Conservative media outlets promoted an anonymously sourced claim published by U.S. News & World Report that an aide to Hillary Clinton circulated an attack on former Senator Jim Webb. Clinton spokesperson Nick Merrill flatly denied the report, telling Media Matters it was "pure fabrication."
In a story discussing Webb's possible run for the presidency, U.S. News & World Report's David Catanese claimed that "Clinton loyalists are keeping an eye" on Webb as a potential rival for the Democratic nomination. As evidence, Catanese wrote that "the week before Thanksgiving, staffers of Philippe Reines, Clinton's longtime communications guru, pitched talk radio producers on the racy, sexually charged writings in Webb's novels, according to a source."
In a comment to Media Matters, Clinton spokesperson Nick Merrill flatly denied the claim: "There is nothing true about this, it's pure fabrication, and if the reporter who wrote the story would have bothered to ask before printing it, we would have told him that."
Catanese doubled down on his claim in a follow-up report, writing that "of course, the Clinton team is denying Reines' underlings floated the material in the first place" and publishing Merrill's statement that the claim was "an unmitigated lie," before adding, "Our source, granted anonymity, stands by the account."
Several conservative media outlets ran with the anonymous U.S. News report, using it to attack Clinton's character.
The Drudge Report's headline linking to the report said "Team Clinton Already Dishing Oppo on Jim Webb."
New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin called the report evidence that Hillary Clinton was "trying to dirty up Jim Webb," and added, "Mud first, that's Hillary."
National Review's Jim Geraghty asked, "Why on earth would the Hillary team go after Jim Webb this early?" adding, "What is this, some form of mudslinging pregame stretching?"
At HotAir, conservative blogger Ed Morrisey said the story was evidence of "Clintonistas using a kitchen-sink strategy" which "sends a message to other Democrats who might dare to intrude on Coronation II: Hillary's Boogaloo."
American Conservative's James Carden said that "Clinton's team is seemingly alive to the danger a Webb candidacy poses" because of the report that "longtime Clinton henchman Philippe Reines had been pitching talk radio producers unflattering stories about Webb." Carden wrote that the incident "should raise additional questions about the former Secretary's powers of discernment, particularly when it comes to the character of some of her closest advisers."
National Review personalities exploited questions surrounding Rolling Stone's high-profile account of a rape at the University of Virginia (UVA) in order to deny the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses and suggested that women should do more to protect themselves, a response in keeping with the outlet's history of denialist, victim-blaming sexual assault coverage.
From the December 7 edition of ABC's This Week:
In its most recent effort to defend discriminatory and unnecessary strict voter ID laws, National Review Online has resorted in the past week to recycling debunked myths about this type of voter suppression, most recently linking voter ID to noncitizen voting, which is an unrelated issue.
With the midterm elections coming up, right-wing media are aggressively lying about voter ID laws and voter fraud, and NRO is no exception. NRO has previously praised Texas' strict voter ID law -- which has been found to be racially discriminatory in both intent and effect -- called for the remaining protections available under the Voting Rights Act to be repealed or limited, and dismissed concerns over Wisconsin's voter ID law, which has the potential to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters when it goes into effect.
In just the past week, NRO writers have doubled down on nearly all of these poorly supported right-wing positions. National Review editor Rich Lowry defended Texas's strict voter ID law -- which a federal judge determined to be an "unconstitutional poll tax" -- by arguing that the disenfranchisement these laws cause is justified by the potential for in-person voter impersonation, even though that kind of fraud is virtually non-existent. Lowry also incorrectly claimed that strict voter ID laws require the same level of identification needed to buy a gun. NRO contributor Hans von Spakovsky wrote in The Wall Street Journal that "moves to shore up election integrity have been resisted by progressives" who are challenging the legality of voter ID laws "without evidence that such efforts suppress minority turnout" -- despite the fact that a recent report found a decrease in voter of color turnout in two states was attributable to strict voter ID. For good measure, von Spakovsky, a discredited proponent of restrictive election rules, also conflated other forms of voter fraud with in-person impersonation, the only type of fraud voter ID prevents.
The dissembling continued with another NRO contributor, Mona Charen, offering more of the same in a post titled "The Voter-ID Myth Crashes." Charen seized on a contested study of the rate of noncitizen voting to claim that "[b]eing asked to show a photo ID can diminish several kinds of fraud, including impersonation, duplicate registrations in different jurisdictions, and voting by ineligible people including felons and noncitizens," but buried the fact that "[v]oter-ID laws will not prevent noncitizens from voting."
As strict voter ID laws are put into effect ahead of the midterm elections, recent judicial opinions and social science studies continue to poke holes in right-wing media's defense of voter suppression.
National Review editor Rich Lowry equated Kentucky senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes' refusal to disclose which presidential candidate she voted for in 2012 with former Republican Rep. Todd Akin's (MO) stunning claim that it is "really rare" for a woman to become pregnant as a result of "a legitimate rape." Lowry suggested the two positions were politically equivalent "gaffes," whitewashing the fact that Akin's statement was not only absurdly disconnected from scientific reality -- it also happened to reflect actual policy priorities of the Republican Party.
During an October 10 interview with the editorial board of The Louisville Courier-Journal, Grimes said she "respect[ed] the sanctity of the ballot box" when asked if she voted for President Obama in past elections. During an October 13 candidate debate, Grimes reiterated her stance on voter privacy:
GRIMES: This is a matter of principle. Our constitution grants, here in Kentucky, the constitutional right to privacy at the ballot box, for a secret ballot. You have that right, Senator McConnell has that right, every Kentuckian has that right.
GRIMES: I am not going to compromise a constitutional right provided here in Kentucky in order to curry favor on one or other side or for members of the media.
In an October 15 column published by Politico Magazine, Lowry exclaimed that "Alison Lundergan Grimes is the Todd Akin of 2014," and argued that Grimes' stated position defending the secret ballot was "a defining political gaffe" for this election. He likened her comments to then-Rep. Todd Akin's infamous statements about rape and pregnancy, in which Akin stated that pregnancies resulting from rape are rare because, "if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." Lowry argued that the two candidates represented similar levels of political ineptitude, writing that each was "telegenic, mockable and universally condemned."
Grimes' decision to stand on principle with regard to voter privacy has been labeled a "gaffe" by some, but, as MSNBC's Steve Benen pointed out, it is "an issue the media has deemed extremely important, but which actually affects no one."
By comparison, Akin's alarming comments on rape and pregnancy were reflected to varying degrees in actual policy decisions favored by Republican elected officials and candidates. Akin would later attempt to clarify his remarks amid a "firestorm" of controversy, but maintained his opposition to legal abortion access for women -- a constitutional right codified by the Supreme Court in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. In 2012, many prominent Republican candidates and conservative media figures supported banning safe and legal abortion, making the issue a central part of campaign rhetoric.
In October 2012, Indiana Republican senate candidate Richard Mourdock voiced his opposition to abortion "even when life begins in that terrible situation of rape," stating that "it is something that God intended to happen." Around the same time, Republican Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois supported a ban on all abortion, including cases that would threaten the life of the mother. Walsh falsley claimed that "modern technology and science" had solved the problem of potentially life-threatening pregnancies. During a 2007 Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney said "we don't want to have abortion in this country at all, period." He went on to state that it would be "terrific" if Congress passed a bill outlawing abortion, which he would be "delighted" to sign. Romney dodged abortion questions throughout his 2012 campaign, but promised to eliminate federal funding for women's health organizations like Planned Parenthood and vowed to be "a pro-life president."
Outlawing access to abortion remains a lightning rod for conservative media, with some right-wing outlets going so far as to tie debates about legal abortion to the crimes of convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell. Right-wing media figures like Karl Rove have pushed the myth that some forms of contraception are actually forms of abortion, while others such as Bill O'Reilly advanced extremist views on fetal "personhood" that would criminalize most abortions.
There is no appropriate comparison between Akin's extreme rhetoric and false scientific claims, and Grimes' personal defense of privacy at the ballot box.
Conservative media are attacking actor Ben Affleck for comments he made objecting to disparaging generalizations about Islam during a heated exchange with HBO host Bill Maher, using their dialogue as ammunition to continue claiming that the religion has a unique connection to extremism and that Muslims have not done enough to root out religious zealotry.
Conservative media are suggesting that the Obama administration is "working with foreigners to subvert the Constitution" by seeking a climate agreement with other nations without Senate approval, but legal experts agree that because it is not expected to be legally binding, the accord does not require Senate ratification.
Right-wing media personalities blamed President Obama for recent violence in Iraq, blaming the rise of violent militants in the country on Obama willfully refusing to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to leave behind some American forces and instead redeploying all U.S. troops. In reality, the Iraqi government refused to negotiate a viable SOFA with the U.S. despite Obama's efforts to maintain a military presence.
Marriage equality advocate attorneys David Boies and Ted Olson see the media opposition to their cause softening, and believe that while conservative media "are not prepared to embrace marriage equality," they are shying away from the issue because "they think that the wave of the future is against them."
Boies and Olson garnered attention when they joined forces in 2010 to battle California's anti-marriage equality ballot measure, Proposition 8, which was ultimately overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court last summer.
The duo, who had previously worked in opposition during the 2000 Bush vs. Gore case, kicked off a book tour this week to promote Redeeming the Dream, their account of the legal battle for marriage equality and the landmark ruling that struck down Proposition 8.
Prior to an event in Maplewood, N.J. Wednesday night, the lawyers-turned-authors spoke with Media Matters and said they see the media coverage of marriage equality becoming increasingly supportive, marking a notable change from even the recent past.
"The media in my view covered this issue very poorly for many years," Boies said. "The whole area of gay and lesbian rights was something that the media didn't know how to deal with, were a little uncomfortable dealing with it, didn't want in their view, to get too far out ahead of some of their readers. Because it was a sensitive issue [they] didn't cover it nearly as much as they should have."
Now, according to Boies, media figures "are beginning to feel uncomfortable opposing it ... I think there have been a number of people who you might think of as conservative commentators who have either been modestly favorable to us or silent on the issue and waiting to see."
Olson added, "We had one or two favorable Op-Ed pieces by members of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal. National Review has been pretty consistently on the other side of this. Ed Whelan, who writes in the National Review is very, very strong on the other side of the issue. But a lot of the conservative press is staying away from the issue because I think they think that the wave of the future is against them. So that tells you something right there."
"I think the shift's continuing," Boies noted. "I think some of the more conservative media are sort of standing back. They are not prepared to embrace marriage equality, but I do think they see that that is the wave of the future. Remember, as much as between 75 to 80 percent of people under 30 ... liberals, conservatives ... 75 to 80 percent of those people favor marriage equality. You don't want to get crossways with that kind of demographic wave."
Media Matters has documented Fox News' lack of coverage of marriage equality court decisions since the 2013 Supreme Court rulings, with many major cases receiving less than a minute of coverage on the network.
Both Boies and Olson felt they had personally been well-received by both conservative and mainstream media outlets, and that their issue had received fair coverage.
"Lots of different media reacted in different ways, but we were received very warmly, or I was, on Chris Wallace's show, on Fox," Olson recalled. "Of course, places like MSNBC have given us more access than some of the other outlets, but the novelty of the two of us coming together have caused curiosity. I'd say we were fairly favorably well-received in most places."
NRO editor and Fox News contributor Deroy Murdock criticized President Obama for advocating policies that allegedly hurt African-Americans ignoring that the African-American unemployment rate is at a five-year low.
Instead of highlighting the achievement, Murdock criticized Obama in a May 16 post for the National Review Online, going so far as to ask whether Obama's policies are "anti-black":
The conservative media got their candidate with the election of former Bush administration official Ben Sasse in Nebraska's Republican primary for U.S. Senate. Sasse was endorsed by Sarah Palin, Mark Levin, and Erick Erickson, and has been prominently featured on Fox News and in National Review.
Sasse's win capped a bruising primary between him and fellow Republicans Shane Osborn and Sid Dinsdale. Politico noted there was "back-and-forth mudslinging" over conservative credentials even though there "are no clear ideological differences between the candidates, and the 'establishment' and 'tea party' labels associated with the candidates are fuzzy."
Allies of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and a coalition of Nebraska activists supported Osburn, while outside national groups such as FreedomWorks, Tea Party Express, Family Research Council, and Senate Conservatives Fund backed Sasse.
Some of Sasse's biggest boosters were in the conservative media. National Review featured the Nebraskan on the cover of its January 27 issue, calling him a "health-care expert" and "rising conservative star." The Sasse campaign frequently touted the cover on the campaign, and promoted it in a campaign ad:
Jonah Goldberg criticized environmental reporters for focusing on climate change, saying that they were missing "serious problems, such as ocean acidification." However, ocean acidification is caused by the same carbon pollution driving climate change.
In his syndicated column on April 23, National Review Online editor-at-large Goldberg wrote that Republican politicians "still care about the environment," suggesting that they pay attention to environmental problems "such as ocean acidification, overfishing, elephant and rhino poaching, and loss of habitat" rather than climate change:
Contrary to what you may have heard, GOP politicians still care about the environment, but they take their cues from public opinion, not from the green lobby.
Important work is being done on serious problems, such as ocean acidification, overfishing, elephant and rhino poaching, and loss of habitat. None of these issues get a fraction of the coverage they deserve. That's because many environmental reporters think their beat begins and ends with climate change.
Ocean acidification is sometimes known as the "evil twin" of climate change as it is also driven by carbon dioxide emissions, making the ocean more acidic -- surface ocean waters are now about 30 percent more acidic than they were at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, as carbon dioxide builds up in the atmosphere and is increasingly absorbed by the ocean. Goldberg is correct that ocean acidification does not get the attention it deserves, as it threatens coral reefs that provide coastal protection from storms and tourism, and shellfish that make up a large part of the fishing industry.
Climate change also exacerbates species loss further threatened by overfishing, poaching and habitat destruction -- the other issues Goldberg names as truly "serious." In addition, climate change is itself emerging as one of the main drivers of habitat loss. This is why environmental groups and reporters have focused on climate change, while continuing to address environmental problems from overfishing to poaching, as it is a threat multiplier with global consequences.
While Goldberg is now calling for attention to these particular environmental topics, he has not given much attention to them himself in the past. The only time Goldberg has previously mentioned ocean acidification in his column* was to claim that we could address it by giving the ocean "some antacid" in 2009:
Is the atmosphere getting too hot? Cool it down by reflecting away more sunlight. The ocean's getting too acidic? Give it some antacid. The technology's not ready. But pursuing it for a couple of decades will cost pennies compared with carbon rationing.
Oyster hatcheries have indeed been resorting to putting the equivalent of Tums into hatcheries to make up for the declining numbers of oysters in the ocean, but dumping huge amounts of antacid into the ocean at large is considered impractical by scientific groups such as the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
The only time that Goldberg mentioned overfishing** was in 2005. In that same column was the last time that Goldberg mentioned animal habitats, claiming that the United States had "added vast new habitats for animals" without ever mentioning continuing habitat loss.*** Goldberg has never before covered poaching in his column.****
A Mississippi bill that will severely limit access to reproductive health is being promoted by conservative lawmakers using misleading arguments that mirror those pushed by right-wing media outlets.
In 2012, Mississippi passed House Bill 1390, legislation that would require all physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed the law, stating, "To further protect patient safety in the event of a complication during the procedure, this bill also requires the physician to have staff and admitting privileges at a local hospital." The governor's spokesman noted that Bryant felt the law was "an important step in strengthening abortion regulations and protecting the health and safety of women."
Rep. Sam Mims, HB 1390's sponsor, said in a CNN interview that the purpose of the law is "to make sure that women who are receiving these abortions are receiving abortions by a professional physician who is certified," and that "If something goes wrong, which it might -- we hope it doesn't, but it could -- that physician could follow the patient to a local hospital. That's the intent. And what happens afterwards, we'll have to see what happens." In a May 8, 2012 blog, the Mississippi Republican Party wrote "HB 1390 will require all physicians performing in abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a local hospital; a necessity to protect life in case of an emergency during an abortion."
In July of that year, however, the law was partially blocked by a federal judge after the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit alleging that the law is unconstitutional. The law made headlines again in 2014 as the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is considering whether to uphold the injunction.
Talking Points Memo argued that, despite the governor's purported concern for women's health, the law has more to do with restricting reproductive access than it does with women's health, arguing that medical organizations oppose requiring admitting privileges and pointing to Bryant's history of anti-choice advocacy. Diane Derzis, the owner of Jackson Women's Health Organization, agreed, telling Politico, "These people hide behind words like 'safety,' 'women's health,' 'concern' and 'compassion.' "
But the same could be said for choice opponents in the right-wing media, who frequently couch their anti-choice activism as concern over women's health.
Conservative media have rallied behind Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a political activist known for her toxic anti-Islam rhetoric after Brandeis University cancelled plans to grant her an honorary degree. Right-wing media have painted Hirsi Ali as a champion for women's rights, but instead appear to use her views on gender as a rhetorical gateway to attack the religion of Islam and highlight Hirsi Ali's view that Islam is a religion of violence and a "cult of death."
On April 8, Brandeis University announced that it would reverse course in awarding an honorary degree to Hirsi Ali, a visiting fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) known for her critical views of Islam. The New York Times reported that while Brandeis has invited Hirsi Ali to speak, it could not "overlook that certain of her past statements are inconsistent with" its values, labeling her past statements as the reason it revoked the degree.
Since the announcement, conservative media figures have rushed to defend Hirsi Ali, some using her life experience to explain away her Islamophobic comments. Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol called the move an "example of a war on women" and argued that the university had "caved to Muslim thugs." Fox News' Sean Hannity said the university's decision was an "example of left-wing appeasement." On April 10, Fox contributor Monica Crowley asked, "Where are the moderate Muslims? Where are people who, like Ali, have left the faith and are willing to courageously speak about it? And yet when somebody does show the guts and gets out there to do it, this is how they're treated?"
But Hirsi Ali is not moderate in her views of Islam -- once referring to the religion as "a destructive nihilistic cult of death" in a 2007 interview with The London Evening Standard. The New York Times reports that Hirsi Ali has also "advocated the closing of Islamic schools in the West and said that 'violence is inherent in Islam' and that 'Islam is the new fascism'." In a 2007 Reason interview, she also called for Islam to be militarily crushed and suggested the Constitution should be amended to permit oppression of U.S. Muslims.
Hirsi Ali has similarly used her position at AEI to push for antagonistic relations between the U.S. and Muslim-majority countries, even criticizing President Obama for not "associating Islam with extremism." In a 2010 Wall Street Journal op-ed, How to Win the Clash of Civilizations, Hirsi Ali highlighted her views that Islam "is at war with America" and wrote that Western civilization "needs to be actively defended" against Islam.
Although Hirsi Ali has been an outspoken advocate for women's rights, her narrative that violence and misogyny are inherent to the religion of Islam is problematic, but it is also what has recently propelled her into the conservative media spotlight. Right-wing outlets such as Fox have been notorious for amplifying Islamophobic voices in an effort to spread fear that Muslims are 'taking over,' while pushing the idea that Islam is adverse to Western values.
Conservative media have greatly enabled anti-Islam propaganda, and have had a significant role in propagating the belief that Islam is a violent religion and is therefore something the United States must fight against. On April 9, Fox host Andrea Tantaros exemplified this when she defended Hirsi Ali by arguing "we are" at war with radical Islam because "they are going to kill us, as the Qur'an states according to Bernard Lewis and many other scholars, they're going to kill us, Sean, until we are all Muslims or ruled by Muslims."
Fox and other conservative voices such as Pamela Geller, Zuhdi Jasser, and the National Review use figures like Hirsi Ali to boost their own anti-Islamic positions as legitimate, giving them cover to continue spreading anti-Muslim hate. Conservative media's rush to uphold Hirsi Ali's story is therefore much more a defense of their own Islamophobic narratives than of Hirsi Ali herself.
Violence against women in any form is a serious issue in many societies, and to limit the discussion by portraying it as a problem specific to the Muslim community, while dehumanizing an entire faith, is irresponsible, inimical to the cause of women's rights, and it is Islamophobic.
As Evelyn Alsultany, author of Arabs And Muslims in the Media and associate professor at the University of Michigan, told Media Matters, Hirsi Ali "has not promoted any kind of true understanding of Islam, but has provided justification for the public and the government to perpetuate racism." Alsultanty explains further:
While she has brought attention to oppression that some Muslim women face, she has done so by simplistically blaming Islam. As a result, she has powerfully contributed to naturalizing the idea that Islam in and of itself is the enemy of democracy and civilization. This idea has serious consequences. It has led to Muslims in the West facing a spectrum of experiences, from hostile questions about their faith to hate crimes. It has provided justification for the U.S. to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, that has negatively impacted the lives of Muslim women through war.
Communications director to the Center for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Ibrahim Hooper similarly pointed out that Hirsi Ali's rhetoric hijacks legitimate issues and "demonizes Islam." As Alsultany concludes, "we need to find a way to discuss a serious problem -- violence against women in a way that does not present the problem as exclusive to Muslim women."