Fox News is doing its best to help Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican Party's nominee for the U.S. Senate in Missouri, recover from the growing firestorm over his statement that it is "really rare" for women subjected to "legitimate rape" to become pregnant. As analysts predict that Akin's remark could put a winnable seat for the GOP at risk, the network is trying to downplay the comments.
In their first and as of yet only report on the comments, America's Newsroom anchor Martha MacCallum neither played Akin's comment nor read it, describing it only as "what he said about 'legitimate rape'" and adding that he "had to do some serious correction on that comment over the weekend." Viewers unfamiliar with the story would have absolutely no idea what Akin had said.
MacCallum did not give Akin's remark its own segment, but rather highlighted it along with a Politico article about a GOP congressman skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee. She also framed the discussion as a media analysis story, noting that the two topics are "getting a lot of attention around some of the other media outlets" and asking "how significant" the stories are and whether "they deserve the attention they are getting."
Indeed, both CNN and MSNBC have devoted multiple segments to the controversy this morning, in most instances airing Akin's comments in full.
As MacCallum referenced Akin, Fox suggested that the discussion over the comments is illegitimate, airing the caption, "Will the media seize on Rep Akin's (R-MO) comments & GOP 2011 behavior in Israel?"
Notably, Fox political analyst Karl Rove, to whom MacCallum turned for analysis on Akin's remarks, has founded organizations that have spent more than $5 million to win the Missouri Senate seat for Republicans.*
From this morning's America's Newsroom:
According to Politico, Crossroads has pulled its ads from the Missouri Senate race following the controversy over Akin's comments:
The group had originally booked a new round of ads to start Wednesday but began canceling them earlier today. The decision comes in the wake of comments by Missouri Rep. and GOP Senate nominee Todd Akin questioning how often women can get pregnant from "legitimate rape."
Contacted about the decision to withdraw its resources from Missouri, Crossroads spokesman Nate Hodson responded: "The act speaks for itself."
* As originally written, this post undercounted the amount of money Rove's groups had invested in Missouri. It has since been updated.
Have we ever seen two aligned camps within the conservative movement view the same event so differently? The far-right press is convinced the selection of Paul Ryan as VP is the boost Mitt Romney desperately needs, while GOP operatives, who try to win campaigns for a living, fret Ryan just doomed any chance Romney had of capturing the White House and will hurt Republican candidates nationwide.
Fox News got the vice presidential pick it wanted; the one Rupert Murdoch all but demanded Romney make. But the cheers of exultation that were heard within the right-wing media in the wake of the Ryan pick, as pundits toasted him as a true movement believer, have been met with equally emotional groans from Republican operatives who see Ryan as an unnecessary electoral anchor around the neck of GOP candidates who must now talk about Ryan's unpopular budget blue print, including his plans to radically alter Medicare.
The internal strife over Ryan is telling not only because it highlights a conservative movement that, three months before Election Day, still hasn't coalesced. But it also spotlights the fact that Romney's presidential campaign is the first one on record being run by the media, instead of political pros. No longer content to cheer on Republicans, the right-wing media complex now sees itself first and foremost as the power behind the party and has decided it's running the GOP's crusade to oust Obama, complete with opposition research and on-air fundraising.
And now VP picks.
In other words, Republican strategists are watching Fox News steer its first-ever national campaign, complete with its Paul Ryan cheering section, and the strategists aren't sure it's working.
Rushing to claim Mitt Romney's vice presidential pick of Rep. Paul Ryan had immediately "altered" the White House race by making it seem "more consequential," as the New York Times framed it, reporters and pundits quickly coalesced around the claim that Ryan's presence would usher in a more "substantive" phase of the campaign.
Pointing to Ryan's work as the chairman of the House Budget Committee and his authorship of the Republicans' budget blueprint, which has become a rallying point for movement conservatives, the press generously insisted that not only is Ryan a serious player and important public policy wonk, but that his inclusion in the campaign would quickly elevate the level of the debate, as well as how the press covers the campaign.
The new narrative, which must have pleased Romney aides, was born nearly the moment word of the VP announcement was leaked Saturday morning. CNN's Wolf Blitzer quickly reported the race was about to get "much more substantive," while colleague Gloria Borger agreed, suggesting, "the debate is going to shift onto a very substantive ground."
Over at Fox News, Carl Cameron assured viewers the arrival of Ryan meant the debate "will be a more substantive one than a lot of back-biting and name calling that we've seen in the last few weeks."
And Fox's Ed Henry echoed the same point, stressing that the press would soon be able to shift gears in terms of its coverage:
HENRY: We've spent a lot over the last few days talking about some of these attack ads and who's been going after who on personal, negative attacks. This Ryan addition to the ticket might focus it in a bit more on some of those substantive policy issues that Mitt Romney's been saying he wants to focus on.
See, thanks to Ryan the press will finally be able to cover substance! This, from the same process-obsessed press corps that spent weeks treating as news the trumped-up claim that Obama had dissed business owners on the campaign trail?
Excuse me, but was anyone stopping the press from covering substantive issues prior to the Ryan pick? The whole premise that up until Saturday the 2012 presidential campaign had been void of substance and it's only the arrival of Ryan n that will rescue the race from triviality is absurd.
The temptation to try to create campaign news during the slow summer months is one that journalists ought to resist. If not, they could end up looking like CNBC did on Tuesday when the business news channel lost its bearings (again) and invited disgraced birther Donald Trump on to weave his tired conspiracies about the president's supposedly hidden past. Worse, CNBC.com then wrote up Trump's appearance while touting as news a comically awful right-wing fantasy published this week about Obama's years at Columbia University.
Appearing on CNBC's "Squawk Box," Trump was pushing what he claimed to be a brilliant campaign maneuver for the Romney campaign, which finds itself under pressure to release the candidate's tax records, as all presidential candidates have done in recent years. According to Trump, Romney should finally release years of his tax returns, but only if Obama released his college transcripts.
What Trump apparently doesn't understand, and what nobody on CNBC bothered to point out, is that as a rule presidential nominees do release extensive tax returns, and as a rule they do not release their college transcripts. (Romney hasn't.) Trumps brilliant dare to the Obama campaign doesn't make any sense because tax returns and college records have never been treated similarly by campaigns from either party.
CNBC's Trump troubles were compounded online with a report that soft-peddled Trump's birther past, while claiming serious new questions have been raised about Obama's time at Columbia.
In his most recent column, the New York Times' Ross Douthat repeated a common media charge about what a harsh campaign President Obama is running this year. Dubbing the president "Mr. Negative," Douthat bemoaned what he saw as Obama's nasty Nixonian streak and a campaign that Douthat claims "started out negative and has escalated to frank character assassination."
This kind of dire rhetoric has become quite common among Beltway pundits and reporters, along with right-wing commentators. Collectively, they have formed a tight-knit narrative about what an almost shockingly negative campaign Obama is running, and how the harsh tone represents the polar opposite of Obama's feel-good run in 2008.
The media chatter really has become deafening. A New York Times news report last month emphasized how both campaigns have gone "relentlessly negative," while a Miami Herald column trumpeted Obama's "seek and destroy" campaign style, built around a "negative onslaught" targeting Romney. (The Herald piece suggested Obama was "doing the same" thing to Romney that the Swift Boat Veterans had done to John Kerry in 2004.) Meanwhile, The Atlantic dubbed Obama's run a "nasty" and "bare knuckle" campaign fueled by "brutal" tactics.
In fact, when the Romney campaign made an ad complaining about how negative Obama's re-election run has been, it cobbled together on-air quotes from CBS's Bob Schieffer, Time's Mark Halperin and the New York Times' David Brooks, all of whom have gone on TV lamenting the tone of Obama's campaign.
But is the claim accurate? Is the Democrat really running some sort of guttural, ruthlessly negative campaign? Is it far and way more negative than his opponent's effort? And is the tone of Obama's 2012 campaign completely different from his 2008 run for election, as the press insists?
No, no, no, and no.
Republican politicians running for office and dinging the so-called liberal media for being unfair isn't considered news. In fact it's expected. But Romney's comments were noteworthy because of the larger conspiratorial dots he tried to connect. The Republican didn't simply portray the press as prejudiced, he suggested Beltway reporters and pundits are working in collusion to help the Obama administration during the campaign [emphasis added]:
And I realize that there will be some in the Fourth Estate, or whichever estate, who are far more interested in finding something to write about that is unrelated to the economy, to geopolitics, to the threat of war, to the reality of conflict in Afghanistan today, to a nuclearization of Iran. They'll instead try and find anything else to divert from the fact that these last four years have been tough years for our country.
That's significant because it indicates how deeply into the right-media bubble the Romney campaign has gone and how it operates alongside discredited far-right bloggers who insist reporters are really hired hit men obediently serving the Obama White House. Note that Romney clearly insinuates members of the press actively try to "divert" voters' attention from Obama's failures, and that's why they covered his stumbles in Europe.
It's as if confused Breitbart bloggers are now running the Romney campaign:
Today marks the two-week anniversary of Fox News' decision to launch campaign attack on President Obama over comments he made at a Roanoke, VA., campaign stop. Speaking to supporters for nearly an hour on July 13, the president touched on the topic of small business success and the collective forces that shape it, such as the U.S. infrastructure. Since then, Fox has led a right-wing charge claiming Obama insulted small businessmen and women by telling them of their accomplishments, "you didn't build that." (He was clearly referring to infrastructure.)
The Wall Street Journal recently published a newsroom review of how Obama's "build that" comment became such a big deal [emphasis added]:
<That was on Friday, July 13. Over the following weekend, state GOP communicators got calls from small-business owners grousing about the president's words, said Republican National Committee Communications Director Sean Spicer. By last Monday, what had been the germ of an idea in the brains of Mr. Spicer and other strategists grew into a full-court press.>
So according to the Journal's reporting, the idea of focusing on Obama's July 13 "build that" comments quickly took root inside the RNC, after officials were prompted by the spontaneous, angry reaction from businessmen. Then ten days later, the comment was at the center of a "full-court," "multi-pronged" GOP attack campaign, complete with commercials and two dozen staged rallies.
But what did Rupert Murdoch's Journal conveniently leave out of its tick-tock report on how the "build that" controversy unfolded? The indisputable fact that Rupert Murdoch Fox News promoted the whole story, and that if it weren't for Fox there would be no "build that" campaign for the GOP to run on Romney's behalf. And if it weren't for Fox and its purposefully dishonest promotion of the "build that" quote, the story would not be in play two weeks later.
Fact: The "build that" tale was sponsored by Fox News, which has replaced the RNC as the launching pad for campaign attacks ads. After the story was bubbling on conservatives blogs, it was Fox that helped take Obama's "wildly out of context" comments and turn them into a national story. And it was Fox that obsessively spent hours of programming time spread out over two weeks hyping the falsehood that Obama said business owners didn't build their success.
This was not a supposed "gaffe" Obama made on the campaign trail, which Fox News fixated on for weeks in an effort to embarrass the president. Instead, Obama made straight-forward comments about business success and the importance of outside influences such as teachers as well as government-created infrastructure, and Fox decided to help splice up the comments, strip them of context and pretend Obama said something else; a fictitious claim the Romney camp then repeated and turned into an attack campaign.
The chronology is critical in terms of understanding the unprecedented role a "news" channel is playing in this year's general election campaign: It's manufacturing campaign ads for the GOP. That is what the actual tick-tock review of the "build that" comment looks like. And that's the startling tale serious campaign journalists ought to be telling.
Instead, from Murdoch's Journal newsroom, we're told Fox News played no part in rolling out the GOP's "build that" attack.
Writing for The Atlantic yesterday, Fred Campbell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute made perhaps the most nonsensical anti-net neutrality argument I've ever seen: that the passage of the FCC's Open Internet Rule set us down a slippery regulatory slope that led to the wildly unpopular Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA:
The unintended consequences of the FCC's new regulatory approach appeared swiftly. By signaling the end of the bipartisan agreement against Internet regulation, the FCC's order opened the floodgates for additional government interference. New legislative and regulatory initiatives to reign in the free market for Internet services began popping up everywhere.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), introduced in late 2011, is one of these new initiatives and the reason Issa became so engaged in Internet policy. Ironically, the same progressives that advocated for net neutrality rules were among the most vociferous opponents of SOPA, but this time, they weren't alone. Conservatives and centrists joined hands with progressives to oppose SOPA in a redux of the earlier bipartisan agreement opposing Internet regulation. This bipartisan opposition gave the anti-SOPA movement the kind of mainstream momentum that net neutrality always lacked, which made it appear that, once again, we could unite in our opposition to government interference in the Internet.
Let's pick this apart piece-by-piece, shall we?
Wall Street Journal columnist Gordon Crovitz is being raked over the coals by countless tech writers, experts, and his own sources for a piece he wrote this week arguing that the government wasn't involved in the creation of the internet. (It was, according to the people who actually helped create the internet.) Though Crovitz's arguments have dissolved under scrutiny, the column's central premise has predictably been adopted by conservatives that either don't know or don't care that it is wildly wrong. First it was Rush Limbaugh, then Fox News, and now Karl Rove.
Rove appeared on Fox & Friends this morning to attack President Obama with lies and distortions, thus fulfilling the requirements of his dual-role as a Fox News political analyst and head of a GOP Super PAC. According to Rove, Obama displayed "hostility to private enterprise" by crediting government research for the creation of the internet. Rove declared Obama "wrong" on the history, citing Crovitz's "brilliant" WSJ column as evidence:
It's been four days now since the Wall Street Journal published Gordon Crovitz's column arguing that the government was not involved in the creation of the Internet. In that time, many of the sources Crovitz cited in that column -- the people who worked with the government to create the Internet or later reported on that effort -- have stated flatly that Crovitz's assertion was wrong. But thus far there's been nary a peep from the paper or from Crovitz. So what will it take for Crovitz and the Journal to correct, or at least acknowledge, the column's inaccuracies?
Let's run down the people Crovitz cited, and their subsequent reactions to his thesis.
If the government didn't invent the Internet, who did? Vinton Cerf developed the TCP/IP protocol, the Internet's backbone, and Tim Berners-Lee gets credit for hyperlinks.
I would happily fertilize my tomatoes with Crovitz' assertion.
Salon's Alex Pareene made a good observation yesterday about the future of Wall Street Journal opinion-slinger Gordon Crovitz's 100-percent incorrect claim that government was not involved in the creation of the internet:
I am very confident that "The Government Had Nothing To Do With Inventing The Internet That Is a Liberal Lie" will become one of those wonderful myths that all true-believer conservatives subscribe to, like "FDR and the New Deal made the Depression worse" and "Reagan Was a Good President."
It's true; the conservative canon is littered with verifiably false claims masquerading as unshakeable truths -- in some cases, as foundational principles. Other examples include "global warming is a hoax" and "tax cuts increase revenue." Most of them have been around for so long that their origins are murky, but we have the benefit of being able to observe this particular untruth move through the conservative ecosystem. It's sort of like watching evolution happen! (If evolution were real and not another hoax, that is.)
Breitbart.com contributor Seton Motley is one of the right's loudest critics of net neutrality -- or, at least, what he thinks is net neutrality. He wrote a piece yesterday excoriating various and sundry "leftists" (the word "leftist" is used 16 times throughout) who want to use net neutrality to "make it as difficult as possible for continued private Internet investment" and "leave government as the nation's sole Internet provider."
That certainly sounds terrible. It also bears zero resemblance to the regulatory structure put in place by the FCC's Open Internet order, which established net neutrality policies for internet service providers. The regulations prevent ISPs from acting as gatekeepers, restricting consumer access to legal online content. They grant the government none of the draconian powers Motley envisions.
Instead of grappling with the actual regulatory policy, Motley's warnings of the net neutrality apocalypse are based on this 2009 quote from Free Press co-founder Robert McChesney:
At the moment, the battle over network neutrality is not to completely eliminate the telephone and cable companies. We are not at that point yet. But the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.
Shadowboxing with a single three-years-stale quote from an academic is far, far easier than delving into complicated policy -- which is probably why Motley has made a habit of doing it. This quote from McChesney has served a long, distinguished career as Motley's net neutrality bop bag.
News today that eight of Rupert Murdoch former editors and reporters have been charged with phone hacking crimes, coupled with Murdoch's recent resignation from directorship of several News Corp. companies that publish his British newspapers, marks the latest signs that the mogul's once-powerful place among British media and political elite has evaporated to almost nothing. Once crowned as an all-powerful kingmaker whom prime ministers courted and enemies feared, Murdoch, in the wake of the phone hacking scandal and the sea of broadening criminal investigations, remains a man besieged by bad news.
With each passing week and month evidence has continued to mount suggesting Murdoch's media properties were run at times as criminal enterprises, with formal charges now made that more than 600 people had their voice mails hacked by Murdoch employees. Earlier this year, a Parliamentary report found Murdoch "not fit" to lead a major international company.
A recent statement from News Corp. headquarters insisted Murdoch's resignation from companies that publish The Sun tabloid as well as The Times and The Sunday Times, represented "routine corporate housekeeping," pursued in the wake of the recent decision to break News Corp. into two separate companies. But given the grievous damage done to Murdoch's standing in Britain over the last 13 months, since the long-simmering phone hacking scandal exploded into full view, the resignation can be seen as another forced withdrawal (or an "imperial retreat") by Murdoch from British politics and media.
For decades Murdoch stood as the most influential newspaperman in Britain, where he controlled 30 percent of the press. He used his dailies to viciously attack his blacklist of enemies (while reporters spied on them), and to reward his friends.
Yet at the same time Murdoch is forced to withdrawal from Britain's political life, his profile is rapidly rising in the United States thanks to the unprecedented role News Corp's Fox News is playing this election cycle as it openly, and forcefully, campaigns against President Obama. The dichotomy between Murdoch's standing in Britain and America is striking, for rarely has a media mogul had his fortunes sink so low on one continent, while simultaneously rise so high on another.
A July 24 Reuters article reported that Rebekah Brooks, a former executive in Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., will be charged with "phone-hacking offenses" along with former News of the World editor Andy Coulson.
Brooks was the former CEO of News Corp.'s British newspaper division, News International, the group in charge of News of the World when the newspaper became the center of a scandal involving phone hacking.
From Reuters, via Huffington Post:
Prime Minister David Cameron's ex-media chief and Rupert Murdoch's former UK newspaper boss are to be charged with phone-hacking offences in the most significant development in a scandal that has rocked Britain's establishment.
Prosecutors said on Tuesday Andy Coulson, who was Cameron's communications chief from 2007 until January 2011, and Rebekah Brooks, who was courted by a succession of prime ministers including Cameron in her role as Murdoch's UK newspaper chief, would be charged with offences linked to the hacking.
The alleged offences were committed when both were editor of the News of the World newspaper, the Sunday tabloid which Murdoch was forced to close last July amid public revulsion at the phone-hacking revelations.
Six other senior former News of the World journalists and staff are also to be charged. The maximum sentence for the phone-hacking charges is two years in prison and/or a fine.
The Wall Street Journal's Gordon Crovitz jumped on the "you didn't build that" distortion bandwagon yesterday, attacking President Obama for citing the "government research" that "created the Internet so that all companies could make money off the Internet." To rebut the president, Crovitz offered a lengthy response to a point Obama never made, made a wealth of assertions that (according to his own sources) were wrong, and in the end actually ended up proving the point the president did make: that government-funded projects contribute to success in private enterprise.
First, let's take a look at what Obama said:
OBAMA: If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don't do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.
Now here's Crovitz's take on Obama's (selectively edited) comments:
A telling moment in the presidential race came recently when Barack Obama said: "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." He justified elevating bureaucrats over entrepreneurs by referring to bridges and roads, adding: "The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all companies could make money off the Internet."
It's an urban legend that the government launched the Internet. The myth is that the Pentagon created the Internet to keep its communications lines up even in a nuclear strike. The truth is a more interesting story about how innovation happens--and about how hard it is to build successful technology companies even once the government gets out of the way.
It's a myth! And had Obama said that "the government launched the Internet," he would have been guilty of propagating that myth. Fortunately, he didn't say that. Nonetheless, Crovitz took it upon himself to correct the president on who "invented" the internet -- Xerox, not the government: