Right-wing media's relentless attacks supported by flagrant falsehoods

››› ››› ADAM SHAH

Recently, the right-wing media have engaged in relentless attacks on President Obama and his administration and progressive organizations. Those attacks have repeatedly turned out to be based on demonstrably false claims -- such as the claim that Education Department official Kevin Jennings "cover[ed] up statutory rape."

Right-wing media advance falsehood that Jennings "cover[ed] up statutory rape"

Fox News, others ran with falsehood that Jennings "cover[ed] up statutory rape." In a September 28 editorial, The Washington Times accused Jennings, described in the editorial as "safe school czar," of "encourag[ing]" a relationship that amounted to "statutory rape" by suggesting that his only response to an underage student's revelation that he had sex with what the Times described as an "older man" was to "make sure 'to use a condom.' " Fox News' website TheFoxNation.com linked to the Times editorial with the headline "Did 'Safe School Czar' Encourage Statutory Rape?" Subsequently, on September 30, The Fox Nation posted the following headline:

Other conservative media figures also claimed or suggested that Jennings had covered up or ignored his legal responsibility to report statutory rape.

Allegation that Jennings covered up statutory rape is false. The former student at the center of the Jennings controversy, whom Jennings has referred to as "Brewster," provided Media Matters for America with a statement that he "was of legal consent at the time." Additionally, Media Matters obtained a copy of the student's driver's license, which shows that he was 16 at the time -- the legal age of consent in Massachusetts.

Fox Nation, Washington Examiner manufactured Jennings-NAMBLA link. In addition to the statutory rape smear, The Fox Nation and The Washington Examiner linked Jennings to the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) based on a 1997 speech in which Jennings praised gay rights activist Harry Hay, who had spoken in support of the organization. But like many obituaries written about Hay upon his death in 2002, Jennings was touting Hay as a gay civil rights pioneer for his role in helping start "the first ongoing gay rights groups in America" in 1948, and Jennings' comments had nothing to do with NAMBLA.

Right-wing media attack administration figures Koh, Sunstein, Van Jones, Holdren with blatant falsehoods

Hannity repeatedly smeared Koh, claiming Koh "advocates the use Sharia law in America." Fox News host Sean Hannity has claimed that Harold Koh, the State Department's legal adviser, "advocates the use of Sharia law in America" and that Koh has said "Sharia law can be applied in American courts." The claim has been denied by Koh himself during Senate testimony, Koh's spokesman, and the organizer of the event at which Koh supposedly made the remarks about Sharia law. In addition, University of California-Davis law professor Anupam Chander wrote in an April 2 blog post that "[i]n the 71 articles penned by Harold Koh that appear in the Westlaw law review database, there is but one article that mentions Sharia" and in that article, Koh "denounces the government of Iran for 'impos[ing] a strict form of Sharia law that denies basic rights to women and minorities.' " Koh was on Hannity's "top 10" list of "czars," about whom he asked, "Should any of them be fired?"

Beck falsely claimed that Sunstein advocated for forced organ donation. Fox News host Glenn Beck falsely claimed on September 9 that Cass Sunstein, head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, "believes that everyone must be an organ donor." In fact, in a book, Sunstein and co-author Richard Thaler advocated for approaches to organ donation policies that "would be likely to save many lives while also preserving freedom" (emphasis added) and did not advocate for mandatory organ donation. Beck and Fox Business host Eric Bolling have both identified Sunstein as targets in their witch hunt against people they have identified as Obama administration "czars," and Sunstein was also on Hannity's "top 10" list.

Beck falsely claimed Sunstein argued that "you should not be able to remove rats from your home." Beck also claimed on September 9 that Sunstein said "you should not be able to remove rats from your home if it causes them any pain." In fact, in the introduction to a book of essays he co-edited, Sunstein did not advocate against rat removal, but rather said, "At the very least, people should kill rats in a way that minimizes distress and suffering." Sunstein also stated that, from a utilitarian perspective, "[i]f human beings are at risk of illness and disease from mosquitoes and rats, they have a strong justification, perhaps even one of self-defense, for eliminating or relocating them."

Beck falsely claimed Van Jones is a "convicted felon." On August 11, Beck accused Van Jones, whom he described as Obama's "green jobs czar," of being a "convicted felon ... who spent, I think, six months in prison after the Rodney King beating." In fact, as Eva Paterson, president and founder of the Equal Justice Society, has explained, "Van [Jones] has never served time in any prison. He has never been convicted of any crime."

Fox News hosts falsely claimed Holdren called for forced abortion, forced sterilization. Fox News hosts including Beck, Hannity, and Jim Pinkerton have attacked Obama science and technology adviser John Holdren, claiming that he supports forced abortion or forced sterilization as a method of population control. Holdren was also on Beck's and Bolling's target lists and Hannity's "top 10" czars list. Responding to Beck's claim that Holdren "proposed forced abortions and putting sterilants in the drinking water to control population," the website PolitiFact.com concluded that "the text of the book clearly does not support that. We think a thorough reading shows that these were ideas presented as approaches that had been discussed. They were not posed as suggestions or proposals. In fact, the authors make clear that they did not support coercive means of population control. Certainly, nowhere in the book do the authors advocate for forced abortions." PolitiFact gave Beck's claim "pants on fire" status. Indeed, Holdren and his co-authors advocated for noncoercive means of population control.

Right-wing media run with false claim that community organizers were praying to Obama

Beck, Dobbs, others ran with claim that video shows community organizers praying to Obama. On September 29, Beck, Lou Dobbs, and prominent conservative bloggers -- including Michelle Malkin, HotAir.com's Ed Morrissey, and Gateway Pundit -- followed the lead of conservative website Breitbart.tv after the site falsely claimed that an online video showed community organizers from the Gamaliel Foundation "pray[ing]" to Obama. Breitbart.tv had embedded a video with the headline "Shock Discovery: Community Organizers Pray TO President-Elect Obama." The video includes captions such as "Deliver Us Obama" and "Hear Our Cry Obama," suggesting that the crowd was "pray[ing] to" Obama.

Breitbart retracted claim that organizers were praying to Obama. Breitbart.tv later included a different version of the video without the captions and with an editor's note acknowledging that "there is a debate over what is actually being said" and that the crowd may in fact be saying "Oh God" rather than "Obama."

Right-wing media's ACORN attacks rely on numerous falsehoods

Media aired filmmakers' false claim that every ACORN office was complicit in fake prostitution scheme. Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe, the conservative filmmakers who made the widely circulated ACORN videos in which they posed as prostitute and pimp, as well as Andrew Breitbart and Mike Flynn, who have been promoting the videos for BigGovernment.com, have claimed in media interviews that the filmmakers were never rebuffed by any of the ACORN offices they visited in their attempts to get ACORN to assist them in improper activities.

Police report shows that Philadelphia ACORN Housing office called cops. Contrary to statements by Giles, O'Keefe, Breitbart, and BigGovernment.com editor-in-chief Mike Flynn, Katherine Conway Russell, ACORN Housing Corp.'s Philadelphia office director, stated that O'Keefe visited the office "[l]ast July" with "another woman." Russell stated that "[a]fter asking several general questions, [O'Keefe] began to veer off into suspicious territory." Russell said that O'Keefe eventually "asked about bringing girls from El Salvador and getting them papers, et cetera," but that "I told them that there was nothing we could do to help them, that I didn't know anything about what they were asking about." Russell also said that after she contacted another ACORN official and it became clear that O'Keefe "lied to get his appointment," they contacted the police. ACORN Housing also released a copy of the Philadelphia police report.

LA Times media columnist reported ACORN employee saw "red flags" when filmmaker refused her suggestion to go to battered women's shelter. Additionally, Los Angeles Times media critic James Rainey reported that ACORN official Lavelle Stewart "told me this week" that when O'Keefe and Giles came to Stewart's ACORN office in Los Angeles disguised as a pimp and prostitute, Stewart "tried to get the 'prostitute,' who claimed she had been beaten by her pimp, to go to a women's center." Rainey continued: " 'The fact she was not taking the help I offered her made me think something was not right,' Stewart said. 'It raised a red flag.' "

San Diego ACORN official also reported duo to police following encounter. In a September 22 article, the Associated Press reported that California police said an ACORN worker contacted them about "possible human smuggling."

Filmmaker reportedly promised to release Philadelphia video, but no such video has been released yet. On the September 27 edition of Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace stated that "O'Keefe wants to set the record straight. ... And he says he'll release all the tapes soon to show if any ACORN offices did the right thing." Wallace then added, "Why not release all the tapes at the start?" and proceeded to air video of O'Keefe saying, "We knew that they would lie and they would say, 'Oh, you've got nothing,' or 'You're dubbing your voice in.' But you release a little bit at a time, and they get caught in their lie." However, O'Keefe has not publicly released the Philadelphia tape as he reportedly promised.

Media highlighted ACORN employee's claim to have killed her ex-husband, even though ex-husbands are alive and well. On September 15 and 16, Fox News devoted significant programming to O'Keefe and Giles' video of their interactions with an ACORN worker who claimed she murdered her ex-husband and gave advice on how to run a brothel, but stated after the video was released that she had merely been attempting to "shock them as much as they were shocking me." In running with the video, Fox News hosts frequently promoted the fake claim that the ACORN employee killed her ex-husband without fact-checking the allegation or indicating that they had contacted ACORN for a response. In fact, in a September 15 news release, which was repeatedly ignored by Fox News, the San Bernardino Police Department stated that the employee's claim that she shot and killed her ex-husband "do[es] not appear to be factual"

Hannity falsely claimed ACORN is "scheduled to get $8.5 billion" in "taxpayer dollars." On September 15, Hannity claimed that ACORN is "scheduled to get $8.5 billion -- taxpayer dollars." As PolitiFact.com has noted, the claim that ACORN will receive $8.5 billion is false.

Media falsely claimed that Obama official Gaspard worked with ACORN. After Matthew Vadum wrote in The American Spectator that "[e]vidence shows that years before he joined the Obama administration," White House political affairs director Patrick Gaspard "was ACORN boss Bertha Lewis's political director in New York," Hannity, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy, Beck, and The Fox Nation seized on the blog post, asserting that -- in Hannity's words -- "ACORN has somebody on the inside of the White House." However the Politico's Ben Smith has since reported that the allegation "just isn't true" and that the White House has denied the American Spectator report. In its reporting, Fox News gave no indication that it attempted to fact-check the Spectator report or contact the White House for a response.

Media misrepresent photo to claim Obama took a "sneak peek" at girl at G-8 summit

Drudge, Fox Nation, others all misrepresented photo in attack on Obama. After a Free Republic member posted a Reuters photo described as "U.S. President Barack Obama (C) and France's President Nicolas Sarkozy (R) tak[ing] their places with junior G8 delegates for a family photo at the G8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy," Matt Drudge promoted the same photo. Subsequently, Fox News and the New York Post -- as well as ABC's Jake Tapper -- followed their lead, highlighting the photo online and on screen, in some cases with provocative, needling, or scolding commentary. But a review of the video, which the media promoting the photo either did not watch or did not allow to give pause, makes clear that Obama was attempting to navigate high steps while reaching back to help someone behind him do so as well. As Fox News host Greta Van Susteren said after airing video of the event, "Yes, a still picture can lie. And this one does."

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