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Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said during a July 5 speech that while former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was a “really bad guy,” he was “so good” at killing terrorists, in part because his regime “didn’t read them their rights.”
Several conservative journalists promptly criticized Trump, with Commentary’s John Podhoretz calling him “fucking insane” and pointing out that Hussein’s Iraq was actually a state sponsor of terrorism.
Oh, yeah, Saddam Hussein killed terrorists, Donald Trump, you lunatic. Right. https://t.co/kwAPASxzi2
— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) July 5, 2016
"Saddam Hussein was a bad guy. But you know what he did well? He killed terrorists." -- Donald Trump, who is fucking insane
— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) July 5, 2016
Trump wanted Bush 43 impeached. Yet he is defensive of Saddam Hussein. Your GOP nominee, 2016. Congrats, guys. https://t.co/IOiGMKWZUl
— Jay Nordlinger (@jaynordlinger) July 6, 2016
This is old hat for Trump. Stunning from "presumptive" GOP nominee. Also Hussein tried to kill George H.W. Bush. https://t.co/gvG8D5EydG
— David French (@DavidAFrench) July 6, 2016
Seriously. How do you screw up messaging Hillary's "extreme carelessness" by praising Saddam freaking Hussein.
— Amanda Carpenter (@amandacarpenter) July 6, 2016
Trump’s general ignorance of foreign policy and world events has been noted by pundits across the political spectrum.
New York Post columnist John Podhoretz asserted in the wake of Sunday’s mass murder at a gay nightclub in Orlando that President Obama suggested Americans were to blame for the terror attack. The column ran under the Post headline, “Obama: ‘we’ are to blame, not Islamic terrorism, for massacre.”
Podhoretz’s claim is categorically false and is easily debunked by a simple reading of Obama’s statement. That a columnist for a major market American newspaper would publish such a purposefully false allegation about the president at a time of national mourning is rather disturbing.
The allegation stands as a stark example of how Obama’s conservative critics routinely misinform during times of national tragedy.
If, as a partisan, you don’t agree with how Obama’s fighting terror, if you want to detail ways the United States could be more forcefully and effectively dealing with the threat, go for it. Write a column. Call out the president for being wrong-headed if you think he is.
But to have published a column even before the 50 dead bodies had been removed from the Orlando nightclub and completely fabricate the claim that Obama blamed American society for the Florida gun rampage? That’s beyond the pale and Podhoretz ought to be entirely ashamed of himself.
Podhoretz essentially lied to his readers about what Obama said on Sunday, probably assuming they’d never double check the facts.
Obviously, Obama never said “we” are to blame for the terror attack, as the Post headline suggested. Why on earth would he? It’s an illogical premise to even start with and I can’t imagine any American president ever entertaining such a notion. Worse, Podhoretz doesn't provide any evidence to support the falsehood that Obama claimed “we” are to blame for the massacre -- none.
Podhoretz laments that Obama -- in comments he labeled "disgusting" and "astonishing" -- was supposedly trying to distract from the terrorism angle by saying "'we need the strength and courage to change' our attitudes toward the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community." Here's what Obama said:
In the coming hours and days, we’ll learn about the victims of this tragedy. Their names. Their faces. Who they were. The joy that they brought to families and to friends, and the difference that they made in this world. Say a prayer for them and say a prayer for their families -- that God give them the strength to bear the unbearable. And that He give us all the strength to be there for them, and the strength and courage to change. We need to demonstrate that we are defined more -- as a country -- by the way they lived their lives than by the hate of the man who took them from us.
As we go together, we will draw inspiration from heroic and selfless acts -- friends who helped friends, took care of each other and saved lives. In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another. We will not give in to fear or turn against each other. Instead, we will stand united, as Americans, to protect our people, and defend our nation, and to take action against those who threaten us.
In Podhoretz's view, a call for unity is "disgusting."
Still railing against Obama, Podhoretz insisted, “We Americans do not bear collective responsibility for this attack. Quite the opposite.” But in his subdued comments while trying to unite the country, Obama never said anything about Americans shouldering "collective responsibility" for the attack.
Does this sound like Obama’s was blaming Americans? From his remarks:
So this is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American -- regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation -- is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country. And no act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans.
The columnist simply fabricated that premise in order to denounce the president.
As Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivered what was billed as a “major foreign policy speech,” conservative media personalities attacked him on Twitter, calling the speech a “sickening display of revisionism,” asking if the candidate was “medicated” while giving the address, and declaring that “this is why we’ll need a third” party candidate.
Right-wing media mocked Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Obama prior to and during Trudeau's historic visit to Washington, D.C., calling the event a "first date" and dismissing Trudeau as "the Obama of the North," a "fanboy," and "not the smartest guy in the world."
Slate's Jamelle Bouie: Rubio's Gaffe Was "One Of The Most Uncomfortable Moments Of The Entire Republican Debate Season"
Media are calling Marco Rubio "robotic," and criticizing his "disastrous Republican debate gaffe" after the presidential hopeful "awkwardly pivoted four times to a well-rehearsed line," in an exchange with Gov. Chris Christie at the final Republican debate before New Hampshire voters cast ballots in the first primary of the election season.
Conservative pundits are bickering over Donald Trump's campaign, especially after National Review's "Against Trump" issue and the backlash it engendered. On one side are pundits who want to stop Trump's candidacy in its tracks. On the other are conservatives who are lauding Trump's candidacy, even if they have not officially endorsed him. Media Matters breaks down exactly who is on which side (click for the full-sized image):
Right-Wing Commentators Savage Chief Justice Roberts As "Scumbag," "Disgrace" For Preserving Affordable Health Care For Millions
Conservative media were outraged after the Supreme Court ruled to uphold health insurance tax credits for millions of Americans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), just as Congress intended.
Press Stopped Covering IRS As Scandal Dissolved
Conservatives are misusing a deceptive study to claim that the "liberal media" is giving the recent bridge scandal involving New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's administration more coverage than they gave allegations that the Internal Revenue Service inappropriately targeted conservative groups. In their attempt to use the Christie story for political gain, conservatives accidentally point to a real media failure: after heavily covering the initial IRS allegations, the press has largely ignored subsequent revelations undermining the "scandal."
On January 8, the media reported on documents showing that close Christie aides were involved in the closure of several lanes of the George Washington Bridge in order to create gridlock in Fort Lee, NJ as political retribution. The next day, Christie gave a press conference apologizing and saying he had fired the aides. As the events involved malfeasance by the administration of perhaps the leading contender for the 2016 Republican nomination, they received heavy media coverage.
On January 10, the conservative Media Research Center (MRC) released a report that attacked the media for that coverage by claiming that ABC, CBS, and NBC had given "a staggering 88 minutes to the story" but "over the last six months have allowed a scant two minutes for the latest on Barack Obama's Internal Revenue Service scandal." The report has been widely cited by conservatives, particularly on Fox News.
On Fox & Friends this morning, co-host Brian Kilmeade asked how the media could "justify wall to wall coverage over a traffic jam in one region of the country when they practically ignored the IRS which affects everybody in the country." Commentary Editor John Podhoretz explained that it's because the Washington press corps socializes with members of the Obama administration and "don't believe that these people could do something that untoward," but they don't know and don't like Republicans like Christie.
This is deeply dishonest. As both the MRC study and the Fox segments ignore, the IRS story broke eight months ago, not six months ago. Rather than comparing the network's coverage of the initial revelations in both stories, the MRC study carefully leaves out the initial, heavy coverage of the IRS story.
But the conservative complaint does inadvertently get at a crucial failure of the media. After trumpeting the initial, damning allegations at the heart of the IRS story, journalists have largely ignored the subsequent revelations undermining the notion that it was, as the MRC terms it, "Barack Obama's Internal Revenue Scandal."
The IRS story was launched on May 10 when Lois Lerner, then the director of the IRS division that determines whether organizations are tax exempt, admitted to and apologized for improper scrutiny of tea party groups and other organizations seeking tax exempt status. Lerner's statement was intended to pre-empt a highly critical inspector general's report that was released soon after. In the days following Lerner's revelation, President Obama called the targeting "outrageous" and "inexcusable" and fired the acting director of the IRS, while Attorney General Eric Holder announced a federal investigation. Meanwhile, Republicans began holding hearings suggesting that the White House had been involved in the targeting. All of these events received heavy coverage in the media.
But less than two months later, new documents and reporting had largely diffused the scandal, as journalist Alex Seitz-Wald detailed:
But now, almost two months later, we know that in fact the IRS targeted lots of different kinds of groups, not just conservative ones; that the only organizations whose tax-exempt statuses were actually denied were progressive ones; that many of the targeted conservative groups legitimately crossed the line; that the IG's report was limited to only Tea Party groups at congressional Republicans' request; and that the White House was in no way involved in the targeting and didn't even know about it until shortly before the public did.
Those revelations, however, did not receive nearly as much coverage as the initial allegations, as Brendan Nyhan, an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College who studies political scandals, explained in an August 1 piece for the Columbia Journalism Review.
Nyhan examined the coverage of the story in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Politico, finding that while all three had heavily covered the initial allegations in mid-May, "as contradictory facts emerged in June and early July, they had already lost interest, publishing a fraction of the stories that ran during the initial weeks of the scandal."
Here are a few charts from his piece showing the huge drop-off in coverage:
Conservative media are selectively and deceptively quoting from an exchange between CNN's Dana Bash Senate and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to make it appear as if he dismissed the plight of cancer-stricken children being denied access to clinical trials due to the shutdown of the federal government. In fact, Reid said that legislators should fully fund the government, rather than force different groups to fight over funding.
Specifically, conservatives are claiming that Reid replied to a reporter's question, "If you can help one child with cancer, why wouldn't you?" by saying "why would we want to do that?" In fact, Reid was responding to Sen. Chuck Schumer, who had interjected, saying "why pit one against the other?"
On October 1, the federal government was shut down after conservative Republicans refused to pass legislation funding operations unless that funding was tied to the defunding or delay of Obamacare. As part of an effort to avoid political damage from that unpopular decision, House Republicans have called for piecemeal bills that would fund some parts of the federal government, including the National Institutes of Health and national parks.
Add Commentary's John Podhoretz to the growing list of conservative writers who, in the wake of Obama's easy re-election win, are voicing concern about the Republican Party's approach and are worried that players within the conservative movement are damaging its chances to effectively counter the Democratic president. But also add John Podhoretz to the list of conservatives who refuse to type the phrase "Fox News" when detailing who's to blame for the GOP's tarnished reputation.
This has become something of a conservative formula in recent months: Bemoan the state of the GOP, denounce its messaging failures, and urge introspection and the courage to change course.
Missing from the equation? Singling out any of the culprits, any of the national media voices, to blame for Republican woes.
Podhoretz, for instance, claims that the contradictory caricature of the president created by Obama's critics, that he's a lightweight in over his head who's also a ruthless power-hunger pol, "has done perhaps irreparable harm to the central conservative cause of the present moment." By spending the last five years falsely portraying Obama, and often doing it an outlandish manner via "excessive alarmism," his most fevered opponents have made themselves appear "foolish" and easy to dismiss, Podhoretz wrote. It's time for "serious arguments," he counseled, even though they "may not sell gold coins as quickly."
But who's guilty of selling gold coins off alarmist attacks on Obama? Podhoretz never actually says, although its obvious Fox News has been central in promulgating the bizarre, cartoonish depiction of Obama that the writer claims has diminished conservatives in recent years.
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.
Conservative media figures are taking a partial quote from President Obama out of context in order to attack him as reacting callously to the deaths of U.S. diplomatic personnel.
In an appearance taped today for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, President Obama was asked if communication between government personnel had failed to provide "the optimal response" to the Benghazi attacks. Obama replied in part: "If four Americans get killed, it's not optimal. We're going to fix it. All of it. And what happens, during the course of a presidency, is that the government is a big operation and any given time something screws up. And you make sure that you find out what's broken and you fix it."
Conservative media figures like Matt Drudge, Monica Crowley, Hugh Hewitt, Mary Katherine Ham,John Podhoretz, Jonah Goldberg, Erick Erickson and outlets like Fox Nation all used early reports of Obama's comments to attack him, with several falsely suggesting that Obama had said the deaths of American personnel in Benghazi, and not the communications effort, was "not optimal."
Conservative media are on the attack after President Obama responded to a question about the Supreme Court's consideration of the Affordable Care Act by pointing out that conservatives criticize "unelected" judges who engage in "judicial activism" to "overturn a duly constituted and passed law." But Obama is right: for years conservatives have railed against "unelected" judges who overturn laws passed by the people's representatives.
In a July 8 New York Post op-ed, John Podhoretz advanced the false claim that Donald Berwick's recess appointment is "unprecedented," and that Obama is making the appointment "absent a controversy, ugly political battle or contentious confirmation hearing." As Media Matters has noted, the right-wing media has manufactured a controversy surrounding Berwick's confirmation by distorting comments he has made about the U.S. and U.K. health care systems. However, despite the suggestion that Berwick is a controversial, radical pick, he has support from both conservatives and health care experts. From the New York Post:
On Tuesday, the Obama administration decided to do something rather peculiar, somewhat shocking and politically fascinating: It circumvented the process by which the Senate advises and consents on executive-branch nominees.
The move, which seems unprecedented in subtle but important ways, promises increased chaos in Washington -- but also hope on health care.
President Obama wants a distinguished doctor named Donald Berwick to head up the office that administers Medicare and Medicaid -- two of the most expensive programs in the federal government. Ordinarily, the nomination would have gone through the process known as "confirmation," with a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee followed by a full vote of all 99 senators. (One seat is vacant due to the death of West Virginia's Robert Byrd.)
Instead, Obama decided to invoke his constitutional authority to appoint Berwick (and two other officials of lesser moment) to his post without having to be confirmed by the Senate. This is possible only when Congress is not in session, as is the case right now, and it's called a "recess appointment." It is designed to be temporary; it is valid only until that session of the Congress adjourns, which in this case will come at year's end.
That's what makes the administration's decision unprecedented in my nearly 30 years of closely following politics: I can't recall a preemptive decision to make a recess appointment absent a controversy, ugly political battle or contentious confirmation hearing.
And that's especially true when there's no indication there will be an effort to filibuster, which Democrats would likely have been able to override. (Berwick's credentials as a Harvard muckety-muck would have given the two Maine Republican moderate senators more than enough leeway to let him pass.)