Media Matters: The week that followed the end of America as we know it

When “Armageddon” didn't rain down after health care was passed, as the conservative media warned that it would, Fox News and the noise machine scrambled to find new ways to delegitimize the law, basically hurling every argument possible at it to see what stuck.

This week was a big deal, folks. And it's not because America, as we know it, is over. Congress passed major health care reform legislation -- even though the media declared it “dead” just two months ago -- and President Obama signed it into law.

On Monday, we rubbed our eyes after a long, difficult year of debate, took a look around, and realized two things had happened that would affect our lives: The U.S. has a new health care system that extends benefits to millions of the uninsured, and Rush Limbaugh decided he is not moving to Costa Rica after all.

When “Armageddon” didn't rain down after health care was passed, as the conservative media warned that it would, Fox News and the noise machine scrambled to find new ways to delegitimize the law, basically hurling every argument possible at it to see what stuck.

Here's what they came up with: On-the-fence Democrats who voted “aye” were BRIBED!

The Drudge Report, Bret Baier, Eric Bolling, Betsy McCaughey, and right-wing blogs saw something fishy behind federal grants given to airports in Rep. Bart Stupak's (D-MI) district and suggested that the funds may have bought his vote. (No matter that the grants were awarded in 47 states, including in Republican districts.) Fox News' Andrew Napolitano claimed Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT) “changed his vote to yes” after his brother was offered a judgeship. (Oops: Matheson voted against the bill.) Napolitano also accused Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV) of changing his vote after the Justice Department ended an ethics investigation on him. (Mollohan's vote was the same before and after the investigation ended.)

The media also revived the falsehood that the bill funds abortions with taxpayer dollars, focusing their attacks on Stupak over his support for finalizing the bill. Gateway Pundit seized on Rep. Randy Neugebauer's (R-TX) accusation that Stupak supported a “baby-killer” bill, and Glenn Beck said Stupak was going to “lose his soul” and that he wanted to be “right behind” Stupak at eternal judgment.

The conservative media also pushed the idea that the law could be voided because it isn't constitutional. By Wednesday, Fox News had interviewed at least nine Republican state attorneys general to promote their efforts to overturn the law through lawsuits. The blogs liked that idea, too: HotAir's Ed Morrissey said the courts “seem like a fruitful place to deconstruct ObamaCare.”

Legal scholars, however, dispute that the law is unconstitutional, noting that regulation of the health care sector falls under Congress' broad power to regulate interstate commerce. Even Newt Gingrich, who said he's “glad” the AGs are suing, called winning an “outside chance.”

As always, claims about the bill and its supporters devolved to baseless name-calling. There was the creative: health reform is like the Black Plague, the Jonestown massacre, the Day the Music Died, etc. The shameless: health reform is like Pearl Harbor and the Hindenburg. The old and tired: “The Democratic Party now officially is the Socialist Party.” And the bottom of the barrel: cost analysts at the Congressional Budget Office are just a “bunch of liars.”

The debate this week also took a very serious turn toward violence. When news broke that several Democrats in Congress had been threatened with physical violence and racial and anti-gay epithets, the conservative media initially condemned it. And then they accused, and denied, and rationalized.

Gretchen Carlson said it's “disappointing” that Democrats decided to publicly discuss the threats because it's “such a political thing” and suggested they “stop discussing it altogether.” Brian Kilmeade asked whether Democrats were “using” the threats “to their advantage to marginalize Republican opposition,” and Sean Hannity wondered whether the attention brought to racial slurs was an “effort to smear conservatives.”

Andrew Breitbart offered to give $10,000 to the United Negro College Fund if someone could “provide hard evidence that the N- word was hurled” at civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis as he walked through a crowd of tea party activists before the vote. The Fox Nation wasn't quite as sure as Breitbart; one of its headlines asked: “Was Tea Party Story a Racial Rant or a Set-up?” The Washington Times quoted Dale Robertson, founder of, in an article as saying that Democrats are “trying to label the tea party [as racist], but I've never seen any racial slurs.” So much for source vetting: Robertson is the tea partier who was reportedly kicked out of a 2009 tea party event at which he carried a sign reading, “Congress = Slaveowner, Taxpayer = Niggar [sic].”

National Review Online's Kathryn Jean Lopez and The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes both rationalized it in the same way: hey, threats are “commonplace” and they “happen all the time.”

What's more, some in the media used the passage of health care legislation to continue their long tradition of violent rhetoric over the health care issue. Beck, who repeatedly stoked fear this week over health care reform passing with violent rhetoric like “war” and “armed insurrection,” said the administration was “poking and prodding” and “begging” opponents of the bill to commit violence, and that Obama "punched" Americans in the face with health reform. Beck also compared this time to the “second American Revolution” and wondered if progressives would have “killed us all” if reform had failed.

Sarah Palin took to her Facebook page with a mapped list of House Democrats who voted for health care reform with crosshairs aimed at their locations. In a March 23 tweet about her map, Palin wrote: “Don't Retreat, Instead -- RELOAD!”

Other stories this week

Beck redistributes attacks on Wallis

We noted last week that Rev. Jim Wallis, the editor of Sojourners magazine and Obama adviser, was coming under attack by right-wing media for his advocacy on social justice. This week, the attacks intensified, led by -- you guessed it -- Glenn Beck.

Beck compared Wallis to the “anti-Semitic religious broadcaster” Father Coughlin and accused him of “pervert[ing]” and “distorting the gospel” and promoting “the devil's way.” The reason? Beck repeatedly claimed comments Wallis made in 2006 about “absolutely” calling for the “redistribution of wealth” is proof he is a “Marxist” who “claims the gospel of Jesus Christ is about a central government taking money from individuals and then distributing it.”

Of course, Beck was using selectively edited audio of Wallis' interview with Interfaith Voices in which he was discussing individuals who “transformed” their lives to focus on charity and highlighting how Bill and Melinda Gates have been “doing a redistribution of wealth” through their philanthropy.

Beck also seized on audio in which Wallis recounted his first meeting with Dorothy Day to claim that Wallis admitted he was a “Marxist.” In fact, Wallis recounted discussing with Day their “conversion” from “secular radicalism and Marxism to Jesus Christ.” Not to be outdone by Beck, posted a Naked Emperor News video that also distorted Wallis' comments to claim he advocated “forced redistribution of wealth.”

Wallis responded to Beck in a lengthy March 24 post. He said, in part, about his “redistribution of wealth” comments: “Instead Beck said that what I meant guessed it: 'forced redistribution, socialism, and Marxism.' Hmm, don't ever remember saying that (it will be hard for Fox to find the videos of that), or even remember any of my fellow traveler social justice Christians ever saying or supporting that... But we do say that while social justice begins with our own lives, choices, and sacrifices, it doesn't end there.”

Gone witch-huntin': Liu is the latest target in attacks on Obama's judicial nominations

In the latest attack on Obama's judicial nominations, right-wing blogs such as Verum Serum, Atlas Shrugs, and Ace of Spades have distorted comments that appeals court nominee Goodwin Liu made in a 2008 discussion about the legacy of slavery to suggest he supports “reparations.”

In fact, nowhere in his speech did Liu state that he supports “reparations” ; rather, he suggested that people should deal with the legacy of slavery by working at the community level on issues like “access to food, health care, problems with their houses.”

Washington Examiner columnist Theodore H. Frank also claimed Liu was “disqualif[ied]” from that position because he purportedly spoke “against private ownership of property.” In fact, Liu merely identified the term “private ownership of property,” as used by an organization then-Supreme Court nominee John Roberts was affiliated with, as indicative of “an ideological agenda hostile to environmental, workplace, and consumer protections.”

As we noted, Liu reportedly has support from conservatives, including The Goldwater Institute's Clint Bolick, John Yoo -- the Bush administration lawyer who authored the infamous torture memos -- and James Guthrie, education policy studies director at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas.

This week's media columns

This week's media columns from the Media Matters senior fellows: Eric Boehlert further examines the right-wing meltdown over health care.

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