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Brian Powell

Author ››› Brian Powell
  • The "Alternate-Universe" Origins Of The Far Right's Anti-Immigrant Ebola Doctor

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    Conservative media outlets, including Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham, are fanning the flames of Ebola panic and anti-immigrant sentiment by highlighting the unfounded opinions of fringe medical expert Dr. Elizabeth Vliet, the former director of an organization that claimed that undocumented immigrants caused a leprosy epidemic.

    After news outlets reported the discovery of an Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States, radio host and Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham hosted Dr. Elizabeth Vliet to inform listeners about the disease. Vliet used the platform to accuse President Obama of "underplaying the risk" of Ebola and suggested the disease could be transmitted through the air, an opinion that runs contrary to widespread medical opinion.

    To make her case, Vliet cited a debunked study from 2012 that studied transmission of the virus between pigs and monkeys.

    Vliet's facts are completely wrong about Ebola's transmission. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that Ebola "is not spread through the air." A Vox report points out that "basically every health agency in the world agrees" that Ebola cannot be transmitted through the air.

  • Laura Ingraham Blames Gender Equality And "Political Correctness" For White House Security Breach

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham responded to an intruder compromising security at the White House by suggesting "political correctness" played into the Obama administration's decision to hire a female Secret Service agent to guard the entrance, comparing the decision to the nomination of Julia Pierson as the first female director of the agency.

    Reports surfaced on September 29 that a man who leapt over the fence of the White House made it all the way into the East Room before being apprehended. Some reports, based on comments from Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Utah), suggested the intruder confronted and overpowered a female Secret Service agent inside the White House entrance.

    Ingraham zeroed in on the reported presence of the female Secret Service agent on the September 30 edition of her radio show, comparing the selection of a female agent to that of Julia Pierson, the first female director of the Secret Service, saying, "You get the sense at some point that it's the 'first' that's more important than the common sense."

    INGRAHAM: They brought in a woman, first female director -- remember the Obama administration loves firsts. You get the sense at some point that it's the first that's more important than the common sense.

    What works -- let's do what works best, ok? Is it to have a woman there or is it just to have a really strong person there? A big, hulking person. Female, male, I don't care. But you get the sense that the first is what really drives their -- floats their boat. They want to be historic. They want it to be an historic appointment, instead of thinking, 'gee, maybe we just need the best people.'

    Earlier that morning, on Fox News' Fox & Friends, Ingraham said "political correctness could have been a factor here."

    INGRAHAM: The idea that this guy could get in, and then overpower an agent, who I guess was female -- and there are a lot of female agents that are really strong and large. I mean, you do get the sense at some point that political correctness could have been a factor here, right? Because the new female director, who's going to be questioned today, Julia Pierson, came in after that Colombia prostitute scandal with the Secret Service. She's gonna face tough questions. She was a proud career civil servant -- 30 years with the Secret Service. But you do get the sense that with this administration that all these decisions about who gets what position and where they're stationed -- political correctness comes into the decision-making, and this is no place for political correctness. The strongest, biggest, best people have to be at the front of the White House always.

    Ingraham's comments about gender come on the heels of her show last week, in which the host suggested that teaching young girls to dress modestly is an important step toward avoiding objectification, misogyny, and date rape.

  • Laura Ingraham Is Worried About Date Rape And Misogyny, Suggests Starting With How Girls Dress

    Ingraham Lauds "The Power Of Shame" In Teaching Girls How To Dress Modestly

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL & EMILY ARROWOOD

    Laura Ingraham suggested that teaching young girls to dress modestly is an important step toward avoiding objectification, misogyny, and even date rape.

    The ABC News contributor and conservative radio host spent a significant portion of her radio program on September 26 praising a Utah high school for refusing entry to about a dozen girls at a homecoming dance because of their "immodest" dresses. According to Ingraham, the teenagers were dressed to appear ten years older, and she argued that while the nation is focused on preventing date rape and misogyny, we should "start with the way we appear in public":

    INGRAHAM: These are still girls. There are probably young women, probably 9th or 10th grade. And at the same time we're worried about date rape. At the same time we're worried about misogynistic behavior or making comments about peoples' appearances and bullying and all these other things. How about start with the way we appear in public. The way we treat people. How we speak to them. The language we use. And I'm sure a lot of these girls that dress this way, I'm sure they don't know any better.

    "If we are trying to remind people that it's what's inside that counts, your heart, your spirit, the whole person," Ingraham instructed, "let's really ensure that the first thing a young boy sees in a girl is not her cleavage, or, you know, her pubic area because her skirt is so short."

    On her Facebook page, Ingraham similarly asked, "Do you think girls dress in a way that invites trouble?"

  • Anti-Gay Pundits Recycle Doomsday DADT Rhetoric To Defend Military's Transgender Service Ban

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    The third anniversary of the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) found the U.S. military intact and stronger than ever. Despite the utter failure of their previous doomsday predictions to materialize, the same voices of opposition to DADT are now making similar prophecies about potential moves to lift the military's discriminatory ban on transgender people.

    Challenges remain for lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members. Three years removed from the repeal of DADT, they still face harassment, discrimination and difficulties obtaining veterans' benefits. One obstacle to equality looms particularly heavy post-DADT: the prohibition on transgender service.

    The Pentagon currently prohibits transgender people from serving in the armed forces, a ban that forces over 15,000 men and women currently serving to lie about their identities and deters countless others from enlisting. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has indicated the military may review this policy, which, according to the Palm Center, a research institute focused on sexuality and the military, is without sound medical reasoning and could be lifted without harming readiness.

    Unsurprisingly, conservative pundits have railed against proposals to lift the transgender ban.

    Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay hate group Family Research Center (FRC) and one of Fox News' favorite social commentators, wrote in a March FRC newsletter that lifting the ban on transgender service members would be a "fatal blow to unit cohesion and readiness" that "could compromise our troops' safety." Perkins tied the issue to military sexual assault rates.

    Elaine Donnelly, the president of the anti-gay Center for Military Readiness (who once said that human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were a result of allowing women in the military) echoed Perkins, calling the idea of transgender military service an experiment that puts "an extra burden on men and women in the military that they certainly don't need or they don't deserve" and suggesting it would lead to an increase in sexual assaults.

    Conservative commentator Erick Erickson ranted against the mere disclosure of the estimate that 15,000 transgender people are currently serving, and said that President Obama has "turned our military into some sort of weird social experiment." Meanwhile, right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh mocks the idea that transgender people should be allowed in the military with repeated uses of the term "tranny" and his token phrase "add-a-dick-to-me babe."

    If the rhetoric sounds familiar, it should. Conservative media used the same attacks in their attempts to preserve DADT or replace it with a discriminatory policy even more extreme.

    Three years ago, Perkins argued that repealing DADT would increase military sexual assault rates, undermine morale, and damage recruitment. Donnelly warned that after repealing DADT, "lesbians would take pictures of people in the shower" and gay service members might spread HIV through the ranks.

    Erickson predicted the military bureaucracy would "go to war with Obama on the battlefield of public opinion" after DADT, while Limbaugh called the repeal "special treatment" for the gay community and intimated that it would lead to problems with "predation" and sexual harassment:

    LIMBAUGH: Now, here's a question. It's an open-ended question. Will straight soldiers, heterosexuals, be able to claim sexual harassment by gays in the military? Or will such claims now be considered hate crimes? How is this gonna play out? Well, you know, because in our culture there are certain templates. It's like women never lie about rape, yet we got this ABC weather babe, you know, women never lie. Children never lie, yet we know that they do. This notion that there is predation in the homosexual community, oh, that never happens. Well, yeah, just like it never happens in the heterosexual. Of course it does. There are predators everywhere out there. Hate crimes are, if you're thinking about it, well, it's even worse than the crime that you commit. So anyway, it's a lot of stuff to shake out, so to speak.

    These fears, predictably, proved unfounded. According to a Palm Center report published a year after the repeal of DADT:

    Based on the substantial evidence we gathered in our research, we conclude that, during the one-year period following implementation of the policy change, DADT repeal has had no negative impact on overall military readiness or its component parts: unit cohesion, recruitment, retention, assaults, harassment or morale. While repeal produced a few downsides for some military members--mostly those who personally opposed the policy change--we identified important upsides as well, and in no case did negative consequences outweigh advantages. On balance, DADT repeal appears to have slightly enhanced the military's ability to do its job by clearing away unnecessary obstacles to the development of trust and bonding.

    Such hateful attacks on transgender service members should disqualify these discredited pundits from commenting on the issue, but with the debate over lifting the transgender service ban heating up, it remains to be seen if media will finally stop offering them opportunities to comment.

  • Fox's Sunny Sesame Street Celebration Tries To Sweep The Clouds Of Past Attacks Away

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    Fox & Friends celebrated Sesame Street's 45th birthday by hosting Muppet characters Grover and Abby Cadabby for a light-hearted appearance congratulating them on their longevity. But if the network had gotten its way in 2012, Grover wouldn't have made it past the age of 44 with his show's funding intact.

    The Sesame Street program is celebrating the kickoff of its 45th season on PBS, and two iconic Sesame Street characters -- Grover and Abby Cadabby -- visited the set of Fox & Friends on September 17 to answer trivia questions and play and sing with the hosts. Co-host Steve Doocy congratulated the Muppets on their show's durability, and Fox's Heather Childers noted how she "loved Sesame Street as a kid." An on-screen graphic promoted upcoming episodes with the words "More Sunny Days Ahead."

    But not long ago, Fox News went all-in attacking Sesame Street and PBS. After then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney called for an end to public funding for Sesame Street and other public broadcasting in 2012, Fox began lobbing personal attacks at the program's most iconic figure -- Big Bird -- in an effort to demonize the show's reception of federal money.

  • Fox News Acknowledges 160 Airstrikes Against Islamic State, Still Claims Obama Hasn't Taken Action

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    Fox News' months-long effort to criticize President Obama's response to the Islamic State extremist group while ignoring the steps he's taken to combat the group culminated in a confused segment claiming that the U.S. has both taken and not taken military action against ISIS.

    On the September 15 edition of America's Newsroom, Fox News contributor Pete Hegseth pushed for American ground troops to be sent to the Middle East to combat Islamic State forces there. Hegseth criticized Obama's response thus far, saying that allies are seeing "American ambivalence."

    A more striking ambiguity took place on screen, where Fox News' text suggested simultaneously that:

    • Obama has not taken any military action against the Islamic State
    • U.S. has conducted over 160 airstrikes against the Islamic State

    The disjointed segment is representative of Fox's overall coverage of the president's response. On September 9, the hosts of Fox & Friends criticized Obama for doing too little to fight the Islamic State before pivoting to attacks on Obama for requesting funding to continue airstrikes against the group.

  • The Foreign Leaders Conservative Media Wish Were In Charge Here

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL & EMILY ARROWOOD

    International incidents are a prime opportunity to daydream about foreign leaders who'd make better presidents than Barack Obama, at least inside the conservative media bubble. David Cameron has now joined Vladimir Putin and Benjamin Netanyahu on the right's list of foreigners they'd rather have in the Oval Office than the man the nation elected.

    On August 28, President Obama delivered remarks on the U.S. military's approach to the rising terror threat from the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) and recent developments in Ukraine. Right-wing media figures responded with disdain, accusing the president of failing to view the Islamic State as a threat and even suggesting it's understandable to think Obama sympathizes with terrorists. Yet when Cameron delivered similar remarks on the Islamic State's threat to the United Kingdom the next day, the right's response was much different -- Fox News contributor Erick Erickson tweeted:

    Cameron joins a select group of foreign leaders whom the right-wing media have determined to be better suited for the U.S. presidency than the man chosen by American voters.

  • "Lynch Mob" Or "Freedom Riders": Laura Ingraham's Take On Ferguson Protests Vs. Bundy Ranch Standoff

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    Laura Ingraham's opinion on the merits of a protest movement seem to vary considerably from month to month. Ingraham recently characterized protestors in Ferguson, Missouri as a "lynch mob" and downplayed the story as a "local, criminal" story, but in April the radio host helped to elevate the standoff between scofflaw rancher Cliven Bundy and federal law enforcement agents while suggesting his supporters' violent threats against the government constituted a mere "act of civil disobedience."

    Police in Ferguson, Missouri are currently using heavy force to crack down on citizens protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, at the hands of an officer of the mostly white St. Louis County Police Department. Journalists have been arrested on baseless or suspect justifications, and events in the St. Louis suburb have exploded into a national news story.

    On August 14, conservative radio host Laura Ingraham complained that the events were receiving too much attention and suggested Brown's death was nothing more than a "local, criminal" story. Ingraham, a nationally syndicated radio host and contributor for both ABC and Fox News, blamed the media for sensationalizing and nationalizing the story, claiming the media presence "perpetuates the unrest and the discontent on the ground."

    "You bring in the satellite trucks," Ingraham said, "And then people start playing to the cameras on scene."

    Ingraham's disdain extended to the protestors, whom she grotesquely equated to a "lynch mob."

    Ingraham struck a much different tone earlier this year, when racist Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy refused to comply with court orders instructing him to remove his trespassing cattle from federal land.

  • Fox Host: Michelle Obama Is Too Fat To Be Credible On Nutrition

    Keith Ablow: "How Well Could She Be Eating? She Needs To Drop A Few"

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    UPDATE: Keith Ablow defended his remarks on August 13 in an interview with Politico, saying it was "hypocrisy" for Michelle Obama to act as a "role model" on diet when she "has not been consistently a picture of fitness."


    A member of Fox News' "Medical A-Team" argued that Michelle Obama is not a credible voice on school nutrition because "she needs to drop a few" pounds.

    First Lady Michelle Obama has made fighting childhood obesity a cornerstone of her time in the White House. Recently, she's faced backlash from conservatives seeking to put an end to one of Obama's victories: federal school lunch standards that emphasize healthy eating.

    The hosts of Fox News' Outnumbered continued this fight on August 12, when Dr. Keith Ablow, a prominent member of the network's "Medical A-Team," claimed that Obama cannot be taken seriously on the issue of nutrition because she "needs to lose a few" pounds. Ablow's female co-hosts expressed surprise and quickly changed the subject.

    KENNEDY: We don't need the federal government applying -- projecting -- these standards upon us. And Michelle Obama is so, like, the duchess when she speaks.

    KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE: She's kind of annoying that way.

    KENNEDY: She is.

    ABLOW: And how well could she be eating? She needs to drop a few.

    [CROSSTALK]

    ABLOW: I'm telling you, let's be honest --

    HARRIS FAULKNER: You did not say that --

    ABLOW: We're taking nutrition advice from who? Who are we taking nutrition advice from?

    The First Lady has long been the target of offensive personal attacks from the right, and Ablow is no stranger to sexist rhetoric himself, well-known for his anti-LGBT commentary and analysis that is often unsupported by the medical field at large.

    Update: Fox News senior meteorologist Janice Dean later tweeted at Ablow, saying "please keep your comments about women 'dropping a few' to yourself. Sincerely, all women."

  • Fox Turns To Racial Profiling Advocate To Promote Chokeholds And Stop-And-Frisk In NYC

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    Fox News host Steve Doocy and guest Bo Dietl exploited the death of a Staten Island man at the hands of the New York Police Department (NYPD) to attack Mayor Bill de Blasio and push for increased use of aggressive police tactics like stop-and-frisk and chokeholds. Dietl went as far as to suggest the autopsy of the man's death was fraudulent, calling for an "independent" medical examiner to inspect the event.

    Eric Garner, 43, died in July after a confrontation with police turned physical. One officer put Garner into a chokehold, which an autopsy later pegged as the primary cause of the man's death. The medical examiner ruled the event a homicide.

    On August 6, Fox & Friends aired footage of Garner's deadly confrontation with police while co-host Steve Doocy cited "critics" who say the streets of New York "are much less safe" under De Blasio because of his "plans to stop, or at least scale back, stop-and-frisk." Meanwhile, an on-air graphic decried the supposed "anti-cop mentality" in New York.

    Doocy invited former NYPD officer and racial profiling advocate Bo Dietl to discuss the incident and whether "the guys on the street are demoralized" by New York's move away from aggressive policing. Dietl claimed that officers are "disgusted" by the change and bragged that he had used the chokehold seen in the video "dozens of times." He went on to suggest the medical examiner's report was erroneous, saying, "I want to see an autopsy report where there is a crushed windpipe ... I'm going to hire an independent medical examiner to look at that autopsy report."

    Dietl followed up, saying it's "bad enough that they took the stop-and-frisk away, which is ridiculous."