Following Eric Holder's announcement that he was resigning, The Wall Street Journal attacked the legacy of the nation's first black attorney general by repeating debunked descriptions of his civil rights work and accusing him of turning the Department of Justice "into a routine instrument of social and racial policy."
On September 25, Holder announced that he will step down as soon as his replacement is confirmed. Right-wing media were quick to celebrate, with Fox News host Andrea Tantaros calling him one of the "most dangerous men in America" because "he ran the DOJ much like the Black Panthers would" and Fox and ABC News contributor Laura Ingraham asking, "What are the race-baiters going to do now?"
The Journal joined the opportunity to bash Holder's civil rights legacy as attorney general, claiming in an editorial that he "explicitly turned the Justice Department into a political weapon." The editorial specifically attacked Holder's efforts to curb racial discrimination in hiring, to promote desegregation in Louisiana schools, and to fight election restrictions that violate the Voting Rights Act:
Mr. Holder also turned Justice into a routine instrument of social and racial policy. Under the former head of the Civil Rights Division, Thomas Perez (now Secretary of Labor), Justice used "disparate impact" analysis to force racial adjustments on cities, police and fire departments and banks. The settlements were not based on proven racial discrimination, as traditionally required, but on arcane statistical analyses.
Among Mr. Holder's worst overreaches was filing suit last year to block Louisiana's private-school voucher program. That program overwhelmingly helps the state's poorest minority families escape bad schools. No matter, Justice's statistical cops said the program was unbalancing the "racial identity" of public schools by admitting too many black children into better schools.
In July 2012 the Attorney General invoked the specter of Jim Crow amid a presidential campaign. In a speech to the NAACP, he likened voter ID laws to "poll taxes," an argument rejected by the Supreme Court in 2009.
These three specific complaints have been among right-wing media's favorite myths about Holder and his successful civil rights track record at the DOJ.
A new interview with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that will appear in Elle magazine has given National Review Online an opportunity to once again twist the justice's views on the importance of equal reproductive rights for everyone, regardless of their financial means. As it did in 2009, NRO claimed that Ginsburg's frequent observations that poor women are disproportionately affected by anti-choice legislation may be proof of her support for eugenics -- even though that misinterpretation of her comments has been debunked.
After hundreds of thousands of people participated in what may have been the largest climate change protest in history, National Review Online criticized the event, attacked environmental justice law that seeks to ameliorate health disparities, and misrepresented a study to argue "the effects of pollution on health have been exaggerated."
On September 21, an estimated 310,000 demonstrators took part in the People's Climate March, a multi-city event protesting inaction on climate change and its harmful effects on the planet. Although the Sunday news shows ignored this historic event, National Review Online was quick to condemn it. Editor Rich Lowry called it a "symbolic protest," questioned the settled science of the human causes of climate change, and dismissed advocacy on the dangers of climate change as "anti-industrial apocalypticism."
Lowry's NRO colleague Katherine Timpf specifically criticized protestors in Harlem who were calling for legal action that would protect communities of color from toxic pollutants, a type of civil rights advocacy that is based on decades-old precedent. Timpf complained that "environmental-justice legislation does more harm than good" because "demonizing corporations is not the best method for bringing economic development to a struggling city." Timpf also claimed that "the impact that pollutants actually have on poor communities is questionable," and because of that, she argued, communities of color should embrace the potential economic benefits that a pollution-causing factory might bring:
During one of the march-preparation meetings, the deputy director of the Harlem-based group WE ACT for Environmental Justice, Cecil Corbin-Marks, tells me he's fighting for "global climate policies that focus on the challenges that local communities are confronting."
"Not all communities have the same resources," he says. "People of color are disproportionately affected." He believes that world leaders must unite to stop destructive corporations from spreading the pollutants that sicken minority neighborhoods by causing asthma and cancer.
I don't support his cause. Am I callous and cruel? Am I just ignorant of the suffering of the residents of these areas?
"There is pollution, and it should be cleaned," Harry Alford, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce says during an interview. "But to say that it's happening because of race? No. That's crazy to think corporations sit in boardrooms and design strategies to pollute races. That's Nazi stuff."
Politicians are responsible for keeping the neighborhoods clean, Alford says, so they're the ones who must be held responsible when they're not. All environmental-justice laws do is give these politicians more power.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is criticizing the major news networks' lack of coverage of big money in politics, saying he is "disappointed, but not surprised ... that the networks barely covered the issue."
Sanders' press release comes after a recent Media Matters study found that the subject of campaign finance reform was hardly reported on by either the major networks' evening news programs (ABC's World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News, and NBC's Nightly News) or their Sunday talk shows (ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press). These news programs also largely overlooked the Senate's proposed (and ultimately filibustered) constitutional amendment that would have restored Congress' ability to regulate political spending after the conservative justices of the Supreme Court gutted bipartisan campaign finance law in 2010's Citizens United v. FEC and this year's McCutcheon v. FEC.
Although most of the networks seldom covered the issue, PBS NewsHour, on the other hand, set the standard and broadcast numerous in-depth segments on campaign finance reform, big money in politics, and the Supreme Court decisions that have invited billions of dollars to flow into the federal election system. In fact, PBS NewsHour offered more campaign finance coverage than the other networks combined.
In response to these findings, Sanders called on the media to dedicate more coverage to what he called "the single most important issue facing our country today" and suggested that the networks' insufficient coverage has contributed to the decline of Americans' confidence in the media:
"I am disappointed, but not surprised, by the study's finding that the major networks barely covered the issue of money in politics," said Sen. Bernie Sanders. "There is a reason why confidence in the American media is declining," he added. "More and more people say the media is not paying attention to the issues of real importance to the American people. This study confirms that."
The study found that each network devoted less than single minute per month to talking about campaign finance reform. "To my mind," Sanders said, "the single most important issue facing our country today is that, as a result of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, we are allowing billionaires to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to elect candidates who will represent the wealthy and powerful rather than the needs of ordinary Americans. This is an issue of enormous consequence."
Sanders cited a recent Gallup poll that found Americans' faith in television news and newspapers is at or tied with record lows. The findings continued a decades-long decline in the share of Americans saying they have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in newspapers or TV news.
National Review Online misrepresented a recent court decision that could allow an unneccessarily restrictive voter identification law to be implemented in Wisconsin only weeks before the November election.
On September 12, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals lifted an injunction that a district court judge had previously granted to prevent Wisconsin's strict voter ID law from going into effect due to concerns that its disproportionate effect on communities of color violated the Voting Rights Act. After the three judge panel of the Seventh Circuit issued its order, Wisconsin officials announced that they would move forward with implementing the law despite the fact that election officials are not trained in the new photo ID requirements and absentee ballots have already been turned in. This last minute voting change has the potential to keep hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters who lack photo ID from participating in the November election.
Right-wing media quickly downplayed the significance the law might have on the election. On the September 17 edition of Special Report with Bret Baier, Fox News correspondent Mike Tobin managed to point out that the law could affect the outcome of the gubernatorial race in Wisconsin, which shows Republican Gov. Scott Walker in a near-tie with his Democratic opponent Mary Burke. But Tobin minimized the impact of the ID law by erroneously suggesting that "there is only a handful of voters who won't get IDs by election day."
NRO contributor Hans von Spakovsky, a tireless advocate for voter ID laws that suppress the vote of women, minorities, and the poor, also applauded the Seventh Circuit's order, calling it a "stunning blow" for opponents of voter ID. Von Spakovsky overlooked key facts in the case to ultimately conclude there was "no justification for striking down" Wisconsin's law in the first place:
As I explained in an NRO article in May, the district court judge, Lynn Adelman, a Clinton appointee and former Democratic state senator, had issued an injunction claiming the Wisconsin ID law violated the Voting Rights Act as well as the Fourteenth Amendment. Adelman made the startling claim in his opinion that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in 2008 upholding Indiana's voter-ID law as constitutional was "not binding precedent," so Adelman could essentially ignore it.
However, that was too much for the Seventh Circuit. It pointed out, in what most lawyers would consider a rebuke, that Adelman had held Wisconsin's law invalid "even though it is materially identical to Indiana's photo ID statute, which the Supreme Court held valid in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board."
It was also obviously significant to the Seventh Circuit that the Wisconsin state supreme court had upheld the state's voter-ID law in July ... In fact, the appeals court said the state court decision had changed the "balance of equities and thus the propriety of federal injunctive relief."
In other words, there was no justification for striking down a state voter-ID law that was identical to one that had been previously upheld by both the Supreme Court of the United States and that state's highest court.
A Media Matters analysis found that PBS NewsHour has far outpaced other broadcast network news programs in covering the consequences of the Supreme Court's dismantling of campaign finance reform. In the past year and a half, PBS thoroughly analyzed the effects of Citizens United and its sequel -- McCutcheon v. FEC -- dedicating more time to the issue than all the other networks combined.
National Review Online misinformed about an amendment that would reinstate the ability of Congress to regulate campaign finance and counter Citizens United -- the infamous Supreme Court decision that opened the door for the super-rich and corporations to drown out average Americans in the political debate with unlimited sums of money.
On September 8, the Senate voted to debate the proposed constitutional amendment, which would re-establish campaign finance laws that the conservative justices of the Supreme Court struck down in Citizens United in 2010. That decision overturned part of the McCain-Feingold Act -- much-needed bipartisan campaign finance reforms instituted to prevent corruption of the political process and level the playing field between small donors and the wealthy -- and effectively eliminated limits for independent corporate spending in federal elections. Specifically, Citizens United radically rewrote First Amendment precedent and expanded the legal concept of "corporate personhood," with the court ultimately deciding that the political spending by corporations was constitutionally equivalent to the free speech of actual human voters. The conservative justices chipped away at campaign finance limits even further this year in McCutcheon v. FEC, which abolished direct contribution limits that worked to control the corrupting influence of multimillion-dollar donations.
Although the proposed amendment is intended to restore the First Amendment to its pre-Citizens United interpretation, right-wing media are already denouncing the Senate's attempts to stem the explosion of unregulated high-dollar donations with wild exaggerations. In a September 9 editorial, NRO complained that Democrats were planning to "repeal the First Amendment" by proposing the Citizens United amendment -- which the editorial board called "an attack on basic human rights, the Constitution, and democracy itself" -- and suggested the move would "censor newspapers and television reports." From the editors:
Senate Democrats are on the precipice of voting to repeal the First Amendment.
That extraordinary fact is a result of the increasingly authoritarian efforts of Democrats, notably Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada, to suppress criticism of themselves and the government, and to suffocate any political discourse that they cannot control.
The Supreme Court in recent years has twice struck down Democratic efforts to legally suppress inconvenient speech, citing the free-speech protections of the First Amendment in both cases. Senator Reid's solution is to nullify the first item on the Bill of Rights.
The Democrats are not calling this a repeal of the First Amendment, though that is precisely what it is. Instead, they are describing the proposed constitutional amendment as a campaign-finance measure. But it would invest Congress with blanket authority to censor newspapers and television reports, ban books and films, and imprison people for expressing their opinions. So long as two criteria are met -- the spending of money and intending to influence an election -- the First Amendment would no longer apply.
The amendment that Democrats are putting forward is an attack on basic human rights, the Constitution, and democracy itself. If those who would criticize the government must first secure the government's permission to do so, they are not free people.
National Review Online columnist Mona Charen criticized the Department of Justice's efforts to address potential civil rights violations by the Ferguson Police Department, calling previous investigations in other jurisdictions "heavy on the implied racism" despite statistical evidence of racially biased and unconstitutional policing tactics.
On September 4, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the DOJ would investigate the Ferguson Police Department, an overwhelmingly white force with a history of serious misconduct, after one of its officers shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. These types of investigations are not unusual for police departments under suspicion for systemic abuse of authority and civil rights violations, but right-wing media have still accused Holder of playing "the race card" and have called the DOJ's involvement "inherently political" and "absolute garbage."
In a September 9 column, Charen followed the attacks on Holder and questioned the objectivity of the DOJ's investigation. She suggested that it "will be premised on the racist-white-cop-shoots-black-man narrative" because Holder acknowledged he understood the mistrust between the police and the Ferguson community both as the attorney general of the United States and as a black man who has been unfairly racially profiled in the past.
Charen went on to characterize Holder's involvement in Brown's case as another example of the DOJ's "extremely aggressive pattern vis-à-vis local police," and used as her example a recent investigation of the Newark Police Department that showed officers unjustifiably stopped and arrested a disproportionate number of residents of color. As far as Charen is concerned, the number of stops in Newark "might be too low," however, and the statistics "do not come close to proving police wrongdoing":
The Department of Justice recently concluded an investigation into the Newark, N.J., police department, which it found to have repeatedly violated the civil rights of Newark's black residents. The evidence? Justice found that while blacks account for 54 percent of Newark's population, they represent 85 percent of pedestrian stops and 79 percent of arrests.
Police misconduct must always be taken seriously and vigilantly corrected, but these numbers do not come close to proving police wrongdoing, far less denial of Newarkers' civil rights. To know whether 85 percent of pedestrian stops is a reasonable number or not, you need to know how many pedestrians of various races are committing crimes. If 90 percent of pedestrian criminals are black, then 85 percent might be too low. In any case, the relevant measure is the percentage of criminals, not, as the Justice Department explained, whether "officers ... disproportionately stopped black people relative to their representation in Newark's population."
Announcing the DOJ's report, Holder went heavy on the implied racism. "We're taking decisive action to address potential discrimination and end unconstitutional conduct by those who are sworn to serve their fellow citizens," he declaimed. It's possible that Newark police are engaged in wrongdoing, but the DOJ's use of statistics certainly didn't prove it. If the attorney general believes that black and Hispanic officers are stopping and arresting black people out of racial animus, he failed to say so, and if not, he's in effect arguing that all of the misconduct is attributable to the roughly one-third of the force that is white.
National Review Online is repeating the claims of conservative groups who compared voter registrations in Maryland and Virginia and flagged potential instances of "double voting" -- voters with the same name and birthdate who may have voted in both states. This method of election integrity has been discredited due to its high rate of false positives and significant risk of voter disenfranchisement.
The New York town of Greece, whose policy of allowing sectarian Christian prayers to be delivered before town meetings was the subject of a recent First Amendment challenge before the Supreme Court, has now adopted a new set of rules that appear to exclude non-believers from this practice -- discrimination that the town's defenders in right-wing media pretended didn't exist.
In May, the conservative justices of the Supreme Court ruled in Town of Greece v. Galloway that the prayer offered before this town's meetings was permissible under the First Amendment -- despite the fact that "the invocations given ... were predominantly sectarian in content," which "repeatedly invoked a single religion's beliefs," as Justice Elena Kagan explained in her dissent. Yet the majority found this apparent preference for Christian prayers constitutionally acceptable because the town assured the Court "that a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation." It was this claim that the prayer policy was non-discriminatory and would allow non-Christians to participate that the Court, as well as right-wing media outlets, relied upon.
After the decision, Washington Post columnist George Will attacked the Jewish and atheist plaintiffs who challenged the town's prayer policy, calling them "prickly plaintiffs" and "flimsy people" who were "theatrically offended" over nothing more than "brief and mild occasional expressions of religiosity." The Wall Street Journal also celebrated the conservative decision in Town of Greece, and specifically hailed the inclusivity the town of Greece had told the Court it practiced:
The town of Greece used mostly Christian prayers because its citizens are predominantly Christian. Yet when rabbis and clerics of other faiths asked to give the prayer, they were welcome. Even a Wiccan priestess was allowed to issue what we suppose was an anti-prayer. Council members and visitors were under no obligation to pray along and there was no evidence of punishment or even disapproval for anyone who didn't.
Both Will and the Journal ignored the fact that town officials extended those invitations to non-Christians only after the lawsuit was filed.
Now it appears the town of Greece has backed away from the inclusivity that right-wing media touted. As the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported, last week the town adopted a new policy for its legislative prayer that is being condemned as "an enormous bait and switch" because it seems to bar the non-believers the Supreme Court claimed were allowed to participate. Designed by the religious right's Alliance Defending Freedom -- the legal organization who led the Court to believe that "a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation" -- the new guidelines require that speakers represent a local, established religious organization that "regularly meet[s] for the primary purpose of sharing a religious perspective."