Right-wing media personalities have incessantly attacked President Obama's six previous State of the Union addresses -- from calling the speeches "boring" to questioning his decision to invite a wounded veteran to the event -- and have even frequently waged the attacks before the addresses even occurred. Ahead of Obama's January 12 State of the Union address, Media Matters looks back at conservative media's long history of attacking annual addresses.
Before President Obama made his first official State of the Union address on January 27, 2010, right-wing media pundits called the speech "stupid" "propaganda." Fox host Sean Hannity repeatedly referred to the upcoming speech as "propaganda," and former Fox host Glenn Beck told his viewers "you don't even have to watch this stupid speech tonight. I'll watch it for you so you don't have to." Beck added, "I want to hang myself over watching this." Fox Business' John Stossel asked Obama to use the address to apologize for being "arrogant." After his speech, media personalities criticized Obama, and claimed he didn't show enough humility. Stossel said Obama "certainly didn't sound humbled," and only a few minutes into the address, National Review's John Hood criticized Obama's "cadence and rhythm" for coming "across as flippant and arrogant." The talking point wasn't anything new -- frequent Fox guest Ben Stein had predicted that "we'll see Obama with his fake modesty and his fake humility" before the speech took place. Once again, Glenn Beck joined the chorus: "the arrogance from the moment this guy walked in, the arrogance -- there's no humility there."
President Obama made his second State of the Union address on January 25, 2011, and the media predicted it would focus on theatrics instead of substance. Rush Limbaugh directed his listeners to watch a Golf Channel show he appeared in instead of the address, predicting that Obama would "lie for an hour and fifteen minutes." On Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade questioned whether Obama would be sincere, suggesting that the president was merely trying "to make sure he gets re-elected." After the speech, Limbaugh continued to attack Obama's sincerity, saying Obama "just doesn't believe" the "pro-America rah-rah" featured in the speech and suggesting that the speech was plagiarized. Fox & Friends' recap of the debate called the speech "boring."
Continuing their tradition of attacking Obama prior to the address, Fox News hosts criticized the focus on economic security and income equality. On Fox & Friends Kilmeade said that Obama would "bring up the class warfare stuff," while co-host Steve Doocy forcasted that it would "ignite the whole class warfare thing." Co-host of Fox's The Five , Andrea Tantaros predicted the address would be a "very divisive, very evil speech" that is "designed to get people in the audience who are sitting home on their duffs ... angry at their neighbors who are actually going out, who are working hard."
After the address, right-wing media largely continued their "class warfare" narrative. Fox's Doocy doubled down against Obama's focus on income inequality, saying that his comments regarding billionaires paying the same percentage of taxes as their secretaries were intended "to kick off his class warfare campaign." Fox Business' Dave Ramsey even claimed Obama "declared war on success in the name of this class warfare politics."
After President Obama's February 12, 2013 State of the Union Speech, right-wing radio host Mark Levin accused Obama of "lying to the American people" in a "Castro-like speech." Levin criticized the economy under Obama claiming he keeps "proposing more programs, more trusts, more partnerships, more agencies, more spending." A Fox Nation headline echoed Levin's comments: "Obama Pleads For Billions In New Deficit Spending." That same post, however, linked to a FoxNews.com article that reported the full transcript of Obama's comments, explaining that his proposals would be "fully paid for" and that "nothing [he's] proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime."
Before the January 28, 2014 State of the Union, Fox News once again downplayed the address, asking, "Does it matter what the president says?" After the address, Rush Limbaugh was critical of Obama's guest, wounded Army Ranger Cory Remsburg's presence. Limbaugh claimed that Obama invited a wounded veteran to the address to say "look what George Bush is responsible for." Right-wing media also pounced on Obama's comments that climate change demands urgent action and that the debate over it is "settled." Their evidence against the claim? Cold weather and snow across the country.
In the most memorable vitriol from President Obama's January 20, 2015 State of the Union, Rush Limbaugh told his audience he had already written his response before the address: "I hope he fails." Limbaugh then bragged that "that has been my State of the Union response every year. I hope he fails. It is what it is. You can't get more clear cut than that." On his January 21 show, Limbaugh rehashed his reasoning behind boycotting the speech saying that he would have been "insulted as a conservative" and "lied to" and that the address would have been the "next Santa Claus list."
Note: this analysis did not include Obama's 2009 Address to Joint Session of Congress.
From the January 8 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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From the January 6 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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2015 was an important year in education policy, with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the beginning of the 2016 election campaigns, and local fights for teachers and public schools making national headlines. In an important year for students and teachers across the education spectrum, however, some media outlets used their platforms to push falsehoods. Here are five of the worst media failures on public education this year.
This summer, teachers union opponent and former journalist Campbell Brown launched a "non-profit, non-partisan news site about education," called The Seventy Four. In spite of the site's stated mission to combat "misinformation and political spin" with "investigation, expertise, and experience," Brown hired Eric Owens, who has a long history of attacks on students and teachers, to write for the site. Owens has a long history of attacking and mocking teachers and students with transphobic, sexist, victim-blaming, and racially insensitive rhetoric as the education editor at the Daily Caller.
This year, The Wall Street Journal continued its campaign of misinformation on teachers unions, pushing harmful, union-opposed policies such as a Louisiana voucher program that was found to violate desegregation requirements and a Washington, D.C. voucher program reported to waste federal dollars on "unsuitable learning environments." The WSJ editorial board often explicitly attributed its support of these unsuccessful policies to combating teachers unions. In an October editorial, for example, the board wrote that being "unpopular with unions... ought to be a requirement for any education leadership position," ignoring the troubling realities of the programs they attempted to defend in spite of well-founded union concerns.
As ESSA moved through Congress in late November, the editorial board doubled down on its teacher-blaming rhetoric, claiming that the new legislation was favored by "teachers unions who want less accountability," and advocating for the continuation of unpopular high-stakes testing and voucher policies in the states.
The Washington Post editorial board similarly advocated for continuing the extensive testing requirements of the No Child Left Behind legislation, lending support to a high-stakes testing policy with questionable public or research support, and villainized teachers unions in the process. In its February editorial on the issue, the Post claimed that teachers unions "give lip service to accountability as long as their members aren't the ones held to account," and cited this self-interest as the source of unions' opposition to flawed teacher evaluation models that utilize students' standardized test scores to punish teachers.
Fox News featured offensive and often inaccurate commentary on public education and the teaching profession throughout the year -- in some cases doubling down on the anti-teacher rhetoric many Fox figures pushed in 2014.
In February, Outnumbered co-host Kennedy kicked off the teacher-bashing by arguing that "there really shouldn't be public schools," before the hosts agreed that the federal Department of Education ought to be abolished. In April, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy slurred prospective bilingual educators, referring to immigrants with legal permission to work in the United States as "illegals" during a segment highlighting an initiative to boost language learning in schools.
In August, Fox & Friends included a segment where Fox News regular Frank Luntz conducted a live focus group segment about public education. Questions for the focus group included "Who here has issue with teachers unions?" and "Doesn't it make you angry that you're putting all this money into public schools?" Luntz followed up his leading question about teachers unions by singling out a teacher from the group and asking him to "defend" himself.
In an October discussion about New York City schools on Fox's The Five, the co-hosts implored the city's public school teachers to "become a better teacher" and "don't suck at your job." That same month, co-host Juan Williams attacked unions' endorsement of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race, asserting that an "unholy alliance between education unions and Democrats" would be "dangerous for our kids" and would "hurt" "minority communities" and "poor people."
This year also marked the launch of the 2016 presidential campaign season, with five Republican and three Democratic debates held this fall. While candidates outlined their positions time and again on national security issues, women's health care, and taxes, the debates barely mentioned education issues. A Media Matters search of all eight full debate transcripts found only nine mentions of any variation of the term "teach." In fact, according to this review, no candidate or moderator uttered the phrases "No Child Left Behind," "Race To The Top," or "Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)" throughout the 2015 debate season, despite the recent passage of the landmark ESSA legislation replacing No Child Left Behind.
Moderators did discuss schools and teachers a handful of times throughout the debate season, mostly in relation to national security. In the August 6 Republican debate on Fox News, moderator Bret Baier questioned former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on their disagreement on the Common Core state standards and asked former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR) whether he would abolish the Department of Education, among other federal agencies. The moderators of the October 28 CNBC Republican debate also mentioned teachers once, when moderator Carlos Quintanilla asked Donald Trump about his comments that educators ought to be armed. And on CNN's December 15 Republican debate, moderator Wolf Blitzer asked candidates about the closure of the Los Angeles Unified school district following an email threat.
The other five debates did not feature questions regarding K-12 education policy.
Public school educators and their unions in major cities made national headlines in 2015 following strikes, contentious contract negotiations, school board elections, and school funding battles. While research shows that teachers unions not only protect the rights of educators but also benefit students and their communities, state newspapers editorializing on union activities framed unions and educators as selfishly seeking higher pay at the expense of others.
Amidst a victory year for teachers unions on several fronts, Media Matters found that state newspapers in New York, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, California, and Washington published editorials distorting the facts to question the motives of teachers and attack their right to organize.
In Buffalo, New York, The Buffalo News repeatedly claimed that teachers unions supporting a parent-led movement against standardized testing want to maintain "the wretched, costly, dysfunctional status quo" and require children to "pay the price." In Scranton, Pennsylvania, The Scranton Times-Tribune lamented that teachers unions had the ability to strike and dismissed teachers' calls to be treated with respect and dignity. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, The Albuquerque Journal mocked teachers' concerns over an unfair evaluation method that was subsequently struck down by a district court that agreed with the unions. In Los Angeles, California, the Los Angeles Times dismissed unions' worries that a charter expansion plan created by one of the paper's education reporting funders would financially jeopardize local public schools, telling those who opposed the plan to "quit whining." And in Seattle, Washington, The Seattle Times repeatedly attacked the local union for "using their students as pawns," as they advocated for fair pay, guaranteed recess time, more funding for schools, and greater equity in school discipline policies.
These editorial board attacks on educators -- because of the readers they serve and the prominence of local priorities on education policy -- have the dangerous potential to shift public conversation away from the facts and to pit communities against the teachers who advocate for them. After a year where the importance of education policy has become more critical than ever, hopefully this disturbing trend will not continue in 2016.
Image by Ian MacKenzie under a Creative Commons license.
From the December 23 edition of TawkrTV's The Bill Press Show:
In 2015, conservative media outlets -- led by Fox News -- set a new standard for attacking the least fortunate members of American society, targeting low-income workers, recipients of government assistance, and the homeless in a campaign of misinformation. The campaign was so pervasive that President Obama personally addressed it during a leadership summit dedicated to alleviating poverty. In recognition of their exemplary efforts to distort the public discourse on poverty, here are five of the worst trends in right-wing media poor-shaming from 2015.
Right-wing media spent 2015 defending, praising, and peddling several of GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump's debunked falsehoods, which PolitiFact rounded up as one big "lie of the year."
Fox News has a long history of promoting sexism on-air, and 2015 was no different. Media Matters rounded up the 10 most cringe-worthy instances of sexism that happened on Fox this year -- as well as a bonus cringe-inducing moment from CNN.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump excused Vladimir Putin's extensive human rights violations by saying that "at least he's a leader, unlike what we have in this country." His praise for the Russian president echoes that of right-wing media, who have swooned over Putin for years as a way of attacking President Obama's supposed weakness.
Right-wing media trumpeted a front-page New York Times piece that used unnamed sources to claim that one of the San Bernardino attackers "talked openly on social media" about violent jihad. These claims made their way into the December 15 CNN Republican debate, where candidates claimed that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was prohibited from reviewing the social media of potential visa applicants out of concern for "political correctness." But the FBI and DHS explained that they are not prohibited from reviewing social media, and FBI Director James Comey found no evidence that the San Bernardino terrorists made any public "pro-Jihad" posts on social media.
From the December 17 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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With global crude oil prices at their lowest point in seven years, and gasoline prices approaching their lowest point of President Obama's term of office, Media Matters remembers Fox News' hypocritical coverage of the relationship between presidential policy initiatives and fuel and energy markets.
From the December 10 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Right-wing media deflected criticism of Donald Trump's proposed plan to ban all Muslim entry into the U.S. by pushing his claim that it would be "temporary," even though experts say any such ban would be "unconstitutional" and could fuel extremist ideology.