Though the conservative media are fueled by overhyped, often-false, phony “scandals,” every so often a story comes along that is so mind-bogglingly absurd that it exposes in no uncertain fashion the entire conservative media for what it is: a propaganda machine far more interested in pushing pre-determined narratives than conveying accurate information.
For much of the summer, conservatives have been aggressively working to blur the lines between the radicals who attacked us on September 11 and the moderate Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in order to claim his planned Islamic center in lower Manhattan is some sort of “victory mosque.” This week, when conservatives were not busy trying to equate Rauf with lunatic pastor Terry Jones and his plan to burn Qurans, they were suggesting that Rauf literally commands the forces of Al Qaeda.
On Wednesday, Rauf went on CNN's Larry King Live and warned of the dangers of perceived anti-Islam sentiment in the United States, especially as it relates to his Park51 project. Specifically, Rauf said that outspoken opposition to his project creates “danger from the radicals in the Muslim world to our national security.” Before we get to the resulting epic conservative freak-out, it's important to point out that Rauf's comments track closely with comments from national security experts -- including Gen. David Petraeus -- who have repeatedly warned of the security implications of anti-Muslim protests.
Undeterred by reality, conservatives claimed Rauf was “threatening” America when he made this entirely non-controversial statement of fact.
Fox Nation broadcast as its top story that “Imam Threatens U.S., Says If Mosque Moves, Terror Will 'Explode.'” Pam Geller -- whose anti-Muslim bigotry leads her to view the world as a Magic Eye book filled with hidden Islamic crescents --announced in a headline that “Ground Zero Supremacist Imam Rauf Threatens America.” Jim Hoft claimed in a post about Rauf's “threat” that the “radical” Rauf “warned that if America did not get down on its knees and allow the victory mosque to be built on the bones of dead Americans that ...'They will attack.'” Hoft instructed Rauf to “take your victory mosque and shove it.”
Rush Limbaugh, Charles Krauthammer and Media Research Center's Brent Baker speculated that Rauf may be engaging in “blackmail.” Fox News hosted Debra Burlingame to say that Rauf had given an “ultimatum” and that his comments represented a “form of extortion.” Fox also gave a 9-11 firefighter a platform to smear Rauf as a “tax-evading, terrorist sympathizing, Armani-wearing slumlord” who is “try[ing] to extort America” and “wants to build a Tower of Triumph on the graveyard of my friends.” Bill O'Reilly fearmongered that Rauf's warning about violence may be a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”
This morning, the Fox & Friends hosts (and the accompanying on-screen text) referred to Rauf's comments as a “threat” at least ten times. Gretchen Carlson interpreted his “troubling” statement as “If you move it now, we're gonna attack you.”
The lone voice of sanity in the conservative wilderness was Chris Wallace, who twice stated that he did not hear Rauf's comments as a “threat.” As always, this acknowledgment of reality made him the exception, not the rule.
There is no gray area here: by pushing this story, conservative media figures have revealed -- as they do pretty much every week -- that they are either completely oblivious to reality, or they think their viewers/listeners/readers are. And they do this all the time -- remember the forty-eight hours during the 2008 presidential campaign when conservatives decided to pretend Barack Obama had compared Sarah Palin to a pig when he said “you can put lipstick on a pig; it's still a pig” to describe McCain's policies?
When the top-rated cable news organization in the country joins with leading conservative bloggers and radio hosts to smear someone as “threatening” to attack America for stating something that is widely agreed-upon by security experts, their dishonesty should be news. Unfortunately, since media conservatives seem to have a knack for escaping consequences for their serial mendacity, their role in the unwarranted demolition of Rauf's character will likely disappear down the memory hole.
The damage will already be done, and conservatives' perpetual dishonesty machine will roll on.
Glenn Beck's Black Robe Republican Regiment
Two weeks ago, Glenn Beck capped his shift into hyper-religiosity by unveiling the “Black Robe Regiment.” The formation of the group and our culture's alleged “turn back to God” at his “Restoring Honor” rally were supposed to mark the “beginning of the end of darkness.” While hyping the group, Beck has repeatedly stressed that they are non-political. Like most other things he says, this does not hold up to scrutiny. In fact, it's becoming increasingly clear that the Black Robe Regiment is simply a thinly-veiled get-out-the-vote push for the GOP.
Beck announced last week that he was working with James Dobson to help form the Regiment. In the past, Dobson and his organizations have repeatedly used churches to attempt to influence elections. The Alliance Defense Fund, which Dobson co-founded, sought preachers who were willing to challenge the IRS over whether tax-exempt churches could explicitly endorse or oppose candidates. Last month, Beck promoted the ADF's “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” initiative. During the segment, David Barton - whom Beck has credited with helping hatch the idea of the Regiment -- described the movement as “several hundred preachers” saying to the IRS, “come after me. I dare you.” Additionally, as reported byThe Washington Post in 2006, Dobson's Focus on the Family group announced that it would “work with affiliated groups in eight battleground states to mobilize evangelical voters in the November elections.”
Speaking of mobilizing voters, Dr. Richard Lee, Black Robe Regiment member and pastor at First Redeemer Church in Atlanta, told Media Matters last week that part of the Regiment's mission is to return to their places of worship and boost voter involvement. Lee's words were echoed by fellow Black Rober Richard Land, who explained that the Regiment mission entails “Energizing all of our members to register to vote, to be informed as to where the country stands on issues and leave it to them to connect the dots.”
The Black Robe Regiment's connections to partisan politics run even deeper. At least two members of the group areclosely tied to former Speaker of the House and putative 2012 presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and his Renewing American Leadership group. Barton, who “spearheaded the Republican National Committee's rigorous outreach to pastors in 2004,” is listed as a board member. Joining Barton is Black Rober Dr. Jim Garlow, who serves as the group's chairman.
So what is the goal of Renewing American Leadership? As explained on their “Who We Are” page, the group is “dedicated to educating, organizing, training, and mobilizing people of faith to renew American self-government and America's role in the world.” When the group launched last year, Founding Director Rick Tyler described the group toU.S. News in explicitly political terms, saying that they wanted to “prove” to Republican donors that “mobilizing evangelical voters leads to the best economic policies.”
As we documented this week, numerous members of the supposedly nonpolitical Black Robe Regiment share a fervent opposition to the “homosexual agenda” and are strident opponents of gay marriage. Included in this anti-gay army of God is Maggie Gallagher, whose association with the Black Robe Regiment further makes a mockery of the idea that this group is non-political. Gallagher, who confirmed her involvement with the group to Media Matters, is neither a pastor nor a religious figure; she's an anti-gay activist. Her organizations, National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, both revolve around “protecting marriage” - by which, of course, they mean denying gays the right to marry.
So if Beck is serious that his followers should “run from any pastor, priest or rabbi” advocating that “any one policy God says is the right thing,” then he apparently thinks people need to flee from his Black Robe Regiment.
This weekly wrap-up was compiled by Media Matters' Ben Dimiero.