The witness list for the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on Loretta Lynch, the highly regarded nominee for attorney general, indicates the process will be a forum for right-wing media favorites and myths but will have little to do with her qualifications.
Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, has long been praised across the political spectrum as a model federal prosecutor. Lynch has been confirmed twice as a U.S. attorney -- including by some of the same Republican senators now in control of the Judiciary Committee -- and news of her nomination in November brought a new round of support, including from conservative law enforcement sources.
Current New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton called Lynch "a remarkable prosecutor with a clear sense of justice without fear or favor." Former FBI director Louis Freeh wrote in a letter to Judiciary Committee leadership that he couldn't think of "a more qualified nominee" and was "happy to give Ms. Lynch my highest personal and professional recommendation." Freeh also wrote that he had spoken with "several of my former judicial colleagues who echo this support, and note that Ms. Lynch has gained a terrific reputation for effectively, fairly and independently enforcing the law." Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who worked with Lynch on an infamous police brutality case, has said "if I were in the Senate, I would confirm her."
Fringe right-wing media outlets and figures initially ignored this broad support and attacked Lynch anyway. The effort was spectacularly unsuccessful, as they mixed up the nominee with an entirely different Loretta Lynch and then claimed that her membership in Delta Sigma Theta, one of the country's leading African-American sororities, was "controversial."
Leading Fox News figures were better informed about the New York nominee, most notably News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch, who immediately noted Lynch had a "reputation for fairness and strict legality." In an O'Reilly Factor segment with Megyn Kelly on November 10, Bill O'Reilly said he was "heartened" she would be the new attorney general. In response, Kelly praised Lynch:
KELLY: I have to say that I think this is the person who should be the most acceptable to the right wing or the Republicans in this country of anybody who President Obama was considering. She is a straight shooter. First of all, she would be the first black female attorney general, right? I mean, that in and of itself is a pretty amazing accomplishment. Went to Harvard undergrad, went to Harvard Law School. She has no close ties to the White House. She is not some firm ideologue or partisan. She has prosecuted Democrats and Republicans. She's been a hero on gang crime, on terrorism.
Republican senators have been similarly honest about Lynch's record, admitting that she "seems to be a solid choice" and will instead use her hearing as a forum for grievances they have with the administration and outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder. The new chairman of the committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), told Politico: "All I can tell you is that immigration is going to be a big part of it. ... Not because of her views on immigration, but of the president's action on immigration and the extent of what she feels he's acted in a legal way."
Unfortunately, a review of the newly released witness list reveals that the Republican choices for this "proxy war of sorts" rely heavily on right-wing media favorites who frequently spread debunked smears and myths:
Fox News is burying Republican policy positions that exacerbate income inequality in order to help the GOP rebrand itself as a party for the middle class. This effort follows years of Fox figures blasting Democratic policies designed to alleviate income inequality as "class warfare."
Former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson has been invited by Republicans to testify at a hearing on President Obama's attorney general nominee, Loretta Lynch. Attkisson, who writes for the conservative Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal and has been praised by Fox News and Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) for her shoddy reporting, is currently involved in a lawsuit targeting the Department of Justice.
According to a report on Monday by The Hill, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) announced that Attkisson "will testify during this week's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Loretta Lynch, Obama's nominee to replace Eric Holder as attorney general."
Attkisson recently named outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder and the DOJ in a $35 million lawsuit alleging that federal officials hacked into her computers and phones from 2011 to 2013. Although CBS News confirmed that Attkisson's then work-issued laptop had been compromised by an unknown source, Attkisson's claim of "some government tie," suggesting the hack was conducted by government officials, has been called out for egregious inconsistencies. Nevertheless, Attkisson went on to claim that the alleged government hack had caused ongoing electronic malfunctions with the phone, television and cable systems in her home.
But in fact, computer security experts said video released by Attkisson as evidence of a hack on her personal computer actually appeared to show her computer "malfunction[ing]," likely due to a stuck backspace key. Attkisson subsequently went on to walk back claims that the alleged hack affected her other home technology. Attkisson admitted that the issues "may in the end have nothing to do with the intrusion" into her work computer.
The Justice Department has denied Attkisson's allegations and a DOJ spokesperson told Business Insider in May 2013 that "to our knowledge, the Justice Department has never 'compromised' Ms. At[t]kisson's computers, or otherwise sought any information from or concerning any telephone, computer, or other media device she may own or use."
But despite her legal fight with the DOJ, the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, called Attkisson to speak on a panel of witnesses that include Catherine Engelbrecht, the president of the voter ID group True the Vote, a conservative media favorite that actively hypes virtually non-existent voter fraud. Attkisson was praised by Issa for her shoddy reporting, which has in the past been based off misleading leaks from Issa's committee. She has also been hailed as a great reporter by many of Fox News' on-air personalities, some of whom have based their Benghazi coverage on her misinformation.
From the January 22 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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Media reports on the GOP's latest broadband industry-backed bill should take note that the legislation is net neutrality in name only. In reality, the bill would undermine the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) ability to enact net neutrality regulations and adequately protect broadband users and providers from data blocking, or slowing down or speeding up individual websites, and access fees.
Fox's Bill O'Reilly downplayed the impact of raising the minimum wage, claiming only an"infinitesimal" number of people would be impacted, and ignoring the 27.8 million Americans that would benefit from a raise in the minimum wage.
During the January 20 State of the Union address, President Obama urged members of Congress to raise the minimum wage, saying those "who still refuse to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest working people in America a raise."
On the January 21 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly and network contributor Eric Shawn undermined President Obama's minimum wage initiative, and diminished the number of Americans that would be impacted by raising the minimum wage. O'Reilly asserted that only "a very low number" of people make "minimum wage anyways," claiming that the number of people who would be impacted by the change would be "infinitesimal" and saying Obama has been "misleading everybody" by insisting a raise would have a big effect:
But according to the Economic Policy Institute, raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2016 would "raise the wages of 27.8 million workers, who would receive about $35 billion in additional wages over the phase-in period."
Right-wing media maligned Obama's economic policy initiatives announced during his State Of The Union address as both divisive class warfare and Santa Claus-style giveaways.
From the January 20 edition of CNN's CNN Tonight:
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Ahead of President Obama's sixth State of the Union address, Fox News speculated that the president will boast about the nation's improving economy as a way to distract Americans from global unrest. However, pundits on the same network - even the same show - have repeatedly accused Obama of ignoring the economy and distracting voters with topics like national security and the minimum wage.
On the January 20 edition of Happening Now, Fox's White House correspondent Ed Henry reported that Obama would focus a large part of his 2015 State of the Union speech on the rebounding U.S. economy, which has recently logged strong jobs growth and improving public sentiment. But Henry suggested the real reason behind Obama's optimistic economic note is to distract voters from upheaval overseas, especially in Yemen:
HENRY: Remember, it was only a few months ago that the president and his aides were holding up Yemen as a success story on his counter-terror efforts. That has fallen apart, as has the president's claim that al-Qaeda is on the run, so they want to talk a lot more about the economy. Not so much on national security.
In contrast, Fox hosts previously accused the Obama administration of using foreign policy and national security to distract from issues like the economy. In May 2011, just days after the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade asked Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) "when do we start talking about the economy again?" Personalities on the network also dismissed a historic deal with Iran to limit its nuclear capabilities as a distraction from problems with the Affordable Care Act.
Conservative media figures have also accused Obama of distracting voters from the economy by supporting a minimum wage hike and intervening in the Syrian Islamic State crisis. On Fox's Outnumbered, panelist Dr. Keith Ablow theorized that even the World Cup mania was a distraction concocted to help Obama.
This January marks the fifth anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 Supreme Court case that expanded the idea of "corporate personhood" by ruling that the First Amendment protects a corporation's right to make unlimited expenditures in support of political candidates as a form of speech. Network news coverage of its legal impact, however, has largely ignored how the Supreme Court continues to aggressively expand the decision.
This expansion of corporate rights has wide-ranging consequences, even outside of the context of campaign finance deregulation. The court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, for example, seemed to embrace the idea that corporations are capable of morally objecting to contraception coverage, co-opting yet another constitutional right -- that of religion -- that had previously been reserved for people, not businesses.
In terms of election law, the conservative justices further dismantled campaign finance restrictions in 2014's McCutcheon v. FEC, which struck down aggregate campaign donation limits and allowed wealthy donors to contribute money to a virtually unlimited number of candidates and political parties. The court will hear yet another campaign finance case on January 20 called Williams-Yulee v. the Florida Bar, which could strike down a Florida rule that prohibits judicial candidates from directly soliciting money from donors -- a rule that was put in place in response to a serious corruption scandal that resulted in the resignations of four Florida Supreme Court justices.
Yet despite the cascade of decisions from conservative justices intent on dismantling campaign finance regulations and rewriting corporate rights -- and the majority of Americans who support a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United -- the media have largely underreported this story.
Here are four graphics that illustrate this failure.
The Washington Post's Fact Checker debunked the claim that net neutrality protections could cost American consumers $15 billion in additional taxes and fees -- a favorite conservative argument against net neutrality and one parroted by multiple media outlets -- concluding the estimate contains "significant factual error[s] and/or obvious contradictions."
Fox News promoted debunked claims about President Obama's proposed net neutrality regulations, falsely asserting that the regulations are unpopular, would stifle innovation, and raise costs for consumers.
On Wednesday The New York Times reported that President Obama urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to "pre-empt state laws that restrict communities' ability to expand high-speed internet access to underserved areas." This initiative is part of the President's plan to implement net neutrality regulations and "keep the United States competitive with other nations that have faster and more widespread Internet connections."
In response to Obama's announcement, Fox News' Special Report recycled debunked conservative claims about net neutrality during the January 13 edition of the show. Host Bret Baier described net neutrality as "a slew of unnecessary regulations that hurt competition and ultimately consumers." Fox correspondent Doug McKelway claimed the new net neutrality regulations will raise costs, citing an "estimate of15 billion dollars in new state and federal taxes a year," and suggested that most Americans do not support the proposed regulations.
The Wisconsin Reporter, a conservative news website funded by dark money, credited Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) with reducing unemployment and cutting taxes but failed to note that Walker's policies have resulted in a budget deficit.
In a January 14 article, the Reporter repeated some of the positive economic news Walker mentioned in his State of the State address on January 13, such as growth in private-sector jobs and a decrease in property taxes.
But the Reporter failed to note that the Walker administration is projecting that the state faces a $2.2 billion deficit for the 2015-2017 budget period. As the Wisconsin State Journal has reported, observers say this is partly because of the Walker-supported tax cuts:
Jon Peacock, director of the Wisconsin Budget Project, said the $2 billion in tax cuts enacted in recent years also share the blame [for the deficit].
"If lawmakers insist on making additional tax cuts, that will require even deeper cuts in the traditional sources of Wisconsin's strength, such as our public schools and universities," Peacock said.
On January 20, the day before the five-year anniversary of Citizens United, the Supreme Court will hear yet another case that could roll back campaign finance restrictions, this time for judicial elections. Here is a media guide to some of the legal briefs filed by experts in that case, Williams-Yulee v. the Florida Bar, which warn that allowing judges to solicit campaign donations directly is a recipe for disaster.
From the January 13 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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