Sean Hannity appears to be hoping for a repeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's stunning primary defeat, using his considerable influence as a conservative talk show host to promote extreme right-wing candidate Chris McDaniel in a runoff election for the GOP's U.S. Senate ballot slot in Mississippi.
Hannity linked McDaniel's race to that of Virginia's 7th congressional district, which ended June 10 in a surprise victory for conservative outsider Dave Brat. In Mississippi, neither Sen. Thad Cochran nor his opponent McDaniel received more than 50 percent of the vote in the state's June 3 primary, forcing a runoff on June 24.
Conservative talk radio's influence was undeniable in Brat's defeat of Cantor -- radio hosts like Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, and Glenn Beck devoted a significant amount of time to promoting Brat and took credit for his surprise win. On the June 11 edition of his radio show, Sean Hannity continued the trend, playing a full campaign ad for Chris McDaniel and hosting the candidate himself. Hannity referenced Cantor's defeat several times and praised McDaniel, who he previously endorsed, as a "solid conservative":
HANNITY: After last night's political earthquake a lot of people saying -- remember some have been predicting the tea party is dead, even though there had been a lot of success actually this election year.
HANNITY: I have always been very, very reluctant to endorse in primaries. Very reluctant. And I decided to get into this race and support Chris McDaniel because I see him as a solid conservative.
Right-wing media ignored immigration experts and blamed President Obama's immigration polices for the recent influx of unaccompanied children apprehended illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. In reality, experts cite increased violence in Central America as the driving factor.
Right-wing media are using House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's (R-VA) loss to tea party challenger and anti-immigration advocate Dave Brat in a Republican primary to argue that the outcome was a referendum on immigration reform. In fact, a majority of American voters -- including Republicans in Cantor and Brat's Virginia district -- support immigration reform.
Conservative talk-radio hosts like Mark Levin, Glenn Beck and Laura Ingraham devoted considerable time touting Republican anti-immigration congressional candidate David Brat, and they took credit for his surprise victory over Rep. Eric Cantor during the Virginia primary election.
Brat's candidacy was most vocally championed by conservative radio host and ABC News contributor Laura Ingraham. Ingraham led the charge against Cantor with a sustained effort to put Brat into office. Holding true to her extreme anti-immigration stance, Ingraham applauded Brat and his "consistent, principled stance against Amnesty," attending multiple rallies for the candidate and even posting a "Vote Brat, Stop Amnesty" election day reminder in order to get out the vote.
However, after Brat's victory, Ingraham was quick to point out that she didn't do it alone. On a June 11 appearance on Fox News' Fox & Friends, she praised her fellow conservatives, including Mark Levin, for being "the only people covering this race" (emphasis added):
INGRAHAM: This is being branded as a tea party victory. That's not quite accurate, and Brat addressed this last night. Not one major tea party organization came out and endorsed Brat. Supported Brat in any meaningful way. We had a difficult time getting the tea party groups and Brat connected. They bascially told him, 'you don't have a chance,' they wrote him off.
And there were a few people -- myself, Mark Levin, Ann Coulter, Mickey Kaus, Breitbart News, The Daily Caller -- they were pretty much the only people covering this race. I said this yesterday on Fox & Friends. We had 625 people hanging off the balcony of Eric Cantor's own country club last Tuesday night and there was no major media there except for Breitbart News and a little reporter from the local NBC. That's it.
Mark Levin hosted David Brat four times since April to discuss both his campaign and Eric Cantor's stances on immigration policy, of which Levin has long been a vocal critic. During a May 29 interview on Levin's show, Brat received the host's full-throttle endorsement. Levin encouraged his audience to visit the candidate's website adding, "in my humble opinion if you have a few bucks, give the guy some help because he needs it and he would be a great member of Congress." Levin also supported Brat on his social media platforms:
On June 9, the day before the election, Levin again hosted Brat on his show, telling him that "I'm all for you, I want you to win" during and allowing him to thoroughly explain his platform to listeners.
Ingraham and Levin's support propelled Brat further into the conservative media sphere as Brat gained momentum in the run up to Tuesday's primary. A day before the election, Brat appeared on the The Glenn Beck Radio Program. Beck began his interview with Brat by noting that a variety of conservative media figures supported his cause, saying, "Doc Thompson, Laura Ingraham, Pat & Stu have talked to him and are big fans."
Cantor's defeat was especially stunning after his campaign raised more than $5.4 million dollars, a number that towered over the meager $123,000 that Brat's campaign spent. However, what little Brat did spend came in part from the support of those driven by conservative radio's urging. As the Washington Post wrote in a June 11 article, the talk-radio hosts were responsible for driving many donations to the Brat campaign:
Brat was boosted for months by conservative talk-radio hosts, including Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin, who touted him as a contender to their listeners and drove small-dollar donations into Brat's coffers.
Now that the Brat's win is clear, conservatives have wasted no time patting themselves on the back for a job well done. Fox News quickly quickly moved to credit conservative radio, with contributor Brit Hume claiming that ""There are parts of this country where if Laura Ingraham, and Ann Coulter, and Mark Levin are on the radio supporting you, that's worth a lot" during an appearance on the June 11 edition of The Kelly File. Levin later appeared himself on Hannity to complete the victory lap.
One of the biggest upsets in American politics was powered by right-wing media, according to analysis of last night's defeat of Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), the House Minority Leader, who fell to an obscure Tea Party-backed candidate. Cantor's campaign spent nearly as much on drinks and dinners at steak houses as David Brat did on his entire primary push. Yet Brat easily defeated the seven-term Republican leader.
"The seeds for Brat's upset were sown on right-wing radio talk shows, particularly Laura Ingraham's," CNN's Brian Stelter reported. On Fox News last night, radio host and Brat booster Mark Levin celebrated the Virginia "ass-kicking." (During the same appearance, Levin urged Republicans to "stop chasing genitalia" in order to win elections.)
"There are parts of this country where if Laura Ingraham, and Ann Coulter, and Mark Levin are on the radio supporting you, that's worth a lot," Fox's Brit Hume noted. "In the right place, with the right constituency, those people hold real power."
Real power, indeed.
For years, that power was mostly directed at Democrats, and specifically at President Obama as talk radio and the larger right-wing media Noise Machine has worked tirelessly to demonize its opponents via nasty and often dishonest, illogical attacks.
After John McCain's dispiriting loss to Barack Obama in 2008, damaged leaders of the Republican establishment slowly shuffled off the national stage. And into that vacuum rushed Roger Ailes, Glenn Beck, Rush-I-Hope-He-Fails-Limbaugh, and other players from the right-wing media lineup. They took over the messaging for the Republican Party, the attacks on the new president, and helped power the surging Tea Party movement in America.
Teaming up with the GOP and its unprecedented plan to obstruct a president who won an electoral landslide victories, the Noise Machine provided the mass media muscle and set out to portray Obama as nothing more than a suspicious, foreign, anti-capitalist socialist who distrusted America and wanted to take away citizens' guns. He was also condemned as a "racist" who displayed a "deep-seated hatred for white people."
The Republican Party, by and large, was happy to watch as the right-wing media took control of the GOP's communications apparatus, which allowed the right-wing media to take control of the GOP's public messaging. And when they were demonizing Obama and the Democratic Party, Republicans likely marveled at their good fortune of having millions of dollars in free media at their disposal each week to launch misinformation campaigns against the White House.
And for Cantor personally, the Noise Machine was a godsend. With no apparent interest in governing, legislating, or in public policy, Cantor's professional goal appeared to be to obstruct the White House at all costs, and to make Obama look bad at every turn. And for that, he had perfect media partners.
But then Cantor became the target.
From the June 11 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show:
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Conservative radio host and ABC News contributor Laura Ingraham made good on her promise to primary any Republican candidate who didn't share her anti-immigrant views, actively campaigning against House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) by endorsing his victorious opponent Dave Brat and making appearances at rallies to support him.
From the June 10 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, a contributor for Fox and ABC News, used a sound bite from a Taco Bell commercial to mock the plight of hundreds of migrant children fleeing violence in Central America who are being held in a makeshift shelter in southern Arizona.
The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that nearly 60,000 unaccompanied children who will make the dangerous trip from Central America over the next year fleeing violence will require care. In Nogales, Arizona, the Department of Homeland Security made available a warehouse to house thousands of children, but according to local media outlets, it has not been without problems. CBS Houston reported that some of the children have complained to the consul of Honduras that the food provided by the shelter is making them sick.
On the June 10 edition of her radio show, Ingraham responded to this news by dismissing the children's plight, saying, "I bet there are a lot of American kids who would like free food before they go to bed at night." She followed her comments with a sound clip from a Taco Bell advertising campaign of the 1990s, in which a chihuahua says repeatedly, "Yo quiero Taco Bell."
Ingraham is no stranger to controversial sound effects. On the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream Speech", the radio host used the sound of a gunshot to cut off a sound bite of civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) -- a man whose skull was infamously fractured by a state trooper on "Bloody Sunday" in Selma, AL, in 1965.
She also repeatedly engages in smearing and denigrating immigrants.
Conservatives have responded to the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl by attacking his father, questioning President Obama's sanity and patriotism, and calling for impeachment.
When an emotional Jani and Robert Bergdahl strode into the White House Rose Garden on Saturday to the share the emotional announcement by President Obama that their son, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl would be returning home after being held captive for five years by the Taliban, it's unlikely they could have foreseen that their family would soon be under attack by the right-wing media, or that Robert Bergdahl would be depicted on Fox News as a possible terrorist sympathizer; mocked on national television as he awaited a reunion with his ailing son.
They couldn't have foreseen it because I don't think it's ever happened before. I don't think we've ever seen a dedicated media campaign to not only undermine a returning prisoner of war, but to also cast doubt onto the soldier's family; to portray them as un-American even as they prepare for their reunion.
Instead, Fox News has helped transform the prisoner swap involving Taliban detainees into "an increasingly vicious partisan issue," as Buzzfeed described the Republican decision to go into relentless attack mode, complete with enlisted publicists and strategists, to subvert the return of an American POW.
It's symptomatic of a conservative media mini-mob that now obsessively politicizing everything, and does it all with the knob turned up to 11.
So in the name of partisan warfare there can be no trace of empathy or understanding for a family that spent nearly 2,000 days wondering if their soldier son would ever come home. Wondering if he was being tortured or treated humanely by the Taliban as he passed years away in solitary confinement. There can be no waiting to get the facts; to actually hear from Bowe Bergdahl himself and let him explain the 2009 actions that led to his capture. For the attacks against Obama to stick, Bergdahl and his family became the target of a character assassination crusade.
Note this fact: A lot of the current Bergdahl-related theatrics being played out in the right-wing media appear to have been in the works for quite a while. For years, in fact. In 2012, Michael Hastings reported in Rolling Stone that when talk first surfaced of a possible prisoner swap between the U.S. and the Taliban, Republicans immediately began playing election year politics [emphasis added]:
According to White House sources, Marc Grossman, who replaced Richard Holbrooke as special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was given a direct warning by the president's opponents in Congress about trading Bowe for five Taliban prisoners during an election year. "They keep telling me it's going to be Obama's Willie Horton moment," Grossman warned the White House. The threat was as ugly as it was clear: The president's political enemies were prepared to use the release of violent prisoners to paint Obama as a Dukakis-like appeaser, just as Republicans did to the former Massachusetts governor during the 1988 campaign.
Fast-forward two years and that's exactly what's unfolding. The only twist is that as part of the political retribution, a military family is being smeared, too.
Fox News personalities attacked the father of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for looking "like a Muslim" and addressing his son in Pashto, going so far as to say his appearance is "insulting" and suggesting he might be an "Islamist sympathizer."
The network has a long and well-documented history of pushing Islamophobic rhetoric and propagating the belief that Islam is a violent religion, and its pundits didn't hold back in tapping into anti-Islamic sentiment to identify "something wrong" with Bergdahl's release. Fox host Bill O'Reilly said he was "insulted" by the"conduct" of the soldier's father, Bob Bergdahl, during his May 31 Rose Garden appearance with President Obama, because "[h]e has learned to speak the language of the Taliban and looks like a Muslim, actually thanking Allah right in front of the president." Fox contributor Laura Ingraham later hyped and escalated O'Reilly's "revelations," saying on her radio show, "If he wasn't so light-skinned, he actually looks like the terrorists."
Other Fox hosts have suggested that Bergdahl's beard, reportedly grown out of solidarity with his son, is something to be "skeptical" of and something that he grew out of "sympathy with the Taliban." The current suspicion of Bergdahl's facial hair comes in stark contrast to the network's previous support of the famously bearded stars of A&E's Duck Dynasty.
Fox News and ABC News contributor Laura Ingraham dismissed the humanitarian crisis that is prompting thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America to illegally cross into the United States, saying that the surge is "an invasion facilitated by our own government." Ingraham stated that "it's not our responsibility" to help these children and criticized the use of military facilities to house them.
As The Wall Street Journal reported, the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that this fiscal year, it will care for 60,000 unaccompanied children, many under the age of 13, who will attempt to cross the U.S.-Mexico border into the United States after fleeing violence in Central America:
Most of the children who HHS cares for are attempting to cross through the Rio Grande Valley and coming from Central America, driven by the dire economic conditions and sustained violence at home, experts say. HHS then keeps the children, typically for 30 to 45 days, until officials can place them with a parent or sponsor, often inside the U.S. The children are then put into deportation proceedings; some are deported but others ultimately are able to stay.
Mexican minors who are apprehended when crossing illegally into the U.S. are almost always repatriated and not referred to HHS for custody and care.
The Journal noted that the Defense Department "has made available facilities at military bases in San Antonio, and Ventura County, Calif., where HHS contractors feed, provide medical care and offer some education for the children."
The Associated Press added: "More than 90 percent of those sheltered by the government are from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, many driven north by pervasive violence and poverty in their home countries."
Discussing the story on her radio show, Ingraham accused the Obama administration of "becoming human traffickers," claiming that the administration is "trafficking illegal immigrants from one part of the country to another part of the country to further erode American wages and further forward their goal of ultimate amnesty and changing the electoral and cultural landscape of the United States forever."
She continued: "It's not our responsibility. And to use our military facilities to house and feed and clothe and give medical attention to people who are law breakers as our own military can't get the proper attention required -- military being left out in the cold as far as their own medical treatment."
Later in the show, she blasted congressional Republicans and Democrats who support immigration reform, including Rep. Eric Cantor and Sens. John McCain and Marco Rubio, for allowing the children into the country. She stated:
INGRAHAM: Make no mistake about it, my friends, this current influx of tens of thousands of new people crossing this border is only being done because of the enticement by Eric Cantor, [Rep. Luis] Gutierrez, Obama, Rubio, McCain, [Sen. Lindsey] Graham, [Sen. Robert] Menendez, [Sen. Charles] Schumer, and the list goes on and on.
She went on to call the crisis "an invasion facilitated by our own government."
From the May 22 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Dinesh D'Souza, the right-wing media darling who conservatives had claimed was targeted for prosecution because he is a critic of the Obama administration, has pleaded guilty to charges of campaign finance fraud.
D'Souza, famous for producing an anti-Barack Obama film rife with lies and outlandish claims, was indicted by the FBI in January and accused of violating campaign finance laws by "arranging excessive campaign contributions to a candidate for the U.S. Senate," and allegedly reimbursing "people who he had directed to contribute $20,000" to the unnamed candidate. On May 20 D'Souza pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws and making false statements. He will be sentenced in September and likely faces imprisonment of ten to 16 months.
Right-wing media figures -- many of whom went to bat for D'Souza's flawed film -- rallied to the filmmaker's defense following his initial indictment, claiming he was being prosecuted for his political beliefs. Fox News host Sean Hannity labeled D'Souza "the latest victim to be targeted by the Obama White House." Matt Drudge accused Attorney General Eric Holder of "unleashing the dog" on "Obama critics," and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones responded to the charges, saying, "This is like Nazi Germany ... once they're done with these guys, they're coming after you and I." Radio host Laura Ingraham characterized the indictment as being "more about stifling political dissent" than any serious allegations of wrongdoing, and Rush Limbaugh described it as an effort to "criminalize" conservatives.
During one such interview in February, Fox host Megyn Kelly said the charges "raised red flags for some because D'Souza, who has pleaded not guilty, is behind the box office hit 2016: Obama's America, a film that is very critical of the president." D'Souza responded that he couldn't speak about the case specifically, but that he knows "for a fact" that Obama was personally unnerved by his film and said, "I am a public critic of the president, and I do recognize this has made me, to some degree, vulnerable to some forms of counter-attack."
This right-wing media defense was reportedly part of a deliberate plan by D'Souza. The New York Times reported in April that, in a conversation with one of his alleged straw donors, D'Souza said that if he were charged "he might plead guilty, but would initially plead not guilty because that 'gives him a window of opportunity to get his story out there.'"
Conservative pundits were more than happy to oblige this desire. Now will those who championed D'Souza's virtuousness finally condemn his crimes?
For her part, Ingraham will not. She responded immediately to news of the plea by downplaying the seriousness of the crime and doubling down on her claim that D'Souza was prosecuted for political reasons.