"This is America!" With that call to jingoism, Fox News legal correspondent Shannon Bream gave voice to a disconcerting push to grant private businesses the right to discriminate.
Bream's moment of candor came after her guest, Bernie Goldberg, cogently explained that business owners operating on Main Street don't get to pick and choose whom they serve and whom they refuse to serve. Bream jumped in:
Why not? Why not? I mean, this is America. We all have freedoms. I mean, why would you want to do business with somebody, no matter what your personal issue was that they had with you, why would you want to force them to do business with you? Why not just go down the street and say, "I'm going to spend my money to somebody who supports me and is kind to me and wants to help me and provide these services for me."
"Corporations are people, my friend," Mitt Romney quipped on the campaign trail in 2012. Increasingly, loud voices on the right are agitating to make sure that corporations and private businesses are seen as religious people who can always discriminate against employees and customers based on their religious beliefs.
Sometime in the next four months, the Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling determining in part whether corporations can deny their employees benefits based on religious liberty protections.
At issue is a provision in the Affordable Care Act requiring for-profit businesses that offer health insurance to include coverage for contraceptive care. Religious groups, rallying behind the owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores, challenged that provision, arguing that it violated the right of Christian business owners to practice their religion.
In part this is the logical outcome of the push on the right to be more permissive of discrimination in the private sector, which Bream eloquently laid out by shouting "America" and "freedom."
In 2010, Rand Paul came under fire for saying that he objected to laws that prohibited businesses from discriminating. "I think it's bad business to exclude anybody from your restaurant," he said, "but, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership." Paul expressed general support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but lamented the fact that it extended to private businesses, a core piece of the legislation. The market, Paul argued, would take care of businesses that chose to discriminate.
While Paul was excoriated for his remarks, they were embraced on the right. Fox Business host John Stossel bragged that he would "go further" than Paul, calling for a partial repeal of the Civil Rights Act and give businesses the right to discriminate:
Because private businesses ought to get to discriminate. And I won't ever go to a place that's racist, and I will tell everybody else not to and I'll speak against them. But it should be their right to be racist.
That hypothesis, that private businesses should have the right to discriminate and be punished by the marketplace, has played out in recent days in the debate over an anti-gay bill in Arizona that would have made it easier for businesses to discriminate against gay customers.
That fight came after months of Fox News pushing anecdotes about Christian business owners under siege by laws the kept them from forcing their religious views onto employees and customers.
"Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, vetoed religious freedom," Rush Limbaugh opined on his radio show. "And, naturally, Democrats and their media allies are cheering. Even some Republicans are praising Arizona. Meanwhile, our founding fathers more than likely are spinning in their graves at about 400 rpm."
The night Brewer vetoed the bill, Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, argued in support of the right for businesses to discriminate on MSNBC's All In: "But in terms of private businesses doing it on their own, I think they should have the freedom and individuals should have the freedom to associate how they want."
It's a point Rand Paul and John Stossel were making in 2010. It's a point that opponents of the Civil Rights Act have been making for 50 years. And it's a chilling reality that it's once again a prominent aspect of public debate.
Just seconds after urging public officials to avoid name-calling, CNN political commentator Ben Ferguson falsely labeled Susan Rice a liar in order to inexplicably shield Ted Nugent from further scrutiny for calling President Obama a "subhuman mongrel."
Ferguson appeared on New Day Tuesday to react to NRA board member Nugent's so-called apology, first offered on Ferguson's radio show last week, and again, mockingly, on CNN Monday. During that CNN appearance, Nugent called Obama a "liar" and suggested that the president is a criminal.
After claiming that Nugent's apology was sufficient, and pleading with public officials to eschew name calling and stick to the facts, Ferguson leveled the false accusation that former UN Ambassador Susan Rice "lied" to the American people about the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi. When CNN host Chris Cuomo asked whether it was appropriate for Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott to stand behind Nugent despite his unacceptable rhetoric, Ferguson invoked Benghazi and argued that Abbott's loyalty to Nugent was no different than Obama's loyalty to Susan Rice, whom he called a liar.
"You had Susan Rice that came out and lied about four Americans dying and the ambassador of the United States of America on the anniversary of 9-11, and insulted those who died and their families by giving them a fake story about protestors," Ferguson claimed. While Cuomo rejected the analogy, he agreed it was wrong to lie to the American people and that the "situation needed to be investigated."
Ferguson's claim is rooted in the right-wing hoax that the White House dispatched Rice to mislead the American people by claiming that the September 2012 attack was sparked by protests over an anti-Muslim YouTube video that was sweeping the region. But the reality is that Rice's comments were consistent with what the U.S. intelligence community said was their best assessment at the time, a position that has been supported by independent investigations.
A January report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded that there was intelligence linking the Benghazi attacks to anger over the anti-Muslim YouTube video, consistent with what Rice said when discussing the attacks days after they occurred on several Sunday morning news shows. After a year of exhaustive investigation, New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick reported that the protests were fueled in part by reaction to the video. Administration and agency emails that have been in the public record for the past year demonstrated that it was the intelligence community that said their best assessment at the time Rice discussed the attacks indicated that they were in reaction to a YouTube video.
But on the right, "Benghazi" has never been about preventing future tragedies, or learning the truth about what happened that night. The campaign to politicize the tragedy has created a get-out-of-jail-free card. It's the one word conservatives can always use to get out of a jam or change the conversation. Inside the bubble, truth doesn't matter. Because Benghazi.
The New York Times published a guilt-by-association attack on Hillary Clinton, attempting to connect a trade dispute over alleged steel dumping to the former secretary of state through unrelated philanthropic connections.
Citing a Commerce Department investigation into dumping allegations against Victor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian business leader, reporter Amy Chozick fixated on Pinchuk's relationship to the Clintons as if it were news to Times readers:
Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton have built a sprawling network of powerful friends around the globe, one that could aid Mrs. Clinton's chances were she to seek the presidency. But those relationships often come with intersecting interests and political complications; few people illustrate that more vividly than the Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk.
But in 2008, the Times published a front-page story on Pinchuk which reported his relationship with former President Bill Clinton. The article also detailed that Pinchuk is one of the biggest non-American donors to the Clinton Foundation; that Clinton acknowledged the relationship and praised Pinchuk's philanthropy; that the former president spoke in Yalta advocating strengthening Ukraine's ties to the United States and Europe, a cause close to both men; and that Pinchuk attended a birthday party for Clinton (as well as one for former President George H. W. Bush).
Chozick's story does not acknowledge the prior Times account. Instead, it rehashes old details and attempts to tie them to the pending Commerce Department investigation. Yet Chozick offers no evidence to suggest that the Clintons are connected to that dispute in any way. On the contrary, she acknowledges that there is no evidence that Bill or Hillary Clinton, or anybody in the government, has intervened in the trade dispute. Chozick wrote:
There is no evidence that Mr. Pinchuk or Mr. Schoen discussed anything other than the political crisis in Ukraine with the State Department, or that any United States officials tried to influence the trade case.
Hillary Clinton's name doesn't appear in the bipartisan portions of the Senate review of the tragic September 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, but you would not know that by looking at the media.
The report, released earlier in the week by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has been a Rorschach test for the media, and as is almost always the case with Hillary Clinton, they are stretching to see something nefarious.
According to the Post, the report "is likely to provide fodder" for Clinton's political opponents, even though the Post acknowledged that the only references to the former Secretary of State came from partisan Republicans in an addendum, not from the review itself.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer said the report was "fueling heated debate, partisan debate, about her leadership," while correspondent Elise Labbott insisted that Clinton would "have to address Benghazi during" any 2016 campaign.
Inexplicably, Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin accused media of being too "incurious" when it comes to Clinton and called Benghazi Clinton's "drip, drip, drip problem." Partisan Republicans are certainly happy that the media is carrying their water. Almost on cue, Sen. Marco Rubio said the report should justify further investigations ... into Clinton.
The question of "leadership," however, has been a lopsided one as it played out in the media's campaign to use the Senate report as an indictment of Clinton.
Clinton has "deflected questions" about Benghazi, according to The New Yorker's Amy Davidson, who argued that Clinton "does not come out well" in the Senate report -- again, a report that never mentions Clinton. Davidson's explanation? "The State Department made mistakes when [Clinton] was its leader."
Clinton herself has acknowledged ultimate responsibility for any bureaucratic shortcomings that played a role to the tragedy in Benghazi. "I do feel responsible," she said under questioning by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). "I feel responsible for the nearly 70,000 people who work for the State Department. I take it very seriously."
So everybody agrees that Clinton had ultimate responsibility for leading the State Department.
That makes the question of what that leadership looks like critical, particularly since the media seems determined to parrot the right-wing narrative that Benghazi is a singular reflection on the former Secretary of State.
What is problematic about the way the media has used the Senate's review as a reflection on Clinton's leadership is that the reports ostensibly exploring Clinton's leadership make no mention of the fact that one of her last acts as Secretary of State was to fully accept and begin implementing the findings of the Accountability Review Board, an independent, nonpartisan review panel that looked into what went wrong and how to prevent a similar tragedy in the future.
That review, like the Senate report that led to the latest bout of Benghazi mania, also singled out bureaucrats, not the Secretary of State, for scrutiny over diplomatic security failures. Four mid-ranked department officials were suspended for those failures; according to Ambassador Thomas Pickering, one of the chairmen of the ARB, their "future career[s]" are "finished."
One of the pillars of the right-wing's Benghazi hoax has been to accuse Clinton of being dismissive of the tragedy during her Congressional testimony when she asked "what difference, at this point, does it make" what led the attackers to target the diplomatic facility on that day.
Often left out of the sound bite is what Clinton said next: "It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again."
The Accountability Review Board laid out dozens of recommendations as to how to prevent future tragedies, recommendations largely in line with those contained in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report. Those recommendations are being implemented.
It's woefully inadequate to leave that fact out of a discussion of leadership.
ESPN announcers Brad Nessler and Jimmy Dykes mainstreamed the right-wing myth that cold weather in January disproves man-made climate change.
During the first half of a January 7 game, Dykes discussed a pattern of cold weather blanketing much of the United States and said he had observed a national television debate earlier over "whether or not global warming was still taking place." While laughing Dykes said, "I listened to about 30 seconds of it, but the guy saying no it has not, I think he won the debate." Nessler laughed in response.
Regardless of whether Dykes and Nessler agree with the 97 percent of climate scientists who say that climate change is real and presents an immediate threat, or with climate deniers like Donald Trump, it's troubling that they would use their national platform to peddle right-wing myths.
On Sunday, CBS's flagship news magazine, 60 Minutes, aired a controversial and sloppy report that completely ignored the pressing threat of climate change while downplaying the need to invest in clean energy. CBS defended its reporting, including the decision not to mention climate change, by citing what it referred to as the show's "rich history" of reporting on the topic.
ESPN's broadcast of climate denialism only underscores the need for legitimate media organizations to treat the issue of global warming seriously and to make sure that it's part of the conversation.
As a network devoted to sports, ESPN has a unique responsibility to treat climate change seriously. An August 2013 Scientific American article made clear that climate change can have a direct impact on athletes:
"The climate's getting warmer so players are exposed to higher temperatures," said Andrew Grundstein, a climatologist at the University of Georgia and a co-author of a 2012 study of heat related deaths in high schools nationwide. Across the country, deaths of high school football players due to heat nearly tripled from 1994 to 2009 compared to the previous 15 years, according to Grundstein's study. Heat illnesses in football players have multiple causes, experts say, but as the climate heats up, practices in Georgia - and around the country - are getting watered down just to be safe.
Here we go again.
One year after creating a fact-free bubble in the run up to the last election, media conservatives are once again denying reality, this time in service of reanimating the Benghazi hoax that ensnared news organizations throughout 2012, denying authoritative evidence that should finally put an end to the hoax.
An exhaustive New York Times investigation into the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, published on December 28, discredited the key elements of the right-wing campaign to politicize the attack -- a desperate attempt to bring down the Obama administration and sink a possible presidential run by Hillary Clinton.
Significantly, the Times definitively debunked the myth that al Qaeda played a central role in planning the attack.
Daily Beast contributor Eli Lake, who has been a key validator of the Benghazi hoax, pushed back against the Times, insisting that al Qaeda was responsible for the attack. Contrary to what the Times reported, Lake claimed, "evidence has emerged in the last year that does show the participation of militias and fighters with known ties to al Qaeda." Lake specifically cited comments made by Congressmen Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Adam Schiff (D-CA).
Lake's insistence that al Qaeda was responsible for the attack is in line with Fox News' response to the Times report. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, a Fox News contributor often portrayed as legitimate voice in the national media, accused the Times of covering for Democrats with its report.
This denial of reality is reminiscent of the way the right retreated to a bubble throughout the 2012 election, and poses a real threat to Americans' understanding of international terrorism.
The relentless campaign to insist that al Qaeda was responsible for the terrorist attacks in Benghazi misinforms the public understanding of that terrorist group and the role that local extremist groups play in international relations. In responding to critics of its reporting, the Times editorial board explained:
Americans are often careless with the term "Al Qaeda," which strictly speaking means the core extremist group, founded by Osama bin Laden, that is based in Pakistan and bent on global jihad.
Republicans, Democrats and others often conflate purely local extremist groups, or regional affiliates, with Al Qaeda's international network. That prevents understanding the motivations of each group, making each seem like a direct, immediate threat to the United States and thus confusing decision-making.
As The New Yorker's Amy Davidson noted, a failure to acknowledge the complexities of extremist groups could lead to tragic real-world results:
Not every angry Muslim, not even every angry Sunni Muslim, is part of Al Qaeda. Using the name so generically and broadly is a deliberate decision not to understand who our enemies are, or to care--if they don't like us, they are Al Qaeda, and we can stop listening.
And how, then, are we supposed to know who our friends are? Insisting that any Muslim who attacks us is Al Qaeda also means that, when we are standing around handing out guns to strangers--something we do a little too often--we'll assume that those who don't strike us as Al Qaeda types won't attack us.
Megyn Kelly is insisting that critics who took her to task for insisting that Santa Claus is a white man were motivated by a "knee-jerk instinct" to "race bait," a hollow claim given Kelly's own history of using race to stoke fears of minorities.
Kelly triggered outrage on December 11 when she insisted that Santa was -- and is -- a white man, comments that came in response to a Slate column arguing that the universal portrayal of Santa as white can alienate and ostracize minority children. On December 13, Kelly responded to her critics by accusing them of race-baiting and targeting her simply because she worked at Fox:
Kelly's claim that her critics were motivated by a desire to use racially provocative language to trigger an emotional reaction is not just self-serving, it also underscores Kelly's own history of using race to stoke fears of minorities.
In 2010, Kelly was one of the loudest voices at Fox News pushing its aggressive campaign to exploit racial tensions over a voter intimidation case in Philadelphia.
During a two-week stretch in July of that year, Kelly's daytime show devoted a staggering 45 segments and 3.5 hours to hyping politically motivated and completely discredited allegations that President Obama and Eric Holder were manipulating the Justice Department in order to protect the New Black Panther Party from prosecution over charges that it intimidated white voters during the 2008 election. Kelly's over-the-top race baiting led Gawker to ask whether she was "obsessed" with the New Black Panthers. Dave Weigel wrote, under the headline "Megyn Kelly's Minstrel Show," that Kelly was exploiting racial tensions in a dangerous way:
Watch her broadcasts and you become convinced that the New Black Panthers are a powerful group that hate white people and operate under the protection of Eric Holder's DOJ.
Her own Fox colleague, Kirsten Powers, even called Kelly out for what she called "doing the scary black man thing" by dishonestly hyping the case.
When Kelly transitioned from her daytime "news" show to a prime-time slot, she told the Los Angeles Times that she was a journalist, not an ideologue. So it's telling that in addressing her critics, Kelly claimed that she was simply asking whether the depiction of Santa Claus as a white man should change.
In reality, Kelly was not only adamant that Santa remain white -- settling the debate in a manner more in line with an ideologue rather than a journalist. She also protested against the very idea that society would change its icons in order to accommodate minority groups who find those images to be alienating:
KELLY: Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change. Jesus was a white man, too. He was a historical figure. That's a verifiable fact -- as is Santa.
That conclusion, which highlights the way Kelly uses her position of power to assert and defend her cultural dominance, led Jon Stewart to point out the oppressive nature of Kelly's stated position.
In a lengthy profile just before her white Santa comments, The Washington Post referred to Kelly as "queen" of television news who, unlike Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, whose opinion shows appear before and after The Kelly File, "markets herself as a break in the clouds, an interlude of lucidity, a host who protects her viewers by condensing complex issues into digestible bits, by cross-examining news analysis with zero tolerance for guff."
But the reality is that Kelly's brand of ideological demagoguery is very much in line with the race-baiting that has been central to the culture wars that have always been fought on Fox News.
If only Santa Claus were a homeless child.
Fox News host Megyn Kelly sparked outrage this week after insisting that Santa and Jesus were white:
KELLY: By the way, for the kids at home, Santa just is white but this person is arguing that maybe we should also have a black Santa. Santa is what he is and we are debating this because someone wrote about it.
Those controversial comments came in reference to a thought-provoking post penned by Slate columnist Aisha Harris that appeared under the headline "Santa Claus Should Not Be a White Man Anymore." Harris' piece is worth reading.
In short, she explains the confusion she faced as a child reconciling the ubiquitous images of a white Santa Claus with the one she experienced in her own neighborhood, where Santa Claus was black. It's a compelling take on the way media images and iconic cultural touchstones can marginalize:
I remember feeling slightly ashamed that our black Santa wasn't the "real thing." Because when you're a kid and you're inundated with the imagery of a pale seasonal visitor--and you notice that even some black families decorate their houses with white Santas--you're likely to accept the consensus view, despite your parents' noble intentions.
In an increasingly pluralistic society, Harris asks, shouldn't our seasonal icon be more representative of society?
It's worth asking why it is so important to Megyn Kelly that her audience (and the children she imagines are watching The Kelly File) maintain their conceptualization of Santa Claus as a white man. It's not as if Harris concluded that Santa should be a black woman. She proposed replacing Santa with a penguin.
Kelly helped cut her teeth at Fox as a member of Bill O'Reilly's culture warriors. In that context, her comments help explain the culture she is helping to defend: her own.
At the very least, Kelly's reaction to a non-white Santa demonstrates a troubling lack of empathy, but it is an empathy deficit that is becoming a pattern with Kelly, who went to great pains to portray herself as a non-ideological, serious reporter when she took over a primetime show.
Kelly has received some credit for speaking "truth to power" inside the Fox News bubble, in part getting accolades for aggressively challenging two of her male colleagues after they criticized female breadwinners as symptomatic of what is wrong with America in the 21st century. And there is no doubt that Kelly deserved credit for using her position of power to reject misogyny.
But her record of using that position of power to defend non-majority populations is sketchy when it comes to experiences outside her own.
After Kelly pushed back on one of her guests on Fox for referring to maternity leave as "a racket," Jon Stewart skewered her for having previously dismissed society's interest in making sure that workers have a basic level of benefits. Stewart demonstrated that Kelly's position on the danger of entitlements being "baked in the cake" was at odds with her newfound defense of workers being entitled to maternity leave.
In other words, the empathy deficit remained. It's just that Kelly's own culture now included maternity leave.
Kelly's warfare on behalf of her own culture taps into broader power dynamics that are at play throughout the media. As Media Matters has documented, broadcast and cable news is disproportionately the home of white men. And particularly in the arena of nightly television news, it is the dominion of highly paid elites who have the ability to set the agenda.
So it's important to look at the stories that don't get covered.
Megyn Kelly's rejection of a non-white Santa was one of 13 references to Santa Claus on major cable or broadcast news programs that night, according to Nexis. And the reasoning behind her discussion, Kelly explained on air, was that "somebody wrote about it."
The same justification could have been given for a discussion about homeless children. Yet by contrast, there were three references to homelessness that night. One of those came from a Fox host complaining that a Duck Dynasty star had been mistaken for a homeless person at a Caribbean hotel.
None of those segments told the story of Dasani, an adolescent homeless girl who formed the center of "Invisible Child," a New York Times expose by Andrea Elliot on homelessness in New York City running this week. According to Nexis, Dasani's story was the focus of only a single segment during evening and primetime news this week.
The Fox News regular broadly credited with creating the false accusation that President Obama omitted the words "under God" from the Gettysburg Address used the same false attack to ask whether Obama would have cut out the words "under Allah" if they had appeared in President Lincoln's famous speech.
Conservative media outlets were forced to issue embarrassing corrections Tuesday after running with the false accusation that President Obama excised the phrase "under God" when reciting the Gettysburg Address for a project organized by filmmaker Ken Burns. Burns has said that he asked Obama to read an early draft of the address, a draft that did not contain the phrase "under God."
Chris Plante, who hosts a morning radio show on Washington, D.C.-based WMAL, actually acknowledged at one point during his November 19 broadcast that an early version of the Gettysburg Address did not contain that phrase. But he still accused the president of plotting to "scratch out the phrase," after emphasizing that Obama was "the first black president." Plante then speculated that Obama would not have scratched out the phrase "under Allah" if it had been in the Gettysburg Address:
PLANTE: What? Barack Obama and his people have the Gettysburg Address in front of them and they're sitting up in leather-winged chairs at the White House with a red pencil going through the speech and they scratch out "under God" and then pass it to Barack Obama and he reads it that way? I mean, how does something like this happen? How stupid are these people? How dishonest are - how fundamentally corrupt, morally and otherwise corrupt, are these people? It is astonishing to me, and it just plays into the stereotype of these people being hostile. If it said "under Allah" would he have still scratched it out?
Earlier in the program, Plante invoked Obama's middle name, Hussein, while opining that it was "kind of peculiar" and "a head-scratcher" that Obama did not say "under God" while reciting the Gettysburg Address:
CBS News is under mounting pressure to launch an independent investigation into how 60 Minutes came to mislead its audience in an October 27th report that relied almost exclusively on a source they knew was an admitted liar.
CBS came under similar scrutiny in September 2004, when questions arose about the authenticity of documents 60 Minutes II used in a report challenging then President Bush's service in the National Guard.
On September 22, 2004, after CBS decided to appoint an independent investigation, a New York Times editorial said it was the right thing to do:
After an uncomfortably long wait, CBS has rightly gone public with its own doubts about the validity of the documents and commissioned an independent investigation.
On November 10, 60 Minutes reporter Lara Logan issued an inadequate apology that has been dismissed by a broad range of media observers. The statement came after nearly two weeks of stonewalling amid evidence that CBS' key eyewitness, a British security contractor named Dylan Davies, had told conflicting stories about his whereabouts during the September 11, 2012, terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
Media Matters founder David Brock called Logan's November 10 apology "wholly inadequate and entirely self-serving," and reiterated his call for CBS to appoint an independent commission to investigate the since-retracted report.