A Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation has found no evidence that the anti-fraud program "Operation Choke Point" targeted gun retailers, contrary to what conservative media outlets and the National Rifle Association (NRA) have long claimed.
Operation Choke Point was conceived as an anti-fraud program by the DOJ's Consumer Protection Branch in November 2012 based on the suspicion that some banks -- acting with knowledge or willful blindness -- entered into businesses relationships with individuals engaged in fraud. As an early memo explained, Choke Point was designed as "a strategy to attack Internet, telemarketing, mail, and other mass market fraud against consumers, by choking fraudsters' access to the banking system."
Conservative media and the NRA have repeatedly insisted that Choke Point was part of a government conspiracy to target gun retailers -- based on the belief that the Obama administration is "anti-gun." But a new report from the DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) -- the office responsible for "investigating allegations of misconduct involving Department attorneys" -- has decisively concluded "that the evidence did not demonstrate that Operation Choke Point" was used to target firearm sellers.
In January 2014, the Republican-led House Oversight Committee opened an investigation into Choke Point to determine whether the program may have "inappropriately target[ed] two lawful financial services: third-party payment processing and online lending."
Although no mention of gun retailers was made during the first congressional inquiries, NRA News host Cam Edwards began connecting Choke Point to claims by some firearm retailers that banks were refusing to do business with them.
With no evidence to bear that claim out, Choke Point then became a regular topic of discussion by the NRA and conservative media, which characterized it as another Obama administration scandal. The anti-fraud program was discussed dozens of times on the NRA's radio and (since-cancelled) television show, and the NRA's lobbying wing, the Institute for Legislation Action, offered frequent updates on the so-called scandal.
Choke Point was also widely reported on by the conservative Washington Times, which interviewed gun retailers who claimed their business relationships with banks had been terminated because of the program. (At the time, Media Matters exposed the dubiousness of these claims. For example, one gun retailer had his account terminated by his bank months before Choke Point was even proposed by DOJ.) The Washington Times editorial board declared, "Obama wants to use the banks to void the Second Amendment."
False claims about Choke Point's targets were also picked up by Fox News, with network contributor Katie Pavlich claiming that DOJ was "discriminating" against gun owners. As recently as April 13, Fox News correspondent Trace Gallagher falsely reported on The Kelly File that "Operation Choke Point was created by the Obama administration to choke out businesses it finds objectionable, like gun shops, casinos, and tobacco sellers."
None of this is true, according to the DOJ OPR investigation, which examined "memoranda, subpoenas, and contemporaneous emails" related to the operation. The July 7 report found no evidence that Choke Point had "compelled banks to terminate business relationships" with firearm sellers (emphasis added):
OPR also concluded that the evidence did not demonstrate that Operation Choke Point compelled banks to terminate business relationships with other lawful businesses, a concern raised in your letter and the Staff Report. Indeed, OPR found no evidence establishing that any CPB attorney intentionally targeted any of the industries listed in the Staff Report (including credit repair companies, debt consolidation and forgiveness programs, online gambling-related operations, government grant or will-writing kits, pornography, online tobacco or firearms sales, pharmaceutical sales, sweepstakes, magazine subscriptions, etc.). None of the subpoenas or memoranda issued or drafted in connection with Operation Choke Point focused on specific categories of purportedly fraudulent businesses, except for fraudulent Internet payday lending, to the limited extent discussed above. Moreover, the CPB attorneys' e-mail records contained no discussion or even mention of targeting any such specific industries.
As the report noted, there was no evidence that attorneys involved in Choke Point ever discussed firearm businesses at any time during Choke Point.
Since sexual harassment allegations against GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain have emerged, right-wing media figures have blamed a wide range of people and entities for the story's emergence, from the "Democratic machine" to the "liberal media" and even "the left-wing nutjobs at Media Matters."
"Michelle's back, and she's madder than ever," writes Joe Curl, columnist for the Washington Times, offering the latest in an ongoing series of right-wing broadsides against first lady Michelle Obama. The idea that the first lady is publicly and uncontrollably "angry" -- frequently alleged, never demonstrated -- has been kicked around in the conservative blogosphere since the early days of campaign '08 and is reasserting itself as the 2012 season revs up.
Curl, who frequently and hackishly psychoanalyzes the first lady from afar, asserts that Mrs. Obama "was already pretty angry, seemingly unhappy with just about everything," and offers this anecdote as evidence: "A few months into her job as first lady, her French counterpart asked how she liked the gig: 'Don't ask!' she reportedly spat. 'It's hell. I can't stand it!' " (That report, from a British tabloid's review of a book on Carla Bruni, was denied both by Bruni and Mrs. Obama.)
The citing of ill-sourced, flatly denied tabloid rumor, however, can be considered the high point of Curl's screed.
In a Washington Times op-ed, Denise Burke of the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life called Planned Parenthood of Indiana an "abortion-saturated" organization and suggested "women's health care isn't [Planned Parenthood's] cause -- it's abortion." However, only about 3.5 percent of Planned Parenthood of Indiana's total services in FY 2010 were abortions.
In a September 23 Washington Times column, Robert Knight compared President Obama to Rodney King, complained Obama does not speak "on behalf of the United States" and claimed Obama turned the military into the "largest homosexual-sensitivity training unit in history." From The Washington Times:
But the real message seemed to be Mr. Obama's taking the dais as king of the world. He touched on every theme imaginable to make "our children" happy, wealthy and wise. He talked about curing various diseases; stopping war and climate change; advancing science, prosperity and, yes, even homosexual rights, throwing in a line suited to a fundraiser in San Francisco.
Of course, with his converting the U.S. military into the largest homosexual-sensitivity training unit in history this week, why should we be surprised?
A Washington Times editorial titled, "Bachmann is right: HPV vaccine has dangerous side effects," argued that Rep. Michele Bachmann, a 2012 Republican presidential candidate, "shouldn't step away from her original claim about the [HPV] vaccine's unintended results because she's actually right." The Times may have been referring to an interview Bachmann gave on NBC's Today, during which she relayed a mother's contention that after her daughter was given the HPV vaccine, "she suffered from mental retardation." Doctors have called that suggestion "irresponsible" and wrong.
The Times did not defend Bachmann's suggestion that there is a link between the HPV vaccine and mental retardation. Rather, the editorial brought up another argument against the HPV vaccine, stating: "There are serious side effects to government mandating the HPV vaccine, but they are behavioral, not medical. Teens 'inoculated' against HPV are being given a false sense of security tantamount to a green light to participate in sexual activity."
But that, too, has been disputed. In fact, there is no evidence the vaccine leads to promiscuity, and studies show that when they are asked about their own behavior, teens are "much less likely to say" that the vaccine would have some kind of influence on their decision to engage in sexual activity.
In his September 22 Washington Times column, Jeffrey Kuhner claimed Obama is "facing an internal revolt" because "he has not dismantled corporate power" but instead is creating a government modeled after "President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini." From The Washington Times:
It is not just conservatives who are angry with Mr. Obama. Radicals are also seething. They view him as shallow and inept. After once deifying him as the liberal messiah, they feel betrayed - by both his incompetence and his deviations from socialist priorities.
In their eyes, Mr. Obama has abandoned key leftist causes. He extended the George W. Bush-era tax cuts. He agreed to leave the public option out of his massive health care overhaul. He has backed away (for now) from pushing "cap-and-trade" legislation. He failed to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants. And he has not dismantled corporate power; rather, through huge bailouts and the acceptance of lucrative campaign donations, Mr. Obama has developed a cozy relationship with Wall Street. He talks like a class-warfare populist, but he governs like a liberal corporatist.
His model is not George McGovern or even Jimmy Carter but President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini. Mr. Obama's goal is to erect a corporatist state. He seeks to fuse big government, big business and big labor under a centralized command-and-control system.
In a September 21 Washington Times column, Ted Nugent claimed "Dishonest scare tactics and modern-day economic slavery are the hallmarks of the Democratic Party." From The Washington Times:
The Democratic fear-mongering machine is on a full-tilt boogie to scare the elderly into believing that Mr. Perry wants to throw them out in the street. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth, but no one with an ounce of brains has ever thought truth was a core value of the Democratic Party or its media. Dishonest scare tactics and modern-day economic slavery are the hallmarks of the Democratic Party.
When elected president, Mr. Perry won't order the Treasury Department to stop mailing out Social Security checks to the elderly. What he is going to do is revamp the program so that future generations of Americans aren't subjected to the same Ponzi-scheme-like fraud that has been forced on retirees.
After relentlessly pushing the false claim that the so-called "Climategate" controversy showed climate scientists deceitfully manipulating data, conservative media are celebrating a Rasmussen Reports poll finding that a majority of Americans believe "some scientists" have likely "falsified research data" to support "their own theories and beliefs about global warming."
Conservative media claim stricter standards for ground-level ozone, the primary component of smog, are unreasonable and unnecessary. In fact, EPA is strengthening the standards because health experts, including the scientific panel that advised the Bush administration, have said that the standards set in 2008 are not sufficient to protect the public.
In at least 40 instances since the beginning of 2011, conservative media outlets wrongly told consumers that the light bulb efficiency standards scheduled to take effect in 2012 will require them to use compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs).
Today, House Republicans voted to block light bulb efficiency standards passed in 2007. For months, conservative media have demonized the standards, portraying them as far-left, nanny state overreach. For instance, Fox's Charles Payne declared this week that the efficiency standards are designed to advance the "tree hugger" ideology:
Occasionally, in their hurry to link the efficiency standards with the "tree hugger" left, they've gotten a key fact wrong. A Washington Times column a by Ted Nugent attributes the light bulb standards to "this administration's energy policy," when in fact they were passed by George W. Bush.
Indeed, the history of federal efficiency standards is covered in the fingerprints of the last three Republican presidents.
Writing in the Washington Times this morning, columnist Jeffrey Kuhner looks at President Obama's position on the debt ceiling and declares "it will be his Waterloo -- the effective end of his presidency." According to Kuhner, Obama, exactly like Napoleon before him, "wanted too much, too soon. Now comes the long, humiliating and fatal retreat."
With that proclamation, the debt ceiling has joined an ever-expanding club of divisive political issues that have earned the distinction of being labeled Obama's "Waterloo" by the media. The past "Waterloos" for Obama include, but are not limited to:
Health care reform: "Repeal is not impossible. It may even be Obama's Waterloo."
The BP oil spill: "Forget Katrina: Is BP Obama's Waterloo?"
The economy: "A little more than six months before the 2012 election year begins, the economy looms as Obama's potential Waterloo."
Afghanistan: "Will Afghanistan Be President Obama's Waterloo?"
GITMO detainee trials: "This could very well be Waterloo for Obama, he has stepped in it with this Khalid Sheik Mohammad matter."
The November 2009 elections: "This, last night, may well have been Obama's Waterloo."
And these Waterloos, of course, stand alongside Obama's various Katrinas, Watergates, Iraqs, 9-11s, Iranian hostage crises, Enrons, and My Pet Goat moments.
Steve Milloy claimed in a Washington Times op-ed that air pollution from power plants is "not causing air-quality or public-health problems" and that EPA's clean air regulations "will bring no health or environmental benefits." However, health experts disagree with Milloy, who previously downplayed the dangers of secondhand smoke while taking money from the tobacco industry.
The Washington Times published an op-ed by Evan Bayh and Andy Card arguing that "Congress needs to dial back Obama's rule-making machine." However, the Times failed to disclose that Bayh and Card are employed by the Chamber of Commerce to promote its deregulation agenda through media appearances.
A June 2 memo from Chamber President Tom Donohue reported that "the Chamber has recently enlisted former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card and former Senator Evan Bayh who will carry a bipartisan message on regulatory reform out around the country through a 'road show' of speeches, events, and media appearances at various local venues."
The op-ed by Bayh and Card echoes Donohue's memo, which outlines how the Chamber will be "making the case for broader regulatory reform" and "telling the story about the dangers and costs of over-regulation."
For instance, Donohue wrote that the Chamber is "working to build support" for the following policies:
Bayh and Card called for similar changes: Passing "legislation in Congress to guarantee an up-or-down vote, with no Senate filibuster, on regulations with an economic impact of more than $100 million," granting citizens "judicial access and tools they need to hold federal agencies accountable for limiting regulatory burdens and for using sound science to support proposed rules," and requiring "more rigorous cost-benefit analysis" with "independent verification."