For two years, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has been peddling the theory that the IRS intentionally leaked its donor list to a gay rights organization as part of an Obama administration conspiracy. Two separate investigations and a ruling by a Reagan-appointed judge have debunked that theory. But right-wing media, which have widely touted NOM's initial accusations, have largely ignored or denied the conspiracy theory's demise.
In the spring of 2012, an IRS employee inadvertently leaked an unredacted list of NOM's donors in response to a public records request. The pro-equality group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) got its hands on the list, highlighting past contributions to NOM by prominent conservatives like then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Noting that key HRC officials were prominent supporters of President Obama's re-election campaign, NOM alleged a conspiracy between the organization and the Obama administration aimed at embarrassing NOM and its supporters.
In April 2012, NOM filed a formal letter of complaint to the IRS. Conservative outlets like The Daily Caller and The Weekly Standard touted the complaint, focusing particularly on the revelation that Romney was one of the group's donors. For most of the next year, however, media interest in the story was scant.
That changed in the spring of 2013. In May, U.S. Attorney General Eric holder ordered the FBI to begin a criminal probe into allegations that the agency had targeted tax-exempt conservative political groups. While the IRS actually scrutinized progressive groups more extensively than conservative ones, the IRS "scandal" became a rallying cry for right-wing media. The controversy also meant newfound interest in NOM's allegations against the agency.
Mainstream and conservative media outlets were quick to pick up on NOM's call for an investigation into the IRS's activities.
The Wall Street Journal 's James Taranto spotlighted NOM's claims in a column on the IRS controversy, asking "How pervasive is the Obama IRS scandal?":
Fox News is reviving accusations that NASA's peer-reviewed adjustments to temperature data are an attempt to "fak[e]" global warming, a claim that even a climate "skeptic" threw cold water on.
Tony Heller, a birther who criticizes climate science under the pseudonym "Steven Goddard," wrote a blog post that claimed "NASA cooled 1934 and warmed 1998, to make 1998 the hottest year in US history instead of 1934." After the Drudge Report promoted a report of this allegation by the conservative British newspaper The Telegraph, conservative media from Breitbart to The Washington Times claimed the data was "fabricated" or "faked." On June 24, Fox & Friends picked it up, claiming that "the U.S. has actually been cooling since the 1930s" but scientists had "faked the numbers":
However, the libertarian magazine Reason noted that even climate "skeptic" blogger Anthony Watts said that Goddard made "major errors in his analysis" and criticized the implication that "numbers are being plucked out of thin air in a nefarious way."
In fact, the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) and NASA, which both maintain temperature records that use slightly different methods but show close agreement, have publicly documented the peer-reviewed adjustments they make to raw data. NCDC states that the "most important bias in the U.S. temperature record occurred with the systematic change in observing times from the afternoon, when it is warm, to morning, when it is cooler," and so it must correct this cool bias as well as other biases that, for example, result from moving temperature stations.
NASA's data shows that the nation has not been "cooling" since the 1930s, with several years, including 2012, ranking hotter than 1934 in the continental United States, along with a long-term warming trend. And while The Sean Hannity Show claimed that this shows the "Earth has been cooling," the continental United States makes up less than 2 percent of the Earth's surface -- global surface temperatures have increased significantly.
Right-wing media have claimed that the current violence in Iraq is the result of the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq and President Obama's willful failure to secure a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. In reality, Iraq refused the terms of a SOFA with the U.S. despite Obama's efforts to maintain a military presence there.
Right-wing media's latest "Benghazi bombshell," scandalizing claims about the attackers' cell phone usage during the assault, follows a now-familiar pattern: recasting history to accuse the Obama administration of inappropriately referencing an anti-Islam YouTube video in connection with the Benghazi terror attacks.
Media criticism of the Obama administration for taking steps to secure the release of captured U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl ignores the fact that the military has committed to "use every practical means" to free prisoners of war.
Conservative media outlets jumped at the chance to revive the long-debunked myth of a "death panel" provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by exploiting the serious investigation into problems within the Veterans Affairs (VA) administration.
Right-wing media falsely claimed that newly released documents from Judicial Watch showed that Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) pressured the IRS to target conservative groups for additional scrutiny. Levin's letters simply show that he asked the IRS to hold both Democratic and Republican groups accountable to valid tax-exempt regulations, and he made his correspondence public record more than a year ago.
Just as some conservative media figures have cried censorship when their terrible movies aren't promoted in film festivals, they now think that if their error-laden, unoriginal papers pushing climate "skepticism" aren't published in top scientific journals, there is a "cover-up."
The Drudge Report, an influential conservative news website, devoted the top spot of their site on May 16 to hype an article that claims climate scientists "COVERED UP SCEPTIC'S 'DAMAGING' REVIEW" and even compared it to the faux "Climategate" scandal.
The article by The Times, a British newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, suggests that because a paper by the University of Reading's Lennart Bengtsson was not published in a prestigious scientific journal, politically motivated suppression is behind the "cover-up." Bengtsson recently resigned from the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which criticizes almost any policy to address climate change and sometimes misleads on climate science. He claimed that he faced criticism from fellow academics for joining an organization, which he compared to the political witchhunts of Joseph McCarthy.
Nicola Gulley, the editorial director of IOP Publishing, which oversees the journal in question (Environmental Research Letters) stated that the draft paper was not published because it "contained errors" and "did not provide a significant advancement in the field." Top journals typically reject about nine out of ten papers submitted -- it is not a "cover-up" but a standard practice to accept only the papers that most advance the field.
The Times selectively quoted from one of the independent, anonymous peer-reviews of Bengtsson's submission, to suggest that the paper was rejected because it would help climate "skeptics," which would be "harmful." Gulley said that comments were "taken out of context" as the full quote from the reviewer was: "Summarising, the simplistic comparison of ranges from [three scientific assessments], combined with the statement they are inconsistent is less then helpful, actually it is harmful as it opens the door for oversimplified claims of 'errors' and worse from the climate sceptics media side." The reviewer outlined that the paper notes differences between the assessments but "does not make any significant attempt at explaining or understanding the differences" even though such explanations are readily available. He or she also noted that the "overall innovation of the manuscript is very low, as the calculations made to compare the three studies are already available within each of the sources."
As Professor Myles Allen of the University of Oxford explained to the Science Media Centre, "[w]hether there is a story here at all depends on" how you read "harmful," which could mean "harmful to our collective understanding of the climate system" rather than "harmful to the case for a particular climate policy." Dr. Simon Lewis added that the editor, not the reviewer, would have final say: "What counts are the reasons the editor gave for rejection. They were because the paper contained important errors and didn't add enough that was new to warrant publication. Indeed, looking at all the comments by the reviewer they suggested how the paper might be rewritten in the future to make it a solid contribution to science. That's not suppressing a dissenting view, it's what scientists call peer review."
Prof. Allen further noted that leaking a cherry-picked comment from a review for a politicized media story, as The Times did, is harmful to the progression of science:
The real tragedy here is that climate scientists are now expected to check their comments in an anonymous peer review to ask themselves how they might 'play' if repeated in the Times or the Mail. The progress of science since Galileo has depended on the principle that an anonymous graduate student can point out errors in a paper by a Nobel laureate confident that their comments will be used solely for the purposes of editorial judgement.
Even Bengtsson himself took issue with The Times article, saying he did not believe that there is "any systematic 'cover-up' of scientific evidence on climate change or that academics' work is being 'deliberately suppressed'"
I do not believe there is any systematic "cover up" of scientific evidence on climate change or that academics' work is being "deliberately suppressed", as The Times front page suggests. I am worried by a wider trend that science is being gradually being influenced by political views. Policy decisions need to be based on solid fact.
"I was concerned that the Environmental Research Letters reviewer's comments suggested his or her opinion was not objective or based on an unbiased assessment of the scientific evidence. Science relies on having a transparent and robust peer review system so I welcome the Institute of Physics publishing the reviewers' comments in full. I accept that Environmental Research Letters is entitled to its final decision not to publish this paper - that is part and parcel of academic life. The peer review process is imperfect but it is still the best way to assess academic work.
A "horrendous crime" that "violates every major objective of Islam."
That's how Daisy Khan, founder of the Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality described the recent kidnappings of nearly 300 schoolgirls by Nigerian terrorist group, Boko Haram. Despite similar denunciations of Boko Haram's actions by Muslim religious leaders, activists, organizations, and intellectuals across the world, right-wing media are set on using the kidnappings as a justification for their Islamophobic narratives and their attempt to make Boko Haram the face of Islam.
Boko Haram is a marginalized terrorist organization operating out of Nigeria whose murky ideological goals include eliminating secular education. In recent history their attacks have concentrated on schools, killing Christian and Muslims alike who speak out against them. Before the kidnappings, Boko Haram attacked two mosques in August 2013, murdering more than 65 Muslims.
On May 12, Fox News turned to Aayan Hirsi Ali, the anti-Islam activist often cited to support right-wing media's Islamophobic constructs. Hirsi Ali appeared on The Kelly File with host Megyn Kelly, where she insisted that Islam not be separated from the "outcome, the kidnappings, the violence" of Boko Haram and argued that Muslims need to acknowledge "that there is something wrong in the first place." From The Kelly File:
KELLY: You want to call attention to violence of girls in the Muslim world and then we see this. In the wake of this, we have the first lady who is making a call for attention to these girls, which is good, but she doesn't mention in her radio address the girls are Christian and the captors are these radical Jihadist. Do we need to understand that?
HIRSI ALI: You have to understand that somehow it is derived from Islam unreformed. I think there is a possibility for Islam to be reformed. I think the opportunity is right here, but I think it all begins with acknowledging that there is something wrong in the first place.
Hirsi Ali is well known for her anti-Islam rhetoric, once claiming that Islam was a "cult of death." Her rhetoric has propelled her into the conservative media spotlight which has highlighted her efforts to smear Islam as a religion of violence; for Hirsi Ali and other right-wing outlets, Boko Haram serves as a perfect example to support their seemingly endless Muslim fear mongering.
The Daily Caller used Boko Haram's attacks as a new reason to bash Muslim groups, criticizing a mosque that did not "excommunicate Boko Haram", and suggesting that these Muslim organizations are responsible for Boko Haram's ideology if they do not publically condemn the terrorists. Breitbart made no attempt to veil the site's anti-Muslim views, claiming that Boko Haram's "behavior is absolutely par for the course in Islamic history," and that Islam has a history of "sex slavery, (of both boys and girls), polygamy, sex trafficking, and the brutal subordination and cyclical massacres of religious minorities."
In reality, Boko Haram is a marginalized, radical group that does not represent the tenants of the Islamic faith or the Muslim tradition. The Daily Beast's Dean Obeidallah argued that the group's views are so far removed from the religion that media should "stop referring to the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram as 'Islamic terrorist,' 'Islamists' or anything else involving the word 'Islam.'" Obeidallah cited Muslim leader Imam Shamsi Ali who called Boko Haram's leaders " 'blasphemous' for claiming the Koran sanctions their violence against innocent people since it's not only 'contrary to everything Islam stands for' but also it's 'a crime against God and humanity.'"
Muslim organizations have condemned the group and its actions. Though as Sohaib Soltan explained for Time, it should not be the responsibility of Muslim groups to constantly condemn the actions of terrorists, and that holding all Muslims accountable for "condemning evil at the hand of other Muslims" is built upon a flawed premise because with this expectation comes the "inherent assumption that somehow radical violent extremist cults can legitimately speak for Islam."
As CNN's Arsalan Iftikhar also pointed out, these murders and kidnappings are not supported by the Quran, which Iftikhar says "states quite clearly that 'oppression is worse than murder' and that nobody 'shall force girls to commit prostitution'."
Conservative media have largely ignored these outspoken Muslim scholars in favor of voices like Hirsi Ali's that help them demonize the entire Muslim faith by using the actions of a marginalized terrorist group.
Conservative media are touting a video from the right-wing Media Research Center purporting to show that vendors at gun shows always refuse to sell firearms to felons and other disqualified persons and that legislation to expand the background check system is unnecessary. But according to prior undercover reports, when private sellers at gun shows were not aware they were on camera, a substantial portion agreed to sell guns to people they believed could not legally possess them.
Vendors who have a Federal Firearms License are required to perform background checks on their customers, but so-called private sellers who say they are not "engaged in the business" of selling firearms have no such requirement at gun shows in 33 states. This discrepancy has been termed the "gun show loophole" and is the reason narco-terrorists, illegal gun traffickers and other dangerous individuals seek out unregulated sales at gun shows. The most infamous use of the loophole is the 1999 Columbine High School massacre where all four guns involved were passed through a local gun show by private sellers.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has estimated between 25 and 50 percent of vendors at gun shows sell without a background check. Adding sales over the Internet and through newspaper classified adverts, a substantial proportion of firearms are transferred without a background check in the United States. Federal legislation to expand the background check system to cover private sales failed in the Senate last year.
According to the National PTA, this week was Teacher Appreciation Week. Right-wing media appear to have missed the memo.
The week started on May 5 with radio host Rush Limbaugh stating that those who advocate for greater diversity among teachers were "pushing for racial quotas" and want to return the U.S. to segregation and "go back to the way it was ... before the Civil Rights Act." Limbaugh was responding to a report from the Center for American Progress and the National Education Association which found, according to the Associated Press, that "U.S. teachers are nowhere near as diverse as their students."
On Fox News' Outnumbered the same day, Fox host Tucker Carlson responded to a story about a female teacher who supposedly gave a "lapdance" to a male student, claiming that men understand that getting sexually harassed by a female teacher is the "greatest thing that ever happened." When co-host Harris Faulkner read a viewer comment that "Whether this woman is hot, of course, is still out," Carlson responded, "She's hot enough." On April 28, Carlson told America to "lighten up" on the issue.
On May 6, Fox & Friends took to calling a Florida public school teacher a "Bible Bully" because a fifth-grade boy at a Broward County school claimed his Bible was taken away during free-reading time. Despite a statement from the county affirming its commitment to students' religious freedom and local reporting that the student was reading his Bible during a "classroom 'accelerated reading' program," Fox hosts nonetheless accused the teacher of being a "Bible Bully" and "humiliat[ing]" the student.
Fox & Friends even hosted Fox radio host Todd Starnes later in the program to discuss the Florida story, who made multiple outlandish claims about teachers:
STARNES: We got to start calling this like it is. We either have a bunch of religious bigots teaching our kids or we have a lot of ignorant people who don't understand the law.
STARNES: What if that child had been reading a Quran? I don't think that teacher would have done a single thing.
Breitbart.com blogger Javier Manajarres joined the fun on May 8, claiming the Florida story was indication of a "War on Christ in Florida," outing the teacher as a "registered...wait for it...wait for it...Democrat" and concluding, "Can you imagine if [the teacher] were to have banned a Koran from being read in classroom? All jihad would have broken loose, and she would be canned. The War on Christ is alive and well among the Democrat faithful."
Of course, teacher-bashing rhetoric is nothing new when it comes to conservative media. Limbaugh previously claimed that the idea that teachers contribute to a growing economy is "ignorance." Fox News earlier this year devoted several segments to bashing teachers and teachers unions in a debate over public school space in New York City. And just a few weeks ago, Breitbart Texas launched a transphobic attack on a substitute teacher in Texas who was suspended because of her gender identity, attempting to portray her as mentally disturbed and suggesting that a divorce was what prompted her to become transgender.
Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!
Image at top obtained via Flickr user Cybrarian77 with a Creative Commons license.
Right-wing media have worked themselves into a tizzy over a controversy about a student reading his Bible in a Florida public school, but they aren't telling the whole story.
The CBS affiliate in Miami, FL, reported on May 5 that a fifth-grade boy at a public school in Broward County claimed he was banned from reading his Bible during "free-time reading" in his classroom:
A Broward County boy said he was banned from reading "The Good Book" during free-reading time in school. The boy and his father have hired an attorney, calling this a violation of the boy's Constitutional rights. Meanwhile, the Broward County School District says this is all a big misunderstanding.
The Miami Herald reported that Broward school officials "rejected the accusation" because the student was reading his Bible during a "classroom 'accelerated reading' program," not during a free-reading session. The Herald also noted that the boy's family is being represented by the Liberty Institute, a "conservative religious-rights group" that "targeted Broward County on Monday in an ongoing campaign contending that faith is under attack in America's elementary schools." (Indeed, the Liberty Institute has a "long history of hyperbolic assertions about the impending end of religious freedom.")
A statement from Broward County Public Schools on Monday, May 5, affirmed the county's commitment to religious freedom:
Broward County Public Schools respects and upholds the rights of students to bring personal religious materials to school, including the Bible, and to read these items before school, after school or during any "free reading" time during the school day.
On right-wing media, however, it's a much different story.
Fox News' Fox & Friends discussed the story on May 6, leading with its "Trouble With Schools" chryon. Co-host Steve Doocy claimed that the boy's father had previously been in touch with the school principal about when the boy was allowed to read the Bible in school, which included before and after school, during lunch, and at free time, but that "the teacher didn't like it" when the boy began reading his Bible during "his free time." Doocy continued:
DOOCY: Well the teacher didn't like it, and the kid said, if you have a problem with this, you need to call my dad. Well the dad wasn't there to pick up the phone and instead, the teacher left this embarrassing voicemail.
A new Gallup poll shows that the number of uninsured is the lowest ever recorded, a finding that punches holes in the right-wing narrative that few uninsured individuals have gained coverage under Obamacare.
On May 5, Gallup released a new poll showing that the percentage of Americans who are uninsured dropped to 13.4 percent, the "lowest monthly uninsured rate recorded since Gallup and Healthways began tracking it in January 2008." Gallup pointed out that the consistent decline in the number of uninsured adults "coincided with the health insurance marketplace exchanges opening in October 2013."
Conservative media outlets have consistently tried to spin Obamacare enrollment numbers in an effort to discredit the ACA, claiming that the health care law increased the number of uninsured Americans.
Fox News led the charge in pushing the false narrative that the "net result" of the ACA was "quite negative," casting past increases in insured individuals as "practically a net wash." The network has relied heavily on anecdotal evidence from "victims" of Obamacare to stoke fears that the ACA has led to rampant cancellations and effectively uninsured more individuals than it has insured. Several news outlets employed similar tactics, despite the fact that many of the Obamacare victims' stories crumbled upon investigation.
Fox has also hyped fears that young people's failure to sign up for plans would force the ACA "into [a] death spiral" that would in turn cause skyrocketing premiums. Conservative blogs including Breitbart and the Daily Caller have made similarly egregious claims, ignoring enrollment surges and claiming that Obamacare's "current net effect is clearly in favor of cancellations."
Gallup's recent poll renders these allegations not only unfounded, but downright untenable. Any claims that Obamacare would result in a 'net loss' ignore the option to renew plans, tax credits, and Medicaid expansion, all of which have had an obvious and unprecedented effect in lowering the number of uninsured.
In a May 5 piece highlighting Gallup's finding, The New Republic noted that "the trend in the Gallup polling clearly isn't a blip," and concluded that the conservative media's fear mongering is "just not credible anymore."
With over 8 million people enrolled in private health plans, an additional 4.8 million newly enrolled under Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, and new polling suggesting the Obama's health care law is already a strong success, right-wing media may want to rethink their narrative on Obamacare.
In December 2012, BuzzFeed's McKay Coppins reported that in the wake of their devastating electoral defeat, Republicans were looking to "break their Fox addiction" by working with mainstream outlets, not just conservatives ones. "As operatives are increasingly realizing," Coppins wrote, "many of these outlets have limited reach beyond the fervent Republican base, and the talking points politicians declaim often resonate only in the conservative echo chamber."
A year and a half later, the reaction to Coppins' latest piece shows one roadblock to GOP efforts to reach out to mainstream media and the voters who don't get their news from ideological sources: a jealous right-wing media that wants increased access to Republican leaders.
Coppins' April 28 BuzzFeed profile chronicled how Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is "doing something rather unprecedented for a Republican: He is spending unchoreographed time with poor people," purportedly in order to inform his policy-making in that arena. The BuzzFeed writer was given exclusive access to Ryan during one such trip to visit the impoverished. His article drew swift criticism from progressives who said that Coppins credulously accepted Ryan's rhetoric on the issue while downplaying the impact that the massive cuts to poverty-fighting programs in Ryan's budget would have on the poor if it were implemented.
But right-wing outlets have a very different critique of the article: They think it made Ryan look bad, proving that he never should have cooperated with Coppins in the first place.
Breitbart's Matthew Boyle writes that Ryan "comes across as a deeply awkward millionaire paralyzed by political correctness as he struggles to identify with a black church congregation," citing two anecdotes from the piece. He concludes that Ryan's aides should not have granted Coppins access in the first place. The idea that the Republican congressman from Wisconsin might actually have been awkward in that situation goes unmentioned, with the implication that if Boyle had been the one traveling with Ryan, he'd have reported a more flattering piece.
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt likewise writes that the Coppins profile did not "do much or even any good" for Ryan, and bemoans how Republican press aides "resist having their bosses sit down with their natural allies in the center-right press" instead of giving access to mainstream reporters. He provides a list of reporters at The Daily Caller, TownHall.com, the Weekly Standard, and The Washington Free Beacon, concluding, "Don't ask me why they were not invited along with Ryan but McKay was. Part of the ongoing epic fail of Beltway GOP communications strategy. Hopefully it will change before 2016 arrives."
Boyle and Hewitt are criticizing Ryan for following a strategy that Republican operatives had identified as necessary to improve the party's national standing and win presidential elections.
The Republican National Committee's analysis of the 2012 election found that if the GOP wanted to win national elections, it had to change the minds of voters who believe the party "does not care about people," particularly those living in poverty. Ryan's effort to speak out on poverty seems consistent with that report's advice.
But as the operatives Coppins spoke with in 2012 pointed out, it's difficult to shift the poverty narrative if Republicans only talk about the issue with conservative reporters, as Hewitt and Boyle suggest.
Of course conservative journalists will always want more access and scoops. But demanding them at the expense of mainstream outlets traps the GOP between their conservative media supporters and their desire to win elections.
The right-wing media has shifted its focus from Cliven Bundy to hyping false reports of a government "land grab" in Texas -- again finding itself denying court-established property rights.
On April 21, Breitbart Texas claimed that Bureau of Land management (BLM) is "reviewing the possible federal takeover and ownership of privately-held lands which have been deeded property for generations of Texas landowners." Breitbart argued that the BLM had attempted to "seize" property from Texan Tom Henderson in 1986, and baselessly speculated that because the BLM is "in the process of developing a Resource Management Plan," the office may be planning on "simply confiscating the land." Breitbart described the old case by claiming "Henderson sued the BLM and lost 140 acres that had been in his family for generations. Now the BLM is looking at using the prior case as a precedent to claim an additional 90,000 acres."
Other right-wing outlets picked up Breitbart's frame. The Daily Caller trumpeted the BLM's "intent to claim 90,000 acres along the Red River" in Texas, The Blaze hyped "new concerns that [the BLM] may be looking to claim thousands of acres of land in the northern part of the state," and Fox News host Steve Doocy claimed that the government "is reportedly trying to claim 90,000 acres along the Red River, the line that separates the states of Texas and Oklahoma," from local ranchers. Doocy highlighted the 1986 case and noted that "many fear the Bureau of Land Management may use that case as a precedent to do it again." Meanwhile, an on-air graphic stoked fears of a "government land grab":
These claims are entirely baseless. The 1986 case that the right-wing media's narrative relies on -- Currington v. Henderson -- did not pit a local Texas landowner against the federal government. Currington was a land dispute between two local property owners over a portion of land on the Texas-Oklahoma border. A federal district court ultimately found that, in fact, neither claimant had rights to the land, which was already owned by the United States government. From the court findings:
The lands north of the medial line adjacent to Sections 3 and 4, Township 5 South, Range 9 West of the Indian Meridian are part of those lands and are owned by the respective plaintiffs. The lands lying in the bed of the Red River south of the medial like adjacent thereto are owned by the United States.