State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki and her deputy, Marie Harf, have spent the week being attacked by right-wing media. They have been targets of particularly harsh, personal attacks, using language that demeans both women and is almost never used to describe men in similar high-profile positions, regardless of what they say.
On February 19, the Daily Caller equated Psaki to a game where players take turns kicking a bead-filled ball around, when it was announced she has been tapped by President Obama to be the White House Communications Director: "Hacky Psaki: Obama Spokeslady Kicked Back To WH After Stint At State Dept."
The National Review's Ian Tuttle called the two women an incapable "hapless duo" with a "Lucy and Ethel routine" (Harf is blonde, Psaki a red head) who were trying to create a version of the comedy film Legally Blonde at the US Department of State. In a separate piece, the conservative journal of record's Kevin Williamson called Harf "cretinous" and a "misfit who plays Messy Marvin to Jen Psaki's feckless Pippi Longstocking."
It's one thing to disagree with and criticize a strategy or policy, it's another to belittle and undermine a person's intelligence and legitimacy by resorting to misogynist attacks.
I've worked with Jen Psaki, she's no lightweight. While I don't know Harf, according to her bio she spent two years during the Bush administration as a CIA analyst on Middle East leadership issues, has a masters degree in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia, and a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science with concentrations in Russian and Eastern European Studies and Jewish Studies, having graduated from Indiana University with honors.
Despite their credentials, Rachel Campos-Duffy, co-host of Fox News' Outnumbered, mocked the two women by saying they look more like sorority girls than serious professionals. Duffy's comment illustrates that denigrating, sexist comments reducing women to commentary about their looks or their intelligence aren't constrained by gender; nor are they constrained by political party, as attacks leveled from conservatives about Michele Bachmann's migraines illustrated.
The media's absurd 30+ year obsession with Hillary Clinton's appearance and David Letterman's comment that former Governor Sarah Palin had a "slutty flight attendant look" make it clear that almost nothing is out of bounds when criticizing a woman regardless of what she is saying. I say that as someone who -- despite profound substantive differences -- spoke out against the attacks made on both Palin and Bachmann.
What makes the right-wing media attacks against Harf even more egregious -- despite the familiarity of the larger pattern -- is that she is essentially saying the same thing a number of high-profile conservative men have also said previously. Yet those men weren't attacked -- some were even praised.
Harf drew the wrath of conservatives for commenting that "We cannot kill our way out of this war" against the Islamic State during a February 16 interview on Hardball. For this she is being portrayed as a "a damn naïve fool" by conservatives, who ignore her full comments, suggesting that she didn't also talk about the importance of military strikes as well as other tactics:
HARF: We're killing a lot of them, and we're going to keep killing more of them. So are the Egyptians. So are the Jordanians. They're in this fight with us. But we cannot win this war by killing them. We cannot kill our way out of this war. We need, in the longer term - medium and longer term - to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups.
You're right, there is no easy solution in the long term to preventing and combatting violent extremism, but if we can help countries work at the root causes of this - what makes these 17-year-old kids pick up an AK-47 instead of trying to start a business? Maybe we can try to chip away at this problem, while at the same time going after the threat, taking on ISIL in Iraq, in Syria, and helping our partners around the world.
Rush Limbaugh certainly didn't call Admiral Michael Mullen, then chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, a "little girl" or say that he sounded like a "valley girl" when he basically said the same thing about the war in Afghanistan in 2008 testimony:
MULLEN: We can't kill our way to victory, and no armed force anywhere -- no matter how good -- can deliver these keys alone. It requires teamwork and cooperation.
While they were talking about different parts of the world at different times, both Harf and Mullen are making a broader point that given the nature of terrorist threats and the strategies they employ -- from the way they utilize social media, finance their operations, recruit and train from all over the world, targeting those who are most vulnerable to their message -- America must have a strategy that is multi-faceted and multi-national. That strategy includes not only airstrikes but also social media, helping countries build democratic institutions, and stabilizing their economy with the means for people to make a living.
Right-wing media are scandalizing President Obama's refusal to conflate terrorism with all of Islam, attacking the president for not focusing on "Islamic extremism" in the three-day White House summit to combat violent extremism. But the conservative outrage ignores the fact that conflating terrorism with an entire religion would harm U.S. national security and foreign policy interests by alienating allied Muslim nations and play into the hands of terrorists who claim the U.S. is at war with Islam.
Conservative media outlets are broadly attacking clean energy and the environmental movement by falsely alleging that prominent environmental philanthropist Tom Steyer has "deep ties" to the recent scandal involving Cylvia Hayes, the fiancée of former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber who failed to publicly disclose that she was being paid by a clean energy group while also advising Kitzhaber on clean energy issues. In reality, there is no evidence that Steyer funded Hayes, or that Steyer has any other connection to the scandal.
The Daily Caller sent a "special message" to its email list from sponsor Stansberry Research, a disgraced financial firm that was fined $1.5 million by the Securities and Exchange Commission for engaging in "deliberate fraud" and profiting from "false statements." The Caller's paid promotion comes three years after the conservative website reported that Stansberry is led by a "fraudster" and engages in "questionable marketing tactics."
The Daily Caller, which is led by editor-in-chief Tucker Carlson, sent a February 12 email featuring Stansberry Research with the headline, "DIY: Shield yourself from Market Crash." The email warns that people must take "precautions against a serious market crash and financial crisis" and can do so by purchasing founder Porter Stansberry's "Personal Blueprint For Surviving the Coming Currency Collapse." The email marketing is a way to get people to sign up for a "full 1-year Stansberry's Investment Advisory subscription. We'll bill your same credit card just $99."
The email contained the note: "Please read this special message from our sponsor, Stansberry Research. Note that the following message reflects the opinions and representations of our sponsor alone, and not necessarily the editorial positions of The Daily Caller."
The Daily Caller published a November 8, 2011, piece headlined, "Meet Porter Stansberry, the fraudster behind ominous 'NewAmerica3′ ads." The Caller reported that television viewers are seeing "strange, disjointed ads promoting" Stansberry's website and what "most viewers don't know is that the man behind the ad has been found liable in the past for defrauding investors." The Caller added that the firm engages in "questionable marketing tactics" and produces videos "ominously warning of an apocalyptic future."
Conservative media lashed out at President Obama for mentioning the Crusades and Inquisition at the National Prayer Breakfast after condemning the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) as a "death cult" that distorts Islam.
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.