Days after the 1996 Olympic Park bombing, media and federal investigators focused on their top suspect: Richard Jewell, the security guard who had first discovered the bomb which killed one and injured 111. It took more than a year for Jewell to clear his name; he would successfully sue several outlets for their coverage but remained haunted by the memory of the reporters who went after him "like piranha on a bleeding cow" for years.
In the 24 hours following yesterday's tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon, several right-wing media figures have attempted to create their own Jewell. Echoing the same piranha-like voraciousness seen in that case, they have published the name, home address, and what they claim are Facebook pictures of a 20-year-old Saudi national that police have since identified as a witness -- not a suspect -- to the Boston bombings.
Less than two hours after the bombing took place, The New York Post -- citing unnamed "law enforcement sources" -- claimed that a "Saudi Arabian national" was a "suspect" in the case and that he was "under guard at an undisclosed Boston hospital." Several right-wing outlets quickly trumpeted that report. But the claim quickly unraveled (as did the paper's similarly sourced claim that 12 had been killed in the explosions), with law enforcement telling reporters that no one had been arrested in the case and that the Saudi was a witness who was cooperating with authorities.
By the next afternoon, Fox News was reporting that "a federal law enforcement official is confirming... that Saudi man, the college student who was described as a person of interest in the Boston bombings, has now been ruled out as a suspect in this bombing."
But in the interim, the right-wing media -- led by popular conservative blogger Jim Hoft -- swallowed the initial Post report and began posting as much personal information about the man as they could discover.
After the White House released a picture of President Obama skeet shooting at Camp David, conservative bloggers were quick to claim that the photo had been altered or created with Adobe Photoshop or a similar graphics editing program. This follows a long, bizarre tradition of conservative media labeling a wide range of pictures and documents related to the president as fraudulent.
In the past few years, conservatives have accused President Obama and his staff of Photoshopping the short and long-form versions of the president's birth certificate, two separate photos of the president with his family, two Situation Room photos from the day of the bin Laden raid, a photo of Obama throwing a football, and now a photo of the president shooting skeet.
During an interview last month with The New Republic, President Obama was asked if he has ever fired a gun. After the president told the magazine that he goes skeet shooting with guests at Camp David, conservatives -- as well as reporters from more mainstream outlets -- sought proof. In order to quiet the skeptics, on Saturday the White House released a photo of the president shooting clay targets at Camp David in 2012:
Linking to the picture on Twitter, White House senior adviser David Plouffe joked, "let the photoshop conspiracies begin!" While Plouffe was mocking the penchant of some conservatives to turn everything related to President Obama into a conspiracy, some conservative outlets quickly proved his point by doing just that (New York Magazine has produced a comprehensive roundup of the skeet shooting conspiracies).
In an article posted Sunday at conservative website American Thinker -- an outlet frequently touted and cited by Rush Limbaugh -- titled "Seven Reasons Why it's a Photoshop," blogger Michael Harlin concluded, "if he's shooting skeet, then I'm Daffy Duck." (While the headline calls it a Photoshop, Harlin seems to waver on whether the picture was manipulated or merely "staged like everything else in President Obama's life.")
To give you some idea of the level of analysis in the piece, among Harlin's evidence that something is off about the Obama picture is his observation that unlike Obama, "most shooters wear baseball style caps" to help "block unwanted sun in your eyes."
Obama is wearing sunglasses (or tinted protective eyewear) in the photo.
It's easy to point and laugh at analyses like these, but conservatives' obsession with these Photoshop conspiracies shows the type of paranoid nonsense that has passed for journalism at many prominent conservative outlets during the Obama era.
In this report we examine right-wing claims that the president's allies have altered:
Conservative conspiracy theorists have been obsessed with exposing what they see as a series of nefarious secrets hidden in President Obama's past. The idea that Obama has been hiding something has driven years of birth certificate conspiracies, and, most recently, Donald Trump making a very public fool of himself yesterday with his announcement that he was holding a charity donation ransom in exchange for Obama's college transcripts.
One of the more bizarre forms conservatives' sleuthing has taken is their ongoing quest to find Obama's "real" father. According to conservatives, alleged inconsistencies in Obama's biography prove that the elder Barack Obama is not the president's true father (they concede that Obama's mother was in fact Stanley Ann Dunham). Depending on whom you ask, Obama's "real" father could be Malcolm X, "some Indonesian," Frank Marshall Davis, or an unidentified "American black."
While all of these claims are outlandish and discrediting, their originators have nonetheless wielded outsized influence in the right-wing media and conservative movement at large.
On today's edition of Happening Now, Fox News obscured language in Islamophobic billboards created by conservative blogger Pam Geller's American Israel Defense Initiative, deeming the language "so inflammatory we're not going to show it to you." While Fox seems to have finally drawn a line on Geller's bigotry, the network has promoted her for years.
The ads, currently posted in NYC subway stations, read: "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel/Defeat Jihad." Fox blurred the word "savage" when showing the ad to viewers:
The New York Metropolitan Transit Authority initially refused to run the ads, on the grounds that it violated their policy against accepting advertising that demeans individuals or groups on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin. Geller's group sued the MTA and in July a federal judge ordered the agency to run the ads, saying that the content was protected speech.
Dismissing evidence to the contrary, conservative media this week claimed the Obama administration is considering releasing Omar Abdel-Rahman, also known as "the Blind Sheikh," who was convicted of planning terrorist attacks against the U.S. Even after administration officials denied accusations that Abdel-Rahman may be released, right-wing media continued to push the claim.
From the September 15 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends Saturday:
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From the September 14 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends First:
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The New York Post reported this morning that a public elementary school in New York City will require its students to learn Arabic. The story describes the school is "a so-called 'choice' school and no kids, even those living nearby, are forced to attend it," and even quotes a student and parents that are very supportive of the program. Nonetheless, right-wing media figures are already responding to this reporting with their usual anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bigotry.
Right-wing blogger and anti-Muslim hate group leader (and Fox News regular) Pamela Geller described the Arabic language program as "Islamic supremacism on the march in the public square," and suggested that it would be a "public school madrassah."
Right-wing author Matthew Vadum responded to the news that Arabic would be taught at a public school by making a reference to explosives:
And right-wing blogger Andrea Ryan of Gateway Pundit had this to say:
Now, they want our children be able to read the Quran, listen to the draconian precepts of sharia, and watch Al Jazeera inveigh against Christianity, democracy, equality, and freedom in its native Arabic language. When Communism aimed its missiles and armies at our nation President Reagan didn't fold and force our children to learn Russian.
Leave it to the Liberals to try to completely destroy all that is good about our culture and turn it into something distorted, ugly, and dangerous.
Far from being "dangerous," learning Arabic is actually important for our national security. In remarks to a January 2006 summit of U.S. university presidents, George W. Bush introduced a language initiative to teach students -- starting in Kindergarten -- languages important to national security, such as Arabic:
[O]ne of the reasons why the Secretary of Defense is here. He wants his young soldiers who are the front lines of finding these killers to be able to speak their language and be able to listen to the people in the communities in which they live. That makes sense, doesn't it, to have a language-proficient military -- to have people that go into the far reaches of this world and be able to communicate in the villages and towns and rural areas and urban centers, to protect the American people.
We need intelligence officers who, when somebody says something in Arabic or Farsi or Urdu knows what they're talking about. That's what we need. We need diplomats -- when we send them out to help us convince governments that we've got to join together and fight these terrorists who want to destroy life and promote an ideology that is so backwards it's hard to believe. These diplomats need to speak that language.
So our short-term strategy is to stay on the offense, and we've got to give our troops, our intelligence officers, our diplomats all the tools necessary to succeed. That's what people in this country expect of our government. They expect us to be wise about how we use our resources, and a good use of resources is to promote this language initiative in K through 12, in our universities. And a good use of resources is to encourage foreign language speakers from important regions of the world to come here and teach us how to speak their language.
You're going to hear a lot about the specifics of the program. What I'm trying to suggest to you that this program is a part of a strategic goal, and that is to protect this country in the short-term and protect it in the long-term by spreading freedom.
Sean Hannity invited anti-Muslim "hate group" leader Pam Geller onto his Fox News show to analyze current events again, and Geller used the opportunity to accuse President Obama of being in league with terrorists.
On the May 7 edition of his show, Hannity led a discussion of a Washington Post report that the U.S. has been releasing prisoners in Afghanistan "as part of negotiations with insurgent groups." During the discussion, Geller said that Obama "has basically declared the war on terror over." Hannity interjected, "Two weeks ago." (This accusation is presumably based on the overhyping of a single quote from an anonymous State Department official.)
Geller continued, "Two weeks ago. And frankly, he's not just declared it over, he's switched sides. The very idea that we've been releasing jihadists for years is not an act of appeasement, it's an act of surrender."
By contrast, during the very next hour on Fox News, Greta Van Susteren hosted someone with a relevant background to comment on the Washington Post report -- Fox News military analyst Robert Scales.
The right-wing media continued their pattern of encouraging people to fear Muslims by hyping a thinly sourced column in an Egyptian newspaper about a supposed proposal to legalize necrophilia. Al-Arabiya has reported that members of the Egyptian parliament are denying that any such law was ever proposed.
Declaring that he "has had enough" of "national news programs" that mislead American voters, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly said he will now aim to tell viewers "every time I see craziness in the national media during the campaign." However, the examples of "craziness" O'Reilly cited, including the myth that "Obama was not born in America," have all been promoted on Fox News -- something he did not mention.
Right-wing media have defended the New York Police Department's (NYPD) surveillance of American Muslims throughout the Northeast, engaging in anti-Muslim rhetoric and dismissing concerns of civil rights groups while doing so. But law enforcement experts have said that the program has a "negative impact" on the ability to gather counterterrorism intelligence, and lawmakers from across the political spectrum have criticized the program.
Sean Hannity is terribly vexed. In his mind, Democrats are weak on national security, for no other reason than they're Democrats. It's a foundational belief -- not just for him, but for a good portion of his and the rest of Fox News' conservative audience.
So how does he deal with the fact that Osama bin Laden met his end under a Democratic president? Denial.
The president's role in the hunt for Bin Laden has been well documented. The New Yorker published an exhaustive account of the raid on the Al Qaeda chief's compound in Abbottabad and the president's decision-making in the months leading up to the moment when he personally authorized it. More recently, Vice President Biden divulged that he had advised the president not to approve the mission, but was overruled. And yet, Hannity is insisting not just that Obama did not want Bin Laden killed, but that there exists taped evidence to prove it. The psychology at work here is fascinating.
The death of Bin Laden has proven to be an intractable problem for a conservative commentariat that relies upon facile and outdated stereotypes of the opposition. Say what you will about the Obama administration's expanded use of drone warfare and targeted assassinations, but it certainly does not comport with the flower-child caricature that has served as a foil for talk radio tough guys. And the death of the world's most prominent anti-American terrorist is not easily explained away.
Pamela Geller reports on her Atlas Shrugs blog that right-wing lawyer and Obama Justice Department critic J. Christian Adams will be participating in a CPAC 2012 panel presented by her Stop Islamization of America organization. Geller writes of the panel, titled "Islamic Law in America, How the Obama Justice Department Is Selling Us Out":
The Obama Justice Department is not just tolerating, but actively aiding the assertion of Islamic law in the U.S., and the primacy of Sharia over U.S. law. This explosive conference will give the details of that effort and show Americans what we must do now to preserve our Constitutional freedoms.
In 2010, Adams set off a right-wing media firestorm after he left the DOJ, offering since-discredited claims that the Justice Department's actions in the New Black Panther Party case demonstrated racially charged corruption. He has since used his position as a blogger for the right-wing site Pajamas Media, often issuing false attacks on the Obama DOJ for its supposed politicization and "racial agenda," and he recently authored a book on the subject filled with falsehoods, misrepresentations, and baseless allegations.
Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), created in 2009, promotes a conspiratorial anti-Muslim agenda under the guise of fighting radical Islam. The group seeks to rouse public fears by consistently vilifying the Islamic faith and asserting the existence of an Islamic conspiracy to destroy "American" values. The organization warns of the encroachment of shari'a, or Islamic law, and encourages Muslims to leave what it describes as the "falsity of Islam."
Right-wing media figures are slamming President Obama for the State Department's decision to reject plans to build the Keystone XL pipeline until a full assessment can be made, claiming that he is "killing jobs." But they cite industry-funded estimates of job creation that are wildly inflated. Moreover, the administration had long warned that it would be unable to complete the legally required review under the deadline imposed by a GOP-backed provision and would thus be forced to reject the project, and conservative outlets have previously attacked other Obama proposals that experts say significantly boost economic growth.