Once again, the right-wing media are working hard to create a controversy where none exists. This time, they're attacking President Obama for telling Russian President Dmitri Medvedev that he would have "more flexibility" to negotiate on the issue of missile defense after the November election. In the opinion of these media conservatives, Obama's comments are further evidence that he is "surrendering America." In fact, according to Obama, he was referring to the fact that anything he could do on missile defense would require bipartisan buy-in, which is not very likely during an election year.
Following a meeting on Monday with Medvedev in Seoul, South Korea, Obama told the Russian president, "On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this can be solved, but it's important for him to give me space," adding: "This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility." Medvedev responded: "I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir [Putin]." The comments were intended to be private, but were picked up by a hot microphone.
Cue the outrage. Conservative blogger Doug Powers, writing at MichelleMalkin.com, accused Obama of "capitulation." Hot Air's Ed Morrissey blasted the incident as proof that American voters "need to fear an Obama second term." The headline of a post by Breitbart.com's editor in chief, Joel Pollak, read: "Obama to Putin: I'll Surrender America After Re-Election." Gateway Pundit Jim Hoft wrote that Obama "explained his secret plans to sell out America and her allies" and "told Medvedev to wait until after his reelection to sell out American security." Fox News contributor Palin wrote of the incident: "Let this exchange be a warning to voters: President Obama will have 'more flexibility' to weaken us if he's re-elected in November." Fox News contributor and former Bush administration official John Bolton called Obama's comments "a fire bell in the night" and accused the president of "giving way on American missile defense, defending our homeland."
But Obama explained today that he was talking about the difficulty in an election year of getting the bipartisan agreement necessary to negotiate on important foreign policy issues. Obama said: "This is not a matter of hiding the ball." He added: "The only way I get this stuff done is if I'm consulting with the Pentagon, if I'm consulting with Congress, if I've got bipartisan support, and the current environment is not conducive to those kinds of thoughtful consultations."
And bipartisan buy-in is important. In 2010, the right-wing media claimed that Obama was "compromising our missile defense capabilities" by negotiating the New START treaty with Russia. In fact, military leaders strongly supported New START. At the time, 13 Republicans were willing to ignore the right-wing media freak-out and vote for New START, allowing the treaty to attain the support of two-thirds of the Senate needed for ratification. But instructively, that vote did not happen until a lame-duck session after the midterm elections were concluded. Does anyone believe Obama would get so much Republican support on a controversial issue during an election year?
Right-wing media are falsely claiming that a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) shows that the cost of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has doubled since CBO's estimate in 2010. In fact, CBO's analysis actually showed that the insurance coverage provisions of the health care law will cost less than originally estimated.
Conservative media figures, led by Rush Limbaugh, have continually distorted and exaggerated the content of Sandra Fluke's testimony before Democratic members of Congress.
They have gone so far afield of Fluke's actual testimony that it often appears as if they never actually watched or read it.
Here are some of the conservative claims about Fluke's testimony, along with what she actually said.
Fox News and right-wing blogs have promoted a chart that purports to show the "alarming" fact that national debt per person is higher in the United States than in several crisis-stricken European countries. This comparison is flawed because these countries' economies are fundamentally different -- a fact demonstrated by the substantially higher interest rates that the crisis countries using the euro must pay on their debt, compared to countries that can borrow in their own currency.
After the British tabloid Daily Mail published a flawed article that distorted climate research to claim we could be "heading for a mini ice age," conservative media followed suit. In fact, the study did not project a decline in global temperatures.
Right-wing media have applauded Susan G. Komen for the Cure's decision to stop providing funds to Planned Parenthood. But Komen's decision could affect access to breast cancer screenings and other cancer-related services for thousands of women, as the Komen funds have allowed Planned Parenthood to provide 170,000 breast exams and 6,400 mammogram referrals in the past five years.
Conservative media have misrepresented the results of Chevy Volt crash tests, claiming the batteries "blow up" and are a "fire trap," and suggesting that fires have occurred spontaneously during use. In fact, fires only occurred after crash tests and regulators concluded an inquiry after finding that Volts are just as safe as conventional cars.
Right-wing media have responded to President Obama's State of the Union speech with predictable attacks, calling it "class warfare" and claiming it was "transparently partisan."
On Sunday, the Miami Herald reported on the case of convicted felon Kesler Dufrene, a Haitian national who was the prime suspect in a triple murder committed after he was freed following the Obama administration's deportation stay to that country. Right-wing media are now using the case to attack President Obama and push the racially charged narrative that Dufrene is Obama's "Willie Horton." But the circumstances surrounding Dufrene's case cannot be compared to those of escaped murderer William Horton.
In a blog post calling attention to the story, Gateway Pundit's Jim Hoft accused Obama's "failed immigration policy" of "leav[ing] three more innocent people dead." Hoft wrote: "Thanks to the Obama administration's halt on deportations to Haiti last year three people are now dead, including a 15 year old girl." He added: "Can you say Willie Horton?"
But the facts behind the Horton and Dufrene cases simply don't match up. Horton had been sentenced to life in prison without parole but was granted a weekend furlough under a Massachusetts program. He did not return from his furlough and subsequently committed assault, armed robbery, and rape. Dufrene's release, on the other hand, was based on immigration law that predated the Obama administration and long-standing U.S. policy to temporarily stop deportations to countries hit by disasters.
It's important to realize what the right-wing media are calling for in saying that Dufrene is "Obama's Willie Horton." Horton is best known as the focal point of a campaign targeting Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis during the 1988 election that consisted of unadulterated race-baiting intended to scare voters.
Right-wing media figures are slamming President Obama for the State Department's decision to reject plans to build the Keystone XL pipeline until a full assessment can be made, claiming that he is "killing jobs." But they cite industry-funded estimates of job creation that are wildly inflated. Moreover, the administration had long warned that it would be unable to complete the legally required review under the deadline imposed by a GOP-backed provision and would thus be forced to reject the project, and conservative outlets have previously attacked other Obama proposals that experts say significantly boost economic growth.
Right-wing media are accusing first lady Michelle Obama of "play[ing] the race card" after she rebutted claims that she is an "angry black woman." Many of these same right-wing media figures, however, have for years invoked that very stereotype when criticizing her.
Neil Cavuto and Jim Hoft suggested that President Obama receiving 82 percent of the votes in the New Hampshire Democratic primary show Obama is struggling among Democrats and that New Hampshire voters "are sending a message that we don't like you." But all recent incumbent presidents who went on to win re-election received similar percentages of the votes in their New Hampshire primaries, and political expert Larry Sabato called the results "about normal."
Right-wing media figures are distorting a passage in the just-released book, The Obamas, by New York Times correspondent Jodi Kantor, to suggest Michelle Obama harbors antipathy toward "white Irish Catholics." In fact, in the book, Michelle Obama never makes such an assertion -- the phrase was injected into the book by Kantor herself and should in no way be portrayed as the thoughts of Michelle Obama.
Chicago Sun-Times Washington bureau chief Lynn Sweet cited passages in Kantor's book Monday and reported, "When Michelle Obama worked in Mayor Daley's City Hall in the early 1990s, she was "distressed" by how a small group of 'white Irish Catholic' families -- the Daleys, the Hynes and the Madigans -- 'locked up' power in Illinois."
While the right-wing media have seized on this quote to suggest that Michelle Obama had a particular problem with "white Irish Catholics" wielding power, the full context of the passage makes clear that the concern Kantor ascribed to Michelle Obama's was with entrenched power and political dynasties.
Indeed, the phrase "white Irish Catholic" is Kantor's. It is not sourced to Michelle Obama.
In her book, Kantor wrote:
[Michelle Obama] particularly resented the way power in Illinois was locked up generation after generation by a small group of families, all white Irish Catholic - the Daleys of Chicago, the Hyneses and Madigans statewide. "Someone doesn't have the right to be elected because of whose womb they came out of," she would say a few years later to Dan Shomon, her husband's political advisor. "You shouldn't have a better chance if you're a Kennedy than if you're an Obama. Why is it that they have the right to this?" [The Obamas, p. 18]
It is no surprise that Kantor's thoughts, and not those of Michelle Obama herself, would come to be used against the first lady. White House press secretary Eric Schultz explicitly criticized Kantor for injecting her own thoughts into a book ostensibly about the first family, noting that Kantor had not spoken to either President Obama or Michelle Obama since 2009:
"The book, an overdramatization of old news, is about a relationship between two people whom the author has not spoken to in years. The author last interviewed the Obamas in 2009 for a magazine piece, and did not interview them for this book," Schultz's statement reads. "The emotions, thoughts and private moments described in the book, though often seemingly ascribed to the President and First Lady, reflect little more than the author's own thoughts. These second-hand accounts are staples of every Administration in modern political history and often exaggerated."
Washington Post media reporter Erik Wemple has said that the narrative in Kantor's book "suffers from the lack of input from the principals."
Nevertheless, it did not take long for the phrase "white Irish Catholic" to make its way through the right-wing echo chamber.
Gateway Pundit's Jim Hoft linked to Sweet's post and accused Michelle Obama of being "'distressed' about the power of 'white Irish Catholics in Illinois." The passage was also quickly trumpeted by Drudge and Fox Nation.
Following the Obama administration's announcement of an overhauled defense strategy that will guide cuts in defense spending, the right-wing media have claimed President Obama is "weakening national security" and marking a "new milestone" in "America's strategic retreat." But experts have said that the proposed plan is fiscally responsible while remaining "the world's most dominant military."
Michelle Obama is making a guest appearance on the January 16 edition of iCarly, which Entertainment Weekly describes as a "hit Nickelodeon sitcom." Entertainment Weekly reported that in the episode, "Mrs. Obama surprises Carly and Co. to commend them for supporting military families (as part of the First Lady's Joining Forces initiative)."
Because this involved Michelle Obama doing something -- anything -- right-wing blogs took this as an opportunity to attack her.
In a clip of Obama's appearance posted by Entertainment Weekly, one of the characters on the show refers to the first lady as "your excellency." Another character corrects the first, saying, "You don't call her 'your excellency.' " Obama responds, "No, no. I kind of like it." Laughter is heard after she delivers this line.
In a post on his Gateway Pundit blog, Jim Hoft wrote, "Michelle Obama makes an appearance on Nickelodeon this month where she jokes that she 'kind of likes' being called 'Your Excellency.' Yeah, we know." He illustrated his post with an image depicting Obama as Marie Antoinette -- with a large, muscular arm (other right-wing bloggers have used the same image):