Someone alert Bill O'Reilly, Matt Drudge, Michelle Malkin and the rest of the right-wing media team that spent last year alternately belittling and hysterically hyping Chicago crime: their argument just fell apart.
Conservatives, led by O'Reilly, Drudge, and Malkin, callously used Chicago crime to attack President Obama and push back against his support for stronger gun laws. Pointing out that Obama's hometown is Chicago and his former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is the city's mayor, they frequently highlighted the fact that the city struggled with well-publicized gang shootings despite some of the tightest laws in the country. The right tagged Chicago as a gun control test case and deemed it a miserable failure. (Fox contributor Katie Pavlich: "Slaughter in Gun Control Chicago")
O'Reilly has alternately compared Chicago's murder rate to "many Holocausts," and "Afghanistan." The Drudge Report linked to 134 "CHICAGOLAND" crime headlines last year, all meant to convey the image of a lawless city on the verge of bloody collapse. And Malkin let loose with her usual invective, denouncing Chicago as one of many Democratic-run "hellholes"; urban centers teeming with "juvenile delinquency, organized crime, ruinous government dependency, corruption and out-of-control spending."
Conservative conspiracists such as Rush Limbaugh even claimed Democratic politicians want the city's murder rate to remain high so they can use the killings to advocate for stronger gun laws. It's all part of a larger conservative media movement to portray Obama's former hometown as being driven under by murder and violence. They seem to want the city to become a symbol of doom and "urban decay," just as conservative pundits have enjoyed mocking Detroit's tough times.
It was also part of a larger, racially-tinged and hollow attempt in the wake of the Trayvon Martin trial to accuse Obama of ignoring crime, which according to the conservative media telling is raging out of control. (It's not; it remains on a steady decline.)
But suddenly the Chicago taunts have gone quiet. Suddenly the claims that strict gun laws are useless and that Democratic mayors oversee killings zones have disappeared. No more "CHICAGO LAND" links or cries of "Holocaust," and Malkin has for now stopped referring to Chicago as "America's Bloody City."
Why? Because even world-class misinformers like those would have a tough time making a case against "Obama's Chicago," given the fact that the murder rate there last year fell to its lowest level since Lyndon Johnson was president, while the booming metropolis welcomed a record number of 46 million tourists last year.
That's right, despite the endless right-wing attacks on Chicago and the permanent conservative depiction of the Second City as a hell hole, Chicago last year experienced the fewest murders since 1965; 413 in 2013. (Context: Chicago at its worst tallied 943 murders in 1992.) The city's overall crime rate in last year fell to a level not seen since 1972, and every one of the Chicago's 22 police districts registered a decrease in crime last year.
"The drop is legitimately stunning," noted The Atlantic's Philip Bump.
Fox News' Bill O'Reilly denied the "mass arrest" of casual marijuana users in the U.S. and claimed that only "stealers" have been arrested in the war on drugs.
On January 6 O'Reilly featured a segment in which he asked, "is America becoming a weaker nation because of pot and internet abuse?" When Fox contributor Juan Williams confronted O'Reilly with the facts about arrests of casual marijuana users, O'Reilly asserted that users of marijuana are not being arrested in large numbers and that he's "just going to discount" Williams' argument.
O'REILLY: Let's begin with the left. What is it about the drug culture, the internet culture, that's so compelling for some of them?
WILLIAMS: Well, I don't think it's compelling, but I think that if you start to arrest their children and give them records and put barriers in front of their futures and their careers, I think people say wait a second. As you said in the previous segment, this is soft drug use, why are you arresting and giving this kid a record, especially minority kids disproportionately. They're the ones who get arrested.
O'REILLY: Only stealers, Juan, there's no mass arrests of users.
WILLIAMS: No, no, no, Bill.
MARY KATHARINE HAM [Fox contributor]: No, users [are] arrested.
O'REILLY: No, they get a ticket, Juan.
WILLIAMS: I don't think that's right, Bill.
O'REILLY: No, it is right.
WILLIAMS: And I think lots of people fear for their children. By the way, you should know, it's not just liberals --
O'REILLY: So by your thinking then, people fear for their children so they want to make drugs more available. Let's legalize them so they don't get a rap sheet.
WILLIAMS: No, no, no, I didn't say that. I didn't say more available. I said, listen, the kid gets out there --
O'REILLY: So what happens when drugs are legalized?
WILLIAMS: -- the kid's involved in soft drugs, by your own definition, gets arrested, suddenly he's got a record, all sorts of things that would inhibit his or her progress in life.
O'REILLY: It's almost impossible, the records are expunged if they are juveniles.
O'REILLY: You know what the game is here. This is not a crime that is actively pursued by district attorneys. All right. I'm just going to discount that argument, Juan.
But data from the FBI on marijuana-related arrests in the U.S. contradicts O'Reilly's assertion. According to the FBI, marijuana possession accounted for 42.4 percent of all drug arrests in 2012. The following graph shows that since 1995, more than one-third, and sometimes nearly half, of all drug arrests were for just possessing marijuana:
From the January 6 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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2013 was an epic year of right-wing media misinforming the public on the health care debate, particularly on women's health issues. Ignoring women's health experts, conservative media spent this year stoking fears about everything from birth control to maternity care, ignoring science, distorting state and federal regulations, and demonizing women's health care options in the process. These are the top six scare tactics from 2013.
From the December 17 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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With the Megyn Kelly "white Santa" story entering its improbable sixth day, Fox News has pulled out the big gun: Bill O'Reilly. Whenever Fox is in the headlines for an embarrassing gaffe or flagrant rupture of journalistic ethics, you can count on O'Reilly -- the network's most-watched and most doggedly loyal personality -- to do a little pinch-hit PR. O'Reilly defended his new primetime colleague's assertion of the historical fact of Santa Claus' whiteness as "totally harmless." The real bad actors, according to O'Reilly, are Fox News' critics and "the far left," who are obsessed with race ("any talk of skin color brings out the zealots") and jealous of how successful the network is.
But O'Reilly coming to bat for Megyn Kelly -- not just defending a colleague but the substance of her argument -- undercuts the network's already dubious campaign to present Kelly as an island of "Fair and Balanced" objectivity in a sea of conservative commentary.
Here's what O'Reilly said:
But in this case Miss Kelly is correct. Santa was a white person. Does that matter? No. It doesn't matter. The spirit of Santa transcends all racial boundaries. It's a spirit based on generosity, kindness to children, and magical moments. But for those who despise the Fox News Channel there's nothing magical about anything we do here. Again, a little history. When we first started up more than seventeen years ago, the mainstream media was dismissive -- believing CNN and MSNBC would crush us. And they were wrong. When that became apparent, the liberal media attacked and continues to do so today. Because they cannot defeat us on the media battlefield, the far left seeks to demonize Fox News as a right-wing propaganda machine and a racist enterprise. That's why Ms. Megyn got headlines about a Santa Claus remark that was totally harmless.
Let's set something straight here. For O'Reilly to reassert the whiteness of Santa and then say "it doesn't matter" isn't actually a defense of Kelly -- it's a repudiation. Kelly's segment was premised on the idea that Santa's whiteness does, in fact, matter. It was a response to a Slate article arguing that "Santa should not be a white man anymore" but should rather, to borrow from O'Reilly, "transcend all racial boundaries." Kelly's counterargument was, essentially, "Nope, Santa's white. Deal with it."
From the December 16 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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From the December 16 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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A senior attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a far-right legal organization beloved by Fox News personalities, cheered India's Supreme Court for reinstating that country's ban on gay sex, calling the decision a model for the United States. ADF's support for the decision came a week after Fox host Bill O'Reilly praised the group on-air.
On December 11, India's Supreme Court restored a colonial-era law banning "carnal intercourse against the order of nature." The ruling overturned a 2009 ruling by the Delhi High Court finding the law unconstitutional. Under the 1861 statute, gay sex is punishable by a fine and up to 10 years in prison.
Benjamin Bull, executive director of ADF Global, gave a December 12 interview with the news service of the anti-gay hate group the American Family Association and applauded the decision. Bull contrasted the Indian ruling with the U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling overturning anti-sodomy laws:
"When given the same choice the Supreme Court of the United States had in Lawrence vs. Texas, the Indian Court did the right thing," says Bull, which was choose to "protect society at large rather than give in to a vocal minority of homosexual advocates."
The net effect is to protect the integrity of the family and by extension to protect traditional marriage.
In the Texas case, the state's high court struck down sodomy laws in a 6-3 decision that affected similar laws in other states.
The Texas case "laid the groundwork for the invalidation of traditional marriage by a number of courts subsequent to that," the attorney explains.
The Indian Supreme Court saw what had happened there "and was wise enough not to want to go down that road."
"America needs to take note that a country of 1.2 billion people has rejected the road towards same-sex marriage, and understood that these kinds of bad decisions in the long run will harm society," he adds.
The language of the Indian statute is identical to that found in many other current and former colonies of the British Empire, including Belize. In that country, ADF has supplied lawyers to defend the criminalization of gay sex.
Undisturbed by the group's rabidly anti-LGBT positions, Fox News has long maintained a cozy relationship with ADF. In an interview on his December 2 show, Bill O'Reilly effusively thanked ADF senior vice president Doug Napier for his group's efforts to combat the manufactured "War on Christmas." "God bless you, each and every one," O'Reilly gushed. Before O'Reilly's sycophantic interview, Fox News contributor Erick Erickson solicited donations for the group. Meanwhile, Fox reporters Shannon Bream, Megyn Kelly, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck have hosted ADF lawyers for one-sided interviews on the imagined dangers of anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people.
With the ADF giving its full-throated backing to the Indian court ruling and urging the U.S. to "take note" of the development, the organization has again demonstrated that its claims of "defending freedom" are little more than an Orwellian fraud. The question is whether Fox will continue to play along; and based on its track record, it seems the answer is yes.
To hear conservatives tell it, Santa Claus is most definitely white, and his home isn't melting. At least that's what Fox News, with its recent barrage of attacks on an ad in which Santa warns about the impact of climate change on his Arctic home, would lead you to believe.
In December, the environmental group Greenpeace released an ad featuring the butler from Downton Abbey as a distraught Santa, who warns that as climate change drives continued Arctic ice melt, he may have to cancel Christmas. The ad calls for protecting the Arctic from offshore oil drilling, which, in a grim irony, is only possible in the region because of the ice melt.
The cheeky video was a "new low" achieved by "any-means-necessary" tactics, according to Fox News. It was also a chance to deny climate change. Rush Limbaugh declared "The ice is not melting at the North Pole," and a Fox News guest said "Santa's home is going to be fine ... for a long, long time to come." Fox News co-host Eric Bolling claimed contrary to any temperature record that "the globe is getting colder":
But Santa is right: the North Pole is melting. Arctic ice registered a record low in 2012 in line with a long-term melting trend. The sea ice extent in 2013 was not as low as 2012's (as was expected), but it was still among the lowest extents in the 35-year record, and does not represent a "recovery":
A new study reveals how successful government safety net programs are at keeping people out of poverty, delivering an additional blow to the Fox News myth that government assistance cannot improve the lives of low-income individuals.
According to The Washington Post, researchers Christopher Wimer and Liana Fox of the Columbia Population Research Center found that from 1967 to 2012, the safety net reduced the poverty rate from 26 to 16 percent.
Official poverty measures did not take government programs used by low-income Americans into account before 2010, often giving the appearance that poverty rates have remained unchanged over the past 50 years. Wimer and Fox adjusted poverty rates going back to 1967 to take into account additional costs and the effect of safety net programs, revealing the 10-point drop in poverty. Previous research by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities suggested that government programs reduce the official poverty rate, but Wimer and Fox found that the safety net has an even greater effect in reducing poverty.
The findings of the study reveal how crucial government anti-poverty programs are, undercutting the right-wing media myth rampant on Fox News that government programs cannot help low-income people.
Fox Business contributor Charles Payne made this point as recently as September, arguing that government assistance has been a waste because poverty numbers have not decreased since the "Great Society" in the 1960s, which implemented many anti-poverty measures.
In a discussion on The O'Reilly Factor, Fox Business' John Stossel recently railed against anti-poverty programs, claiming that government makes poverty "worse with these government programs" and that "we should get rid of most of government and allow poor people to become rich."
Indeed, the belief that government assistance cannot help low-income individuals is somewhat of a theme in the right-wing media, with figures continually questioning the efficacy of safety net programs.
The study also found that absent government safety net programs, 29 percent of Americans would be in poverty today -- an increase since 1967. These findings show that while the economy has grown tremendously in the past few decades, the gains have not reached those at the bottom.
The study reinforces previous research about the nature of growing income inequality in America. However, it is unlikely that voices in right-wing media will take notice of the findings as a problem, especially considering previous calls to reduce inequality have been met with staunch opposition and accusations of implementing a communist agenda.
While Fox News may continue to dismiss government assistance as wasteful, it doesn't change the fact that it plays a critical role in reducing poverty and inequality.
Yesterday the world mourned the death of Nelson Mandela. In a moving speech, President Obama described the former South African president as a man who through "fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others... transformed South Africa -- and moved all of us." Obama also noted that his first political action was inspired by Mandela -- a protest against South Africa's brutal apartheid regime in the late 1970s, part of a wave of progressive activism that would sweep the country over the next decade and compel the United States to enact economic sanctions against South Africa's government.
American conservatives have a far more complicated history with Mandela, as many of the movement's most prominent figures spent the decade leading up to his release from prison opposing actions geared toward ending South Africa's brutal apartheid regime. In 1986 President Reagan vetoed a bill that would have imposed economic sanctions on South Africa unless it met five conditions, including Mandela's release. Congress overrode that veto. Washington Post columnist George Will derided calls for sanctions and divestment in a 1985 column: "Clearly some of the current campaigning against South Africa is a fad, a moral Hula Hoop, fun for a while."
On the very day Mandela was freed in 1990, conservative icon William Buckley warned that "the release of Mandela, for all we know, may one day be likened to the arrival of Lenin at the Finland Station in 1917" (referring to Lenin's return to Russia from exile and the ensuing Bolshevik seizure of power) and mocked South African opponents of apartheid for their concern with "the question of one-man, one-vote," which he claimed "has not yet hit the United States, whose Senate guarantees most unequal treatment."
American conservatives of the era recognized the brutal repression of black South Africans by the whites, but ultimately determined that ending that system was less important that preserving South Africa as an ally in the Cold War. They pointed to Mandela's ties to South Africa's Communist Party and his history of violent activism and warned of dire results if he were freed and the apartheid government overthrown. (In his statement at the opening of the 1964 trial that ended in his imprisonment, Mandela explained that his African National Congress worked with communists toward the common goal of "the removal of white supremacy." He compared this to the United States and Great Britain allying with the Soviet Union during World War II).
Ronald Reagan neatly summed up the conservative position on South Africa and apartheid in a March 1981 interview with Walter Cronkite:
In an interview with CBS News, Reagan said the United States should still be concerned about South Africa's policy of racial separatism, called apartheid. But he suggested that as long as a "sincere and honest" effort was being made to achieve racial harmony, the United States should not be critical.
Reagan then asked: "Can we abandon a country that has stood by us in every war we have ever fought, a country that is strategically essential to the free world in its production of minerals that we all must have?" [Associated Press, March 23, 1981, via Nexis]
Since Mandela's passing, conservatives in the media have grappled with their movement's actions in light of the fruits his leadership bore. Here's how they're responding, in ways ranging from repugnant to laudatory:
Some conservative hardliners are convinced that they were right about Mandela all along. "Don't Mourn For Mandela" is the headline of Joseph Farah's December 6 column, in which the WND editor highlights Mandela's communist ties and use of violence, writing:
Apartheid was inarguably an evil and unjustifiable system. But so is the system Mandela's revolution brought about - one in which anti-white racism is so strong today that a prominent genocide watchdog group has labeled the current situation a "precursor" to the deliberate, systematic elimination of the race.
In other words, the world has been sold a bill of goods about Mandela. He wasn't the saintly character portrayed by Morgan Freeman. He wasn't someone fighting for racial equality. He was the leader of a violent, Communist revolution that has nearly succeeded in all of its grisly horror.
Farah concludes that someone needs to highlight these "inconvenient truths" because "the Mandela mythology is as dangerous as the terror he and his followers perpetrated on so many innocent victims - white and black."
Similarly, PJ Media's David Swindle headlined his piece on Mandela, "Communist Icon Nelson Mandela Dead at 95." In a post at his Gateway Pundit site, popular conservative blogger Jim Hoft marked Mandela's passing by posting a picture of Mandela with Fidel Castro and highlighting a tweet from a "Communist Party" Twitter account mourning his death.
From the December 5 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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From the December 5 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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GOP candidates are training to better talk about women and women's issues following the disastrous 2012 elections -- but this new rebranding effort will be difficult, given conservative media's toxic rhetoric on women.
Politico reported on December 5 that the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is meeting with congressional Republicans and their aides to "teach them what to say -- or not to say -- on the trail, especially when their boss is running against a woman":
While GOP party leaders have talked repeatedly of trying to "rebrand" the party after the 2012 election losses, the latest effort shows they're not entirely confident the job is done.
So they're getting out in front of the next campaign season, heading off gaffes before they're ever uttered and risk repeating the 2012 season, when a handful of comments let Democrats paint the entire Republican Party as anti-woman.
Akin dropped the phrase "legitimate rape" during the 2012 Missouri Senate race, costing himself a good shot at winning his own race and touching off Democratic charges of a GOP "War on Women" that dogged Republicans in campaigns across the country.
This new phase in the GOP's attempt to rebrand the party comes months after the Republican National Committee's (RNC) March 18 post-mortem of the 2012 election, which warned the party was "increasingly marginalizing itself" by alienating women, Hispanics, African Americans, and younger voters.
As Media Matters noted at the time, the rebranding effort always faced a significant obstacle: conservative media. Right-wing talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh played a significant role in popularizing the very brand of Republican politics the party leadership now understands is toxic -- and they are unlikely to change their rhetoric on women just because the RNC and NRCC suggest it.
After all, Limbaugh is the man who launched 46 personal attacks on Sandra Fluke in 2012, including calling her a "slut" and a "prostitute" for testifying in favor of affordable contraception, and little has changed since then. Just in the month of November, Limbaugh compared filibuster reform in the Senate to "allow[ing] women to be raped"; suggested that women in the military synchronize their menstrual cycles so they'd be "ready to be banshees"; read from a misogynistic parody site mocking marital rape; claimed ads promoting Obamacare's coverage of birth control told young women "if you like being a prostitute, then have at it"; and claimed Democrats are turning women "into nothing but abortion machines."
Limbaugh is not alone. Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto has mocked efforts to combat the immense problem of sexual assault in the military, and claimed "female sexual freedom" led to a "war on men." Fox News' Bill O'Reilly attempted to tie the "War on Christmas" to "unfettered abortion." Conservative blogger and Fox contributor Erick Erickson has called Texas Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis "abortion Barbie" and attempted to smear her campaign by suggesting she was mentally unfit for office. And a Fox Business host recently asked if there is "something about the female brain that is a deterrent" to women working as tech executives.
That's just a few of the most recent examples. The list goes on.
If the NRCC is concerned about Republicans being labeled "anti-women," Todd Akin and his "legitimate rape" comments are perhaps the least of their concerns. Conservative media's daily drumbeat of demeaning attacks on women could do more damage to the party's efforts than any single gaffe.
After all, the GOP rebranding effort also included a call for greater Latino outreach, to which conservative media responded with increased anti-immigrant demagoguery and a full-throated effort to destroy immigration reform. At the moment, it seems the conservative media is successfully thwarting the Republican "rebrand" -- leaving the GOP right back where they were in November 2012.