We're at the point now where conservatives are going to have to start acknowledging that Barack Obama is the most talented politician in American history. By their own reckoning, the president's five years in office have been marked by so many Watergates, Iran-Contras, and combinations thereof that he should have been driven from office several times over by this point. And yet Obama was easily reelected and enjoys an approval rating in the mid to high-40s. How is this possible?
The explanation, it turns out, is the same explanation the right turns to whenever faced with political adversity: the media. It's all the media's fault. The corruption and various misdeeds of the Obama administration are manifest, but the public never catches on because the press covers it all up and throws out distractions to keep attention focused elsewhere.
When you actually write it out like that it sounds crazy. Because it is. It assumes a) close, unseen coordination between the administration and every major news outlet in America; b) close, unseen coordination between news outlets that are ostensibly competing against one another; and c) widespread moral vacuity among government officials and journalists that enables them to enthusiastically scrub away legal and ethical violations.
But that's what they're going with. Wednesday's House Oversight Committee hearing into the Benghazi attacks didn't quite live up to the pre-hearing promises of political "fireworks" and "bombshells." The morning after the hearing, FoxNews.com published an op-ed by Dan Gainor of the Media Research Center arguing that the Obama administration had "cover[ed] up four murders after the fact" in Benghazi and "with a few notable exceptions, the American media haven't just let them get away it. Heck, they've helped." Now, had the Obama administration actually tried to cover up the fact that four people were killed in Benghazi, that would be a hell of a scandal. But that didn't happen. To my knowledge, no one has even attempted that accusation before now. But that what's Gainor thinks Benghazi is about and he thinks the mainstream press (of which The Daily Show's Jon Stewart is a member, apparently) are the sort of moral monsters who would sign on for such a cover-up.
The ties between conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and right-wing megaphone Matt Drudge remain strong, with Jones revealing that he spent time yesterday with one of Drudge's employees and crediting Drudge with pushing one of his conspiracy theories "into the mainstream media."
Matt Drudge, who has described 2013 as the "year of Alex Jones," promoted Jones' website, Infowars, 244 times over the last two years and 50 times since the year began on The Drudge Report. Conservatives have urged Drudge to stop linking to Jones after the latter suggested the Boston Marathon bombings were a "false flag" attack perpetrated by the federal government.
On his radio show today, Jones said he was "hanging out" with The Drudge Report's Joseph Curl at a hotel in Houston, Texas where the pair tried "to crash the private Bush-Cheney party" being held in concert with the dedication ceremony for President George W. Bush's presidential library.
Matt Drudge has long been conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' biggest ally. According to a Media Matters review, the heavily-trafficked Drudge Report has promoted at least 50 separate articles at Jones' Infowars website in 2013, and has linked to at least 244 different articles on the site in the past two years.
Drudge announced this week that he had privately told friends that 2013 would be the "year of Alex Jones." Considering Drudge's penchant for promoting Jones and his Infowars website, those comments are more of a promise than a prediction.
Alex Jones is a radio host famous for pushing absurd conspiracy theories about a host of issues, including that the U.S. government perpetrated or was otherwise involved in the 9-11 attacks, the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Space Shuttle Colombia disaster, and the Aurora movie theater shooting.
Jones has lately made headlines for his most recent conspiracy that the Boston Marathon bombings were a "false flag" attack staged by the government. Drudge has provided several links to Jones' site in the days since Jones started floating Boston conspiracies, including an article highlighting the father of the bombing suspects claiming his sons had been set up.
The links to Jones' site in the wake of the Boston bombings are not surprising; he has sent a steady stream of traffic there in 2013.
Among the fifty Infowars pieces promoted by Drudge so far in 2013: a story mulling over claims that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may have been "surreptitiously" given cancer, possibly by the U.S. government; numerous articles promoting conspiracies about supposedly ominous ammunition purchases made by the Department of Homeland Security; and a story comparing Obama to "other tyrants" -- including Stalin, Hitler, and Mao -- that have "used kids as props."
Drudge has been consistently linking to Jones' site for years (Drudge Report also features two permanent links to the Infowars mainpage). Among the 244 Infowars articles Drudge has promoted since April 2011:
On April 23 Matt Drudge, owner and operator of the right-wing content aggregator The Drudge Report, tweeted that he "privately told friends" that 2013 would be the "year of Alex Jones." Drudge has linked to the radio host and conspiracy-monger several times following the Boston Marathon bombings.
On his personal twitter feed, Drudge predicted that 2013 would be the "year of Alex Jones," praising his show as "one hell of a broadcast in such homogenized media!" In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, Drudge linked to articles on Jones' website Infowars, including stories that called Boston a "police state" during the manhunt for the alleged perpetrators, and a post accusing the Obama administration of covering up the involvement of a Saudi student who was later declared a victim of the attack:
Jones made news following the April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon after he suggested that the blasts were staged by the U.S. government, calling the event a "false flag":
Jones elaborated on his initial comment during his show later that night, saying: "You saw them stage Fast and Furious. Folks, they staged Aurora, they staged Sandy Hook. The evidence is just overwhelming. And that's why I'm so desperate and freaked out. This is not fun, you know, getting up here telling you this. Somebody's got to tell you the truth."
President Obama is "now the global head of Al-Qaeda" while "simultaneously invoking the threat of terrorists domestically to destroy the bill of rights."
The Oklahoma City Bombing was "carried out by intelligence agencies" with "Bill Clinton's involvement."
The government is using products like juice boxes to "encourage homosexuality with chemicals so that people don't have children."
The U.S. government was behind the 9/11 attacks. Jones describes himself as being on "the front lines of the growing global information war from ground zero to the occult playgrounds of the power-mad elite. Jones predicted the attacks on September 11th, 2001 and is considered one of the very first founding fathers of the 9-11 Truth Movement."
The government has set up FEMA concentration camps in America, and "the military-industrial complex is transforming our once free nation into a giant prison camp."
President Obama is transforming the United States into "something that resembles Nazi Germany, with forced National Service, domestic civilian spies, warrantless wiretaps, the destruction of the Second Amendment, FEMA camps and Martial Law."
The BP oil spill "could have been manufactured."
The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin interviewed Tim Miller, executive director of a new conservative political action committee centered on opposition research, who reminisced about how conservative operatives successfully used blogger Matt Drudge to push debunked or thinly-researched smears against Democrats in 2004, describing it as a "great model" that needs to be updated.
In a March 24 post at Rubin's "Right Turn" blog, Miller described his organization, America Rising, as being dedicated to the "collection, dissemination and deployment of opposition research against Democrats," and uses Drudge's DrudgeReport.com circa 2004 as a model to return to (emphasis added):
Last week former Mitt Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades and two young Republican sharpshooters, Tim Miller and Joe Pounder, announced they would set up a new organization, America Rising, devoted to the collection, dissemination and deployment of opposition research against Democrats and a counterpart to the hugely successful American Bridge on the left. On Friday I sat down with Miller and Pounder at a Capitol Hill Starbucks to talk about their new venture.
They plan on instigating nothing less than a revolution in the way the right does and uses oppo research. They are keen on connecting research to communication and every other aspect of campaigns. Pounder tells me, "It must be responsive to the news cycle and polling." Miller jokes that "research has been people sitting in a dungeon or going through trash cans" and then funneling the information up to a press person to send out in a mass e-mail. Miller says, "Now you have to drive the news cycle."
The Romney campaign was certainly hobbled by the Democrats' opposition machine, which cranked out information on everything from Bain to Cayman bank accounts, funneled it to friendly press outlets and the Obama super PAC, and kept the Romney team on perpetual defense. But the problem is not specific to the Romney campaign. Miller recalls, "We had a great model in 2004 -- research guys who fed to Drudge. Drudge drove the mainstream media." But, he says, "in a lot of ways we haven't done a good job of updating [that model]. Over time we rested on our laurels."
In 2006, ABC News highlighted Drudge's influence on media, particularly in the 2004 election cycle, saying, "Republican operatives keep an open line to Drudge, often using him to attack their opponents...And then the mainstream media often picks it up."
Drudge did help drive stories to Fox News, right-wing radio and other outlets during the 2004 presidential election, but much of the blogger's content -- which included discredited attacks on John Kerry's military service -- was thinly-researched, deceptively edited, or flat-out wrong.
The Drudge Report posted a misleading headline that claimed about 89 million people are not working, a number that actually represents all people not in the labor force, which includes people who are not currently looking for jobs.
A March 8 post on The Drudge Report linked to a CNSNews.com article titled "Record 89,304,000 Americans Not In Labor Force," discussing the Bureau of Labor Statistics' February jobs report that showed an unemployment rate of 7.7 percent, the lowest it has been since 2008. The article noted that the BLS defined people not in labor force as "people who have retired on schedule, taken early retirement, or simply given up looking for work." The Drudge Report highlighted the story with the headline:
In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics made clear that there is a distinct difference between people who are unemployed and those not in the labor force. According to its glossary of terms, "unemployed persons" (added link) referred to "persons aged 16 years or older who had not employment" but were available and looking for work. The BLS report found that about 12 million people were currently unemployed, lowering the U.S. unemployment rate to 7.7 percent. The report also showed those not in labor force to be 89,304,000, which, according to the BLS' definition, is a different designation than those unemployed . From the BLS glossary:
Not in the labor force (Current Population Survey)
Includes persons aged 16 years and older in the civilian noninstitutional population who are neither employed nor unemployed in accordance with the definitions contained in this glossary. Information is collected on their desire for and availability for work, job search activity in the prior year, and reasons for not currently searching.
Matt Drudge is comparing the firestorm over whether Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward was threatened in an email by a White House aide to what happened in the Nixon White House, an absurd and ahistorical claim.
Right-wing media frequently compare President Obama to Nixon, highlighting instances in which they believe Obama White House activities rise to the level of the Nixon White House's "Enemies List." But while many conservatives have abandoned Woodward's dubious intimidation claim, late in the afternoon on February 28 The Drudge Report featured the following:
Such a claim displays a staggering ignorance of what Nixon's "Enemies List" entailed. It was an effort directed from the highest levels of the White House to use the power of the federal government to financially damage political opponents, including journalists. And the Nixon White House did more than send mean emails to reporters; its aides actually plotted to kill a critical columnist.
The Drudge Report is again comparing President Obama to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, suggesting that the appearance of children at the press conference on gun laws resembled "tyrants who have used children as props."
On January 9, Drudge linked news that Obama planned to take executive actions to strengthen gun laws to Hitler and Stalin. Drudge made the same comparison on Thursday. The front page of the Drudge Report featured images of Obama surrounded by children at the signing of his executive actions as well as images of Hitler and Stalin holding children. Stalin's image appeared above a link to an Infowars article under the headline "FLASHBACK: Tyrants Who Have Used Children As Props..."
The top link on Drudge was the image of President Obama:
Lower in the page, Drudge featured an image of Stalin holding a child with a link to the Infowars article:
As soon as President Obama's new recommendations for gun violence prevention became public, right-wing media immediately claimed the president was issuing an executive action requiring doctors to ask patients about their guns. This is false. The president's released proposals only clarify that nothing in the Affordable Care Act changes longstanding law: doctors are still free (but not required) to discuss with their patients any health hazards, including a lack of gun safety at home or elsewhere.
Among the White House proposals for gun violence reduction, the president announced that the administration will "[c]larify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes." Nowhere in his proposal did he instead require doctors to ask about guns. The Drudge Report, however, immediately splashed across its website this graphic:
Rush Limbaugh picked up on this flatly inaccurate claim that the president required doctors to ask their patients about "gun ownership." Rather than explain the president's executive action only indicated future orders, regulations, or guidance will clarify that no law - including the ACA - prohibits them from discussing gun safety with their patients, Limbaugh reported it as a new directive that "deputizes gun-snitch doctors":
RUSH: So now doctors are being ordered, instructed to talk to patients and get information from them about gun ownership, where they are in their house, who has access to them, where the ammunition is kept. Doctors are now, quote, unquote, "permitted," unquote, to do this. It makes 'em deputies, agents of the state.
RUSH: They're trying to bring a screeching halt to the effort to stop the instances of doctor-patient relationship where the doctor gains the information and passes it on. That's why the reference to Obamacare. If you go back and read Obamacare, despite what the president said in his little release today Obamacare does limit the government when it comes to gun in terms of doctors and what they can collect. They're now trying to reverse that. That's what this is about today. They're trying to stop any effort that would change what's already in place, which is doctors reporting on citizens via patient conferences.
RUSH: Yep, and people are getting upset with it. They never have liked it. This section in Obamacare, it's too much legalese to read to you. But the summary of it is it does in fact limit what data the authorities can collect from patients, what information the doctors can collect from patients and report to the authorities. That section in Obamacare was put in by the NRA. It was a sop given to the NRA. What the regime is doing today is, A, saying, "No, it's not really there; Obamacare does not prevent this," when it does, and, "It doesn't matter anyway because we're now gonna require it even more than we already have."
Limbaugh concedes that the executive action doesn't literally say that doctors are required to ask about gun safety, but rather, in his interpretation, "the executive action today is almost essentially requiring it." The president's proposal was likely a direct response to these types of wildly erroneous interpretations of the health care reform law and executive orders that were already floating around the right-wing blogosphere, before Limbaugh added his analysis. For example, on January 9, a Breitbart.com writer claimed the ACA says "the government cannot use doctors to collect 'any information relating to the lawful ownership or possession of a firearm or ammunition.'" But the relevant provisions within the health care reform law are explicitly limitations on what the secretary of Health and Human Services can do, not "the government" at large, and nowhere is there a prohibition on doctors inquiring about gun safety. In fact, such a prohibition has been held to be an unconstitutional violation of a doctor's First Amendment rights. As explained by the White House proposal released today:
Some have incorrectly claimed that language in the Affordable Care Act prohibits doctors from asking their patients about guns and gun safety. Medical groups also continue to fight against state laws attempting to ban doctors from asking these questions. The Administration will issue guidance clarifying that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit or otherwise regulate communication between doctors and patients, including about firearms.
The administration is basing their interpretation on the text and intent of the law itself. The amendment may indeed have been a last-minute lobbying success for the NRA, but right-wing media inflate its reach in addition to their false claims about what the president actually did today. As reported by NBCNews.com, "[t]here are some who believe the health-care law outlaws doctors from asking patients about guns in their homes. But that's not true." From Kaiser Health News:
Did you know the Affordable Care Act stands up for gun rights? The "Protection of Second Amendment Gun Rights" section says the health law's wellness programs can't require participants to give information about guns in the house. It also keeps the Department of Health and Human Services from collecting data on gun use and stops insurance companies from denying coverage or raising premiums on members because of gun use.
The massacre in Newtown, Conn., renews the controversy about whether gun violence is a public health issue. Should health authorities view guns in the same category as pneumonia and car crashes? The debate has been going on for years, with epidemiologists arguing firearms can kill just as many as a bad flu season and gun-rights advocates viewing any attention from public health officials as a step toward gun confiscation -- the beginning of the end of the Second Amendment.
The ACA language, which does not prohibit doctors from inquiring about guns in the household, was included at the request of Nevada Democrat Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader and a gun rights supporter. Reid's office did not respond to a request for comment.
The language was inserted after the act cleared the Senate Finance Committee and before it was voted on by the full Senate.
The National Rifle Association did not respond to a request for comment.
The Drudge Report paired a headline about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signing a new gun violence prevention law with a headline about the town of Corleone, Italy, apologizing for its involvement in decades of Mafia violence.
On Tuesday, Governor Cuomo signed into law several measures to strengthen the state's gun laws. On Wednesday, Drudge posted a picture of Cuomo along with several headlines related to the new legislation, including, "Cuomo Quickly Signs Into Law To Avoid Runs" on gun sales. Just below, Drudge posted a headline in all italics stating "Corleone apologies for decades of Mafia murders."
The headline led to a story about the town of Corleone, Italy -- made famous by the Godfather book and movies -- and its attempt to put its history of Mafia violence behind it.
From the January 14 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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Two days after linking potential gun violence prevention measures to Adolf Hitler, the Drudge Report is highlighting a story reporting that Google searches for "Hitler gun control" have spiked.
On Wednesday, the Drudge Report used images of Hitler and Joseph Stalin to highlight a report that President Obama is considering executive action to strengthen gun laws. On Thursday, the Washington Examiner reported that "web users interest in the history of Hitler and gun control has spiked since Democrats began demanding more restrictions on high capacity magazines and semi-automatic weapons":
On Friday, Drudge linked to the Examiner story with the headline "GOOGLE searches for 'Hitler gun control' spike...":
Right-wing media outlets are feverishly spinning a remark by Vice President Joe Biden that the administration is considering executive action as well as other options for curbing gun violence in order to suggest that the Obama administration plans to gut the Second Amendment of the Constitution. Though Biden did not specify what executive action the administration is considering, the Justice Department has offered possible executive actions that could be taken, none of which involve restrictions on weapons that law-abiding Americans may purchase.
After meeting with gun violence prevention advocates on Wednesday, Biden -- who is leading a White House task force on gun violence prevention following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre -- said that the administration is "reaching out to all parties on whatever side of this debate you fall." He promised that "the president is going to act" and added: "There is executive action that can be taken. We haven't decided what that is yet."
The right-wing media responded to Biden's comments by comparing President Obama to Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler and suggesting that Obama is planning to confiscate guns and gut the Second Amendment:
But these claims are baseless at best. Biden said the administration has not decided what executive action to take, but the Justice Department has reportedly considered executive action to ensure that more records of mental illness are included in the FBI's background check system, in addition to similar measures. The New York Times reported that the Justice Department "did not focus on new restrictions on the kinds of weapons that most law-abiding Americans may purchase."
Furthermore, there is ample precedent for presidents to take executive action for the purpose of gun violence prevention. In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Gun Control Act of 1968 and simultaneously signed an executive order, which regulated arms imports into the United States. President George H.W. Bush used his authority under the Gun Control Act of 1968 to permanently ban the import of 43 types of weapons, including versions of the AK-47 and the Uzi. President Clinton also took executive action to ban more than 50 types of assault weapons in 1998
Fox News, The Weekly Standard, and Matt Drudge are hiding Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski's support for provisions in a disaster relief bill in order to attack Murkowski's Democratic colleague, Sen. Mark Begich (AK).
The Senate is debating a $60.4 billion relief bill to provide funding for clean-up in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy this week. The Governors of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have all endorsed a bill this size, but Republicans have reportedly threatened to block the bill if the proposed spending is not offset by cuts.
Right-wing media seized on some of the bill's provisions to call the bill an example of pork barrel spending even though the White House and Senate appropriators have said the vast majority of the spending in the bill is directly related to recovery from Hurricane Sandy. In particular, these media outlets have focused on a portion of the bill -- amounting to less than 0.3 percent of the total funds in the bill -- that provides money for states affected by disasters involving fisheries in the Northeast, Mississippi, and Alaska.
After misleadingly attacking the bill as a "scam" on Monday, Fox News' Fox & Friends First host Patti Ann Browne called the bill "packed with pork" and Fox Business correspondent Diane Macedo singled out Begich as a supporter of the fisheries provision.
But in order to suggest that this was a money grab by a Democratic senator, these outlets had to ignore the fact that Murkowski supported the fisheries provision too. Murkowski strongly praised the fisheries provision in a press release about the relief bill:
Alaska's Chinook fisheries were declared a disaster exactly three months ago, but no funds have been appropriated to help communities and businesses impacted yet. This bill will go a long way in providing federal resources to Alaskans who suffered economically because of this year's low King Salmon run get back on their feet.
Furthermore, the money will go to several states for which the Commerce Department declared disasters due to low catch rates and other problems: Mississippi, Rhode Island, New York, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Alaska. And in Alaska, the declaration came as the result of a request by Republican Governor Sean Parnell.
Matt Drudge, Fox News, and The New York Post misrepresented the content of a bill to provide federal aid for the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in order to claim the bill is a "scam" that is "filled with holiday goodies unrelated to storm damage." In fact, less than 0.3 percent of the spending identified is unrelated to Sandy, and that spending is largely allocated to separate disasters.
The Senate is scheduled to begin debate on Monday on a $60.4 billion bill that provides funding for the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy. Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his Democratic colleagues in New York and Connecticut, Governors Andrew Cuomo and Dannel Malloy, have endorsed a bill of this size, but some congressional Republicans have reportedly balked at the bill, saying it is too large or that its spending should be offset by spending cuts in other areas.
Drudge hyped a New York Post article claiming the bill is "filled with holiday goodies unrelated to storm damage." Fox News Fox & Friends aired a graphic titled "Sandy Scam," which listing six spending items:
Aside from money for fisheries, which represents about 0.2 percent of the spending in the bill, the White House has said that each of the items identified by Fox and the Post -- $42 million for U.S. military bases, including the base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, $5.2 million for the Justice Department, $4 million for the Kennedy Space Center, $3.5 million for Homeland Security, and $2 million for the Smithsonian Institution in DC -- is directly related to Sandy. The fisheries money is slated to provide aid in wake of other disasters.