Right-wing media spent much of 2015 lashing out at celebrities. From seething over celebrities who spoke out against sexism and pay inequality in Hollywood and supported the Black Lives Matter movement, to objectifying female bodies, bashing the Pope, and telling an actress to "deport herself," Media Matters looks back at some of conservative media's most outrageous temper tantrums of 2015:
An investigative report by The Intercept explained how national and local media outlets uncritically repeated a false right-wing story that claimed a Muslim American veteran was arrested in Turkey for his connection with the terrorist group ISIS. The story originated from a right-wing blog that used anonymous sources with no knowledge of why the veteran was detained. Saadiq Long was not arrested for or accused of having a connection with a terror cell and currently faces no criminal charges.
In November, PJ Media published a story claiming that Long, an American veteran who received media attention after he was secretly placed on no-fly list, was "arrested in Turkey as part of ISIS cell."
Fox News, RedState, and right-wing anti-Muslim figures like Pam Gellar, Robert Spencer, and Ann Coulter also pushed the story. Local media in Oklahoma, where Long's family resides, also joined the conservative media outlets repeating the false story.
The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hassain debunked the PJ media story in a December 10 Intercept post reporting that "the widespread smearing of Long as having joined an ISIS cell, is completely false" (emphasis added):
A RIGHT-WING BLOG called "Pajamas Media" published an article on November 24 claiming that Saadiq Long, a Muslim American veteran of the U.S. Air Force, was arrested in Turkey for being an ISIS operative. Written by Patrick Poole, a professional anti-Muslim activist and close associate of Frank Gaffney, the article asserted that Long "finds himself and several family members sitting in a Turkish prison -- arrested earlier this month near the Turkey-Syria border as members of an ISIS cell." Its only claimed sources were anonymous: "U.S. and Turkish officials confirmed Long's arrest to PJ Media, saying that he was arrested along with eight others operating along the Turkish-Syrian border. So far, no U.S. media outlet has reported on his arrest."
Long's purported arrest as an ISIS operative was then widely cited across the internet by Fox News as well as right-wing and even non-ideological news sites. Predictably, the story was uncritically hailed by the most virulent anti-Muslim polemicists: Pam Geller, Robert Spencer, Ann Coulter, and Sam Harris. Worst of all, it was blasted as a major news story by network TV affiliates and other local media outlets in Oklahoma, where Long is from and where his family -- including his sister and ailing mother -- still reside.
But the story is entirely false: a fabrication. Neither Long nor his wife or daughter have been arrested on charges that he joined ISIS. He faces no criminal charges of any kind in Turkey.
To begin with, it's irresponsible in the extreme to spread claims that someone has been arrested for joining ISIS without a very substantial basis for believing that's true. That's a claim that will be permanently attached to the person's name. The people who uncritically spread this "report" had nothing approaching a sufficient basis for doing so, and worse, most of them simply repeated the assertion that he was an ISIS operative as though it were verified fact.
Beyond that, the only outlet to have "reported" this claim about Long and his family is Pajamas Media. Does anyone find that to be a credible news source, let alone one credible enough to permanently vilify someone as an ISIS member? The specific author of the report, Poole, swims exclusively in the most toxic, discredited, anti-Muslim far-right swamps -- he's a favorite of Frank Gaffney, last seen as the prime mover of Donald Trump's "ban Muslims" proposal -- and it is nothing short of shameful that so many people vested this anonymous smear with credibility.
The New York Times' Paul Krugman called out right-wing media's baseless anxiety about Syrian refugees and "exaggerated" panic over the threat of a terrorist attack as the latest example of the "apocalyptic mind-set that has developed among Republicans during the Obama years."
In a November 20 column, Krugman observed that Fox News contributor Erick Erickson's "bizarre" threat not to "see the new 'Star Wars' movie on opening day, because 'there are no metal detectors at American theaters'" is "part of a larger pattern" of right-wing panic.
Right-wing media reacted to the November 13 ISIS-led attacks on Paris and elsewhere with sweeping and unfounded claims that President Obama's anti-terror response is endangering U.S national security, with some on Fox even claiming that he has "Islamic sympathies." Others vilified Syrian refugees and defended calls for religious litmus tests, only accepting Christian refugees, on the basis that "Muslims might blow us up."
Krugman noted that among conservatives "[t]hese days, panic attacks after something bad happens are the rule rather than the exception." He attributed this epidemic to the "apocalyptic mind-set that has developed among Republicans during the Obama years": "Think about it. From the day Mr. Obama took office, his political foes have warned about imminent catastrophe. Fiscal crisis! Hyperinflation! Economic collapse, brought on by the scourge of health insurance!" Krugman recalled right-wing media's "great Ebola scare of 2014," which featured assertions that President Obama would expose American troops to Ebola to "atone for colonialism." While the "threat of pandemic, like the threat of a terrorist attack, was real," he wrote, "it was greatly exaggerated, thanks in large part to hype from the same people now hyping the terrorist danger." All of this overblown fearmongering is, Krugman concludes, "what the right is all about:
Erick Erickson, the editor in chief of the website RedState.com, is a serious power in right-wing circles. Speechifying at RedState's annual gathering is a rite of passage for aspiring Republican politicians, and Mr. Erickson made headlines this year when he disinvited Donald Trump from the festivities.
So it's worth paying attention to what Mr. Erickson says. And as you might guess, he doesn't think highly of President Obama's antiterrorism policies.
Still, his response to the attack in Paris was a bit startling. The French themselves are making a point of staying calm, indeed of going out to cafesto show that they refuse to be intimidated. But Mr. Erickson declared on his website that he won't be going to see the new "Star Wars" movie on opening day, because "there are no metal detectors at American theaters."
It's a bizarre reaction -- but when you think about it, it's part of a larger pattern. These days, panic attacks after something bad happens are the rule rather than the exception, at least on one side of the political divide.
But we shouldn't really be surprised, because we've seen this movie before (unless we were too scared to go to the theater). Remember the great Ebola scare of 2014? The threat of a pandemic, like the threat of a terrorist attack, was real. But it was greatly exaggerated, thanks in large part to hype from the same people now hyping the terrorist danger.
What's more, the supposed "solutions" were similar, too, in their combination of cruelty and stupidity. Does anyone remember Mr. Trump declaring that "the plague will start and spread" in America unless we immediately stopped all plane flights from infected countries? Or the fact that Mitt Romney took a similar position? As it turned out, public health officials knew what they were doing, and Ebola quickly came under control -- but it's unlikely that anyone on the right learned from the experience.
What explains the modern right's propensity for panic? Part of it, no doubt, is the familiar point that many bullies are also cowards. But I think it's also linked to the apocalyptic mind-set that has developed among Republicans during the Obama years.
Think about it. From the day Mr. Obama took office, his political foes have warned about imminent catastrophe. Fiscal crisis! Hyperinflation! Economic collapse, brought on by the scourge of health insurance! And nobody on the right dares point out the failure of the promised disasters to materialize, or suggest a more nuanced approach.
The context also explains why Beltway insiders were so foolish when they imagined that the Paris attacks would deflate Donald Trump's candidacy, that Republican voters would turn to establishment candidates who are serious about national security. Who, exactly, are these serious candidates? And why would the establishment, which has spent years encouraging the base to indulge its fears and reject nuance, now expect that base to understand the difference between tough talk and actual effectiveness?
Leon Wolf, a contributor to Erick Erickson's RedState blog, wrote that the University of Missouri football players and students protesting racially charged incidents on campus are "cowardly liberal lazy douchebags" protesting for reasons he claims are "completely unrelated to racism," but are aimed at avoiding "practicing for a bad football team."
University of Missouri football players announced that they would stop participating in football activities "until the president of the university system [was] fired or [resigned]," following weeks of student demonstrations reacting to reported on-campus incidents including "racial slurs hurled at black students and feces smeared into the shape of a swastika on a wall in a residence hall." Student groups maintain that the university administration's response to these and other events have been inadequate and "sluggish," and the president resigned November 9, "urging everyone involved to 'use my resignation to heal and start talking again.'"
In a November 9 article, Wolf dismissed the protesters' claims of racist incidents on campus, alleging that the players "invented facially unbelievable accusations of widespread racism on campus" to "skip the last three weeks of pointless practices" for "a bad football team." He derided the students' demands as "laughably absurd," and called the protesting students "cowardly liberal lazy douchebags" and "willing suckers" engaging in a "lazy strike":
The sports media - who are uniformly worse at their jobs and more sickeningly liberal than their news media counterparts - have been breathlessly reporting on the fact that thirty black Mizzou football players are allegedly going on strike over racism on campus. This is being presented as an act of courage likely to foster social change, rather than as the act of lazy cowardice that it is.
Here are a few key points to illustrate why the story is not as the sports media would have you believe - these are not brave change agents, but lazy cowards.
At the end of the day, this isn't a courageous strike against racism. It's a lazy strike against practicing for a bad football team. The fact that the media isn't reporting it this way is evidence of the media's own laziness.
Upon news of university president Tim Wolfe's resignation, Leon Wolf updated the original post to say "Mizzou's President has apparently resigned, proving that some people think negotiating with terrorists is a good idea, even when those terrorists are 1-5 in the SEC." RedState editor Erick Erickson also wrote that "University of Missouri makes me laugh. The inmates have taken over the asylum."
Fox News contributor Erick Erickson praised the defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance on Tuesday, calling transgender Americans "perverts, the mentally ill, [and] liars."
The vote on the equal rights ordinance was expected to be close, but it failed with 62 percent of voters opposing it at the time the results were called by the Associated Press. The ordinance was initially adopted by the Houston City Council in May 2014, however a lawsuit ended with the ordinance placed on Houston's November 3 ballot.
The fight over HERO has been plagued by the widely-debunked myth that HERO would allow sexual predators to sneak into women's restrooms by pretending to be transgender -- a bogus talking point championed by HERO's opponents, including Erickson earlier on Tuesday. Experts across the country and officials from Texas cities with similar non-discrimination ordinances have thoroughly rejected the "bathroom predator" myth, calling it "beyond specious."
Erickson lauded the unsuccessful ordinance measure claiming "the people of Houston fought back and rejected the attempt to allow perverts" to get in opposite sex bathrooms. From Erickson's November 3 post on Red State:
Tonight, the people of Houston fought back and rejected the attempt to allow perverts, the mentally ill, liars, and others who want to get in to opposite sex bathrooms.
Christians and common sense won. Perverts, the mentally ill, and the gay rights mob lost.
It remains unscientific that men can be women and women can be men. But it has become an article of faith to the supposedly pro-science left -- an article of faith rejected by the people of Texas.
Conservative media rallied to dismiss the gender pay gap after actress Jennifer Lawrence published an essay discussing making less than her male peers while working on the film American Hustle.
Right-wing media are championing a government shutdown, ignoring that it would cause millions of Americans to lose access to food assistance, health care, and their paychecks while costing the government billions of dollars.
Right-wing media are seizing on deceptively edited videos purporting to show that Planned Parenthood profits from the illegal sale of fetal tissue to justify comparing the organization to Nazis, invoking the deadly human experimentation of notorious Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele. In reality, the full, unedited versions of the videos debunk the allegations. Many groups, including Planned Parenthood, donate fetal tissue to support medical research such as the development of treatments for diseases, and such donations are legal with consent from the donor. It's also legal for providers to accept payment "for reasonable expenses" with "informed consent," but Planned Parenthood does not profit from tissue donations -- Legal reimbursement helps offset the costs associated with donations.
Conservative media lashed out at President Obama for mentioning the Crusades and Inquisition at the National Prayer Breakfast after condemning the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) as a "death cult" that distorts Islam.
Conservative media attacked House Republicans for dropping plans to vote on a bill that included a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and attacked the female members, led by Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), who objected to the bill.
Charles and David Koch, brothers and the oil barons who are already shaping the 2014 midterm elections according to recently leaked audio recordings, are often portrayed as environmentally responsible advocates of the free-market that are unfairly targeted by Democrats. However, their political influence, which benefits the fossil fuel industry and their own bottom line, is unparalleled.
House Republicans pulled a bill which would increase funding for security at the southern border after conservative media and their allies voiced opposition to it.
The bill, pushed by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) was tabled after he and House Republican leadership faced "a rebellion among their most conservative ranks," according to the New York Times, who also reported that the failure to pass the bill "ensures that no legislation to address what both Democrats and Republicans call an urgent humanitarian crisis will reach President Obama's desk before the August break." After the measure failed, Republicans met to discuss whether they would bring up another bill before Congress goes into recess or to scrap the legislation entirely. Roll Call reported that "chaos reigned" as it became unclear what Republican leaders would decide to do.
Conservative media darling Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was reportedly whipping votes in order to stop the bill the night before its introduction, according to a Washington Post report. Cruz appeared on Fox's On the Record with Greta Van Susteren that same night and attacked what he described as "President Obama's amnesty."
Weekly Standard founder and ABC News contributor Bill Kristol wrote a July 31 blog post demanding that the House "kill the bill." He described the bill as "dubious legislation" and argued that passing it would "take the focus off what President Obama has done about immigration."
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt agreed with Kristol, writing that the House should "kill the fake border security bill and go home until the House leadership gets serious about passing a real border security bill."
The Drudge Report highlighted opposition to the bill at the top of the site with the headline "Hill Phones Melt As Boehner Pushes Border."
The Drudge headline linked to Breitbart.com, which has repeatedly opposed immigration reform efforts. The story by Matthew Boyle noted that "The American people have overloaded the Congressional phone lines yet again on Thursday, pressuring their members of Congress to vote against the House and Senate immigration bills."
Fox News contributor Erick Erickson argued at his site, RedState, that the bill was flawed because it failed to repeal the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which conservatives incorrectly blame for generating the surge in child migrants from Central America.
Erickson added, "The House GOP should be starting with closing DACA, not telling conservatives they first have to fund the President and then they'll get table scraps" and directed his readers to RedState's "action center" where they could call Congress and demand that "the House GOP must close DACA."
Daily Caller columnist Mickey Kaus promoted a campaign from the anti-immigration group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) which urged readers to call the U.S. Capitol switchboard in order to speak to their member of Congress and demand "No New Laws" on immigration. Kaus also linked to a list of members and their direct office phone numbers.
Laura Ingraham, a talk radio host and Fox News/ABC News contributor, who has been an anti-immigration reform crusader for years, wrote on Twitter that Boehner had made a "supreme accomplishment" by pushing a bill that "manages to enrage both the political left and conservatives." She later celebrated its defeat.
Right-wing media greeted news of the release of the only U.S. soldier held captive in Afghanistan with claims that his freedom was timed to distract from the controversy plaguing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Fox News contributor Erick Erickson launched his latest personal attack on Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, whom he proudly labeled "Abortion Barbie," by absurdly suggesting that a 1996 lawsuit in which Davis made a routine legal claim in a defamation lawsuit disqualified her to hold public office.
In a post on his conservative website RedState, Erickson highlighted a 1996 lawsuit in which Davis sued the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for defamation. Erickson seized on language from the suit, in which Davis claimed the editorial had caused "damages to her mental health," a required element of her alternate Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) claim, to argue Democrats would regret supporting her campaign for governor:
Back in 1996, Wendy Davis lost an election for the Fort Worth, TX City Council. After the election, she sued the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the local newspaper, for defamation. In short, Davis did not like being criticized by the media (something she won't have to worry about this go round), so she sued for those criticisms claiming they defamed her.
The Texas Court of Appeals and then the Texas Supreme Court both threw out her case. But it is worth noting that Davis, in making her case, claimed that the nasty newspaper, by virtue of criticizing her, damaged her "mental health."
More worrisome regarding her mental stability, Davis sued the newspaper months after losing her city council and claimed that she "ha[d] suffered and [was] continuing to suffer damages to her mental health."
Think about that. The best candidate the Texas Democrats could find to run is a lady who admits in open court that a newspaper editorial caused her mental health to be damaged.
As explained by the Digital Media Law Project of Harvard University's Berman Center for Internet & Society, "Plaintiffs who file defamation lawsuits often add an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim as an alternative theory of liability." Within these IIED claims, a plaintiff must prove the emotional distress, or "damages to her mental health." In other words, Erickson wants his subscribers to "think about" the routine legal boilerplate of Wendy Davis' lawyers from 1996.
Erickson's suggestion that Davis is unfit for public office because of a defamation lawsuit is only the latest in his string of absurd or vicious personal attacks against her. In August, Erickson labeled Davis "Abortion Barbie" after she declined to comment on the case of convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell:
Following Republican Ken Cuccinelli's defeat in the Virginia gubernatorial race, conservative media blamed the Republican Party establishment for not supporting Cuccinelli's right-wing agenda.