Today the United States House of Representatives will vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. The push for a contempt citation followed a lengthy investigation by the House Oversight Committee into Holder's supposed role in the failed ATF Fast and Furious operation, in which, according to whistleblowers, the agency allowed guns to be trafficked across the border as part of an investigation intended to take down a Mexican drug cartel.
Throughout the investigation members of the right-wing media have engaged in numerous distortions about Fast and Furious while sycophantically parroting allegations made by the Republican-led House Oversight Committee. Below some of these narratives are examined and debunked.
The National Rifle Association is one of the primary promoters of the conspiracy theory that Operation Fast and Furious was designed to create violence in Mexico, which in turn would be pointed to by the Obama administration as the justification for more restrictive gun laws, a bizarre claim that has gained a solid foothold in the right-wing media's Fast and Furious narrative. Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh has frequently told his listeners that the failed ATF operation was a premeditated "attack on the Second Amendment," citing this theory.
But none of the people promoting this theory have ever provided any hard evidence to prove its existence. Townhall News Editor Katie Pavlich breathlessly hashed out the conspiracy theory in her book, Fast and Furious: Barack Obama's Bloodiest Scandal and its Shameless Cover-up, on the shaky premise that the fact that some members of the Obama administration have supported gun violence prevention measures was evidence enough of an anti-Second Amendment plot. But even Fox News host Bill O'Reilly dismissed such claims as a "conspiracy thing." And for good reason; the "evidence" offered by Pavlich and other promoters is circumstantial and the theory's logic entirely speculative. In fact, Obama has expanded, rather than restricted, the right to carry a gun during his first term.
When Obama asserted executive privilege over a set of internal Department of Justice (DOJ) documents on June 20, Fox News was quick to push the narrative -- straight from the GOP spin room -- that the president's use of privilege implied something sinister was afoot at the White House. As Happening Now guest host Gregg Jarrett put it, "If the president was not involved then executive privilege does not apply. If the president was involved, then three things, either Holder was not telling the truth in front of Congress, and or the White House was not telling the truth when it denied the White House and the president were involved, and the president himself may have not been telling the truth when he made statements."
There are two problems with this argument. First, Obama only asserted executive privilege over documents generated after February 4, 2011. Fast and Furious was terminated in January 2011. According to the letter that DOJ sent to Obama asking the president to assert his privilege, the documents in question "were created after the investigative tactic at issue in that operation had terminated and in the course of the Department's deliberative process concerning how to respond to congressional and related media inquiries into that operation."
Secondly, presidents have traditionally asserted executive privilege over matters in which they are not personally involved. When President George W. Bush first used executive privilege in December 2001, he acted to shield internal DOJ documents. In a separate instance in 2008, his Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, advised the president that he could shield Environmental Protection Agency documents because "[t]he doctrine of executive privilege also encompasses Executive Branch deliberative communications that do not implicate presidential decisionmaking."
Yesterday a federal appeals court unanimously upheld the EPA's finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare, deeming the EPA "unambiguously correct" in addressing climate change through the Clean Air Act. One media
outlet that is curiously silent on the ruling is the Daily Caller, whose reporter Matthew Boyle previously claimed the resulting regulations would cause the EPA to hire an "ARMY OF 230k BUREAUCRATS." The claim was completely false, and their refusal to correct the clear error damaged their reputation and embarrassed employees.
Boyle's claim on Twitter echoed his Daily Caller article misreading an EPA court filing. The EPA said that it avoided a scenario that would require 230,000 workers by using a "tailoring rule" to regulate only the largest polluters -- a rule that was upheld in the recent court ruling. After several outlets ridiculed Daily Caller's error, its executive editor defended the article by making a snide comment to Politico and making several bad rationalizations about why they did not correct their false report.
Since President Obama asserted executive privilege earlier this week over a set of Department of Justice internal documents, the National Rifle Association has been quick to claim that the president's action is proof at last for the organization's insane conspiracy theory that Operation Fast and Furious was actually designed as a nefarious plot against the Second Amendment.
But the NRA's "evidence" could not be more lacking, as the documents over which Obama asserted executive privilege were generated after the conclusion of the failed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) operation. A June 19 letter sent from the Justice Department to Obama which asked the president assert his privilege clearly states that the request only covers documents "from after February 4, 2011 related to the Department's response to Congress." Fast and Furious was terminated in January 2011. The documents deal with how DOJ handled congressional inquiries into the program, not its authorization.
That NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre has not actually seen the documents in question did little to temper his belief, expressed on NRA News, that the contents of the privileged documents prove that he was right about the Obama administration all along.
LAPIERRE: There must be something in those papers that just really stinks that they would be willing to walk into this briar patch and bust this whole issue out in the open.
GINNY SIMONE, NRA NEWS HOST: Do you think just maybe it has to do with what the NRA, and many others, have been talking about from the start? That this was planned, that this was about advancing an anti-gun agenda that this president had? Your thoughts?
LAPIERRE: Well my thoughts are that this was an attack on the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. That that's what Fast and Furious really was about. The fact is that's what they are trying to hide. That's what I believe is in these papers that they don't want out, is proof of that.
The president is trying to fog the issue. He's trying to say "I'm not attacking the Second Amendment." I believe what's in these papers is proof that this administration was attacking the Second Amendment. They knew exactly what they were doing. This was about putting these guns down there in Mexico and then why they found them at crime scenes going, "Aha, we need more gun laws in the United States." And that's what I believe is in these papers. And that's why I believe the president has joined with the attorney general to cover this whole thing up.
Neil Munro's infamously brazen and boorish act of disrespect last week at the White House represented an eruption of frustration that's been building within the right-wing media during Obama's time was president. That a partisan, political player from the Daily Caller would shout angry comments at the president, interrupting him while he gave a formal statement in the Rose Garden, was simultaneously shocking and quite predictable.
Shocking because the behavior was more akin to Nixonian rat fucking than it was to journalism.
Predictable though, because the GOP Noise Machine has for years depicted Obama as a lowly, un-American dictator/criminal; as someone unworthy of respect, which is exactly how Munro treated him. The only difference was that instead of doing that in the hothouse confines of Daily Caller's website where openly hating Obama in the expected norm, Munro lashed out in a very public setting.
Unfortunately, the casual tone of Oval Office disrespect that's become a hallmark of the right-wing media has found some pockets of acceptance, and even imitation, within the mainstream press. Yes, the press universally condemned the Daily Caller's classless attempt to upstage the president mid-sentence. But you can spot mainstream bouts of derogatory chatter that would have been unlikely when a Republican was in the White House. (Yes, it was Time's Mark Halperin who called Obama a "dick" on national television.)
Funny thing about the Daily Caller: they've never been wrong.
That seems to be their official stance, at least. Even when they are spectacularly in error -- something that happens to every news org now and again -- Tucker Carlson and his retinue will get right in your face and tell you nope, you're wrong, we're right.
Consider the flap over Daily Caller reporter Neil Munro's absurd outburst during President Obama's June 15 statement on the new immigration policy. Nearly every observer, regardless of ideology, agrees that Munro acted unprofessionally, and disrespected himself and his organization. But not Tucker Carlson: "A good reporter gets the story. We're proud of Neil Munro."
Standing by your own is one thing, but this goes beyond merely circling the wagons. Carlson is arguing that Munro behaved as a reporter should -- that he "got the story." This praise is belied by the actual story Munro wrote, which contained little substance, barely touched on the policy at issue, and lacked detail (probably because Munro didn't do any actual reporting while he was at the White House).
Acknowledging miscues is part of the professional news business, but this screw-the-world counterfactual stubbornness is the Daily Caller's go-to response for those moments when they cross the line.
Last September, Daily Caller reporter Matthew Boyle wrote a piece claiming that the Environmental Protection Agency is "asking for taxpayers to shoulder the burden of up to 230,000 new bureaucrats -- at a cost of $21 billion -- to attempt to implement" new greenhouse gas regulations. Boyle's source, a court brief filed by the EPA, actually said the exact opposite: the EPA had issued a rule in May 2010 that allowed the agency to avoid that scenario. Boyle misread the document and got the story completely wrong.
After various media outlets weighed in and confirmed that the Daily Caller had botched the report, executive editor David Martosko penned an editorial note lashing out at critics and declaring: "Our news story was well reported, carefully sourced, and solidly written. Despite the criticisms that some have offered, we haven't changed a word." Defiance notwithstanding, his rationalization for not correcting the story didn't hold up.
Defending the story to Politico, Martosko argued, essentially, that the story had to be right because the EPA is government and government is bad: "What's more likely: that the Obama administration's EPA wants to limit its own power, or that it's interested in dramatically increasing its reach and budget? Anyone who has spent more than a few months in Washington knows the answer."
Appearing this morning on Fox News' America's Newsroom, Daily Caller founder and editor-in-chief Tucker Carlson continued to defend the behavior of Daily Caller reporter Neil Munro, who interrupted President Obama during his immigration speech in the Rose Garden last Friday.
Rehashing his previous defense of Munro as a supposedly serious journalist, Carlson insisted that his reporters are not "the politest people in the world" because "they're reporters, they're not wine stewards."
Right-wing media have misrepresented President Obama's remarks to falsely accuse him of hypocrisy on immigration policy.
On June 15, Obama announced a change in the Department of Homeland Security's immigration policy that will allow certain young immigrants to remain in the country.
Right-wing media have since pointed to three Obama remarks to claim the president himself believes the immigration policy change is illegitimate. In fact, each of Obama's statements is consistent with the new policy.
In all of the statements the right-wing media highlighted, Obama stated that while he can't unilaterally change the law, his administration can use its prosecutorial discretion to focus on criminals rather than law-abiding immigrants, and that is just what the DHS policy change does.
Right Wing Media Misrepresent Remarks Obama Made At Univision Town Hall Meeting
Right-wing media, such as MichelleMalkin.com, The Blaze and the Daily Caller, seized on remarks made by Obama during a March 28, 2011, Univision town hall meeting. Each of these websites highlighted Obama's comment that he could not "suspend deportations through executive order." The Blaze concluded that Obama was acknowledging that the immigration policy change "would be a rank violation of the separation of powers."
Obama's comments during the Univision event were actually perfectly consistent with the DHS policy change. On Friday, Obama did not announce an executive order on immigration; rather DHS said it will use its discretion to allow certain young immigrants to remain in the country on a "case by case basis."
And at the Univision event, Obama said that the administration is using and will continue to use its discretion to focus on deporting immigrants "who've engaged in criminal activity" rather than non-criminals. Obama also highlighted the fact that while deportations of criminal immigrants are up under his administration, "deportation of non-criminals are down."
This is consistent with the DHS policy, which states that criminals are not eligible to remain in the country while certain young non-criminals will be allowed to stay.
Sean Hannity often complains about the supposed "liberal bias" of the mainstream media. He also sometimes fails to notice that his colleagues at Fox News are espousing these supposed "Obama-mania" views.
On his June 18 Fox News show, Hannity hosted Daily Caller reporter Neil Munro to talk about Munro's recent heckling stunt in the Rose Garden. After playing video clips showing Munro shouting questions at President Obama during his immigration policy announcement, Hannity said, "Now, the mainstream Obama-mania media has jumped all over Munro for daring to question the president." Watch:
Yet at least five of Hannity's fellow Fox News employees have "jumped all over Munro" for his behavior in the Rose Garden.
In fact, less than an hour before Hannity's softball interview with Munro, Fox News contributor Bernie Goldberg appeared on The O'Reilly Factor to call Munro "a jerk" and "totally unprofessional."
Earlier today, Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple wrote of his efforts to interview the Daily Caller's Neil Munro about his heckling of President Obama, only to hear back from Munro that he was "too busy with health-care, etc."
But Munro was not too busy, however, for a cozy conversation with Sean Hannity on his radio show today. Hannity gave Munro ample space to tell his "version of things," in which he admitted it was "technically ... correct" that he interrupted the president. Hannity performed his usual routine, in which he gives conservatives who are in media messes plenty of airtime to explain away their problems. Hannity even prompted Munro to agree with him that the heckling was merely "mistimed."
Hannity said during the appearance that Munro will appear on his Fox News show later this evening, presumably for more of the same treatment.
From the June 18 broadcast of The Sean Hannity Show:
UPDATE: In his Fox News appearance, Hannity again gave Munro ample time to tell his version of events. The closest Hannity got to criticizing Munro was telling him, "I think you should have waited until he was finished, but you recognize that, you've said so." Hannity then cued up Munro to criticize his "colleagues" in the media for being "too easy" on Obama.
On June 15, President Obama delivered a statement in the Rose Garden on the Department of Homeland Security's new policy halting deportations of certain young undocumented immigrants and granting them work permits, subject to various conditions. In the middle of Obama's statement, Daily Caller reporter Neil Munro delivered his own statement, interrupting the president as he shouted nonsensical questions about the administration "employ[ing] foreigners."
It was a breach of decorum that threatened to derail coverage of an important policy announcement, and was met with near-universal condemnation. The Daily Caller, however, is standing by their man with a variety of explanations and excuses, all of them dreadful.
First out of the gate (I think) was Daily Caller reporter Matthew Boyle, who defended "a reporter" -- later confirmed to be his colleague -- for interrupting Obama because OMG the president just wouldn't shut up!
Obama just bashed a reporter for asking him a question while he's rambling on.-- Matthew Boyle (@mboyle1) June 15, 2012
The president was "rambling on," said Boyle. By my stopwatch, the president had been speaking for just over four and a half minutes before Munro interjected, well within the attention spans of most toddlers and a few gifted dogs. And he was laying out a new federal policy that will affect close to 1 million people living in the United States, so perhaps we can spot him a few minutes.
Conservative media are seizing on a report by The Daily Caller to baselessly suggest that Van Jones' connection to a California solar company helped the company secure a $2 million grant from the Department of Energy. But Jones is an unpaid advisor to Solar Mosaic and was not even aware of -- let alone involved in -- the grant application process, according to the company's President.
This latest faux-controversy started when The Daily Caller reported that former Obama administration green jobs czar Van Jones serves as an advisor to Solar Mosaic, and that the company "employed Rebuild the Dream, Jones' firm, to do its public relations work." But Billy Parish, the president of Solar Mosaic, told Media Matters that Jones is "one of over a dozen unpaid advisors to the company," and that he "was not involved in the grant application in any way and didn't even know about it." And Natalie Foster, CEO of Rebuild the Dream, told Media Matters that reports that the organization was "employed" by Solar Mosaic are "not accurate at all." Foster said that while Rebuild the Dream supports companies like Solar Mosaic, "there is no formal, monetized relationship."
And contrary to The Daily Caller's suggestion that Solar Mosaic was singled out for an especially generous grant because of its connection to Jones, many of the projects supported by the same program received more funding. Solar Mosaic was one of nine companies awarded grants by DOE's SunShot Incubator Program in its latest round of funding -- the seventh round since the program began in 2007. The Daily Caller noted that of the nine recent recipients, "Solar Mosaic received the most money," without mentioning that almost half of the 47 projects supported by the Incubator program have been awarded more than $2 million -- including 16 companies selected by the Bush administration.
From the June 18 edition of Current's Talking Liberally with Stephanie Miller:
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From the June 17 episode of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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Conservatives have defended the actions of Daily Caller reporter Neil Munro by claiming that his shouted questions to President Obama yesterday are no different than what veteran ABC News anchor Sam Donaldson used to do when he covered the Reagan White House. On Friday, Munro repeatedly interrupted Obama during his announcement of an immigration policy change that will potentially exempt hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation and allow them to legally seek work in the United States. But Donaldson rejected that comparison.
As the Washington Post reported, Donaldson "didn't approve" of the confrontation:
"I never interrupted any president while he was making a formal presentation of any sort. You don't do that, do you?" said Donaldson, who titled his 1987 memoir "Hold On, Mr. President!"
Not that Donaldson ever let them slip away quietly. But he would wait until a president had finished his remarks, he said. And if the chief executive turned away without answering questions, Donaldson would fire away.
Donaldson was also famous for shouting questions as the president walked to and from his helicopter.
Indeed, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, who covered the White House alongside Donaldson as a reporter for NBC, agreed that what Munro did was "outrageous."
Wallace stated on Fox News' Studio B:
WALLACE: I covered Ronald Reagan for six years with Sam Donaldson. We used to scream our lungs out asking questions, but we always waited until the president had -- any president had finished speaking. The idea that you would interrupt the president in the middle of prepared remarks and shout a question -- I don't think the guy should be allowed back in the White House, you know, on a press pass.
Later, during an interview with Washington, D.C.-based radio news station WTOP, Wallace added that Munro "was way over the line":
WALLACE: The role of the press is to ask questions of the president, to get answers, but you don't interrupt the president in the middle of a statement. I covered the White House, Ronald Reagan for six years -- I was there with Sam Donaldson. Nobody would say that either of us lacked aggressiveness when it came to questioning the president, but we didn't interrupt while the president was still talking. This was way over the line.
And yet the comparison to Donaldson was trotted out by conservatives as justification for Munro's actions.
The president of the White House Correspondents Association criticized Daily Caller reporter Neil Munro for repeatedly interrupting President Obama today during an event, calling it "discourteous" and "not the way reporters who cover the White House conduct themselves."
Caren Bohan, a Reuters White House correspondent and current WHCA president, made the comments in a phone interview with Media Matters this afternoon.
"It was discourteous and it's not the way reporters who cover the White House conduct themselves," Bohan said in the interview. "I've covered a number of events where the president has spoken and there are times when we need to shout a question to him. But typically reporters wait until he has finished speaking."
Bohan also said that Munro is an associate member of the WHCA, not a regular member.
According to the WHCA website, an associate member "must be employed on the editorial staff of a newspaper, magazine, wire service, radio, TV, cable TV or other broadcast organization or newsgathering organization that reports on the White House. Associate members may not vote or hold elective office."
Asked if Munro's membership would be affected by this incident, Bohan said such decisions are up to the WHCA executive board.
Three former WHCA presidents, meanwhile, also weighed in on the situation.
Ed Chen, a former Bloomberg White House correspondent and WHCA president during the 2009-2010 term, said in an email that Munro: "Betrays a shocking disrespect for the office. He owes the president a written apology." Chen also described it as "Rude. Forgot the manners he must have been taught once upon a time."
Ron Hutcheson, a former McClatchy White House correspondent and WHCA president in 2004-2005, stated: "Aggressive journalism serves our democracy. Rudeness serves no useful purpose. This was rudeness."
C-SPAN host and political editor Steve Scully, a former WHCA board member and former president, told Media Matters that Munro's actions were unusual.
"Anytime the president is delivering remarks from The White House, there has been a long standing tradition for the POTUS to make his statements, almost always followed by questions by the press corps," Scully said in an email. "It was indeed unusual for the president to be interrupted by a reporter during the middle of his remarks and clearly it caught President Obama off-guard, simply because it doesn't happen that often."
Steve Thomma, a current McClatchy White House correspondent who has been on the beat since the Clinton administration, called Munro's behavior "counterproductive."
"I think it's possible to be civil and persistent, they don't have to be mutually exclusive. You don't have to yell. There is nothing wrong with asking a question, but there is nothing wrong with waiting until the president finishes a statement," he said. "It seems counterproductive. If you are really trying to get an answer, you can wait. He might have answered it. I would not interrupt the president's statement to ask a question."