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  • How Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss have taken the NY Times’ campus concern trolling to new heights in just 2 years

    The two were brought over from the WSJ to bring a bold new perspective to the paper. Instead, they’ve been amplifying its most played-out talking point.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In April 2017, The New York Times announced the hiring of Wall Street Journal columnist and Pulitzer winner Bret Stephens. In a memo sent to staff, editorial page editor James Bennet wrote that Stephens would “bring a new perspective to bear on the news” as part of the newspaper’s plan to “continue to broaden the range of Times debate about consequential questions.”

    Hiring Stephens was a controversial move given his history of denying the reality of human-caused climate change, engaging in Iraq War revisionism, and disputing the existence of the campus-rape epidemic. And Stephens did little to assuage critics of his hire; his debut column for the Times was an error-riddled op-ed misrepresenting the state of climate consensus in the scientific community. That article was later held up by Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt to defend his personal skepticism of climate science.

    Stephens was joined at the Times by fellow Wall Street Journal alum Bari Weiss. At the Journal, Weiss wrote about things like “campus rage,” “the PC police,” and “social justice warriors” who were supposedly outraged over the film Sausage Party. In another memo to staff, Bennet announced that Weiss would “be writing and commissioning the kinds of quick-off-the-news pieces that are such a critical part of our efforts to amplify the section’s already important voice in the national conversation.”

    More than two years into Stephens’ and Weiss’ tenures at the Times, it remains unclear how Stephens -- or Weiss, for that matter -- has broadened the range of debate on the paper’s pages.

    Instead, it seems their presence has served mostly to intensify the focus on topics like campus speech and social justice activism -- namely, arguing that liberals are overstepping their bounds in both arenas. From reading Stephens and Weiss, you'd get the impression that some of the most pressing issues in the country are the conduct of protesters demonstrating outside a Ben Shapiro speech -- where he’s no doubt busy CRUSHING a question about atheism and DESTROYING the argument for trans rights -- and runaway PC culture on college campuses, which poses an existential threat to democracy itself.

    Weiss appears to delight in shining a light on minor campus controversies such as the one that erupted at Evergreen State College, when a professor was challenged by student activists for his views on a proposed “day of absence” protest. Similarly, she has shown a particular interest in stories about speakers being “no platformed” at universities.

    In a piece titled “We’re All Fascists Now,” Weiss bemoaned Lewis & Clark Law School students’ protest of a speech by American Enterprise Institute’s Christina Hoff Sommers. On Twitter, Weiss called this incident “a 21st-century auto-da-fe,” referring to public executions carried out during the Spanish Inquisition. But far from the teeming masses her article made the protest out to contain, video shows only about a dozen demonstrators in total.

    Weiss also took issue with students’ characterization of Sommers as a “fascist,” noting that she is “a self-identified feminist and registered Democrat.” As this piece illustrated, Weiss has a tendency to give incomplete and often inaccurate descriptions of her stories’ protagonists. In this case, Weiss failed to note that Sommers was a prominent voice in the anti-diversity “GamerGate” movement, has joined panel discussions alongside the likes of neo-Nazi sympathizer Milo Yiannopoulos and far-right troll Steven Crowder, has appeared on Fox News to argue against perceived liberal causes, and has been a guest on white supremacist YouTube channel Red Ice TV’s Radio 3Fourteen. The original version of Weiss’ article also referred to libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin as “a liberal commentator” who was supposedly “denounced as an ‘Anti-L.G.B.T. fascist’ and a ‘fascist lieutenant’ for criticizing identity politics.” But those criticisms of Rubin came from a parody Twitter account, and the references to him were later removed.

    In May 2018, Weiss published a piece about the so-called Intellectual Dark Web, a “collection of iconoclastic thinkers, academic renegades and media personalities who are having a rolling conversation — on podcasts, YouTube and Twitter, and in sold-out auditoriums — that sound unlike anything else happening, at least publicly, in the culture right now.” As Weiss framed it, the IDW is made up of freethinkers who dare to speak uncomfortable truths that exist outside the liberal mainstream. In reality, the IDW is a collection of trolls, harassers, and some outright bigots. Her pieces on the issue often feature many of the same rotating cast of characters. In the May article, Weiss namechecked Sommers and Ayaan Hirsi Ali (who was also referenced in her “We’re All Fascists Now” article). Additionally, there’s Bret Weinstein (who was the subject of Weiss’s story about Evergreen State College), Rubin (again), Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro (who she profiled in a fawning piece in September 2017), Joe Rogan, and others. Weiss paints these speakers as outcasts “in our new era of That Which Cannot Be Said,” but the truth is that these are some of the most watched and listened to commentators in the world.

    Since joining the Times, Weiss has cheered on cultural appropriation, written repeatedly of the perceived overreaches of the #MeToo movement, and made a laughably inaccurate prediction that “liberal lion of Hollywood and prominent donor to Democratic politicians” Harvey Weinstein would remain welcome in progressive circles following reports that he sexually abused numerous women.

    On Twitter, Weiss has made a habit of sharing stories by other authors related to college controversies. “The new normal on campus,” Weiss tweeted earlier this month, sharing a Commentary article by Jonathan Marks about the status of a pro-Israel student group being denied recognition at Williams College (the school did eventually recognize the group). Last June, Weiss shared a story by Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic warning of the “potential excesses of policing sex on campus.”

    Stephens has remarkably similar positions on political correctness and campus speech. While Weiss has tended to pull from her Intellectual Dark Web rogues’ gallery for stories about campuses, Stephens takes a slightly more macro approach and often focuses on what college liberals could be doing instead of protesting what he invariably sees as a wasted cause.

    In a February 2018 piece, Stephens chided liberals for not focusing their ire at Venezuela’s Maduro regime instead of whatever it is they’re protesting these days. He wrote:

    Every generation of campus activists embraces a worthy foreign-policy cause: Ending apartheid in South Africa; stopping ethnic cleansing in the Balkans; rescuing Darfur from starvation and genocide. And then there’s the perennial — and perennially unworthy — cause of “freeing” Palestine, for which there never is a shortage of credulous campus zealots.

    Then there are the humanitarian causes young activists generally don’t embrace, at least not in a big way. Cuba’s political prisoners. Islamist violence against Christians in the Middle East. The vast and terrifying concentration camp that is North Korea. Where are the campus protests over any of that?

    “Waiting on campus progressives everywhere to take bold stance against Malaysia….” Stephens tweeted in January, quoting a post about an anti-Semitic statement made by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

    Stephens’ list of campus complaints isn’t limited to student protests. In the month following his hiring, Stephens published the transcript of a commencement address he delivered at Hampden-Sydney College titled “Leave Your Safe Spaces.” In it, he referenced a 2014 mini-scandal at Brown University in which a student offered counter-programming for sexual assault survivors during an event in which the subject of sexual assault would be debated elsewhere on campus. Stephens criticized this move, writing that “if a college or university should accept the principle of a ‘safe space’ in a single designated room, why should that same principle not extend to the classroom, the lecture hall, dormitories, college newspapers, chat rooms, social media and so on?” He took that a step further, writing, “And if it is not O.K. to say certain things, anywhere, should we even think them?” In the span of just a few paragraphs, Stephens distorted the idea of giving people a space to relax for an hour into an Orwellian attack on free thought, making aggressive use of the slippery slope fallacy along the way.

    Stephens lauded the Trump administration (something he will be the first to say that he is loath to do) for its September 2017 decision to roll back Obama-era Title IX guidelines on campus sexual assault, calling the original Obama move “Exhibit A in the overreach of an administrative state pursuing a narrow ideological agenda through methods both lawless and aggressive.”

    In “America’s Best University President,” Stephens cheered University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer’s defense of the school’s stance on “trigger warnings” and school speakers. Again, Stephens invoked Orwell in making his argument for a campus speech free-for-all:

    If you can’t speak freely, you’ll quickly lose the ability to think clearly. Your ideas will be built on a pile of assumptions you’ve never examined for yourself and may thus be unable to defend from radical challenges. You will be unable to test an original thought for fear that it might be labeled an offensive one. You will succumb to a form of Orwellian double-think without even having the excuse of living in physical terror of doing otherwise.

    On Twitter, Stephens called a recent heckling of AEI’s Sommers “leftist fascism,” and he sneered at critics who protested conservative author Charles Murray at Middlebury University as “leftist enemies” of free speech.

    There wasn’t some glaring absence of articles about supposed anti-speech liberals on college campuses before the Times hired Stephens and Weiss.

    In 2014, Times columnist Ross Douthat compared the culture of “hypersensitive political correctness” on American college campuses with Kim Jong Un and the North Korean response to the movie The Interview. The following year, Douthat wrote, “I have little sympathy for the goals of these new activists,” and the Times’ David Brooks denounced what he called “a form of zealotry” among student activists. Timothy Egan capped 2015 by cheering, “Campus free-speech censors are on the run. Across the political spectrum, people have had enough of pampered college students who are afraid of words and ideas that offend them.” Douthat continued his campaign against liberal fragility on college campuses following the 2016 election, publishing a piece comparing campus protests to “religious revivalism.”

    And it’s not as though the Times’ other columnists have softened up since Stephens and Weiss came on board. In April 2017, Brooks wrote a piece that partly blamed “fragile thugs who call themselves students” for creating a “crisis of Western civilization.” That August, Douthat penned a column referencing the “fainting-couch politics of recent campus and online progressivism.” Brooks wrote a November 2017 article comparing “campus social justice warriors” with the gun lobby, and he would later heap praise upon New York University professor Jonathan Haidt and Harvard University psychology professor Steven Pinker for “bravely stand[ing] against what can be the smothering orthodoxy that inhibits thought on campus.”

    Not even the Times’ more liberal-leaning columnists can resist getting in a jab at campus liberals. In August 2017, Thomas Friedman wrote, “Political correctness on college campuses has run ridiculously riot.” Frank Bruni questioned whether colleges should adopt some sort of campus affirmative action program for conservative instructors, wrote an entire op-ed responding to a college newspaper’s opinion piece criticizing whiteness, slammed “illiberal liberalism” on college campuses, interviewed a professor who said, “The student became the customer who’s always right," and penned a somewhat sympathetic piece about Yiannopoulos, writing, “There’s too much policing of indelicate and injurious language and too little recognition that the wages of fully open debate are ugly words and hurt feelings."

    Not all cases of campus censorship are created equal, apparently.

    With so much going on right now in the world, you would think that there’d be less focus on a handful of college students at one campus or another protesting a speaker. At very least, you might expect that instances of conservatives shutting down progressive speakers would be discussed with the same regularity as those about liberals.

    Instead, readers are treated to a full-on case of free speech hypocrisy.

    One example of this involves progressive Jewish political cartoonist Eli Valley’s recent trip to Stanford University. Days before his scheduled appearance, the Stanford College Republicans posted flyers around campus containing some of Valley’s work alongside clippings from Der Stürmer, a Nazi-era German newspaper known for publishing vicious anti-Semitic propaganda. The group acknowledged that it did this in retaliation because posters for one of their events were covered up by posters of the group sponsoring Valley’s appearance.

    The groups bringing Valley to campus, Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace, took some of the blame for the backlash. In an op-ed for The Stanford Daily, the groups apologized for including Valley’s work, which is meant to be a grotesque and provocative political criticism, without the proper context. In response, The Stanford Daily published an opposing op-ed comparing Valley’s work to the propaganda of Joseph Goebbels, writing, “To apologize for the flyers but insist on continuing with the event is equal parts absurd and appalling.”

    This seemed like precisely the kind of campus controversy that would grab the attention of Weiss, Stephens, and the rest of conservative media: Here was a student group trying to intimidate a speaker out of appearing on campus as scheduled. On the principles of free speech and academic freedom, taking a stand for Valley seemed to be the obvious call. Instead, Weiss praised the article calling for Valley’s cancellation on Twitter, thanking its author.

    “Bari Weiss's attempt to get me de-platformed at Stanford, and her smear that my celebration of non-Zionist Jewish culture, politics, and art is tantamount to Nazism, should put an end to the myth that she is interested in a free exchange of ideas,” Valley said in a Twitter direct message. “She is interested [in] silencing the Left and in mainstreaming far-right ideology.”

    Valley’s view of Weiss is in line with her own history of activism and protest against pro-Palestinian Columbia University professors during her time at the school. Far from a proponent of across-the-board freedom of expression, she and the Times’ other columnists have been extremely selective about which stories get heard.  

    The idea that no-platforming and other efforts to control campus speech are tactics carried out primarily by students on the left is almost undoubtedly the result of outlets like the Times’ opinion section giving such incidents excessive amounts of coverage -- while essentially ignoring the many examples of conservatives trying to shut out speech they don’t like. You’re unlikely to read Bret Stephens’ take on the efforts of conservative students to use the court system to cancel a panel discussion about Palestinian rights at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. David Brooks isn’t likely to weigh in anytime soon on the University of Arizona students who were arrested on campus for criticizing Border Patrol agents. Ross Douthat didn’t churn out an article to condemn the Nebraska GOP for using its political influence to call on Creighton University to rescind its offer to have former-Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-NE) deliver its graduation speech.

    The New York Times has been publishing stories about a supposed campus speech crisis for more than 100 years.

    “Is free speech an essential part of the American college and university system? This question, never for long obscured, has again become of major importance,” wrote Ralph Thompson in the Times in 1935, quoting a school administrator saying that harmful political movements “will reveal themselves more evidently in the light of open discussion than in the obscurity of whispered argument.”

    The entire piece could have just as easily been written in the past couple of years, demonstrating that the moral panic surrounding campus speech is far from a new phenomenon. In fact, examples of Times articles about academic liberty and freedom of expression date back more than a century.

    In 1903, French sociologist M. Léopold Mabilleau decried the state of American higher education as a restrictive nightmare void of freedom of speech or expression. “It is necessary that the professor be able to think and speak as he chooses, even though his ideas be contrary to the opinions of the Trustees,” he told The New York Times, speaking of his experience lecturing at the University of Chicago. “This liberty does not exist in many of your American universities, many of which are founded by private individuals.”

    In 1970, the Times published an article warning that “leftist student agitation” in France was “contributing toward the rebirth of extreme rightist student movements of a fascist and antirepublican nature.”

    “The rightists are campaigning against Marxist dictatorship in the faculties and for ‘freedom of expression.’ The far leftists — followers of Mao Tse-tung and Trotsky for the most part — rally students against fascism. Each extreme feeds on the other,” reads the piece -- a line that wouldn’t sound at all out of place in today’s paper.

    If the idea behind hiring Stephens and Weiss was to expand the conversations unfolding in the Times opinion pages, their excessive focus on this specific topic gives little reason to believe this was a successful move. Repeating the same talking points that have peppered the paper’s opinion pages since 1903 isn’t some sort of bold expansion at all, but rather a retreat into what is essentially a “safe space” for milquetoast defenses of the status quo. Yes, the Times publishes work by many authors who aren’t on-staff columnists, and there certainly is some variety in their opinions. But if the paper of record wants to break new ground, its columnists will need to look further than the local campus for their next stories.

  • Howard Schultz’s cable news fantasy campaign

    The billionaire “centrist” has a powerful constituency in America’s green rooms

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Howard Schultz might be running for president and nobody knows why. No one asked him to run for president, and there was no existing political movement to recruit the billionaire former Starbucks CEO into a presidential campaign. The Schultz 2020 experiment just materialized out of nothingness, and in its short, cursed existence it has commanded outsized media attention despite the fact that pretty much everyone seems to hate it.

    Since he teased his potential candidacy, Schultz has been interviewed on 60 Minutes, Morning Joe, The View, Anderson Cooper 360, and various other high-wattage news programs. Though he hasn’t articulated a single policy, big-name columnists have bestowed their imprimatur upon the would-be candidate and he’s being credited by political analysts with “driv[ing] a sustained debate on both policy and politics.” Meanwhile, Fox News is having a love affair with Schultz and the prospect that he’d assist Donald Trump’s re-election by splitting the Democratic vote.

    There are two factors sustaining Schultz’s media blitz. The first and most obvious is that he’s a rich guy, and when a rich guy makes a splashy announcement -- no matter how misguided and self-serving it is -- the unwritten rules stipulate that he must be given credulous media attention.

    The second factor is Schultz’s embrace of the “centrist independent” mantle. The idea of a presidential candidate who floats serenely above the interparty squabbling of D.C. while uniting the country with an ideologically neutral platform is a fantasy, but it is a fantasy that holds deep influence among cable news pundits and other media figures. To the extent that Howard Schultz has a constituency, it exists largely in America’s green rooms.

    Schultz’s 2020 trial balloon is just the most recent misguided attempt by intensely deluded wealthy people to manufacture a centrist political movement out of nothing. Back in 2006, the Unity08 movement sprang up with the goal of nominating a bipartisan presidential ticket that would run on a platform chosen by online delegates. It couldn’t attract any real support and fizzled out after its founders joined a campaign to draft former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg into the presidential race (that campaign also failed).

    2010 saw the creation of No Labels, a well-funded but determinedly useless “centrist” organization that promises to end “fighting” but also practices clandestine partisan warfare. The 2012 election cycle bore witness to the Americans Elect catastrophe, in which $35 million of hedge-fund money was spent on a cockamamie scheme to break up the two-party system with an online presidential primary (no candidate reached the minimum threshold of support).

    The consistent failure of these third-party centrist movements doesn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm for third-party centrism among political pundits. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman gave his full-throated endorsement to Americans Elect. In 2016, Axios co-founder Jim VandeHei wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed proposing the creation of a new political party -- The Innovation Party -- that would “disrupt” American politics by making Mark Zuckerberg president. After Donald Trump was elected president, David Brooks wrote in The New York Times that “the most important caucus formation” in Trump’s Washington “will be in the ideological center” as envisioned by No Labels.

    Pundit enthusiasm for third-party centrism persists despite the fact that “centrism” has no appeal and no natural constituency. The fatal mistake all these centrist wishcasters make is in assuming that public frustration with left-right political gridlock will automatically translate into enthusiasm for someone who stands up and says, “That’s not me!” The centrist ethos is consistently defined by what it isn’t; groups like No Labels go to absurd lengths to show everyone that they’re neither “left” nor “right,” and in the process they reveal that they don’t actually stand for anything.

    And the centrist “agenda,” to the extent that it exists, is divorced from practical concerns that motivate voters. Schultz hasn’t proposed any detailed policies of his own, but he is singularly concerned about the national debt and has attacked Democratic proposals for health care and education as unaffordable. (Democratic candidates have also said they’ll increase taxes on the wealthy to pay for their programs, but Schultz opposes that, too.) Schultz’s whole pseudo-campaign has thus far consisted primarily of telling voters that Democrats are too extreme while mouthing vague slogans about unity.

    This drivel plays well with the pundit class, which will extend to Schultz the presumption of viability for no reason beyond his wealth and self-identification as a centrist. Asked about the left-wing backlash to Schultz’s potential candidacy, CNN’s Michael Smerconish declared himself “dumbfounded” and said: “Here’s a guy who tweets and then says, ‘I love America and I want to run for president -- I think -- as a centrist independent.’ Why aren’t we thanking him?” Schultz has been publicly exploring a candidacy for a handful of days and in that time hasn’t actually done anything to warrant gratitude from anybody, but that’s immaterial to pundits who see in him the independent centrist of their many-times-unrealized dreams.

  • The party of personal responsibility is now the party of “the libs made me do it”

    More than just a hit song by Taylor Swift, Look what you made me do has become the go-to excuse for unsavory actions among conservatives.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    You’d be surprised how many conservatives were this close to casting a ballot for Democrats next month only to be thrust back into their Republican ways by how liberal protesters and Democratic senators handled themselves during Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. No, I don’t have data to back this up. What I do have, however, are anecdotes -- lots and lots of anecdotes from conservative media figures who are sharing them, ever so kindly and not at all suspiciously, because they just want to help Democrats win some elections.

    “From a conservative who has been disgusted by the Trumpified GOP: ‘I didn’t think I could drag myself to the polls. But after the Left’s performance in the Kavanaugh affair, I would crawl across broken glass.’ I believe this sentiment is common,” wrote National Review’s Jay Nordlinger on Twitter.

    In his most recent Washington Post column, Hugh Hewitt stressed the importance of not rewarding the “outburst of the new McCarthyism” that was the opposition to Kavanaugh’s spot on the court. This lesson, of course, is for the Democratic Party’s own good -- and it’s one that can be taught only by increasing Republican majorities in the House and Senate. For Republicans who find themselves disapproving of President Donald Trump’s “hyperbole and occasional cruelty,” voting a straight-GOP ballot is a courageous sacrifice worthy of applause. Democrats can rest easy knowing that Hugh Hewitt, longtime friend of the left, has their best interests at heart. Or … something like that.

    “I’ve heard from several of my center-right friends today who are turned off by the Left’s attacks on Kavanaugh & Cruz. As a result, they have started solidly supporting them both,” wrote Daily Beast columnist and CNN commentator Matt Lewis on Twitter, sharing an “admittedly anecdotal” bit of info with his followers.

    Each of these stories could be thusly summed up: I didn’t want to vote for Trump or his congressional enablers … but look what you made me do. In other words, it’s your fault that we’re here.

    It’s a convenient defense to sidestep responsibility for actions or positions one knows to be ethically murky. For many conservatives, that includes supporting Trump and his oft-cruel agenda.

    One variation on this trope is the rejoinder, “This is how you got Trump.” Again on Twitter, Lewis reminds readers that though he’s spent years “lamenting the rise of what came to be called ‘Trumpism’ on the Right,” we should remember at least two of the real causes behind the phenomenon: “liberal media bias” and “the radicalization of the Left.”

    The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro has blamed the rise of Trump on a litany of factors: former President Barack Obama’s lectures; Hillary Clinton’s decision to participate in a sketch during the 2018 Grammy Awards (14 months after Trump’s election); a joke about salads; a tweet from MSNBC’s Chris Hayes about the cancellation of Roseanne; an admittedly bizarre HuffPost article titled “Why I Put A Dragonfruit Up My Butt…”; the response to a CNN segment in which Fox Sports Radio host Clay Travis said the only two things he believed in were “the First Amendment and boobs”; and, in the most meta example possible, the phrase “this is why Trump won.”

    Surely some of those were meant as jokes, but they illustrate something important within modern politics: No one can ever be to blame for their own actions. “How you got Trump” is that Republicans voted for him during the party’s 2016 primary and then went on to cast their ballots for him in the general election. Yes, of course there were other factors, such as Obama voters who crossed over to Trump, Democrats and independents who sat the election out, voter suppression and disenfranchisement efforts, and so on. None of them, however, were tweets, salads, or sketches during awards shows. Voters -- Trump voters -- gave us Trump. At least that would seem apparent.

    Sometimes, this tactic is deployed as a response, as it was during the Kavanaugh confirmation. Other times, it’s a warning against future action.

    Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s win during the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th Congressional District left some on the right flustered. A young, affable, progressive candidate who rose from obscurity to defeat a powerful incumbent could pose a threat to the conservative monopoly on power -- if more candidates like her were to emerge and succeed. Right-leaning commentators have since deployed a series of editorials urging Democrats, for their own sake, not to venture too far to the left.

    “Democrats need to choose: Are they the party of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or the party of Michael Bloomberg?” asked a June Business Insider article by Daniella Greenbaum. At The Atlantic, Reihan Salam wrote about Ocasio-Cortez as a sign that the Democratic Party may be in for an unwise shift to the left. Former George H.W. Bush staffer Lloyd Green warned at The Hill that “wealthy swing voters will not buy what Ocasio-Cortez is selling.”

    The promise, though sometimes unspoken, is that if the Democrats were to simply be a little more conservative, they would be able to cash in on the many disillusioned Trump voters. At The New York Times, David Brooks urged Democrats to make less of a fuss about right-wing attacks on abortion rights. Doing this, he surmises, would help them defeat the threat that Trumpism poses to the country and the world. Often, these articles are a request for just one little concession here or there -- maybe it’s to ease up on abortion; or maybe it’s to sit out the conservative battle against LGBTQ rights; or maybe it’s to adopt a more market-driven approach to health insurance. The message bombarding readers is that people on the left are forcing those on the right to march toward authoritarianism simply by being on the left. The underlying argument is that to be successful at the polls, Democrats need to abandon many of the things that differentiate them from Republicans -- which, in Greenbaum’s argument, involves becoming “the party of” a former Republican mayor -- or else conservatives will have no choice but to continue their rightward march.

    But if Trump is the type of existential threat to conservatism and country that National Review made him out to be in its “Against Trump” issue or that Shapiro sugested in a piece for The Daily Wire, then the “party of personal responsibility” needs to take it upon itself to reshape from within. Instead, right-wing media figures are rattling off reasons that it’s actually the fault of Democrats that Republicans became the party of Trump -- not because of their own choices, actions, and divisions.

    Trump himself uses this tactic in his own political battles. Take his immigration policy, for example.

    “It is now time for Congress to act!” Trump said in a 2017 statement announcing the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

    The meticulously crafted statement suggested that his hands were tied. As much as he wanted to keep the program in place, he had little choice but to send the issue back to Congress with hope that it would pass legislation to protect the undocumented immigrants here under the 2012 program. This, of course, was a farce. Trump had every right to leave the program in place while encouraging Congress to make it permanent. Instead, he turned the lives of nearly 700,000 people into a political bargaining chip attached to a ticking time bomb.

    “We want to see something happen with DACA,” Trump said in January. “It’s been spoken of for years, and children are now adults in many cases.” But did he actually want to have a DACA bill on his desk to sign? A number of Democrats (including California Sen. Dianne Feinstein) called on Republican leaders in Congress to vote on a clean bill to completely resolve the issue. In fact, at the same time Trump announced the plan to wind down DACA, the DREAM Act of 2017 had been languishing in the Senate for more than a month. He chose not to put pressure on Republican members of Congress (the bill did have Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Cory Gardner (R-CO) as co-sponsors) to pass the existing bill. Instead, he railed against inaction, making repeated claims that Democrats were the ones choosing not to protect DACA recipients, tweeting that Democrats were “nowhere to be found” on the issue, didn’t care, and were ultimately responsible for the fact that “DACA is dead” (DACA is actually still active as it faces challenges in courts).

    Not only were Democrats willing to act, but many crossed the aisle to provide a bipartisan solution which included an offer to fund his border wall. In response, Trump threatened to veto the bill were it to pass Congress. He went on to repeat this exact same strategy to defend his administration’s family separation policy, falsely blaming it on a “horrible law” that simply did not and does not exist.

    Just as some conservatives in the media can justify their support of Trump’s cruelest policies by blaming just about anything apart from their own decision-making (did you know that Saturday Night Live can lead the most disillusioned former Republican back into the party’s warm embrace?), Trump justifies his own policies by blaming his political opponents. Everyone is happy to take credit for making the right call when something is good -- there’s no shortage of positive coverage among conservatives when it comes to the “Trump economy” -- but blame gets spread far and fast when something has a negative outcome.

    One of the latest examples of this trend involves Trump’s own op-ed in USA Today. While there are a number of outright lies in the piece, there’s one that’s especially galling.

    “As a candidate, I promised that we would protect coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions and create new health care insurance options that would lower premiums,” reads the editorial. “I have kept that promise, and we are now seeing health insurance premiums coming down.”

    Trump has not kept his promise to people with pre-existing conditions, of course, instead painting Democrats as the party that wants to take away people’s access to health care. In fact, the administration is actively trying to gut protections for people with pre-existing conditions in court. On Wednesday, the Republican Senate voted down a measure to prevent a new rule put forward by the administration that would allow insurance companies to offer plans that exclude these crucial and popular protections.

    If and when those defenses erode, there’s little doubt that he will look to Democrats as he did during the DACA debate and shrug as if to say, “I really wanted to help. Really, I did. But look what you made me do.” His defenders are sure to join in. It’s the job of a responsible media to hold him to account.

  • Koch-funded groups mount PR and media campaign to fight carbon pricing

    Worried about momentum for carbon taxes, climate deniers go on attack via right-wing media

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters  

    A coalition of right-wing organizations is waging a multilayered attack to erode growing support for carbon pricing. Most of the groups involved have been funded by the Koch network or other fossil fuel interests.

    Several different carbon-pricing mechanisms -- variously backed by groups of progressives, Democrats, establishment Republicans, or business interests -- are being proposed at the state and national levels. To counter these initiatives, the right-wing coalition is running a public relations campaign featuring industry-friendly arguments and climate denial. Their advocacy includes exerting direct pressure on lawmakers to oppose carbon-pricing initiatives and placing op-eds in right-wing and mainstream media publications.

    The basics of carbon pricing  

    A carbon price is a cost attached to emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, intended to reduce those emissions. According to the World Bank, there are two main ways to price carbon:

    An ETS [emissions trading system] — sometimes referred to as a cap-and-trade system — caps the total level of greenhouse gas emissions and allows those industries with low emissions to sell their extra allowances to larger emitters. By creating supply and demand for emissions allowances, an ETS establishes a market price for greenhouse gas emissions. The cap helps ensure that the required emission reductions will take place to keep the emitters (in aggregate) within their pre-allocated carbon budget.

    A carbon tax directly sets a price on carbon by defining a tax rate on greenhouse gas emissions or — more commonly — on the carbon content of fossil fuels. It is different from an ETS in that the emission reduction outcome of a carbon tax is not predefined but the carbon price is.

    Some 45 countries and 25 states, provinces, and other subnational regions have implemented some variation of carbon pricing, including California and the nine Northeastern states that are part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

    Momentum is building for carbon-pricing policies

    Carbon pricing has almost no chance of being implemented on the national level anytime soon. The last serious push came early during the Obama administration when the U.S. House passed a cap-and-trade bill in 2009, but it died in the Senate in 2010.

    President Donald Trump opposes carbon pricing, as do the vast majority of Republican members of Congress. Nevertheless, the approach is gaining traction at the state level, and a growing number of business interests and establishment Republicans are promoting carbon-pricing proposals at the national level.

    • The Climate Leadership Council -- which is composed of a number of influential conservatives, including former Secretaries of State James Baker and George Schulz, and major oil companies and other corporations -- is one of the most prominent organizations advocating for carbon pricing. It launched in 2017 with the release of a report, “The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends.” Its proposal is known as the Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan.
    • In June, a new political action committee, Americans for Carbon Dividends, was launched to build support for the Baker-Shultz plan. It is co-chaired by former Sens. Trent Lott (R-MS) and John Breaux (D-LA), who both represented oil states.
    • Other conservative groups that support carbon pricing include republicEn and R Street.
    • Conservative thinkers who have endorsed carbon pricing or called for it to be given serious consideration include Weekly Standard editor at large Bill Kristol, New York Times columnist David Brooks, the Cato Institute's Peter Van Doren, and American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Aparna Mathur, among many others.
    • The nonpartisan Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which advocates for a carbon fee and dividend proposal, has a conservative caucus and counts Shultz and former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) as members of its advisory board.
    • Six House Republicans recently exhibited openness to carbon taxes by voting against an anti-carbon-tax resolution. Two years ago, no Republicans voted against a similar resolution.
    • Two House Republicans are pushing a carbon-tax bill. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), a member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, introduced the Market Choice Act on July 23. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) is the bill's co-sponsor.
    • A few congressional Democrats are also pushing carbon-pricing bills: Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and David Cicilline (D-RI) have introduced the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act, and Rep. John Larson (D-CT) has introduced the America Wins Act.
    • More than a dozen states have taken serious strides toward enacting a carbon price. Legislators in eight states have introduced carbon-pricing legislation in 2018 alone: Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington. In June, the Massachusetts Senate passed a carbon-pricing bill, which now goes before the state House. 
    • In January, nine states -- Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington -- formed the Carbon Costs Coalition, which is advocating for carbon pricing.
    • At the December 2017 One Planet summit held in France, two states -- California and Washington -- joined five Pacific Rim countries -- Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Mexico -- in committing to implement carbon pricing.

    Although some of the more conservative, oil-industry-backed carbon-tax plans are opposed by progressives, and the more progressive plans are opposed by conservatives and the oil industry, they all have one foe in common -- the Koch-backed anti-carbon-pricing coalition.

    Alex Flint, the executive director of the Alliance for Market Solutions, a group of conservative leaders who support carbon pricing, said in April, “Those who oppose a carbon tax are rallying their defenses for a reason: they see supporters gaining momentum.”

    A right-wing campaign against carbon pricing ramps up

    On July 19, the U.S. House voted 229 to 180 to approve a nonbinding resolution opposing a carbon tax, largely along party lines. Six Republicans voted against it, and seven Democrats voted for it. The anti-carbon-pricing coalition helped to make sure almost all Republicans were on the "yes" side.

    The measure had been introduced on April 26 by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), House majority whip and possible contender for House speaker, and Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) -- both climate deniers. The “sense of the House” resolution declared that “a carbon tax would be detrimental to American families and businesses, and is not in the best interest of the United States,” and it garnered 48 co-sponsors total. (Scalise had previously sponsored anti-carbon-tax measures in 2013 and 2016.)

    On the day the resolution was introduced, the leaders of more than 25 right-wing and industry lobbying groups released a letter calling on members of Congress to support it. "We oppose any carbon tax," the letter read (emphasis in original). On July 9, many of these same groups sent a follow-up letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) urging them to hold a vote on Scalise’s resolution. Groups sent one more letter to members of Congress on July 17, two days before the vote.

    The influential right-wing group Americans for Tax Reform, which signed onto all three letters, put out its own call for representatives to vote yes.

    Altogether, 51 groups signed at least one of the letters in favor of Scalise's resolution:

    At least 42 of the 51 groups (82 percent) have received money from the Koch network, a conglomerate of fossil fuel executives, donors, think tanks, and advocacy groups that work to advance the right-wing deregulatory and anti-environment objectives of the Koch brothers and their company, Koch Industries. Scalise is a recipient of Koch money too: In 2017 and 2018, KochPAC, a political action committee that represents Koch Industries, gave $105,000 to Scalise and to a PAC and leadership fund he runs.

    Koch Industries also weighed in directly in support of Scalise’s resolution by sending a letter to members of the House on July 16.

    The Koch brothers have waged a multimillion-dollar crusade to undermine acceptance of climate change and support for climate change solutions since the mid-2000s. Starting in 2008, the Kochs' main political advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, cajoled hundreds of elected officials, including many congressional Republicans, into signing its influential “No Climate Tax" pledge. “The pledge marked a pivotal turn in the climate-change debate, cementing Republican opposition to addressing the environmental crisis,” Jane Mayer wrote in The New Yorker last year.

    Right-wing groups' arguments against carbon pricing often feature the Kochs' libertarian talking points or straight-up climate-change denial.

    For example, the American Energy Alliance makes vague free-market arguments in a piece on its website titled “ICYMI: There’s Nothing Conservative About a Carbon Tax”:

    Simply calling something “conservative” or “free-market” doesn’t make it so. The Climate Leadership Council’s carbon tax is an affront to the principles that conservatives have championed for decades. Most important, a carbon tax would destroy American jobs, encourage more wasteful spending from Washington, and burden consumers with higher energy costs. You’d be hard pressed to find a more damaging policy for American families.

    The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a Koch-funded think tank that argued Scalise’s resolution understates the harm of carbon pricing, denied the well-established scientific consensus around human-caused climate change in its April 30 white paper, “Does a Carbon Tax Support Prosperity?”:

    There remain questionable fundamental issues about the way carbon dioxide affects the climate. Observed temperatures by sophisticated technologies greatly and consistently conflict with today’s widely accepted, although highly questionable, scientific consensus about the effects humans have on climate change.

    Conservative and right-wing media amplify the anti-carbon-tax campaign

    In the days after Scalise’s resolution was introduced, it was covered in the right-wing and conservative mediasphere and praised in op-eds by commentators from right-wing think tanks.

    • The Hill published an op-ed supporting the resolution, written by the authors of the Texas Public Policy Foundation's anti-carbon-tax white paper.
    • RealClearPolicy published an op-ed opposing carbon taxes in general, written by a researcher from the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
    • The Washington Examiner ran an op-ed from a Heartland Institute senior fellow praising the resolution and contending that a carbon tax would be "disastrous."

    Conservative outlets continued to publish anti-carbon-pricing opinion pieces from Koch-funded think tanks up until the House voted on Scalise's resolution.

    • TribTalk, a publication of The Texas Tribune, published an op-ed denouncing carbon taxes that was co-written by an author of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s white paper and a senior economist at the Institute for Energy Research. The latter is a Koch-funded partner group of the American Energy Alliance.  
    • RealClearEnergy ran an op-ed by staffers from the Texas Public Policy Foundation and ALEC that incorporated many of the white paper’s talking points.
    • The Daily Signal published an opinion piece co-written by an analyst and an intern from the Heritage Foundation that promoted Scalise's resolution and denounced the Baker-Shultz plan.
    • The Washington Examiner published an op-ed from Americans for Tax Reform’s director of strategic initiatives that endorsed the Scalise resolution.

    After Scalise’s resolution passed, anti-carbon-pricing groups took a brief victory lap before quickly turning their attention toward attacking Curbelo’s carbon-tax bill.

    • The Daily Caller wrote about Americans for Tax Reform’s press conference, highlighting opposition to Curbelo’s proposal: "Conservative and anti-tax groups from around the world joined together to speak against a carbon tax bill that has been introduced in Congress." 
    • Reason published an article contending that Curbelo’s bill could raise privacy concerns for businesses.
    • The Miami Herald published a letter to the editor attacking Curbelo’s legislation from the president of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a group that has sided with polluters in other fights over environmental issues.
    • The Washington Examiner published an op-ed co-written by staffers from the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance that argued Curbelo's bill would be "a costly failure."
    • Forbes published a piece attacking carbon-pricing proponents written by an executive for Americans for Tax Reform.
    • CNSNews published an op-ed from a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute that bashed Curbelo's bill.
    • The Star Beacon, an Ohio newspaper, published an op-ed from the president of American Commitment condemning Curbelo’s bill.
    • The Washington Examiner published an opinion piece by an analyst from the Family Business Coalition that attacked progressives’ “delusional tax reform ideas,” including proposals for a carbon tax.

    Anti-carbon-pricing coalition enlists minority groups in its campaign

    The anti-carbon-pricing coalition is also trying to make it look like its effort has the support of minority communities -- a strategy the polluter lobby has used often. The National Black Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Leadership Fund, two Koch-funded minority groups with long histories of opposing climate solutions, were enlisted as signatories on the coalition's letters endorsing Scalise's anti-carbon-tax resolution.

    National Black Chamber President Harry C. Alford gave a quote to Scalise to support his resolution: “We can continue to reduce regulations and watch our economy rise with the recent tax reform. Bringing unnecessary hurdles before us like a carbon tax will preclude that growth and hurt our economy immensely.” Alford, a climate denier, has previously opposed the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to impose smog restrictions on factories and power plants and to reduce carbon emissions from coal plants through the Clean Power Plan. The National Black Chamber of Commerce also led a disinformation campaign against rooftop solar in Florida in 2016.

    The Hispanic Leadership Fund participated in Americans for Tax Reform's press conference criticizing Curbelo's bill. In 2015, the fund joined with other Koch-aligned groups in asking a federal judge to vacate the Clean Power Plan. In 2009, it co-sponsored a Heartland Institute conference on climate change, which was based on the premise that “Global Warming is Not a Crisis.”

    The Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is also part of the anti-carbon-tax effort. Its president wrote a letter to the editor of the Miami Herald opposing Curbelo’s legislation. In 2016, the group supported a utility-backed ballot measure designed to restrict consumer access to rooftop solar power in Florida.

    These efforts are especially harmful because minority and low-income communities suffer disproportionately from the burning of fossil fuels and the impacts of climate change and minorities are generally more concerned about climate change than white people. 

    Taking the fight to the states

    Curbelo’s bill won’t be passed into law by this Congress, and the Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan and other national carbon-pricing proposals won’t get much if any traction this year either. But in a number of states, carbon-pricing measures are gathering more support and have more chance of being enacted. The right-wing, anti-carbon-pricing coalition wants to halt this trend, so it's at work on the state level too. Media Matters will examine these state-focused efforts in a forthcoming piece.

  • David Brooks needs to shut up

    The NY Times columnist believes gun violence will be solved by “respect” for toxic gun culture

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    David Brooks is back on his bullshit. Ever since Donald Trump was elected president, the New York Times columnist has become an outspoken proponent of ideologically vacant centrism as the one and only solution to toxic partisanship and intractable tribalism. The fact that “the center” of Brooks’ dreams has no political appeal, no coherent philosophy, and no agenda beyond tongue-clucking rebukes of partisanship is of no concern to him; it can and will fix everything simply by scolding everyone in Washington to be polite to one another.

    Brooks’ ridiculous faith in this feeble worldview animates his column this morning on gun regulation. Under the impossible-to-parody headline “Respect First, Then Gun Control,” Brooks argues that the way to prevent more gun massacres like the one that left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, is for proponents of stricter gun laws to show unlimited deference to gun-rights extremists and cede them control of the legislative agenda:

    If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it is that guns have become a cultural flash point in a nation that is unequal and divided. The people who defend gun rights believe that snobbish elites look down on their morals and want to destroy their culture. If we end up telling such people that they and their guns are despicable, they will just despise us back and dig in their heels.

    So if you want to stop school shootings it’s not enough just to vent and march. It’s necessary to let people from Red America lead the way, and to show respect to gun owners at all points. There has to be trust and respect first. Then we can strike a compromise on guns as guns, and not some sacred cross in the culture war.

    It feels almost gratuitous to critique this passage given how self-evidently devastating it is to Brooks’ ridiculous centrist fetish. Here we see Brooks attempt to confront the gravely serious and deadly problem of gun violence, and his paramount concerns are: 1) the reputations of elites such as himself, 2) the civility of public discourse, and 3) “compromise.” What would that compromise look like? Brooks has no idea and makes no attempt to work it out. That’s because he doesn’t actually care -- compromise for the sake of compromise is the goal, the details don’t matter.

    This is also the absolute worst political advice one could offer to someone who wants to clamp down on gun violence. Brooks’ strategy for success is for the most vocal and committed proponents of gun restrictions to keep quiet and fade into the background so “Red America” can take the lead on implementing their agenda. His rationale for this course of action is that the outrage felt by “Red America” over perceived threats to “their culture” must be the first consideration, and should be shown greater deference than outrage felt over dead schoolchildren. This is completely backwards and demonstrates appalling ignorance of how political change happens.

    The “culture” of maximalist gun rights that casts even the slightest move toward gun regulation as a tyrannical assault on freedom is the product of intense and effective activism by gun-rights extremists. That “culture” is toxic and actively impedes all good-faith efforts to address gun violence -- Congress has done nothing in response to horrific massacres and violent attacks on its own members because Republicans have decided that escalating body counts are less politically threatening to them than gun-rights activists. “Red America” has been “leading the way” on gun regulation for a long time, and look where it’s gotten us.

    The fact that Brooks views this rotten “culture” not as a problem to be fixed but as a totem to be respected is a testament to how powerful uncompromising political activism is (and how stupid Brooks is).

    The key to passing better gun laws isn’t to be unfailingly polite and deferential to the politicians and poisonous culture that brought us to our current blood-soaked state of affairs in the vague hope that they will someday allow a “compromise.” If bad lawmakers make any meaningful federal gun legislation impossible, the solution is to insist on better lawmakers. The only way to do that is through sustained and vocal activism of the sort David Brooks finds so very rude and counterproductive.

  • David Brooks gets everything wrong about abortion after 20 weeks

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    After The New York Times published an op-ed by columnist David Brooks claiming Democrats need to support a 20-week abortion ban to remain electorally competitive, several media outlets and pro-choice groups wrote responses that called out Brooks’ inaccurate assumptions. These responses not only highlighted how 20-week bans are based on junk science, but also underscored how the reality of later abortions makes support for abortion access a winning issue for Democrats.

  • The Guide To Donald Trump's War On The Press (So Far)

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has an extensive history of attacking the media, and his campaign and supporters have joined in the fight throughout the election. The nominee, his surrogates, and his supporters have called media outlets and reporters across the spectrum “dishonest,” “neurotic,” “dumb,” and a “waste of time,” and until recently, the campaign had a media blacklist of outlets that weren’t allowed into campaign events.

  • ANALYSIS: Notable Opinion Pages Included Denial In Coverage Of Paris Climate Summit

    ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    Media Matters analysis found that four of the ten largest-circulation newspapers in the country published op-eds, editorials, or columns that denied climate science while criticizing the international climate change negotiations in Paris, including The Wall Street JournalUSA Today, the New York Post, and The Orange County Register. Altogether, 17 percent of the 52 opinion pieces that the ten largest newspapers published about the Paris conference included some form of climate science denial, and many of them repeated other myths about the climate negotiations as well.

  • Pundits Who Toasted Bush's "Base" Campaign Strategy Now Attack Democrats For Same Thing

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Is there a "right way" and a "wrong way" to win elections? Is it "too easy" for presidential candidates to simply win more electoral votes than their opponents? Or are they responsible, for the sake of our democracy, to try to win big?   

    That odd debate was sparked this week by the New York Times in a widely, widely ridiculed article that seemed to chastise Hillary Clinton's campaign for not trying to win over swing voters and voters in deeply red, Republican states. Despite the ridicule, the "narrow path" critique was quickly embraced by columnists David Brooks at the Times and Ron Fournier at National Journal, who attached ethical implications to the campaign strategy.

    Fournier complained that simply winning more votes than your opponent in 2016 is definitely the "wrong way" to get elected. "It's not the right path." Brooks agreed, insisting that by not spending an inordinate amount of time, money and resources chasing swing voters, Clinton would be making a "mistake." Worse, it's "bad" for "the country."

    Sure, she might be elected. Sure she might be able to lead the country in a direction she wants and beat back Republican initiatives she thinks are bad for the country. But it would all still be a terrible "mistake," according to Brooks.

    Why? The optics wouldn't be right. It's too "easy." Because entire presidencies are now determined by how elections are won. If races are won the "wrong" way, the four-year term is a waste. Because national elections in a deeply divided nation are supposed to be unifying events. Or something. (Did I mention this "narrow path" critique has been widely, widely ridiculed?)

    But here's the thing: The campaign tactic of getting out the core supporters to vote in big numbers not only proved hugely successful for President Barack Obama, which means the Clinton team would be foolish to not try to replicate it, but that strategy was first championed by Karl Rove during President George Bush's 2004 re-election run. And guess what? The Beltway press toasted Rove as a political genius for the so-called "base" blueprint.

  • The Curious Way New York Times Columnists Are Covering Hillary Clinton

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Promoting his latest column deriding Hillary Clinton for being chronically unethical and a lot like Richard Nixon, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni took to Twitter to suggest the Democrat's campaign constituted "psychological torture," which definitely sounds bad. Unsubtly headlined "Hillary the Tormentor" (because she inflicts so much pain on Democrats, apparently), Bruni's effort was unusually overwrought even by his dramatic standards.

    In his column, the essayist outlined concerns from two nameless "Democrats," who viewed Clinton as "tainted" and guilty of creating "ugly, obvious messes." One source was so "disgusted" he wants "never to lay eyes on [Hillary] and Bill again."

    Turns out that same day, fellow Times columnist Ross Douthat also made Clinton the focus of his column and he also dinged the candidate. Far less excited than Bruni's effort, Douthat nonetheless made it clear that Democrats supporting Clinton should consider themselves "warned" for when things go terribly wrong if she's elected president.

    So on the same day, two different Times columnists attacking the Democratic frontrunner; a candidate who enjoys historic and unprecedented support among the party's faithful. It was just a case of bad timing for Clinton's on the Times opinion pages, right? Just a coincidence where not one but two columnists for the supposedly-liberal newspaper of record unloaded on her?

    Not quite.

    In truth, the Bruni-Douthat tag team was a rather common occurrence among Times columnists, some of whom have banded together this year to publish a steady stream of attacks on Clinton. (Yesterday, columnist David Brooks announced Clinton's electoral strategy is all wrong, and that it's bad for America.) What's unusual is that the conveyor belt of attacks hasn't been balanced out by clear signs of Clinton support among Times columnists. More importantly, the Times' odd brand of Clinton wrath has not been duplicated when columnists assess Republicans.

    Searching essays written by Times columnists this year, I can't find a one that unequivocally supports the Democratic frontrunner. (There have been passing sentences and paragraphs of support, but nothing focused or thematic by columnists.) By contrast, I can count more than two dozen that have focused on attacking her.

    Is the New York Times under any obligation to employ a columnist who supports Clinton? Of course not. But it's worth noting that Clinton enters this campaign season with more Democratic support than perhaps any non-incumbent frontrunner in recent party history, yet the New York Times hasn't published an opinion column in support of her possibly historic run. (The Times has published editorials backing parts of her agenda.)

    Increasingly, the Times is facing criticism about its off-kilter Clinton coverage and its, at-times, odd obsession with the Democratic candidate. Is that attack-dog mentality also playing out on the opinion pages?

  • David Brooks Ignores NYT's Reporting To Defend Indiana's "Religious Freedom" Law

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA

    New York Times columnist David Brooks ignored his paper's reporting to defend Indiana's controversial new "religious freedom" law, misleadingly equating it with its federal version and misrepresenting the reason it has sparked such widespread opposition.

    Indiana has been embroiled in controversy since it passed its version of a "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" (RFRA), a law that has been used to provide a legal defense for individuals and businesses who cite their religious beliefs as a justification for discriminating against gay people, even in lawsuits that don't involve the government.

    In his March 31 column, Brooks joined a number of conservative defenders of the law in falsely suggesting that Indiana's measure is no different than the federal RFRA signed into law in 1993. Brooks also erroneously stated that opponents of Indiana's dangerous expansion of the federal RFRA (and previous state versions) are not respecting the "valid tension" between religious belief and permissible discrimination, when in fact the main objection to the law is that Indiana has upset the previous balance to further undercut antidiscrimination protections:

    The 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was supported by Senator Ted Kennedy and a wide posse of progressives, sidestepped the abstract and polarizing theological argument. It focused on the concrete facts of specific cases. The act basically holds that government sometimes has to infringe on religious freedom in order to pursue equality and other goods, but, when it does, it should have a compelling reason and should infringe in the least intrusive way possible.

    This moderate, grounded, incremental strategy has produced amazing results. Fewer people have to face the horror of bigotry, isolation, marginalization and prejudice.

    Yet I wonder if this phenomenal achievement is going off the rails. Indiana has passed a state law like the 1993 federal act, and sparked an incredible firestorm.

    If the opponents of that law were arguing that the Indiana statute tightens the federal standards a notch too far, that would be compelling. But that's not the argument the opponents are making.

    Instead, the argument seems to be that the federal act's concrete case-by-case approach is wrong. The opponents seem to be saying there is no valid tension between religious pluralism and equality. Claims of religious liberty are covers for anti-gay bigotry. [emphasis added]

  • The Worst Part Of Paul Ryan's Poverty Plan Is Based On A Media Myth

    ››› ››› BEN DIMIERO & HANNAH GROCH-BEGLEY

    Rep. Paul Ryan's poverty proposal, which would in part punish impoverished Americans for not getting themselves out of poverty on a specific timeline, is based on the conservative myth pushed by right-wing media that blames poverty on individuals' "spirit" and personal life choices. Experts say poverty is the result of systemic inequality and lack of opportunity.

  • Myth and Facts: Economic Inequality

    ››› ››› ALBERT KLEINE & CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Conservative media figures have sharply criticized the recent push by Democratic politicians to alleviate poverty and reduce economic inequality. However, most of this criticism is grounded in a number of myths about the causes, effects, and importance of growing economic inequality in the United States.

  • David Brooks Blames Single Mothers For Their Poverty

    Blog ››› ››› HANNAH GROCH-BEGLEY

    David Brooks

    David Brooks has a problem with single mothers.

    The New York Times opinion columnist scapegoated unmarried moms for their poverty in his January 16 column, joining a chorus of media figures who have ignored basic economics to suggest that marriage is a magic-bullet solution to poverty.

    Brooks claimed that "someone being rich doesn't make someone poor," arguing that discussions of income inequality have been too focused on disparities in wealth and not focused enough on the "fraying of social fabric" and the "morally fraught social and cultural roots of the problem," which he pinned in part on single motherhood (emphasis added):

    There is a very strong correlation between single motherhood and low social mobility. There is a very strong correlation between high school dropout rates and low mobility. There is a strong correlation between the fraying of social fabric and low economic mobility. There is a strong correlation between de-industrialization and low social mobility. It is also true that many men, especially young men, are engaging in behaviors that damage their long-term earning prospects; much more than comparable women.

    Low income is the outcome of these interrelated problems, but it is not the problem. To say it is the problem is to confuse cause and effect. To say it is the problem is to give yourself a pass from exploring the complex and morally fraught social and cultural roots of the problem. It is to give yourself permission to ignore the parts that are uncomfortable to talk about but that are really the inescapable core of the thing.

    First, Brooks is wrong on the basic arithmetic of income inequality. As economist Elise Gould at the Economic Policy Institute has explained, "if it had not been for growing economic inequality, the poverty rate would be at or near zero today." This is because without inequality, economic growth would be shared equitably among all income levels; instead, since the 1970s, growing inequality has increased poverty, as the rich benefit more from economic growth.

    Income inequality over time

    Second, the "problem" of single motherhood is not that mothers aren't married; it's that significant numbers of unmarried mothers don't have access to basic support systems like childcare, paid family and medical leave, and family planning -- necessary social supports that Brooks dismisses in favor of fearmongering about "fraying of social fabric."

    The recently released Shriver Report on women's economic realities in America found that economic policies and programs that improve access to education and child care can do more to help decrease economic hardship for women than marriage ever could. Karen Kornbluh, former ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, also noted that childcare, after-school programs, and health care reform would provide single mothers the needed flexibility to work more secure and economically beneficial jobs.

    If poverty were simply an effect of unmarried parenthood, it would seem logical that both single mothers and fathers would face similar experiences. But the Shriver Report also found that single mothers spend more on housing than single fathers, and most likely work minimum-wage jobs. Poverty, and income inequality, are the results of structural economic problems, which disproportionally affect women -- not the other way around.

    Shriver Report: Women and Poverty Chart(Image: Shriver Report, via Feministing)

    Media figures who insist that single mothers are to blame for their own poverty ignore these economic realities, and distract from the conversation we should be having: that all families, regardless of structure, need access to basic social goods like equal pay, family planning, and childcare; benefits which economists have shown would improve the economy and reduce poverty for everyone.