As President Obama seeks to fill judicial vacancies, the media have failed to acknowledge the unprecedented obstructionism of his nominees by Republican senators, a complete reversal of their former insistence that then-President George W. Bush's judicial nominees receive up-or-down votes.
On January 3, Obama re-nominated 33 previously-stalled judicial nominees to the federal courts, in an attempt to fill the 75 vacancies in the federal judiciary - 20 more than when Obama took office. Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative appointed by Bush, described 27 of the vacancies as presenting "judicial emergencies" in his annual report on the judiciary.
Media coverage of the re-nominations continues to fail to contrast GOP obstruction of Obama's nominees to Senate Democrats' treatment of Bush's nominees. CNN.com described the nominations as "likely to reignite the political battle over judges," particularly due to the re-nomination of NRA-opposed former Solicitor General of New York, Caitlin Halligan. But CNN.com failed to note that Bush similarly resubmitted his preferred judicial nominees in bulk following the Congressional elections of 2002. At that time, the Democratic-controlled Senate allowed an up-or-down vote and confirmed 20 judicial nominees -- including controversial picks -- in five days.
The Washington Times also ignored the unprecedented Republican treatment of Obama's nominees. Instead, the Times obscured the fact that Senate Republicans have made filibustering of all judicial picks routine, and described as commonplace the current situation wherein "60 [Senate votes] are needed to proceed to a floor vote." In fact, all-out Congressional obstructionism is a development unique to the Obama presidency, and the hypocrisy of Republicans attacking Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's efforts to limit the use of a filibuster for judicial nominations is apparent in light of their exact reverse position after Bush's re-election.
Furthermore, both CNN.com and the Times highlight Halligan as an example of the judicial picks Republicans have denied an up-or-down vote, and uncritically repeat Sen. Mitch McConnell's accusations that Halligan -- the current General Counsel for the Manhattan District Attorney's office -- is the sort of "activist" vulnerable to the "extraordinary circumstances" test, which allows for filibusters of judicial nominees in extreme cases. But this coverage fails to note that Republicans are now engaged in unprecedented filibustering of all nominees, not just Halligan, even noncontroversial ones who have bipartisan support.
More importantly, the attacks on Halligan have been repeatedly debunked as cover for the NRA's opposition to the lawsuits Halligan was involved in prior to the passage of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, when she successfully pressured the gun industry to accept responsibility for business practices that funnel guns to criminals. Far from an "activist," Halligan was instead fulfilling her responsibilities as the legal representative of New York in her attempts to protect the state's citizens from illegal gun violence.
The right-wing media, however, is already dredging up this discredited NRA attack, even recycling Republican Sen. Charles Grassley's opposition to Halligan because she supported current constitutional law - such as affirmative action - with which he personally disagrees. CNSNews.com's repetition of Sen. Grassley's confused description of Halligan's support for recent Supreme Court precedent as "not a mainstream position," is an example of how the right-wing media have stretched in support of their blanket opposition to Obama's judicial nominees.
As reported by legal expert Linda Greenhouse of The New York Times, the Halligan example reveals the opposition is certainly not because of the nominees' qualifications:
[T]he N.R.A. has begun to involve itself in lower court nominations as well, where it can work its will in the shadows. It has effectively blocked President Obama's nomination of Caitlin J. Halligan to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that has been vacant since September 2005, when John G. Roberts Jr. moved to a courthouse up the street. The president has submitted the name of the superbly qualified Ms. Halligan to the Senate three times.
When I wrote a year ago about the fate of Caitlin Halligan's appeals court nomination, I tried to puzzle out the basis for the opposition. Silly me, I thought it had something to do with Republicans not wanting a young (she had just turned 45), highly qualified judge sitting in the D.C. Circuit's famous launch position (hello, John Roberts, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Warren Burger . . .)
Now I realize it's not about anything so sophisticated. It's about the N.R.A., which announced its opposition days before the cloture vote last December...In a previous job as New York State's solicitor general, Ms. Halligan, a former Supreme Court law clerk who is now general counsel to the Manhattan district attorney, had represented the state in a lawsuit against gun manufacturers. So much for her.
From the January 4 edition of MSNBC's MSNBC Live:
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Former National Rifle Association president Marion Hammer compared a proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to ban assault weapons to racial discrimination. According to Hammer, "banning people and things because of the way they look went out a long time ago. But here they are again. The color of a gun. The way it looks. It's just bad politics."
Hammer's comparison came during a discussion on NRA News about Sen. Feinstein's plans to introduce legislation to ban assault weapons during the new Congress. Hammer warned that the United States government could engage in firearm confiscation "in order to control the masses."
At a press conference held at a Washington, DC, hotel last month, the National Rifle Association's leadership responded to the tragic mass shooting at a Newtown, CT, elementary school by decrying the impact of violent movies on our culture. Less than 20 miles away, their organization's museum was hosting a laudatory exhibit on the firearms used in popular violent films.
During his December 21 speech at Washington DC's Willard Hotel, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre sought to refocus the debate on the political response to the shooting away from new regulations on guns. He instead passed blame to what he called "a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people," specifically highlighting "the blood-soaked slasher films like 'American Psycho' and 'Natural Born Killers' that are aired like propaganda loops."
Of course, academic research has discredited the notion that violent movies encourage violent behavior. But it nonetheless seems clear that the NRA's aversion to violent films is extremely inconsistent.
Since 2010, the NRA National Firearms Museum, which is based out of the group's Fairfax, VA, headquarters, has hosted "Hollywood Guns," an exhibit featuring firearms made famous by movies like Dirty Harry, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, and Die Hard. According to NRA magazine American Rifleman, "If you love guns or you love movies or, still luckier, you love guns and movies, this is a trip you cannot miss."
In the video, museum senior curator Phil Schreier says, "[W]e encourage you to come by and visit this sequel and come see a true blockbuster here in Fairfax, where all the stars of the silver screen have descended into these galleries and are represented by some of the firearms that we've fallen in love with in our youth and our adulthood, wishing that we too could be like our matinee idols."
Fox News is providing cover for the National Rifle Association as the organization attempts to shift the debate away from implementing stronger gun laws.
In a speech and an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press following last month's school shooting in Newtown, CT, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said that his group would oppose any new gun laws and instead called for Congress to "act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation." His comments were widely panned.
Fox & Friends Sunday host Dave Briggs responded to the criticism by defending LaPierre, claiming that "the mainstream media [is] mocking" the NRA leader. Briggs then suggested that media criticism of the NRA's position was unwarranted because "when you are talking about the mainstream media, it's all in this tiny little bubble up here in the Northeast, [it] has very little representation of most of the people in this country that do make up groups like the NRA."
Beyond Briggs' suggestion that the media should be more representative of the special interest groups it covers, the position of NRA leadership is not largely representative of American views on firearm ownership, or even the views of the majority of gun owners. During a December 23 appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, LaPierre stated that the NRA would oppose any new firearms regulations. Meanwhile, public support for bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as mandatory background checks on all gun sales, is strong.
A major flaw in the National Rifle Association's proposal to respond to the Newtown massacre with an increased focus on mental health but no new legislation on guns was exposed during NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre's interview on NBC's Meet the Press.
During that interview, LaPierre said that a major flaw in the background check system is that states have failed to input mental health records, allowing people who have mental health issues that would prohibit them from buying a firearm to nonetheless pass a background check. But moments later, he expressed opposition to extending the background check system to all gun sales, maintaining a loophole that would allow the mentally ill to continue to obtain firearms.
From the December 23 interview with Meet the Press host David Gregory:
LAPIERRE: I'll tell you what would work. We have a mental health system in this country that has completely and totally collapsed. We have no national database of these lunatics. ... 23 states are still putting only a small number of records into the system and a lot of states are putting none. So when they go through the National Instant Check System and they go to try to screen out one of those lunatics, the records are not even in the system.
GREGORY: Again, a lot of people would agree with that, there are a lot of difficulties regard to getting that kind of mental health information because there's privacy laws, there are states not contributing to a national registry. Isn't part of the issue background checks? You have 40 percent of sales that go on without any background checks. Are you prepared to back broader background checks if you don't think the ammunition road is the way to go?
LAPIERRE: We have backed the National Instant Check system, we have backed putting anyone adjudicated mentally incompetent into the system. Now I know where you're going with this. They come up with this whole, "oh, it's a gun show loophole." There's not a gun show loophole. It's illegal for felons to do anything like that, to buy guns. What the anti-Second Amendment movement wants to do is put every gun sale in the country under the thumb of the federal government. Congress debated this at length. They said if you're a -- a hobbyist or collector, if someone in West Virginia, a hunter, wants to sell a gun to another hunter, they ought to be able to do it without being under the thumb of the federal government.
Reports from the federal government and gun violence prevention advocates have exposed the failures of states to input mental health data into the National Instant Check System, and made recommendations to fill those gaps. But as Gregory noted, even if all mental health records were put into the system, it would have no effect on the estimated 40 percent of firearms sales that are made through private sellers.
From the December 21 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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One week after a mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Connecticut that left 20 children and six adults dead, the National Rifle Association broke its silence with a question-free "press conference" that featured a number of inaccurate claims about school safety and the role of entertainment in violence.
The media has a responsibility to evaluate the truthfulness of the claims made the NRA and should not merely pass along statements made in the press conference as fact.
During the press conference, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre claimed that gun free school policies make students less safe, misled about the Obama administration's position on school safety funding, and suggested that increasing armed security at schools is a comprehensive policy to stop violent attacks. LaPierre also falsely suggested there exists a link between violent video games and actual acts of violence while ignoring the documented link between gun availability and violence.
John Lott, a vocal opponent of gun violence prevention legislation, says that the National Rifle Association's plan for armed security guards at schools would be costly and ineffective.
During a December 21 press conference, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre laid out the group's proposed response to the December 14 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, CT:
LAPIERRE: Now, the National Rifle Association knows there are millions of qualified and active retired police, active, Reserve, and retired military, security professionals, certified firefighters, security professionals, rescue personnel, an extraordinary corps of patriotic, trained, qualified citizens to join with local school officials and police in devising a protection plan for every single school.
We could deploy them to protect our kids now. We can immediately make America's schools safer, relying on the brave men and women in America's police forces. The budgets -- and you all know this, everyone in the country knows this -- of our local police departments are strained, and the resources are severely limited, but their dedication and courage is second to none. And, they can be deployed right now.
I call on Congress today, to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation. And, to do it now to make sure that blanket safety is in place when our kids return to school in January.
Responding to a question about the press conference from Mayors Against Illegal Guns staffer and Aurora shooting survivor Stephen Barton on Twitter, Lott criticized the idea as costly and ineffective, saying that "identifiable guards are of very limited use in these cases":
Lott frequently appears in the media - despite being thoroughly discredited as a serious academic researcher - to opine against stronger gun laws.
The National Rifle Association refused to answer questions at what it had claimed was a "press conference" today in response to the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
Instead, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre gave a speech calling for armed police officers at all schools and blaming violent video games for mass shootings, rather than the ability of those shooters to obtain a firearm.
Notably, an armed police officer was present at Columbine High School at the time of the mass shooting there. After attempting to fire on one of the shooters with his pistol, he was quickly pinned down by the greater firepower of the shooter's assault weapon.
This puts special pressure on the hosts of NBC's Meet The Press and CBS' Face The Nation, who will host LaPierre and NRA president David Keene on Sunday, to ask the questions that the rest of the press corps was unable to.
Any such interview should address the conspiratorial language that LaPierre typically uses in speaking to his base, notably his claim that President Obama plans to use his second term to "erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights."
In yet another year plagued by horrific instances of gun violence, the media was quick to react to tragedies by labeling gun violence prevention efforts futile on the basis of the alleged ability of the National Rifle Association to ruin the political careers of anyone who dared to stand in the way of its anti-gun regulation agenda.
Earlier this year, Slate's Brian Palmer typified this narrative with an article titled "Why Is The NRA So Powerful?" that suggested that the pro-gun organization "considered by many the most powerful lobbying group in the country" can "reliably deliver votes." In the wake of the Newtown school massacre, Slate republished the article verbatim. Also following the Newtown massacre, NBC's David Gregory and Fox News' Chris Wallace both suggested that politicians who favored gun violence prevention measures would face serious reprisals.
In making these claims, the media simply advanced a years old narrative suggesting the NRA wields unlimited political power without citing any actual evidence for that position. In fact, 2012 was a year full of indicators that the extent of NRA influence has been wildly exaggerated. The media should keep this in mind as they prepare to cover the NRA's press conference this morning responding to the Newtown massacre.
During the past year, the National Rifle Association was abandoned by political and business allies and spent nearly $18 million in a failed attempt to keep supporters of gun violence prevention out of Congress and the White House.
Even as the NRA's brand was deemed toxic by the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative "model legislation" group, and faced withering criticism in the wake of the Newtown school massacre, the media myth has persisted that the NRA has the capability to punish politicians who oppose its extreme agenda.
National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre will be the "exclusive" guest on NBC's Meet the Press on December 23, nine days after the horrific shooting in Newtown, CT, and five days after the NRA mustered the courage to finally comment on the tragedy. Meet the Press moderator David Gregory is soliciting questions for LaPierre via Twitter, and we're happy to propose a few that touch on LaPierre's and the NRA's credibility on gun rights, drawing from LaPierre's long record of conspiratorial rhetoric in the name of aiding the firearms lobby.
LaPierre: Obama will "erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights and excise it from the U.S. Constitution."
At the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference, LaPierre delivered a speech sketching out what he saw coming should President Obama win reelection:
LAPIERRE: We see the president's strategy crystal clear: Get re-elected and, with no more elections to worry about, get busy dismantling and destroying our firearms' freedom, erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights and excise it from the U.S. Constitution.
The only way to "erase" a constitutional amendment is with another constitutional amendment. Given that the passage of an amendment requires two-thirds supermajorities in both houses of Congress (one of which is controlled by Republicans) and ratification by three-fourths of state legislatures (more than half of which are controlled by Republicans), the chances of the Second Amendment being "erased" any time soon are infinitesimally small - even if Democrats supported such a thing. And in fact, Obama himself has repeatedly stated that he supports both the Second Amendment and passing reasonable restrictions on guns - as do most NRA members.
QUESTION: "There is no plausible scenario in which President Obama or the Democrats could possibly remove the Second Amendment from the Constitution, so how can you justify your claim that the president will do so in his second term?"
Media are citing the large sum of money the National Rifle Association spent during the 2012 election as evidence of its power, and ignoring the fact that nearly all of that money went to support candidates who lost.
These reports, which come as the NRA prepares to respond to public demands for new gun laws in light of the Newtown massacre, further a years-old media mythexaggerating the NRA's influence on electoral politics.
For example, in a December 19 article, The Wall Street Journal reported that "The NRA spent $18 million to help elect candidates of both parties to Congress in the 2012 elections, placing it among the top 20 in interest-group election spending, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics." CNN offered a similar report the same day.
In a December 20 New York Times op-ed, former Bush administration ethics lawyer Richard Painter urged Republicans to "free themselves from the NRA protection racket," writing that "the NRA spent almost $19 million in the last federal election cycle. This money is not just spent to beat Democrats but also to beat Republicans who don't toe the line."
None of these reports noted that of the more than $18 million the NRA spent on independent expenditures during the 2012 election season, 95 percent of those dollars were spent on races in which their preferred candidate lost, according to data compiled by the Sunlight Foundation. Indeed, roughly two thirds of the group's total election spending came in support of their failed "all-in" campaign to defeat President Obama.
According to the logic of these media reports, Restore Our Future, the super PAC established to support Mitt Romney's presidential run, is one of the most powerful organizations in politics. The group spent more than $150 million during the 2012 election cycle - all of it in support of a losing candidate.
CNN is previewing the National Rifle Association's response to the Newtown school massacre by suggesting that the NRA will "leverage" money spent during the 2012 elections during the forthcoming debate over stronger gun restrictions without noting that the vast majority of money spent by the NRA on the elections went to races where its preferred candidate lost.
CNN's citation of the NRA's unsuccessful election spending as evidence of its political influence fits within a years old narrative in media exaggerating the NRA's clout.
In a December 19 article, CNN's Halimah Abdullah credulously reported a claim by unnamed "policy experts" that the National Rifle Association will "leverage the $17 million it spent in federal races this year helping elect candidates who it considers supporters of the NRA's mission" during a potential congressional fight over new gun regulations. However, CNN failed to mention that of the nearly $18 million the NRA poured into the 2012 elections, over 95 percent was spent on races where the NRA-backed candidate lost.* Furthermore, in six of seven Senate races where the NRA spent more than $100,000, the NRA-approved candidate was defeated. CNN's reporting is typical of a myth in media that the NRA possesses the ability to remove from office politicians who favor gun violence prevention measures. From the article:
Members of the media have been quick to push the myth that the National Rifle Association can remove politicians from office who support new gun violence prevention measures in the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The influence wielded by the NRA has been overblown by the media for years, a fact further evidenced by the organization's poor showing during the 2012 elections.