Media Matters: Conservative media's “radical” attacks are so lame

Let's let Sean Hannity explain: “This is so important. Because for all the town halls and everything that happened this summer, these are the critical weeks if you don't want health care.” And who wants health care? Much less health care reform? Hannity and the rest of the right-wing wrecking crew are gearing up for a war.

“These are the critical weeks if you don't want health care”

On Thursday, House Democratic leaders unveiled the Affordable Health Care for America Act. The bill followed on the heels of the Senate Finance Committee's passage of its own version of health care reform legislation.

Let's let Sean Hannity explain: “This is so important. Because for all the town halls and everything that happened this summer, these are the critical weeks if you don't want health care.”

And who wants health care? Much less health care reform ...

Hannity and the rest of the right-wing wrecking crew are gearing up for a war.

The very day House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced the House health care bill, Rush Limbaugh purported to read it and explain it. As one might expect, his analysis of what one provision of the bill says was almost entirely the opposite of what it actually says. On Thursday's show, Limbaugh said:

Now, as I go through this, it -- this section I'm gonna read part of, it looks like small businesses are gonna lose their tax breaks for health coverage. Right now, small business gets a tax break for providing health coverage. It's gonna be -- it looks like it's gonna be phased out in two years. But it's hard to tell from the damn convoluted language.

Ah, yes, that “damn convoluted language.” Funny how such language confounds the Limbaughs of the world, yet gives them enough cover to provide their own bogus analyses.

Limbaugh's statement that “small businesses are gonna lose their tax breaks for health coverage” is false -- the section he read would actually create an additional small business tax credit for health coverage.

The Drudge Report and Fox News ran with Politico's Jonathan Allen's misleading calculation that the House's recently announced health care reform legislation costs “about $2.24 million per word.” In fact, the Congressional Budget Office stated that the House bill “would result in a net reduction in federal budget deficits of $104 billion” . Thus, using Allen's formula, the bill would actually save $260,000 per word. (Don't expect to see that on as a "Fox Fact" anytime soon.)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) announcement that the Senate's version will include a public option that each state could opt out of prompted immediate misinformation from the conservative media. Several Fox News commentators baselessly suggested that states choosing not to participate in the public option would, in Karl Rove's words, have to pay taxes “for this sucker for decades,” but “we're not going to get any of our money back.” However, while Reid has yet to release details of the compromise Senate legislation, every other proposed “sucker” with a public option so far has required the costs of the public plan to be covered by the premiums of those who enroll in it, and the taxes proposed in each of the “suckers” are used to cover the expansion of coverage through Medicaid and subsidies to help certain families purchase insurance, both of which are provided to residents of every state regardless of any public option.

Of course, over at Fox they call it a “government-run option” because, obviously, people are for a “public” option, but not a “government” option. And Fox certainly doesn't want to give the people what they want. (Nor do they want to quit turning to Frank Luntz for help in framing the health care debate.)

Meanwhile, Andrew Breitbart and the Washington Examiner seized on a story about the shortage in H1N1 vaccines to criticize health care reform. “Government-Run Health Care: From the People Who Brought Us Swine Flu Vaccine Shortage” read one oh-so-witty headline. Washington Examiner editor Mark Tapscott was the original source: “The same government that only weeks ago promised abundant supplies of swine flu vaccine by mid-October will be running your health care system under Obamacare.” In fact, the real problem was that the vaccine manufacturers provided the government with “overly rosy” estimates of how many vaccines they could produce.

And Ph.D. in history Dr. Betsy McCaughey's crusade to do anything she can to dismantle health care reform continued in Thursday's Wall Street Journal, where she rehashed several debunked falsehoods and continued to smear White House health care adviser real Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel.

Conservative media's “radical” attacks are so lame

The Republican Noise Machine's strategy of trying to pick off “radical” Obama administration figures jumped the shark this week. Following weeks' worth of attacks on Department of Education official Kevin Jennings and White House communication director Anita Dunn, the conservative media this week targeted Edward Chen, President Obama's nominee to be a California federal district court judge.

“The revolving door of radicals coming into the Obama administration continues to spin,” announced Sean Hannity on Tuesday night's show. Hannity picked up the story from The Washington Times, which wrote in an editorial on Sunday that Chen was “another Obama nominee who doesn't appear to love America.”

Judge Chen's words speak for themselves. When the congregation sang “America the Beautiful” at a funeral, Judge Chen told the audience of his “feelings of ambivalence and cynicism when confronted with appeals to patriotism -- sometimes I cannot help but feel that there are too much [sic] injustice and too many inequalities that prevent far too many Americans from enjoying the beauty extolled in that anthem.”

In a speech on Sept. 22, 2001, he said that among his first responses to the September 11 terrorist attacks on America was a “sickening feeling in my stomach about what might happen to race relations and religious tolerance on our own soil. ... One has to wonder whether the seemingly irresistible forces of racism, nativism and scapegoating which has [sic] recurred so often in our history can be effectively restrained.”

And talking about the role of judges, he in effect embraced the “empathy standard” that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was forced to denounce in her own confirmation hearings: “Simply put, a judge's life experiences affect the willingness to credit testimony or understand the human impact of legal rules upon which the judge must decide. These determinations require a judge to draw upon something that is not found in the case reports that line the walls of our chambers. Rather judges draw upon the breadth and depth of their own life experience. ... Inevitably, one's ethnic and racial background contributes to those life experiences.”

You get the picture. To quote and paraphrase Sen. Charles E. Schumer from another occasion, this man's attitude “doesn't even whisper 'judge.' ” Instead, it yells out that he is a biased radical willing to impose his own politics from the bench. Judge Chen should not be confirmed.

Again proving his penchant for the hyperbolic, Bill O'Reilly on Tuesday read The Washington Times' talking points on Chen and claimed that “you can't get more radical than Chen.”

Of course, as is often the case, when you actually stop and consider Chen's words -- rather than just repeating the GOP Talking PointTM version of them -- you see they represent anything but “radical” thinking.

Chen was concerned about a visceral reaction on the part of some Americans toward Muslims and other groups. And sure enough, a 2002 FBI hate crimes analysis reported that the distribution of hate crimes based on national origin changed in 2001, “presumably as a result of the heinous incidents that occurred on September 11.” The FBI further noted, “Anti-Islamic religion incidents were previously the second least reported, but in 2001, they became the second highest reported among religious-bias incidents (anti-Jewish religion incidents were the highest), growing by more than 1,600 percent over the 2000 volume.” Further, the Justice Department Inspector General found numerous problems with DOJ's treatment of “aliens” after 9-11.

On Tuesday, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) corrected O'Reilly, telling him: “What [Chen] said, in the context of the time, he was worried about -- in the long term -- a turn towards racism. I saw it in my own district. Many Sikhs were coming in and they were -- they were being accosted.”

As for the “empathy standard” that Chen supposedly embraces, making him a “biased radical,” as was the case with Sotomayor, Chen's comments were similar to ones made by other conservatives. Conservatives including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, President George H.W. Bush, Sen. Strom Thurmond, Sen. Kit Bond, and John Yoo have cited personal experience or empathy as an important quality in a judge. And in a comment that the media somehow overlooked when doing background research on Sotomayor and empathy, in 2003, while debating about President Bush's nomination of Miguel Estrada to be a judge, then-Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said that “Hispanics have reinvigorated the American dream, and I expect they will bring new understandings of our nationhood, that some of us ... might not fully see with tired eyes.” Furthermore, unmentioned by The Washington Times, Hannity, and O'Reilly, Chen gave specific examples of how “a judge's life experiences affect” credibility determinations.

And -- predictably -- there was a base level of hypocrisy in the attacks on Chen's comments. Both Hannity and the Washington Times editorial page have previously stated Senate Democrats were wrong for opposing judicial nominees based on their political views and personal opinions, claiming that, as Hannity put it, “nominees' personal opinions are irrelevant.”

Pretty lame, Milhouse.

Fox News' “perpetual revulsion machine”

Over the weekend, Howard Kurtz weighed in on the White House's calling Fox News for what it is -- a political organization -- stating, “I don't think an entire organization should be judged by a few commentaries.” NPR's Ken Rudin claimed there are “two different Fox Newses.” Both men drew a distinction between Chris Wallace and Glenn Beck. Certainly the two men are different in that one doesn't scream and shout and cry and pretend to set anybody on fire, but other than that ...

The real problem Kurtz, Rudin and all the other journalists who have drawn this distinction ignore is that the crazy things Glenn Beck does (or Sean Hannity or Bill O'Reilly) affect the rest of Fox News' news coverage and in turn, Chris Wallace's own reporting.

And in defending Fox News, some journalists have claimed that MSNBC is just as liberal as Fox News is conservative, again failing to see that even if you concede that MSNBC's evening opinion shows are equivalent to Fox News' evening opinion shows -- and you ignore MSNBC's three hours of Joe Scarborough -- the problem is the actual “news” Fox News is purporting to report. (Oh, and the organizing and promoting of political campaigns. And the on-air fundraising for conservative political organizations. And the network's positioning as the “opposition” to the administration.) But other than that ...

But in a lengthy segment on Thursday night's Daily Show, Jon Stewart destroyed the argument that there is a difference between Fox's “news” and “opinion.”

Here's Stewart's breakdown:

The three hours that you spend in the morning with Fox & Friends? Not news! Your four o'clock to five o'clock post tea and crumpets Neil Cavuto break? Not news! The five o'clock to six o'clock emotional whirlwind and national group therapy session that is Glenn Beck? Not even close to news. O'Reilly, Hannity, Van Susterninanin, not news. This is according to Fox News. Those people, the ones featured in promos about how fair and balanced Fox News is, are not news. These people otherwise known as the only people you ever think of when you think about Fox News, are not news. They're Fox opinutainment.

The few Fox anchors who remain unnamed by Stewart, those are the people that represent Fox “News.” As for them, well, Stewart masterfully showed how complaints about a video of school children singing to Obama was turned into complaints by Fox “opinutainment” personalities about “indoctrination.” Which then led to actual “news reports” about the video:

SPECIAL REPORT HOST BRET BAIER (video clip): Public school officials in Burlington, New Jersey, are being accused of indoctrinating their students

STEWART: Yes, they are being accused. By the guy whose show is on right before you! I'm amazed he didn't bring it up to you when you had lunch. Didn't they mention it to you in the cafeteria? See, the Fox opinion guy's outrage becomes the “some say” source for the news side. It's a perpetual revulsion machine.

This week's media columns

In this week's media columns from the Media Matters senior fellows, Jamison Foser calls out journalists for using the Fox/MSNBC comparison, and Eric Boehlert offers 30 reasons why Fox News is not legitimate.

In The Friday Rush, a review of Limbaugh's shows during the past week, Greg Lewis discusses Limbaugh's war on reality.

This weekly wrap-up was compiled by Brian Frederick, deputy editorial director at Media Matters for America. He holds a Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Colorado.