Right-wing media have pounced on a forthcoming book claiming that gay Wyoming student Matthew Shepard's brutal 1998 murder was motivated by drug use, not homophobia. While these media figures shroud their interest in a desire to get at the facts, their vitriolic attacks on Shepard and the movement for whom his death became a rallying cry reveal that there's more to Matthew Shepard trutherism than a concern for the truth.
In The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths about the Murder of Matthew Shepard, journalist Stephen Jimenez revives his decade-old theory that Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson killed Shepard in a meth-fueled rage. Shepard's death sparked a national discussion on anti-LGBT violence, but Jimenez makes the bombshell claim that Shepard and McKinney had actually had sex and done meth together. McKinney has denied this assertion.
Jimenez's theory is also difficult to square with the fact that McKinney cited Shepard's sexuality as a factor in the murder, attempting to employ a "gay panic" defense at trial.
Inexplicably, media coverage of The Book of Matt has ignored Jimenez's history of shoddy reporting on the case. In November 2004, Jimenez co-produced a special on Shepard's murder for ABC News' 20/20. The widely panned report downplayed the role of anti-gay bias in Shepard's murder, suggesting that meth was the primary factor. After the special aired, Gay City News unearthed an email Jimenez wrote two months before 20/20 even began its reporting, in which he proclaimed that the report would upend the conventional interpretation of Shepard's death.
Right-wing media have seized on a report noting that American children in Los Angeles County with undocumented parents are receiving millions in benefits to revive the spurious smear that undocumented immigrants come to this country only to receive welfare. However, these outlets are missing the facts surrounding the data, including that studies show immigration reform could raise these children's standard of living.
In a September 16 article, the local CBS affiliate in Los Angeles reported that according to a new analysis by county officials, an "estimated 100,000 children of 60,000 undocumented parents receive aid in Los Angeles County." The article added that the projected cost to the county would equal $650 million in 2013.
County supervisor Michael D. Antonovich was quoted as saying that the total cost to taxpayers could exceed $1.6 billion per year after factoring in health care and public safety costs, adding, "These costs do not even include the hundreds of millions of dollars spent annually for education."
Right-wing media outlets, including the Daily Caller, The Blaze, and Breitbart.com, highlighted the report, with the Power Line blog using it to accuse undocumented immigrants of putting a "burden" on "the nation's welfare system, along with driving down wages for working Americans." American Thinker commented: "To open borders crowd: Please make your donations here to cover the cost of allowing destitute, jobless, skilless, poorly educated people to cross the border. We can't bill the Mexican government so you're the next best target."
Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham read the news on her radio show and used it to call for the end of birthright citizenship -- which, under the 14th Amendment, makes anyone born in this country an American citizen. She also argued that the news should end all talk of immigration reform.
But these reports leave out key facts. In 2012, according to Antonovich's office, the total cost of food stamp benefits and Cal WORKs -- a welfare program that gives cash aid and services to eligible needy California families -- to Los Angeles County was a little over $3 billion. Families headed by an undocumented parent received about $636.5 million or a little more than 20 percent of the total.
NRA News host Cam Edwards issued a correction the day after after Breitbart.com's A.W.R. Hawkins claimed on his show that the mass shooting at Washington Navy Yard "happened because Bill Clinton mandated that" military bases "be gun-free zones." In truth, the policy cited by Hawkins to support this claim allows guns to be carried on military bases under a substantial number of circumstances and was actually enacted during the George H.W. Bush administration.
The myth that a Clinton-era policy was responsible for the shooting, which claimed the lives of 12 victims, was the centerpiece of right-wing media's failed attempt to establish that the Navy Yard shooting took place in a "gun-free zone."
Edwards issued a correction during his September 18 broadcast, citing a Media Matters blog that addressed Hawkins' claim, during a segment with Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller. After Edwards acknowledged that the policy was enacted under George H.W. Bush, Miller said, "Then I've written that wrong too," and she added, "Are you sure that's correct before I change it too? ... Because I don't believe anything Media Matters says."
Hawkins' claim in a Breitbart.com article about the supposed Clinton-era policy originated from a 2009 Washington Times editorial that falsely stated, "Among President Clinton's first acts upon taking office in 1993 was to disarm U.S. soldiers on military bases." Miller promoted that editorial on September 17 on Twitter.
After Edwards issued the correction, Miller attempted to downplay the importance of whether Clinton disarmed members of the military, suggesting that Hawkins' claim was inconsequential to the "public's knowledge of the issues." In reality, Miller was just one of many right-wing media figures who seized on Hawkins' false claims to politicize the mass shooting in its immediate aftermath.
Right-wing media outlets are already celebrating a forthcoming book that claims that brutal 1998 murder of gay Wyoming student Matthew Shepard - which became a rallying cry for LGBT activists - was actually fueled more by drug use than anti-gay bias.
In The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths about the Murder of Matthew Shepard, journalist Stephen Jimenez argues that Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson bludgeoned Shepard in a meth-fueled rage. Jimenez minimizes the role of anti-gay bias in the murder, writing that Shepard and McKinney had previously had sex and done meth together (an assertion that McKinney himself denies).
Although his report of a sexual history between Shepard and McKinney is new, Jimenez's central thesis - that drugs were the motivating factor in Shepard's murder - has been called into question before.
In November 2004, Jimenez co-produced a piece on the Shepard murder for ABC News' 20/20. GLAAD highlighted key shortcomings in 20/20's report, including the lack of hard evidence that drugs were a factor and its failure to point out that McKinney himself had cited ant-gay bias as a central element in the case, even attempting to employ a "gay panic" defense at trial. Shepard's mother also condemned the report, criticizing its selective reading of evidence and accusing ABC of taking her comments out of context.
The 20/20 report neglected to mention another crucial detail: that Jimenez was a friend of Tim Newcomb, Henderson's defense attorney.
Most disturbingly, email correspondence revealed that the Jimenez had already decided that Shepard's murder wasn't an anti-gay hate crime before 20/20 even started its reporting. As Gay City News reported in December 2004:
Breitbart.com used an image of a character from the cartoon show South Park to mock "transgenders."
The right-wing website has proven a welcome forum for rabidly anti-LGBT views. In August, Editor-At-Large Ben Shapiro called the enforcement of non-discrimination laws "state-sponsored tyranny." Despite its apparent fears of tyranny in the U.S., Breitbart recently published a column by a right-wing activist defending Russia's brutal crackdown on gays as a victory for "human rights."
Meanwhile, its use of the South Park cartoon shows that Breitbart is just as clueless as other right-wing media outlets about what transgender people are actually like.
Conservatives are still turning to British tabloids for their climate science, most recently treating a single year's Arctic sea ice -- which is still far below previous and long-term averages -- to claim that the region is not melting.
The latest instance of tabloid-reviewed science began when the The Mail on Sunday -- a sister newspaper to serial climate misinformer the Daily Mail* -- published an article titled "And now it's global COOLING!" suggesting that an increase in Arctic sea ice cover between September 2012 and August 2013 is among "mounting evidence that Arctic ice levels are cyclical." The story was summarily picked up by other British tabloids and a variety of conservative outlets, all to cast doubt on climate change. Notably, Rush Limbaugh used the report to claim "the Arctic ice sheet is at a record size for this time of year. They told us the ice was melting in the Arctic Ice Sheet. It's not."
Actually, Arctic sea ice is nowhere near "a record size." A graph from the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC) illustrates that 2013 Arctic sea ice extent minimum (beige line), while not as low as last year's record (dotted line), is still tracking well below the 1979-2000 average (as have the minimum extents of every year since 1997). It is on track to be the sixth-lowest in satellite annals:
As 2012 was a record low, it is not terribly surprising that 2013 looks like it will be higher. This is due to a phenomenon known as regression to the mean, eloquently illustrated by this Skeptical Science graphic:
Breitbart.com became the latest right-wing media outlet to throw its weight behind the Kremlin's crackdown on LGBT Russians, touting the "more than 100 human rights and other groups from around the world" that signed a joint statement backing Russia's anti-gay laws.
In a September 6 post for Breitbart's "Big Peace" section, Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) President Austin Ruse asserted that Russian laws banning the dissemination of "gay propaganda" and prohibiting adoptions by Russian same-sex couples and foreign couples from countries with marriage equality are part of a noble quest for "human rights." Ruse based this notion on the claim that continuing to ostracize LGBT people "protects the innocence of children and the basic rights of their parents":
This week more than 100 human rights and other groups from around the world signed a joint statement supporting the new Russian law banning gay propaganda aimed at school children.
The signers are "highly concerned about the heavy attacks that the Russian Federation is facing due to its recent Federal Law...that protects innocence and moral formation of children..."
The signers cite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that the family is the fundamental unit of society and "is entitled to protection by society and State."
They assert the new Russian law "protects the innocence of children and the basic rights of their parents recognized in international legislation and treaties." They also note that the concepts of "sexual orientation and gender identity" are not outlined in the existing binding international treaties and agreements.
As the anniversary of the attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya approaches, the conservative media seems to be salivating over the release of Under Fire, the new book by former diplomatic security agent Fred Burton and journalist Samuel M. Katz that details the assault, minute-by-minute. It's the latest salvo in conservatives' year-long campaign to politicize and demagogue the tragedy. But conservatives may want to read the book first. The authors discredit the narratives conservative media figures have perpetuated about the attack in order to criticize the Obama administration, most notably the claims that there could have been a larger and faster military response or that resources were intentionally withheld from those under fire in Libya.
The lack of a timely military response was never an issue of lack of resolve or determination to help Americans in danger, Burton and Katz write. It all came down to logistics:
There was never a question concerning U.S. resolve or the overall capabilities of the U.S. military to respond to Benghazi. There was, however, nothing immediate about an immediate response. There were logistics and host-nation approvals to consider. An immediate response was hampered by the equation of geography and logistics.
The authors go into great detail describing the various factors that prevented additional military response teams from arriving in Benghazi in time, and in the process completely dismantle the notion that available military assets could have made a difference but were held back for political reasons.
On page 138, Burton and Katz discuss the availability and response time of the Marine Corps' Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST), which was ordered by the Pentagon to get to Libya "as fast as you can":
"The FAST unit closer to Benghazi was FAST Company Europe, which reported to the Marine Corps Security Force Regiment, II Marine Expeditionary Force. Based at the Naval Station Rota, Spain, FAST Company Europe was no stranger to crisis and response work in the Mediterranean. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ordered that appropriate forces respond. A task order flowed from the Pentagon to NAVSTA Rota, Spain: "Lean forward and get there as fast as you can." The marines mustered into their transport aircraft on the tarmac in their combat fatigues and full battle kit. However, logistical challenges such as airspace and overflight clearances are not easily sorted out, especially involving a nation like Libya. Sending armed U.S. Marines into a sovereign nation became a complex foreign policy decision with multiple moving pieces between Libyan Foreign Ministry, the Pentagon, and the State Department. The marines waited on the tarmac for their orders. The FAST platoon wouldn't make it to Libya, to augment security at the embassy in Tripoli, until the next evening.
Right-wing media are subverting Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' message that immigrants should have access to affordable health care, claiming her purpose is to inflate "Obamacare enrollment." But in doing so, they ignore the real human and economic costs to denying immigrants affordable health insurance.
At an event sponsored by a Latino community service group, Sebelius explained that undocumented immigrants who would be newly legalized under the Senate immigration reform bill would not be able to apply for subsidies to purchase health insurance, or have access to the health care exchanges and the expanded Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. She went on to say that this "is, frankly, why -- another very keen reason why we need comprehensive immigration reform." Sebelius added:
SEBELIUS: We won't fix the immigration system, unfortunately, through the health care bill, but I think having the immigration bill that passed the Senate, pass the House, would be a huge step. In the meantime, I would say for those undocumented residents, we have continued access to the community health centers and an expanded footprint in the community health centers.
A number of right-wing sites, including CNSNews, Breitbart.com, and HotAir, highlighted Sebelius' comments using headlines like, "Sebelius: Pass Immigration Bill to Boost Obamacare Enrollment," but ignored the core of her message.
According to an October 2012 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly 48 million people under 65 were uninsured in 2011. In a 2011 study, the Urban Institute estimated that about 14.6 percent, or almost 7 million, of the uninsured are undocumented immigrants. The study warned that without policy actions, the share of that population would grow and impose extra costs on state governments and hospitals:
If the reform law leads any of these [small] firms [that employ undocumented immigrants] to drop the coverage they offer, or if the exchange does a superior job of screening based on immigration status, undocumented immigrants could see further deterioration in their already low rates of private coverage.
The exclusions in the Affordable Care Act may also serve as a barrier to members of undocumented immigrants' families who might otherwise be eligible for one of the coverage options. For example, incentives to avoid enrolling native-born children with undocumented immigrant parents in Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program may also reduce coverage in the exchanges for families containing one or more undocumented immigrants.
As health reform unfolds, and undocumented immigrants emerge as an even larger share of the uninsured population, it is likely that they will become a more prominent component of safety-net health care providers' client base. This could mean that such providers will feel financial stress, especially in light of the Affordable Care Act's cuts to Medicaid and Medicare disproportionate-share hospital payments.
Right-wing media are promoting a flawed study that claims it is more lucrative for low-income Americans to accept government benefits than take low-paying jobs, a notion that reveals the conservative sphere's ignorance on how anti-poverty programs work.
On August 19, the libertarian Cato Institute released a report titled "The Work Versus Welfare Trade-Off: 2013." The new study updates a much-maligned version by the same name released in 1995. Both reports claim to analyze welfare benefit levels nationwide and state-by-state and push the misleading notion that "[t]he current welfare system provides such a high level of benefits that it acts as a disincentive for work."
Breitbart.com was among the first right-wing outlets to promote the study, arguing that in New York state, a "mother of two is eligible for $38,004 in welfare benefits -- a sum more than the annual salary of a New York entry-level school teacher." The Washington Examiner joined in as well, with an uncritical review detailing the study's claims that a proverbial mother of two would be better off on government assistance than she would be working for as much as $15 per hour in some states.
On Fox News' Your World, host Neil Cavuto brought on the lead author of the study, Cato Institute senior fellow Michael Tanner, to discuss his findings in more depth. What followed was three minutes of self-promotion that forwarded the tired and debunked right-wing narrative against government assistance and the minimum wage. From Your World:
TANNER: There is no evidence to suggest that poor people are lazy, and every survey suggests that people on welfare say they would like to work, that they are not happy being on welfare. But just because they're not lazy doesn't mean they're stupid; if you pay people more not to work than to work, well, a lot of them are going to choose not to work.
Unfortunately, neither Cato's Tanner nor his counterparts in the right-wing media seem to have any clue how anti-poverty programs function.
The argument that government assistance and benefits are too generous and thus drive recipients out of work has been thoroughly debunked by experts, and Tanner's calculations have been the subject of scrutiny in the past. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities highlighted nearly two decades ago, Tanner is still basing his calculations on the assumption that recipients take full advantage of every single benefit program that is potentially available to them. From CBPP:
Cato's conclusions are striking. They also are inaccurate -- the Cato report is replete with analytic errors. For the nation in general and for California in particular, the report paints a misleading picture both of the amount of benefits most [Aid to Families with Dependent Children] families receive and of the supposed advantages from relying on welfare rather than working.
Both the 1995 and 2013 reports also fail to account for differing costs of living or the per capita income of the states surveyed.
Tanner is willing to accept that survey data suggests "that people on welfare say that they would like to work," but then attributes their continued reliance on benefits to the generosity of the system. This logic completely disregards the economic realities faced by low-wage job-seekers amidst a catastrophic recession and years of limited recovery.
Tanner is proud to report that welfare recipients can make more than the minimum wage in more than thirty states, but he ignores how the value of their benefits have eroded over time. According to the CBPP, "cash assistance benefits for the nation's poorest families with children fell again in purchasing power in 2012 and are now at least 20 percent below their 1996 levels in 37 states, after adjusting for inflation."
If, in fact, welfare recipients would rather work than receive benefits, the logical first step toward reducing reliance on government assistance should be to stimulate robust public and private sector job growth. Instead, Tanner and his right-wing allies argue that the only way to reduce reliance on government assistance is to cut programs and force people onto an ailing job market to survive.
Both Tanner and Cavuto agree that raising wages would be a bad anti-poverty policy and would increase unemployment. This conclusion, of course, flies in the face of all evidence to the contrary and simply furthers the conservative attacks against living wages.
Right-wing media repeatedly argue that increased turnout of voters of color demonstrates that strict voter ID requirements do not cause voter suppression, a relationship that experts note is a basic confusion of correlation with causation.
Fox News and other media outlets in recent weeks have aggressively tried to revive the claim that President Obama's Affordable Care Act (ACA) includes "death panels," a myth that has been repeatedly debunked and is undermined by the law itself.
Russia's recent crackdown on its LGBT community has been condemned by everyone from President Barack Obama to grassroots gay rights activists. But since Russia passed a series of sweeping laws banning the dissemination of "gay propaganda" and prohibiting the adoption of children by Russian same-sex couples and any foreign couples from nations with marriage equality, many right-wing media figures have instead rallied to the country's defense.
It's not surprising that far-right figures from anti-gay hate groups like the American Family Association (AFA) and Americans For Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH) have enthusiastically endorsed President Vladimir Putin's draconian crackdown on gays. As the Russian news agency RIA Novosti recently reported, AFTAH President Peter LaBarbera has championed Putin's cause. In a statement on his group's website, LaBarbera said, "Russians do not want to follow America's reckless and decadent promotion of gender confusion, sexual perversion, and anti-biblical ideologies to youth." The AFA's Bryan Fischer praised Putin's anti-gay laws, stating that the country isn't being homophobic but "homorealistic."
But AFTAH and AFA are not alone in endorsing Russia's right to arrest anyone who offers a positive depiction of homosexuality, as the new laws will allow. Outlets and figures within the mainstream of the conservative movement have also jumped on the bandwagon.
Ben Shapiro, Breitbart.com Editor-At-Large, pushed a baseless conspiracy theory that the sale of The Washington Post to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos revealed "crony capitalist" collusion with the Obama administration, because President Obama visited an Amazon facility in Tennessee a week before the sale was announced.
On August 5, The Washington Post announced Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, was purchasing the paper and affiliated publications for $250 million in cash. In response, Shapiro baselessly speculated that Obama's July 30 visit to an Amazon fulfillment center in Chattanooga, Tennessee -- where he gave a speech focused on the need to raise the minimum wage and support middle-class Americans -- was evidence that "the Post is now Bezos' latest political tool in a crony capitalist effort to work with the Obama administration":
While conservatives and liberals consider the political leanings of Washington Post buyer and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in an attempt to divine how his politics will affect those of the historic institution, the truth appears to be far simpler: the Post is now Bezos' latest political tool in a crony capitalist effort to work with the Obama administration. How else to explain President Obama puzzling decision last week to roll out his corporate tax plan at an Amazon.com fulfillment center?
Bezos spent $250 million of his own money to purchase the Post, which is bleeding money at an incredible rate. He didn't spend Amazon's cash to do so. Nonetheless, the juxtaposition of events is striking. Last Tuesday, Obama visited an Amazon fulfillment center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he toured the facility before touting the company and stumping for Keynesian stimulus measures.
The sale of the Post was supposed to be top-secret, with staffers asked not to tweet about it for ten minutes. But it's more than possible that the Obama administration had some advance notice about the sale, and that Obama appeared at the Amazon warehouse as a sign of good faith to Bezos prior to the move.
Conservative media figures and their cut-outs in the Republican Party went out in full force Sunday, ready to cast blame and aspersions on President Obama for the closures of U.S. embassies around the world after intelligence suggested a possible al Qaeda attack.
With our embassies around the world under what all acknowledge to be a serious threat, these conservatives saw a political opportunity, cynically using the fear of an imminent terrorist attack to regurgitate year-old smears about Barack Obama's success in the war on terror.
Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, the Iraq War's #1 cheerleader, led the charge with a blog post Saturday, hyperbolically stating, "Al Qaeda's not on the run. We are."
He followed that up on Fox News Sunday, telling host Chris Wallace:
KRISTOL: Four years ago President Obama gave a much-heralded speech as outreach to the Muslim world. And now, four years later we are closing embassies throughout the Muslim world. The year ago the president said Al Qaeda is on the run. And now we seem to be on the run.
Kristol's falsehoods were reflected by other conservatives across the media. Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint also appeared on Fox News Sunday echoing Kristol's attack: "Well, it's clear that Al Qaeda may be more of a threat to us than they were before 9/11 now."
Later in the panel he went on to state, "The instability around the world is clearly related to at least a perception of a lack of resolve of the United States and a perception of weakness."