The desert tortoise has become a symbolic scapegoat for right-wing media figures running defense for an anti-government cattle rancher who's threatening to wage a range war against federal law enforcement officers.
Conflict has erupted in Nevada between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the family and supporters of rancher Cliven Bundy, a man who has refused multiple court orders to remove his cattle from public land. Bundy has stated that he does not recognize federal law and in fact argued in court in 1998 that the United States government didn't own the land in question (he lost). Now BLM officers and contract cowboys have begun confiscating Bundy's herd. And the scofflaw rancher has emerged as a right-wing folk hero after repeatedly stating that he owns firearms and is willing to "do whatever it takes to gain our liberty and freedom back."
At the center of the controversy -- according to right-wing media figures -- is the formerly endangered (and still threatened) desert tortoise. When Bundy's grazing rights were modified by BLM in 1993, it was in part to protect the species, which inhabits the same publicly-owned desert areas trodden by Bundy's cattle and was at the time on the brink of extinction.
That's where the connection to the tortoise ends, however. In 1993, Bundy began refusing to pay grazing fees required by the new rules. This led to an escalating series of reprisals from the judicial system that culminated in an order to confiscate Bundy's cattle in order to repay $1 million in fines and fees that over 20 years later remained unpaid. The current enforcement has less to do with protecting the tortoise, and more to do with Bundy's refusal to comply with the law or recognize the legitimacy of the federal government.
Nevertheless, right-wing supporters of Bundy's stand have tried to pin the conflict on the tortoise and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which is being depicted in negative terms ranging from being dismissed as irrelevant and economically harmful to becoming the basis for conspiracy theories about unlawful land grabs by Big Government.
On Fox, the situation afforded the network the opportunity to perpetuate the conservative narrative that the ESA unjustly puts the rights of wildlife above the rights of people. One host declared, "We're not anti-turtle, but we are pro-logic and tradition." His co-host sarcastically (and inaccurately) described the government's position as "get the cows off so they can have the desert tortoise live there in peace."
David Blackmon, a Forbes contributor, penned a piece titled, "Using Snipers To Protect A Tortoise." (It's since been taken down, but cached here). In it, Blackmon argued that protecting the desert tortoise was merely a pretext being used by the government "with the clear expectation of running the Bundys off the land entirely."
As evidence that the protection of the tortoise is a scam, some in conservative media have pointed to the Bureau of Land Management itself, claiming it's been euthanizing tortoises and/or "planting" them in the desert in order to make a case that they're endangered.
In fact, a BLM tortoise conservancy in Nevada was forced to shut down due to budget cuts. Prior to its closure, the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center had to make the difficult decision to put down the tortoises that carried disease or were too feeble to survive on their own. The others were released back into the wild.
But despite how real the concerns about the future of desert tortoise may be, the reality is that the right-wing media is simply providing cover to a rancher who refuses to obey the law.
New research confirms that providing women access to free birth control does not result in women having sex with more partners -- a false claim that has been repeatedly pushed and promoted by conservative media, and which contributes to their efforts to stigmatize women's sexuality.
Providing women with no-cost contraception did not result in "riskier" sexual behavior (defined by the researchers as "sex with multiple partners") but did reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions, according to a comprehensive study from the Washington University School of Medicine.
As Amanda Duberman noted at the Huffington Post, having new empirical data to push back on the moralizing arguments against birth control is helpful, but raises the question: "why do we care?" The fact that researchers felt the need to study this particular claim about birth control at all reveals an "implicit stigmatization" of women's sexuality (emphasis added):
It is a small, pervasive set of voices that leads researchers to consider "multiple sexual partners" over the course of an entire year "risky sexual behavior."
The past decade of research has confirmed what women's health advocates already knew: the benefits of reducing barriers to birth control access far outweigh any subjectively determined adverse effects.
What's unfortunate is that making a case for something many women need relies on the implicit stigmatization of their sexuality. That researchers and health advocates need to presume harsh judgement of sexually active women to convince skeptics of birth control's utility just reminds us how far we have to go.
Duberman is right; it should not matter whether women have more or less sex when taking birth control pills. But it's not just a small set of conservative political voices pushing this offensive criticism of women's sexuality and inspiring scientific research. Conservative media have played a role in forcing this conversation, repeatedly slut-shaming women who use birth control and insisting that anyone who supports government funding for free contraceptives is equivalent to a prostitute.
During a Fox News segment discussing the release of the Clinton presidency documents, conservative talk radio host Dana Loesch accused Hillary Clinton of strategically using her concussion to avoid testifying on Benghazi while instead vacationing in the Dominican Republic. But the State Department confirmed that neither of the Clintons traveled to the Dominican Republic in December 2012.
Thousands of documents from the Clinton White House were released on February 28, leading to a media frenzy that was mocked by Fox host Shepard Smith. Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace also stated that "there's really no there there," predicting that unless something really incriminating appears, the papers will soon be forgotten.
Discussing the Clinton papers on Fox News' The Kelly File, guest host Shannon Bream implied that Hillary Clinton herself strategically cultivated rumors about her own health for her benefit. Loesch seized the opportunity to push the Benghazi hoax, accusing Clinton of taking a vacation to the Dominican Republic while using her concussion to avoid testifying before Congress about the Benghazi attack:
LOESCH: I campaigned for the Clintons when I was in college and I used to be a registered Democrat and I saw some of how the machine worked. And there are few women in politics that are as slick as Hillary Clinton. I may disagree with her on everything, but on this, she is very strategic. And so I keep going back as when they were getting ready to have the hearings on Benghazi, she had a concussion, but then she wasn't able to testify. And then a couple of days later she flew to the Dominican Republic and attended an event for Oscar de La Renta. So, could be strategic minor changes to get some empathy, we'll see.
The National Rifle Association's radio show and other conservative media are baselessly attacking an ABC News special that highlighted how gun accidents can occur when children access unsecured firearms.
The ABC News 20/20 special, hosted by Diane Sawyer and titled Young Guns, reported that 1.7 million children live in a home with an unsecured and loaded firearm, 98 children under the age of 18 died in accidental shootings in 2010, and 80 percent of accidental shooting victims are boys.
The January 31 Young Guns special centered on a psychologist-designed experiment that placed children in an empty classroom that contained an unsecured firearm. According to 20/20 "nearly all" of the 44 children in the experiment had been taught not to touch a gun and half of those children were shown the NRA's "Eddie Eagle" gun safety program to reinforce the lesson. But when an unloaded firearm was left in the classroom, many of the children still touched and played with it. Some even pointed the weapons at themselves or other children and pulled the trigger. The NRA declined repeated requests by ABC to participate in an interview for the special.
ABC's The View reportedly plans to mainstream conservative talk radio host Dana Loesch by featuring her as a guest co-host on the February 3 program.
The decision to give Loesch a national platform on a highly-rated television show is troubling considering Loesch has gained notoriety for her inflammatory rhetoric, expressing extreme views on topics from gun control to reproductive access.
Loesch made headlines in January 2012 for her reaction to an internet video that appeared to show members of the Marine Corps urinating on the corpses Taliban fighters. On her St. Louis-based radio show, Loesch defended the alleged act, saying that she would "drop trou and do it too" if she was in a similar situation. Loesch criticized "a bunch of progressives that are talking smack about our military because there were Marines caught urinating on corpses -- Taliban corpses," and later defended her comments on a Breitbart.com blog post by claiming she was "defending [the Marines] from overly-dramatic hysteria."
At the time, Loesch was an CNN contributor, and the network reportedly suspended her soon after these remarks.
Loesch was also one of the few right-wing media figures to excuse former Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) for his "legitimate rape" remarks. After Akin declared that it is rare for women who had been the victim of "legitimate rape" to become pregnant because "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," Loesch took to Twitter account and dismissed Akin's comments, claiming he "failed a soundbite" and attacking his critics for "hypocritical overreactions."
Right-wing media responded to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) admission that his administration caused a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge as political payback with praise for the embattled governor and used Christie's response to pivot to criticisms of President Obama including invoking the phony Benghazi scandal.
Right-wing media figures capitalized on provocative advertisements for Obamacare from non-profit groups in Colorado to attack a woman who uses free birth control as a "slut," "whore," and "prostitute."
As the government shutdown loomed and then became a reality, right-wing media figures have called for maintained Republican commitment to keeping the government closed until Democrats agree to significant changes to the Affordable Care Act.
Fox News host Sean Hannity and conservative radio host Dana Loesch continued Fox's crusade against a new California law ensuring equal protection for transgender students, dismissing transgender individuals as an insignificant minority and engaging in demagogic fear-mongering about inappropriate bathroom behavior.
On the August 13 edition of Hannity, Loesch and radio host Leslie Marshall debated the California law, which affirms the right of transgender students to use facilities and participate in programs that match their gender identities. Hannity opened the segment with an obviously ridiculous scenario, asking, "What do we do with the seven year-old girl that goes into the locker room and there's the 14-year-old boy naked in the girls' locker room because that's where he chooses to be?"
It was a fitting prelude to the ignorant attacks on transgender individuals that followed:
LOESCH: You know, I don't know what kind of crazy world we live in exactly, Sean, when we decide that the best way to stop bullying is to pass a law where we introduce opposite members of the sex into opposite-sex bathrooms and locker rooms, where regardless of the - yeah, and in sports teams, regardless of how other students feel. You're gonna force acceptance? I mean that's something that, again, you know, this comes back to things that are taught in the home.
Earlier this week Sean Hannity expressed his support for Utah Senator Mike Lee's plan to hold America hostage -- unless Obamacare is defunded, Lee has threatened to block appropriations bills, resulting in at least a partial shut down of the government.
Hannity followed up yesterday by suggesting this nihilistic vision for the legislative process should be a "litmus test." He further specified "either you Republicans get off your backside and stand as a bold contrast to Obamacare and make a courageous stand, or get out of the way and we'll primary you and we'll get rid of you."
Rush Limbaugh joined in, telling his audience "one last chance to stop" Obamacare is the upcoming continuing resolution budget fight, making the point that Republicans "denying Obama and the Democrats" the ability to fund the government is a "crucial thing."
Senator Lee's efforts spawned a full-fledged campaign by the conservative media. At Redstate.com, Fox News contributor Erick Erickson asked his readers to call targeted Republican senators and "ask that they sign the Mike Lee letter" which specifically states that its signers "will not support any continuing resolution or appropriations legislation that funds further implementation or enforcement of Obamacare."
Erickson continued in his blog post: "It is important to get their signatures on that letter or we can presume they will fund Obamacare."
Conservative radio host Dana Loesch followed suit by launching a campaign targeting her home state senator Roy Blunt, demanding he too sign Lee's letter.
Fortunately for the country, some members of the Senate Republican Conference do not share the same self-flagellating desires of the conservative media.
After years of largely ignoring the issue of crime in America, and especially crime in black neighborhoods nationwide, Fox News and the conservative press in recent days have become fixated on the topic. Using the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial to expand the debate about Trayvon Martin's killing into one about race in America, the right-wing media have been relentlessly painting a violent picture of American cities, of "urban decay," and accusing President Obama of ignoring the inner city crisis.
On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace suggested the attention paid to Zimmerman's killing of Martin was misplaced because black-on-black crime is the real issue facing minorities. Appearing on CNN, conservative pundit Newt Gingrich decried inner city violence and lamented how Obama's Department of Justice supposedly hasn't done anything to stop the violence against "those people of color killed," while National Review Online's Heath McDonald suggested only white neighborhoods are safe, implying cities are not. And yes, conservatives have used "black-on-black" effortlessly as code to discuss urban violence since the Zimmerman verdict.
Commentator have specifically targeted Obama's adopted hometown of Chicago and proclaimed it to be a key example of urban violence run wild. Fox's Bill O'Reilly likened the murder rate in Chicago to "many Holocausts." And recently, conservative radio talk show host Dana Loesch attacked Trayvon Martin protesters who failed to express adequate outrage over "the out-of-control murder of young blacks in Chicago," as one sympathetic blogger put it. (Loesch also claimed Trayvon Martin "riots" had "raged" in New York City following the Zimmerman verdict. False.)
But the accusation that while allegedly obsessing over the Martin killing (by simply addressing it), Obama has been ignoring urban areas ravaged by escalating crime stands in stark contrast with crime statistics compiled since Obama took office four years. Even casual new consumers should know that.
In a press briefing July 19, President Obama responded to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin, saying, "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago...the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that - that doesn't go away." Right-wing media figures responded to the president's remarks with attacks.
One of the mantras of the American gun lobby, and one repeated constantly by its right-wing media allies, is the absolutist view that new gun restrictions aren't needed because they won't work. That argument is often quickly joined by the fatalistic view that there's nothing we can really do to cut down number of gun deaths in America; that government regulations, including expanded background checks for all gun purchases, would have no impact.
Both views have been on constant display as President Obama urges Congress to take action and pass new control measures.
Fox News contributor Bill Kristol last week insisted he'd seen "zero analysis, zero argument" that any of the proposed regulations would "make any appreciable difference in reducing gun violence and murders." On CNN, conservative Dana Loesch claimed "we have gun laws already on the books," and that new gun proposals would simply represent redundancies.
The companion case to right-wing claim is that gun control regulations won't reduce deaths is that the only way to achieve that goal is to have more guns in circulation will achieve that goal. (That argument is false. Obviously.)
But the clear flaw in the anti-regulation claim is that new government rules have been credited in recent years with drastically reducing the number of U.S. fatalities surrounding another potentially dangerous consumer product: Automobiles.
Look at the data: In 2011, the number of people killed in traffic accidents fell to 32,367, the lowest annual U.S. tally since 1949. (Automotive deaths peaked in 1972, with 54,589.) That decline came despite the fact that in over the last five-plus decades the number of drivers on American roads has exploded: 62 million then vs. 210 million now.
More recently, vehicular deaths plummeted 25 percent between 2005 and 2011, according to the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (Those numbers rose in 2012, ending a seven-year decline.)
What do experts point to for the recent overall reduction in automotive deaths? They credit, in part, state and federal efforts, often done in tandem with car manufacturers, which have made the potentially dangerous act of driving much less deadly.
From CNN in 2011 [emphasis added]:
Experts attribute the change to a variety of reasons, including changes to cars -- such as vehicle rollover protection -- and programs to change driver behavior -- such as campaigns addressing drunk driving, distracted driving and seat belt use. Laws aimed at young people also likely have had an impact, notably older minimum drinking ages and graduated drivers' licenses.
In other words, government regulations have helped dramatically reduce the number of vehicular fatalities in recent years. By treating driving as the obvious public safety issue that it is, and after new regulations were put in place in an effort to improve product safety and consumer behavior, the number of fatalities quickly dropped. Impelled by federal regulations, car manufacturers have made a concerted effort to make their products more safe via air bags, anti-rollover technology, and stronger vehicle roofs. For decades however, automakers waged the "regulatory equivalent of war" against the government's push for airbags and other safety initiatives. Today, those same manufacturers aggressively market new safety features to consumers.
Could a similar government push, aided by manufacturer cooperation, produce a comparable decline in gun deaths? Public safety experts insist the answer is yes. "Absolutely," says Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis.
From the March 28 edition of CNN's Piers Morgan Live:
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President Obama's reelection has prompted more than a few conservative pundits and journalists to look inward and contemplate the weaknesses of the right-wing media model that obsesses over partisan minutia, eagerly chases phantom scandals, nosedives down ideological rabbit holes, and excludes dissenting voices. It's an interesting discussion, but it's hampered by the fact that the same people calling for change are themselves backsliding into the behaviors they want to correct.
Commentary editor and columnist John Podhoretz offers a pure distillation of this recidivist phenomenon. "Time To Get Serious," writes Podhoretz for the April issue of Commentary, arguing that after 6 years of treating Obama as alternately a "lightweight" political incompetent and a power-mad would-be dictator, and with nothing but two electoral drubbings to show for it, conservatives have to "come to grips" with Obama's political skill:
It's not just the comforting delusion that he's a golf-mad dilettante, but also the reverse-negative image of that delusion--that Obama is a not-so-secret Marxist Kenyan with dictatorial ambitions and a nearly limitless appetite for power. That caricature makes it far too easy for Obama to laugh off the legitimate criticisms of the kind of political leader he really is: a conventional post-1960s left-liberal with limited interest in the private sector and the gut sense that government must and should do more, whatever "more" might mean at any given moment.
Podhoretz's very next paragraph, however, shows that he's not quite ready to take his own advice, as he casts the Obama presidency as a vehicle for "disaster" at home and "nihilistic chaos" globally -- precisely the sort of extremist caricature he says isn't helpful for conservatives:
The notion that Obama is a dangerous extremist helps him, because it makes him seem reasonable and his critics foolish. It also helps those who peddle it, because it makes them notorious and helps them sell their wares. But it has done perhaps irreparable harm to the central conservative cause of the present moment -- making the case that Obama's social-democratic statism is setting the United States on a course for disaster and that his anti-exceptionalist foreign policy is setting the world on a course for nihilistic chaos. Those are serious arguments, befitting a serious antagonist. They may not sell gold coins as quickly and as well as excessive alarmism, but they have the inestimable advantage of being true.
Daniel Larison of the American Conservative observes:
Of course, warning about global "nihilistic chaos" being unleashed by an "anti-exceptionalist foreign policy" is just another example of excessive alarmism that produces the same effects as the attacks Podhoretz wants conservatives to reject. No one outside the bubble of movement conservatives and hard-liners believes that Obama's foreign policy is "anti-exceptionalist" in any sense, much less in the tendentious way that it is being applied here.