One of the biggest upsets in American politics was powered by right-wing media, according to analysis of last night's defeat of Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), the House Minority Leader, who fell to an obscure Tea Party-backed candidate. Cantor's campaign spent nearly as much on drinks and dinners at steak houses as David Brat did on his entire primary push. Yet Brat easily defeated the seven-term Republican leader.
"The seeds for Brat's upset were sown on right-wing radio talk shows, particularly Laura Ingraham's," CNN's Brian Stelter reported. On Fox News last night, radio host and Brat booster Mark Levin celebrated the Virginia "ass-kicking." (During the same appearance, Levin urged Republicans to "stop chasing genitalia" in order to win elections.)
"There are parts of this country where if Laura Ingraham, and Ann Coulter, and Mark Levin are on the radio supporting you, that's worth a lot," Fox's Brit Hume noted. "In the right place, with the right constituency, those people hold real power."
Real power, indeed.
For years, that power was mostly directed at Democrats, and specifically at President Obama as talk radio and the larger right-wing media Noise Machine has worked tirelessly to demonize its opponents via nasty and often dishonest, illogical attacks.
After John McCain's dispiriting loss to Barack Obama in 2008, damaged leaders of the Republican establishment slowly shuffled off the national stage. And into that vacuum rushed Roger Ailes, Glenn Beck, Rush-I-Hope-He-Fails-Limbaugh, and other players from the right-wing media lineup. They took over the messaging for the Republican Party, the attacks on the new president, and helped power the surging Tea Party movement in America.
Teaming up with the GOP and its unprecedented plan to obstruct a president who won an electoral landslide victories, the Noise Machine provided the mass media muscle and set out to portray Obama as nothing more than a suspicious, foreign, anti-capitalist socialist who distrusted America and wanted to take away citizens' guns. He was also condemned as a "racist" who displayed a "deep-seated hatred for white people."
The Republican Party, by and large, was happy to watch as the right-wing media took control of the GOP's communications apparatus, which allowed the right-wing media to take control of the GOP's public messaging. And when they were demonizing Obama and the Democratic Party, Republicans likely marveled at their good fortune of having millions of dollars in free media at their disposal each week to launch misinformation campaigns against the White House.
And for Cantor personally, the Noise Machine was a godsend. With no apparent interest in governing, legislating, or in public policy, Cantor's professional goal appeared to be to obstruct the White House at all costs, and to make Obama look bad at every turn. And for that, he had perfect media partners.
But then Cantor became the target.
Claiming to be acting under the bloody "banner of Liberty and Truth," Jerad Miller and his wife Amanda, entered CiCi's Pizza in Las Vegas on Sunday right before noon and executed two local policemen on their lunch break. Authorities say Jerad approached one officer while he was refilling his soda cup and shot him in the head from behind, before he and Amanda opened fire on his partner.
While patrons scrambled to safety, one of the shooters reportedly shouted that the "revolution" had begun. The duo then stripped the officers of their weapons and ammunition and badges, and covered them with cloth that featured the "Don't tread on me" Gadsden flag, which has recently been adopted as a symbol of the tea party movement. The couple also left a swastika on one of the officers.
Six days earlier, the right-wing shooter had posted a manifesto of sorts on Facebook where he announced "we must prepare for war." Jerad Miller, who traveled to Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch this spring to join the militia protests against the federal government, declared that in order to "To stop this oppression, I fear, can only be accomplished with bloodshed."
The Facebook rant was just one of many clues about the shooters' radical political leanings. Jerad Miller "left behind social media postings that show his concerns over Benghazi, chemtrails, gun control laws, and the government's treatment of rancher Cliven Bundy," Raw Story reported. (One of the viral images Miller shared online carried the caption, "Jeez, it's no wonder liberalism's regarded as a mental disorder.") The shooter had talked to his neighbor about his "desire to overthrow the government and President Obama and kill police officers," according to NBC News.
After murdering two police officers, Miller and his wife, carrying large duffle bags, set upon a nearby WalMart, killed a shopper who attempted to confront the couple with his concealed handgun, exchanged gunfire with law enforcement, and then died in an apparent suicide pact.
The politically motivated ambush represents just the latest in a long line of recent far-right, anti-government acts of violence in America. From neo-Nazi killers, to a string of women's health clinic bombings and assaults, as well as bloody assaults on law enforcement from anti-government insurrectionists, acts of right-wing extreme violence continue to terrorize victims in the U.S.
In fact, the deadly, and premeditated, gun rampage in Las Vegas came just two days after Dennis Marx, member of the "sovereign citizen" anti-government movement, tried to lay siege to a courthouse outside of Atlanta. Sovereign citizens are militia-like radicals who don't believe the federal government has the power and legitimacy to enforce the law. The FBI has called the movement "a growing domestic terror threat to law enforcement."
Arriving outside the courthouse in a silver SUV, Marx immediately opened fire on law enforcement, shooting a deputy twice in the leg, before being shot and killed by police, capping a wild three-minute gun battle. The shooter 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.
The chilling details of Sunday's Las Vegas ambush produced public shock and intense media coverage. One major news outlet seemed to lag behind, though: Fox News.
Primetime hosts Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity both ignored the shocking cop-killer story last night, while Megyn Kelly devoted four sentences to it. (By contrast, the story covered extensively during CNN and MSNBC's primetime.) Fox talkers on Monday were still far more interested in debating the prisoner swap of Bowe Bergdahl than they were examining the political ambush in Las Vegas.
For Fox News, the Las Vegas killing spree represents a toxic mix of guns, far-right insurrectionism, tea party implications, and the Cliven Bundy ranch standoff. For Fox News, the story about right-wing gun violence and the seeds of a bloody political revolution present all kinds of problems for the channel and its outspoken hosts, some of whom have previously championed limitless gun rights, insurrectionism, the Tea Party, and racist rancher Bundy.
In the 36 hours after the shooting, Fox News tread lightly around the Las Vegas story, producing regular news updates about the crime spree. But Fox provided almost no commentary, no context, and certainly no collective blame for the executions.
When an emotional Jani and Robert Bergdahl strode into the White House Rose Garden on Saturday to the share the emotional announcement by President Obama that their son, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl would be returning home after being held captive for five years by the Taliban, it's unlikely they could have foreseen that their family would soon be under attack by the right-wing media, or that Robert Bergdahl would be depicted on Fox News as a possible terrorist sympathizer; mocked on national television as he awaited a reunion with his ailing son.
They couldn't have foreseen it because I don't think it's ever happened before. I don't think we've ever seen a dedicated media campaign to not only undermine a returning prisoner of war, but to also cast doubt onto the soldier's family; to portray them as un-American even as they prepare for their reunion.
Instead, Fox News has helped transform the prisoner swap involving Taliban detainees into "an increasingly vicious partisan issue," as Buzzfeed described the Republican decision to go into relentless attack mode, complete with enlisted publicists and strategists, to subvert the return of an American POW.
It's symptomatic of a conservative media mini-mob that now obsessively politicizing everything, and does it all with the knob turned up to 11.
So in the name of partisan warfare there can be no trace of empathy or understanding for a family that spent nearly 2,000 days wondering if their soldier son would ever come home. Wondering if he was being tortured or treated humanely by the Taliban as he passed years away in solitary confinement. There can be no waiting to get the facts; to actually hear from Bowe Bergdahl himself and let him explain the 2009 actions that led to his capture. For the attacks against Obama to stick, Bergdahl and his family became the target of a character assassination crusade.
Note this fact: A lot of the current Bergdahl-related theatrics being played out in the right-wing media appear to have been in the works for quite a while. For years, in fact. In 2012, Michael Hastings reported in Rolling Stone that when talk first surfaced of a possible prisoner swap between the U.S. and the Taliban, Republicans immediately began playing election year politics [emphasis added]:
According to White House sources, Marc Grossman, who replaced Richard Holbrooke as special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was given a direct warning by the president's opponents in Congress about trading Bowe for five Taliban prisoners during an election year. "They keep telling me it's going to be Obama's Willie Horton moment," Grossman warned the White House. The threat was as ugly as it was clear: The president's political enemies were prepared to use the release of violent prisoners to paint Obama as a Dukakis-like appeaser, just as Republicans did to the former Massachusetts governor during the 1988 campaign.
Fast-forward two years and that's exactly what's unfolding. The only twist is that as part of the political retribution, a military family is being smeared, too.
More and more journalists claim to have uncovered a key story of the unfolding 2016 presidential campaign. And more and more journalists insist it's all about them. Well, them and Hillary Clinton.
Specifically, we're told that Hillary's relationship with the press is going to be the defining dynamic of the 2016 campaign season, if she chooses to run. Not her pact with voters, mind you. But her dealings with the press. (Inside baseball trumps all, apparently.) I honestly can't remember a run-up to a presidential campaign where the D.C. press spent so much time writing about the D.C. press and how it will cover a candidate who isn't even a candidate yet.
Just look at this avalanche of recent analysis:
-Here's What Journalists Really Want from Hillary Clinton [Vanity Fair]
-Don't Blame Hillary Clinton's Media Problem on the Right-Wing Press. Blame Clinton Herself. [The New Republic]
-Hillary Clinton vs. The Press [syndicated columnist Richard Cohen]
-End of an Era? Clinton Media Strategy May Be Due for an Overhaul [New York Times]
-Hillary's Armor [Fox News' Howard Kurtz]
-What Is Hillary Clinton Afraid Of? [Politico]
-Why The Clintons Can't Handle the Media [New York]
And surprise! Virtually all the examinations reach the same conclusion about the strained relationship: Clinton just has to just "deal with" her misgivings and get over it if she wants to become president.
Not surprisingly though, the onslaught of media coverage about Hillary's media coverage isn't reflective. Instead, it's mostly one-way and instructional. It's telling Clinton how she must change her behavior, or else. (Should journalists really be in the "or else" business?) There's very little contemplation about why Clinton might be wary of the manner in which the political press provides scrutiny.
Regardless, journalists are sure of one thing: Hillary (and Bill Clinton) hate the press and remain purposefully cloistered away from it.
"All politicians resent the media, but few can match the mixture of incomprehension, terror, and bitter recrimination mustered by Bill and Hillary Clinton toward the Fourth Estate," New York breathlessly announced, claiming "the various streams of thought trickling through the Clintons' brains do not converge upon any coherent strategy for dealing with the media." (That sounds bad.)
On and on the cataloging has gone in recent weeks, as news consumers are inundated with descriptions of Clinton's "fear and loathing of the media," and how she's "withdrawn into a gilded shell."
But how exactly have Hillary and Bill Clinton acted on this supposed hatred of the media?
Twisting itself in partisan knots, Fox News can't keep track of when denying health benefits to Americans is a good thing and when it's a bad thing. Here's a helpful crib sheet: Denying health care by expanding Medicaid is cheered by Fox News. Denying health care through Veterans Affairs backlogs is not.
The current VA controversy has unleashed waves of right-wing media attacks on the organization, which conservative commentators now depict as a failed government-run health care agency. (It's not.)
Fueling their five-year obsession with trying to undermine and obstruct The Affordable Care Act at every turn, right-wing pundits have denounced the backlog that veterans face, the allegations of secret waiting lists at a Veterans Administration hospital in Phoenix, and claims that dozens of vets reportedly died while on a waiting list to see a VA doctor. Looking to score points politically, Fox News talkers have proclaimed the VA mess to be a preview of some sort of Obamacare debacle for the general public.
Fox's Kimberly Guilfoyle recently labeled Obamacare "one big fat VA system." (False.) Colleague Ben Carson tactlessly called the veterans health care failure "a God send" because it highlighted how awful Obamacare is going to be. And Fox's Eric Bolling claimed delays that took place at the VA in Phoenix would repeat themselves nationwide under Obamacare, and 500 people "are going to die waiting" every year for treatment because of the president's health care reform law.
The larger Fox message machine has been focused: There's nothing worse, nothing more callous and unimaginable, than vets being denied the government health care they're entitled to, and some dying as a consequence.
Left unmentioned from Fox and friends? In the case of the recent implementation of Obamacare and the federal government's effort to expand Medicaid benefits, Republican governors and lawmakers in 24 states have refused, for partisan reasons, to accept the federal funds to insure more of their citizens. The result? Citizens are being denied government health care they're entitled to, and thousands may die as a consequence.
CNN president Jeff Zucker raised some eyebrows this week when, asked about the news channel's increasingly slim coverage of climate change, he commented the network hasn't "figured out how to engage the audience in that story in a meaningful way." He added: "When we do do those stories, there does tend to be a tremendous amount of lack of interest on the audience's part."
Zucker acknowledged that climate change "deserves more attention," but suggested that the issue isn't receiving that attention on his network because CNN needs the topic to generate ratings, or "interest," in order to receive more airtime.
I'm not sure I've ever heard an executive at a news organization speak so openly about what appears to be a company-wide decision to pay less attention to a completely legitimate news story because it doesn't generate ratings; because it's not good for business. For Zucker to suggest CNN doesn't cover a pressing public issue because it doesn't grab eyeballs goes against the basic tenet of journalism, which is, of course, to inform. CNN should be less concerned about engaging viewers and more concerned abut informing them.
Zucker's climate coverage comments seem especially odd given that he said in the same interview that his network's coverage of the Benghazi select committee would be driven by whether it is of "real news value"; he did not address whether such coverage would need to meet an "interest" threshold from the audience.
I'm not a purist when it comes to cable news. I understand CNN is a business and that increasingly it falls within ever-expanding sphere of the entertainment business. Cable news has changed dramatically over the last two decades, the scramble for the limited audience of viewers is fierce, and passive programming is not an option for commercial success. I get that the diet of cable news today includes large dollops of fatty foods buffeted by smaller servings of vegetables.
But suggesting you're not covering an extraordinarily important and possibly life-changing topic because viewers don't "engage"? That's wandering into dangerous ethical territory. What other dire topics is CNN shying away from for fear of boring its news consumers? Do CNN editorial meetings revolve around gauging which news topic will generate minutes-long spikes in the channel's ratings?
The Obama outrage engines are revving up at Fox News and across the conservative media landscape as conservatives shift, temporarily at least, from Obamacare and Benghazi and set their sights on the unfolding scandal involving backlog waiting lists at Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals. The serious allegations that dozens of veterans died while awaiting treatment from Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, and that VA managers there created a secret waiting list to hide how long men and women had to wait to see a doctor, sparked a resignation and Congressional hearings.
The Fox condemnations have been especially loud, and sweeping. And yes, they've been mostly directed at the president.
"If only Barack Obama's team treated our veterans as well as they treat the mega-donors to the Democrat [sic] party," lamented Laura Ingraham on Fox & Friends. For days, a parade of Fox talkers have condemned Obama for the story. One even accused the administration of "criminally negligent homicide."
The heated right-wing response stands in stark contrast to the muted coverage Fox News provided for the last major controversy involving failed medical care for returning soldiers. In February 2007, the Washington Post, following up on original reporting done by Salon, exposed shockingly poor conditions inside the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Those revelations also sparked resignations and Congressional hearings.
But back then, of course, George W. Bush was president and back then Fox News wasn't as interested in the story. (It took Bill O'Reilly six weeks following the publication of the first Post expose to conclude that the Bush administration had badly bungled care at Walter Reed.) And Fox worried journalists were paying too much attention to the scandal.
Numbers highlight the striking disparity in coverage.
How low can Rush Limbaugh go in Los Angeles?
The syndicated talker, who for two decades has been universally regarded as the most popular and powerful AM talker in the country, continues to wallow in obscurity in the nation's second largest radio market. According to recently released ratings from Nielsen Audio, Limbaugh's California flagship station, KEIB, now ranks 39th in the Los Angeles market, attracting an anemic .5 ratings share. (A ratings share represents the percent of those listening to radio in the market who are tuned into a particular station.)
The tumble to 39th place represents yet another downward lurch -- in March the station logged in at 37th place. Note that there are a total of 45 rated stations in the Los Angeles market, which means Limbaugh's KEIB station (the call letters mirror Limbaugh's motto, "Excellence in Broadcasting") has nearly reached the ratings basement.
And yes, Limbaugh's syndicator, Clear Channel-owned Premier Networks, pays the talker $50 million a year.
The April ratings come in the wake of a disastrous winter for Limbaugh in key California markets. As Media Matters recently noted, Clear Channel moved Limbaugh off his longtime Los Angeles home, KFI, and made him the centerpiece of an all-conservative talk radio lineup on KEIB, where Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck are also heard.
As of April, KEIB not only ranks 39th in the Los Angeles market, but it trails 12 non-English stations and four college outlets. Meanwhile, 10th-rated KFI's ratings remain strong in the wake of Limbaugh's departure from the station. In the past, stations that lost Rush from their lineup often saw steep declines in listenership. He served as the programming tent pole. No more.
The ratings news continues to be nearly as bad up the California coast in San Francisco, the nation's fourth largest radio market. There, as in Los Angeles, Clear Channel moved Limbaugh on the AM dial, from KKSF to KNEW, and dubbed the station "The Patriot." After four months of Limbaugh's show anchoring KNEW, the station's minuscule ratings have actually gone down in 2014, from .8 in January to .6 in April.
For someone who expresses concern about partisans who take the "low road" and wallow in "reckless rhetoric," Karl Rove did a pretty good public impersonation of both this week with his "bizarre" attacks on Hillary Clinton.
Rove, of course, is no stranger to smear campaigns. Just ask associates of Anne Richards, John McCain, John Kerry and Valerie Plame, to name a few. Which is why it was always preposterous for Rove to launch a years-long etiquette campaign lecturing President Obama on the "politics of civility" in his Wall Street Journal columns. I mean, Rove draws a generous paycheck from Fox News, which has nearly run out of corrosive insults to hurl at Obama after six years.
So yes, Rove's glass house is visible to everyone.
But there was something especially hypocritical about Rove taking a break from his "civility" sermons to launch one of the most classless attacks of the political year, reportedly suggesting Hillary Clinton was physically and mentally incapacitated, indelicately portraying the former secretary of state of a feeble senior citizen who had fallen and sustained "traumatic brain injury"; a possibly life-changing wound that had been concealed from the public.
From Sally Kohn at The Daily Beast:
What America needs to know is what's up with your conspiracy theory-based fear mongering that is obviously intended to simultaneously highlight Clinton's age (old people slip and fall) and undermine her credibility as a female candidate (playing to sexist stereotypes that women are mentally unstable or simply less intelligent). Mr. Rove, you make these claims purely as conjecture without any facts, fanned by the emotions of your partisanship.
Speaking at a Los Angeles event last Thursday, Rove presented Hillary's alleged health problem in such stark terms that the New York Post concluded Rove had suggested Clinton suffered from "brain damage." (Rove insists he never said that.) Rove also lied about Clinton having spent "30 days" in the hospital recovering. (It was four days.)
The slander continued during Rove's damage control tour after his comments were published. On Fox, he engaged in further, wild speculation: "We don't know what the doctors said about what does she have to be concerned about. Don't know about -- I mean she's hidden a lot of this." (Cover up!)
Hidden from whom? She's currently a private citizen. Prior to her possible presidential candidacy, Clinton's supposed to send out regular updates about her health to the general public?
Right on cue as Republicans roll out the House select committee on Benghazi, much of the Beltway media chatter centers on what a looming problem the new investigation poses for Hillary Clinton and her possible presidential run in 2016. The commentary follows more than on year of similar proclamations that ongoing Benghazi pursuits would do damage to President Obama's second term, which in turn could doom Democrats in the next two election cycles.
That conventional wisdom, of course, closely mirrors GOP talking points about a "scandal" whose central questions were long ago answered. And whose blockbuster claims were long ago debunked. ("Stand down" orders were definitely not given.) By playing along, the press is just furthering Republican goals of portraying Benghazi as a pending Democratic doomsday.
But is there any evidence journalists can point to support the conservative assumption that additional hearings and endless churning for Benghazi headlines by Republicans pose a political problem for Obama and Clinton? Or that the issue will still loom large on Election Day 2016, which is approximately 900 days away? (Note that when Americans vote in 2016, the Benghazi attack will have taken place more than 1,500 days earlier.)
Reporters like to quote Republican operatives, such as Tim Miller, executive director of the GOP opposition-research group America Rising, who claim Benghazi could cripple Clinton's campaign. But he's paid to say that. Where's the independent proof to back up that claim? Journalists rarely offer much. Instead they seem to rely on the assumption that the mere existence of hearings about an email about a memo about Sunday morning TV appearances is damaging. (ABC News: "Scandal City.")
But Clinton's large and unprecedented polling advantage with regards to the 2016 Democratic primary season represent proof Benghazi that hasn't damaged her electoral chances within the party. And polls pitting her in hypothetical match-ups with possible Republican contenders continue to show her with an overwhelming advantage. While her overall approval ratings have dipped as expected from their high as she's pivoted from secretary of state to a potential presidential candidate, she remains an incredibly popular political figure.
If you're looking for an actual example of a potential White House candidate whose standing completely crumbled in the wake of a legitimate scandal, look no further than New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Following the revelations this winter of the New Jersey lane-closing controversy, Christie lost one-third of his national favorable rating, according to NBC News/Wall Street Journal polling. And he's gone from the leading candidate in the GOP primary to the middle of the pack.
Some journalists point to a Pew Research poll this year, which showed 15 percent of respondents selected "Benghazi" when asked to name the most negative thing about Hillary's Clinton's career. That's proof, scribes suggest, that the terror attack and the controversy surrounding it has done damage to her reputation. Yet the same Pew poll found an overwhelming 67 percent of people approved of Clinton's performance as secretary of state; the position she held when the Benghazi attack took place.
Nonetheless, the GOP-fed narrative remains strong. "As much as she would like to escape the attack's long shadow, it will continue to dog Hillary Clinton," National Journal recently claimed, insisting the Benghazi controversy represents perhaps "the biggest thing" Clinton will have to deal with if she runs for president.