Fox News figures are adopting an impossible standard to launch unprovable allegations against Hillary Clinton, arguing that the absence of an email can insinuate that Clinton either withheld or destroyed evidence.
Gowdy, chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, claimed on the March 8 edition of CBS' Face The Nation that there are "gaps of months" in Clinton's email documents turned over by the State Department for the committee's investigation. To prove his claim, Gowdy referenced a photo of Clinton on her phone during a trip to Tripoli, Libya, and the absence of any email from that day related to Benghazi. According to Gowdy's logic: "It strains credibility to believe that if you're on your way to Libya to discuss Libyan policy that there's not a single document that's been turned over to Congress."
Fox News personalities quickly adopted Gowdy's absurd line of attack against Clinton. On his radio show, Sean Hannity asserted that "you can't tell me that it was an accident that 55,000 pages of emails were turned over but not one was about Benghazi." Fox contributor Andrew Napolitano took the attack further alleging that Clinton's control of her documents means Gowdy "does not know if she gave him everything he subpoenaed." Bill O'Reilly echoed Gowdy's allegations on the March 9 edition of his show, saying "there's already a gap brought out by Congressman Gowdy" because "the day that she traveled to Libya, there's no emails that came out on that and it's inconceivable that she wouldn't have any." And during an interview with Gowdy, Megyn Kelly agreed with demands that Clinton turn over her private email server stating that Clinton "chose to create a situation" where questions about her emails would need to be answered.
According to that fallacious reasoning, the absence of evidence proves wrongdoing on Clinton's part.
The reality is, the State Department turned over Clinton emails related to Benghazi to the Select Committee months ago. In a March 6 letter chastising Gowdy for "the very partisan and political turn" to issue a subpoena to Clinton, Democratic members of the House Select Committee noted that the State Department already turned over 300 Clinton emails related to Benghazi, and those emails confirm the findings of the Accountability Review Board:
These documents include no evidence to suggest that Secretary Clinton ordered the Secretary of Defense to "stand down," no evidence to suggest that she was personally involved in denying requests for security for Benghazi, and no evidence to suggest that she ordered the destruction of documents. Nothing in these emails contradicts or calls into question the findings of the independent Accountability Review Board.
Bill O'Reilly tried to shift focus away from the scrutiny he is facing for embellishing his reporting career by claiming that Fox News is under attack.
After Mother Jones called into question O'Reilly's accounts of covering the 1982 Falklands War, a number of journalists -- including many of O'Reilly's former CBS News colleagues -- and an Argentine historian have discredited O'Reilly's description of the riot he covered as a combat situation where "many were killed." And more holes have been exposed in other accounts of his reporting career -- his claim that he personally "heard" a shotgun blast that killed a figure in the investigation into President John F. Kennedy's assassination while reporting for a Dallas television station in 1977 has also been contradicted by his former colleagues at the station as well as a police report, contemporaneous reporting, and a congressional investigator who was probing Kennedy's death.
On the February 24 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly attempted to shift focus away from scrutiny surrounding discrepancies in his accounts of his reporting career by claiming that Fox News is under attack. Pointing to criticism disputing his claims about covering the 1982 Falklands War as a CBS News correspondent, O'Reilly claimed that despite rebutting such criticism, the media attacks against him have been "vicious, it's more vicious now than it [has] ever been." O'Reilly asserted that the reason he and his Fox News colleagues are under attack is because "Fox gives voice to conservatives and traditional people," and are "putting tremendous pressure on the Obama administration to fight the terror savages," and holding Hillary Clinton accountable ahead of a potential 2016 presidential bid. O'Reilly added, "On a personal note, I'm pretty tired of all the garbage":
Fox contributor Erick Erickson parroted Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) to cast doubt on President Obama's Christianity, alleging he is not a Christian "in any meaningful way," despite the fact that right-wing attempts to call Obama's faith into question have long been discredited.
On February 21, Erickson expressed doubt about President Obama's Christianity, writing on Twitter that Obama is not a Christian "in any meaningful way":
I don't think Barack Obama is a Christian. He certainly is not one in any meaningful way.-- Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) February 22, 2015
Erickson's statement echoes the comments of 2016 presidential hopeful Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who told an interviewer "I don't know" whether Obama is a Christian, or whether "Obama loves his country" earlier the same day. As Democratic National Committee (DNC) spokesperson Holly Shulman pointed out, Walker's comments come after he sat "silently by when Rudy Giuliani made an outrageous comment that our President doesn't love America," -- a comment that has been condemned in mainstream media, but fiercely defended by conservative media like Fox News, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh.
Just as when right-wing media rushed to justify Giuliani's baseless assertion that Obama doesn't love America, Erickson's echoing of Walker's absurd statement will likely pressure other GOP presidential hopefuls to parrot claims that Obama is not a Christian in order to avoid attacks from the right-wing pundits who will help shape the opinions of conservative primary voters.
Fox News and conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have a long history of questioning Obama's religion, and even pushing the debunked myth that he is a Muslim, despite the fact that references to his Christian faith are commonplace in Obama's public speeches, and accusations that Obama is a Muslim have no basis in reality.
Bill O'Reilly claims he never said he was in the Falkland Islands while reporting on the Falklands War from Buenos Aires. But over the years, O'Reilly has repeatedly created the impression he was in a combat zone.
Right-wing media are scandalizing President Obama's refusal to conflate terrorism with all of Islam, attacking the president for not focusing on "Islamic extremism" in the three-day White House summit to combat violent extremism. But the conservative outrage ignores the fact that conflating terrorism with an entire religion would harm U.S. national security and foreign policy interests by alienating allied Muslim nations and play into the hands of terrorists who claim the U.S. is at war with Islam.
Media are recycling old news that The Clinton Foundation accepts foreign donations when neither Bill nor Hillary Clinton hold political office to fearmonger over "ethical concerns" surrounding the donations, ignoring the fact that it is not unusual for foundations to receive foreign donations and that Clinton's record as Secretary of State makes clear that she was not politically influenced by previous donations to the Foundation.
Conservative author, filmmaker, and Fox News darling Dinesh D'Souza attacked President Obama as a "boy out of the ghetto" and "vulgar man" following the president's recent appearance in a BuzzFeed video promoting health coverage through HealthCare.gov.
YOU CAN TAKE THE BOY OUT OF THE GHETTO...Watch this vulgar man show his stuff, while America cowers in embarrassment pic.twitter.com/C9yLG4QoOK-- Dinesh D'Souza (@DineshDSouza) February 18, 2015
I know Obama wasn't actually raised in a ghetto--I'm using the term metaphorically, to suggest his unpresidential conduct-- Dinesh D'Souza (@DineshDSouza) February 18, 2015
TRANSLATING FOR OBAMA GROUPIES: A guy without class doesn't become a classy guy, even when he's in the White House-- Dinesh D'Souza (@DineshDSouza) February 18, 2015
Rush Limbaugh advocated for Senate Republicans to eliminate Democrats' ability to filibuster a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding bill, his latest in a series of reversals on the legality of filibuster reform.
On the February 17 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh urged Senate Republicans to eliminate the filibuster, which would keep Democrats in the minority from blocking the GOP's DHS funding bill that would "gut years of the Obama administration's directives on immigration reform."
Limbaugh advocated for a complete elimination of the filibuster, saying "it would be poetic justice" following Democrats' 2013 vote to eliminate the ability of the minority party to filibuster most presidential nominees (a move taken in response to years of unprecedented Republican obstruction). He assured Republicans, "It would also be good. It would work" to halt Obama's immigration reform.
What Limbaugh doesn't admit is that when Democrats changed the filibuster rules in 2013, he raged that Democrats had taken a step towards "total statist authoritarianism." At the time, Limbaugh complained that "250 years of rules, Senate rules, out the window, as the Democrats have made it plain they're not interested in democracy.
Conveniently, now that Republicans have majority control of the Senate, Limbaugh argues, "we ought to do the same thing."
The radio host's selective outrage is not at all surprising given the fact that he enthusiastically supported similar filibuster reform when Republicans controlled the Senate in 2004. Then he even called the so-called "nuclear option" -- the ability of the majority party in the Senate to eliminate the minority's ability to block presidential nominations -- the "Constitutional option," encouraging Republicans to pursue it.
Fox News' flagship news program aired graphic footage of the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group executing a hostage, despite previously criticizing other media outlets for airing such footage they called "terrorist propaganda."
This week the Islamic State (ISIS) released a video purporting to show the horrific murder of a Jordanian pilot being held hostage by the terrorist group. Jordan officials confirmed the pilot's death, and are currently working to authenticate the video produced and distributed by ISIS.
Fox News' Special Report aired images of the execution from the terrorists' video on February 3. Host Bret Baier explained the network's reasoning for showing the graphic images, warning viewers, "The images are brutal. They are graphic. They are upsetting," but, "The reason we are showing you this is to bring you the reality of Islamic terrorism and to label it as such. We feel you need to see it." After displaying the images, Baier added, "Having seen the whole video, it is something you cannot unsee. Horrific and barbaric, as well as calculating and skilled at high-tech propaganda." FoxNews.com later uploaded the full-length, 22-minute video on its site.
Early news coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign has tacitly allowed the GOP to disingenuously rebrand itself as a party of the middle class, despite the fact that the party's new rhetoric doesn't align with its policy positions that continue to exacerbate income inequality. When highlighting Republican rhetoric about the need to reduce income inequality, media should take care to hold the GOP accountable for its actions, not just its words.
Recent Gallup polling shows "two out of three Americans are dissatisfied with the way income and wealth are currently distributed in the U.S.," and Republicans have taken note. Prospective GOP presidential candidates have suddenly started talking about income inequality ahead of the 2016 elections, apparently heeding advice from the Republican National Committee's (RNC) post-mortem of the 2012 election, which warned that the GOP had been "increasingly marginalizing itself" and urged the party to improve its optics by recognizing the fact "that the middle class has struggled mightily and that far too many of our citizens live in poverty."
During the January 25 Koch brothers-sponsored Freedom Partners Forum, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (TX), Rand Paul (KY), and Marco Rubio (FL) each took the opportunity to bemoan income inequality and blame the Obama administration for a growing income gap. Mitt Romney claimed that "income inequality had worsened" during President Obama's time in office in a January 28 speech at Mississippi State University, while Jeb Bush's "Right to Rise" PAC has declared that "the income gap is real."
The Washington Post, Politico, USA Today, and Bloomberg Politics each reported on the 2016 hopefuls' Freedom Partners comments, highlighting the senators' statements lamenting income inequality and focusing on "issues such as the minimum wage ... [and] tax reform." The Wall Street Journal featured Republican policy proposals "aimed at boosting the middle class," and applauded Bush, Romney, Rubio, and Paul for "promoting or seeking ideas for shoring up the middle class." The Post's Post Politics blog and NBCNews.com's "First Read" emphasized Romney's recent focus on income inequality and poverty, pointing to speeches at the RNC and Mississippi State University.
These media outlets acknowledged the fact that Republicans are changing their rhetoric on inequality -- but it's actions and policies that count, not just rhetoric. Media cannot take GOP candidates at their word when their policies continue to exacerbate inequality and burden the middle and lower class.
Cruz, Paul, and Rubio all oppose recent calls to raise the minimum wage. At a January 25 private donor event, each of these senators argued that raising the minimum wage would eliminate jobs. Cruz claimed "the minimum wage consistently hurts the most vulnerable," while Rubio called focus on raising the minimum wage "a waste of time." During the same event, none of the senators "said they could stomach any tax increases," and Rubio called the ACA a "perfect example" of "cronyism," blaming health reform for halting job creation. Just this month, Cruz introduced a bill to repeal the health care law, while Paul echoed calls to repeal and suggested instead to "try freedom for a while." Such positions are consistent with the GOP's historic stances on these issues. As MSNBC's Steve Benen noted, supposed Republican attempts to address income inequality, "in practice, ... apparently mean endorsing an agenda that cuts off unemployment benefits, slashes food stamps, cuts funding for public services, eliminates health care benefits, and rejects minimum wage increases."
Economists have often noted that wage stagnation has a profound impact on aggravating income inequality, and as the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has pointed out, raising the federal minimum wage just to $10.10 per hour by 2016 would "raise the wages of 27.8 million workers." The Congressional Budget Office has also reported on the "ripple effect" of raising the minimum wage, saying it would benefit 16.5 million workers and lift nearly one million people out of poverty. And according to a Center For American Progress report, a $10.10 minimum wage would cut food stamp participation and taxpayer expenditures by $4.6 billion annually. Support for anti-poverty government programs -- like SNAP, unemployment benefits, school lunch programs, and the like -- cut the country's poverty rate "nearly in half," according to research from the Institute for Research on Poverty.
Rather than alleviating income inequality, lawmakers have worsened inequality by consistently cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans, according to a 2013 EPI study. Economist Larry Summers has emphasized the importance of "closing [tax] loopholes that only the wealthy can enjoy," noting that would "enable targeted tax measures such as the earned-income tax credit to raise the incomes of the poor and middle class more than dollar for dollar by incentivizing working and saving."
And despite countless Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the health care law will reduce income inequality, boost the incomes of lower and middle-class Americans, and extend coverage to 15.1 million uninsured adults with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
Media acknowledging the GOP's new talking points and mottos is one thing. But given the 2016 hopefuls' apparent commitment to policies that stand in contrast to their rhetoric on income inequality, media should make sure and hold these Republicans accountable for their actions, not just their words.