Right-wing media have worked themselves into a tizzy over a controversy about a student reading his Bible in a Florida public school, but they aren't telling the whole story.
The CBS affiliate in Miami, FL, reported on May 5 that a fifth-grade boy at a public school in Broward County claimed he was banned from reading his Bible during "free-time reading" in his classroom:
A Broward County boy said he was banned from reading "The Good Book" during free-reading time in school. The boy and his father have hired an attorney, calling this a violation of the boy's Constitutional rights. Meanwhile, the Broward County School District says this is all a big misunderstanding.
The Miami Herald reported that Broward school officials "rejected the accusation" because the student was reading his Bible during a "classroom 'accelerated reading' program," not during a free-reading session. The Herald also noted that the boy's family is being represented by the Liberty Institute, a "conservative religious-rights group" that "targeted Broward County on Monday in an ongoing campaign contending that faith is under attack in America's elementary schools." (Indeed, the Liberty Institute has a "long history of hyperbolic assertions about the impending end of religious freedom.")
A statement from Broward County Public Schools on Monday, May 5, affirmed the county's commitment to religious freedom:
Broward County Public Schools respects and upholds the rights of students to bring personal religious materials to school, including the Bible, and to read these items before school, after school or during any "free reading" time during the school day.
On right-wing media, however, it's a much different story.
Fox News' Fox & Friends discussed the story on May 6, leading with its "Trouble With Schools" chryon. Co-host Steve Doocy claimed that the boy's father had previously been in touch with the school principal about when the boy was allowed to read the Bible in school, which included before and after school, during lunch, and at free time, but that "the teacher didn't like it" when the boy began reading his Bible during "his free time." Doocy continued:
DOOCY: Well the teacher didn't like it, and the kid said, if you have a problem with this, you need to call my dad. Well the dad wasn't there to pick up the phone and instead, the teacher left this embarrassing voicemail.
Conservative Newsmax Media is reportedly set to launch its own 24-hour cable news channel in June. According to a Bloomberg Businessweek profile of Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy, "NewsmaxTV" will position itself as a "kinder, gentler" version of Fox News.
Ruddy tells Bloomberg that the channel's goal "is to be a little more boomer-oriented, more information-based rather than being vituperative and polarizing." That Ruddy sees an opening for a conservative outlet that is less aggressively partisan than Fox is a good indication of how far to the right that channel has veered during the Obama administration. It's also somewhat surprising, given Ruddy's personal history.
Conservative media are latching on to the climate change denial of Patrick Moore, who has masqueraded as a co-founder of Greenpeace. But Moore has been a spokesman for nuclear power and fossil fuel-intensive industries for more than 20 years, and his denial of climate change -- without any expertise in the matter -- is nothing new.
CNN co-host and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is calling for Secretary of State John Kerry's resignation for comparing climate change to a "weapon of mass destruction." However, media coverage of Gingrich's call has largely left out that Gingrich once agreed with Kerry on climate change, even standing with him on stage touting Kerry's book, in which he called climate change the "single largest threat" to mankind.
On February 18, in Jakarta, Indonesia, Kerry discussed climate change as a national security threat, saying "in a sense, climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps the world's most fearsome weapon of mass destruction." Gingrich responded in a misspelled tweet, calling for Kerry's resignation:
The Huffington Post claimed in an article on his tweets, that "Gingrich has repeatedly dismissed the dangers of man-made climate change." But that article, like similar ones in The Washington Post, The Hill, and conservative media, failed to mention that less than a decade ago, Gingrich was sitting with Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on a couch, agreeing we should act on climate change.
Conservative media outlets are lauding a legislative effort to enact what experts are calling an attempt to reincarnate the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the core provision of which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down last summer.
On February 12, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) introduced the Senate version of the State Marriage Defense Act, a bill introduced in the House by Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX) in January. The bill would require the federal government to yield to state definitions of marriage, meaning that same-sex spouses would lose the federal benefits and protections of marriage if they moved to states that prohibit same-sex marriage. Accordingly, ThinkProgress has dubbed the bill the "'You're Not Married Anymore' Bill."
The bill - which stands an infinitesimal chance of passage in the Democratic-controlled Senate - would push back on the Supreme Court's June 2013 ruling against Section 3 of DOMA, which barred the federal government from recognizing validly performed same-sex marriages. Section 2 of DOMA, which wasn't considered in the Supreme Court case, allows states to define marriage, but there's a strong argument - increasingly supported by the courts - that the logical end-point of the Supreme Court's ruling is the demise of state-sanctioned discrimination against same-sex couples.
Since the Court issued its ruling, five federal courts have overturned state marriage equality bans, citing Justice Anthony Kennedy's opinion that DOMA served no legitimate purpose. The most recent such ruling came on February 13 when U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen struck down Virginia's marriage equality ban.
Right-wing media, however, won't let DOMA die without waging a fight for anti-gay discrimination.
Breitbart.com championed Cruz and Lee's bill as a defense of state's rights, reprising the argument advanced by anti-civil rights figures who supported placing racial minorities' constitutional rights at the whim of state authorities. The website's William Bigelow asserted that the bill "protects the states from having the federal government encroach" on their ability to deny equal rights to same-sex couples.
Following the same narrative, The Daily Caller touted the bill as an effort "to prevent the federal government from imposing conflicting definitions of marriage on the states," promoting Cruz's claim that President Obama "should not be trying to force gay marriage on all 50 states." PJ Media also acted as stenographer for the bill's sponsors, extensively quoting the bill in addition to Cruz and lee. The bill, PJ Media's headline read, tells the federal government to "mind states' rights on same-sex marriage."
While Fox News contributor and former Sen. Scott Brown ended his financial relationship with the conservative website Newsmax after the company sent his email list controversial solicitations, National Review and the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) tell Media Matters they will continue to let Newsmax send dubious ads to their own email lists.
Newsmax previously used both outlets' email lists to send advertisements plugging the same questionable doctor that caused Brown to sever relations with the company this week.
Brown cut ties with Newsmax on February 5, hours after the media began reporting on a missive the company had sent his political email list trumpeting the Alzheimer's disease cures of Dr. Russell Blaylock. In the email, Blaylock linked fluoridated water and flu vaccines to Alzheimer's and excessive exercise to Parkinson's disease.
In recent years, several prominent conservative outlets and personalities have sent Newsmax-sponsored emails to their followers pushing Blaylock's questionable medicine. In addition to Brown, National Review, and CBN, similar email ads have been sent through Newsmax from Dick Morris, Mike Huckabee, and Herman Cain. Newsmax frequently advertises for dubious health and financial products.
When asked about the questionable claims made in Blaylock's ads and the decision of Sen. Brown to terminate his relationship, National Review Publisher Jack Fowler told Media Matters he had no plans to end his magazine's Newsmax agreements.
"We have a relationship with Newsmax and that's all I'm going to say," Fowler said in an interview Thursday. "I can't speak for what Scott Brown does or doesn't do. I don't know who he has had a relationship with or whatever, but we have a relationship with Newsmax and that's it."
Asked if he had concerns given the questionable elements of Blaylock's claims, Fowler said, "Have a good day."
Chris Roslan, a spokesman for Christian Broadcasting Network, also defended the Newsmax/Blaylock email ads, describing Blaylock as a "qualified medical professional" and stating that "it is not uncommon for medical professionals to have differing points of view on medical conditions and their treatments." But he also pointed out that CBN includes a disclaimer in each email that states CBN does not endorse the products.
CBN attempts to vet all potential advertisers based on multiple criteria including pending legal complaints or conflicts, general business practices and also to make certain that there is no offensive material. CBN also evaluates potential advertisers and products based on their compatibility with the online environment we strive to create and the shared common faith values with our website users.
Regarding Dr. Blaylock, he is a retired neurosurgeon and an author with a very large following. As an M.D. he is certainly qualified to weigh in on the tragic disease of Alzheimer's.
As it is not uncommon for medical professionals to have differing points of view on medical conditions and their treatments - case in point: the use of vitamin supplements - CBN does not, and will not, attempt to validate medical opinions from qualified medical professionals in determining whether an advertisement is appropriate.
CBN includes a disclaimer in every sponsored email stating that the content is a paid advertisement and that it is not an endorsement by CBN. We feel our viewers can determine for themselves whether the content is valuable or not. We have not received a single complaint about this advertisement.
Dick Morris and Mike Huckabee did not respond to inquiries from Media Matters, while a spokesman for Herman Cain declined comment via email.
Right-wing media outlets pushed the false claim that the Healthcare.gov website includes a language stating that consumers they have "no reasonable expectation of privacy," ignoring the fact that the phrase is part of standard website language and does not change current legal protections for health care information.
A Weekly Standard post by Jeryl Bier attacked the health care law's exchange website, claiming a statement in the "terms and conditions" page is "another example of why the website's reputation is in tatters." Bier's evidenced his claim by explaining, "Buried in the source code of Healthcare.gov" is the phrase "You have no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding any communication or data transiting or stored on this information system." The misleading claim was repeated by several right-wing media outlets including Fox Nation who posted the story under the headline "Hidden in ObamaCare Site: Applicants Surrender Right to Privacy" and NewsMax who claimed "Obamacare May Endanger Personal Data Security."
But the right-wing media's fearmongering about privacy concerns is unfounded. The Atlantic Wire pointed out that the phrase is part of standard legal language for similar "Terms and Conditions" pages and is only "hidden" because it was removed by developers, making the phrase not legally enforceable. The article adds that "[t]here are several ways in which" the analysis "is incorrect" (emphasis added):
Conservative author Michael Reagan displayed a complete ignorance of government statistics and inflation, falsely claiming that median income during the Reagan administration was twice the current rate. He did so by using an inflation-adjusted figure -- and adjusting for inflation again.
In a September 18 Newsmax.com post titled "Obama's Median Income Half of Reagan's," Reagan discussed the latest Census report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage, which showed median income for 2012 was $51,017. Reagan used this figure to criticize President Obama's economic policy, claiming that this number represented half the median income in 1989 after adjusting for inflation:
But that figure understates the magnitude of the Obama administration's economic failure. When we account for inflation during those 23 years the disparity is shocking. Using the handy calculator at westegg.com, we find that simply allowing for inflation, with no economic growth, the median household income would have to be $94,234 to equal what Americans were earning under my father, the man [MSNBC host Ed] Schultz slanders as "Mr. Trickle-Down Economics."
But if Reagan had taken the time to examine the first footnote in the Census report, he would have realized that the figures for median income have already been adjusted for inflation:
All income values are adjusted to reflect 2012 dollars. The adjustment is based on percentage changes in prices between 2012 and earlier years and is computed by dividing the annual average Consumer Price Index Research Series (CPI-U-RS) for 2012 by the annual average for earlier years.
While real median income in 2012 is in fact slightly below the 1989 value, Reagan completely ignored the effects of the recent catastrophic recession and the fact that after years of decline, the figure is finally reversing that trend.
A not insignificant portion of movement conservatism involves pundits and activists scamming credulous readers/viewers/donors out of their money. RedState's Erick Erickson hawks transparently fraudulent "Instant Millionaire" schemes to his email list subscribers. Dick Morris raised funds for a super PAC which then turned around and funneled money right back to Dick Morris. Talk radio is saturated with ads for gold Krugerrands, survival seeds, food insurance, and other poor investments that conservative talkers are paid handsomely to endorse.
The unchallenged king of right-wing swindling, however, is Newsmax. The conservative magazine is constantly spamming its subscribers with messages promoting "miracle drugs," warnings from quack doctors hyping unproven therapies for dangerous medical conditions, and investment tips gleaned from the New Testament. A recent promotion from Newsmax, also blasted out by the conservative Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), shows that the commitment to squeezing cash from gullible followers trumps even basic conservative ideology. The two anti-welfare-state media outlets are pushing their audience to take advantage of a "weird trick" to go on taxpayer-funded vacations and "add $1000 to monthly Social Security checks."
This "weird trick" comes courtesy of "The Franklin Prosperity Report," a monthly newsletter operated by Newsmax that is supposedly based on the "investment methods" of Benjamin Franklin. According to The Franklin Prosperity Report, loyal Newsmax readers who loathe socialism and have no tolerance for the welfare state can nonetheless partake of "up to $20,500 of the trillions in money, services, and other goodies that Uncle Sam may have ALREADY allocated for your family for 2013."
Seriously, Newsmax wants you to know that you can game the system and go on foreign vacations on the taxpayer dime, even if you can otherwise afford it:
Many people mistakenly believe that you have to be destitute to receive government money and giveaways. However, the truth is that a larger percentage of rich people than poor people are eligible for government money -- such as 100% fully paid "cultural exchange" trips to other countries.
Based on flimsy evidence and leaps of logic, conservative media outlets are pretending that, in the words of Newsmax, "Reagan's Childhood Home to Become Parking Lot for Obama's Library." But the story doesn't pass the smell test.
The "childhood home" is an apartment Reagan lived in for less than a year as a young child, and its planned demolition is part of an expansion by the University of Chicago that has nothing to do with President Obama's presidential library. Obama hasn't chosen which state his presidential library will eventually be in, let alone where people will need to park for it. Further, Obama Press Secretary Jay Carney has declared the story "false."
While easily dismissed, the story serves as an illustrative example of the way the conservative echo chamber can twist facts and turn baseless speculation into their controversy du jour.
Media coverage of the debt ceiling frequently claims that raising the limit without simultaneous spending cuts would give President Obama a "blank check," repeating a pattern of promoting this false narrative -- or failing to correct it -- that occurred during the unprecedented brinkmanship of 2011. The phrase implies that the debt ceiling governs additional spending desired by the White House, when in fact it is a restriction on the executive branch's ability to borrow money to pay for spending measures already enacted by Congress.
Retired donors to a super PAC supported by Dick Morris say they are dissatisfied with how their money was spent. It's not hard to see why.
As Media Matters reported last week, Federal Election Commission documents show that Morris' Super PAC for America paid nearly $1.7 million, or nearly half of all money the Fox News political analyst and columnist for The Hill helped raise, to Newsmax Media, which manages Morris' for-rent email list.
The circular scam apparently worked like this: Morris, acting as chief strategist for the group, sent at least 21 emails to his private for-rent email list, urging readers to give generously to the PAC to fund television ads Morris claimed were essential to a Mitt Romney victory. Newsmax.com sent an additional 25 emails to their own list, featuring a similar pitch and often the signature of either Morris or Michael Reagan, a Newsmax columnist and the PAC's chairman. Then a large percentage of the take was directed back to the coffers of Newsmax, which derives significant profits from its ability to rent out its mailing list to various groups.
Super PACs are unregulated and free to spend their funds however they see fit. But they generally contribute most of their money to candidates or partisan advertising. It is unusual for them to spend half of their revenue on fundraising, and more so for that fundraising to directly profit the PAC's primary spokesperson and strategist. Said Viveca Novak of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political spending: "Spending 50 percent for fundraising and other expenses would be high."
Morris' own supporters agree. Media Matters contacted more than 100 of his donors using publicly available information from the FEC. A disproportionate number of those listed in the FEC filings are retired, and at least a dozen of those contacted seemed extremely confused in their responses. Many more were openly hostile when asked for comment, especially in response to this reporter's stated association with Media Matters.
Others were polite and curious to know how Dick Morris spent their money. Richard Clark, a retired farmer in Jefferson, New Hampshire, made two donations totaling $350 to Morris' group. He was taken aback to learn where roughly $160 of it went. "Half of the budget going to fundraising is probably too high, a quarter of the total is probably closer to the maximum," said Clark, who is also disturbed by Morris' wide margin of error in predicting the election's outcome. "Dick Morris' emails convinced me to contribute, but he was way off. I'm less likely to send him money in the future."
Don Hall, a disabled and retired insurance man in Amarillo, Texas, made five donations to Super PAC for America totaling $1,000. As a longtime fan of Morris' "lunchtime videos," the numbers and implications of the FEC filing disturbed him. "If it is true [that nearly 50 percent of funds went to fundraise through Newsmax and Morris' website] then it would definitely affect my trust in Morris," said Hall. "It would stop all contributions to him in the future."
From the December 10 edition of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show:
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While the 2012 election may have severely damaged Dick Morris' credibility as a pundit, leading to his temporary benching at Fox News, it appears to have been good for his wallet. The Fox News contributor and columnist at The Hill aggressively fundraised for a super PAC he advised, which then apparently funneled money back to Morris through rentals of his email list.
According to FEC data released December 6, Morris' Super PAC for America paid conservative news outlet Newsmax Media roughly $1.7 million for "fundraising" in October and November. A significant portion of the super PAC's money likely went to renting Morris' own email list, which is operated by Newsmax Media.
A Media Matters review found that in the month before the election, Morris sent at least 21 emails to his mailing list featuring fundraising pitches that were "paid for by Super PAC for America." Super PAC also "paid for" at least 25 emails to Newsmax.com's main email list during the same period.
This is the second consecutive election cycle that Super PAC for America has paid significant money to Newsmax. The group, which was formed prior to the 2010 midterm elections, paid Newsmax Media nearly $2 million in 2010 for advertising, fundraising, and "email list rental." At the time, Morris also sent numerous fundraising solicitations to his email list that were "paid for by Super PAC for America." Morris also regularly used his Fox News platform in 2010 to promote the group.
In October and November of 2012, Super PAC for America paid more money to Newsmax Media than it spent on all independent expenditures combined. The Newsmax payments represent 46 percent of the net contributions made to the super PAC during the 2012 election cycle. And Morris, who serves as the group's chief strategist, isn't the only Super PAC for America official tied to the media outlet. Michael Reagan, who serves as Super PAC for America's chairman, is a Newsmax columnist.
In 2011, the New York Times reported that Newsmax's soaring profits were tied to their ability to leverage their "politically plugged-in" readership, with the outlet regularly renting out their mailing list to various groups for thousands of dollars.
Right-wing media have attacked early voting, claiming it leads to fraud, pushes uninformed voters to cast ballots too early, and is unconstitutional and untraditional. In fact, early voting increases the integrity of the voting process, and the vast majority of early votes are cast in the final two weeks before the election by decided voters. Early voting dates back to the founding of the country.