Fox News revived the baseless conspiracy theory that the nearly three-year old federal investigation into former CIA director David Petraeus is an attempt by the Obama administration to silence Petraeus on the 2012 Benghazi attacks.
The New York Times reported on January 9 that the FBI and Justice Department prosecutors recommended federal charges against former CIA director David H. Petraeus for providing "classified information to a lover while he was director of the C.I.A." Petraeus subsequently resigned as director of the CIA after his affair was made public.
But on the January 12 edition of Fox News' Special Report, chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge lent credibility to GOP concerns that the federal investigation into David Petraeus is an attempt by the Obama administration to silence Petraeus' testimony on the 2012 Benghazi, Libya terrorist attacks.
The segment also included a statement from Thomas Dupree, former deputy assistant attorney general under George W. Bush, who explained that "just being quiet, staying mum, invoking your Fifth Amendment rights," while being charged with a felony "could be the safest course." Herridge ended her report noting that the GOP-led Benghazi select committee still hopes to call Petraeus as a witness in their investigation.
In 2012, Fox repeatedly pushed the baseless accusation that Petraeus was "being blackmailed by the White house to toe the company line." Fox's smear was parroted by radio host Rush Limbaugh who speculated that Petraeus resigned to escape an attempt by the Obama administration to manipulate him into lying about the Benghazi attack.
The imaginary scandal was later denounced on Fox News, when Fox's Geraldo Rivera called it "absolutely reckless," and pointed out that Petraeus himself cited his extramarital affair as the reason for his resignation.
Reporter Emily Miller has claimed during recent appearances on Fox News that the United States has not been subject to terrorist shootings like the one at the office of French satire newspaper Charlie Hebdo because private gun ownership in the United States dissuades terrorists from launching attacks.
Miller, the chief investigative reporter for Washington, D.C.'s Fox affiliate WTTG, also pushed false information about gun violence, including the claim that "gun-free zones" attract mass killers and that civilians with concealed weapons have stopped mass shootings.
During the January 11 edition of Fox & Friends Sunday, Miller (the former senior opinion editor of the conservative Washington Times who also contributes columns to FoxNews.com) claimed the reason "terrorists don't come here is because of civilian's ownership" of firearms. Miller continued with the confounding argument that terrorists use bombs but not guns in the United States because of civilian gun ownership:
MILLER: They come here and they bomb us, unfortunately, which is horrible, but they're not coming here with guns because Americans can shoot back.
During a January 12 appearance on Fox & Friends, Miller added, "The Second Amendment is what keeps us safer from terrorist attacks because foreigners know we have guns." (Al Qaeda has actually encouraged its followers to exploit loose gun laws in the United States to get weapons without a background check.)
Miller offered a number of untrue claims about gun violence built upon her false premise that there is no civilian gun ownership in France during her Fox appearances.
Right-wing media figures illogically rushed to blame France's strict gun policies after three gunmen killed 12 people at the offices of satire newspaper Charlie Hebdo during a terrorist attack. In the United States, where gun laws are comparatively less restrictive, there is far more gun violence and public mass shootings happen with greater frequency.
On the January 7 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox News national security analyst KT McFarland said that one thing that stood out to her about the attack is "that in France they have a very strict gun control policy." Later on Fox's The Five, host Greg Gutfeld said the victims of the attack were "sitting ducks" because the country "has the most powerful gun control in the world, and nobody's armed." On Fox Business Network, Fox's senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano said, "One of the reasons these people are dead is because they were sitting ducks. One of the reasons they're sitting ducks is you can't carry a gun in Paris. This would not happen in New York City." On Twitter, frequent Fox guest Donald Trump wrote that the attack occurred "in one of the toughest gun control countries in the world."
Contrary to the impression given by conservative commentators, gun ownership is allowed in France, including the carrying of guns in public under extremely limited circumstances. Compared to the United States however, gun owners in France undergo a far more comprehensive licensing and screening process and are largely prohibited from owning semi-automatic weapons that are common in the United States.
PBS' Frontline documentary on the history of the National Rifle Association pushed the common media myth that the gun organization always wins and told the debunked story of how the NRA was supposedly responsible for the defeat of Al Gore in 2000.
On January 6, Frontline aired the hour-long feature Gunned Down: The Power Of The NRA, which was directed by filmmaker Michael Kirk. The documentary covered the history of the NRA from when the group began to become politicized in the 1960s through legislative efforts in 2013 following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Gunned Down overstates the ability of the NRA to influence election outcomes. The gun group's influence on federal gun legislation is often credited to the theory that politicians who oppose the NRA will be defeated when running for reelection. A statistical analysis of recent House and Senate races has disproven this notion. Still, mainstream news outlets often advance the myth of NRA electoral dominance.
Gunned Down repeatedly inflates the supposed strength of the gun group based on commentary from former NRA officials -- no current official would talk to Frontline -- and by citing what is considered conventional wisdom in Washington D.C.
While explaining the NRA's successful lobbying to defeat federal legislation to close the gun show loophole following the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School, Gunned Down turned to a former NRA spokesperson who said of the NRA's membership "if it had one political trait, they vote, it's that simple. You are a politician, you want to get elected, you want votes, NRA has votes."
The NRA has often attempted to take credit for Al Gore's loss to George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election. At the gun group's annual meeting in 2002, executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre told the crowd, "You are why Al Gore isn't in the White House."
Gunned Down gave baseless credence to these claims.
Fox host Eric Bolling called on the New York Police Department to engage in more racial profiling and stop-and-frisk after the terrorist attack on the offices of a satirical French magazine, but his characterization of the legality and constitutionality of race-based policing misrepresents these practices.
On January 7, masked gunmen attacked the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, a French weekly that had previously run caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Right-wing media were quick to politicize the attack and describe it as an argument for the practice of race-based police tactics in America, even those prohibited by federal law or the U.S. Constitution. On the January 7 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck suggested that NYPD officers should be able to target certain communities without fear of being painted with "a racist brush." Hasselbeck also suggested that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio had demoralized the NYPD and threatened security by calling on the police to stop improper racial profiling.
As right-wing media have done repeatedly in the past, Hasselbeck failed to recognize that police practices must pass a threshold of constitutionality regardless of their alleged efficacy at imposing "order."
This narrative continued on the January 7 broadcast of Outnumbered, where Fox host Eric Bolling joined the panel to claim that people in New York should feel "anger" toward de Blasio for his efforts to eliminate unconstitutional stop-and-frisk policies and curb racial profiling. Bolling argued that police had used racial profiling "so effectively for so long" to target people who are "the type of person who's done it in the past." Bolling went on to wonder, "How did profil[ing] become a) unethical, b) illegal? It's throughout history been the most effective law enforcement tool." Outnumbered co-host Andrea Tantaros agreed with Bolling that "leftist mayors like de Blasio" and the Obama administration had "taken those tools away at a time when we need them the most," and claimed that "targeting mosques" was "crucial" towards uncovering terrorist activity:
Major network newscasts have given almost no coverage to an upcoming Supreme Court case that will decide whether judicial candidates can personally solicit campaign donations -- despite the risk of corruption.
On January 20, the court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, in which a candidate for an elected county judge position -- Lanell Williams-Yulee -- sent out a fundraising letter that she signed herself. As in the majority of states, judicial candidates in Florida are prohibited from sending out this kind of direct solicitation to prevent the appearance or risk of corruption. Instead, they are required to set up separate campaign committees to send out fundraising requests on their behalf. The Florida Bar filed a complaint against Williams-Yulee, who was ultimately reprimanded and fined. Williams-Yulee is now arguing that the ethical rule restricting her ability to ask for donations is an unconstitutional restriction of her free speech, an extension of the argument validated by the conservative justices in Citizens United and its progeny.
This case gives the conservative justices of the Supreme Court yet another chance to roll back restrictions on campaign finance -- which they have steadily gutted since 2010's Citizens United decision allowing millions of dollars to flood the federal election system. Most recently, the court struck down aggregate campaign limits in 2014's McCutcheon v. FEC, making it easier for wealthy donors to contribute to a virtually unlimited number of candidates and political parties.
Yet a Media Matters analysis of Sunday morning talk shows (ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press) as well as nightly news programs (ABC's World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News, NBC's Nightly News, and PBS NewsHour) reveals just one segment that covered the Williams-Yulee case since it was appealed to the Supreme Court -- the October 2 edition of PBS NewsHour.
The Washington Times attacked a program started by the Bush administration, which offers free gun locks to veterans, by conspiratorially suggesting that the program could be used to create a gun registry.
In a January 6 article, Times White House correspondent Dave Boyer wrote that the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) offer of free gun locks is "raising concerns about a government-run gun registry" because a letter received by veterans asks them to return "their name, address and number of guns in the home" if they would like gun locks.
The article quoted an anonymous veteran who suggested that the letter could represent evidence of "a gun registry in disguise." The source also told the Times that he feared the letter would spark "rumors" that "Big Brother is going to take [veterans'] guns away."
The free gun lock program that the Times is fearmongering about started in 2008, during the administration of President George W. Bush, according to NPR. The program was modeled after Project ChildSafe, which is a project of the gun industry trade group National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). In 2009, the VA began to provide funding to NSSF, an ardent opponent of gun registries, to provide free gun locks to veterans.
According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, "At least two studies have found that the risk of suicide increases in homes where guns are kept loaded and/or unlocked."
Bill O'Reilly interviewed former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke about GOP Rep. Steve Scalise's address to a white supremacist group in a segment Duke turned into a bizarre defense of his reputation.
Scalise, who has a leadership position in the GOP as the House Majority Whip, has apologized for speaking to a white supremacist conference in 2002. Conservative media are divided on whether Scalise is a victim of the media, or made a mistake serious enough for him to resign his leadership post.
During his January 5 Fox News appearance, Duke denied he was ever a white supremacist, insisting that his organization, the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), was "a chartered human rights organization," and described affirmative action programs as racially discriminatory. Duke gave cover to Scalise, insisting that he can't be sure if Scalise ever addressed his organization. O'Reilly pushed back against Duke's insistence that he was never a white supremacist, saying "don't sit here and tell me that you're not trying to promote the cause of the white people, because you are."
As the interview ended, Duke held up a picture of President Obama labeled "Communist Terrorist Murderer."
Duke also appeared on CNN on January 3, where Michael Smerconish pressed him to acknowledge that the Holocaust occurred.
Watch the interview below:
Fox News falsely claimed that California's new program to issue driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants amounted to "back door to citizenship" that would increase identity theft. But the program requires a stringent background check and shares the support of law enforcement and public officials who point to studies that show the program will lead to increased safety and transparency for citizens.
Many of the same right-wing media myths about legal issues that dominated coverage in 2014 will continue to make headlines in the new year. Here are some of the worst that will make a comeback in 2015.
Rarer than being struck and killed by lightning and far less common than UFO sightings, 31 out of one billion votes cast since 2000 was the number of credible allegations of in-person voter fraud that law professor Justin Levitt found nationwide in a 2014 report. But in the face of these findings and a constant parade of similar evidence, this phantom menace nevertheless was the bogeyman that right-wing media incessantly invoked in 2014 to justify their increasingly hostile assault on voting rights.
From strict voter ID to voter purges to Jim Crow-era "literacy tests," right-wing media championed unnecessary and redundant voting restrictions that have a disproportionately disenfranchising effect on Democratic voters of color. Despite criticism from leading conservative figures and smackdowns from federal and state courts, nothing seemed to dissuade right-wing media from twisting the truth and deceiving their audience to support a so-called solution to a virtually non-existent problem.
With a fix to the damage the conservative justices caused to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 still blocked in Congress, the misinformation is likely to only get worse, as legal challenges to the new wave of Republican-sponsored voting restrictions race to the Supreme Court and the 2016 presidential election cycle kicks into gear.
Nothing captures the absurdity and insincerity of conservative media quite like Comedy Central's The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Media Matters takes a look back at Stewart and Colbert's best takedowns of 2014.
As a polar vortex entombed much of the nation in freezing temperatures in January, right-wing media went into high gear trying to exploit the weather event as evidence that global warming is a myth. Scientists disagree with this claim, and as Time's Bryan Walsh noted, "not only does the cold spell not disprove climate change, it may well be that global warming could be making the occasional bout of extreme cold weather in the U.S. even more likely."
Jon Stewart nipped the narrative in the bud on the January 6 edition of The Daily Show.
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly interviewed President Obama before the NFL's Super Bowl XLVIII and used the opportunity to rattle through a series of questions about the many phony scandals ginned up by his network over the previous months.
On the February 4 edition of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart defended Obama's combative response to some of O'Reilly's questions, noting that it's true that Fox News promotes and generates scandals for the sole purpose of undermining his presidency.
"That is exactly what Fox does every day," said Stewart. "With the exception of the one hour every two weeks where John Stossel exposes how homeless people are scamming the system."
In late February, Bill O'Reilly joined a chorus of conservative media figures launching sexist attacks against Hillary Clinton, suggesting her gender would somehow disqualify her from serving as President of the United States. "There's got to be some downside to having a woman president, right?" asked O'Reilly.
Stephen Colbert agreed on the March 5 edition of The Colbert Report, satirically noting that the election of a female president like Clinton would almost inevitably spark a chain of global reactions culminating in an Afghan invasion of America, shark attacks and the complete demise of the nation.
Right-wing media turned its attention to Nevada in April, when rancher Cliven Bundy orchestrated an armed stand-off with federal law enforcement officials trying to enforce millions of dollars in court judgments against him. Sean Hannity and others ran to the rancher's defense, holding him up as a champion against big government.
The Daily Show's Jon Stewart tried to wrap his head around the movement, noting that Bundy was in violation of the law and Hannity in particular purports to be a vigilant advocate for the rule of law -- when it suits him.
Conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch joined aspiring Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) at the Kentucky Derby in May, prompting questions about the influence Murdoch's media empire -- including Fox News -- could play in boosting Paul's political aspirations.
On the May 6 edition of The Colbert Report, Colbert congratulated Paul on catching Murdoch's eye, but warned that the mogul might still be "playing the field" when it comes to 2016.
In June, the Obama administration negotiated the release of America's last remaining U.S. service member being held behind enemy lines -- Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Conservatives rushed to scandalize the event and smear Bergdahl as a deserter, going so far as to suggest his father's long beard made him look like a Muslim, and thus in their minds was more likely to share a hatred for America with his son.
On the June 9 edition of The Daily Show, Stewart lambasted Fox News' obsession with the beard, pointing out the obvious -- "Not all Muslims have beards, and not all people with beards are Muslims."
In July, the influx of undocumented minors fleeing violence in Central America by way of the U.S.-Mexico border had grown into a humanitarian crisis. Right-wing media used the problem to criticize Obama anytime he was seen enjoying a leisure activity. One of the loudest complaints was that the president was photographed playing pool in Colorado when he should have been, according to conservatives, touring the Texas border.
His actions were even worse than previously attempts to destroy America, Colbert explained on July 15. Obama was now "slacking off at destroying America." Colbert went on: "It's clear what's going on here. The president has senioritis."
On August 9, unarmed teenager Michael Brown was gunned down by a Ferguson, MO police officer. His death sparked outrage and protests across the country against police brutality and systemic discrimination against young, black men. Yet conservative media leaped to demonize Brown, blaming him for his death and staunchly denying the fact that law enforcement treats African-Americans with any less respect than they do whites.
Stewart called them out on The Daily Show, asking "Do you not understand that life in this country is inherently different for white people and black people?" Citing the fact that white Fox hosts expressed more outrage over the imaginary 'War on Christmas' than they have over the existence of racism, Stewart argued: "Imagine that if instead of having to suffer the indignity of [the War on Christmas], imagine that instead of that, on a pretty consistent basis, you can't get a cab, even though you're a neurosurgeon, because you're black."
Footage of Obama saluting Marines with a cup in his hand as he exited Marine One elicited horror from right-wing media, who feigned shock at the "disrespectful" and "degrading" salute. Hannity accused Obama of having "complete disrespect for the men in women in uniform" and asked, "Would President Bush ever do that?"
Of course, several photos exist of Bush saluting troops while cradling his Scottish Terrier, Barney, in his arms. Stewart blasted Hannity for his "cognitive dissonance" on September 25, answering his question about Bush: "Would President Bush ever salute the troops with a cup of coffee in his hand? And the answer is no. Because his hands were too filled with dog."
Conservative media stood up as defenders of street harassment in October, building off their frequent denial of gender inequality to lecture women on being appreciative of catcalling and harassment. Fox's The Five, for instance, justified catcalls by arguing that men "mean it in a nice way" or in admiration of a woman's youth.
The Daily Show exposed the ridiculousness of such mentality on October 2, imaging a world where women gush over "competing in a beauty pageant on the way to work every day."
In November, Obama took executive action to prioritize the deportations of dangerous undocumented immigrants and grant certain other immigrants the right to stay and work in the U.S. The plan was met with cries of "tyranny" and "Emperor Obama" from right-wing media figures, who accused the president of issuing "executive amnesty."
Colbert mocked the hyperbole on the November 20 edition of The Colbert Report, playing Halloween horror music and declaring, "My great grandfather did not come here from Ireland to see this country overrun by immigrants":
When Eric Garner was killed after Staten Island police placed him in a chokehold, medical examiners ruled his death a homicide. But in December, a grand jury declined to indict the officer who killed him, reigniting protests around the country over racial discrimination in law enforcement. Garner's last words, "I Can't Breathe," became a rallying cry for justice -- and a target for conservative media. Fox News went to great lengths to defend the police and criminalize Garner, accusing those who highlighted systemic racism as disrespectful to law enforcement.
Stewart went on the offensive following the grand jury decision, refuting conservative's refrain that the criminal justice system is applied equally to all races:
Conservative media figures hid statements from President Obama and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio condemning violent protests. Instead, they misleadingly suggested the politicians were to blame for December 20 murder of two New York City police officers by a gunman, who was reportedly retaliating against the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown at the hands of police.
Media figures are criticizing President Obama for the current diplomatic re-engagement with Cuba by falsely suggesting that taking executive action to ease some travel and trade restrictions is legally questionable. In reality, the embargo is a result of decades of executive actions under both Republican and Democratic administrations, and Congress has explicitly reaffirmed executive discretion of the type the president is taking to modify U.S. relations with Cuba.
From the December 17 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
Loading the player reg...
Fox News host Heather Nauert is calling a bizarre federal court opinion that found President Obama's executive action on immigration unconstitutional a "pretty simple" decision, despite the fact that even conservative legal experts have called it a stretch.
On the December 17 edition of Happening Now, Nauert turned to legal experts Robert Bianchi and Brian Claypool to discuss Judge Arthur Schwab's lower court ruling that, surprisingly, evaluated the constitutionality of the president's recent decision to exercise prosecutorial discretion and defer deportation for certain undocumented immigrants. Both Bianchi and Claypool explained that the judge's ruling had "no legal significance" and "doesn't make sense," but Nauert disagreed. Other conservative legal experts are also questioning how the judge came to this conclusion on an unrelated matter of civil immigration law, given the fact that neither party in this criminal case contested the constitutionality of Obama's executive order.
Although Nauert admitted that she is "not a lawyer," she nevertheless argued that the judge's decision "seems pretty simple":
But the ruling from Judge Schwab, who has seen his fair share of controversy with respect to his legal judgment since being appointed to the bench, wasn't quite as "simple" as Nauert insisted.
Legal experts across the political spectrum agree that the president has broad authority to exercise prosecutorial discretion when it comes to deportation proceedings, which the Supreme Court affirmed as recently as 2012. Despite right-wing media's unwillingness to accept the idea that Obama's order is lawful, immigration experts have noted that the president is not only acting "within the legal authority of the executive branch of the government of the United States" but is also authorized by federal statute to provide temporary administrative relief of this type, as presidents of both parties have done for decades.
Moreover, according to Jonathan Adler, a law professor and contributor for The Washington Post's libertarian Volokh Conspiracy blog, Judge Schwab overstepped his own authority in ruling on the constitutionality of Obama's executive order. As Adler explained, "it is quite unusual for a district court to reach this sort of constitutional issue in this sort of case":
Indeed, Judge Schwab appears to have reached out quite aggressively to engage the lawfulness of the President's actions. Based upon the procedural history recounted in the opinion, it appears the court requested briefing on the applicability of the new immigration policies on its own order. That is, the issue was not initially raised by the defendant in his own defense. As a result of the court's decision, however, the defendant now has the option of withdrawing his guilty plea and potentially seeking deferral of his deportation under the new policy.
On the merits, I understand the concerns that motivate Judge Schwab's reasoning, but I am not persuaded. First, it is important to note that the executive branch has exercised a substantial degree of discretion in implementing and enforcing immigration law for decades. Work permits have been issued in conjunction with deferred action for at least forty years. President Obama's actions are broader in scope, but not clearly different in kind from what his predecessors have done and to which Congress has acquiesced.
Adler's conservative colleagues at the Volokh Conspiracy agreed with this assessment, with law professors Ilya Somin and Orin Kerr calling it "poorly reasoned" with "serious flaws," and "exceedingly strange," respectively. Somin elaborated on how radical the opinion is, noting that "[i]f the Supreme Court were to adopt Judge Schwab's reasoning, federal law enforcement agencies would be barred from issuing general systematic guidelines about how their officials should exercise prosecutorial discretion. The exercise of discretion would then become arbitrary and capricious. Alternatively, perhaps they could still follow systematic policies, so long as those policies were not formally declared and announced to the public, as the president's order was. Neither possibility is particularly attractive, and neither is required by the Constitution."
On the other hand, Judge Schwab does have the support of Fox News host Sean Hannity, who crowed that the opinion "could've been written by me."