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  • The Right-Wing Media's Deceptive Playbook On Obama's Nominees Is The Same As It Ever Was

    Blog ››› ››› SERGIO MUNOZ

    Supreme CourtThe right-wing media playbook on how to lie, distort, and smear the president's pending appointment to the Supreme Court has already been written. The identity of the actual nominee is only a formality.

    If the nominee has bothered to follow civil rights precedent, they will be labeled a "radical." If the nominee bothered to adhere to such stare decisis and is a person of color, they will be labeled a "racist." If the right-wing media figure is queasy about the awkwardness of labeling a civil rights advocate a racist, they will switch to "racialist," which is the nonsense term it seems.

    If the nominee tried to stay true to long-accepted First Amendment principles on the separation of church and state, watch for the cries of anti-Christian bias. (That one is also useful if the nominee had the temerity to follow Roe v. Wade, or thinks access to contraception is still protected.)

    Impeccable credentials? Cite anonymous sources for what they are really like (it's the only way to claim that Ivy League-educated lawyers are actually stupid) or maybe even offer criticisms of their temperament that would garner praise if they were a white man. Can't get a conservative clerk or member of the bar to disparage a liberal judge on the record? Then go for the "principle, not person" argument to justify obstruction, or even redefine what a principle like "court packing" means all together in order to enforce a judicial nomination blockade on an unprecedented scale.

    Speaking of unprecedented -- who cares that there is broad agreement that what the Republicans are doing now is wildly out of step with bipartisan precedent? The logical endpoint of Senate Republicans' slow-walking of the president's executive nominees -- as promised, since he entered office -- was always destined to be the senatorial equivalent of a toy-grabbing temper tantrum. Unfortunately in this case, the consequences are grave. 

    Is the nominee a woman? Can't the president stop nominating people just because they're a woman?

    Did they ever do criminal defense work? Isn't it just like Democrats to even consider a cop-killer's coddler?

    Is the nominee Jewish? There are too many Jews on the Supreme Court!

    Is the nominee gay? We may be about to find out how far Fox News will countenance blatantly false and homophobic smears in 2016.

    All this, and more. Could conservatives add any more embarrassment to an election season already plunging to new lows? They can -- especially when GOP senators start to willingly and shamelessly adopt the half-baked lies, distortions, smears, and outright blunders funneled to them by right-wing media. Throw the old conservative media playbook into the misogynistic, xenophobic, fact-averse cesspool that is the Republican primary season, and we may be about to see an enabling of attacks on a judicial nominee of a sort we haven't seen before.

    That's what will be truly unprecedented, not this "gotcha" game of selected quotes and video from decades-old nomination fights that prove nothing. For all those lamenting the substance-free contributions of the primary season to the national discourse, it's about to get worse.

    Which is precisely why the media should be very careful when handling the inevitable attacks on the president's nominee. And remember: the right-wing media playbook was already written; the identity of the actual nominee never really mattered.

  • Breitbart News Has Always Been A Disaster

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Shapiro Breitbart PollakBreitbart News is currently imploding. The site's decision to prioritize its support for Donald Trump over its responsibilities to its own reporters has triggered what seems to be a staff uprising and potential exodus, with four writers out the door and others reportedly circulating their resumes. Breitbart management is now embroiled in a vicious back-and-forth with no end in sight.

    The purged are invoking the journalistic "legacy" of the site's creator, the late conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, as a key reason to flee. "Andrew built his life and his career on one mission: fight the bullies. But Andrew's life mission has been betrayed," wrote editor-at-large Ben Shapiro in his statement of resignation. "Indeed, Breitbart News, under the chairmanship of Steve Bannon, has put a stake through the heart of Andrew's legacy."

    Under Andrew Breitbart's leadership, this story goes, the website did great things, but those who inherited his empire have ruined it.

    As a member of Media Matters' research staff, I have been reading the various elements of Breitbart's network since his "news" site Big Government went live in 2009. I have watched the launch of various sub-sites under the "Big" umbrella under Andrew Breitbart's stewardship and the relaunch as the Breitbart News Network shortly after his death in 2012. I can say with some authority that the notion of a "golden age" of Breitbart journalism is fiction.

    By all accounts, Breitbart was a loving father, husband, and friend, and a cherished mentor to a generation of young journalists. That said, his news site was always a hotbed of ridiculous smears and lies pushed by writers with little interest in the truth.

    Following the conservative writer's death, The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf wrote of Breitbart's work:

    It would have been great if the Big sites aimed for higher quality journalism. Said libertarian press critic Jack Shafer in his obituary of Breitbart, "I liked the idea of Andrew Breitbart better than I liked any of his work at Big Government, Big Hollywood, Big Journalism, Big Peace, Breitbart or Breitbart.tv." And no wonder. What are the best 10 pieces published in the history of those sites? You'll find more quality work in a single issue of City Journal than the sum total of everything Breitbart wrote or commissioned and published in his whole career.

    Breitbart's media empire began with his news aggregation site Breitbart.com and his video aggregation site Breitbart.tv. Big Hollywood, his group blog focused on culture, launched in January 2009. But it was Big Government, his political news site, that first made him a national political figure when it debuted in September 2009.

    The Big Government site launched with a major exclusive: conservative activist and videographer James O'Keefe's "nationwide ACORN child prostitution investigation," a series of videos documenting supposedly illegal behavior by staffers for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a community-based organization that advocated and provided services for the poor. The story drewfirestorm coverage from the media as new videos trickled out one by one on Breitbart's website, triggering congressional action to ban federal funding for the organization and eventually leading to its collapse.

    It was also based on a lie.

    A series of investigations by state and local authorities found inappropriate behavior but no criminality on the part of the ACORN staffers. They also found that O'Keefe's videos, prominently trumpeted on Breitbart's website, had been "severely edited" by O'Keefe and a fellow activist, who had taken the statements of the employees out of context in order to "meet their agenda."

    Breitbart's sites spent much of the rest of 2009 publishing similar smears of progressives that did not survive the most minimal scrutiny. Was the White House making a political statement with Mao Zedong ornaments on the Christmas tree? (No.) Community organizers were praying to Barack Obama! (No.) The White House got union members to beat up a Tea Party protester! (Definitely not.) Meanwhile, the crew at Big Hollywood was spending significant time with birther nonsense as well as more pedestrian comparisons of Obama to Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Fidel Castro.

    The site's low point may have been Jim Hoft's disgusting anti-gay smears of Ken Jennings, the Department of Education official responsible for preventing bullying in schools. Hoft, the dumbest man on the Internet, wrote a series of posts targeting Jennings for his Gateway Pundit website, repeatedly drawing upon the work of hate group MassResistance. Hoft's attacks on Jennings were routinely cross-posted on Big Government.

    Breitbart's attempts to attack members of the administration culminated in his July 2010 effort to prove that Shirley Sherrod, an African-American official at the Department of Agriculture, was a racist who refused to provide aid to a white farmer. Sherrod was quickly fired as right-wing outlets began pushing Breitbart's story. But the claim imploded after full video emerged showing that Breitbart had taken Sherrod out of context, and the farmer in question came to Sherrod's defense, calling her a "friend" who "helped us save our farm."

    Sherrod subsequently sued Breitbart; she settled with his estate in October 2015.

    As Breitbart sought to defend his smear, he made what must go down as one of the strangest editorial decisions of his career. Big Government published two posts attacking Sherrod that were authored by one Dr. Kevin Pezzi, who claimed that Breitbart had sought him out himself. Our investigation of Pezzi quickly revealed the following:

    Pezzi, who says that "Breitbart asked me to write for BigGovernment.com," has a peculiar self-described history. Pezzi claims to be responsible for "over 850 inventions" and schemes such as a "magic bullet" for cancer, a "robotic chef," and sexual inventions like "penile enlargement techniques" and "ways to tighten the vagina" (because "men like women with tight vaginas"). Pezzi has started multiple websites, from term paper helpers to a sexual help site that answers "your questions about sexual attraction, pleasure, performance, and libido" (Pezzi is qualified to do so because "No doctor in the world knows more about sexual pleasure than I do").

    Pezzi's posts were subsequently removed from Breitbart's website, because while they represented "one of the most thorough and well-researched examinations" of Sherrod, "we have been made aware of other writings from this author which do not reflect the principles and values of this site."

    Breitbart followed up his fabricated smear of Sherrod as a racist by accusing civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) of lying that Tea Party activists protesting health care reform had hurled racial epithets at him.

    Breitbart's defenders cite his 2011 report that the married Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) had been sending sexually explicit material to other women as one of his websites' major victories. Breitbart published a series of Weiner's explicit social media posts, and his work triggered Weiner's resignation. But the story wasn't exactly Watergate.

    The rest of 2011 was basically par for the course for Breitbart's websites. There was the time they accused President Obama of having "marched with" the New Black Panther Party in 2007 (thousands participated in the march, which commemorated the 1965 march from Selma, and Obama actually spent the event with civil rights icon Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth). There was the time Big Government reported that an Occupy activist had been murdered inside a protest camp in Savannah (that did not happen). There were all the different times Big Journalism featured a Nazi-era anti-Semitic cartoon. And there was the time that, two days after Breitbart himself attacked birtherism, a blogger for Big Journalism promoted Jerome Corsi's book Where's the Birth Certificate under the headline "What If The Birthers Are Right?" (days later, Obama released his long-form birth certificate).

    In March 2012, following Breitbart's tragic death, the site released Breitbart's final column, which was designed to kick off his relaunched news empire's effort to "vet" Obama the way the media had purportedly failed to do.

    Breitbart's post revealed that in 1998, then-state Sen. Obama attended a Chicago play about activist Saul Alinsky and then took part in a panel discussion afterwards.

    In the months that followed, Breitbart's heirs unveiled a series of similarly shoddy efforts to "vet" Obama. Among the big stories was one about a "smoking gun" video showing then-Harvard Law student Barack Obama hugging the late Harvard professor Derrick Bell at a 1991 protest supporting Bell's push to have a woman of color offered tenure at the school.

    As Bell was, according to the website, a dangerous radical, this was supposed to be a big deal. In fact, Bell was a respected academic; even if he had been a dangerous radical, the video of him and Obama hugging would prove nothing, and the video had been available online for years and the event had been repeatedly reported on.

    Another supposedly big story covered a 1991 pamphlet published by Obama's former literary agency that erroneously describes him as being "born in Kenya." This supposedly fit "a pattern in which Obama -- or the people representing and supporting him -- manipulate his public persona." Hours later, the literary agency revealed that it had been a fact-checking error on its part.

    The years to come would bring embarrassments like the "Friends of Hamas" smear and the time the website tried to attack the wrong Loretta Lynch. The flagrant support for Trump has been a new and humiliating development for the site.

    But there was no journalistic legacy for Breitbart's heirs to squander. Big Journalism was always bad journalism.

  • Judicial Crisis Network Again Launches Deceptive Ad Campaign Against Democratic Judicial Nominee

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Politico reported that the discredited Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) will spend "about $250,000" on "an ad campaign Friday targeting Jane Kelly, a judge on President Barack Obama's short-list for a possible Supreme Court nominee," for her work as a criminal defense attorney.

    The Judicial Crisis Network's ad campaign repeats deceptive attacks made by JCN policy director Carrie Severino, who smeared Kelly in a March 3 post in the National Review, attacking her work as a public defender on behalf of her client because she "argued her client was not a threat to society," Severino's claim not only ignored the basic constitutional principles of the Sixth Amendment, it also ignored the rest of the cited Des Moines Register story, which stated Kelly was noting the evaluation of "a psychologist, who said that Frederickson was not a danger to others."

    The Judicial Crisis Network's ad campaign follows JCN's dishonest tradition of attacking judicial nominees through guilt-by-legal-representation, including 2012 attacks on Michigan Supreme Court candidate Bridget McCormack's assistance in the representation of Guantanamo detainees, and the recent misrepresentation of a legal brief filed by potential Supreme Court nominee Sri Srinivasan. From Politico:

    The conservative Judicial Crisis Network is launching an ad campaign Friday targeting Jane Kelly, a judge on President Barack Obama's short-list for a possible Supreme Court nominee, for her work defending a client on child pornography charges who later was convicted of murder.

    "This is Jane Kelly. President Obama may appoint her to the Supreme Court. As a lawyer she argued that her client, an admitted child molester, wasn't a threat to society. That client was found with more than 1,000 files of child pornography and later convicted for murdering and molesting a 5-year-old girl from Iowa. Not a threat to society? Tell your senator, Jane Kelly doesn't belong on the Supreme Court," the narrator says.

    The ad buy will start at about $250,000 and is aimed at dampening support for Kelly among moderate Democrats. In addition to running in Iowa -- the home state of both Kelly and Republican Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley -- the ad will begin running on Sunday news shows in the home states of Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

    [...]

    Judicial Crisis Network has emerged as a key player in the battle over the imminent nomination, spending big sums to defend the Senate GOP's position and to persuade centrist Democrats to side with Republicans. The group has hired GOP research group America Rising to research the backgrounds of potential nominees such as Kelly.

  • Right-Wing Media Shouldn't Be Surprised At Trump's Escalating Issues With The Press

    A History Of The Trump Campaign's Battle With The Fourth Estate

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    An alleged March 8 incident involving GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump's campaign manager and a reporter is the latest salvo in an increasingly aggressive -- and now violent -- battle between Trump's campaign and the press.

    On March 9, Politico reported that Michelle Fields, a Breitbart News reporter, was "forcibly grabbed on her arm" by Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, which nearly caused her to fall to the ground. After Lewandowski denied the events and called Fields an "attention seeker," Politico released audio supporting "the reporter's version of the events." Dismissing the evidence, which also includes photos of bruising on Fields' arm, Trump doubled down against the reporter, claiming that "nobody saw anything" and suggesting that "perhaps she made the story up."

    Many right-wing media figures expressed shock at the events and heavily criticized the Trump campaign. The Blaze's Dana Loesch tweeted that if conservative media "don't call this what it is," they are "treading dangerous new ground." Breitbart News' Ben Shapiro asked, "Since when is it okay for campaign managers to assault journalists? What the hell is wrong with these people?" Fox's Katie Pavlich also responded on Twitter: "Press being able to work freely is a crucial America value. The man running for President, Trump, & his campaign manager don't believe in it."

    The Fields incident is just the latest in what has become a pattern by the Trump campaign, which has battled the press for months. For a candidate who has said the Constitution is "set in stone" and whose son has referred to him as a "great Constitutionalist," here's a look back at Trump's ironic history of attacking the First Amendment and the reporters who use it to do their jobs:

    June 30: Donald Trump sued Univision for $500 million for dropping its coverage of his Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants following Trump's disparaging remarks about Mexican immigrants.

    July 27: Trump's attorney Michael Cohen threatened a Daily Beast reporter: "So I'm warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I'm going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me?"

    August 7: Trump said Megyn Kelly has "blood coming out of her wherever" after being unhappy with her debate question pressing him on sexist comments.

    August 25: Trump booted Univision anchor Jorge Ramos out of a news conference after he asked about Trump's controversial immigration proposals.

    September 23: Trump tweeted that he would boycott Fox News for "treating me very unfairly."

    October 15: Trump threatened to not participate in the CNBC Republican debate if the network did not limit the timing to two hours and give the candidates opening and closing statements.

    October 16: CNBC gave in to demands on length and opening statements for its Republican debate.

    November: The Daily Beast's Olivia Nuzzi was blacklisted from Trump events and "kicked off the press email list."

    November 18: CNN's Noah Gray tweeted a video showing Corey Lewandowski threatening to "pull [press] credentials" if reporters left the press pen.

    November 24: NBC's Katy Tur tweeted that media being confined to "the pen" is "official policy that the secret service is enforcing."

    November 24: Trump mocked New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski's disability after Kovaleski expressed doubts about Trump's claim that thousands of Muslims cheered in New Jersey during the 9/11 attacks.

    December 7: Trump pointed out NBC journalist Katy Tur in front of a South Carolina rally crowd, which booed, and he called her a "third-rate journalist."

    December 8: Trump praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for "running his country" and being "a leader" when pressed about Putin's alleged killing of critical journalists.

    January 26: Trump dropped out of the second Fox Republican primary debate due to Megyn Kelly's presence as a moderator.

    January 28: Mother Jones' Pema Levy penned a piece on being banned from a Trump rally along with other journalists.

    February 26: Trump promised to sue the media for negative stories about him if he's elected president.

    February 29: Time magazine photographer Chris Morris was choked by a Secret Service agent at a Trump rally in Virginia.

    March 8: Breitbart's Michelle Fields was allegedly forcibly grabbed by campaign manager Lewandowski.

  • Fox's Stuart Varney: FCC Proposal To Expand Internet Access For Needy Families Is "Ridiculous"

    Fox Continues Smear Campaign Against "Obamaphone" Program

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Stuart Varney smears FCC Lifeline program

    Fox Business host Stuart Varney continued Fox News' smear campaign against the Reagan-era affordable telephone service program for low-income Americans known as Lifeline, which conservatives derisively refer to as "Obamaphones," with a segment attacking a proposed expansion to allow the subsidy to be used toward the purchase of mobile data or broadband Internet.

    On the March 10 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., Stuart Varney and conservative journalist Jillian Melchior derided the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) proposal to expand the use of the Lifeline telecommunications subsidy for low-income households to include mobile data and broadband Internet. Varney lambasted the program as "ridiculous," while Melchior referred to the proposed subsidy providing qualifying families with access to the Internet as "insane." Melchior also described Lifeline as "one of the worst programs" in the government.

    Contrary to Fox's extreme rhetoric, expanding the $9.25-per-month Lifeline subsidy to include its use for the purchase of broadband for low-income Americans is an important step toward alleviating poverty. According to a May 28 report from The New York Times, when the Lifeline program expansion was first floated, the proposed change would have represented the "strongest recognition yet" from the FCC "that high-speed Internet access is as essential to economic well-being as good transportation and telephone service." Citing research from Pew, The Times highlighted how low-income and minority communities lag far behind the rest of the country in broadband access.

    In an exclusive March 9 interview with The Verge, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler mentioned the importance of giving low-income families "access to 21st century networks" by expanding Lifeline. Wheeler also argued in a March 8 blog post with FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn that "Internet access has become a pre-requisite for full participation in our economy and our society." On March 1, 17 public interest groups joined six broadband providers by signing a joint letter of support urging the FCC to go ahead with the expansion, stating that providing Internet access to needy families will help increase access to job training, employment opportunities, and education services. On February 29, Education Week reported on how the expansion could positively affect education by reducing the so-called "homework gap" faced by children in low-income households. According to Education Week, "70 percent of teachers assign homework that requires Internet access" but almost 5 million low-income households with children lack reliable, high-speed connections at home, which creates an additional obstacle for millions of "already disadvantaged students."

    Fox News and its right-wing media allies have a long history of shaming the poor by complaining that vital anti-poverty programs are actually "trapping people" in poverty and hyping isolated instances of fraud or abuse to disparage successful anti-poverty programs. The mythical "Obamaphone" program has become one of Fox's favorite targets. In 2012, the network promoted a video of an Obama supporter praising her so-called "Obamaphone" as proof that Democrats "bribe people" to vote for them. Fox's misleading portrayals of the poor and of so-called "Obamaphones" even garnered a mocking response from President Obama during a May 12 summit on poverty. The president's biting criticism didn't stop Fox from returning to its "Obamaphone" myth-making just weeks later, when Fox Business host Charles Payne used a May 29 appearance on Fox & Friends to attack the very same Lifeline expansion proposal that Varney and Melchior attacked again today.

    See the full segment from Varney & Co. below:

    STUART VARNEY (HOST): Do you remember the Obamaphone program? Cell phones for the poor, subsidized by you from a tax on your phone bill? Remember that? Still around. Now we hear that program could expand to Internet service. Joining us now, Heat Street political editor Jillian Melchior. Jillian, welcome back.

    JILLIAN MELCHIOR: Thank you.

    VARNEY: What?

    MELCHIOR: It's insane.

    VARNEY: I mean, it was insane. Free phones were ridiculous, now free Internet?

    MELCHIOR: Yes, the FCC wants to expand this program. They are probably going to get their way when the vote comes down on March 31. They want to expand it to include Wi-Fi, and already the GOP commissioners are saying that this is insanity, that this is a program riddled with waste, fraud, and abuse. And we're not going to cut it back, we're going to grow it.

    [...]

    MELCHIOR: FCC wants to grow the program budget to $2.25 billion a year, that's up from $1.5 billion. Saying they think --

    VARNEY: Wait a second, $1.5 billion to $2.25 billion?

    MELCHIOR: $2.25 billion. Yes, and they want to sign up as many as 5 million totally new beneficiaries for this. So this is growing a program, and it's one of the worst programs in government

  • Media Figures Highlight The Contrast Between Two Of Trump's Statements On Media Practices

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Media figures are spotlighting the contrast in Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump's various statements on the media and media processes. They note that days after Trump vowed to expand libel laws so it would be easier to sue the media, he claimed to have too much respect for the press and its off-the-record process to release the controversial record of an off-the-record meeting he had with The New York Times' editorial board.

  • Network Evening News Programs Ignore Crucial Facts In Reports On Clinton Aide's Immunity Agreement

    ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET

    In a March 2 report, the Washington Post reported that the Department of Justice granted immunity to Bryan Pagliano, an aide of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who allegedly set up her private email server. In their coverage of the report, nightly news programs on CBS, ABC, and NBC hyped claims that Pagliano's immunity signaled a troubling development for Hillary Clinton -- while neglecting to inform viewers that Pagliano's "limited immunity" is commonly requested and received in these types of investigations, and is "not indicative of guilt."