Right-wing media are baselessly connecting the Obama administration and the State Department to a local Israeli campaign against current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In fact, American political consultants from both parties have been independently working in Israeli campaigns for decades -- including former Obama aides who have worked for Netanyahu.
Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen wrote on February 2 that a former Obama campaign staffer went to Israel "to oust Netanyahu," suggesting the former staffer would not do this work "if he thought Obama opposed it" and implying the administration was "actively working to defeat Netanyahu":
Obama's 2012 national field director, Jeremy Bird, was headed to Tel Aviv to manage a grass-roots campaign to oust Netanyahu. Bird would not be working to defeat Netanyahu if he thought Obama opposed it. Can you imagine Karl Rove going to London while George W. Bush was in office to help conservatives oust Prime Minister Tony Blair? It further emerged that the group behind Bird's anti-Netanyahu effort has received State Department funding and lists the State Department as a "partner" on its Web site.
But before this false idea hit the Post, it bubbled up from the right-wing media echo chamber.
Two policy groups in Israel, OneVoice and Victory 15, are currently working together to promote platforms that reportedly "are not friendly" to Netanyahu ahead of the upcoming election.
The groups have also partnered with American consulting group 270 Strategies, which is headed by Jeremy Bird, a former Obama campaign staffer. OneVoice began working with 270 Strategies in 2013, long before the Israeli elections were announced.
There is a long history of U.S. political consultants from both parties working for Israeli political campaigns. As the New York Times reported, former Obama campaign strategist Bill Knapp worked as an adviser to Netanyahu in 2009. Josh Isay, whose firm worked on the Obama campaign, has also worked for Netanyahu. Bill Clinton campaign strategists James Carville and Stanley Greenberg worked for an Israeli Labor Party candidate in 1999; up until recently Republican strategist Arthur Finkelstein worked for Netanyahu.
Nevertheless, conservatives have jumped on 270 Strategies' current work to falsely accuse the Obama administration -- and President Obama personally -- of attempting to influence Israeli politics.
In particular, the right-wing criticism revolves around the administration's response to Rep. John Boehner's (R-OH) recent announcement that Netanyahu was invited to speak before the U.S. Congress without President Obama's knowledge shortly before Israel's election, an unusual intervention in foreign policy and almost-unheard of action between heads of state. Conservatives claim that 270 Strategies' work with OneVoice proves Obama is either retaliating against Netanyahu or engaging in a similar effort to meddle in foreign politics; but again, 270's work on the ground in Israel began long before this most recent disagreement, and it is typical for American political consultants to engage in Israeli politics.
Fringe blogs Gateway Pundit and PJ Media led the charge, publishing the "report" on January 26 claiming "The Obama administration is backing the campaign to defeat Netanyahu." The Drudge Report hyped an inside look at the "HQ of ex-Obama staffers' anti-Bibi campaign," right below a story labeled "White House ratchets up criticism of Netanyahu." Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) even followed up with a blog on Breitbart.com to ask, "Has President Obama launched a political campaign against Prime Minister Netanyahu?"
Fox News also picked up the claim, with host Megyn Kelly suggesting that the administration sent an Obama "field general" to help Israel "elect Netanyahu's opponent":
[The Obama administration says] that they're fine, they are not going to interfere with the Israeli election, they don't want anything to do with that and yet, we have reports yesterday that this guy Jeremy Bird, who was the field general for Obama's re-election campaign is helping in Israel elect Netanyahu's opponent and to replace the current government there. Pure coincidence?
When Kelly's guest Joe Trippi then explained that former campaign staffers frequently work on international campaigns -- on either side of various issues -- National Review's Rich Lowry attempted to argue that "you cannot find anyone significant around President Obama who would ever go to work for Bibi Netanyahu, which, again, goes to the animosity they have to this man personally and for the point of view he represents."
Many of the media outlets took the smear further, by also claiming that tax-payer dollars were funding the campaign. OneVoice briefly received a one-time grant for about $200,000 from the State Department, which ended in November 2014. As State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki noted in a briefing, the grant "ended before there was a declaration of an Israeli election."
Nevertheless, media outlets such as the Daily Caller insisted that OneVoice was currently "backed by the Department of State" and labeled it "Kerry's Diplomatic Protection Racket." Kelly even suggested that OneVoice "should be forced to return the $200,000 to the taxpayers."
Now, this right-wing distortion of the facts has made it all the way to the Post.
UPDATE: Daily Caller editor-in-chief Tucker Carlson expanded on Nugent's role during a January 28 appearance on WMAL's Mornings on the Mall. Carlson said Nugent will likely write a weekly column, adding: "I think he'll participate a lot. I really -- I like him. I mean, he's, you know, he's like a rock star with political views. So, you know, he doesn't hold back. And he says intemperate, sometimes borderline, demented things, but I think he's interesting, and I think he's a good guy, and I think he has actually some really informed, interesting opinions on the 2nd Amendment, and hunting, so I love the fact that he's working for us."
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent says he has joined the opinion page of conservative website The Daily Caller. Nugent wrote in a January 27 Facebook post, "Proud to join Tucker Carlson & his DAILY CALLER team of truth, logic, commonsense, reality writers at this fine website," and linked to a column he wrote for that website that responded to recent criticism of the NRA.
It is unclear whether Nugent's piece was a one-time column or whether, as his Facebook comment suggests, he is now a paid regular contributor or staff columnist. Asked to clarify Nugent's role, Daily Caller executive editor Vince Coglianese responded sarcastically to Media Matters reporter Joe Strupp, saying only: "It was a common sense decision for us. We've long been associated with the political right, and we felt it was time to broaden our appeal with the sensible middle. We're paying him in venison." He did not respond to follow-up questions. A Daily Caller spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Daily Caller senior contributor Matt K. Lewis previously warned conservatives from associating with Nugent and other inflammatory conservative figures after Nugent was widely criticized for calling President Obama a "subhuman mongrel."
In a February 21, 2014, column -- headlined "The enemy of my enemy is my friend: Why conservatives are always defending the indefensible" -- Lewis wrote, "Like the girl who always falls for the guy who's bad for her, conservatives keep trusting the wrong people and making the same mistakes" before naming Nugent as an example.
Right-wing media figures misleadingly attacked and dismissed the need for paid parental leave after President Obama's State of the Union speech advocated for expanding these programs to more Americans. In fact, economists have found that increasing paid leave would boost the economy, increase wages, and keep families out of poverty.
A Daily Caller smear is falling apart after the conservative outlet relied on the word of a Holocaust denier and con artist to accuse President Bill Clinton of having "once praised" him in a letter of commendation. The Daily Caller published that allegation without presenting any evidence they actually saw Clinton's supposed letter of commendation.
The person in question, David Cole, has since said he fabricated his Clinton commendation, and he wrote a year ago that he falsified significant portions of his biography. Despite Cole's long history of hoaxes and being "pathologically duplicitous," the conservative publication still relied on his claim to attack Clinton.
Cole is a Holocaust denier and serial liar. He appeared in the media in the 1990s questioning various aspects of the Holocaust. In an attempt to make money, Cole then changed his identity to "David Stein" and began producing, according to The Guardian, "respectable, conventional Holocaust documentaries" under the banner of Nistarim/The Tinbergen Archives. He also "started writing op-eds under Stein and other pseudonyms, expressing what he said was his growing fervour for a hawkish foreign policy, a strong Israel and conservative social policy."
The Guardian exposed his duplicity in a May 2013 piece and noted that despite his attempted conversion to respectability, "Cole today still challenges established Holocaust scholarship, including the certainty about Nazi gas chambers." Simon Wiesenthal Center associate dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said of Cole, who is Jewish: "I'm very disappointed that someone who abused his Jewishness to get his five minutes of notoriety still stands by his lies. It's disgusting and puts him in the camp of bigotry."
The paper added that Cole's former friends and acquaintances "called him pathologically duplicitous, alleging he padded his film resume on the IMDb database with fictitious entries." Cole/Stein's IMDb biography claims he received a commendation "for his work from President Bill Clinton."
According to a ZoomInfo.com cache of his former production company's website, Cole/Stein further claimed "Bill Clinton recognized David's film Nuremberg with a special commendation that read, 'It is with great pride that I recognize David Stein and his organization, the Tinbergen Archives, for their part in keeping the memory and the lessons of the Holocaust from ever being forgotten. By discovering the documentary film Nuremberg, they have done the world a great service.'"
Cole's deception extends into other areas during his time as a documentarian. In a January 2014 post on his website, Cole brags about tricking people with his alias "Cal Tinbergen," who was purportedly the president of "the Tinbergen Archives." "Tinbergen," who was named after a character from a Roger Corman sci-fi movie, became a collaborator on several of Cole/Stein's projects and even placed an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times. Cole wrote in January 2014 that "there is no 'Tinbergen Archives.'"
Yet the Daily Caller picked up the ZoomInfo.com claim that President Clinton praised Stein and the Tinbergen Archives, despite numerous red flags, including Cole's publicly available admission that the Tinbergen Archives doesn't exist.
An op-ed in The Daily Caller blamed the LGBT community for helping cause the tragic suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who took her own life after being rejected by her religious parents.
On Sunday, December 29, the 17-year-old transgender teenager took her own life by walking into traffic miles from her home in Ohio. In her suicide note, which she posted online, Alcorn described the difficult conditions she faced in her life: unaccepting parents, religious conversion therapy, and isolation from her peers.
Alcorn's death has become a rallying cry in the fight against transphobic discrimination and conversion therapy. LGBT youth raised in non-accepting religious families are much more likely to attempt suicide, and Alcorn's story is a heartbreaking example of the kind of anguish and hopelessness many LGBT youth experience when facing unwelcoming home environments.
But according to David Benkof in Daily Caller, it's the LGBT community that's to blame for Alcorn's suicide. In a January 7 op-ed titled "The LGBT Community's 'Suicide Strategy' Killed Leelah Alcorn," freelance writer David Benkof argues that Leelah killed herself in order to help advance the LGBT agenda:
Because Leelah's death (she was struck by a semi-trailer after stepping onto a highway) grew directly out of the LGBT community's longstanding rhetorical "suicide strategy," which goes something like this:
We need same-sex marriage because gay teens will kill themselves if they don't feel equal.
Leelah knew that the gay community habitually points to teen suicide as an impetus for social and political change. Sadly, she found meaning in trying to pitch in, hoping her death would further advance LGBT rights.
Leelah's death doesn't call for a retread of pro-gay advocacy. Instead, it should be a sober opportunity for the LGBT community to re-examine its suicide strategy, lest they continue to encourage more Leelahs.
Benkof goes on to argue that LGBT activists are "almost gleeful" about Alcorn's suicide because it gives them "one more opportunity to gather sympathy for their social and political goals."
In August, Benkof blamed the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell for the rise of rape in the military. As Media Matters has previously noted:
Benkof (formerly known as David Bianco) once identified as a gay man, but in 2003, he announced that he was actually bisexual and would abstain from sex with men for religious reasons. Since then, Benkof has been a vocal opponent of marriage equality. He has urged the LGBT community to "let go of their obsessive insistence on being treated equally at all costs," and opposed even basic non-discrimination protections as "a threat to marriage."
Right-wing media websites continued to undermine their credibility in 2014 by peddling a number of false, ridiculous, and bigoted smears. Here are the top smears from conservative websites The Daily Caller, Breitbart.com, and The Washington Free Beacon.
Conservative media outlets amplified a misleading study from the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies, which claimed that "all net employment growth has gone to immigrants" between November 2007 and November 2014. But data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that job growth among the native-born has far outpaced job growth among immigrants during the economic recovery.
Conservative media are praising Pennsylvania's fracking industry in order to criticize New York's recently announced ban on hydraulic fracturing, without mentioning the health impacts that it has had on Pennsylvania's drinking water and communities.
On December 17, New York became the first state in the country to officially ban the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." The announcement by Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration came alongside a long-awaited health study on fracking in New York state, which found "significant public health risks" associated with the process. Cuomo officials also stated that allowing fracking would bring "far lower" economic benefits to the state "than originally forecast."
In response, conservative media have been holding up the economy in Pennsylvania -- where fracking has been in practice for decades -- to question the Cuomo administration's decision. Both the Wall Street Journal and the Daily Caller touted statistics from the American Petroleum Institute, which claimed Wednesday that Pennsylvania's fracking industry has generated $2.1 billion in state taxes that have allegedly supported new roads, bridges, and parks. And on the December 17 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, correspondent Eric Shawn reported, "[Fracking] has been allowed in Pennsylvania and helped that state's troubled economy enormously." Co-host Heather Nauert agreed, lamenting, "When you go upstate in New York you see just how badly the jobs are needed up there":
But Pennsylvania may actually be more of a testament to why New York's health concerns surrounding fracking are warranted. Oil and gas operations have damaged Pennsylvania's water supply over 200 times since 2007, according to an investigation by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and a recent report from the Government Accountability Office found that the state's drinking water is at risk from poor wastewater disposal practices. One Pennsylvania town, Dimock, has been dubbed "Ground Zero" in the battle over fracking's safety by NPR. The town has seen particularly high rates of water contamination, with a methane leak causing a resident's backyard water well to explode, tossing aside a concrete slab weighing several thousand pounds in one instance.
Right-wing media outlets manufactured phony outrage over President Obama's recent remark on ESPN Radio that he usually watches SportsCenter while working out in the morning. In 2007, President Bush similarly admitted to watching ESPN while working.
Right-wing media outlets hyped widely discredited research from the Heritage Foundation to push the myth that President Obama's executive actions on immigration will cost the U.S. economy more than $2 trillion in federal benefits paid to those undocumented immigrants whose deportations are deferred. But Obama's exercise of prosecutorial discretion on behalf of certain undocumented parents of U.S. Citizens and lawful permanent residents does not confer federal means-tested benefits and economists report that allowing more immigrants to legally work will raise revenues and boost the economy.
Conservative media outlets are attacking President Obama's immigration action with myths that the newly protected workers will hurt the economy and the tax system. In reality, immigration increases wages and doesn't hurt employment, and the executive action is likely to boost tax revenue.
Right-wing media's outrage over President Obama's upcoming speech outlining plans to improve enforcement of the immigration system included accusations that Obama is engaging in "home-grown tyranny," calls for his impeachment, and even a Hitler comparison.
Conservative media outlets are misleadingly promoting the report that a Washington state museum will return some firearms on display to their owners following the passage of a new background check initiative, while ignoring statements from law enforcement that there is no legal reason to remove the guns.
On November 4, a majority of Washington voters passed Initiative 594, a proposal to require a background check on nearly all gun sales in the state, with some exceptions for temporary transfers and transfers between family members.
In response to the new law, which takes effect December 4, the Lynden Pioneer Museum released a statement claiming, "we have to return some unique WW2 era firearms to their owners on Dec 3rd" because "as of Dec 4th, we would be in violation of the law if we had loaned firearms that had not undergone the background check procedure."
The museum is misreading I-594. The law is not retroactive, so the museum is not required to take any action when I-594 becomes law. Furthermore, the founder of the Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum told the Associated Press that it was unlikely a museum returning a loaned firearm to its owner would require a background check either:
Seattle police officer James Ritter, who founded the Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum, said he doubted that returning a gun to its rightful owner would be considered a "transfer" under the law. Regardless, he said it was exceptionally unlikely that investigators would target museum exhibits for prosecution.
Right-wing media are disingenuously claiming Democratic incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's (NH) widely-publicized support of basic campaign finance rules is "bombshell" evidence that she urged the "targeting" of conservatives.
Just hours before election day, the Daily Caller released a report alleging that Shaheen was "principally involved in a plot with Lois Lerner and President Barack Obama's political appointee at the IRS to lead a program of harassment against conservative nonprofit groups during the 2012 election." As evidence, it pointed to the fact that Shaheen had corresponded with the IRS lawyer William J. Wilkins about decades-old campaign finance regulations.
The Daily Caller added that a "major conservative super PAC" included Shaheen's name in a Freedom of Information Act request pertaining to the IRS. "If YOUR NAME is the search term that the conservative super PAC uses in its bid to get public information," writes Patrick Howley, "then you just might be involved in something."
Other right-wing media sources rapidly seized on the opportunity to attack Shaheen. Fox News, which has relentlessly promoted the campaign of her challenger, former Fox News employee Scott Brown, trumpeted the claim as "a death sentence" for Shaheen's Senate hopes.
But the Daily Caller's piece does not demonstrate a scandal of any kind and appears only to be repackaging already-reported information about a benign exchange of letters between several Democratic senators and IRS attorneys.
It's no secret that Senate Democrats asked the IRS to clearly define how much money 501(c)4 nonprofits, which gain tax exemption as "social welfare" organizations, are allowed to spend on election-related activities. In 2012, Democratic Senators, including Shaheen, released a letter publicly requesting that the IRS offer more specific "administrative guidance" on campaign finance restrictions for nonprofit groups. The request received media attention at the time, and IRS lawyer William J. Wilkins responded to Shaheen and others with a letter describing existing campaign finance rules:
"These regulations have been in place since 1959," Wilkins wrote. "We will consider proposed changes in this area as we work with Tax-Exempt and Government Entities and the Treasury Department's Office of Tax Policy to identify tax issues that should be addressed" in designing new regulations and "guidance."
"I hope this information is helpful," Wilkins wrote. "I am sending a similar response to your colleagues. If you have questions, please contact me or have your staff contact Cathy Barre at (202) 622-3720."
Right-wing media have repeatedly used unfounded conspiracy theories to prop up the IRS "scandal" after the allegations that the IRS solely investigated conservative groups' campaign spending began to crumble. Meanwhile, the political influence of money spent by outside groups has soared to record levels in the 2014 election cycle.
Rushing to defend a recent Time magazine article critical of teacher tenure, several conservative media outlets neglected to discuss what is at the core of a major backlash against the article: due process.
Time's November 3 cover story, titled "The War on Teacher Tenure" and promoted on the cover as "Rotten Apples", has spurred significant backlash, particularly among teachers. The Huffington Post noted on October 27 that a petition from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) "asking Time to apologize for the cover had reached 72,000 signatures." In response to the uproar, Time published reactions to its piece from various individuals, including Rep. George Miller (D-CA), AFT President Randi Weingarten and National Education Association (NEA) President Lily Eskelsen Garcia.
Various conservative media outlets covered the Time controversy by defending the article and cover, attacking teachers unions, and mischaracterizing teacher tenure. The common thread in all of this coverage, however, was a lack of discussion about due process, or why due process policies like tenure exist.
On the October 30 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough and co-host Mika Brzezinski hosted Time's Nancy Gibbs to discuss the backlash. The segment did not include a discussion or even a mention of tenure or due process, though Scarborough claimed, "It's absolutely silly. There are rotten apples. There are horrible teachers. There are horrible lawyers. There are horrible journalists. There are horrible TV hosts. In every field you can go, there are rotten apples in that field."
Fox News' Outnumbered on October 27 also neglected to discuss due process during a discussion of the Time piece, though co-host Andrea Tantaros stated that teachers unions are "destroying America" while co-host Jedediah Bila claimed:
BILA: And unfortunately, the reality is, is that a lot of bad teachers stay. They have tenure.& You cannot get rid of them. They want no accountability, and they are bringing schools down in every city across this country.