Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh regularly tout their supposed accuracy and often claim their critics never prove them wrong. Fittingly, this in itself is a complete falsehood. Limbaugh and Beck are wrong for a living, but have been rewarded for their perpetual wrongness by assuming the role of the two most important cogs in the conservative media.
Every day, the conservative noise machine -- Fox News, Beck, Limbaugh, and other prominent conservative talk radio hosts and bloggers -- hurl false accusations with the hopes of damaging the Obama administration, Democrats, and progressives politically. Make no mistake: this is the primary motivation for the majority of the stories they promote. Pesky things like “facts” and “reality” are, at best, a trivial concern.
Often, these attacks are baseless, easily debunked, and laughably absurd -- yet conservative media outlets rarely (if ever) offer corrections when they are proven wrong. Instead they either double down on their attacks or simply ignore that they were wrong in the first place and move on to the next overhyped bit of nonsense.
While it may seem like a minor story in the grand scheme of things, one example from this week perfectly exemplifies the utter lack of journalistic standards endemic to conservative media.
Early this week, conservatives were in their usual panic mode over what they claimed was evidence that the Obama administration “backed” or “preferred” the release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the terrorist better known as the Lockerbie bomber. As we pointed out, reports -- often the same reports these conservatives were linking to in order to make their arguments -- indicated that the administration wanted Megrahi to “remain imprisoned in view of the nature of the crime.”
Fox News twisted reality to claim that the “U.S. Backed Freedom, Not Prison, for Bomber.” Matt Drudge splashed a huge headline across his website announcing that the “White House Backed Release Of Lockerbie Bomber.” Pam Geller -- whose deranged rantings have earned her frequent appearances on Fox News and bylines on Andrew Breitbart's “Big” websites, Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller, and the American Thinker -- called for a “special investigation” and a “charge of treason” for Obama.
Rush Limbaugh -- while bragging, as he often does, that he was “executing assigned host duties flawlessly” with “zero mistakes” --claimed that Obama “backed the release” of the Lockerbie bomber because he wanted to “make nice with the Muslim world.”
Late Monday, when the State Department released the administration's correspondence with the Scottish Ministry of Justice, it confirmed in unambiguous terms that the administration was “not prepared to support Megrahi's release on compassionate release or bail,” and that “it would be most appropriate for Megrahi to remain imprisoned for the entirety of his sentence.” They stipulated if he were to be released, he should remain in Scotland rather than risk him receiving an “extremely inappropriate” “welcoming reception” upon being transferred to Libya.
So, after this story completely fell apart, did conservative media figures correct the record and let their readers/listeners/viewers know that the administration did not “support” or “prefer” the release of the Lockerbie bomber?
Of course not.
Conservative blogger Jim Hoft -- whose ongoing popularity and influence in conservative media says a lot about their complete indifference to accuracy and credibility -- linked to the letter and proclaimed that the administration “preferred” his release. This was akin to pointing at the ground and saying “this is the sky.”
Fox Nation, almost 48 hours after the story had completely fallen apart, still had the following headline and image on their front page:
And you can be sure that in a few months, whenever Sean Hannity or anyone else in the noise machine decides to twist a news story to claim that the Obama administration is “weak on terror,” they'll point to the time the administration supposedly “preferred the release of the Lockerbie bomber” in order to buttress their point.
It's a perpetual dishonesty machine.
If this were an isolated incident, perhaps it would be possible to (partially) excuse conservative media outlets for their shameless performance “covering” this story. But as we detailed this week, the right-wing media routinely promote fake stories (for example, the epic freak-out over the imaginary Obama proposal to “ban sport fishing.” )
For another good example of how the perpetual dishonesty machine works, have a look at this segment from Tuesday's Fox & Friends. In it, Glenn Beck, Steve Doocy, and Peter Johnson Jr. seized on reports of the U.K. supposedly “admit[ting] its socialized health care is a mess” in order to attack health care reform. They rehashed some old favorites from conservatives' misinformation campaign about health care reform, claiming that we “modeled” reform on the British system and fear mongered about imaginary “death panels.” Neither of these attacks were true when they appeared last year, they weren't true this week, and they won't be true the next time Fox's hosts bring them up.
This pattern is undeniable, and at this point is just expected behavior for the conservative media. The larger problem is that “mainstream” outlets still frequently treat garbage from conservative media figures as newsworthy, and ombudsmen at major newspapers like The Washington Post regularly chastise their colleagues for not seizing on conservative nonsense faster.
It says a lot about the state of the media when Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, and other prominent media conservatives can be caught pushing a blatantly false story, offer no correction, and have their behavior met with a collective shrug. Conservative media outlets retain their unfortunate power and influence over the public discourse because they are able to lie largely without consequence.
They did it all this week, they did it all last week, and they'll do it again next week.
Dishonest damage control: Shirley Sherrod edition
Though conservative media outlets mostly avoid accountability for their shameless dishonesty, occasionally, one of their overhyped “scandals” blows up in such epic fashion that they are forced to publicly defend themselves. Fittingly, their defenses often rest on provable falsehoods.
In the wake of Shirley Sherrod's firing and (attempted) rehiring, Fox News, Andrew Breitbart, and conservative media figures have transitioned into damage control mode, a large, shameful part of which entails attacking Sherrod as a radical Marxist race-baiter.
While Breitbart (whom Sherrod announced plans to sue this week) deserves a hefty dose of criticism for revealing yet again that he is a dishonest hack, it's worth taking a closer look at Fox News' role in this story.
Fox originally defended their journalistic integrity by unequivocally stating that they did not cover the story prior to Sherrod's resignation. Among the Fox personalities making this argument were Dana Perino, Steve Doocy, Glenn Beck, and James Rosen. As we pointed out repeatedly, Fox News did cover the story prior to her resignation on both FoxNews.com and FoxNation.com, and Bill O'Reilly taped his segment calling for Sherrod's resignation before she stepped down.
Fox News VP Michael Clemente eventually conceded to Politico that Fox had covered the story online before Sherrod resigned, which he blamed on a “breakdown in the system.” Give me a break -- Fox should not get a pass on this one. How low a bar has Fox set in terms of journalistic responsibility that they think a legitimate defense for their behavior is saying “well, only two of our websites and our top-rated TV host planned to run with this story before we got the facts straight, so we mostly did a good job.” Really?
The fact that Sherrod happened to resign before O'Reilly's segment aired has absolutely no bearing on the lack of journalisticresponsibility inherent in O'Reilly's segment in the first place. And Fox's online coverage of the story, coupled with their past transgressions, seem to indicate not that there was a “breakdown in the system,” but that the “system” doesn't even exist.
Glenn Beck's dangerous game
On July 18, an apparently deranged ex-convict named Byron Williams packed his truck with guns and allegedly set out to kill employees at both the ACLU and the Tides Foundation in the hopes that his actions would “start a revolution.” Williams' mother indicated that her son was angry because of his unemployment and “what's happening to our country.” According to her, Williams watched television news and was upset by “the way Congress was railroading through all these left-wing agenda items.” Sound familiar?
While the ACLU has long been a bogeyman for conservatives, the Tides Foundation is far more obscure and hasn't earned nearly as much attention from the right-wing media. There is, however, one media figure who has made the little-known Tides Foundation a focal point of his attacks: Fox News' Glenn Beck.
As we detailed, Beck has repeatedly demonized the Tides Foundation on his Fox News program - referencing the organization at least thirty times by our count. Beck often includes Tides in his bizarre conspiracy theories, and has referred to them as a “shady organization” that is a “major source of revenue for some of the most extreme groups on the left” and wants to “warp your children's brains.”
In the wake of the attempted attack, Beck has stood by his attacks on Tides, going so far as to brag about “turning the light of day” on Tides while also pointing to their inclusion on his blackboard as “the first time that I really realized its success.”
Beck's denial of any responsibility for this incident is complicated by his almost-daily use of overtly violent rhetoric. Among many, many other examples, Beck has:
- Suggested Obama is pushing America toward civil war and deliberately “trying to destroy the country.”
- Capped two weeks of violent fear mongering about progressives by warning that when their attempts at a “soft revolution” fail, eventually progressives “just start shooting people.”
- Said the “people around the president” support “armed insurrection” and “bombing.”
- Repeatedly insinuated that the Obama administration will kill him.
- Used a quote from Jefferson to launch into a warning about coming “rivers of blood.”
- Compared himself to “Israeli Nazi hunters” and announced that “to the day I die, I am going to be a progressive hunter.”
- Included in his advice to Liberty University grads that they should “shoot to kill,” and that graduates “have a responsibility” tospeak out, or “blood...will be on our hands.”
- Informed viewers that the “world is on edge” and said that “those who survive” will “stand in the truth” and “listen.”
- Said that some progressive groups don't have “a problem with blood in the streets.”
And just today, Beck claimed the present day will seem like good times “when we're behind barbed wire and just eating rock soup.”
Despite the fact that he routinely suggests progressives are going to kill or imprison his viewers and listeners, Beck tries to thread the needle by urging his followers not to resort to violence.
As Media Matters' Matt McLaughlin asked this week, what does it say about Beck's rhetoric and his audience that he feels it necessary to tell his followers not to kill people?
This weekly wrap-up was compiled by Media Matters' Ben Dimiero