Fox News is helping promote a baseless conspiracy accusing the Obama administration of manipulating employment data for political gain. The accusation, fed by a thinly sourced New York Post column, is now being used to push for congressional investigations.
On November 18, The New York Post blasted the headline: "Census 'faked' 2012 election jobs report." The basis of that claim is a single source, a Census worker who allegedly was caught fabricating data while measuring unemployment in 2010. Beyond that uncorroborated evidence, the Post offers a single anonymous source who claims that Census employees manipulated unemployment data throughout 2012. The Post concluded by calling for a congressional investigation into the supposed "manipulation of data."
Fox cited that report and extended the conspiracy theory beyond low-level Census employees to accuse the White House of knowingly manipulating jobs numbers. The hosts of Fox & Friends argued that the Post reporting corroborated the 2012 conspiracy theory pushed by former General Electric CEO Jack Welch that "these Chicago guys" in the Obama administration and campaign were skewing the jobs data:
KILMEADE: How the number is calculated is one issue. But the issue that we're talking about is how the number was skewed and was fudged, because we're talking about, out of nowhere the unemployment rate dropped from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent at the crucial time between August and September.
So -- the conventions are over. You wonder if the economy is on track, you've got Mr. Economic Business Wiz Mitt Romney coming up the rear. And all of a sudden the unemployment rate is dropping. And you're thinking maybe we are on the right track.
Jack Welch comes out and says, it's amazing - and I'll just paraphrase -- it's amazing what these Chicago guys will do to win an election.
Later in the show, on-air graphics insinuated that the White House was "cooking the books."
This unsourced rumor, however, provides no evidence that the jobs numbers were manipulated to improve the unemployment rate, nor does it reveal that anything "unusual happened with the September  report," as Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal explained (emphasis added):
The allegation is interesting. It claims that surveyers conducting the Household Survey -- which is what establishes the unemployment rate -- were pressured to fake surveys in order to fill in data gaps, when it was difficult to get adequate response rates on its surveys.
It also claims that instances of bad data being filled in is something that was going back to 2010 -- in other words, this is not a story about the infamous September 2012 jobs report. There's also no allegation here that there was pressure to manipulate the number up. The only claim is that there was pressure to fill in gaps where there was a shortfall in the number of survey respondents.
There may be more information to come to light on this, but at least this particular report doesn't jibe with Welch's claim that something unusual happened with the September report to artificially push the number down.
In a later post, Weisenthal expanded on his criticism of the New York Post piece, noting that "While it's true that at the time the September Jobs Report looked very weird, in retrospect that drop-off in the unemployment rate looks totally on-trend," and explaining that the supposedly-suspicious regional data didn't seem to match a noticeable dip in unemployment in the same regions.
Right-wing media have a long history of attempting to discredit employment data. As early as February 2012, Fox's Steve Doocy claimed the unemployment data was "fishy," while Fox's Eric Bolling asked if the Labor Department was "playing around with the numbers."
UPDATE: In a November 19 Twitter post, CNBC senior economics reporter Steve Liesman reported that the worker named in the New York Post article has not worked for the Census Bureau since August 2011:
Right-wing media are using the firing of fictional cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants to attack the social safety net and those who rely on it.
The New York Post reported on October 30 that in an upcoming episode of the Nickelodeon cartoon, SpongeBob is fired from his job working in the underwater fast food restaurant "the Krusty Krab" after his boss discovers he can save a whole nickel by eliminating SpongeBob from the payroll.
The Post used the cartoon's plot development to attack people who rely on government assistance, referring to individuals who rely on food stamps as "mooching off the social services" and applauding SpongeBob for instead quickly returning to "gainful employment":
So what's a hardworking sea sponge to do?
Lest he sit around idly, mooching off the social services of Bikini Bottom, a depressed SpongeBob sets out to return to gainful employment wherever he can find it.
No spoilers -- but it's safe to say that our hero doesn't end up on food stamps, as his patty-making skills turn out to be in high demand.
Fox News parroted the Post's attack, with Fox & Friends' Heather Nauert claiming that "the harsh economic climate has hit the underwater community," but "instead of mooching off social services at Bikini Bottom, that's the town, SpongeBob sets out to return to the work force."
Previously, Fox News repeatedly criticized a SpongeBob SquarePants book and video about manmade global warming, claiming the program based on scientific evidence was "pushing a global warming agenda" and "indoctrinating children."
Right-wing media have a long history of attacking the social safety net. Recently, Fox attacked low-wage workers in the fast food industry who have to rely on necessary federal benefit programs because they earn below subsistence wages.
Right-wing media picked up a misleading NBC News report that claimed President Obama knew millions of Americans would receive "cancellation" letters terminating their health insurance -- a report NBC News later clarified by explaining many of the policies would be "replaced" and not canceled.
In an October 28 NBC News report, senior investigative reporter Lisa Myers claimed that "50 to 75 percent" of individual health insurance consumers "can expect to receive a 'cancellation' letter or the equivalent over the next year" because their existing policies do not meet Affordable Care Act standards. Right-wing media have used similar language to claim "thousands of people across the country receiving cancellation notices from their insurers." In a New York Post column, National Review's Rich Lowry claimed "hundreds of thousands of people in states around the country are now receiving notices that their insurance is getting canceled." Fox News' Charles Krauthammer described the issues with the discontinued policies as "almost a parody of the definition of a liberal."
However, on the October 29 edition of MSNBC's The Daily Rundown, host Chuck Todd challenged Myers' description of policy letters sent to insurance consumers as policy replacements, not cancellation. Myers agreed:
The New York Post lauded Stephen Jimenez as a fearless, dogged, and truth-telling reporter, ignoring the numerous substantive flaws in his new book claiming that Matthew Shepard's 1998 murder wasn't an anti-gay crime but the result of a meth deal gone awry.
In her October 28 column, the Post's Andrea Peyser effectively acted as Jimenez's stenographer, fawning over "the most dangerous journalist on earth" whose critics are irrational "protectors of Matthew Inc." Jimenez is so heroic, Peyser would have her readers believe, that he may well end up saving lives as a result of his book (emphasis added):
Stephen Jimenez didn't set out to be the most dangerous journalist on earth.
Or, more to the point, the most dangerous gay journalist.
But Jimenez unearthed a story that few people wanted to hear. And it calls into question everything you think you know about the life and death of one of the leading icons of our age.
Matthew Shepard, college student. Killed, at 21, for being gay.
Or was he?
Jimenez's "The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard," out last month, challenges every cultural myth surrounding Shepard's short life and unspeakable death. After some 13 years of digging, including interviews with more than 100 sources, including Shepard's killers, Jimenez makes a radioactive suggestion:
The grisly murder, 15 years ago this month, was no hate crime.
Shepard's tragic and untimely demise may not have been fueled by his sexual orientation, but by drugs. For Shepard had likely agreed to trade methamphetamines for sex. And it killed him.
Why dredge this up now? Jimenez's answer surprised me.
"As a gay man," he said, "I felt it was a moral thing to do."
Activists, journalists, politicians and filmmakers who, with the best of intentions, based careers on Shepard's murder are furious. But Jimenez insists he's willing to trade Shepard's irreproachable image for a serious talk about drugs. Meth, he said, is haunting the gay scene, bringing with it a plague of ultra-violence, new HIV infection -- and gay-bashing.
If this book saves one life, it's worth it.
I find it offensive that a gay journalist should be held to a different standard than a straight one. But Jimenez's every word has been vetted by protectors of Matthew Inc. to determine his agenda. Is he a traitor to the cause?
Jimenez is not the enemy. He's just a man who told an uncomfortable truth, as he saw it.
He should be proud.
Fox & Friends pushed the false claim that the government is attempting to create a unisex look that will "feminize" male Marines, ignoring a Marine Corps spokesperson who said that the planned uniform change will affect only female Marines and comes because a previous uniform manufacturer went out of business.
On October 23, the New York Post claimed that the Marine Corps is planning to change the covers for both male and female Marines to conform to a unisex look:
Thanks to a plan by President Obama to create a "unisex" look for the Corps, officials are on the verge of swapping out the Marines' iconic caps - known as "covers" -- with a new version that some have derided as so "girly" that they would make the French blush.
The thin new covers have a feminine line that some officials think would make them look just as good on female marines as on males -- in keeping with the Obama directive.
By October 24, a spokesperson for the Marines had debunked several claims hyped by the New York Post. Marine Captain Maureen Krebs told Business Insider that "The President in no way, shape, or form directed the Marine Corps to change our uniform cover." Captain Krebs explained that the Marines were searching for a new female cover because the company that manufactured the current covers no longer existed:
We're looking for a new cover for our female Marines for the primary reason that the former manufacturer went out of business. The Marine Corps has zero intention of changing the male cover.
A nearly identical statement appeared on the homepage of the Marine Corps website on October 25:
Despite this debunking of the New York Post story, on October 25 Fox & Friends pushed the Post's claim that the new covers are designed to replace the covers for both male and female Marines. Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck said that the new cover "is supposed to be more gender-neutral, but some say it would make the Marines look too, quote, 'girly.' " Hasselbeck asked retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant Jessie Jane Duff, currently with Concerned Veterans for America, to comment. Duff also pushed the false claim that this is an attempt to make uniforms gender-neutral and is affecting male Marines, saying that "to demasculinize our Marines just seems to me a ludicrous requirement."
In his forthcoming book on News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch, veteran NPR media reporter David Folkenflik reports several fascinating stories about the mogul's expansive media empire.
Among the stories highlighted in Murdoch's World: that Fox News' public relations shop used an elaborate series of fake accounts to post pro-Fox comments on websites critical of the network; that the same PR department has resorted to ruthless tactics to take revenge on critical reporters; that News Corp's CEO tried to suppress damaging reporting about the phone hacking scandal from running in the Wall Street Journal; and that a New York Post columnist was merely "chastised" for directing a racial slur at a colleague.
Fox's ruthless PR department: Taking revenge on reporters and using sock puppet accounts on critical websites
Folkenflik highlights numerous anecdotes about the aggressive tactics of Fox News' PR department, which punished reporters that upset the network.
For example, when New York Times media reporter Timothy Arango was working on a story about CNN's solid ratings in 2008, he was reportedly first asked by Fox to run in full a "vitriolic" statement about CNN that the conservative network had provided him. After he bristled at the suggestion, Arango -- a former News Corp employee that had worked for the New York Post from 2002 to 2006 -- claims he received an ominous threat from Fox suggesting he would be attacked personally for his story.
The morning Arango's story ran on the front page of the Times' business section, he was contacted by a writer for the now-defunct gossip website Jossip. That site later anonymously published a hit piece on him, including revealing that a recent medical leave he had taken "may have been a stint in rehab":
This time, he said, [Fox News' Irena] Briganti warned him: They're going to go after you personally. On March 5, 2008, Arango's story, headlined "Back in the Game," ran on the front page of the Times business section, and it was featured prominently on the paper's website. That morning, he received a call from a blogger with Jossip, a now-defunct gossip site. Arango knew what lay in store but did not return the call.
The unbylined story on Jossip said Arango had just returned from a two-month medical leave that "many allege may have been a stint in rehab." The Jossip posting utilized every element of Arango's past coverage at the Post and Fortune magazine to draw a portrait of a craven reporter in unsuccessful pursuit of on-air reporting jobs at cable channels. It referred to "blowjob pieces about CNBC execs" written, the blog claimed, when Arango was hustling for a job at the network.
Arango braced for the slam about rehab because he had indeed returned a few days earlier from an extended medical leave to address his substance abuse. Arango kept silent, expecting a wave of disgust from his own newsroom. It never materialized. Bill Keller, then the executive editor at the Times, emailed Arango a note of encouragement: We don't take that kind of bullshit seriously. Keep your head up. [Murdoch's World, pp 72-73]
Folkenflik also writes about an incident involving fellow Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff. Wolff reportedly told Folkenflik that he was approached by Murdoch's staff with a request to "change the date when Murdoch met his third wife, Wendi Deng," whom Murdoch married "just weeks" after he finalized his divorce from his previous wife. After Wolff refused, his book received "scant coverage in any News Corp properties," though the New York Post eventually published seven pieces in the span of a month invoking an affair Wolff had been having with a colleague:
As Wolff tells the story, Murdoch wanted the timing of his involvement with Deng out of the book, but it stayed in. The Man Who Owns the News, received scant coverage in any News Corp properties. And Wolff also criticized [New York Post editor Col] Allan by name on cable television for the racially charged cartoon. Soon an article appeared on the gossip website City-File, and then another surfaced on the better-known Gawker, alleging that Wolff was having an affair with a younger colleague - a woman just a year older than his daughter. The Post pounced, citing, of course, the reporting of others. Over the course of the month, the Post published seven pieces invoking the affair and publishing another cartoon by Delonas, unfairly depicting the couple, in the words of Wolff's girlfriend Victoria Floethe, as "a thirteen-year-old girl in bed with an eighty-year-old." By the end of the coverage, Wolff had moved out of the apartment he shared with his wife and the tabloid was running pieces about a legal fight the soon-to-be divorced couple were having with Wolff's mother-in-law. [Murdoch's World, pp 49-50]
Folkenflik explains that after some negative attention in 2008, "Fox pulled back on some of its most aggressive tactics."
As Media Matters has previously highlighted, lashing out at critical reporters isn't the only way Fox's PR shop seeks to shape public opinion. Folkenflik reports in the book that the network's staffers set up a series of fake accounts to post comments to articles that were critical of Fox:
On the blogs, the fight was particularly fierce. Fox PR staffers were expected to counter not just negative and even neutral blog postings but the anti-Fox comments beneath them. One former staffer recalled using twenty different aliases to post pro-Fox rants. Another had one hundred. Several employees had to acquire a cell phone thumb drive to provide a wireless broadband connection that could not be traced back to a Fox News or News Corp account. Another used an AOL dial-up connection, even in the age of widespread broadband access, on the rationale it would be harder to pinpoint its origins. Old laptops were distributed for these cyber operations. Even blogs with minor followings were reviewed to ensure no claim went unchecked. [Murdoch's World, pg. 67]
Fox News hid a House Republican tactic that ensured a government shutdown by citing discredited author Ed Klein to misleadingly blame White House adviser Valerie Jarrett for the shutdown.
Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy claimed on October 16 that Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett was "the architect of the shutdown," continuing the network's pattern of excusing Republicans of blame for the impasse. But the federal government shut down on October 1 after Republicans refused to fund the government without unrealistic policy changes to the Affordable Care Act, and reports from after the shutdown began explained how Republicans changed congressional rules to ensure federal gridlock. Talking Points Memo (TPM) explained:
The House and Senate were at an impasse on the night of Sept. 30. The House's then-most-recent ploy for extracting Obamacare concessions from Senate Democrats and the White House -- by eliminating health insurance subsidies for Congress members and their staffs -- had been rejected by the Senate. The 'clean' Senate spending bill was back in the House's court.
With less than two hours to midnight and shutdown, Speaker John Boehner's latest plan emerged. House Republicans would "insist" on their latest spending bill, including the anti-Obamacare provision, and request a conference with the Senate to resolve the two chambers' differences.
Under normal House rules, according to House Democrats, once that bill had been rejected again by the Senate, then any member of the House could have made a motion to vote on the Senate's bill. Such a motion would have been what is called "privileged" and entitled to a vote of the full House. At that point, Democrats say, they could have joined with moderate Republicans in approving the motion and then in passing the clean Senate bill, averting a shutdown.
But previously, House Republicans had made a small but hugely consequential move to block them from doing it.
So unless House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) wanted the Senate spending bill to come to the floor, it wasn't going to happen. And it didn't.
Congressional experts told TPM that such a move is highly unusual:
"I've never heard of anything like that before," Norm Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told TPM.
"It is absolutely true that House rules tend to not have any explicit parliamentary rights guaranteed and narrowed to explicit party leaders," Sarah Binder, a congressional expert at the Brookings Institution, told TPM. "That's not typically how the rules are written."
When House Democrats attempted to bring the Senate bill funding the government to a vote on October 12, they were told by a presiding Republican member that they could not do so due to the GOP leadership's rule change. A House Republican aide later confirmed the rule change to CNN.
According to press accounts, one of the universal truths about the current government shutdown is that more Republican members of the House have adopted increasingly brazen political strategies because they're elected from safe districts.
Due to the growing polarization of American politics and its voting patterns (along with gerrymandering), Tea Party-aligned Republicans from deeply red districts have embraced unorthodox behavior and unprecedented strategies because local voters staunchly support them even if their agenda is unpopular nationwide. It's that electoral freedom that's produced a new breed of Republican congressmen and women, according to this press telling.
That storyline is deeply flawed, however. It leaves out crucial context, like the simple fact that for decades a huge number of congressional Democrats have enjoyed safe seats. Yet they never equated comfortable victory margins with permission to adopt the extremist measures now displayed by Republicans as they provoke crisis after crisis. The safe seat spin also gives Republicans a pass as they continue to steer the country towards dangerous territory.
Still, that narrative remains a constant.
Explaining the disconnect between the public dismay over the shutdown and stubbornness displayed by GOP politicians, political scientist Larry Sabato told CBS News, "The vast majority are in heavily Republican districts, so general public opinion may be completely against them, but this is actually good for them."
The New York Times explained Republicans face "little personal political risk" for backing the extreme measure of shutting down the government, "because they are elected in overwhelmingly Republican districts." And the New York Post announced that "Until a sufficient number of Republicans start fearing that the blowback threatens their own political skins, the shutdown won't get solved."
Over and over, this account has been embraced by reporters and commentators as they try to explain the increasingly radical, hostage-taking behavior of Republicans who have already forced a government shutdown and who are now threatening to allow the United States to default on its debts; a move that could cause catastrophic damage to the global economy.
Media message: If politicians don't have to worry about re-election, naturally they're going to act more extreme.
Journalists seem to like the 'safe seat' explanation because on the surface it appears to make sense,. (Oh, that's why Republicans are acting so outlandishly.) And journalists also seem to be searching for a quasi-rational explanation or justification for why Republican anarchists in the House are behaving the way they are. But that's the wrong way to approach the story.
The New York Post continued right-wing media fearmongering about the consequences of discontinuing unconstitutional policing methods and electing a Democratic mayor.
Leading up to the federal court decision that held the New York City Police Department (NYPD) unconstitutionally and systematically misapplied the common police tactic of stop-and-frisk, right-wing media repeatedly warned that following the law would send crime rates spiraling up.
Specifically, right-wing media argue that if the NYPD is forced to perform stop-and-frisk constitutionally like other jurisdictions, New York City will revert to its crime rates of the early 1990s, prior to the administrations of the last two Republican mayors. The editorial board of the Post continued this trend, adapting it as an argument against the election of the current Democratic candidate for mayor and prominent critic of the illegal application of stop-and-frisk, Bill De Blasio. From the editorial, which attacked The New York Times for pointing out its previous doomsaying was "nonsense":
The New York Times is doing the city a favor. An editorial Monday declared that New Yorkers need not worry about a return of the violence that ravaged Gotham in the pre-Bloomberg/Giuliani days. In so doing, the paper crystallized the competing messages of this vital election year.
On one side are those who believe there's nothing inevitable about the historically low crime levels New York enjoys today. This side believes that safe streets are the fruit of tough decisions taken by Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, and innovative tactics under Police Commissioners Bill Bratton and now Ray Kelly. This is the side of The Post, the police and mayoral candidate Joe Lhota.
On the other side are those who pretend we've solved this problem forever and the ugliness can never return. This side includes the Times and the man it seems likely to endorse for mayor, Bill "Tale of Two Cities" de Blasio.
That's what's at stake in this election. Back in the days when more than six people a day were killed in New York, versus about one a day today, even the Times worried that New Yorkers "think twice about where they can safely walk." The city felt like "a New Beirut."
Accompanying the Post editorial was a photograph of a man in police custody, with the following bizarre caption: "Here's a scene from your two cities, Bill: In July 1985, Mark Campbell, 26, was charged with second-degree murder for delivering a fatal karate chop to his girlfriend's 17-month-old son -- because the baby's crying kept him awake."
Of course, this tragic murder as described is utterly irrelevant to a discussion of stop-and-frisk tactics, which the Post itself described as a way "to go after bad guys, especially the ones carrying guns." Indeed, a simple Google search quickly reveals that shocking child murders - with or without guns - continued during the administrations of Republican mayors.
Fox News and serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey are baselessly stoking fears that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will force doctors to ask "intrusive" sexual history questions that are already standard medical practice.
In a New York Post op-ed, McCaughey claimed that the health care law will "turn doctors into government agents" by requiring them to ask supposedly "intrusive" questions about their patients' sexual history. McCaughey's op-ed, which cited no evidence to support her claims, was parroted by Fox & Friends First co-host Ainsley Earhardt who said, "Thanks to Obamacare, doctors will be forced to ask patients about their sex life, even if it has nothing to do with the medical treatment that they are seeking at the time":
As Wonkette pointed out, McCaughey offered no evidence for her claims that the ACA changes existing practices. In fact, despite her fearmongering, sexual history questions are routine medical practice. The Centers For Disease Control calls such questions "an important part of a regular medical exam or physical history" and recommends that "[a] sexual history needs to be taken during a patient's initial visit, during routine preventive exams, and when you see signs of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)." In fact, the very questions that McCaughey claims doctors will now be pressured to ask are the exact questions the CDC recommends doctors ask their patients.
The New York Post's editorial board failed to note a recent District Court decision finding the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk program unconstitutional in an editorial defending the program.
The August 23 Post editorial attacked members of the New York City Council who voted to override Mayor Michael Bloomberg's veto of two pieces of legislation that provide more oversight of the stop-and-frisk program. The Post denounced the "attacks by our city's political class on a successful police policy" and applauded mayoral candidate Christine Quinn for noting "that racial profiling is already against the law."
Yet, in its zeal to defend the stop-and-frisk program, the Post forgot to mention a recent decision by District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin which found the New York Police Department's implementation of stop-and-frisk unconstitutional and ordered an independent monitor to oversee the NYPD going forward. Judge Scheindlin found that the "City adopted a policy of indirect racial profiling" without reasonable suspicion in their stop-and-frisk policy and went on to explain:
I also conclude that the City's highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner. In their zeal to defend a policy that they believe to be effective, they have willfully ignored overwhelming proof that the policy of targeting "the right people" is racially discriminatory and therefore violates the United States Constitution. One NYPD official has even suggested that it is permissible to stop racially defined groups just to instill fear in them that they are subject to being stopped at any time for any reason -- in the hope that this fear will deter them from carrying guns in the streets. The goal of deterring crime is laudable, but this method of doing so is unconstitutional.
In addition to being found unconstitutional in its current practice, the program is highly ineffective. The NYPD has touted stop-and-frisk's success in recovering guns, but according to the NYCLU, while the number of stops has increased dramatically almost every year in the last decade, the number of guns recovered has barely gone up. In each year since 2003, fewer than 0.5 percent of stops produced a gun. The program's ability to deter crime is also highly suspect as many cities without the program or that utilize a less constitutionally questionable version have had lower violent crimes rates than New York.
The Post has been notoriously supportive of stop-and-frisk and against the constitutional safeguards in this bill, but even the more ardent supporters of stop-and-frisk have begun to change their opinion after evaluating the facts surrounding the program.
In The New York Times, media reporter Brian Stelter described the launch of Al Jazeera America as "something a journalism professor would imagine" due to its "Fourteen hours of straight news every day. Hard-hitting documentaries. Correspondents in oft-overlooked corners of the country. And fewer commercials than any other news channel."
The conservative media, however, saw the channel's launch today as an opportunity to spread fact-free Islamophobia.
On Fox News, guest Jim Pinkerton described the network as an "Arab news channel" and went on to claim that "many if not most Arabs probably support what Bin Laden was trying to do in terms of killing Americans" before giving the channel credit for its coverage of the Arab Spring and other global events.
Back in February when it was announced the network had purchased CurrentTV, Fox and Friends co-host Steve Doocy asked if Al Jazeera America was "a Trojan Horse for terror":
Right-wing media repeatedly argue that increased turnout of voters of color demonstrates that strict voter ID requirements do not cause voter suppression, a relationship that experts note is a basic confusion of correlation with causation.
Right-wing media have repeatedly misrepresented the latest court opinion finding New York City has been unconstitutionally applying the common police tactic of stop and frisk and are now baselessly citing the murder rate in Chicago as an example of what will occur without this law enforcement practice.
Confronted by the most recent court opinion finding the version of stop and frisk implemented by the New York Police Department (NYPD) unconstitutionally discriminates on the basis of race and without reasonable suspicion, right-wing media have either ignored the constitutional flaws or have inaccurately assumed that the court held all stop and frisks unconstitutional.
In their defense of current practices a federal court found were not consistent with proper stop and frisks as described by the Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio, right-wing media have also claimed that without police unconstitutionally stopping persons of color, New York City will descend into terror and criminality.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board has predicted that "the virtual war zone that was New York City from the 1970s through the early '90s" will return. Fox News hosts and contributors have called ending the unconstitutional practices that purportedly check the "disproportionate percentage of crimes committed by young minority men" and protect "people who are trying to get by, not get killed, not get robbed, not get raped on the streets of New York," a "disaster." The National Review Online editors warned the practice condemned by federal courts is nevertheless what is "prevent[ing] the city's backsliding into its pre-Giuliani state of criminal chaos[.]"
Compounding their dire but abstract warnings of the "mass murder" that will occur, right-wing media are now becoming more specific, pointing to Chicago as the future of a New York City without its current and unconstitutional stop and frisk tactics.
On the August 14 edition of The Five, Fox News host Eric Bolling flatly claimed that the higher murder rate in Chicago is because it doesn't "have stop and frisk," continuing a string of recent Fox News comparisons between the two cities. The New York Post repeated this rhetoric, adding its own long-standing touch of exploiting victims of gun violence to promote stop and frisk as applied by the NYPD.
But right-wing media apparently is unaware Chicago, like many jurisdictions, already has stop and frisk.
Two recent stories based on faulty premises -- an Illinois Review post that falsely claimed President Obama had supported "Stand Your Ground" as an Illinois state legislator, and a since-corrected BuzzFeed report that pushed the erroneous conclusion that gun violence prevention group Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) has suffered a membership drop -- have nonetheless spread throughout the right-wing media.
The cases are not parallel -- Illinois Review is a minor conservative Illinois political blog (their Twitter handle has about 3,000 followers) whose story was too good to check for the right-wing media, while the BuzzFeed story is an unfortunate outlier for a publication that typically produces good reporting. But the articles nonetheless illustrate the first-mover problem of correcting misinformation -- once a charge is levied and begins gaining momentum it becomes difficult to stop, no matter how clearly false the claim, due to the right-wing media apparatus that will push any story considered damaging to progressives.
The basis of the July 22 BuzzFeed article was that MAIG is losing membership ("is finding it hard to keep its membership up") because it has become too strident in its recent push for stronger gun laws. But BuzzFeed's premise was false: MAIG has actually seen an increase in membership during the period the article covered, with more than 100 mayors joining the coalition during that time of increased political action.
Buzzfeed has since updated its article, making a minor change to the text "to reiterate the fact that Mayors Against Illegal Guns is gaining more members than it's losing." But of course, that "fact" completely repudiates the premise of the article.
And of course, the damage has been done. The idea of MAIG shedding membership has already spread through the conservative echo chamber. The story was picked up by a number of right-wing outlets, with Breitbart News and the New York Post stating outright that the story indicated that the group's membership was down overall. The Post article in particular, which ran under the headline "weakened arsenal," linked the group "struggling to replace ex-members" to their focus "on banning weapons and other tough new gun-control measures" (by contrast, a New York Daily News piece cited the BuzzFeed report but framed the story with the fact that the group is larger and growing faster than ever before).
These sorts of misguided stories have an impact on the political debate. One NRA activist, who acknowledged that the number of mayors leaving "isn't a huge blow to MAIG," wrote that BuzzFeed's story "isn't good for MAIG. They will have to counter this meme, and that's good for us. Make them work for it."