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Right-wing media figures are hyping claims from the Washington Free Beacon suggesting former White House aide Ben Rhodes may be part of a “secret, months-long campaign by former Obama administration confidantes to handicap President Donald Trump's national security apparatus,” beginning with recently resigned White House national security adviser Michael Flynn. The claims, which resemble similar allegations from The New York Post’s Paul Sperry, are largely based on anonymous sources.
Since President Donald Trump signed a controversial executive order banning visitors and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, conservative media figures have defended him as being “within his mandate” as president and claimed the constitutionality of the order is “crystal clear,” but the recent federal appeals court decision against his order proves otherwise. Here are some of the right-wing media myths -- and the corresponding facts -- on Trump’s Muslim ban:
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt has proposed the creation of a “national commission led by men and women of impeccable credentials” to determine whether and how the U.S. should address climate change, arguing that the country needs a group of “[d]iverse, smart non-scientists who are going to listen to the scientists -- all of them -- and report back on what ought to be done.” However, any credibility that Hewitt’s proposal may have had disappeared instantly when he suggested that the commission include Rush Limbaugh, a vocal climate science denier and conspiracy theorist who is among the least likely people imaginable to “listen to the scientists.”
Hewitt proposed the commission in a February 9 op-ed in The Washington Post, in which he asserted that “we don’t know enough” about the cost of addressing climate change or “the nature of the risk.” He also declared, “We are told so many things about climate change, in a conclusory and often condescending fashion. As a result, both the town criers of apocalypse and the town cynics who wear a never-ending sneer have lost the ability to be heard by, much less move, the center.”
Those claims themselves are dubious -- there is a wealth of research from both governmental and non-governmental organizations about the risks posed by climate change, and lumping proponents of climate action together with (often fossil fuel industry-funded) climate science deniers is false balance 101. But even if Hewitt is correct that a commission of non-scientists could help move the climate conversation forward, his proposal can’t be taken seriously when he suggests the commission include Limbaugh, simply because it ought to include “luminaries of left and right” and Limbaugh has created one of the “largest audiences of the past 30 years.”
Limbaugh has long been a promoter of some of the most over-the-top and fringiest climate science denial and climate-related conspiracy theories. Among other things, Limbaugh concocted a conspiracy theory that the federal government was overstating Hurricane Matthew’s severity in order to manufacture concern about climate change; claimed that NASA’s announcement that it found water on Mars was part of a climate change conspiracy; and distorted a study from Duke University, claiming it shows that "there isn't any [global] warming going on." For Hewitt to believe that Limbaugh belongs on a climate change commission requires a willful ignorance of Limbaugh’s long track record of climate science denial and overt disdain for science and scientists.
From Hewitt’s February 9 op-ed in the Post:
Imagine, if you will, an August 2017 Post headline: “McChrystal Commission report surprises, energizes and outrages.” The first paragraph reads:
“The much-anticipated and closely guarded final report of the McChrystal Commission on Climate Change released Tuesday shook nearly every interest and player in the capital. The commission, headed by retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal and including such luminaries of left and right as Oprah Winfrey and Rush Limbaugh and such captains of industry as Bill Gates and Peter Thiel, kept its work secret and its executive summary short and accessible. President Trump tweeted: “THANK YOU General McChrystal and colleagues. Great work. All must read and think on your report carefully!”
This is a not-yet-established commission, of course, and I don’t know whether the remarkable McChrystal would agree to lead it or if Trump would empanel it. I only know the country needs such a body, just as it needed the National Commission for Social Security Reform more than three decades ago.
[The “insurance policy” theory of combating climate change is] a good argument — but only an argument — because when it comes to climate change, we don’t know enough about the cost of the premium or the nature of the risk. Thus, a national commission led by men and women of impeccable credentials and also populated with visible and controversial opinion leaders of left and right would serve us well. We are told so many things about climate change, in a conclusory and often condescending fashion. As a result, both the town criers of apocalypse and the town cynics who wear a never-ending sneer have lost the ability to be heard by, much less move, the center.
So what, if anything, ought to be done in light of what, if any, significant dangers lurk — especially if either or both of China and India continue on their emissions trajectory? That would render U.S. actions at best noble gestures and at worst moot and economically self-destructive gestures. Yes, I know about the Paris Accord and the “undertakings” of the big emitters but — the key — I don’t trust it or them.
I don’t know who to trust actually on these issues. But I would take very seriously the recommendations of a such a commission, and tens of millions would at least pay attention if it is populated in part by big names from entertainment. Winfrey and Limbaugh built and sustained the two largest audiences of the past 30 years after all. Dismiss them if you will, but only two people have accomplished that. Add on a Sheryl Sandberg if you’d like, provided there was also a Thiel to complement the Facebook chief operating officer. You get the picture: Diverse, smart non-scientists who are going to listen to the scientists — all of them — and report back on what ought to be done.
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A story by David Rose of the British tabloid Daily Mail falsely alleged that researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) “manipulated global warming data” in order to “dupe” world leaders into agreeing to provisions of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. In reality, the NOAA report’s finding that there was no slowdown in the rate of global warming has since been independently verified by other experts, and it’s the Daily Mail story -- and the GOP politicians and right-wing media outlets like Breitbart News championing it -- that are distorting climate science to score political points.
Current False Accusations Of Paid Protesters Don’t Match Up With Tea Party Adoration
Many right-wing media figures have accused anti-Trump protesters of being “paid” on a widespread basis to demonstrate against President Donald Trump. Not only do these allegations lack any evidence of a systematic effort, they also ignore the fact that the conservative tea party protests of the early 2010s were “astroturfed” -- heavily supported and organized by large, outside groups.
Evidence-free claims and suggestions of paid protesters driving anti-Trump sentiment have circulated throughout right-wing media for years but have increased since the inauguration of Donald Trump. Both Trump himself and White House press secretary Sean Spicer have repeated the claim that anti-Trump protests are, in Spicer’s words, a “very paid astroturf-type movement.” Rush Limbaugh warned that the airport protests against Trump’s Muslim ban were “bought and paid for by George Soros, prearranged. … and waiting for the moment to be cued to action.” The Daily Caller wrote that protests directed against a vocal Trump supporter at the University of California, Berkeley were “backed by a progressive charity that is in turn funded by George Soros, the city of Tucson, a major labor union and several large companies.” The claims have also circulated among fake news purveyors and state-owned Russian propaganda.
Despite the charge being leveled at nearly every anti-Trump protest, there is no proof that they protesters were systematically paid by any group. Recently, claims that a group called Demand Protest was paying people $2,500 a month to protest Trump nationwide were exposed as a hoax, much like a viral claim during the election season of craigslist ads offering $3,500 to protest Trump, which ended up being a lie created by a fake news writer to generate profit.
Right-wing media’s concerns about supposed liberal paid protesters also conveniently forgets times when they were enamored by protesters who were financially supported by outside groups.
During the 2016 presidential race, Trump ally Alex Jones’ website offered a cash reward to protesters that interrupted Hillary Clinton rallies, an open attempt to pay protesters. Even more significant, right-wing media was also an ally of the Tea Party movement during the first term of former President Barack Obama, which was widely documented to be backed by big money donors.
The Tea Party, described as “the biggest Astroturf operation in history,” was heavily financed and supported by billionaires, most prominently Charles and David Koch. In addition to financial support from conservative billionaires, the Tea Party enjoyed glowing coverage across right-wing media, most prominently on Fox News, which encouraged its viewers to head to the “conservative Woodstock.” “Party on!” Fox hosts, such as Sean Hannity, attached themselves to and tried to boost the protests, and Tea Party activists even thanked the network for its assistance in spreading their message.
Conservative media figures praised President Donald Trump’s firing of acting Attorney General Sally Yates and called on him to further purge the federal government of “Obama appointees” and “lifelong leftists.” Trump has also frozen federal hiring and is reportedly considering a “reduction in force.” His press secretary also suggested State Department employees should “get with the program or … go.”
Conservative radio host Sean Hannity rightly defended President Donald Trump’s ten-year-old son, Barron, as off limits from attacks in the media by claiming that conservatives afforded President Obama’s daughters the same courtesy. But right-wing media had a field day attacking Sasha and Malia Obama throughout President Obama’s term, including Sean Hannity, who berated the Obama girls for going on Spring Break vacations.
Hannity argued that the media should leave President Trump’s son alone following news that a writer from Saturday Night Live was suspended for tweets about Barron. He claimed that the media should “leave the kids of politicians alone,” and said that he “never would” attack a politician’s kids, including President Obama’s daughters. From the January 27 edition of The Sean Hannity Show:
SEAN HANNITY(HOST): I will say one other thing. I did bring this up also last night. The way the media and these leftist snowflakes have treated this poor ten-year-old kid. Alright, I'm the only one that actually knows him. I met him, I shook his hand, I talked to him. The kid is a great kid. He's incredibly bright, smart, polite. You know, he's like a dream kid. "Hi Mr. Hannity, how are you? It's very nice to meet you. It's an honor to meet you." And I remember being blown away. Melania had to introduce me to Barron. He's such a good kid and I have these words for the media: leave the 10-year-old boy alone. Just like we conservatives left the Obama daughters alone. Leave the kids of politicians alone.
If conservatives ever did this -- and by the way, I never would. It seems -- I’ll say this about Michelle and Barack Obama. Their kids seem lovely to me. I can’t stand that pettiness, where you’re involving children in these discussions. It’s pathetic
Hannity is correct that the president’s children should always be off limits from media attacks, but the hypocrisy does not go unnoticed: He and other conservatives did in fact attack President Obama’s daughters mercilessly. Conservative radio hosts Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh mocked Malia Obama to attack President Obama’s policies. Beck later apologized, saying, “The children of public figures should be left on the sidelines.”
Hannity also attacked the president’s daughters. During an April 2013, edition of his Fox News show, Hannity had an on-air meltdown about “the girls” going to the Bahamas and Idaho during their Spring Break. Despite criticism from former Fox contributor Kirsten Powers, Hannity argued, “we have to pay for the security, which is the right thing to do, but not one vacation -- they just went on two Spring Break vacations. … That’s my money.”
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At noon today, Donald Trump will swear the oath of office and become president of the United States. His ascent would not have been possible without the years of vitriol that the right-wing media directed at his predecessor.
That hatred of President Obama, and the related scorched-earth efforts to smother his agenda, prepared the way for Trump. Many Republican voters became, in the words of one conservative writer, “just increasingly divorced from reality” after spending years in the right-wing echo chamber.
In the first months after Obama’s election, as the president sought solutions for the most immense economic crisis in decades, conservative media became completely unhinged. Violent, doomsday rhetoric and overt appeals to feelings of anger and paranoia in their audience became regular features of commentary across the full spectrum of the right-wing press. While the level of demagoguery waxed and waned over the years, the hatred and fear that had been unleashed never dissipated.
The GOP establishment was all too willing to go along with “the rage and unreason of radio talkers” as long as they could keep them pointed at liberals. Then Trump came along, a candidate who had repeatedly questioned whether Obama was eligible to be president in the first place, and stole the base right out from under them.
And once Trump was a major party candidate, he had a pretty good shot of becoming president, especially after receiving a massive volume of coverage from a press that was unwilling or unable to properly contextualize his candidacy.
Five days before Obama’s 2009 inauguration, the nation was in dire straights. A financial crisis had sent the economy into a tailspin, triggering massive job losses and a plummeting stock market. The banking system was still on the brink of failure. The auto industry was on the verge of collapse. Americans were rightly frightened of the immense economic insecurity, but broadly supportive of the new president who promised to right the ship.
But on January 16, 2009, Rush Limbaugh -- one of the most powerful voices in Republican politics -- told his millions of listeners that his “hope for the Obama presidency” was “I hope he fails.” In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity the day after Obama was sworn in, Limbaugh doubled down, saying: "We are being told that we have to hope he succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles, bend over forward, backward, whichever, because his father was black, because this is the first black president."
Over the next few months, Limbaugh would continue to state that he wanted Obama to fail. When other prominent Republicans offered criticism of the radio host, he would blast them on his show; his audience would flood their offices with calls until they were forced to apologize. In a sign of things to come, even the chairman of the Republican National Committee had to grovel before the man with the microphone.
That same month, Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes sat down with another right-wing radio host, Glenn Beck. After spending two years at HLN, Beck was about to debut his new Fox show, and he was worried that Ailes might not be willing to give him the leeway to go after the incoming administration. “I see this as the Alamo,” Ailes reportedly told Beck. “If I just had somebody who was willing to sit on the other side of the camera until the last shot is fired, we'd be fine.” A partnership was struck.
Fox executives later acknowledged that the network took “a hard right turn” after the election and become “the voice of opposition” to Obama.
As a presidential candidate, Obama had frequently been subject to a hefty dose of conservative media vitriol. Given that Obama was the first black major party nominee and had the middle name “Hussein,” a lot of that vitriol was racist or aimed at falsely suggesting he was a Muslim. The fearmongering took off as the election approached, with conservatives baselessly warning that he would be a dictator.
But in the first 100 days of his administration, following the lead of Limbaugh, Ailes, and Beck, the floodgates opened.
As the Obama administration took control of the reins of government and began trying to halt the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the right-wing media reviews rolled in.
“Is this where we’re headed?” asked Beck over a montage of photos of Hitler, Stalin, and Lenin.
Obama’s aim was “destroying our economic system as we currently know it." His financial rescue plan was “Josef Stalin without the bloodshed.” It was also socialism. So was his economic recovery plan (unless that was really communism. Or fascism. It was definitely slavery). The auto industry rescue made him a mob boss. So did his labor proposal. His cabinet secretaries were Soviet commissars.
According to one CNBC host, the big debate was over whether Obama was “the New Economic Policy Lenin or the initial storm-the-Winter-Palace Lenin.” Obama’s party was trying to create a “political dictatorship.” Possible prosecutions of Bush administration officials who had aided the use of torture were “show trials” that would turn the nation into a “banana republic.”
Obama was “enslaving” our children. His education plan was “Maoist.” He was striving to create “chaos and depression” among Americans. He was a vampire “going after the blood of our businesses.” His government was “a heroin pusher using smiley-faced fascism to grow the nanny state." He was “taking every tradition and institution that defined this country's greatness and trying to rip it to shreds.”
He was “more sympathetic with the long-term goals of world communism, and … Muslim terrorists, than with any legitimate American goals." He was embracing “the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood” and preparing to “sell us out” to the Islamic world.
He was trying to institute a one-world government by repealing the Declaration of Independence and taking the Constitution apart. “Those crazies in Montana who say, ‘We're going to kill ATF agents because the U.N.'s going to take over’” were “beginning to have a case.”
After weeks of hearing that Obama was planning to destroy the country, right-wing media’s audience members were ready for action. They got their opportunity after CNBC contributor Rick Santelli’s denunciation of Obama’s housing plan from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade went viral on February 19, 2009; Santelli’s rant culminated in a call for viewers to join him to protest at a “Chicago Tea Party” on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Within days, powerful national conservative organizations backed by corporate interests and wealthy right-wing donors started organizing a nationwide series of “Tax Day Tea Parties” to protest the Obama administration, leading up to and culminating on April 15.
Fox News -- the “voice of opposition,” Ailes’ “Alamo” -- became the focal point, megaphone, and chief promoter of the nascent tea party movement.
The network’s hosts and anchors championed the protests in dozens of segments and promos in the following weeks, hosting protest organizers for fawning interviews, providing their audience with protest dates, locations and website URLs, and encouraging viewers to join them at protests they were attending and covering. At times, these events were openly branded as “FNC Tax Day Tea Parties.” In turn, organizers used the scheduled appearance of Fox hosts to drum up more attendees.
Fox’s abject support for the tea parties was a crucial element in their success. As we noted at the time, “Dozens of articles about tea parties in various cities reported that Fox News and its hosts helped influence, start, or turn out participants to local protests. In numerous cases, these reports quoted local participants or organizers stating they were motivated to join or start protests because of Fox News.”
Again, this all happened in the first 100 days of Obama’s tenure.
The years to come would see right-wing media flirt with a host of absurd Obama conspiracies; claim over and over again that he intended to create “death panels”; and try to bury Obama’s nominees under an avalanche of false smears. Fox News went all-in as the research and communications arm of the GOP. Glenn Beck called Obama a racist, used his paranoid anti-Obama rants to become a conservative grass-roots leader, attacked a liberal foundation with such heat that one of his heavily armed fans tried to storm its offices, lost all his major advertisers, and eventually left Fox. The “end of America as you know it” was always just around the corner.
President Obama’s Marxist/communist/socialist/Leninist/Maoist/Trotskyite/Stalinist administration resulted in the longest streak of private sector job creation in our nation’s history, with more than 15 million private sector jobs created since the recession’s low point in 2010. Under his tenure, the stock market reached record highs, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average more than doubling since he was sworn into office.
In the wake of Obama’s re-election, The Onion proposed that a “shrieking white-hot sphere of pure rage” would be the 2016 candidate “that would tap into Republicans' deep-seated, seething fury” after the GOP failed to oust Obama in 2012.
It was a very funny joke and we all had a good laugh and then the Republicans nominated Donald Trump and he was elected president.
Why Trump? Because, better than anyone else in the Republican field, he could appeal to the hatred of Obama that conservatives had spent years stoking.
Who could do better than someone who had prominently, and repeatedly, questioned whether Obama had been born in the United States?
Trump launched his recent political renaissance by hitching his wagon to the birther movement, a collection of fringe right-wing figures entranced by a racist conspiracy theory: Obama was not constitutionally eligible to be president because, in spite of all available evidence, he hadn’t really been born in this country. In this twisted worldview, Obama wasn’t just destroying the country -- he also had no right to its highest office in the first place.
The birther movement would discredit itself again and again over the years, with adherents suggesting that they had uncovered Obama’s “real father,” claiming that the Certificate of Live Birth Obama produced during the 2008 presidential campaign was forged, releasing an obviously fake Kenyan birth certificate for Obama, and declaring that Obama was hiding his birth certificate because it revealed he was Muslim. But a big chunk of Republican voters, including a contingent of GOP members of Congress, still bought into the myth.
Those conservatives were overjoyed when Trump came forward and became the leading voice of the birther movement, raising questions about Obama’s birth certificate in a series of 2011 interviews. Fox News promoted Trump’s claims in dozens of segments, and several of the network’s hosts joined in, suggesting that Obama’s birthplace was in doubt.
Obama released his long-form birth certificate later that year. But Trump never backed down. He immediately suggested the document was fake, and he spent years promoting birther conspiracies in interviews and on Twitter.
After years of listening to anti-Obama vitriol from right-wing talk radio and television hosts, conservatives wanted someone who could match that hate. They found him.
And today, he’s the president.
CNN Has Been Reporting On The 'Designated Survivor' For Years
Right-wing media outlets have concocted the conspiracy theory that a CNN report on the protocol of a “designated presidential survivor” -- in which one cabinet member does not attend the presidential inauguration in the event that a tragedy killed the president and others in the line of succession -- is evidence that CNN figures hope President-elect Donald Trump is assassinated on Inauguration Day in order to keep the Obama administration in power. CNN has reported on the designated survivor during both President Obama’s and President Bush’s presidencies.
According to reports, the incoming Trump administration has given “serious consideration” to the idea of removing the permanent press corps from the White House. This potential exclusion of the press from White House access has been months in the making, with President-elect Donald Trump, his political allies, and his right-wing media sycophants clamoring for the next administration to restrict access for outlets that have criticized his policies and statements and attacking the press in general. Meanwhile, the president-elect has been building up alternative, pro-Trump outlets.
In 2016, right-wing media’s use of racially charged and bigoted statements hit new lows, featuring widely condemned segments reliant on racial caricatures, bigoted attempts to blame progressives for the actions of white nationalists, and slurs directed against other media figures. Here are the most bigoted stories and statements from right-wing media figures over the last year: