The Department of Homeland Security definitively debunked the persistent right-wing media conspiracy theory that Islamic State fighters have attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, saying the rumor is not supported by any "credible intelligence" and knocking the claim that the terrorists have been apprehended at the border as "categorically false."
What began early this summer as an unsubstantiated claim from Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) that "people that are coming [across the U.S.-Mexico border] from states like Syria that have substantial connections back to terrorist regimes and terrorist operations," (a claim PolitiFact Texas rated "Pants on Fire"), has morphed into a full-blown right-wing conspiracy theory. Conservative media and elected officials are hyping fears that members of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) terrorist group are utilizing the U.S.-Mexico border to enter the U.S. and launch terrorist attacks, a chorus that has only grown louder in the ensuing months to attack immigration reform.
In September, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) claimed to have seen information detailing "four individuals trying to cross through the Texas border who were apprehended at two different stations that do have ties to known terrorists organizations in the Middle East," a story subsequently hyped by Fox News. Nearly a month later, the number had jumped from four terrorists allegedly apprehended to 10.
Fox News' On The Record provided a platform to Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) who claimed to have first-hand knowledge of the terrorists crossing the border. Host Greta Van Susteren replied to Hunter's allegations by asking, "Do you have any information, or any evidence, that they are actually coming in the southern border now?" And Hunter responded, "Yes. ... I know that at least 10 ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the Mexican border in Texas," citing information he'd received from border patrol agents.
But the right-wing talking point is "categorically false," according to the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees border security. On October 8, DHS spokesperson Marsha Catron refuted the rumor that Islamic State terrorists had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, telling The New Republic:
Fox News is increasingly fixating on the gruesome workplace beheading last week in Moore, Oklahoma by a recent Muslim convert, suspect Alton Nolen. Perhaps sensing a way to once again fan its patented flames of Islamophobia while simultaneously blaming President Obama for being indifferent to the threat of terrorism, Fox is treating the murder as a national story with sweeping political implications.
Sounding the jihadist alarms, Fox News and the right-wing media are eager to label the ghastly crime an act of Islamic terror. Law enforcement officials, however, aren't in the same rush, noting that the attack came immediately after Nolen was fired and stating that they've yet to find a link to terrorism. While that story continues to play out, it's worth noting that an actual act of political terror remains in the news. It's just not a priority for Fox.
On the night of September 16, 31-year-old marksman Eric Frein was allegedly laying in wait outside the Blooming Grove police barracks in northeastern Pennsylvania, preparing to assassinate state troopers. Shortly before 11 p.m., Bryon Dickson was shot and killed as he walked towards his patrol car. Moments later, as he approached the barracks to begin his overnight shift, trooper Alex Douglass was shot and seriously wounded by a bullet fired from a .308-caliber rifle.
Described as a "survivalist," Frein disappeared into the Poconos Mountains woods where he's been hiding ever since, eluding law enforcement and its massive manhunt, which includes hundreds of law enforcement officers with assistance from the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Considered "extremely dangerous" and possibly armed with an AK-47, officials were forced to close local schools in fear Frein might attack again. Lots of businesses in the area were ordered to stay dark, and some U.S. mail deliveries were suspended out of fear postmen might be exposed as possible targets for the shooter.
And what was the possible motivation for the killing spree?
"He made statements about wanting to kill law enforcement officers and to commit mass acts of murder," state police commissioner Frank Noonan warned the public at the time. Another official noted the shooter has a "longstanding grudge against law enforcement and government in general" dating back to at least 2006.
A friend was even more explicit. "He was obviously a big critic of the federal government," a friend name Jack told CNN. (The friend did not give his last name.) "No indications of really any malice towards law enforcement in particular. Most of his aggression was (toward) the federal government."
Sounds like homegrown, anti-government terrorism, right?
"We have a well-trained sniper who hates authority, hates society, hates government, and hates cops enough to plug them from ambush. He's so lethal, so locked and loaded, that communities in the Pocono Mountains feel terrorized," wrote Philadelphia columnist Dick Poleman. "He kept camouflage face paint in his bedroom. He toted the AK-47 on social media. He collected, according to the criminal complaint, "various information concerning foreign embassies.""
But turn on Fox News and you don't hear much about Eric Frein from the channel's high-profile hosts. You don't hear much about the anti-government zealot who murdered a cop, while trying to assassinate two. And you don't hear evening hosts diving into Frein's background trying to figure out what sparked his murderous streak.
There's simply no interest.
Fox News' coverage of an evidence-free "bombshell" from Benghazi hoaxster Sharyl Attkisson took just hours to morph from a reiteration of her claim that a disgruntled former State Department employee "couldn't help but wonder" if Hillary Clinton's staff had turned over "scrubbed" Benghazi documents to investigators into full-blown allegations that documents had been "destroyed" -- allegations that remain baseless.
Fox News pundits questioned President Obama's engagement in world affairs following a press conference in which the president announced historic investments in Africa and took questions from journalists on a wide range of pressing international and domestic issues.
Fox News host Greta Van Susteren sharply criticized Fox News correspondent Todd Starnes for "very bad taste" over tweeting petty attacks on the president in response to the deadly crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.
Starnes has tweeted that Obama isn't "interested" in the crash because it doesn't involve "beer or golf," "Russia bracing for a severe hash tag from the Obama Administration," and "Obama won't comment on Malaysian jetliner crash until he's had a chance to read tomorrow's paper."
In a post on her blog headlined, "NOTE TO FNC's TODD STARNES: THIS IS VERY BAD TASTE, 295 PEOPLE DIED," Van Susteren wrote: "I was just sent a Mediaite article with these tweets on it. I don't know Todd Starnes (he works in NYC), but I do know he works at Fox News Channel and so do I. I don't like his tweets. They are very bad taste. This is not the time to be snarky or some pathetic attempt at humor. Let me repeat... 295 people died."
From the June 27 edition of Fox News' On The Record with Greta Van Susteren:
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For two years, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has been peddling the theory that the IRS intentionally leaked its donor list to a gay rights organization as part of an Obama administration conspiracy. Two separate investigations and a ruling by a Reagan-appointed judge have debunked that theory. But right-wing media, which have widely touted NOM's initial accusations, have largely ignored or denied the conspiracy theory's demise.
In the spring of 2012, an IRS employee inadvertently leaked an unredacted list of NOM's donors in response to a public records request. The pro-equality group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) got its hands on the list, highlighting past contributions to NOM by prominent conservatives like then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Noting that key HRC officials were prominent supporters of President Obama's re-election campaign, NOM alleged a conspiracy between the organization and the Obama administration aimed at embarrassing NOM and its supporters.
In April 2012, NOM filed a formal letter of complaint to the IRS. Conservative outlets like The Daily Caller and The Weekly Standard touted the complaint, focusing particularly on the revelation that Romney was one of the group's donors. For most of the next year, however, media interest in the story was scant.
That changed in the spring of 2013. In May, U.S. Attorney General Eric holder ordered the FBI to begin a criminal probe into allegations that the agency had targeted tax-exempt conservative political groups. While the IRS actually scrutinized progressive groups more extensively than conservative ones, the IRS "scandal" became a rallying cry for right-wing media. The controversy also meant newfound interest in NOM's allegations against the agency.
Mainstream and conservative media outlets were quick to pick up on NOM's call for an investigation into the IRS's activities.
The Wall Street Journal 's James Taranto spotlighted NOM's claims in a column on the IRS controversy, asking "How pervasive is the Obama IRS scandal?":
From the June 20 edition of Fox News' Special Report:
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Fox News' On the Record aired dramatically cropped video of Susan Rice to falsely claim she brushed off a question about Benghazi and did not take the deaths seriously.
On May 15, host Greta Van Susteren aired only four words from Rice's response to a question about what new information the recently-formed GOP special committee for Benghazi may find. After airing Rice saying "Dang if I know," Van Susteren cut off the video and said it doesn't sound like the White House is taking the investigation seriously. Van Susteren repeatedly emphasized that four people died in the attack while calling Rice's response insensitive:
But the full video of Rice's response shows that Van Susteren is manufacturing this latest Fox outrage. Rice's response was to the question of whether or not new information would be released. In the full version of the clip that Fox chose not to air, Rice goes on to point out that "I mean, honestly, the administration has produced, I think, 25,000 pages of documents, or 25,000 individual documents. They've supported, participated in, contributed to the investigations of, you know, seven, I think, different committees. We have had an accountability review board by a very distinguished group of outsiders."
Later in the interview, Rice emphasized the need to prevent a similar attack from occurring in the future, saying we lost four brave Americans on that day, and their families and those of us who work with them continue to grieve. And the last thing we need to do is to lose any more":
RICE: What I think about and focus on as the National Security Adviser is what we can do and what we must do with Congress to increase the security of our embassies and facilities around the world. We have a budget request on the Hill for $4.6 billion that is necessary, in the administration's judgment, to make the kind of upgrades and provide the kind of security that our facilities need. Let's focus on that. Because what is lost in all of this discussion about Sunday shows and talking points is that we lost four brave Americans on that day, and their families and those of us who work with them continue to grieve. And the last thing we need to do is to lose any more.
Watch Rice's actual response:
A look at how right-wing media ran with Fox contributor Karl Rove's speculation that Hillary Clinton suffered brain damage from a fall in 2012, laying the groundwork to establish the baseless smear as an issue for the 2016 presidential race.
Fox News has pushed reset on many of its favorite Benghazi myths that have already been put to rest in the wake of the recently released Rhodes email and the House GOP's announcement of the formation of a Select Committee to investigate the attacks.
Mainstream media distorted Ret. Air Force Brigadier General Robert Lovell's Benghazi testimony to the House Oversight Committee, seizing on a partial remark that "we should have tried" to rescue the victims and ignoring the fact that Lovell later explained that he did not mean the military response was insufficient.
From the May 1 edition of Fox News' On The Record with Greta Van Susteren:
After enabling vicious attacks on gay candidates and elected officials, Fox News has finally found an openly gay politician it can support - congressional candidate Carl DeMaio (R-CA).
Fox's championing of DeMaio started with an April 28 FoxNews.com column written by The Five co-host Dana Perino, who wrote that DeMaio's story epitomizes "what everyone who fights for equality says they've been fighting for." Perino also noted that during his unsuccessful run for San Diego mayor in 2012, an anonymous group of supporters of Democratic candidate Bob Filner ran gay-baiting ads showing DeMaio hugging another man and a photoshopped photo showing DeMaio with a drag queen. Perino couldn't point to any other examples of Democratic attacks on DeMaio's sexuality, but she nonetheless seized on the episode to depict "the left" as hypocritical.
While Perino's column implied that a few "far right social conservatives" had also gay-baited DeMaio, she didn't note that among those conservatives are groups like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which has endorsed DeMaio's Republican primary opponent and gone after DeMaio for "holding the hand of his gay lover."
But Fox's pro-DeMaio campaign was just starting up. The candidate appeared on the network's America's Newsroom to decry his progressive critics. On Fox's The Five, co-hosts attacked progressives for putting DeMaio's sex life "front and center."
And during an interview with DeMaio on the April 28 edition of On the Record, host Greta Van Susteren introduced the candidate by falsely claiming that "it's not social conservatives, but the Democrats" waging anti-gay attacks on his campaign, prompting DeMaio to correct her:
VAN SUSTEREN: Carl DeMaio is a Republican and he is also openly gay, and he says he's coming under attack, not from social conservatives, but from Democrats.
VAN SUSTEREN: You say it's not social conservatives, but the Democrats giving you a hard time. Tell me.
DEMAIO: We do have some social conservatives giving us a hard time, but we're finding a lot more acceptance and tolerance and support from those on the socially conservative side of the spectrum than we are from progressive Democrats. You know, I have an agenda to move our country past social issues. I don't think that we ought to have either political party deciding what happens in the privacy of our bedroom. And, instead, we should demand that Washington refocus its priorities on fixing the national debt, getting our economy going again, and holding government programs accountable for results.
Van Susteren urged DeMaio to describe "how the Democrats have discriminated against you based on your sexual orientation." DeMaio cited the anonymous ads from the 2012 mayoral campaign and proceeded to criticize national gay groups for not supporting his candidacy - echoing Perino's criticism of groups like the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.
Despite having no apparent understanding of Supreme Court precedent, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly still managed to accuse Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor of being wrong about civil rights law.
On April 22, the conservative justices of the Supreme Court effectively overruled an important strand of equal protection jurisprudence in Schuette v. BAMN, upholding a voter-approved state constitutional amendment that banned the consideration of race in admissions at Michigan's public universities. Right-wing media were enthusiastically supportive of the decision as they simultaneously insulted the intelligence of Sotomayor, and O'Reilly was no exception.
On the April 24 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly dedicated his "Talking Points Memo" segment to praising the Court's decision in Schuette. O'Reilly's misunderstanding of that decision, as well the Court's prior case law, became immediately apparent when he erroneously claimed affirmative action policies violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment because "if an individual American gets a preference, then he or she is not being treated equally with everyone else."
O'Reilly went on to argue that Sotomayor, who wrote a powerful dissent in Schuette, "is clearly wrong, constitutionally speaking":