Historians are throwing cold water on conservatives' "fundamentally ludicrous" attempts to co-opt John F. Kennedy's legacy on the 50th anniversary of his assassination.
In recent days, several conservative media figures -- including Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Chris Wallace -- have suggested that if Kennedy were alive today, his views would align with conservatives and the Tea Party. But in interviews with Media Matters historians dismissed these claims as "silly" and "bunk."
"It shows me that John F. Kennedy's legacy is so powerful that even those who stand for everything he stood against want to claim his legacy," said Sean Wilentz, professor of history at Princeton University. As for the right-wing pundits' view of a right-wing JFK? "It's bunk," says Wilentz. "John F. Kennedy embraced liberalism. He called himself a liberal, he was grateful to get the nomination of the Liberal Party of New York State. He ran on the liberal line."
Wilentz explained that the idea of him as conservative likely comes from his tax cuts, but he adds, "tax cuts are not necessarily conservative or liberal. The economy was sluggish at that moment, and it was to improve unemployment. Conservatives wanted to radically and dramatically change the income tax, basically collapse it."
Wilentz and other historians pointed to Kennedy's efforts at drafting the first versions of the 1964 civil rights bill, seeking nuclear disarmament, and supporting health and education funding.
"Was he a liberal? Yeah, he certainly thought he was a liberal and he went out of his way to be a liberal," said Edward D. Berkowitz, professor of history and public policy and public administration at The George Washington University. "A pro-government kind of liberalism, you can see that clearly in his domestic program. He was a big advocate of Medicare and federal aid to education."
Jeffrey A. Engle, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University and the author of eight books, said describing JFK as conservtive is "a fundamentally ludicrous claim, which fundamentally misreads Kennedy's actual life and imprints upon Kennedy [the] political views that they themselves like. Kennedy fundamentally believed that the government could and should play a vital role in bettering people's lives, be it in education, civil rights, social welfare or the economy and he simply would not have been a conservative, there is just no way around it."
As the nation mourns the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, conservative media figures have attempted to appropriate his legacy and attribute to the beloved former president their conservative ideas and positions. This effort runs counter to Kennedy's stated positions, speeches, and other historical facts surrounding his presidency.
In recent days, a series of planned anti-government rallies involving truckers protesting on the Capital Beltway has produced widespread press coverage and been given a publicity boost by Fox News and Glenn Beck. Though the organizers and participants have been presented by conservative media as salt-of-the-earth people with constitutional objections to President Obama and members of Congress, the event is actually being organized by a fringe conspiracy theorist.
Zeeda Andrews -- a co-organizer of the effort who made October 8 appearances on Fox News and Glenn Beck's The Blaze to promote the event -- apparently thinks that President Obama and Osama bin Laden are somehow the same person; that Obama is a secret Muslim; that the Boston bombings were a "false flag"; that the CIA murdered Buzzfeed journalist Michael Hastings; and that the Department of Homeland Security is stockpiling ammunition in order to slaughter Americans.
On her Facebook page, Andrews identifies as a fan of two 9-11 conspiracy theory movies, a documentary that postulates that the government may be secretly injecting aluminum into the atmosphere to block the sun's rays, and a film based on the lectures of British conspiracy theorist David Icke, who believes a secret race of lizard people run the world. (Radio host Peter Santilli, who has appeared in press reports as a spokesperson for the event, is also a 9-11 conspiracy theorist. Santilli made news earlier this year when he suggested Hillary Clinton should be "shot in the vagina" for treason.)
The "Truckers Ride for the Constitution" series of planned rallies received widespread attention earlier this week when Earl Conlon, a man purporting to speak for the event, told US News & World Report that the truckers planned to circle the Beltway and arrest members of Congress for their supposed "treason." (After the organizers of the event distanced themselves from Conlon, he later walked back his suggestion that the truckers were going to "arrest" anyone.) According to the group, 3,000 truckers will participate in the Washington, D.C. rally between October 11 and 13.
Andrews was hosted on Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren last night and provided with a platform to plug the event, which she explained is "peaceful" and will not seek to engage in any unlawful behavior. According to Andrews, the goal of the event is to remove Obama from office, because he "is a threat to our national security. He is a threat to our way of life. He is a threat to our future generations." (The event has also been publicized on Fox Nation, Drudge Report, and websites like WND.)
Glenn Beck also hosted Andrews last night. In an article on Beck's website about her appearance, Andrews is identified as one of "two hardworking Americans who are standing up for what they believe is right." During the interview, on-screen text repeatedly featured the website for the event.
But rather than merely having reasonable objections to the government supposedly grounded in the Constitution, a review of Andrews' Facebook and Youtube pages reveals a penchant for believing extraordinary conspiracy theories about President Obama and the government.
Following a 21 hour fake filibuster by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), right-wing media figures were quick to praise the effort as "genius." Fox host Sean Hannity opened his September 25 show, Hannity, with an over-the-top montage of Sen. Cruz's filibuster alongside images of Gadsden flags, American flags, trains, and Americans getting their hair cut, while conservative radio host Bill Cunningham compared Cruz to Davy Crockett, James Bowie, and John Wayne:
Right-wing media dishonestly reacted to Secretary of State John Kerry's signature to the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) by promoting the National Rifle Association's conspiracy theory that the treaty -- which aims to stem the flow of weapons to human rights abusers -- would threaten gun rights and require the United States to create a civilian gun registry.
In fact, the treaty only regulates the international trade of arms and explicitly affirms the right of a nation to regulate domestic firearm ownership "pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system." As the American Bar Association noted in an analysis that found the treaty to be consistent with the Second Amendment, "the treaty would not require new domestic regulations of firearms."
Still, Fox News continued its checkered coverage of the ATT, promoting baseless conspiracy theories about the treaty.
On September 25, Fox host Heather Nauert reported on Fox & Friends that "gun supporters are opposing part of [the ATT] because it requires the United States government to adopt a new civilian gun tracking system, and that could sidestep the Second Amendment":
From the September 11 edition of The Blaze's The Glenn Beck Program:
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Glenn Beck sat down with the New York Times Magazine for an interview about his plans for a new media empire, and did what he usually does when talking to mainstream press outlets: he dropped his flamethrowing, end-times routine and adopted the posture of an ambitious, misunderstood entrepreneur. Beck wants to reach a larger audience and doesn't want to freak out Times readers, so when the Times asked him about the political focus of his show, Beck tried to come off as reasonable. "What people don't ever understand is this: I'm the guy who lives in Dallas who did not get an invitation to the George Bush Presidential Library opening," Beck said. "He didn't like me. I had called for his impeachment. I didn't call for Obama's impeachment. People think I just hate this president. No, I hate power and those who do everything they can to hold onto it."
It's simply not true that Beck "didn't call for Obama's impeachment." Back in May, as the political media were obsessing over Benghazi hearings and the since-deflated IRS scandal, Beck called for a special counsel to be appointed to "explore the impeachment of this president." In April, after Beck led the reprehensible effort to link an innocent Saudi man to the Boston marathon bombings, Beck said that Americans should "demand impeachment" because, in his view, the government was covering up the Saudi's non-existent role in the attack. If Americans didn't do so, Beck said, "we don't stand a chance."
At a Tea Party rally in June at the Capitol, Beck was asked about impeachment, and he said that impeaching Obama wouldn't go far enough. "If they can take it to impeachment -- I personally think there's a lot of people on both sides of the aisle who shouldn't be impeached, they should go to jail," Beck said. Asked if Obama was one of them, Beck replied: "Yeah."
Again, this is the Beck routine. When he's talking to his usual audience or the Tea Party faithful, he's calling for impeachment and inveighing against progressives with the most inflammatory language he can muster. When he's talking to The New York Times, he says things like this:
Can we stop dividing ourselves? Do racists exist? Yes. Do bigots exist? Yes. But most of us are not. Most Americans just want to get along. Why can't we do that? What has happened to us?
Funnily enough, the Times interviewer later asked Beck about his commitment to "hunt down progressives like an Israeli Nazi hunter," and Beck -- mere moments after bemoaning the instinct to "divide ourselves" -- briefly reverted to type: "Oh, I will. I think these guys are the biggest danger in the world. It's the people like Mao, people that believe that big government is the answer, it always leads to millions dead -- always."
Stansberry & Associates, an investment research firm catering to right-wing audiences' fears of President Barack Obama, has been fined $1.5 million for engaging in "deliberate fraud" and profiting from "false statements." Despite its shoddy history, numerous conservative outlets and personalities including Newt Gingrich, Fox Business, Glenn Beck, Mike Huckabee, Alex Jones, WND, and The Washington Times, have helped legitimize the firm and its wild investment schemes. The firm has also enlisted the help of former Fox News contributor Dick Morris, who has frequently promoted the firm in sponsored video pitches.
Stansberry & Associates was founded in 1999 by Porter Stansberry and claims to have "been predicting the most promising emerging trends and the most influential economic forces affecting the market - with uncanny accuracy - for the past 13 years." Stansberry advertises its services to right-wing audiences with attacks on President Obama and warnings about a forthcoming apocalyptic type collapse of the American government and financial system. Stansberry emails carry subject lines like, "A Survival Secret That Could Save Your Life."
In 2007, Stansberry and his firm -- then called Pirate Investor LLC -- were ordered by a district court to pay $1.5 million in restitution and civil penalties as a result of a Securities and Exchange Commission complaint. As reported by the Baltimore Sun, Stansberry was accused of "disseminating false stock information and defrauding public investors through a financial newsletter ... They claimed investors could double their money if they paid $1,000 for a stock tip involving Bethesda energy company USEC Inc. In total, 1,217 people purchased the report, although 215 of them got their money back after complaining."
A judge in 2007 ruled that Stansberry's activity "undoubtedly involved deliberate fraud" and "making statements that he knew to be false." An appeals court later found that "it would take an act of willful blindness to ignore the fact that Appellants profited from the false statements." Stansberry's defense of his actions can be found here, and a group of publishers, including The New York Times ("The Right to Be Wrong"), defended Stansberry's case on First Amendment grounds.
The Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General announced on September 12, 2011, that Stansberry & Associates "agreed to pay a $55,000 civil monetary penalty to the Social Security Administration" for violating the Social Security Act. The firm settled the case by paying the fine while not admitting a violation. SSA's complaint alleged that Stansberry advertised it services by claiming to have information from "insiders" on how to increase your Social Security check, and "the SSA OIG believed that the characterization of Stansberry's SSA contacts as 'insiders' falsely implied that the information was not available to the public. The claimed 'insider' information was, in fact, available to anyone upon request."
Former Fox News host Glenn Beck once declared "Do I believe scientists? No. They've lied to us about global warming." But the study, by the Yale Project on Climate Communication, concludes that it's actually the other way around: conservative media consumers don't believe in scientists, therefore they don't believe in global warming.
The study suggests that watching and listening to outlets like Fox News and The Rush Limbaugh Show may be one reason that only 19 percent of Republicans agree that human activity is causing global warming, despite the consensus of 97 percent of climate scientists. The Yale researchers depicted five tactics used by conservative media to erode trust in scientists, which Media Matters illustrates with examples.
Conservative media typically turn to a roster of professional climate change contrarians and portray them as "experts" on the issue. What they don't mention is that most of these climate "experts" don't have a background in climate science and are often on the bankroll of the fossil fuel industry.
A Media Matters study detailed how certain climate contrarians have been given a large platform by the media, particularly Fox News.
For instance, Fox News cut away from President Barack Obama's recent climate change speech to host Chris Horner of the industry-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute -- giving approximately equal time to Horner and the president.
Fox dumped Glenn Beck after his bizarre conspiracy theories and rhetoric reportedly caused the network's advertisers to balk. Now Fox appears to be clinging to one of his classic distortions, characterizing a government effort utilizing behavioral psychology to reduce fraud, error and debt as "mind control."
FoxNews.com reported that it obtained a document outlining plans for the government to hire a "Behavioral Insights Team" that "will look for ways to subtly influence people's behavior." The United Kingdom has implemented several related initiatives. In one instance the U.K. government sent out reminder letters to late taxpayers, leading to increased tax revenue.
The ideas behind this type of initiative were laid out in Professor Cass Sunstein's book, Nudge. When Sunstein joined the Obama administration as the administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Beck launched a campaign to demonize him and his ideas.
As House Republicans try to slash funding for research and development of new energy technologies, conservative figures who once proclaimed their support for such initiatives have been curiously silent.
Buoyed by Republican lawmakers, the House recently passed a spending bill that cuts funding for Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the key federal program that invests in research and development of new energy technologies, by 81 percent. ARPA-E is a bipartisan Bush-era creation modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which spurred breakthroughs like the internet and stealth fighter. Now, even a midpoint reconciliation with the more generous Senate spending bill could leave funding for the program in tatters.
These cuts are an extreme departure from the rare interparty comity that has typically surrounded research and development for alternative energy. Indeed, conservative media figures have frequently embraced such efforts -- as opposed to programs that award loans to address the so-called "valley of death" between development and commercialization -- echoing the pro-ARPA-E views of free-market groups and some Republican leaders. Among the latter was former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who supported increasing funding. But with ARPA-E now in trouble, these figures appear tongue-tied.
Glenn Beck wants to change the face of American culture, and he plans to do so by trying to downplay his role in the stage shows and movies he hopes to roll out in the coming years through his new production company, American Dream Labs.
Beck detailed his plans to an audience of VIP ticketholders at a July 5 "Beck Unplugged" event leading up to his "Man in the Moon" spectacle, the first effort for his new company.
Over the course of the July 4-6 Man in the Moon holiday weekend, the radio and TV host explained that as part of his effort to turn society toward his own beliefs, he planned to begin moving into the entertainment space with stage shows, music, and movies, the first of which is slated for Christmas 2014.
Don't expect American Dream Labs' work to have the obviously ideological dynamic that inhabits Beck's past work. "One of the things that you'll see with the Man in the Moon is the Man in the Moon has been made for a different set of people," Beck told his "Unplugged" audience. "We have to stop preaching to the choir."
But because Beck realizes that his public persona is toxic to most Americans, he plans to make his message more subtle and downplay his involvement. Beck explained that he doesn't "even want my name on my books anymore," and had asked Man in the Moon's engineers to ensure that the Moon, which Beck plays in the show, didn't resemble him. (This doesn't quite square with the fact that Beck himself plays a major role in the show.)
"My name has been good for you guys but bad for the bigger populace," he said. The next stage in Beck's attempted climb to cultural supremacy will depend on whether the "bigger populace" sees Beck's face in his works.
BECK: One of the things that you'll see with the Man in the Moon is the Man in the Moon has been made for a different set of people. We have to stop preaching to the choir. You guys are going to love it, but if it was any other face but mine, and this is the thing that I really wrestled with, and I don't even want my name on my books anymore. First of all, I usually come up with the story and others write it, but my name has been good for you guys but bad for the bigger populace. I play the Moon in this, and when they came to me with the prosthetics they said, "what do you want the moon to look like," and I said, "just not me." You don't want me to look like me at all. We are going in a different direction to where we're trying to do music and entertainment. We're going to start hopefully this year for Christmas 2014, for movies. That's why I'm building the American Dream Labs, to try to get into the entertainment space as well. News is one thing, but news and elections are the last stop. Culture and entertainment are the first stop.
Alexander Zaitchik contributed reporting for this story.
Last week in Salt Lake City, Glenn Beck hosted a three-day extravaganza featuring a spectacle-laden stage show, a history museum, speeches and presentations from prominent conservative figures, and a large exhibit hall. Below are scenes from Glenn Beck's latest get-together. First featured are scenes from the exhibit area maintained by the Beck-linked charity Mercury One. Following that are scenes from the main event, "Man in the Moon."
The Blaze Radio was broadcasting:
Lines for a meet and greet with Beck:
The official Man in the Moon store:
Beck's books were also on sale:
Other merchandise available at the event and scenes from Man In The Moon after the jump.
"There's a sucker born every minute."
-- Glenn Beck, Salt Lake City, July 6
SALT LAKE CITY -- The double rainbow arching directly over the outdoor stage could only mean one thing: God was smiling on Glenn Beck. Two hours after monsoon-like rains drenched and darkened Salt Lake Valley, and with weather reports still threatening an even chance of thunderstorms, Beck's fans celebrated the divine thumbs-ups in the clouds. As soon as the rainbows appeared, sounds of prayerful thanks rippled through the USANA amphitheater, a modest venue on the city's western outskirts. "It's God's message," said a woman in a raincoat fashioned from a garbage bag. "I just knew He wouldn't let tonight get washed out."
He did not. Aside from a few light sprinkles early in the unusually cool July 6 night, "Man in the Moon," the inaugural event of Beck's new entertainment company, American Dream Labs, went off without a hitch. This included the execution of a high-wire upside-down flag folding ceremony that had failed repeatedly in rehearsal. After much internal debate, Beck finally green-lit the risky act after getting the meteorological message from his Number One Fan. "When I saw the double rainbow, I thought, 'Let's go for it,'" Beck told the crowd to cheers.
As with Beck's last three summer gatherings, conservatism's least predictable impresario promoted "Man in the Moon" as an historic turning point in the American saga. Like other Beck-identified turning points, this one came with a merch table and all the lean marketing muscle of a major-market NFL franchise. Sixteen thousand people from around the country, including Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens,answered Beck's call to support his stage and video experiment, buying tickets in a tiered system that spiked out at $1,500 VIP passes. Gold and Platinum tickets included premium seating and parking, a signed poster, and a 10 second meet-and-greet photo op with Beck.
Not included in the ticket price was access to three days of lectures and seminars at the Grand America Hotel. Those passes to talks by leading conservative authors and activists like Fox's Michelle Malkin and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) cost extra, the proceeds going to the Beck-affiliated charity, Mercury One. The morning of the main event, that non-profit helped raise money for the charity of businessman Jon Huntsman Sr., a long-time Beck ally and the father of the former Utah governor and presidential candidate. FreedomWorks, which pays Beck one million dollars a year for fundraising and media support, functioned as an unofficial co-sponsor of "Man in the Moon." The night before Beck's show, theright-wing advocacy group hosted a "Free the People" event at the USANA amphitheater.
But nobody traveled to Salt Lake to hear FreedomWorks' Matt Kibbe give his flat freedom rap, or listen to Rafael Cruz, father of Senator Ted, compare Barack Obama to Fidel Castro. The draw in Utah was the final night's premiere of Beck's latest creation, "Man in the Moon." Tonight was not about restoring another vague concept like Honor or Courage, but celebrating the launch of Beck's new production company. As the sun set on the Wasatch mountain range, Beck described American Dream Labs' first offering as opening a new front in his media war to right and rescue the republic.
This is the front of popular culture. The Blaze octopus (web, TV, soon a radio network) would continue to base Beck's brand as a force in news and opinion; two years after losing his Fox gig in the wake of a years-long advertiser boycott, he is now attempting, with some early success, to muscle his way back into cable on his own terms. The Dream Labs, meanwhile, would function more like a faceless corporate movie studio, with Beck deliberately lowering his profile in the interests of growth.
"Our culture has gone off the rails," Beck told the sold-out amphitheater crowd. "And nobody on our side has done anything about it -- until tonight."
Glenn Beck launched a sordid smear campaign against Teresa Heinz Kerry, the hospitalized wife of Secretary of State John Kerry, accusing her and the State Department of orchestrating her medical scare to divert public attention away from reports about the whereabouts of her husband during Egypt's most recent transition of power. In a pair of cheap shots on his radio program and web show, Beck speculated that Heinz Kerry is lying and drew an institutional connection between what he baselessly suggests is Heinz Kerry's fake injury and the 2012 concussion suffered by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which Beck referred to at the time as a "scam."
On July 3, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was deposed by the country's military leaders amidst popular protests. That same day, CBS reported that one of its producers had spotted Secretary Kerry aboard a yacht in the Nantucket Boat Basin. The State Department denied the allegations, and noted that Kerry was "working all day and on the phone dealing with the crisis in Egypt."
Four days later on July 7, 74-year-old Heinz Kerry, Kerry's wife, was hospitalized with symptoms of a seizure that left her in critical condition. Doctors upgraded her condition to "fair" on Monday morning.
On his radio show, Beck compared Heinz Kerry's hospitalization to that of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a blood clot, which he suggested was orchestrated to distract the press from the Benghazi attacks. Beck called the State Department's denial of Kerry's whereabouts a "huge scandal" and wondered if Heinz Kerry's injury -- which took place four days after Morsi's ouster -- was also orchestrated as a distraction, asking "You expect me to believe that Mrs. Ketchup is in critical condition? I mean, no offense, maybe she is." Beck then compared Heinz Kerry's medical scare to Clinton's in 2012, wondering of Clinton's treatment, "Was that just a scam?"
Beck repeated his accusation on his web show, saying of Clinton's hospitalization and treatment, "I didn't believe that. That was to get out of Benghazi." He equated this with Heinz Kerry, adding:
BECK: I mean, I wish Teresa Heinz Kerry the best. But I find it fascinating that she is in critical condition this weekend after the State Department was caught in a lie. The same day the State Department is caught in a massive, massive lie, the same the press is no longer asking anybody about that, because Teresa Heinz is now in the hospital. So, you can't ask any tough questions. This government has zero credibility.
Beck has a history of capitalizing on his media presence to lob attacks against powerful women during their most vulnerable moments. In December, when Clinton first sustained a concussion, Beck ridiculed her and asked whether Clinton's injury was a "scam," claiming, "She shouldn't be President of the United States if she's going into the hospital for some sort of heart condition or brain condition or whatever she was in the hospital for."
Other right-wing media figures joined in mocking Clinton's injury. Several pundits on Fox News Channel accused Clinton of faking her injury in order to avoid testifying before Congress about the 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.