The argument by conservative media that former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and other survivors of gun violence who supported a failed Senate compromise to expand background checks on firearms sales are "props" of the Obama administration is both hypocritically partisan and logically flawed.
Right-wing media are unable to acknowledge that President Obama's gun violence prevention agenda mirrors the priorities of gun violence survivors, who are not mere "props," to pass stronger gun laws. As Greg Sargent of The Washington Post notes, "the families want to stand with the President at events for a fairly obvious reason: Obama is fighting for the same things they want":
All of this aside, the "props" line is actually an insult to the families, posing as a defense of them. It implies that the families, in lobbying on these issues, are not thinking for themselves. In reality, the families want to stand with the President at events for a fairly obvious reason: Obama is fighting for the same things they want. Indeed, one of the family members, Mark Barden, who lost his son Daniel in the shooting, voluntarily stood with the president at the White House yesterday as Obama reacted to news of the Senate vote, and thanked Obama for his leadership. Needless to say, if Barden felt like he was being exploited or used as a prop, he wouldn't be thanking the president. [emphasis in original]
Logical flaws aside, those who would call Newtown families and other gun violence survivors "props" fail to acknowledge that presidents routinely evoke the experiences of victims in advocating for policies that would prevent future tragedies.
In 1991, former President Ronald Reagan evoked his own experience of being shot by a would-be assassin, as well as the experiences of others wounded in the 1981 attack in order to advocate for background checks on gun sales. In a New York Times op-ed Reagan wrote about his press secretary, Jim Brady, who was grievously wounded in the attack by a man who acquired a gun despite a lengthy history of serious mental illness. Brady would go on to lend his name to the legislation -- the Brady bill -- that mandated a background check for gun sales conducted by licensed dealers:
From the April 15 edition of Fox News' America Live:
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Right-wing blogs took President Obama's comments about gun violence prevention out of context to claim that he complained about being constrained by the Constitution. The full text of his comments, however, shows that he was praising the genius of the document rather than lamenting that the Second Amendment prevents him from confiscating guns.
On April 3, President Obama gave a speech in Colorado to raise support for strengthening gun laws following the passage of new gun violence prevention measures in the state. During his speech, Obama attempted to put gun owners' possible concerns over these measures to rest:
One last thing I'm going to mention is that during this conversation -- I hope you don't mind me quoting you, Joe. Joe Garcia, I thought, also made an important point, and that is that the opponents of some of these common-sense laws have ginned up fears among responsible gun owners that have nothing to do with what's being proposed and nothing to do with the facts, but feeds into this suspicion about government.
You hear some of these quotes: "I need a gun to protect myself from the government." "We can't do background checks because the government is going to come take my guns away."
Well, the government is us. These officials are elected by you. (Applause.) They are elected by you. I am elected by you. I am constrained, as they are constrained, by a system that our Founders put in place. It's a government of and by and for the people.
And so, surely, we can have a debate that's not based on the notion somehow that your elected representatives are trying to do something to you other than potentially prevent another group of families from grieving the way the families of Aurora or Newtown or Columbine have grieved. We've got to get past some of the rhetoric that gets perpetuated that breaks down trust and is so over the top that it just shuts down all discussion. And it's important for all of us when we hear that kind of talk to say, hold on a second. If there are any folks who are out there right now who are gun owners, and you've been hearing that somehow somebody is taking away your guns, get the facts. We're not proposing a gun registration system, we're proposing background checks for criminals. (Applause.)
Don't just listen to what some advocates or folks who have an interest in this thing are saying. Look at the actual legislation. That's what happened here in Colorado. And hopefully, if we know the facts and we're listening to each other, then we can actually move forward.
The next day, Fox Nation claimed that Obama "complain[ed] he's 'constrained' by the Constitution" in his speech, linking to an article from The Blaze that also failed to provide the full text of his comments:
Breitbart.com's Ben Shapiro similarly wrote on April 3 that "[t]he natural inference [of Obama's remarks] seems to be that if it were not for the Constitution, Obama would indeed pursue a federal gun seizure. Like the villain at the end of every Scooby Doo cartoon, Obama's offhand protest suggests that if it weren't for those darn kids, he would have gotten away with it. Except that the kids are the founders, and 'it' is massive gun control."
But the full transcript of Obama's speech shows that he never expressed a desire to confiscate Americans' firearms or lamented that the Second Amendment prevents him from doing so. In fact, he was approvingly citing the Constitution's protection of individual rights while telling people to be informed about the new gun legislation instead of succumbing to gun proponents' claims that guns will be taken away, and he reminded voters that they could hold the government accountable at the ballot box if they felt their rights were threatened.
The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) bills itself as an event convened to "crystallize the best of the conservative thought in America" that will showcase "all of the leading conservative organizations and speakers." Media covering CPAC 2013 should know that the conference's speakers, from the most prominent to the lesser-known, have a history of launching smears, pushing conspiracy theories, and hyping myths about the validity of President Obama's birth certificate.
From the March 7 edition of Premiere Radio's The Sean Hannity Show:
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From the February 28 edition of Fox Business Network's Lou Dobbs Tonight:
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Fox News rewarded Breitbart.com editor at large Ben Shapiro with an appearance less than a week after Shapiro publicly embarrassed himself over a fraudulent story linking Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel to the apparently nonexistent group "Friends of Hamas."
Over the past few weeks, Shapiro has been skewered for attempting to smear Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel by reporting that (according to "Senate sources") he had received money from a shady group called "Friends of Hamas."
After Shapiro's story imploded when it came to light that there's no evidence that "Friends of Hamas" actually exists, some in the conservative media suggested that their movement needed to police its own to maintain credibility. That accountability will not come from Fox News, which hosted him today and did not ask him about his failed smear.
Shapiro appeared for a discussion of the recent exchange between Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward and the White House over the sequester - a topic that countless other pundits could have discussed. During the segment, Shapiro attacked the media for allegedly being too soft on the Obama White House. From the February 25 America Live segment, hosted by Megyn Kelly:
A widely discredited rumor about Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel could cause headaches for Lou Dobbs, who endorsed that rumor on his Fox Business show.
New York Daily News reporter Dan Friedman wrote on Wednesday that he was the unintentional source of a rumor that Hagel had received funding from a terrorist-friendly group called "Friends of Hamas."
That rumor was spread in right-wing media circles by Breitbart.com's Ben Shapiro, who carelessly reported earlier this month that Hagel was paid to speak to a group called "Friends of Hamas." But, as detailed by Slate's Dave Weigel and by the New York Daily News, that organization does not actually exist. Here's Friedman's explanation (emphasis added):
On Feb. 6, I called a Republican aide on Capitol Hill with a question: Did Hagel's Senate critics know of controversial groups that he had addressed?
Hagel was in hot water for alleged hostility to Israel. So, I asked my source, had Hagel given a speech to, say, the "Junior League of Hezbollah, in France"? And: What about "Friends of Hamas"?
The names were so over-the-top, so linked to terrorism in the Middle East, that it was clear I was talking hypothetically and hyperbolically. No one could take seriously the idea that organizations with those names existed -- let alone that a former senator would speak to them.
This baseless rumor was not confined to the Breitbart.com fringe. On Feb. 11, Lou Dobbs claimed the rumor has "a ring to it" after National Review Online columnist Andrew McCarthy brought it to Dobbs' Fox Business show:
Now that the truth is revealed, will Dobbs tell his audience that he fed them rumors?
This post has been updated for accuracy.
On February 7, Breitbart.com's Ben Shapiro reported that Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel (according to "Senate sources") received money from a group called "Friends of Hamas." The report spread quickly through the conservative media as damning of Hagel, until Dave Weigel at Slate.com pointed out a salient fact -- there's no evidence that "Friends of Hamas" exists. Now, New York Daily News reporter Dan Friedman is claiming that a joke he shared with a GOP source is the provenance of "Friends of Hamas." In response to their story falling apart, Shapiro and Breitbart.com -- who angrily and self-righteously demand accountability from the rest of the media for every slip-up, real or imagined -- are lashing out and refusing to accept responsibility for publishing a report based on a falsehood.
Before getting into Shapiro's defense of himself for running with the "Friends of Hamas" rumor, it's worth looking at how Breitbart.com treats other media outlets that print stories that end up being untrue. A couple of weeks ago, Washington Post blogger Suzi Parker reported that Sarah Palin, newly free of her Fox News contract, had signed on with Al Jazeera. The story was not true: Parker had picked it up from the Daily Currant, a parody news site, and the Post issued a correction. Breitbart.com's John Nolte ripped into Parker in a February 12 post, letting fly with a barrage of sexist invective ("isn't she precious?") and slamming her journalistic acumen:
But never one to let facts get in the way of a good Narrative, the "we-meant-to-do-that" Post merely added a correction, changed the headline to "Sarah Palin tries to stay relevant," scrubbed the Al-Jazeera references (the original post can be read here), and still ripped Palin for, uhm, being so desperate to stay relevant.
If Parker had a shred of self-awareness, integrity, and dignity, she would have changed the headline to "Too Good To Check," and under it posted an essay about how shallow, smug, bitterly angry partisanship can blind you to common sense.
But that would require having a soul to search.
Nolte was back at it a few days later, demanding that Post media writer Erik Wemple investigate the Parker-Palin screw-up and attacking the Post's "too good to check" mentality:
If Suzi Parker had the power to publish on her own, it's understandable that someone so bitter and joyless could believe what she so desperately wants to believe. But thanks to the Post's own ombudsmen, we now know a Post editor also fell into "too good to check" mode.
Because Parker and this editor obviously didn't know the Daily Currant is a parody site, that means they published a story based on information from a site with which they were unfamiliar. How did that happen? Who was the editor? Has any disciplinary action been taken?
If you want to appreciate how vast the digital divide is that historically separates conservative failures and liberal accomplishments online, and if you want to add some context to the recent New York Times Magazine feature article on how Republicans' chronic online shortcomings dim the party's electoral chances, just look at how the two camps were marking their time in recent days.
Working with Republicans on Capitol Hill trying to block Chuck Hagel's nomination to become Secretary of Defense, Breitbart's Ben Shapiro recently posted a report suggesting Hagel had allegedly received "foreign funding" over the years from a terrorist-friendly group called Friends of Hamas, but that the payments were being kept secret. The allegation served as part of the right wing's relentless campaign to smear Hagel as being anti-Israel.
Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, National Review columnist Andrew McCarthy, and AM talker Hugh Hewitt all hyped Breitbart's conspiratorial narrative about Hagel's nefarious connections with Friends of Hamas.
Slight problem. Last week, Slate's David Weigel detailed how Friends of Hamas doesn't actually exist. And as New York Daily News reporter Dan Friedman explained, he unwittingly started the Friends of Hamas rumor when he posed the Hagel question to a GOP aide in the form of "an obvious joke." According to Friedman, he asked about both Friends of Hamas and the "Junior League of Hezbollah," and thought that the "names were so over-the-top, so linked to terrorism in the Middle East, that it was clear I was talking hypothetically and hyperbolically."
The GOP aide then apparently shared the Friends of Hamas inquiry with other partisans and Friedman posits that from there it found its way to Breitbart, which published it in the form of "news" under Shapiro's byline. Tellingly, the fact that the scary sounding group doesn't exist didn't stop a right-wing site from pushing the tall tale; a tale that quickly ricocheted across the conservative media landscape and was touted as a Deeply Troubling Development.
It was against that backdrop of routine right-wing dysfunction that the Times published its lengthy article. Author Robert Draper argued -- and many Republican operatives agreed -- that the GOP's perennial online failures have made it almost impossible for the party to communicate effectively with younger voters; voters who have developed a deeply hostile perception of the GOP brand. (i.e. "Polarizing," "narrow-minded.") Draper didn't make reference to the Friends of Hamas debacle, but it could have served as a useful example of how routinely unserious online pursuits have become among Republican boosters.
After Time magazine announced that Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown Law student who advocated for reproductive health coverage, would be one of 40 candidates for its "Person of the Year" award, the right-wing media reacted with vicious attacks on Fluke. The right-wing media have consistently attacked Fluke since Rush Limbaugh responded to her congressional testimony earlier in the year by calling her a "slut" and a "prostitute."
In the wake of President Obama's re-election, right-wing media outlets and figures compared the president to a dictator, called for a revolution, and baselessly suggested impeachment.
During the October 22 presidential debate, conservative media took to Twitter to launch personal attacks against President Obama in an attempt to criticize his performance and distract from Mitt Romney's lies.
Conservative commentator Ann Coulter referred to Obama as "the retard":
Fox News contributor Stephen Hayes wrote, "Seems to me President Obama's condescension has crossed the line from aggressive to disrespectful. Will voters like him mocking Romney?"
Media figures cheered Republican Mitt Romney's performance in the first presidential debate, claiming he offered specifics and an economic plan to contrast with that of President Obama. In fact, independent analysis shows Romney provided vague details at best.
Right-wing media outlets are pushing dubious allegations to attack Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the violence that claimed the life of the U.S. ambassador to Libya. But the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee has poured cold water on the attack.
[T]he US State Department had credible information 48 hours before mobs charged the consulate in Benghazi, and the embassy in Cairo, that American missions may be targeted, but no warnings were given for diplomats to go on high alert and "lockdown", under which movement is severely restricted."
Breitbart.com editor Ben Shapiro even used the report to call for Clinton's resignation, saying: "The details are so explosive that they will result in a Congressional investigation. In fact, they're so explosive that they should result in the resignation of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton."
The Drudge Report linked to the same Independent article under a picture of Clinton with the headline "Paper: U.S. warned of embassy attack, but did nothing."
Fox News also hyped the charge that Clinton had advanced warning of the attacks. Fox & Friends guest co-host Eric Bolling said: "You have to wonder. Hillary Clinton came on September 12 and she came on September 13 and she said, you know -- denouncing the attacks and whatnot. But why was she on twice saying the exact same thing? Maybe, maybe we did have advanced knowledge of these protests and attacks coming."
But later on Fox, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) showed why right-wing media should not have jumped on this one thinly-sourced report so quickly. Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade asked Rogers about the Independent report. Rogers responded: "As chairman of the Intelligence Committee, I have seen nothing yet that indicates that they had information that could have prevented the event." He added:
ROGERS: That doesn't mean it doesn't exist. I just haven't seen it yet, and we should be cautious about that. There's a difference between having lots of information flowing in, which we've had over months about the trouble that was brewing, especially Al Qaeda in the Maghreb looking for Western targets to strike -- the Maghreb being the northern part of Africa. So we knew that there was at least an interest in violence. This is the same site in Benghazi that had been attacked by an IED a couple months prior to that event. So we knew that there should have been a heightened level of security just for those reasons.