"Whether it's true or not, we have to wait to see."
That's the caveat Fox News legal correspondent Bob Massi provided to viewers after reporting a baseless conspiracy theory about the government's motivation for enforcing the law against a Nevada cattle rancher who has been defying court orders for decades.
For years, cattle rancher Cliven Bundy defied legal orders instructing him to remove his cattle from a publicly owned allotment of land in the Nevada desert. Bundy, who says he does not recognize the authority of the federal government, initiated a decades-long conflict in 1993 when he began refusing to pay grazing fees related to his cattle's use of lands referred to as the Bunkerville allotment. An escalating series of judicial orders eventually led to the revocation of his grazing rights and orders to remove his cattle. In April, officers from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which stewards the land in question, began impounding the cattle in order to pay off the nearly $1 million Bundy owes in unpaid fines and grazing fees.
The conflict reached a boiling point on Saturday, when Bundy and hundreds of protesters, including militia members, initiated a standoff with authorities. Violent rhetoric associated with the movement led BLM to abandon its efforts to round up the cattle.
Fox News legal correspondent Bob Massi was still near the Nevada ranch after the standoff wound down, and he issued several reports on the April 14 edition of Fox & Friends speculating that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was behind a nefarious plot to bar Bundy's cattle from public lands in order to build a solar power plant there at the behest of a Chinese energy firm. Massi made sure to point out that he was repeating these claims without knowing "whether it's true or not."
MASSI: As Eric just said, the present director of the Bureau of Land Management is Harry Reid's former political adviser. And it's been reported, whether it's true or not, one of the things that the ranchers have said -- and I've interviewed Ryan, who's the son of Mr. Bundy, his sister Susan -- that they believe that there's plans out here for some solar energy projects out here that Reid has basically endorsed. There's one at State Line in Nevada, there's one in San Bernardino. And it's also been reported, whether it's true or not, that, Senator Harry Reid when he went to China made some kind of deal with a Chinese manufacturer over there to actually put in the solar plants over here in the state of Nevada and in California and Utah. Whether it's true or not, we have to wait and see, but there's no question I'll tell you this: Being here since 1974, anything that happens in Nevada, Harry Reid's behind it one way or the other.
The claims about Harry Reid's involvement appears to have originated with conspiracy-monger Alex Jones, whose website Infowars.com alleged that BLM wants to remove Bundy's cattle "in order to make way for solar power stations."
As the theory goes, BLM has studied the possible impact of solar power plants in certain portions of the Nevada desert. BLM has a new director, Neil Kornze, who is a former Reid adviser. Reid's son is an attorney at a law firm that represents a large Chinese energy firm who wanted to build a solar power plant in Nevada, and Reid has himself expressed support for the project. Ergo, Kornze is Reid's puppet at the BLM, who is strictly enforcing the law against Bundy in order to place a solar power plant on land where Bundy's cattle have been trespassing for more than 15 years.
Unfortunately, a quick glance at a map illustrates that the Alex Jones dots don't connect. Bundy's ranch and the allotment in question are located north and west of Lake Mead, near Bunkerville, NV. Per Reuters, the proposed site for the Chinese power plant was "90 miles south of Las Vegas" near Laughlin, NV. And the land currently being studied by BLM for possible solar development (dubbed the "Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone") is north east of Lake Mead and well south west of the Bunkerville allotment.
Opposition to virulent conservative columnist Ted Nugent's appearance at an event sponsored by The Blade of Toledo, OH, is growing, with the president of the paper's Newspaper Guild speaking out against Nugent and an anti-gun violence group launching a petition to stop the concert.
"As the president of the Guild and more importantly as an individual, I do not support Mr. Nugent's political views," Deborah Riley-Jackson, president of the Newspaper Guild of America Local 34043, which represents Blade newsroom employees, told Media Matters via email. "Freedom of speech requires one not to engage in recklessness."
At issue is The Blade's sponsorship of the upcoming Northwest Ohio Rib-Off, a four-day August food and music event the newspaper has been running for four years.
The Blade announced last week that Nugent, a rock musician, columnist for conspiracy site WND, and National Rifle Association board member whose offensive comments about President Obama and other leaders have drawn criticism, will play the festival on August 8.
Riley-Jackson said she did not believe Nugent's appearance would hurt her members' credibility, but stressed, "I do believe that [the] event itself may suffer. The Rib-Off is a family event that a lot of people look forward to, enjoying good food and entertainment. The people will decide if it was a good idea to have included in the lineup of entertainment."
The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, meanwhile, has launched a petition urging organizers to remove Nugent from the concert line-up.
The petition states, in part, "The Northwest Ohio Rib-Off webpage brags that 'nothing goes better with savory BBQ than jamming, rib-bone in hand, to a rocking band.' Certainly, nothing goes worse with good food than the virulently racist rhetoric of a man who has no regard for the dignity or rights of others."
Mike Mori, The Blade's sales director and Rib-Off event director, told Media Matters last week that he had already received "quite a few" calls from readers objecting to the appearance.
"It surprised me how many calls I got," he said. "I'm listening to the people and I probably will do something different next year if I can."
The Wall Street Journal is pushing the false narrative that Hillary Clinton is a hypocrite for taking sizable speaking fees while Democrats criticize inequality.
Since leaving public service as secretary of state, Clinton has followed in the footsteps of predecessors Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell by embarking on a nationwide speaking tour, reportedly receiving fees of more than $200,000 per appearance to speak to a variety of industry groups. She typically discusses her experience at State and takes questions from a moderator or the audience about current events. These engagements have come amid a flurry of media attention over whether Clinton will seek the presidency in 2016.
The Journal editorial board is using these appearances to attack Clinton and try to drive a wedge between her and the Obama administration. "We don't begrudge anyone making a buck," they write in an April 13 piece, "though it is amusing to see the Clintons getting rich off the same 1% that President Obama's Democratic Party blames for most of mankind's ills, at least in election years."
Conservatives have long sought to tar rich progressives as hypocrites for seeking to help the poor while being wealthy. But there is no inherent inconsistency between making money and opposing inequality -- what matters is the policies one espouses while doing both. If Clinton was calling for policies that enriched the 1 percent while making money hand over fist and decrying inequality, the Journal might have a point. But there is no evidence that is the case.
Clinton is not currently a candidate for office, and thus has not fleshed out a detailed policy platform. But a cursory review of her rhetoric and proposals from her 2008 presidential run shows that she both called attention to inequality and put forward policies intended to reduce it -- including tax increases that would have hit her own family.
In a 2007 speech laying out her vision of "shared prosperity," Clinton explained the need to "solve this growing problem of inequality" with "a new vision of economic fairness and prosperity for the 21st century." Her proposals included "return[ing] to the income tax rates for upper-income Americans that we had in the 1990s" as well as increased access to early childhood and college education, more support for job training, increasing the minimum wage, and increasing access to health care.
At the time, Bill and Hillary Clinton had made between $10 million and $20 million for the last several years, meaning that the tax increases Hillary Clinton was proposing would have impacted her own bottom line.
By contrast, while often speaking of the need to help the middle class, Sen. John McCain in 2008 and Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012 both put forward tax proposals that would have given huge tax breaks to wealthy families like their own.
It's those policies that are the key in determining hypocrisy, not personal wealth alone.
Showtime's new nine-part documentary on climate change features hard-hitting connections between global warming and extreme weather, interviews with expert scientists, and calls for action. Is "Years of Living Dangerously" catching on to a new trend with reporting on climate change?
"Years of Living Dangerously," the Showtime documentary series produced by Oscar-winning James Cameron and other Hollywood icons, has been heralded as "perhaps the most important climate change multimedia communication endeavor in history." The nine-part series' Hollywood filmmakers paired with veterans from CBS' 60 Minutes (Joel Back and David Gelber), and featured a science advisory board to ensure accuracy, including scientists Heidi Cullen, Jim Hansen, Michael Mann, Michael Oppenheimer, and more. The series seeks to tell "the biggest story of our time" in an emotion-evoking blockbuster format, as a way to "close the gap" between science and action.
The April 13 series premiere came one week after NBC's deep-dive special on climate change, and both are sorely needed. Even as top reports are showing that the issue is becoming a dire threat that calls for immediate action, a Pew Research poll indicates that Americans continue to rank addressing climate change as a low priority. Social science research suggests that how people rank the importance of various issues is a direct result of media coverage of the issue. In an interview with National Journal, Media Matters Executive Vice President Angelo Carusone stated that the recent large-scale expositions on global warming are a reflection of "the hollowness of the overall landscape and the anxieties around the inaction starting to percolate and feeding a demand to end this endless debate," adding that "[w]hen a major network devotes that much time to it, it shows they're responding to a demand." "Years of Living Dangerously" and NBC's climate special both work to reverse the attitude of apathy, by showing the impacts of climate change are already happening and drastically altering quality of life. The premiere episode of Showtime's series, titled "Dry Season," takes viewers to see climate refugees in Syria (displaced due to severe drought), rainforests in Indonesia being burned to the ground, and cattle ranches in Texas suffering from drought.
Both specials treat manmade global warming as a given and feature established experts on climate science, a welcome change from the contrarian "skeptics" that have been infiltrating the media with doubt and misinformation. "Years of Living Dangerously" begins with Harrison Ford inspecting carbon dioxide measurements -- the primary cause of manmade global warming -- with the help of NASA scientists. The premiere episode goes on to feature Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, a specialist in drought, along with three other climate scientists. The episode included more climate scientists than celebrities (or contrarians). Carusone lauded this aspect, saying "[e]nding this debate is controversial, but someone needs to do so."
Although the premiere episode of "Years Of Living Dangerously" doesn't touch on any solutions to climate change, the series promises to address solutions in later episodes, including segments on renewable energy, global warming as a political priority, and the "greening" of the corporate sector. According to a study from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, painting a dire picture of climate change without providing a solution may cause an audience to reject the message, echoing previous research. As a recent study shows that most broadcast evening news shows often decoupled solutions from messages about the threat of global warming, the Showtime and NBC series again provide a fresh take on the issue by including possible solutions.
Catastrophic climate change is a simple message with many complexities, so these media deep-dives may be necessary for the message to break through. Chris Hayes also hosted an hour-long MSNBC special on the politics of climate change last fall and spoke of the importance of communicating solutions:
I strongly believe that it is extremely important to convince people that the problem is, in fact, solvable. Our record of environmental regulation of pollution, in fact, shows that very often the eventual cost is far, far less than was originally estimated. Human ingenuity is an incredible thing! So if you picked up a certain upbeat undercurrent in the show, you weren't wrong. I happen to think the problem, as big and terrifying as it is, really is solvable and really will be solved. And I think it's doubly important to let people know that so as to engender the level of investment and action we need to make sure that hopeful future is ours.
The recent excellent reporting on climate change may act as a "vanguard" for a changing media landscape according to Carusone, but is it enough to tip the scales?
For commentators who claim to despise lawlessness and who have attacked the Obama administration for allegedly feeding disorder and politicizing it, conservatives were quick to embrace a lawless Nevada rancher who for two decades has refused to pay federal grazing fees on public land and is now promoting his cattle crusade as a war against the federal government.
According to the right wing media, paying the obvious penalty for openly refusing to obey the law for decades suddenly translates into victimhood for rancher Cliven Bundy and "harassment" by the government, as conservative commentator Dana Loesch tried to spin away Bundy's contempt for law and order.
Aside from ignoring the law, Bundy and his armed, anti-government supporters have repeatedly threatened violence and fanned the flames of confrontation with revolutionary, insurrectionist rhetoric, like declaring a "Range War." ("Serious bloodshed was narrowly avoided," the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported last week from the site of the flash point.)
All of the incendiary rhetoric and the loaded allegations about a tyrannical government has been marketed and promoted by Fox News and the rest of the conservative media, which claims to revere America as a nation of laws; the same Fox News that declared war on Occupy Wall Street protesters in 2011 and condemned them for being lawless. ("Domestic terrorists"!)
But now, suddenly the rules of engagement have shifted. Bundy is a right-wing hero and a massive Fox News flip-flop has taken place.
A gas company is attempting to use a half-century old Pennsylvania law to frack underneath the land of property owners who refuse to allow the controversial practice on their land, yet a majority of Pennsylvanians may be unaware as two of the state's top three newspapers have failed to mention the contentious issue.
Hilcorp Energy, a Texas-based oil and gas company, is pushing legal action in Pennsylvania to be able to drill underneath the property of landowners that have refused to sign a lease if enough of their neighbors have already signed, a practice known as "forced pooling." The "unused and outdated" law, which is "pitting neighbor against neighbor" as reported by the Associated Press, would "shred private property rights" according to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, the only of the three highest circulating papers in Pennsylvania to cover the story. The other two, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, have completely overlooked the issue which has received national attention.
The "forced pooling" law would force landowners to allow the use of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," to extract natural gas reserves underneath their property without their consent, creating concerns about the impact on property values and the threat of water pollution. A leaked document from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that natural gas extraction has caused methane to leak into domestic water wells, causing "significant damage" to the drinking water supply of the town.
Pennsylvania isn't the only state dealing with the "forced pooling" issue. Energy companies have been exploiting similar laws in many states including in Illinois and Ohio to the outrage of unsuspecting landowners. In Ohio, citizens are "furious" about the ruling that one citizen fears will "make him legally responsible for spills and other damage" according to the Associated Press. Some residents have "resigned to losing future income," while dozens of others are pushing forward lawsuits in an attempt to stop the forcible drilling.
There is a similar sentiment in Pennsylvania even among those who support natural gas drilling and fracking. For example, Pennsylvania's Republican Governor Tom Corbett -- a strong proponent of natural gas extraction in Pennsylvania -- opposes the law, likening it to "private eminent domain." And Marcellus Drilling News, a pro-fracking news site, has expressed disapproval of Hilcorp's use of the law, calling it "the low road."
ABC host George Stephanopoulos announced on This Week that talk radio host and Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham is the network's "newest contributor." On her syndicated radio program The Laura Ingraham Show, Ingraham has repeatedly engaged in inflammatory and hateful rhetoric, lobbing numerous attacks against everyone from President Obama to people who receive government assistance to her favorite target, immigrants.
Here are 10 hateful moments from Ingraham in the past year:
1. Ingraham Used A Gunshot Sound Effect To Cut Off A Replay Of Rep. John Lewis' March On Washington Speech. During her coverage of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington in August 2013, Ingraham criticized the event and its speakers, saying the goal "was to co-opt the legacy of Martin Luther King into a modern-day liberal agenda." She then played a clip of a speech from Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington, abruptly interrupting the playback of his comments with the sound of a loud gunshot. Following criticism of this sound effect, Ingraham defended her use of the gunshot sound, instead calling it a "blow up effect" and claiming that criticism of her using the sound effect on Lewis was an attempt "to crush free speech."
The Hill published an op-ed criticizing the "growing fascination with publicly funded broadband networks" and touting the "private-sector" as the best way to build telecommunications networks. But the Capitol Hill paper failed to disclose that the author is a telecom consultant and co-chair of a telecom trade association.
Larry Irving wrote an April 9 piece claiming "the specter of governments operating broadband networks in competition with the private sector, or of state or local governments serving as both regulators and owners of competing broadband networks, could stifle investment or reduce private-sector access to capital." Irving added that "with the exception of bringing or improving service to remote geographies, I don't see many problems that government-owned or -operated broadband networks will solve."
The Hill simply identified Irving as follows: "Irving is the CEO of the Irving Group and served for almost seven years as assistant secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)."
That identification vastly understates Irving's financial connections to the industry he wrote about. Irving is the founding co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA), an IRS 501(c)(6) telecommunications trade association whose purpose is to "prevent the creation of burdensome regulations," according to documents filed with the IRS. IIA reportedly receives financial support from AT&T and includes members such as Alcatel-Lucent and TechAmerica, which lobbies on behalf of technology companies. The group's 2011 IRS tax form -- the most recent one available -- states it received over $18 million in revenue.
While The Hill noted that Irving heads the Irving Group, it did not disclose that the firm provides "strategic advice and assistance to international telecommunications and information technology companies."
Fox News' Sean Hannity is increasingly -- and dangerously -- taking on the role of PR agent for a Nevada rancher defying the federal government with violent threats.
Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy has quickly become a darling of right-wing media over his decades-long refusal to pay federal government fees required to allow his cattle to exploit public lands. In July 2013, a federal court ordered the rancher to remove his cattle from the public property or they would be confiscated and sold to pay off the $1 million in fees and trespassing fines Bundy owes. When that confiscation began this month, the rancher took his battle to conservative media, who held him up as a folk hero battling big government invasion into private property rights and states' rights.
Bundy's defiance has been marked by violent and revolutionary rhetoric toward the federal government, hints of a bloody confrontation cheered on by the right-wing fringes who have repeatedly compared the situation to notorious and deadly standoffs like Ruby Ridge and Waco. For example, when Bundy appeared on his radio program, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones posited that if Bundy's supporters confronted federal agents at the auction for Bundy's confiscated cattle, which the rancher encouraged, it "could be how the shot heard round the world happens in this case." Jones warned that "this could turn into 1776 very quickly."
But such dangerous hyperbole isn't confined to the fringes. Increasingly, Sean Hannity's promotion and defense of the rancher's actions and threats is starting to resemble that of far-right extremists.
Hannity interviewed Bundy on his Fox program on April 9, sympathizing with the rancher's claims and arguing that allowing Bundy's cattle to graze on public lands "keeps the price of meat down for every American consumer."
His rhetoric had noticeably escalated two days later when he invited Bundy onto his radio program The Sean Hannity Show. Hannity argued that federal agents have "drawn the wrong line in the sand here," praising Bundy because he "like[s] anybody that's willing to fight."
The desert tortoise has become a symbolic scapegoat for right-wing media figures running defense for an anti-government cattle rancher who's threatening to wage a range war against federal law enforcement officers.
Conflict has erupted in Nevada between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the family and supporters of rancher Cliven Bundy, a man who has refused multiple court orders to remove his cattle from public land. Bundy has stated that he does not recognize federal law and in fact argued in court in 1998 that the United States government didn't own the land in question (he lost). Now BLM officers and contract cowboys have begun confiscating Bundy's herd. And the scofflaw rancher has emerged as a right-wing folk hero after repeatedly stating that he owns firearms and is willing to "do whatever it takes to gain our liberty and freedom back."
At the center of the controversy -- according to right-wing media figures -- is the formerly endangered (and still threatened) desert tortoise. When Bundy's grazing rights were modified by BLM in 1993, it was in part to protect the species, which inhabits the same publicly-owned desert areas trodden by Bundy's cattle and was at the time on the brink of extinction.
That's where the connection to the tortoise ends, however. In 1993, Bundy began refusing to pay grazing fees required by the new rules. This led to an escalating series of reprisals from the judicial system that culminated in an order to confiscate Bundy's cattle in order to repay $1 million in fines and fees that over 20 years later remained unpaid. The current enforcement has less to do with protecting the tortoise, and more to do with Bundy's refusal to comply with the law or recognize the legitimacy of the federal government.
Nevertheless, right-wing supporters of Bundy's stand have tried to pin the conflict on the tortoise and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which is being depicted in negative terms ranging from being dismissed as irrelevant and economically harmful to becoming the basis for conspiracy theories about unlawful land grabs by Big Government.
On Fox, the situation afforded the network the opportunity to perpetuate the conservative narrative that the ESA unjustly puts the rights of wildlife above the rights of people. One host declared, "We're not anti-turtle, but we are pro-logic and tradition." His co-host sarcastically (and inaccurately) described the government's position as "get the cows off so they can have the desert tortoise live there in peace."
David Blackmon, a Forbes contributor, penned a piece titled, "Using Snipers To Protect A Tortoise." (It's since been taken down, but cached here). In it, Blackmon argued that protecting the desert tortoise was merely a pretext being used by the government "with the clear expectation of running the Bundys off the land entirely."
As evidence that the protection of the tortoise is a scam, some in conservative media have pointed to the Bureau of Land Management itself, claiming it's been euthanizing tortoises and/or "planting" them in the desert in order to make a case that they're endangered.
In fact, a BLM tortoise conservancy in Nevada was forced to shut down due to budget cuts. Prior to its closure, the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center had to make the difficult decision to put down the tortoises that carried disease or were too feeble to survive on their own. The others were released back into the wild.
But despite how real the concerns about the future of desert tortoise may be, the reality is that the right-wing media is simply providing cover to a rancher who refuses to obey the law.