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.
From the April 2 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
From the March 27 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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From the February 24 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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On March 5, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund, a class action brought on behalf of investors allegedly defrauded by false disclosures of the Texas oil giant. Halliburton has fought to deny a trial on the merits for over a decade, and is now asking the conservative justices to overturn decades of precedent that allows shareholder lawsuits under the rebuttable presumption that this type of misinformation is a "fraud on the market."
Fox News used the case of a woman whose son was killed by an unlicensed, undocumented immigrant driver to distort the debate over granting licenses to undocumented immigrants in Massachusetts. Fox has repeatedly highlighted similar cases over the years to stoke fears that licensing undocumented immigrants would make roads more dangerous when in fact the opposite is true. In fact, such fears have been criticized as "anti-immigrant hysteria."
Current Massachusetts law requires that immigrants prove they're lawfully in the country to obtain a driver's license in the state. However, lawmakers have reportedly scheduled a hearing to debate an amendment to the law next month.
On Fox & Friends, Fox anchor Heather Nauert reported on the proposal, saying that an immigrant advocacy group in Massachusetts "say[s] that giving illegals licenses would make the roads safer, but one mother whose son was killed by an illegal immigrant driver disagrees."
However, the evidence shows that licensing undocumented drivers makes roads safer. An increasing number of states in fact have responded to the problem of unlicensed, undocumented drivers by enacting laws that require them to be licensed, thus making sure they are trained and insured. As the Baltimore Sun editorialized following Maryland's approval of such a measure (emphasis added):
It should be obvious to anyone who depends on a car for getting back and forth to work, ferrying schoolchildren or running errands that the safety of everyone on the road is increased when all motorists have had to demonstrate a minimum level of competence in driving skills and knowledge of traffic laws. Protecting public safety is, after all, the main reason states require drivers to be licensed; the fact that government-issued licenses are also widely used as photo ID cards is an important but secondary consideration in deciding who can legally drive.
What the licenses can do, however, is help ensure that people who want to drive on the state's roads meet minimum safety standards and that their vehicles are registered and insured. Undocumented immigrants are less likely to leave the scene of an accident or attempt to flee from police if they know a traffic stop won't automatically get them deported for driving without a license, and that will greatly reduce the hazard such drivers pose to other motorists as well as make life easier for immigrants who are dependent on cars to get where they need to go.
The Sun went on to note that concerns that these measures have made residents less safe "are unfounded" and that such "objections are little more than the product of anti-immigrant hysteria, often whipped up for partisan advantage."
Scrambling to mitigate news that conservative filmmaker and Fox News darling Dinesh D'Souza was indicted for felony federal campaign finance violations, the network suggested that Democrat Pierce O'Donnell's 2012 misdemeanor convictions for the same crime is evidence that the Obama administration is targeting political enemies -- but O'Donnell was originally charged with even more felony counts than D'Souza.
D'Souza, known for his conspiratorial film 2016: Obama's America, was indicted this week "by a federal grand jury for arranging excessive campaign contributions to a candidate for the U.S. Senate," according to Reuters. D'Souza allegedly repaid people who, at his direction, contributed $20,000 to New York Republican senate candidate Wendy Long, well beyond the legal contribution limit.
His allies in the conservative media handled news of the indictment by accusing the Department of Justice of seeking to silence people on President Obama's "enemies list" in the custom of "Nazi Germany" and "Stalin."
Fox's evening news show Special Report attempted to further this conspiracy theory by pointing to the case of Pierce O'Donnell, an attorney who pled guilty to making approximately $26,000 in illegal campaign contributions to disgraced former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards' 2004 campaign. The program repeatedly suggested political retribution was at play because O'Donnell "faced only a misdemeanor conviction" for a near identical crime to D'Souza's, who is charged with a felony. Correspondent Doug McKelway and contributor Charles Krauthammer raised these claims in different segments during the program.
But there is a fatal flaw in Fox's argument: O'Donnell was actually indicted for three felonies, more serious charges than D'Souza faces.
From the January 24 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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From the January 24 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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Right-wing media have hyped demands from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) to illegally remove the Department of Justice attorney tapped to investigate the IRS targeting scandal because of her political contributions, despite the fact that the DOJ is prohibited by law from considering political affiliations or contributions in personnel decisions.
From the January 7 edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes:
Someone alert Bill O'Reilly, Matt Drudge, Michelle Malkin and the rest of the right-wing media team that spent last year alternately belittling and hysterically hyping Chicago crime: their argument just fell apart.
Conservatives, led by O'Reilly, Drudge, and Malkin, callously used Chicago crime to attack President Obama and push back against his support for stronger gun laws. Pointing out that Obama's hometown is Chicago and his former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is the city's mayor, they frequently highlighted the fact that the city struggled with well-publicized gang shootings despite some of the tightest laws in the country. The right tagged Chicago as a gun control test case and deemed it a miserable failure. (Fox contributor Katie Pavlich: "Slaughter in Gun Control Chicago")
O'Reilly has alternately compared Chicago's murder rate to "many Holocausts," and "Afghanistan." The Drudge Report linked to 134 "CHICAGOLAND" crime headlines last year, all meant to convey the image of a lawless city on the verge of bloody collapse. And Malkin let loose with her usual invective, denouncing Chicago as one of many Democratic-run "hellholes"; urban centers teeming with "juvenile delinquency, organized crime, ruinous government dependency, corruption and out-of-control spending."
Conservative conspiracists such as Rush Limbaugh even claimed Democratic politicians want the city's murder rate to remain high so they can use the killings to advocate for stronger gun laws. It's all part of a larger conservative media movement to portray Obama's former hometown as being driven under by murder and violence. They seem to want the city to become a symbol of doom and "urban decay," just as conservative pundits have enjoyed mocking Detroit's tough times.
It was also part of a larger, racially-tinged and hollow attempt in the wake of the Trayvon Martin trial to accuse Obama of ignoring crime, which according to the conservative media telling is raging out of control. (It's not; it remains on a steady decline.)
But suddenly the Chicago taunts have gone quiet. Suddenly the claims that strict gun laws are useless and that Democratic mayors oversee killings zones have disappeared. No more "CHICAGO LAND" links or cries of "Holocaust," and Malkin has for now stopped referring to Chicago as "America's Bloody City."
Why? Because even world-class misinformers like those would have a tough time making a case against "Obama's Chicago," given the fact that the murder rate there last year fell to its lowest level since Lyndon Johnson was president, while the booming metropolis welcomed a record number of 46 million tourists last year.
That's right, despite the endless right-wing attacks on Chicago and the permanent conservative depiction of the Second City as a hell hole, Chicago last year experienced the fewest murders since 1965; 413 in 2013. (Context: Chicago at its worst tallied 943 murders in 1992.) The city's overall crime rate in last year fell to a level not seen since 1972, and every one of the Chicago's 22 police districts registered a decrease in crime last year.
"The drop is legitimately stunning," noted The Atlantic's Philip Bump.
Fox News' Bill O'Reilly denied the "mass arrest" of casual marijuana users in the U.S. and claimed that only "stealers" have been arrested in the war on drugs.
On January 6 O'Reilly featured a segment in which he asked, "is America becoming a weaker nation because of pot and internet abuse?" When Fox contributor Juan Williams confronted O'Reilly with the facts about arrests of casual marijuana users, O'Reilly asserted that users of marijuana are not being arrested in large numbers and that he's "just going to discount" Williams' argument.
O'REILLY: Let's begin with the left. What is it about the drug culture, the internet culture, that's so compelling for some of them?
WILLIAMS: Well, I don't think it's compelling, but I think that if you start to arrest their children and give them records and put barriers in front of their futures and their careers, I think people say wait a second. As you said in the previous segment, this is soft drug use, why are you arresting and giving this kid a record, especially minority kids disproportionately. They're the ones who get arrested.
O'REILLY: Only stealers, Juan, there's no mass arrests of users.
WILLIAMS: No, no, no, Bill.
MARY KATHARINE HAM [Fox contributor]: No, users [are] arrested.
O'REILLY: No, they get a ticket, Juan.
WILLIAMS: I don't think that's right, Bill.
O'REILLY: No, it is right.
WILLIAMS: And I think lots of people fear for their children. By the way, you should know, it's not just liberals --
O'REILLY: So by your thinking then, people fear for their children so they want to make drugs more available. Let's legalize them so they don't get a rap sheet.
WILLIAMS: No, no, no, I didn't say that. I didn't say more available. I said, listen, the kid gets out there --
O'REILLY: So what happens when drugs are legalized?
WILLIAMS: -- the kid's involved in soft drugs, by your own definition, gets arrested, suddenly he's got a record, all sorts of things that would inhibit his or her progress in life.
O'REILLY: It's almost impossible, the records are expunged if they are juveniles.
O'REILLY: You know what the game is here. This is not a crime that is actively pursued by district attorneys. All right. I'm just going to discount that argument, Juan.
But data from the FBI on marijuana-related arrests in the U.S. contradicts O'Reilly's assertion. According to the FBI, marijuana possession accounted for 42.4 percent of all drug arrests in 2012. The following graph shows that since 1995, more than one-third, and sometimes nearly half, of all drug arrests were for just possessing marijuana:
Over a period of several days, Fox News hosts and contributors demanded that Rev. Al Sharpton condemn a series of "knockout" attacks that have occurred in several cities. Sharpton condemned the attacks in a speech on Saturday, but Fox has so far failed to report on the condemnation.
The so-called "knockout game" involves young men attacking random people on the street. The violent, unprovoked attacks have sometimes resulted in death. Fox News has intensely covered these attacks, reporting on them largely as racially motivated crime committed by black youths against white victims.
Laura Ingraham used her radio show to push the falsehood that President Obama could waive deportations of all undocumented immigrants except for serious criminals, even though he has explicitly stated that such a move would be a violation of federal law. Legal experts also agree that it would be "problematic" for Obama to waive deportations of all undocumented immigrants.
Discussing immigration reform with Chris Crane -- the president of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council and a frequent critic of the Obama administration, which has made him popular among right-wing media -- Ingraham let Crane accuse the Obama administration of not enforcing immigration law, saying that this "administration is ordering us not to enforce the law." Crane continued with a series of whoppers about immigration enforcement:
CRANE: It is no longer illegal in the United States of America to be in this country illegally. You know, even if you have been convicted of multiple criminal convictions, we often cannot even put you into removal proceedings, into deportation proceedings, because you are protected by this president. And it's basically an open-borders policy that once you make it past the border and you're in the interior of the United States, you're free.
In reality, any undocumented immigrant who is arrested and convicted of a crime goes through deportation proceedings after they have been tried in criminal court. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement routinely holds hearings to determine whether an immigrant who has been convicted of a crime should be subject to removal following jail time.
As of May 2013, ICE had deported about 31,500 immigrants through the Secure Communities program since the beginning of the year, which flags immigrants in law enforcement custody for ICE removal.
In fiscal year 2012, the Obama administration deported a record number 409,849 immigrants, 55 percent of whom fell into ICE's high-priority categories. It is estimated that the administration deports at least 1,000 immigrants a day at this current pace.