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Bill Bennett

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  • Fox plays defense for Rep. Devin Nunes’ lawsuit against Twitter

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On March 19, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) filed a lawsuit against Twitter and three specific users, claiming that the site has censored him and allowed him to be the target of defamation. The Washington Post called the lawsuit's merits "questionable at best," but Fox hosts and contributors covered the lawsuit credulously, suggesting or even outright agreeing that Twitter tries to censor conservative accounts.  

    In the $250 million suit, Nunes argues that Twitter is routinely “shadow-banning conservatives” on its platform by allowing them to post but not letting other users see or interact with the content. Twitter denies that it shadow bans accounts, and CEO Jack Dorsey told Congress last year that the company has not found any evidence of a difference in the reach of tweets from conservative and liberal accounts. Following similar allegations of shadow banning last summer, The New York Times also found no evidence that Twitter engaged in the practice.

    In the suit, Nunes also takes issue with several specific users he claims Twitter allowed to defame him. Among them are @DevinNunesMom and @DevinCow, satirical accounts aimed at mocking Nunes. Some of the remarks that the suit specifically mentions as defamatory include a claim by the @DevinNunesMom account that Nunes was “voted ‘Most Likely to Commit Treason’ in high school,” and the @DevinCow account's tweet that “Devin’s boots are full of manure. He’s udder-ly worthless and its pasture time to move him to prison.”

    Some journalists have suggested that far from being a serious legal dispute, Nunes’ lawsuit is simply aimed at silencing critics. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake wrote:

    The legal merits of the case appear highly questionable at best. The standard for defamation of a public figure such as Nunes is much higher than for an average person. One expert The Washington Post talked to cited the landmark Supreme Court case in which Jerry Falwell sued Hustler magazine for a satirical advertisement in which his likeness was engaged in sexual activity with his mother in an outhouse. The court ruled that public figures aren’t protected from “patently offensive speech” if the statements couldn’t be understood as actual facts.

    So feel free to chuckle about the spectacle of Devin Nunes suing “Devin Nunes’ cow” — especially given Nunes’s past opposition to “frivolous lawsuits” — but know that this most likely isn’t about his purported cow or what it said. Nunes is telegraphing an expansive effort to go after people who hurt Republicans with their public discourse. Its potential impact, not so much legally as from personal behavioral standpoint, shouldn’t be so casually dismissed.

    Fox hosts and contributors took a different approach than others in the media, choosing to take Nunes at his word and cheering on the lawsuit.  

    After news of Nunes’ suit broke, Fox’s Sean Hannity hosted the congressman on his show and allowed him to rant about Twitter’s alleged political bias and supposed censorship.

    During the March 19 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed that Twitter is “already suppressing people like Don [Trump] Jr. and conservatives.” Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano also argued that Nunes is “focusing a spotlight on Twitter’s bias.”

    Later in the day, on Fox Business’ Varney & Co., Kilmeade told host Stuart Varney that Nunes is making a “very courageous move.” Varney responded, “I think it’s about time we had it out about censoring conservatives on social media.”

    On Fox’s America’s Newsroom, Fox contributor Ken Starr said the lawsuit is proof that litigation can be “a powerful engine for getting the truth.” He also argued that the suit could be “one of those action-forcing events. It’s calling Twitter, and more broadly these social platforms, into the age of accountability.”

    Fox contributor Bill Bennett argued on America’s Newsroom that Nunes “has a very important point” and contended that “there is bias in a lot of these [tech] companies.”

    Fox contributor and former Arkansas Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee told America’s Newsroom co-host Sandra Smith that he is “so proud of the congressman” because the lawsuit will “hold these social media companies’ feet to the fire.” He claimed the tech companies have been “shadow banning conservatives, they’ve been making it very difficult for conservatives to get the message out,” and “they are in essence a contributing force to the Democratic Party and a contributing force against Republicans.”

  • Conservatives invoke murderous dictators to attack Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Green New Deal

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Just weeks after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) was sworn into office, some in the conservative media world are already likening her to some of history’s worst mass-murdering dictators to criticize her signature policy proposal, the Green New Deal.

    Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) unveiled a Green New Deal resolution on February 7 that lays out an ambitious goal of addressing the climate crisis and economic inequality. Right-wing media figures immediately misled their audiences on the aims of the resolution and began to issue ominous warnings about the effort. But some took their warnings to a greater extreme by likening Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats who back the Green New Deal to murderous tyrants such as Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Mao Zedong.

    Economist Ben Stein and Turning Point USA’s Candace Owens were among the first prominent conservatives to compare Ocasio-Cortez to dictators. Before the Green New Deal resolution was even released, Stein said in January: “We have a society in which there are an awful lot of people who have no idea that Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong all came to power promising the same kinds of things that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is promising. And it led to mass murder; it led to dictatorship; it led to genocide. These promises are old promises and they invariably lead to bad things.”

    Owens compared Ocasio-Cortez to Hitler in a February 4 tweet. (Owens has been widely criticized for recently saying, “If Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, OK, fine. The problem is that … he had dreams outside of Germany.”)

    Bill Bennett, a Fox News contributor and former Reagan administration secretary of education, criticized Ocasio-Cortez’s policy resolution on February 6, saying, “Look at the fine print. Look at what socialism has done. Socialism is as socialism has done. … Look at the real masters of socialism: Mao, Stalin -- 30, 40 million dead.” He further warned that “there should be no truck at all with this idea of socialism” and declared that young Americans who are sympathetic to socialism are ignorant.

    Two prominent conservative talk radio hosts piled on two days later. Hugh Hewitt, who is also an MSNBC contributor, likened Ocasio-Cortez to dictators who “end up murdering millions” of people to get their way. He also said of the Green New Deal: “It is not socialism; it is communism, it is fascism, it is despotism. It drains all freedom out of America.”

    While PragerU founder Dennis Prager didn’t name Ocasio-Cortez in his own dire warning about her Green New Deal, he did say that the resolution and other policies to address economic inequality “will lead to bloodshed, loss of liberty, loss of human rights”:

    DENNIS PRAGER (HOST): The vast majority of torture and mayhem of the 20th century was done in the name of equality. It started in the French Revolution, which immediately descended into slaughtering human beings. It is a very, very scary vision. OK, just know that.

    It sounds great. That's why it's so dangerous. Racism doesn't sound great, for good reason. It's disgusting.

    The pursuit of equality will lead to bloodshed, loss of liberty, loss of human rights, and the Green New Deal is an example. The death that will ensue in the United States of America, the mayhem, the suffering, if the government takes over all health -- the problem is these people need a cause. That's what it is. There is a soullessness to the Elizabeth Warrens of the world. They need meaning. They need a crusade. They can't leave well enough alone. That's a big part of leftism. This country is too free, too kind, too affluent. They need to screw it up. If they screw it up, they have purpose.

    Liberals are not leftists, but liberals are naive and weak, because they don't confront the evil that leftism will bring about. That they mean well is of such little consequence -- do you know how much evil has been done by people who think they're good? Nearly all of it. OK? Just want you to know.

    Later that afternoon on Fox Business’ The Evening Edit, former Republican gubernatorial candidate for California John Cox warned about Ocasio-Cortez’s comments on the Green New Deal: “You got to worry about it. You know, if we don't study history, Liz, we're doomed to repeat it. And if you look at what has gone on in -- you report very well what's going on in Venezuela. Chavez and Maduro promised the socialist paradise, and you go back to the Soviet Union and Stalin and Lenin; it was always promised that government would be able to provide these things, and it's never been able to be successful.”

    On Monday, radio host Michael Savage discussed the Green New Deal and labelled Ocasio-Cortez a “psycho,” saying, “This is a Stalinist in a skirt; this is a Hitler in high heels.”

    San Diego radio host Carl DeMaio said, “The Democrat Party is more and more like the Nazi Party of Germany every single day,” citing in part Ocasio-Cortez’s alleged plan for the “takeover of private sector industries by the government” -- an apparent right-wing description of the Green New Deal.

    On February 12, Hewitt again referred to totalitarianism while discussing the Green New Deal and declared that Ocasio-Cortez is going “full 1984” and rewriting history by removing an inaccurate FAQ document from her website, saying: “That’s what happens in totalitarian states.”

    The absurd comparisons of Ocasio-Cortez to dictators are nothing new for the right; for example, conservatives also compared former President Barack Obama to Hitler and his policies to those of Nazi Germany countless times. And given the conservative media obsession with Ocasio-Cortez, the attacks are likely to continue throughout her career in elected office -- which has barely begun.

  • What The Media Should Know About Trump's "Political Kitchen Cabinet"

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump and his campaign have reportedly received advice from an increasing number of controversial Republican figures and political strategists, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, political strategist Roger Stone, and former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett. Various members of this "political kitchen cabinet" have launched sexist attacks against Hillary Clinton, claimed Obama does not love America, and denied the science of climate change.

  • FOX NEWS FLASHBACK: Opposing (GOP) Cabinet Pick Is "Petty", "Mean Spirited" And "Obstructionist"

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    As Republicans made history yesterday by filibustering a secretary of defense nominee for the first time in U.S. history, Fox News contributor Scott Brown expressed support for the Republican's obstructionist strategy of denying Chuck Hagel's confirmation vote. Insisting there was no reason to "ram" Hagel's nomination through, and claiming Republicans were acting "thoroughly" and "thoughtfully," the former Republican senator told Neil Cavuto's viewers GOP senators leading the filibuster effort "have some very real concerns" and were acting appropriately in blocking a vote.

    Sean Hannity agreed, boasting last night that blocking Hagel's confirmation represented a "major win" for the Republican Party.

    Of course, Fox News employee Bill Kristol helped launch the entire anti-Hagel effort back in December and his group has aired anti-Hagel ads. This week on Fox News' Special Report, Kristol urged Republicans to stick together and delay the confirmation vote. Meanwhile, Fox contributor Erick Erickson took to the Internet yesterday, beseeching conservatives to contact their senators and implore them to filibuster Hagel's nomination.

    So yeah, Fox News seems fine with the obstructionist effort underway in the Senate.

    And yes, here's the part where we detail how Fox News projected a very different message when a Republican president's cabinet nominee once encountered far more mild opposition from Democrats. Under that scenario, Fox talkers thundered about the "petty" and "mean spirited" nature of Democrats and led viewers through a series of how-dare-they segments.

    The glaring hypocrisy makes the current, hollow cries against Hagel even more difficult to take seriously.

    The truth is, Democrats have never tried to obstruct an up-or-down vote on a secretary of defense pick before. And since the Senate tradition for the last hundred years has been to allow newly elected presidents to pick the cabinet of his choice, there is no recent instance to contrast with the Hagel nomination brawl, or the media behavior that surrounded it.

    The closest comparison, and it isn't even that close, came when President Bush nominated Condoleezza Rice to be Secretary of State during his second term. Some Democrats objected, noting that Rice had helped plan, and publicly market, the controversial Iraq invasion; an invasion built around the false premise that Saddam Hussein was hoarding weapons of mass destruction.

    Unlike Hagel (a critic of the Iraq War), Rice was easily confirmed by the Senate committee overseeing her selection, and was then given a full vote in the senate, which approved her 85-13. Democrats made no effort to place a "hold" or to filibuster her confirmation. As Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told Fox's Chris Wallace at the time of the Rice nomination, "The president is entitled to his Cabinet." Feinstein added that she didn't want Rice "diminished in the eyes of the world," via the confirmation process.

    But the mere fact that a handful of Democrats opposed Rice and pressed her closely about the Iraq War during the confirmation process prompted several rounds of angry complaints from Fox News. The same Fox News that now touts the Hagel filibuster as a "major win."

  • Conservative Media Take Up Call To Arm Teachers

    Blog ››› ››› SOLANGE UWIMANA

    Conservative media are calling on teachers to be armed in response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, even as law enforcement experts, educators, and others argue that bringing guns into schools would make classrooms more dangerous. This advice comes on the heels of legislation being considered by Republicans in at least six states that would allow or require teachers and staff to carry guns.

    On December 14, a lone gunman killed 26 people, among them 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, before shooting and killing himself.

    During a segment on the tragedy, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade dismissed arguments for gun control, saying that he favors "hardening the target and maybe arming the teachers" as a way to avert such massacres in the future. He also advocated for the hiring of retired law enforcement and military to police school halls.

    Co-host Steve Doocy pointed to a school in Harrold, Texas, whose teachers carry concealed weapons to suggest that such a program would work well at other schools.

    When co-host Gretchen Carlson dissented, saying she worries about what the consequences would be for children to grow up in a culture in which people are armed, Kilmeade stated: "They're in that culture." He added: "The reality is there's school shootings and I want my kid to get out alive."

    CNN contributor Bill Bennett also supports arming teachers. In a opinion piece, he wrote: "Suppose the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary who was killed lunging at the gunman was instead holding a firearm and was well trained to use it. Would the result have been different? Or suppose you had been in that school when the killer entered, would you have preferred to be armed?" He concluded: "Evidence and common sense suggest yes."

    Gun advocate John Lott has put forth similar arguments.

    However, former law enforcement officers argue against arming teachers, citing the lack of necessary training and experience.

  • Bill Bennett: Iraq War-Supporting, Tax Cut-Defending Paul Ryan Will "Separate" Romney From Bush

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    This morning's Meet the Press featured a panel discussion on moderator David Gregory's interview with Mitt Romney, and the discussion turned to whether Romney will be able to separate himself from the policies of George W. Bush, given their persistent unpopularity. The panelists were near unanimous in their agreement that Romney was being hampered by the Bush legacy; the only dissenter was Reagan education secretary Bill Bennett, who argued that "Bush did a lot of fine things," but Romney already has separated himself from Bush "by having Paul Ryan there. Paul Ryan was a critic of Bush spending and he's a critic of Obama spending."

    I'm not sure how many times I'll have to write this, but I'll keep writing it for as long as I have to: Paul Ryan voted for every high-cost, deficit-exploding, debt-ballooning policy the Bush White House put in place. He voted for Bush's tax cuts on income and capital gains. He voted for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He voted for the unfunded Medicare prescription drug benefit. He voted for TARP. That's a whole lot of spending (plus a whole lot of revenue reduction), and those policies tell almost the entire story of the current deficits and public debt.

    Paul Ryan is as much an ambassador of Bush-era policies as anyone, and to claim otherwise is nothing short of nonsense.

  • "Louisiana Purchase" was a necessary Medicaid fix, but media say it's "corrupt"

    ››› ››› DIANNA PARKER

    Media outlets are listing Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D-LA) efforts to insert funding for Louisiana in the Senate health care bill -- dubbed the "Louisiana Purchase" by conservatives -- as an example of Democrats' "corrupt" practices. But the funds are urgently needed to fix the state's Medicaid problems, which are a result of Hurricane Katrina; moreover, many of the state's Republican lawmakers say the fix is necessary, despite criticizing Landrieu for securing it in the bill.

  • Beck to headline 2010 CPAC gathering, cementing right-wing media hold on conservative movement

    Blog ››› ››› KARL FRISCH

    Last year it was radio host Rush Limbaugh keynoting CPAC, the annual gather of right-wingers in our nation's capital. This year the honor goes to Fox News' Glenn Beck.

    That should put to rest any doubts that right-wing media figures own the conservative movement and by extension the Republican Party.

    Politico's Michael Calderone reported yesterday that Beck said of his selection, "CPAC is my kind of people." An astute observation to be sure given the wing-nuttery on display at CPAC gatherings in years past:

    What is unclear however is where Beck came up with the following notion: "CPAC is, I think they're as angry at the Republicans as I am."

    If that is true, someone really needs to tell CPAC. Here is just a sampling of the GOP big-wigs past and present invited to speak at this year's conference (from the conference website):

    Former Republican Senator and Bush-era Attorney General John Ashcroft, former Bush-era Ambassador John Bolton, Republican Senator John Barrasso, Republican Senator Tom Coburn, Republican Senator Jim DeMint, Republican former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, Republican Governor-elect Bob McDonnell, Republican Congressman Ron Paul, Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, Republican Governor Rick Perry, former Republican Governor Mitt Romney, Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio and former Republican Senator Rick Santorum.

    Some may have expected newly minted Fox News contributor and half-term former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to take the role as keynote rather than Beck. Well, apparently CPAC doesn't pay its speakers unlike the National Tea Party Convention.