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.
To right-wing media, commencement speeches observing the anniversary of the desegregation of U.S. schools is no time to talk about race in America.
First Lady Michelle Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder each gave commencement addresses this month marking the 60th anniversary of the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision, when the Supreme Court ruled that state-mandated racial segregation of schools violated the U.S. Constitution.
Speaking to graduating high school seniors in Topeka, Kansas, the first lady referenced racial segregation that still exists today, according to The Kansas City Star:
Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the historic Supreme Court decision that outlawed segregated schools, Obama reminded the city where the case originated that the country is still racially divided -- although much more subtly than in the 1950s.
"Our laws may no longer separate us based on our skin color, but there's nothing in our constitution that says we have to eat together in the lunchroom or live together in the same neighborhoods," Obama told a full house at the 8,000-seat Kansas Expocentre.
At Morgan State University's commencement, Holder called on graduates to "take account of racial inequality, especially in its less obvious forms, and actively discuss ways to combat it."
Fox contributor and radio host Laura Ingraham attacked Obama's remarks as a "negative, cynical speech" that told kids their family members "were probably racists." Ingraham concluded that Obama was really just "projecting" her own racist beliefs.
A Daily Beast article relying on anonymous criticism of Hillary Clinton was latched onto by conservative media, who selectively quoted the article to smear the former Secretary of State for not officially designating the Nigerian group Boko Haram a foreign terrorist organization.
As Maggie Haberman noted in Politico May 10, following the kidnapping of Nigerian school girls by Boko Haram, conservatives began hyping a report from the Daily Beast which quoted an anonymous official criticizing the former Secretary of State for previously turning down requests to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization, implying that such a designation could have prevented the kidnapping.
The "actual details," as Haberman explained, revealed that experts at State were concerned an official designation would negatively elevate the group and lead to an inhumane response from Nigeria (emphasis added):
Clinton found herself on the receiving end of questions about the kidnap of 300 Nigerian girls. The Daily Beast reported that Clinton's State Department declined entreaties from congressional Republicans and others to label Boko Haram, the group responsible for the kidnappings, a terrorist organization. Secretary of State John Kerry gave the group that designation last year.
During Clinton's time at State, "The FBI, the CIA, and the Justice Department really wanted Boko Haram designated, they wanted the authorities that would provide to go after them, and they voiced that repeatedly to elected officials," the Beast quoted a former senior U.S. official familiar with the discussion as saying.
Republicans have widely circulated the original Daily Beast story. The actual details of why the Clinton-run Department declined to affix the group with terrorist status are complicated- her former Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, was reportedly concerned about elevating the group among extremist outfits, and potentially giving the Nigerian government latitude to go after them in an inhumane way.
Media Matters has explained that Clinton did put top Boko Haram leaders on the terrorist list, and academic experts on Africa confirmed the Department's fears that a designation for the whole organization could have severe negative consequences. Additionally, before Boko Haram was ultimately designated an official terrorist organization under Secretary Kerry, the group had been a part of peace talks with the Nigerian government which were reportedly "on the verge" of producing a ceasefire. As soon as the designation became official, they abandoned the talks.
Some of this relevant context was included in the original Daily Beast article, but was buried toward the end. Conservative media were able to conveniently ignore the details while promoting the out-of-context attack on Clinton's tenure.
From the May 7 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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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.
Hosts of the network Sunday news shows treated Benghazi myths and facts with false equivalence, an approach that hides the truth about the tragedy.
The right-wing's manufactured hysteria over the release of new White House memos and the House GOP's announcement that it would form a special select committee brought the September 11, 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya back into the spotlight on the May 4 Sunday news talk shows. The latest charge from conservative media is that a newly-released email from Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes preparing then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice for the September 16, 2012 Sunday talk shows -- where she suggested that the terror attacks had grown out of spontaneous protests -- was part of a deliberate effort to deceive the American people about the cause of the attacks.
In a seeming effort to provide false balance between the facts and the myths, the network news hosts lent credence to evidence-free claims by their guests, giving them equal weight with the truth.
Conservative media rushed to attack a White House report on the epidemic of campus sexual assault by attempting to cast doubt on studies showing that one in five women will experience sexual violence while in college.
Media consultant Holland Cooke highlighted the deceptive advocacy of right-wing talk radio hosts on behalf of sponsors such as tea party groups, arguing that listeners "might not understand that free speech had a price tag."
In a piece titled "The tea party radio network," Politico highlighted the relationship between conservative talk radio shows and tea party non-profit groups who often act as sponsors of the shows. The report "found that conservative groups spent nearly $22 million to broker and pay for involved advertising relationships known as sponsorships with a handful of influential talkers including Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh between the first talk radio deals in 2008 and the end of 2012."
On the April 17 segment on MSNBC's The Ed Show, Ed Schultz hosted talk radio consultant Holland Cooke and Ken Vogel, a co-author of the Politico piece. Vogel pointed out that the nature of right-wing radio's sponsorship "begs the question 'where does the line between the core ideological beliefs of the host end and where does the paid sponsorship start?'" Cooke pointed out that the conservative radio advertising landscape had shifted after Rush Limbaugh's notorious attacks on Sandra Fluke caused an advertiser boycott, due in large part to groups like Flush Rush, and explained that sponsors are often "treated like a news source," leaving many listeners not realizing that they are even listening to ads:
ABC host George Stephanopoulos announced on This Week that talk radio host and Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham is the network's "newest contributor." On her syndicated radio program The Laura Ingraham Show, Ingraham has repeatedly engaged in inflammatory and hateful rhetoric, lobbing numerous attacks against everyone from President Obama to people who receive government assistance to her favorite target, immigrants.
Here are 10 hateful moments from Ingraham in the past year:
1. Ingraham Used A Gunshot Sound Effect To Cut Off A Replay Of Rep. John Lewis' March On Washington Speech. During her coverage of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington in August 2013, Ingraham criticized the event and its speakers, saying the goal "was to co-opt the legacy of Martin Luther King into a modern-day liberal agenda." She then played a clip of a speech from Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington, abruptly interrupting the playback of his comments with the sound of a loud gunshot. Following criticism of this sound effect, Ingraham defended her use of the gunshot sound, instead calling it a "blow up effect" and claiming that criticism of her using the sound effect on Lewis was an attempt "to crush free speech."
From the April 11 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Right-wing media are fanning the flames of a conflict between a federal agency and their new hero -- a scofflaw Nevada rancher who's threatening a violent range war against the federal government.
Cliven Bundy, a cattle rancher in Nevada, has been fighting the government over grazing rights on public land for nearly a quarter century. In 1993, Bundy began refusing to pay government fees required to allow his cattle to exploit public lands. In 1998, the government issued a court order telling Bundy to remove his cows from the land, as part of an effort to protect the endangered desert tortoise located there. And in July 2013, a federal court ordered Bundy to get his cattle off public land within 45 days or they would be confiscated. The confiscation began this month, and the cattle will be sold to pay off the $1 million in fees and trespassing fines Bundy owes.
Conservative media have held the confiscation out as a big government invasion of private property rights and have repeatedly hyped the rancher and his family as victims being intimidated by a heavily armed force of federal agents who are escalating the situation into the realm of notorious and deadly standoffs like Ruby Ridge and Waco.
Fox News hosted the rancher on the April 9 edition of Hannity, where Sean Hannity sympathized with Bundy's claims against the government and argued that allowing Bundy's cattle to graze on public lands "keeps the price of meat down for every American consumer."
Fox & Friends highlighted the situation and complained about the protections for the desert tortoise. Co-host Brian Kilmeade said, "We're not anti-turtle, but we are pro-logic and tradition."
Meanwhile, Glenn Beck's TheBlaze.com played up the fact that the federal agents confiscating Bundy's cattle were armed. Alex Jones' Infowars.com posited that the government was attempting to "enslave us in an [United Nations] Agenda 21 future where we have no property and no rights." During an April 9 edition of Jones' conspiracy theory radio show, Jones said of Bundy, "So your bottom line, like Paul Revere, you're making your stand, you're telling folks we're being overrun by an out of control tyranny."
National Review Online's Kevin Williamson called the presence of armed agents "inflammatory" and described the government's actions as a "siege." The conservative American Thinker accused Attorney Gen. Eric Holder of enforcing the law against Bundy for racial reasons.
But if anyone is waging a campaign of intimidation, it's Bundy and his family, who have repeatedly threatened violence, invoked revolutionary rhetoric, and issued public statements making known that they own firearms and appear willing to use them.
After Mitt Romney's loss in the 2012 presidential election, the GOP acknowledged it needed to change its stance on immigration and Hispanic outreach. But conservative media figures lashed out at Jeb Bush after he expressed compassion for undocumented immigrants.
Right-wing media stoked fears that the English language will soon disappear based on the decision by a Texas county school board not to renew the contract of a principal who reportedly mandated an English-only policy on campus. In fact, English-only policies have been found to discriminate against Latino immigrants and they fail to take into account that the majority of Latino immigrants speak fluent English.
Right wing media hailed a federal court decision allowing Arizona and Kansas to enforce strict proof of citizenship laws for voter registration, a change that will disproportionately effect young, minority, and elderly voters, suppress voter turnout, and impose significant time and financial burdens.
On Wednesday, a Kansas federal judge ruled that it was unlawful for the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to deny states' ability to enact state-specific voter registration requirements. The Washington Post reported that now "both states require new voters to provide birth certificates, passports or other documentation to prove their U.S. citizenship to election officials." This is a secondary form of verification, in addition to the attestation of citizenship already required.
Breitbart portrayed the ruling as a "big win for Arizona and Kansas on election integrity," while The Washington Times described the ruling as a "boost for states' rights." Radio host Laura Ingraham hosted Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has been instrumental in drafting anti-immigrant legislation and brought this case, as a guest to defend the ruling as maintaining "the integrity of the voting process," and hype accounts of voter fraud:
But these voting laws have historically denied thousands of people access to the ballots. When Kansas first enacted rules that voters must provide proof of citizenship in 2013,14,000 registrations were held in suspense by the state. When a now-defunct proof of citizenship law in 2004 first passed in Arizona, 31,000 voters were denied registration, 90 percent of whom were American-born citizens.
Though proof of citizenship laws effect all voters, they disproportionately effecy minorities. The Advancement Project noted that proof of citizenship laws "impose significant time and financial burdens," and disproportionately effect minority groups such as Latino citizens and newly naturalized citizens. The New York Times reported that "studies have shown that the poor and minorities often lack passports and access to birth certificates needed to register under the laws in question."
The idea that the ruling is in response to rampant voter fraud is false. As past voter purges aimed at the threat of non-citizen voting have demonstrated, the alleged problem is wildly exaggerated. Just this past December, the Republican Secretary of State for Ohio revealed that after investigating unfounded conspiracy claims, only 17 non-citizen (not undocumented) votes out of 5.63 million were discovered, leading him to admit the problem was "rare." The American Immigration Council has explained that the warnings of a serious problem for election integrity due to non-citizen voting have been overhyped elsewhere:
There is no evidence that significant numbers of noncitizens are registering to vote. Nevertheless, in recent months several states have asked the federal government for access to immigration data in order to determine whether non-citizens are on the voter registration rolls.
The Associated Press reported in September 2012 that efforts by state election officials in Colorado and Florida to turn up cases of noncitizens illegally registered to vote have yielded very few results. In Colorado, an initial list of 11,805 suspected noncitizens on the voter rolls has shrunk to 141, which amounts to .004 percent of the state's 3.5 million voters. Likewise, in Florida, a list of 180,000 suspected noncitizens on the rolls has shrunk to 207, which accounts for .001 percent of the state's 11.4 million registered voters. It turns out that some of the individuals in question did not even know they were registered to vote, or were actually U.S. citizens legally entitled to vote.
The New York Times notes that, in 2011, "New Mexico's wasteful investigation of 64,000 'suspicious' voter registrations found only 19 cases of voters who may have been noncitizens."
Photo via Michael Flesher at http://www.flickr.com/photos/fleshmanpix/6732137133/
Guinness announced that it will not participate in the New York City St. Patrick's Day parade due to the parade's exclusion of LGBT groups, prompting outrage and calls for boycott from right-wing media figures.