media strategy like the one being promoted by Fox News; the movement marches itself off a cliff.

    And that’s exactly what has unfolded this year.

    Since its inception 20 years ago, Ailes has ruled the Fox News fiefdom within Murdoch's sprawling 21st Century Fox media empire and built it into a hugely influential moneymaker. The Ailes fingerprint has been omnipresent. He also instituted a unique culture that thrived on loyalty and secrecy.

    As a former Fox News producer explained it to Media Matters in 2011:

    "There may be internal squabbles. But what [Ailes] continually preaches is never piss outside the tent," says the source. "When he gets really crazy is when stuff leaks out the door. He goes mental on that. He can't stand that. He says in a dynamic enterprise like a network newsroom there's going to be in fighting and ego, but he says keep it in the house."

    There’s been a lot of reporting over the years -- much of it from intrepid Ailes biographer Gabriel Sherman, who has driven a lot of the news on Ailes' pending departure the past couple weeks -- about Ailes’ history of harassment and sexism as an executive. A nagging feeling was that if that behavior ever got fully excavated, Ailes’ Fox News house could crumble.

    And now it is.

    News this week that Megyn Kelly reportedly told outside attorneys hired by 21st Century who were investigating Ailes that he had sexually harassed her years ago meant that Ailes could not survive. He couldn’t survive because for years we’ve known he hasn’t had the support of Rupert Murdoch’s sons, James and Lachlan, who have been apparently eager for a way to oust Ailes.

    As media columnist Michael Wolff once noted, “There are, practically speaking, now two factions inside of News Corp., Ailes and Fox News, and the Murdoch children—with Rupert caught between them.”

    Last year, in a blow to Ailes’ ego and power base, the Murdoch sons made it known that the Fox News boss now answered to them, instead of directly to their father. Still, Ailes’ Fox News printed piles of money that reached so high, and Ailes had built such an impenetrable fiefdom, that he remained untouchable. Just last year Ailes inked a multi-year contract extending his reported $20 million annual salary.

    But the mounting claims of sexual harassment provided a new opening for the Murdoch family to move in and finally root Ailes out of his corner office. As Republicans watch Trump unfold his bizarre and disjointed fall campaign, the one built by Ailes and Fox News, many must be wondering if it’s not too late to stage their own coup.  

  • Fox News Attacks Black Lives Matter As “Lawless” After Cheering Cliven Bundy’s Lawless Militia

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Fox News has rediscovered its love of law and order.

    In the wake of protests across the country by Black Lives Matter activists following the deaths of two African-American men at the hands of police, Fox has spent days loudly denouncing the group for its allegedly violent ways. Under the headline, “Time to end Black Lives Matter lawlessness,” Fox’s Todd Starnes recently insisted “the rules of law matters, folks. Without it, we’ve got anarchy.”

    Starnes was angry that Black Lives Matter activists weren’t arrested when they marched on a bridge in Memphis and shut down traffic there over the weekend.

    Fox hosts and guests have all been piling on Black Lives Matter, continuing the network’s long-running campaign to demonize the group. Bill O’Reilly announced that an NAACP director and African-Americans in general need to “distance themselves from Black Lives Matter” in order to create “good racial relations,” while a panel of Fox News talkers last week insisted Black Lives Matter has its “roots in violence.” And Sean Hannity recently claimed that Black Lives Matter’s “advancing narrative is killing cops.”

    In other words, just rancid stuff, as Fox whips up racial tension under the guise of defending law and order. (Rudy Giuliani on Fox: Black Lives Matter “puts a target on the back of police.”)

    Fox News’ hate rhetoric isn’t just dangerous, it also reeks of hypocrisy when you recall that back in 2014, the same Fox News flaunted its disdain for law enforcement in order to champion Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. For two decades, Bundy refused to pay federal grazing fees on the public land his cattle used. According to Fox and the conservative media then, there was no more important battle than Bundy’s symbolic showdown with the federal government.

    The rancher’s battle was supported by heavily armed militiamen and women. Insurrectionism was the ugly theme of the day. Law enforcement was the enemy. And for Bundy, Fox News acted as his publicist/public defender, rallying conservatives across the country to support a rancher who didn’t want to pay his taxes.

    • Bill O’Reilly suggested Bundy “probably is a hero in many people's eyes because he's standing up against this colossus."
    • Sean Hannity relentlessly promoted Bundy, who called the Fox News talker his “hero.”
    • Andrew Napolitano called the law-breaking rancher a "patriotic, heroic American."

    And yes, the same Todd Starnes who today is so worried about “anarchy” if Black Lives Matter activists aren’t arrested was out front defending Bundy’s lawlessness. Referencing federal employees' attempt to legally confiscate Bundy's cattle after his fees and fines, Starnes noted, "Don't they still have laws on the books about cattle rustling out in Nevada? ... Back in the day, they used to string folks up for stealing cattle."

    At the height of Fox News’ Bundy frenzy and irresponsibility (like when Hannity wondered on-air if the federal government would kill the rancher), conservative media couldn’t stop fanning fears about "government overreach" in the Age of Obama.

    The Drudge Report recklessly hyped the possibility of a violent confrontation with the anti-government militia members, and Bundy himself threatened a “Range War” against the government, claiming his son was a “political prisoner.”

    The Southern Poverty Law Center later reported,The standoff between federal agents and armed supporters of a Nevada rancher earlier this year was a highly coordinated effort by far-right militiamen.” The group noted the Bundy confrontation “was seen as a victory within the antigovernment ‘Patriot’ movement after federal agents pulled out despite Bundy owing more than $1 million in grazing fees and fines to the federal government.”

    Make no mistake, the Bundy stand-off was aggressively anti-law enforcement. “Militia snipers lined the hilltops and overpasses with scopes trained on federal agents,” SPLC noted. During one confrontation, protesters taunted federal agents with insults, denouncing various officers as a "terrorist," "loser," "chickenshit," and a "fucking pussy.

    Reminder: In April 2014, Bundy uncorked a racist rant ("I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro") and thoroughly embarrassed his media supporters who foolishly portrayed him as an American hero.

    But before his sudden fall, Fox News touted Bundy and his anarchic militia supporters as symbols of American resistance. Keep that in mind next time a Fox talker denounces Black Lives Matter as lawless.

  • For Fox News, There’s No Collective Blame When Political Cop Killers Are White

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    "How do you stop a lunatic? ... This is not a political issue.” Andrea Tantaros on Fox News in 2012 after a racist skinhead shot a police officer in Wisconsin during a rampage.

    Stampeding their way to the Blame Game starting gate, Fox News commentators have been relentless in their recent claims that President Barack Obama himself deserves blame for the deadly gun rampage in Dallas last week that left five police officers dead. And when not casting collective blame on Obama, Fox talkers and other right-wing media commentators have been targeting Black Lives Matter activists for supposedly cultivating the mass shooting -- a shooting that has been denounced by Black Lives Matter leaders.

    Refusing to acknowledge that the Dallas gun massacre has anything to do with America’s runaway mass shooting problem, conservatives have instead focused their attention on assigning political guilt via a mile-wide net.

    But there’s a nasty hypocrisy at the root of this Blame Game, and it revolves around how Fox News and the conservative press traditionally treat political cop killers who are white, and how there’s no collective guilt associated with those deadly attacks. (As the Daily Beast noted in 2014, right-wing, anti-government extremists represent America’s top cop killers.)

    The hypocrisy has been on vivid display in recent days. Fox News contributor Kevin Jackson claimed Obama’s speech last week “helped to stoke” the Dallas killings. A recent Fox panel of talkers attacked Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Hillary Clinton and Obama for legitimizing the “violent” Black Lives Matter movement. (Rush Limbaugh last week denounced the organization as a “terrorist group committing hate crimes.”) Additionally, Sheriff David Clarke, a Fox News regular, derided “cop-hater in chief Barack Obama” and blamed him for the recent upheaval.

    We’ve seen this kind of ugly finger-pointing before with regard to police shootings.

    In December 2013, when Ismaaiyl Brinsley reportedly shot his ex-girlfriend, and then assassinated two New York City police officers, before killing himself on a city subway platform, Fox News hosts and guests immediately pinned the blame on President Obama, then-Attorney General Eric Holder, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

    Why them? Because they had spoken out about the troubled relationship between law enforcement and the black community in the wake of high-profile deaths of unarmed black men in the custody of police.

    Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani told Fox viewers that Obama was guilty of incendiary "propaganda" that suggested "everybody should hate the police." (Obama has never said anything like that.)

    But how does Fox News deal with deadly, ambush attacks on the police when the perpetrator isn’t black, and when the perpetrator is often tied to right-wing, anti-government politics? At Fox News and the rest of the conservative media, the response is entirely different. If they even bother to treat right-wing attacks on police officers as news, they routinely ignore any political ramifications and are quick to insist the ugly bouts of violence don’t have any larger meaning; that they’re simply isolated episodes of mad men and are absolutely void of movement politics.

    In other words, there is no collective blame.

    On May 20, 2010, two West Memphis, AR, police officers were shot and killed by a father and son team during a routine traffic stop. The shooters were AK-47-wielding sovereign citizens with ties to white supremacy groups and who had posted anti-government rants on YouTube. (Sovereign citizens are militia-like radicals who don't believe the federal government has the power and legitimacy to enforce the law.)

    None of Fox News’ primetime programs covered the story in the week after the shootings, according to Nexis.

    In June 2014, claiming to be acting under the bloody "banner of Liberty and Truth," Jerad Miller and his wife Amanda entered a restaurant Las Vegas and executed two local policemen while they ate lunch. Six days earlier, the shooter posted a manifesto on Facebook where he announced "we must … prepare for war."

    Jerad Miller, who traveled to Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch that spring to join the militia protests against the federal government, declared: "To stop this oppression, I fear, can only be accomplished with bloodshed." And according to an NBC News report, the shooter had talked to his neighbor about his "desire to overthrow the government and President Obama and kill police officers."

    To this day, “Jerad Miller” has only been mentioned once -- by a guest -- on Fox News’ primetime shows in connection to the Las Vegas cop killings, according to a Nexis search. Which indicates there was no attempt by Fox’s evening talkers to blame any political players for that deadly police ambush.

    That Las Vegas police attack unfolded just two days after a member of the "sovereign citizen" anti-government movement waged a brief war outside a courthouse near Atlanta. Dennis Marx came supplied with an assault weapon, "homemade and commercial explosive devices," as well as "a gas mask; two handguns; zip ties and two bulletproof vests," according to the Associated Press. He opened fire, shooting one deputy in the leg.

    Fox News barely covered the Marx attack on law enforcement, and there was no widespread attempt to assign collective blame.

    In September 2014 marksman Eric Frein reportedly was lying in wait outside the Blooming Grove police barracks in northeastern Pennsylvania, preparing to assassinate state troopers. That night, state police officer Bryon Dickson was shot and killed as he walked toward his patrol car. The shooter "made statements about wanting to kill law enforcement officers and to commit mass acts of murder," Pennsylvania’s state police commissioner warned the public at the time.

    Frein, a survivalist with strong anti-government leanings, then disappeared into the mountains and remained at large for weeks. In the wake of the assassination, Fox’s primetime programs mentioned Frein's name in just six reports, according to Nexis transcripts. And there was no strong focus on the killer’s anti-government leanings.

    When Frein was finally captured in late October, Fox News covered the story a handful of times. But there was no emphasis on his possible anti-government motivations and why the "survivalist" set out to assassinate law enforcement officers. 

    And note that back in 2012, racist skinhead Wade Michael Page started killing worshipers at an Oak Creek, WI, Sikh temple, and then waited for the police to arrive before murdering an officer. The gunman was a white supremacist who “called non-whites ‘dirt people,’” and was interested in joining the Ku Klux Klan, according to acquaintances.

    On Fox’s The Five, when Democratic former co-host Bob Beckel referred to Page as a "right-wing skinhead," he was quickly shouted down by his colleagues. Co-host Andrea Tantaros insisted the killing was an isolated event that didn't have any larger implications. "How do you stop a lunatic?" she asked. "This is not a political issue."

    Note to Fox News: Following Dallas, you can’t have it both ways.

  • Fox News And The GOP Descend Into Email Madness: Investigate The Investigators!

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Monitoring the increasingly unraveled response to Tuesday’s news that Hillary Clinton likely won’t face any criminal charges in connection to her use of private email while secretary of state, did anybody else experience a flashback to Election Night, 2012? That’s when conservatives, as personified by Fox News commentator Karl Rove, seemed unable to grasp the idea that President Obama was going to win reelection, and win easily.

    Having become so comfortably ensconced inside their right-wing media bubble, where predictions of a Mitt Romney landslide victory were the norm, the echo chamber for partisans like Rove became so impenetrable they even tried to fight stubborn electoral math as the ballots were counted in 2012.

    After being told for four years that Obama was a traitorous figure determined to weaken America, there was a communal certitude among Fox viewers and commentators that the president would be voted out of office.

    We now seem to be witnessing the same type of collective meltdown in the wake of the email investigation news. But this time there’s no sign the slow-motion madness will be contained. Unlike the 2012 election, where conservatives were forced to face the mathematical truth of Obama’s victory, and when the Republican Party temporarily set out to try to fix what went wrong for their candidate (see the GOP’s so-called autopsy report), there’s no early indication that that kind of minimal GOP reality check is in the works any time soon. 

    Instead, with the Republican Party’s nominee feeding off wild conspiratorial claims from the conservative media about a vast, government-wide cover-up to protect Hillary Clinton, the flames of paranoia are being fanned even higher. Now we’re told it’s a cover-up supposedly engineered by the Republican head of the FBI. Meaning, the guardrails have clearly been taken down. It’s anything goes, including the suggestion that a future President Trump could still prosecute Clinton. (For the record, many legal and security experts long ago predicted Clinton wouldn’t, and shouldn’t, face criminal charges stemming from this case.)  

    And that’s why distraught Republicans are now set to haul FBI Director James Comey up to Capitol Hill tomorrow and force him to explain why he didn’t recommend that Hillary Clinton be indicted. (This is the same GOP that refuses to grant Obama’s Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland, the courtesy of hearings.) That’s the FBI chief who was appointed deputy attorney general by President George W. Bush, has donated to Republican candidates, and who, up until yesterday, was routinely and often extravagantly praised in the conservative press as a Clark Kent-like figure of impeachable integrity:

    *Rush Limbaugh, April 12: “James Comey … really is a guy with impeccable integrity."

    *Bill O'Reilly, March 2: “I believe an honest investigation is being done by the FBI.”

    Why the whiplash turn of events? If you’ve been following the conservative media talking points for the unfolding investigation in recent months, you know the presented storyline went like this: Comey is a straight shooter and so are FBI agents investigating Clinton. They’re going to find the real dirt on the presumptive Democratic nominee, but then political appointees at Obama’s Department of Justice are somehow going to thwart the FBI’s hard work and cover up any crime she committed. 

    In other words, Comey was being groomed as the Good Guy and Attorney General Loretta Lynch was being groomed as the Villain.

    But yesterday, Comey confounded that storyline when he announced that the FBI concluded that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring a case against Clinton or anyone else associated with her regarding the emails.

    So instead of accepting reality (never!), partisans scrambled the jets and are trying to spin Comey’s findings. Fox News and friends instantly turned on the Republican FBI director and insisted the amorphous “fix” was in from the get-go; that the FBI, and DOJ and the White House were all in on the cover-up to protect Clinton. And apparently that’s the topic that will be explored in a Republican-sponsored hearing on the Hill: Why did the FBI investigation not produce the results that Republicans wanted?

    How did the GOP end up in this “scandal” dead-end? Fox News led Republicans into the alley, of course. 

    As I noted last summer as email fever swept across the fever swamps, “night after night, day after day, a rotating carousel of partisans who attack Democrats for a living have been invited onto Fox to invent a laundry list of claims and excitedly predict all the awful things that await Clinton and her surely doomed campaign.”   

    There really was no half-baked allegation about Clinton criminality that was considered off limits to the viewers of Fox News. Convinced that her use of a personal email account and server easily surpassed the widespread lawbreaking of Richard Nixon’s Watergate run, Fox News hyped the criminal danger supposedly facing the Democrat.

    None of that was ever remotely related to the truth. So now the right-wing media and Republicans are demanding the FBI director explain to them why their fantasy version of the email “scandal” doesn’t match his factual one.

    Madness.

  • Months Of Media Speculation About Clinton Criminality All For Naught

    Like Benghazi, Email "Scandal" Winds Down

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    First Benghazi, and now Hillary Clinton’s emails.

    If critics hoped so-called Clinton scandals were going to derail the Democrat’s White House campaign, they’re going to have to devise a new strategy as the long-running controversies continue to be deflated via official inquiries.

    Confirming what many intelligence and legal experts had long suggested to be the case, FBI Director James Comey said the FBI is not recommending criminal charges over Clinton’s use of private email as secretary of state, saying that “no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.” The announcement comes in the wake of the eighth and likely final government investigation into the Benghazi terror attacks, which failed to uncover Clinton wrongdoing.

    Both cases were obsessively hyped by the conservative media (Clinton would soon be fitted for an orange prison jumpsuit!) and often irresponsibly echoed by the mainstream media. Beltway journalists seemed overly anxious to suggest criminality on the part of Clinton, and focused on the looming political downfall supposedly stemming from her emails.

    Remember the media’s complete freakout when the email story first broke last year? Based on the waves of hysteria among journalists at the outset, you would’ve thought Democratic burglars had just been caught breaking into the Republican National Committee’s headquarters.

    The “scandal” prompted The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd to liken the Clintons to the Iranian regime, while a Times illustration depicted Clinton as being crushed to death by a smartphone, like the Wicked Witch of the East.

    The snide, name-calling mindset of the overboard coverage fit perfectly with a two-decade press pattern where the Clintons are relentlessly convicted in the media, often thanks to misleading GOP allegations and leaks. But then the so-called criminal scandals turn out to be Republican and Fox News creations, apologies are rarely offered up, and there’s virtually no self-reflection while the press just moves on to the next trumped-up drama. 

    No politicians in modern history have had to fight their way through as many phony allegations of criminality as the Clintons. Yet the press, incapable or unwilling to change, keeps playing the same Groundhog Day role.

    In short, a lot of the email coverage over the last two years has been sloppy, and badly misleading. And some of the largest news organizations in America have produced among the sloppiest and most misleading dispatches.

    Just last week, for example, the Associated Press had to revise a report that claimed Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin told investigators that Clinton did not want her State Department emails accessible to “anybody” during her time as secretary of state.

    False. Abedin was only referring to Clinton’s emails that were unrelated to work.

    And no, The New York Times, Clinton wasn’t the target of a criminal investigation. And no, The Washington Post, the FBI didn’t assign nearly 150 agents to the email case. (Good grief, according to subsequent reports it was more like 12 agents.) Those were two sizable blunders; errors that were largely shrugged off by editors.

    Wallowing in selective outrage over missing emails (to this day, former Secretary of State Colin Powell hasn’t turned over any of his private emails from his time in government), the press eagerly championed the so-called email scandal, hyped every tidbit of information as proof of Clinton’s criminal wrongdoing, and often refused to acknowledge common sense explanations when they were applicable.

    Did we mention selective outrage? During Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign, the press virtually ignored the fact that while he released an archive of emails from his time as governor, the released emails featured “few, if any, emails between Bush and his aides” about pivotal events during his tenure.

    And yes, in 2007, when Democrats in Congress demanded White House emails in connection with its investigation into the partisan firing of eight U.S. attorneys, the Bush White House announced that as many as five million emails, covering a two-year span, had been lost. The emails had been run through private accounts controlled by the Republican National Committee and used by 22 White House staffers, including then-Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, who reportedly used the RNC account for “about 95 percent” of his communications.

    The media’s response to that email story? Meh. Ponder that non-reaction in the wake of the media’s 16-month parade of Clinton email coverage.

    Unlike the petered-out Benghazi controversy, which much of the mainstream press has largely framed as a partisan charade recently, a lot of the Beltway media to this day remains firmly attached to the heated GOP narrative about Clinton’s email criminality and the idea Clinton’s campaign could be gravely injured by it. 

    The problem was that the specifics of the email saga never actually suggested any of that. Instead, we witnessed a wide lens example of the press projecting its misgiving and disdain for a candidate onto an unfolding news story and then treating it as something it clearly was not: a game changer.

    For the press, the email kerfuffle likely also appealed to the Beltway newsroom love of Clinton process stories, and ones that raise doubts about optics: Who gave Clinton permission to use a private server? Where did she store her correspondence? How many emails did she hand over? Who forwarded her important emails? Which committee would investigate the ‘scandal’? What were the dire consequences for her campaign?

    In other words, the story was completely detached from the lives of most everyday Americans. Indeed, if the email story represented such a looming political crisis, as journalists endlessly suggested it did, why does Clinton enjoy such a comfortable lead over Trump in the polls this summer? (Note that Democratic voters certainly don’t care about the email story.)

    Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald has been among the few journalists who routinely asked the right questions about the overheated email coverage, as it often careened out of control: “[D]oes anyone really believe voters will base their decisions at the ballot box on whether the documents in question were preserved strictly following the mandated procedures?”

    But for Beltway journalists, the turf battle at the center of the email kerfuffle represented a bonanza of news possibilities and months, if not years, of dubious spinning, with the prevailing storyline always being the same: This is really bad for Hillary Clinton.

    Now, like the Republicans’ long-running Benghazi charade, the email criminal scandal isn’t ending the way anti-Clinton partisans had hoped.

    Will the press note the pattern?

  • Farewell To Fox News’ Benghazi Hoax

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    To the surprise of no one, the Republicans’ four-year partisan inquisition surrounding the terrorist attack on the American compound in Benghazi, Libya, is likely ending with a whimper. With the House Select Committee on Benghazi finally releasing its findings, and the report representing the eighth and (likely) final government investigation into the deadly event, the Benghazi hoax, as sponsored by Fox News for four years, finally comes to an impotent and ignominious end.

    Early indications are that the report, as expected, provides no major revelations. Already undercut by a report from Democratic members of the Benghazi committee that further debunked right-wing myths about the attack, the GOP’s long-awaited Benghazi report is in danger of being met with collective shoulder shrugs.

    Even Donald Trump seems relatively uninterested in kicking the Benghazi can around the campaign trail this year. Yes, he’s made a couple passing references to it and implied grave misdeeds by Hillary Clinton. But there’s been no serious push on his part to highlight the GOP’s endless pursuit. (Last year, Trump actually criticized the Republicans’ investigations as being incompetent.)

    So if Benghazi isn’t being used as an election year battering ram against the Democrats, what has been the point of committee chairman Trey Gowdy’s comically extended inquiry? Anybody with a pulse and a political calendar realized that the final GOP Benghazi report, with its 2016 summertime release, was designed to disrupt Clinton’s White House run. Why else would the committee’s work be extended for two-plus years when it likely could have been completed in six or seven months? (Two years to hold four hearings?)

    Unsure they could defeat Clinton at the ballot box, and lately even more unsure that Trump is competent enough to run a White House campaign, Republicans were hoping and praying for an investigative intervention to stop Clinton.

    It ain’t happening with Benghazi. But anyone who followed the facts, or who reads Media Matters, knew that a very long time ago.

    The whole mindless, partisan endeavor shines a light on what’s gone completely wrong with the Republican Party and the right-wing media. It’s about how shallow, endlessly debunked conspiracies and money-sucking investigations have replaced any attempt to govern and legislate.

    The fact that the GOP’s Benghazi gotcha pursuits have stretched through the entirety of Obama’s second term, and that Obama stands poised to leave office with surging approval ratings, tells you all need to know about the crippling disconnect between the right-wing media and the real world today. (Fox’s Eric Bolling: “I think Benghazi's a much bigger scandal than Watergate.")

    But let’s never forget that the Beltway press claims partial ownership of this slow-motion fiasco, too. The press certainly owns the first three years of the Benghazi charade when journalists breathlessly amplified every slipshod allegation leaked from Republicans on Capitol Hill, or followed Fox News’ lead in hyping an endless series of supposed revelations about the attacks. Sometimes we couldn’t tell who was more anxious to uncover an Obama or Clinton-related “scandal,” the press or partisan conservatives.

    If I had to estimate, I’d say it took until October 2015 -- three entire years of Benghazi news dead ends -- before the D.C. press mostly conceded there’s no there there with regards to this so-called scandal. It took Hillary Clinton testifying for 11 hours on Capitol Hill and Republicans completely unable to advance, let alone confirm, their wild conspiracy theories before the press largely seemed to acknowledge the futility of the whole enterprise. (Accidental truth telling in 2015 by some GOP House members regarding the motivation about the Benghazi committee likely also convinced reporters the endeavor was largely a scam.)

    Unfortunately, this was after several Beltway journalists’ reputations took serious hits when they were caught trusting dubious sources who lied about Benghazi revelations.

    Meanwhile, here’s some distressing context. I wrote this more than 1,300 days ago:

    Benghazi has entered the realm of churning, right-wing myth making. (Think Waco and Vince Foster). The story has become completely detached from reality, and the twisted narrative feeds off itself with constant misinformation that's repeatedly presented as 'fact.' 

    I certainly never thought in the fall of 2012 that four years later I’d still be pointing the Benghazi hoax and highlighting the obvious absurdity of the pursuit. Overall, Media Matters has posed hundreds of fact-checking items on Benghazi and we’ll continue to do so as long as conservatives cling to the fantasy. But that will be much harder to do now without a congressional inquiry to give the wild claims shape.

    The larger point is that Republicans and Fox News have wasted untold time, money and energy pushing a thoroughly discredited pipe dream about how Obama and Clinton are supposedly monstrous people who chose to let four Americans die at the hands of Islamic terrorists and then lied about it. Worse, Obama watched video "in real time" while the terrorists snuffed out American lives. "Support wasn't given," in the words of Karl Rove.

    Vile, vile lies.

    This whole endeavor has been a depressing reflection on how broken the conservative movement has become, and also how the Beltway press simultaneously takes its marching orders from the scandal-obsessed right wing. Like Republicans, journalists seemed to be eagerly holding out hope for an Obama or Clinton scandal to emerge from the Benghazi investigations.

    And of course that faulty blueprint hasn’t just applied to the Benghazi “scandal.” As noted in September last year, ABC World News TonightCBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News together spent just as much time covering Clinton’s email controversy as they spent covering the substance of her entire presidential campaign.

    If we’re truly bidding farewell to Fox News’ Benghazi conspiracy hoax (fingers crossed), there’s another point about context that’s worth stressing one last time. 

    I think one way the GOP and conservative media were able to string the serious press along on Benghazi was that they framed the Benghazi terror attack as an almost-unprecedented event in American history (sadly, it was not) and one that exposed unheard of security failures by Obama’s White House and Clinton’s State Department; it was supposedly an epic fiasco that demanded countless investigations. 

    What the press for most of the last four years refused to do is put the Benghazi terror attack in any kind of historical context.

    Consider these facts under President Ronald Reagan:

    *April 18, 1983: Bombing of U.S. Embassy in Beirut. 63 people were killed, including 17 Americans, including the CIA’s chief analyst in the Middle East, and the Beirut station chief. 

    *September 6, 1983: Two Marines were killed during a lengthy rocket assault on the Marine base at Beirut's airport.

    *Oct. 23, 1983: Bombing of Marine barracks in Beirut. A suicide bomber detonated a truck full of explosives at a U.S. Marine barracks; 241 U.S. service personnel were killed.

    *Sept. 20, 1984: Bombing of U.S. Embassy annex. A truck bomb exploded in Aukar, northeast of Beirut, outside the annex, killing 24 people, including two U.S. military personnel.

    During an 18-month span, U.S. facilities in and around Beirut were attacked by terrorists four times, killing 330 people, including 262 Americans.

    There was exactly one congressional investigation into the Beirut debacle.

  • For Clinton, All News Is Bad News: Brexit Edition

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Deciding that a national referendum staged thousands of miles away offers deep insight into America’s pending presidential election -- and that Hillary Clinton’s campaign in particular may be damaged by a vote in Europe -- several pundits in recent have days have stressed the Bad News angle for the Democrat.

    Reading all kinds of American implications into the United Kingdom’s vote to exit the European Union, known as “Brexit,” commentators seemed to be straining in order to stick to their preferred all-news-is-bad-news pattern when covering Clinton.

    Meet The Press host Chuck Todd insisted that in the wake of Brexit, Clinton “has to learn a lesson here” because she represents “the establishment.” Or “the status quo,” as The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza suggested during the same segment.

    On ABC’s This Week, Greta Van Susteren agreed that the “status quo really needs to be worried” and that Brexit “hurts Secretary Hillary Clinton, because she is going to be pinned with status quo.”

    And because Clinton’s such a supposedly stagnant candidate with so little vision, the vote in the U.K. set off “panic” inside “Democratic circles,” according to Time.

    But does that framing of the Brexit vote reflect reality? Clinton’s the first woman to ever win a major party’s presidential nomination in American history and her party’s newly drafted platform is the most aggressively progressive in decades, yet the press depicts her as “status quo” and out of touch with voters urging change. 

    The New York Times seemed to take the lead over the weekend in ringing the Brexit alarm bells for Clinton. On Sunday’s front page, the Times insisted the U.K. outcome casts a “shadow” over Clinton’s White House run, which seems odd since Clinton played no role in the British vote. But the Times was certain the referendum represented the type of outcome she “fears” in November.

    Additionally:

    According to their friends and advisers, Mrs. Clinton and former President Bill Clinton have worried for months that she was out of sync with the mood of the electorate, and that her politically safe messages — like “I’m a progressive who gets results” — were far less compelling to frustrated voters than the “political revolution” of Senator Bernie Sanders or Mr. Trump’s grievance-driven promise to “Make America Great Again.”

    Fact: Clinton just defeated Sanders by approximately 3.7 million votes in the Democratic primary, and she leads Trump by 12 points in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. But the Times hypes anonymous concerns her "safe" message isn’t resonating? (What would the polls look like today if Clinton’s message was resonating?) More importantly, since when is the candidate who tallies the most votes depicted as being out of touch with voters?

    In a strange attempt to prove its point, the Times noted, “Mr. Sanders and Mr. Trump won a combined 25 million votes during the primary season, compared with 16 million for Mrs. Clinton.”

    Clinton won more votes than either Sanders or Trump this year. But because combined they tallied more than her that means a referendum in Europe is bad news for her; that she’s “out of step.” That seems illogical.

    More Times oddities:

    In swing states like Ohio, many Democrats and Republicans yearn for an economic comeback and are not confident that Mrs. Clinton understands their frustrations or has the ideas and wherewithal to deliver the sort of change that could satisfy them.

    Democrats in Ohio aren’t sure Clinton “understands” their concerns, even though three months ago Democrats in Ohio selected Clinton as the winner of the state’s primary contest by almost 14 points.

    Meanwhile, since when are national votes in foreign countries even considered to be precursors for American elections? Or is the press only leaning on that angle now because pundits think it represents bad news for the Democrat?

    If that’s the rubric, journalists ought to be consistent. If votes in foreign countries, and specifically countries that resemble the U.S. population, are deemed to be bellwether events for U.S. presidential elections, shouldn’t the press treat other recent votes as being preludes to U.S. election results?

    For instance, what was the lesson Clinton was supposed to have learned from Canada last October when voters there overwhelmingly elected a liberal prime minster? Or did that referendum not matter since the results were in sync with Clinton’s campaign message of inclusion and progress?

    If for some reason Clinton had made Brexit a central issue in her American campaign, or if overseas referendums served as well-established indicators for U.S. election results, pundits might be safe in drawing sweeping conclusions about the Democrat’s chances in the wake of the U.K. vote.

    Instead, lots of the commentary looks and sounds like a kneejerk attempt to assume big news is bad news for Clinton’s White House hopes.

  • Is Trump’s Campaign Just Another Conservative Con? And Should The Press Cover It That Way?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    "Conservatism is a racket for a lot of people to get very, very rich. With no thought of winning elections.” MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, 2012.

    Stunned reporters this week have been unrelenting in depicting Donald Trump’s campaign as one whose wheels have not only come loose, but whose doors and windows have also flown off the hinges.

    Journalists, who are fascinated by fundraising totals and are forever stressing their importance in terms of judging campaign strength, were gobsmacked to learn Trump has just over $1 million in his campaign coffers after raising just $3.1 million in May.

    The total is unbelievably paltry for a major party nominee,” reported The Huffington Post, which labeled Trump’s recently released campaign finance report a “dumpster fire.” By comparison, four years ago Mitt Romney’s campaign raised $23.4 million in May. And by comparison, Hillary Clinton raised $4.5 million in just one day of fundraising this month.

    Donald Trump’s May fundraising totals are disastrously bad,” announced a Washington Post headline.

    But it’s not just Trump’s finances. It seems with every important campaign measurement -- staffing, get out the vote, communications, etc. -- Trump not only languishes; he barely competes.

    It's certainly possible, given Trump's history and lack of political experience, that his campaign's problems stem largely from basic incompetence. But something else might be in play here.

    Republicans have been staging modern White House campaigns for decades. Sometimes they’re successful and sometimes they’re not, but the party always manages to build an apparatus and support system that’s designed to compete on the national stage. So why would that formula suddenly elude Trump? Why would this nominee not to be able to pull off Campaign 101 as the calendar readies its flip to July?

    Just as importantly, why is Trump’s campaign pouring so much money into paying Trump’s own companies for goods and services?

    Why would Trump, whose campaign is in crisis at home, set aside two days this week to fly to Scotland to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of a golf resort? The answer, of course, is that Trump owns the luxury golf club.

    Do the two red flags of Trump’s seeming unwillingness to commit resources to genuinely compete for the White House, combined with his desire to fill his companies’ own coffers, suggest that his campaign is actually some sort of large-scale scam or con? And if it is, is that how the press should cover his campaign and drop the assumption that the Trump run represents a traditional GOP march toward the White House?

    It’s true that journalists are aggressively detailing his campaign’s many shortcomings. But most of the coverage suggests Trump and his team just haven’t mastered the campaign game, or that Trump’s simply too mercurial, which is causing trouble for him.

    But if the whole endeavor turns out to be more focused on bolstering Trump’s brands and launching his future media career than mounting a serious campaign, shouldn’t that be reflected in the real-time coverage?

    The crass self-dealing isn’t a new trend in the conservative movement. Media Matters has documented for years how fundraising scams remain a constant on the right, with high-profile media and political figures cashing in.

    Ben Carson’s presidential campaign this year nicely captured the grifter angle as the candidate plowed a huge percentage of his fundraising donations into paying for more fundraising.

    It sure looks like Carson's campaign is a self-perpetuating machine in which money is raised to pay mostly for more money being raised — and the people doing the direct mail and phone calls are making out quite nicely,” noted The Week’s Paul Waldman last year. (This, while Carson gave lucrative paid speeches during the presidential campaign season.)

    Trump now seems determined to further that dubious GOP tradition.

    When Trump flies, he uses his airplane. When he campaigns, he often chooses his properties or his own Trump Tower in New York City, which serves as headquarters. His campaign even buys Trump bottled water and Trump wine,” the Associated Press recently reported.

    His campaign has been writing very large checks to Trump’s TAG Air, Trump Tower Commercial, the Trump Corporation, Trump’s private Mar-a-lago Club, Trump National Doral and Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, according to the AP. And "Trump's relentless product branding while on the campaign trail" might also be boosting the bottom lines of companies like Trump Ice, his bottled water company.

    But again, it’s not just the obvious self-dealing within the Trump campaign that raises doubts about the possibility of a con. It’s also Trump’s refusal to mount an actual, physical campaign operation. “Trump essentially has no campaign at this point,” The Washington Post reported on June 20.

    For instance, Trump has not aired any general election ads in eight key battleground states.

    And speaking of swing states, Trump hasn’t been to the important swing state of Ohio since March, while Hillary Clinton made two Buckeye stops in the span of eight days this month. "Democrats say they now have 150 full-time employees on the ground in Ohio" working to help Clinton and state-level Democrats win their races. But “Trump doesn't have a campaign operation in Ohio,” CNN recently reported.

    In May, Trump had just 69 paid staffers in total, compared to Clinton’s 685. Trump’s entire communication outreach effort seems to consist of Hope Hicks, “who is essentially the lone media contact for reporters,” MSNBC reported.

    Ground game? Last week in Phoenix, Trump’s rally drew approximately 4,500 supporters to an arena that accommodates 15,000. As for Trump’s field organization, it consists of “a patchwork of aides, some paid, some retained on a volunteer basis and many left over from the Republican primaries,” according to CNN.

    It would be one thing if Trump crassly touted and boosted his myriad businesses while running a muscular presidential run. But to try to cash in while running an at-times-invisible campaign certainly raises doubts about his pursuit.

    If the whole thing is built to be a con, shouldn’t the press say so?

  • With Gun Votes Pending, New York Times Again Whitewashes GOP’s Radical Obstruction

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Trying to jump-start the gun debate in America, Democrats last week, led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), were forced to stage a nearly 15-hour talking filibuster in the wake of the Orlando gun rampage that left 49 people dead at a gay nightclub. The marathon event was held in order to champion two gun measures. One would give the Justice Department authority to block gun sales to people on the  terror watch list (the "terror gap"), and the other would require background checks on nearly all gun sales. 

    Those votes are scheduled for Monday evening as amendments to a DOJ spending bill. Republicans will also put forward two measures; one purports to straighten the background check system while actually weakening it, and the other purports to block sales to suspected terrorists but has "an unworkable standard" in actually stopping any sales. 

    But The New York Times has already been downplaying any chance of Congress passing the Democrats' proposals. “Why the Orlando Shooting Is Unlikely to Lead to Major New Gun Laws,” read a June 16 headline.

    Why were the background check and terror gap efforts supposedly doomed? “Largely because of hotly contested Senate races in a bitter election year,” the newspaper reported. “Election-year politics will make a bill to expand background checks an uphill climb,” the Times stressed.  

    For readers, the storyline was clear: The two sides simply can’t agree on this one. Maybe next year -- because for now, Republicans just don’t see eye-to-eye with Democrats on gun legislation.

    But none of that glossed-over analysis is applicable to what’s happening today. And the framing the Times uses -- which was also employed by other news organizations -- categorically ignores what’s been unfolding in American politics since President Obama was elected, and specifically it ignores how the Republican Party has tried its best, via radical obstructionism, to thwart Obama in every conceivable way. And Republicans are doing it in a manner that’s unprecedented in modern American politics.

    Here’s the political context that’s been flushed down the memory hole since the Orlando massacre: Republicans don’t simply disagree with Obama on gun legislation; they disagree with him on everything. ("If he was for it, we had to be against it," former Republican Ohio Sen. George Voinovich once explained.) Yet too many in the press still downplay that central fact.

    Indeed, so much of the congressional gun coverage last week glossed over the fact that Democrats had to stage a nearly 15-hour filibuster just to get Republicans to allow votes on gun legislation in the wake of another gun massacre. And these were gun amendments whose measures enjoy overwhelming, bipartisan support among voters.

    Media Matters has been documenting this journalism shortcoming for a very long time. Here was a recent thumbnail sketch of what blanketed GOP obstruction has looked like under Obama:

    Today's Republican Party is acting in a way that defies all historic norms. We saw it with the GOP's gun law obstruction, the Violence Against Women Act obstruction, the sequester obstruction, Supreme Court obstruction, minimum wage obstruction, 9/11 first responder obstruction, government shutdown obstruction, immigration reform obstruction, Chuck Hagel's confirmation obstruction, Susan Rice secretary of state obstruction, paid leave obstruction, Hurricane Sandy emergency relief obstruction, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act obstruction, and the consistent obstruction of judicial nominees.

    Good luck finding any of that context in the current coverage about the congressional gun votes. Instead, news consumers are supposed to pretend the last eight years of GOP obstruction never happened and that the gun votes this week are taking place in a vacuum.

    They’re also supposed to pretend one party in particular doesn’t sponsor obstructionism. Look at this June 14 Times article about the Orlando shooting and gunman Omar Mateen (emphasis added):

    Even if Mr. Mateen had remained on the watch list, it would not have stopped him from buying a gun. Congress blocked an attempt last year to give the F.B.I. the power to block gun sales to people on terrorism watch lists.

    But of course, “Congress” didn’t block the attempt in 2015; Republicans did.

    If you’re sensing déjà vu about gun massacres and jockeying over congressional votes, that’s because following the deadly rampage at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, CT, Republicans, at the urging of the National Rifle Association, blocked any attempt to vote on a gun safety bill to strengthen background checks.

    At the time, Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-PA) was among the few Republicans who tried to fashion together a compromise. In the end, the GOP abandoned that effort. Pressed to address the failure, Toomey explained:

    In the end, it didn't pass because we're so politicized. There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.

    Three years ago, Toomey revealed the underlying truth; he articulated his own party’s obstructionist blueprint. But most journalists politely filed that quote away, and they certainly haven’t dwelled on it in recent days as new gun votes loom.

    Meanwhile, back to the Times coverage. You know what would have provided additional context for the Times article, which chose to view the pending gun votes through the narrow prism of a soda straw? Polling data. The same day of the Times piece, new polling information showed that 86 percent of Americans support denying gun sales to anybody who’s on the government’s terror watch list, including 87 percent of Republicans. Numerous polls over the past few years have indicated that around 90 percent of Americans favor a background check for every gun sale. 

    As for the idea that Republicans can’t find common ground with Democrats on gun legislation because this year is an election year? That just defies logic and whitewashes what’s transpired for the last eight years.

    How do we know current Republican obstruction isn’t about election year positioning? We know because Republicans have been radically obstructing Obama every year he’s been in office, regardless of balloting.

    Remember these two initiatives that the GOP bizarrely blocked when no significant elections were pending:

    *Disaster relief for Hurricane Sandy victims (January 2013)

    *The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act (December 2014)

    And don’t forget about the GOP’s illogical government shutdown of 2013 and the equally loopy sequestration that same year.

    It’s simply not credible to blame possible failed gun votes this week on “election year” politics. After eight years, we know the Republican Party’s radical obstructionist streak pays no attention to the calendar.