Right-wing media figures argued that Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment rights at a congressional hearing by declaring her innocence before invoking those rights. By contrast, legal experts say Lerner's statement did not negate her constitutional protections.
Fox News pushed the myth that increased access to emergency contraceptives encourages sex among teenagers. In fact, research shows access to these drugs does not increase teens' sexual activity.
Matt Drudge, owner and operator of right-wing content aggregator The Drudge Report, tweeted on April 23 that he "privately told friends" that 2013 would be the "year of Alex Jones." This comes as Drudge linked to Jones' Infowars website at least 50 times so far in 2013 and 244 times in the past two years.
But as we've noted, Drudge is not the only right-wing figure to bolster Jones' fringe reporting. In fact, two of his biggest advocates recently teamed up when frequent Jones guest and Fox News analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano, who is also a 9/11 truther, was named a board member of frequent Jones guest and former Texas congressman Ron Paul's think tank, the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.
Here's a sampling of Napolitano's contribution to the national conversation:
Following the April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon, radio host Alex Jones was quick to suggest the attacks may have been a "false flag" operation staged by the U.S. government. Jones' reaction is far from surprising; he has made a career out of pushing outlandish conspiracy theories.
Among other conspiracies, Jones has blamed the U.S. government for perpetrating, coordinating, or otherwise being involved in the 9-11 attacks, the Aurora movie theater shooting, the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. But despite Jones' well-known history, he is regularly validated by conservative media figures, politicians, and prominent activists that frequent his program, as well as by right-wing websites that promote his work and mainstream outlets that host him on their networks.
In recent years, former Rep. Ron Paul and current Sen. Rand Paul; Fox News figures Lou Dobbs and Andrew Napolitano; gun activists Ted Nugent and Larry Pratt; and climate misinformer Marc Morano have all repeatedly appeared on Jones' show. His immensely popular website Infowars is also frequently promoted by conservative websites like The Drudge Report.
Shortly following the April 15 Boston attacks, Jones tweeted that "our hearts go out to those that are hurt or killed," but added that "this thing stinks to high heaven" and suggested it was a "false flag" operation.
On a special webcast of his show that aired the night of April 15, Jones elaborated on his suggestion, saying, "You saw them stage Fast and Furious. Folks, they staged Aurora, they staged Sandy Hook. The evidence is just overwhelming. And that's why I'm so desperate and freaked out. This is not fun, you know, getting up here telling you this. Somebody's got to tell you the truth."
As Jones uses yet another national tragedy to push baseless, absurd conspiracy theories, it's worth asking whether there's anything he can say or do to lead media figures, politicians and activists to stop validating him.
In this report:
Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano wrongly asserted that the Obama administration's decision to not defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies same-sex couples more than 1,000 federal benefits and protections, is unprecedented, as previous administrations have also declined to defend statutes they considered unconstitutional.
On March 27, the same day the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Windsor v. United States, the challenge to DOMA, Napolitano said on Fox's Happening Now:
The president has taken an oath to uphold the law. All the laws, whether he agrees with them or not. But he has forbidden the Justice Department from defending this law.
That's the question, because the government can't write a law for no reason. Every law has to have a rational basis. It has to have some reason. Any reason that makes sense. So the government would have to argue, here's the reason for the law. But the government is not in the courtroom. In fact, President Obama dispatched the government lawyers to argue against this law, which is truly unheard of in my experience.
In fact, there is precedent for refusing to defend a statute. In a letter to Congress explaining the administration's position that DOMA is unconstitutional, Attorney General Eric Holder explained:
[T]he Department in the past has declined to defend statutes despite the availability of professionally responsible arguments, in part because the Department does not consider every plausible argument to be a "reasonable" one. "[D]ifferent cases can raise very different issues with respect to statutes of doubtful constitutional validity," and thus there are "a variety of factors that bear on whether the Department will defend the constitutionality of a statute." Letter to Hon. Orrin G. Hatch from Assistant Attorney General Andrew Fois at 7 (Mar. 22, 1996). This is the rare case where the proper course is to forgo the defense of this statute. Moreover, the Department has declined to defend a statute "in cases in which it is manifest that the President has concluded that the statute is unconstitutional," as is the case here. Seth P. Waxman, Defending Congress, 79 N.C. L.Rev. 1073, 1083 (2001).
In fact, the George W. Bush, Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Reagan administrations all have declined to defend statutes they concluded were unconstitutional.
Former Obama administration official Cass Sunstein writes that he received death threats and hate mail at his unlisted home address after Fox News launched a smear campaign against him. After Sunstein's nomination and confirmation in 2009, then-Fox host Glenn Beck attacked him and his work for years, invoking mass murderers, totalitarianism and conspiracy theories in conjunction with his name.
Sunstein served as Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the first Obama administration from September 2009 to August 2012.
As Mother Jones notes, Sunstein writes in his upcoming book, Simpler: The Future of Government, that Beck "developed what appeared to be a kind of an obsession with me." Sunstein compares Beck's attacks to the "Two Minutes Hate" from the classic novel 1984, where citizens were forced to watch films depicting enemies of the totalitarian party.
Sunstein also notes that he "began to receive a lot of hate mail, including death threats, at my unlisted home address. One of them stated, 'If I were you I would resign immediately. A well-paid individual, who is armed, knows where you live.'"
From the February 26 edition of Fox News' Fox and Friends:
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Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano baselessly speculated that the government will invade personal privacy as a result of President Obama's executive order on cybersecurity, ignoring the fact that the order merely provides optional help for companies running critical infrastructure to combat cyber threats.
President Obama announced Tuesday during the State of the Union address that he had signed an executive order to improve cybersecurity for critical infrastructure that impacts national security, the national economy, and public health and safety."
On Fox & Friends, Napolitano said the order "goes too far," making the accusation that the order will allow the government to read personal emails and eventually punish and restrict individuals for what they say on the internet, claiming that "your freedom of expression will shrink."
But as The New York Times reported, the order has nothing to do with the Internet use of individuals, and instead introduces an entirely voluntary program to help specific companies combat cyber threats:
The order will allow companies that oversee infrastructure like dams, electrical grids and financial institutions to join an experimental program that has provided government contractors with real-time reports about cyberthreats.
It will also put together recommendations that companies should follow to prevent attacks, and it will more clearly define the responsibilities for different parts of the government that play a role in cybersecurity.
The Times further noted that according to industry experts, the most important measures needed to protect against cyberattacks still require congressional approval. Senate Republicans twice rejected cybersecurity legislation last year.
And the American Civil Liberties Union has approved of the privacy measures included in the executive order. The Hill's technology blog reported:
The executive order also makes clear that agencies are required to implement privacy and civil liberties protections into their cyber activities, according to existing privacy principles and frameworks. Agencies are also required review the privacy and civil liberties impact of their work and publicly release those assessments.
Those privacy-focused measures won approval from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
"The president's executive order rightly focuses on cybersecurity solutions that don't negatively impact civil liberties," Michelle Richardson, a legislative counsel for the ACLU, in a statement. "For example, greasing the wheels of information sharing from the government to the private sector is a privacy-neutral way to distribute critical cyber information."
Multiple Fox News personalities have suggested the Justice Department's lawsuit against Standard & Poor's is 'political retribution,' either papering over or outright ignoring the facts behind the suit. However, the S&P investigation began well before U.S. credit was downgraded, and a raft of internal emails suggest the company may have knowingly inflated securities ratings.
The Wall Street Journal recently joined Fox News in attempting to rewrite a radical and unprecedented federal appellate court opinion to fit their caricature of a "lawless" President Obama. But even as a WSJ editorial picks up Fox News' misrepresentation of the appellate court's sweeping decision on the constitutional legitimacy of presidential recess appointments as a narrow swipe at Obama, the Fox-fueled version is starting to unravel.
On January 29, the WSJ published an editorial that claimed "the latest disdain for the Constitution's checks and balances" was the Obama administration's response to a recent outlier opinion of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. This decision broke with centuries of practice and case law by holding presidents can only make recess appointments when both a vacancy and appointment occur in-between congressional sessions. Specifically, the WSJ was offended that the National Labor Relations Board accurately pointed out the opinion was technically limited to the party that brought the case - despite its serious implications for all other similarly situated plaintiffs - and not only was it not currently in effect, it might be overturned on appeal. From the WSJ editorial, which accused the NLRB of planning to "ignore" the opinion:
So, let's see. First, President Obama bypasses the Senate's advice and consent power by making "recess" appointments while the Senate was in pro-forma session specifically to prevent recess appointments. Then when a federal court rules the recess appointments illegal, the NLRB declares that it will keep doing business as if nothing happened.
Without Mr. Obama's illegal appointments, the board would have been without a quorum and unable to decide a single case. That lawless behavior means more than 200 of the NLRB's rulings in the past year are in limbo. It's bad enough to force those 200 litigants to appeal rulings that are sure to be overturned. But the board wants to keep issuing new rulings though it now knows that a unanimous appeals court has declared them illegal, pending a Supreme Court review that may never happen.
Fox News' Megyn Kelly debunked the right-wing media myth that President Obama will require doctors to ask their patients if they have guns -- a myth pushed by her Fox colleague Andrew Napolitano. In fact, as Kelly noted, Obama's provision simply reiterates that doctors may legally ask patients about a potential lack of gun safety in their homes.
On The O'Reilly Factor Thursday, host Bill O'Reilly discussed Obama's recent executive orders on guns, claiming that the "most controversial part of the president's vision" is a directive clarifying that doctors are not prohibited from asking patients about firearms. After airing clips of Obama and NRA president David Keene speaking about the directive, O'Reilly said that "if it's true that doctors and nurses are being directed by the federal government to make inquiries about guns in some cases, that's troubling."
Guest and Fox News host Megyn Kelly agreed that such a requirement would be troubling if it existed, but explained that "it's not true." Kelly went on to say that Obama's executive order only clarifies that "Obamacare does not prohibit the doctors from asking [patients] about guns" "if they want to ask." She further noted that during the passage of health care reform, the NRA successfully lobbied to ensure the bill contained a provision "saying patients don't have to answer if they are asked by their doctor whether they have a gun."
Kelly is right: Obama only announced that he would "[c]larify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes."
Once again the right-wing media is pushing a falsehood based on their misrepresentation of whether a Democratic proposal involving doctors is mandatory.
The right-wing media is falsely claiming that President Obama is requiring doctors to ask their patients if they have guns, a claim that echoes their 2009 freak-out about supposed "death panels" in a proposed health care bill. In fact, as was the case with the end-of-life counseling provision in the health care bill, Obama's policies related to doctors and guns are voluntary.
In July 2009, shortly after a Democratic health care bill was introduced in the House of Representatives, serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey claimed that a provision of the bill would "absolutely require" seniors to "submit" to regular counseling sessions "that will tell them how to end their life sooner." This was false: the provision would have actually ensured that voluntary advanced care planning session where doctors and patients could discuss options like living wills were covered by Medicare - a proposal that had previously been supported by Republicans like Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA).
Nonetheless, after McCaughey offered up her false claim regarding the provision, the right-wing media - led by Rush Limbaugh -- was quick to trumpet it. And the falsehood took on an even greater intensity after Sarah Palin claimed that under the proposal, "my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel,'" an absurd statement that was quickly adopted by Fox News.
Meanwhile, mainstream outlets repeatedly debunked the claim - more than 40 times in the month after McCaughey offered her initial claim. But in spite of the media's effort to debunk the right-wing's claims, the provision was dropped from the Senate's health care bill, and did not become law with the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
A similar pattern is unfolding with regard to a policy on guns and doctors President Obama's unveiled during his January 16 announcement regarding gun violence prevention policies he supports. Among a variety of other proposals, the White House announced that the administration would "issue guidance clarifying that the Affordable Care Act does not ban doctors from asking patients "about firearms in their patients' homes and safe storage of those firearms."
While nothing in the White House proposal suggests that this is a mandatory requirement that doctors ask patients if they have firearms in the home, right-wing media quickly began suggesting that the proposal did just that.
On his January 16 broadcast, Limbaugh claimed that under that policy:
So now doctors are being ordered, instructed to talk to patients and get information from them about gun ownership, where they are in their house, who has access to them, where the ammunition is kept.
He later added: "The doctors are now under the thumb of Obamacare. They had better comply. This is not a choice." Fox News' Andrew Napolitano also fearmongered over the provision.
From the January 17 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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From the January 15 edition of Fox News' America Live:
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What is it about President Obama's inaugurations that bring out the craziest of the right-wing crazies?
Four years ago, Obama's historic swearing-in sparked months' worth of teeth-chattering paranoia, trumpeted by the conservative media, about how the new Democratic president posed a mortal threat to America and that drastic action might need to be taken.
In 2009, a far-right Newsmax columnist determined that a "military coup "to resolve the 'Obama problem'" was not "unrealistic." That's about the same time Glenn Beck used his then-new program on Fox News to game out bloody scenarios for the coming civil war against the Obama-led tyranny. Note that the armed rebellion rhetoric was uncorked just weeks after Obama's first cabinet had been confirmed.
Now, four years later as Obama's second swearing-in approaches, the same misguided insurrectionist pageantry is back on display. (The fringe John Birch Society is probing the likelihood of "armed resistance" against the government -- "an unlikely prospect, for now at least.") And this time, Adolf Hitler stars in a leading role.
In fact, there's a disturbing collision now underway featuring two signature, conservative paranoid fantasies. One holds that Obama is like Hitler; that he's a tyrant ready to undo democracy at home. The other is that Americans need access to an unregulated supply of assault weapons in order to fight their looming insurrectionist war with the government.
In the last week we've heard more and more conservatives try to tie the two wild tales together: Obama's allegedly pending gun grab will prove he's just like Hitler, which will demonstrate the need for citizens to declare war on the government.
Ignoring nearly 250 years of our democratic history, conservative voices across the media landscape have been nodding their heads in agreement suggesting it's only a matter of time before the United States resembles a tyrannical dictatorship that will be either fascistic or Stalinist in nature (or both, if the rhetorician feels no obligation to historical accuracy).
So much for the notion of American exceptionalism -- "the conviction that our country holds a unique place and role in human history" -- that conservatives love to preach.