Right-wing media have baselessly smeared the White House's new Behavioral Insights Team, labeling it "propaganda," "mind control," and "Orwellian." In reality, the Behavioral Insights Team is modeled off a similar unit in Britain that has proven effective in encouraging timely tax payment and reducing energy bills and consumption.
Conservative media seized on White House plans to create a Behavioral Insights Team on July 30, when FoxNews.com obtained a document describing the program and its search for behavioral scientists.
Breitbart.com quickly jumped on the story, suggesting that the Obama administration will use the program to push a social agenda: "The Obama administration has not been shy about attempting to use its influence - or taxpayer money - to push enthusiasm for its agenda, including Obamacare, nutrition, and gay rights."
Fox stoked fears by hyping the program on multiple shows with little mention of its benefits. On the July 30 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs commented on FoxNews.com's report on the program, saying, "To many, that sounds purely like propaganda and mind control."
In the wake of President Obama's economic policy speech, conservative media have refocused their attention to an outlandish comparison of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participation and job creation during the Obama administration, ignoring the fact that most SNAP participants are either children or are employed and that the program is considered an effective form of economic stimulus that can help create jobs and alleviate poverty.
Conservative media figures are coming to the defense of Republican Congressman Steve King following widespread condemnation of his comments accusing undocumented immigrants of being drug smugglers.
During an interview with conservative outlet Newsmax, King attacked the undocumented youths known as DREAMers -- those who would have qualified under the DREAM Act proposal that repeatedly failed in Congress and who could meet the Senate immigration bill's DREAM Act provision -- saying that while he has sympathy for children who were brought into this country illegally by their parents, not all of them are valedictorians:
KING: And there are kids that were brought into this country by their parents unknowing that they were breaking the law. And they will say to me and others who would defend the rule of law: We have to do something about the 11 million. And some of them are valedictorians.
Well, my answer to that is - and then by the way their parents brought them here. And it wasn't their fault. It's true in some cases. But they're aren't all valedictorians. They weren't all brought in by their parents.
For every one who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that -- they weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.
Republican Party leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Sen. Raul Labrador (R-ID), have condemned King's comments as"wrong," "hateful," and "inexcusable." Boehner stated: "What he said is wrong. There can be honest disagreements about policy without using hateful language. Everyone needs to remember that."
However, right-wing media figures have rallied to King's defense. On her radio show, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham cited cases of undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes and brought up instances of gang activity in border states to argue in support of King's comments.
She later stated: "So who's right? Steve King." She then criticized media outlets for supposedly "vilifying" King, adding, "How about actually do some real reporting on how this stuff is affecting young people and spreading across this country?"
Breitbart.com promoted a series of falsehoods about the legality of Proposition 8 in order to champion the efforts of San Diego County Clerk Ernest J. Dronenburg, Jr., who unsuccessfully sought to have the California Supreme Court issue a stay on the issuing of same-sex marriage licenses in his county.
In a July 23 column, Breitbart.com legal affairs analyst Ken Klukowski lambasted the judicial overruling of California's Proposition 8 and argued that Dronenburg "is under no court order" to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Klukowski's analysis of the Prop 8 case and his assertion that Dronenburg has the authority to block same-sex marriages are fundamentally misguided.
First, Klukowski vehemently denounced Vaughn Walker, the U.S. District Court judge who found Prop 8 unconstitutional in 2010. According to Klukowski, Walker's legal reasoning was both flawed and deeply antagonistic toward religious Americans:
The first clear item is that his opinion is simply terrible. He made official judicial findings of fact that religious beliefs defining marriage as one man and one woman are irrational, and driven by either superstitious ignorance or hateful bigotry. It is emphatically not the province of the federal courts to make such pronouncements regarding the peaceful faith of over 200 million Americans.
Two recent stories based on faulty premises -- an Illinois Review post that falsely claimed President Obama had supported "Stand Your Ground" as an Illinois state legislator, and a since-corrected BuzzFeed report that pushed the erroneous conclusion that gun violence prevention group Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) has suffered a membership drop -- have nonetheless spread throughout the right-wing media.
The cases are not parallel -- Illinois Review is a minor conservative Illinois political blog (their Twitter handle has about 3,000 followers) whose story was too good to check for the right-wing media, while the BuzzFeed story is an unfortunate outlier for a publication that typically produces good reporting. But the articles nonetheless illustrate the first-mover problem of correcting misinformation -- once a charge is levied and begins gaining momentum it becomes difficult to stop, no matter how clearly false the claim, due to the right-wing media apparatus that will push any story considered damaging to progressives.
The basis of the July 22 BuzzFeed article was that MAIG is losing membership ("is finding it hard to keep its membership up") because it has become too strident in its recent push for stronger gun laws. But BuzzFeed's premise was false: MAIG has actually seen an increase in membership during the period the article covered, with more than 100 mayors joining the coalition during that time of increased political action.
Buzzfeed has since updated its article, making a minor change to the text "to reiterate the fact that Mayors Against Illegal Guns is gaining more members than it's losing." But of course, that "fact" completely repudiates the premise of the article.
And of course, the damage has been done. The idea of MAIG shedding membership has already spread through the conservative echo chamber. The story was picked up by a number of right-wing outlets, with Breitbart News and the New York Post stating outright that the story indicated that the group's membership was down overall. The Post article in particular, which ran under the headline "weakened arsenal," linked the group "struggling to replace ex-members" to their focus "on banning weapons and other tough new gun-control measures" (by contrast, a New York Daily News piece cited the BuzzFeed report but framed the story with the fact that the group is larger and growing faster than ever before).
These sorts of misguided stories have an impact on the political debate. One NRA activist, who acknowledged that the number of mayors leaving "isn't a huge blow to MAIG," wrote that BuzzFeed's story "isn't good for MAIG. They will have to counter this meme, and that's good for us. Make them work for it."
Right-wing media is disingenuously suggesting that Attorney General Eric Holder has disarmed George Zimmerman amid reports that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is holding all evidence -- including the gun used to kill Trayvon Martin -- from the Zimmerman trial as part of an ongoing civil rights investigation.
According to The Drudge Report, Zimmerman "can't have his gun back":
Zimmerman, who was acquitted on July 13 of charges of unlawfully killing 17-year-old Martin, is allowed to own a firearm because he is not disqualified from doing so under state and federal law and the current hold on evidence does not prevent him from buying another weapon.
Zimmerman reportedly already owned more than one handgun before the February 2012 shooting. Commenting on the handgun used to kill Martin, Zimmerman's attorney Mark O'Mara, told CBS, "that particular weapon, he should never carry again. There's no reason to carry a weapon that's already killed somebody."
Right-wing media have invented several conspiracy theories to attack the Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill, including claiming that the legislation provides free cars and cell phones for undocumented immigrants, and that it is a secret plot to create a permanent one-party system reminiscent of Marxist Russian premier Vladimir Lenin.
Breitbart.com editor-at-large and all-around homophobe Ben Shapiro is convinced that the Supreme Court's decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will result in the IRS rescinding non-profit tax exemptions from churches across the country - a delusional horror story that has no basis in reality.
In a June 26 post for Breitbart.com, Shapiro warned that the end of DOMA will result in the IRS targeting the non-profit tax exemptions of churches that refuse to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies:
Based on Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling, in which the Court majority determined that the Defense of Marriage Act's federal definition of marriage had to incorporate state-based same-sex marriages, Internal Revenue Service regulations could be modified to remove non-profit status for churches across the country.
The DOMA decision makes clear that marriage is a state-to-state issue, meaning that religious institutions that receive non-profit status on the federal level but do not perform or accept same-sex marriages in states where it is legal could have non-profit status revoked. Furthermore, should the IRS move to revoke federal non-profit status for churches, synagogues and mosques that do not perform same-sex marriage more generally, the Court could easily justify that decision on the basis of "eradicating discrimination" in religious education.
A few things to note here:
1. The DOMA Decision Had Nothing To Do With Tax Exempt Statuses For Churches. The Supreme Court's decision in Windsor v. United States dealt exclusively with whether the federal government should be allowed to deny federal benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married in their state. Allowing married gay couples to file joint tax returns has nothing at all to do with whether churches are required to perform same-sex weddings to maintain their tax exemptions.
2. Every State With Marriage Equality Already Has Exemptions For Churches. In every single state that's legalized marriage equality, churches are exempt from having to perform same-sex weddings. No church in America has ever been forced to perform a same-sex wedding. Laws like DOMA only deal with the civil definition of marriage, not the religious celebration of weddings.
Still, to support his claim, Shapiro cites two incidents.
The first is the 1983 Supreme Court decision in Bob Jones University v. United States, in which a religious school lost its tax exempt status due to its ban on interracial dating. What Shapiro fails to mention is that the decision explicitly excluded churches from its scope:
We deal here only with religious schools - not with churches or other purely religious institutions.
Shapiro also cites the 2006 case of Boston Catholic Charities, which voluntarily withdrew from adoption services rather than serve same-sex couples. Again, that incident didn't deal with a church, and has been debunked for a number of other reasons.
Shapiro joins a long line of conservative commentators in confusing civil marriage with religious marriage ceremonies, as well as confusing marriage laws with anti-discrimination laws.
From the June 27 edition of Fox News' America Live:
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Right-wing media are rejecting the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of the Senate immigration reform proposal, claiming that the CBO's conclusion that the proposal reduces the deficit is "false" because immigrants' reliance on Social Security as citizens would eventually outweigh their contributions. In fact, the myth that the legalization of undocumented immigrants would negatively impact Social Security has repeatedly been discredited by the Social Security Administration.
Right-wing media appear stunned as Justice Anthony Kennedy refused to join his more radical conservative colleagues on the Supreme Court and strike down affirmative action in higher education, instead reaffirming modern civil rights law that holds race-conscious admissions policies remain necessary for equal opportunity in today's society.
Kennedy's 7-1 majority opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin is essentially the reiteration of his controlling analysis in Parents Involved v. Seattle School District No. 1 (2007), which affirmed the constitutionality and continued necessity of race-conscious programs that seek to prevent the resegregation of public education.
In lockstep with conservative activists who are using the closely split Supreme Court as an opportunity to overturn decades of civil rights law, right-wing media have been repeatedly clamoring for the opposite of what just occurred in Fisher. So far, right-wing media coverage has been muted or is incorrectly pretending Kennedy's opinion breaks significant new ground.
Fox News host Megyn Kelly on America Live - in addition to dredging up the myth that the plaintiff in question was rejected in the admissions process because of her race - was shocked at Fisher's utterly unsurprising reminder that government's use of race typically requires strict scrutiny from the courts. From University of California Irvine School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky's leading treatise, Constitutional Law, Principles and Policies, most recently updated in 2006:
It now is clearly established that strict scrutiny is used to evaluate all government affirmative action plans. In Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena (1995), the Supreme Court said: "[A]ll racial classifications, imposed by whatever federal, state, or local governmental actor, must be analyzed by a reviewing court under strict scrutiny." The Court reaffirmed that strict scrutiny is the test for affirmative action programs in its most recent cases, Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) and Gratz v. Bollinger (2003).
In Fisher, Kennedy wrote for a near-universal Supreme Court that has now sent a challenge to the University of Texas' affirmative action program back down to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit because it had not correctly applied the Court's precedent in this area of equal protection law. As has been the law since 1978, upheld most recently in 2003, the use of race as one factor among many in individualized and holistic considerations of applicants to institutions of higher education remains both necessary and constitutional to ensure the diversity of America's future leaders.
Right-wing media are dishonestly arguing that senators have not had enough time to read the approximately 1,200-page immigration reform bill the weekend before a scheduled vote on it. In fact, the majority of the bill has been online since May, a fact even Karl Rove acknowledged on Fox News to push back against conservative criticism.
The bulk of the bill's 1,200 pages are available online and have been since May 21. On June 21, the Senate added enforcement provisions submitted by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) to the main text of the bill, which total 119 pages.
Those opposed to the legislation, such as The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol jumped on the Corker-Hoeven addition to make the misleading claim that the Senate only had the weekend to review the entire bill before voting on it. As highlighted by Breitbart.com, the Washington Post's Bob Woodward also implied that the Senate was rushing to pass immigration reform, saying on the June 23 edition of Fox News Sunday: "It's proven time and time again, when you pass complicated legislation and no one has really read the bill, the outcome is absurd." Other conservative outlets, like Red State, picked up the misleading narrative, with The Drudge Report showing a picture of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) drinking from a water bottle with the headline, "Senate to vote on bill before reading it":
Right-wing media outlets cherry-picked data from a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report on the Senate's immigration reform proposal to incorrectly claim that the bill would hurt American workers. In fact, the CBO report found that the Senate immigration reform bill would have temporary and small negative effects but over the long term would greatly benefit both American workers and the economy, which is reinforced by past studies.
Right-wing media outlets cherry-picked data from a Congressional Budget Office report on the Senate's immigration reform proposal to claim that immigrants who would benefit under the bill will drive down the wages of U.S. workers. In fact, while CBO predicts a slight decrease in wages in the first decade, that decrease would be outweighed by the larger increase in wages in the following decade. CBO also noted that its estimates "do not necessarily imply that current U.S. residents would be worse off" in the first decade.
A post on Breitbart.com asserted that CBO found that "illegal immigrants who would receive amnesty, or legalized status, would see a spike in their income while Americans' incomes dropped." The post added that "it would be harder for Americans to find jobs if the bill passed." Similarly, on her radio show, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham aired comments by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) claiming the bill would depress U.S. wages, then stated that the bill "goes beyond all common sense":
In reality, the CBO report on the economic impact of the Senate immigration bill states that "average wages for the entire labor force would be 0.1 percent lower in 2023 and 0.5 percent higher in 2033 under the legislation than under current law." CBO continues:
The estimated reductions in average wages and per capita GNP for much of the next two decades do not necessarily imply that current U.S. residents would be worse off, on average, under the legislation than they would be under current law. Both of those figures represent differences between the averages for all U.S. residents under the legislation--including both the people who would be residents under current law and the additional people who would come to the country under the legislation--and the averages under current law for people who would be residents in the absence of the legislation.
As noted, the additional people who would become residents under the legislation would earn lower wages, on average, than other residents, which would pull down the average wage and per capita GNP; at the same time, the income earned by capital would increase. [emphasis added]
The Drudge Report is reframing a Senate vote on a border enforcement amendment to the Senate immigration bill as Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) blocking a "fix" to the border. In fact, the Senate bill as drafted already includes tougher border enforcement measures while the amendment Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) proposed continues an enforcement first policy that has been deemed ineffective.
On June 13, the Senate voted to table an amendment by Grassley which would have required strict border controls be in place before undocumented immigrants are able to begin the path to citizenship process.
The Drudge Report highlighted the vote using the headline, "Senate Fight: Reid Blocks Border Fix," and linked to a piece at Breitbart.com by Matthew Boyle that blamed Reid for killing the amendment:
Boyle highlighted Reid's decision to file a motion to table Grassley's amendment and said that Reid "made a move to formally kill" the amendment that would "require border security."