Ramesh Ponnuru | Media Matters for America

Ramesh Ponnuru

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  • Trump pushes false anti-abortion talking point claiming there's a lack of public support for Roe​

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    In a recent interview, President Donald Trump repeated a right-wing, anti-abortion talking point alleging that Americans’ support for abortion is evenly divided. This talking point -- and Trump’s comment -- has emerged as part of the push to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and to paint any warnings about his likelihood of overturning of Roe v. Wade as overblown.

  • When The Trump Bar Is Set So Low, He’s A Success Even When He Threatens To Imprison Hillary Clinton

    Blog ››› ››› OLIVIA KITTEL

    Conservative media figures have succeeded in setting the bar so low for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump that they were astonishingly able to champion his October 9 debate performance as a success despite his threat to “jail” Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, his admission that he evaded paying federal income taxes and that he hasn’t spoken with his running mate on crucial foreign policy issues, and his claim that his caught-on-tape sexual assault boasts were just “locker room” banter.

    Many right-wing media figures have spent the entire election aiding the Trump campaign by lowering the bar for Trump to declare success -- saying that so long as he doesn’t “vomit all over himself and [he gives] a decent” performance, he’ll succeed.

    The October 9 debate at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, was no exception. Right-wing media figures declared Trump’s debate performance a “win” despite numerous low points:

    It's not just right-wing pundits. Even CNN’s Jake Tapper called the debate “a wash” immediately afterwards, saying that Clinton won on policy and temperament while Trump was “erratic,” and CNN’s Michael Smerconish asserted that “the night belongs to Donald Trump” because “he was able to pivot away” from the tape of him boasting about committing sexual assault and was “barely controlled.” Fox News media critic Howard Kurtz said that “when you consider the sheer media hell that Donald Trump has been through in the last 48 hours, [his debate performance] has to be considered at least a moral victory.”  

    Several conservative media figures championed Trump for “exceed[ing] expectations” of a “crash and burn,” saying he won because he “stayed alive,” and “did well enough to not drop out”:

  • "Shut It Down": The Government Shutdown Conservative Media Built


    Conservative media have paved the way for a government shutdown by championing Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and uncritically hyping deceptively-edited smear videos by the Center for Medical Progress -- even though state and federal investigations continue to find no wrongdoing by the health provider.

  • 9 Right-Wing Media Myths About The Hobby Lobby Case, Debunked


    The Supreme Court will soon decide Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, a case that could let owners of for-profit, secular corporations ignore the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and provide health insurance that does not cover preventive benefits like contraception. Right-wing media continue to advance multiple myths to support the owners of Hobby Lobby, despite the fact that these arguments have been repeatedly debunked by legal experts, religious scholars, and medical professionals.

  • Bill O'Reilly Thinks He Knows More About Civil Rights Law Than Sonia Sotomayor

    Blog ››› ››› MEAGAN HATCHER-MAYS

    Despite having no apparent understanding of Supreme Court precedent, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly still managed to accuse Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor of being wrong about civil rights law.

    On April 22, the conservative justices of the Supreme Court effectively overruled an important strand of equal protection jurisprudence in Schuette v. BAMN, upholding a voter-approved state constitutional amendment that banned the consideration of race in admissions at Michigan's public universities. Right-wing media were enthusiastically supportive of the decision as they simultaneously insulted the intelligence of Sotomayor, and O'Reilly was no exception.

    On the April 24 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly dedicated his "Talking Points Memo" segment to praising the Court's decision in Schuette. O'Reilly's misunderstanding of that decision, as well the Court's prior case law, became immediately apparent when he erroneously claimed affirmative action policies violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment because "if an individual American gets a preference, then he or she is not being treated equally with everyone else."

    O'Reilly went on to argue that Sotomayor, who wrote a powerful dissent in Schuette, "is clearly wrong, constitutionally speaking":

  • National Review Goes All In For Anti-Gay Discrimination

    Blog ››› ››› LUKE BRINKER

    National Review has established itself as a staunch proponent of allowing business owners refuse service to gay and lesbian customers. It's a position that unfortunately aligns with National Review's record of attacking defending discrimination against marginalized groups, including its shameful opposition to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950's.

    For months, National Review's staff has worked to invent bogus justifications for anti-gay business discrimination, condemning non-discrimination efforts as a form of government overreach. Long before states like Kansas and Arizona sought to pass laws allowing business to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers, National Review was championing business owners who had been sued for engaging in anti-gay discrimination.

    In August, after the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled unanimously that photographer Elaine Huguenin violated the state's Human Rights Act by refusing to photograph a same-sex couple's commitment ceremony, National Review joined other right-wing media outlets in their howls of outrage. At National Review Online, NRO contributor and Heritage Foundation fellow Ryan T. Anderson blasted the ruling as a sign that social conservatives had been "driven to the margins of culture," with "religious believers" and "the truth about marriage" under judicial assault.

    NRO also took up the mantle of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple. In a one-sided interview published under the headline "Let Him Bake Cake in Freedom," NRO editor-at-large Kathryn Jean Lopez framed Phillips, whom a state judge ruled had violated Colorado's anti-discrimination law, as a victim of anti-Christian persecution. Lopez wondered what the "future of freedom" looked like in a world where businesses couldn't turn away LGBT customers.

    Given its support for anti-gay businesses, it was unsurprising that National Review cheered the introduction of several state license-to-discriminate bills this winter.

    After USA Today columnist and Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers penned a column denouncing Kansas' bill as an example of "homosexual Jim Crow laws," Anderson took to NRO to defend anti-gay business practices as protected under "freedom of association and freedom of contract." Anderson saw "religious liberty and the rights of conscience," not the rights and dignity of LGBT customers, at stake. 

    As national attention turned toward Arizona following the demise of the Kansas bill, support for anti-gay segregation measures became National Review's official editorial position. Following the Arizona legislature's passage of S.B. 1062 - which would have protected businesses from being sued for anti-gay discrimination - the National Review's editors published a February 24 editorial urging Republican Gov. Jan Brewer to sign the measure. The "necessary" bill, the editors wrote, simply affirmed the ethos of "live-and-let live."

    The "potentially dangerous" implications of bills like S.B. 1062 were enough to cause even Fox News - with some notable exceptions - to backtrack on its baseless religious liberty crusade. 

  • Myths & Facts: Half-Baked Obamacare Lawsuits Edition


    Right-wing media continue to pretend that dozens of conservative lawsuits challenging various provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are principled legal challenges to supposed overreach from the Obama administration. In reality, these lawsuits are radical attacks on well-established law, and have been widely rejected by both legal experts and the courts.

  • NRO Editor: Corporations' Religious Rights Way More Important Than Freedoms For Actual Human Beings

    Blog ››› ››› MEAGAN HATCHER-MAYS

    National Review Online Senior Editor Ramesh Ponnuru dedicated his Bloomberg View column to misleading about two unprecedented Supreme Court cases that could make it easier for for-profit, secular corporations to refuse to provide insurance coverage to its employees that includes comprehensive preventive care.

    On November 26, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, two cases that would allow some corporations to obtain exemptions from the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA already provides exemptions and accommodations for non-profit, religiously-affiliated organizations like churches and hospitals -- but the plaintiffs in Hobby Lobby and Conestoga are for-profit businesses that sell crafts and wood cabinets, respectively.

    But that didn't stop NRO's Ponnuru from complaining that the contraception mandate runs afoul of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) because it imposes a "substantial burden" on Hobby Lobby and Conestoga. Ponnuru insisted that corporations are well within their rights to refuse to pay for coverage of preventive care such as contraception for their employees, but didn't seem to mind that allowing corporations to dictate the personal health choices of its employees could very well infringe on those employees' religious beliefs.

    From Ponnuru's December 1 editorial:

    From reading the New York Times, you might think that religious conservatives had started a culture war over whether company health-insurance plans should cover contraception. What's at issue in two cases the Supreme Court has just agreed to hear, the Times editorializes, is "the assertion by private businesses and their owners of an unprecedented right to impose the owners' religious views on workers who do not share them."

    That way of looking at the issue will be persuasive if your memory does not extend back two years. Up until 2012, no federal law or regulation required employers to cover contraception (or drugs that may cause abortion, which one of the cases involves). If 2011 was marked by a widespread crisis of employers' imposing their views on contraception on employees, nobody talked about it.

    What's actually new here is the Obama administration's 2012 regulation requiring almost all employers to cover contraception, sterilization and drugs that may cause abortion. It issued that regulation under authority given in the Obamacare legislation.

    The regulation runs afoul of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a Clinton-era law. That act says that the government may impose a substantial burden on the exercise of religious belief only if it's the least restrictive way to advance a compelling governmental interest. The act further says that no later law should be read to trump this protection unless it explicitly says it's doing that. The Affordable Care Act has no such language.

    Is a marginal increase in access to contraception a compelling interest, and is levying steep fines on employers who refuse to provide it for religious reasons the least burdensome way to further it? It seems doubtful.

    Ponnuru's characterization of these lawsuits as entirely mainstream is misleading. Although the Supreme Court held in Citizens United that corporations had the right to engage in political speech without undue government restrictions, for the Court to hold that a corporation is a "person" capable of religious belief or conscience would be a radical reimagining of both First Amendment and corporate law precedent. As David Gans of the Constitutional Accountability Center pointed out, "it is nonsensical to treat a business corporation as an actor imbued with the same rights of religious freedom as living persons. No decision of the Supreme Court has ever recognized such an absurd claim."

  • On Eve Of Another Republican Filibuster, National Review's Ponnuru Falsely Accuses Democrats Of Court-Packing

    Blog ››› ››› MEAGAN HATCHER-MAYS

    Bloomberg columnist and National Review editor Ramesh Ponnuru picked up the repeatedly debunked right-wing media myth that President Barack Obama is "court-packing" because Senate Democrats are trying to hold up-or-down votes on nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

    In addition to the fact that filling vacant seats is not actually "pack[ing] the court," the term used to describe FDR's failed attempt to add more seats to the Supreme Court, Ponnuru includes a variety of discredited falsehoods in his column as reasons why Republicans should continue to block Obama's judicial nominees, regardless of their stellar qualifications and bipartisan endorsements.

    From his November 12 Bloomberg column:

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he intends to force a vote this week on the nomination of Cornelia Pillard to the court. Pillard's is one of three nominations Republicans are opposing. They say the Democrats are trying to pack the court. The Democrats say they're just trying to fill vacancies, and argue that the Republicans' behavior is so abusive they'll restrict the filibuster if it continues.

    Republicans should remember what happened the last time we had such a fight, and they shouldn't give in.

    Starting in 2003, the Democratic minority embarked on an unprecedented series of filibusters to stop President George W. Bush's appointments to appeals courts. Back then, Republicans said there was a crisis of judicial vacancies needing to be filled. Democrats replied that the courts, especially the D.C. Circuit, were underworked and that the Republicans were trying to pack the courts with like-minded judges. Now the sides are reversed, and so are the talking points.

    As it happens, the Republicans have the better of the current argument. They aren't conducting a "blockade" that violates past norms. President Barack Obama's nominees are getting confirmed at a faster pace than Bush's were at the same point in his presidency. One of Obama's nominees, Sri Srinivasan, was unanimously confirmed in May.

    And the D.C. Circuit now has even less work than it did when Democrats were blocking nominees. Merrick Garland, the court's chief judge and an appointee of President Bill Clinton, informed the Senate that the number of oral arguments per active judge has fallen over the past decade. So have the number of written decisions issued and appeals taken. Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, says that one judge on the circuit wrote to him to argue that "there wouldn't be enough work to go around" if more were appointed. Grassley has introduced a bill that would shrink the circuit by three seats, and urges the administration to fill vacancies in other circuits.

    I'll let you in on a little secret: Nobody on either side of this debate actually cares about how big the circuit's caseload is. What they care about is the court's ideological balance.

    Ponnuru goes on to assert that the D.C. Circuit "is actually balanced between Democratic and Republican appointees." This is not the first time right-wing media have trotted out faulty math to to try and argue that the D.C. Circuit is somehow ideologically balanced -- but it just isn't true. In fact, there are six judges on the court who have taken "senior status," a form of quasi-retirement that allows those judges to hear panel cases. Of the six judges who have taken senior status, five are Republican appointees. Far from being "balanced" ideologically, conservative justices outnumber their more liberal counterparts 9 to 5. 

  • NRO Pushes For Partisan Lawsuits To Block Americans From Affordable Insurance

    Blog ››› ››› MEAGAN HATCHER-MAYS

    National Review Online is hyping a partisan lawsuit aimed at obstructing the ability of working Americans to obtain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as one that Republican governors should be "especially eager" to join.

    The NRO applauded the Oklahoma attorney general for filing a lawsuit challenging the federal government's authority to offer tax credits in the new health insurance Exchanges set to open on October 1, blasting the "lawless" fashion in which the Obama administration is implementing the ACA. From Ramesh Ponnuru's September 25 column:

    The attorney general of Oklahoma has filed a lawsuit that, if successful, would cripple Obamacare by challenging the lawless way the Obama administration is implementing it. (Implementing it lawfully, that is, would cripple it.) Most states have not created exchanges, and in those states the law as written does not authorize the administration to offer tax credits-and, because of that, limits its ability to impose its penalties on employers and individuals. As far as I can tell, there would be no downside for conservative attorneys general to launch their own lawsuits-or for Republican politicians at the state and federal level to support them, whether by filing briefs or speaking on their behalf.


    I'm persuaded that the merits of the case are on the side of Oklahoma. I suspect, though, that courts will have an easier time seeing it that way if politicians help to create a sense that it is a respectable position and not something coming out of left field.

    Though NRO is "persuaded" that Oklahoma has a winning case in its goal of denying affordable health insurance to low- and moderate-income people, it appears to be only one of a few. The legal argument Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is making is an extremely strained reading of what is, at worst, an unintended ambiguity in the ACA. Pruitt is essentially arguing that, if a state refuses to establish its own exchange, the federal government is not legally permitted to provide crucial tax subsidies to consumers attempting to buy insurance through the default federal exchange instead. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities notes that this counterintuitive reading of the law is clearly incorrect -- participants must be eligible for tax credits regardless of whether they obtain insurance through a state-run or federally-run exchange. The affordable care law is designed to make the federal exchanges affordable.

  • Right-Wing Media Continue To Deny Pro-Business Agenda Of Roberts Court

    Blog ››› ››› MEAGAN HATCHER-MAYS

    Justice Roberts and Sen. WarrenDespite increasing evidence of a pro-corporate slant in recent Supreme Court decisions, right-wing media continue to insist that there is no such bias.

    In a Bloomberg View editorial, National Review Online senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru accused Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) of "hyperbolic" grandstanding because she accurately cited a comprehensive study that showed that the current Supreme Court of the United States is one of the most pro-business in history. Ponnuru's September 16 editorial called Warren's statements the result of "flawed thinking":

    Citing "a recent study"... she said: "The five conservative justices currently sitting on the Supreme Court are in the top 10 most pro-corporate justices in a half-century -- and Justices Alito and Roberts are numbers one and two -- the most anti-consumer in this entire time."


    The study doesn't tell us what Warren thinks it does, or anything we should care about. It gives equal weight to every vote by a justice, even though decisions plainly vary in importance for businesses, and for everyone else. It ignores decisions that matter a great deal for businesses but don't have business litigants.

    Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case Western University, notes that the study excludes Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, one of the two or three most important Supreme Court cases for business of the past decade. The court ruled that the Clean Air Act authorizes the EPA to fight global warming. Because neither named party in the case was a business, the study excludes it.

    The study that Ponnuru dismisses, "How Business Fares in the Supreme Court," analyzed nearly 2,000 Supreme Court decisions over the last 65 years. Although Ponnuru doesn't say so, the study was co-written by esteemed--and conservative--federal judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. It has been described, even by its detractors, as "the most comprehensive examination of the Supreme Court's handling of business-related cases in the post-New Deal era."

  • National Review Downplays Ryan-Akin Radicalism on "Personhood" and Abortion

    Blog ››› ››› SERGIO MUNOZ

    The National Review has attempted to distract from  Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) and Rep. Todd Akin's (R-MO) support of the extreme "Sanctity of Human Life Act" -- legislation that equates abortion and contraception to murder -- by neglecting to mention its relevance to Akin's rape comments and falsely asserting potential bans on abortion aren't a concern. But it is the act's radical redefinition of a fertilized egg as a person that Akin was defending with his imaginary claim that "legitimate rape" does not lead to pregnancy, and the fact that voters in conservative states have rejected similar "personhood" laws merely demonstrates how far outside the mainstream Ryan and Akin are.

    In their move to distance conservative media from Akin's comments, the editors of the National Review called for Akin to withdraw his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. However, this calculated abandonment of Akin for announcing a right-wing view that the National Review acknowledges, but prefers kept under wraps, ignores the resurgent movement to criminalize all forms of abortion. By omitting the relevance of the Sanctity of Human Life Act to Akin's comments and the editorial's  claim that "no state is going to ban abortion in the case of rape even if Roe v. Wade is overruled," the editorial is perpetuating frequent contributor Ramesh Ponnuru's attempts to gloss over Ryan and Akin's hostility to reproductive rights.

    Indeed, the National Review's misdirection is even more apparent now that it appears the 2012 Republican platform will once again support a so-called "human life amendment" to the Constitution that would criminalize abortion in all circumstances. Furthermore, not only is the National Review's reassurance on state abortion bans irrelevant if reports on the GOP platform are accurate, it is wholly misrepresentative of recent state efforts to infringe on women's constitutional rights. In fact, conservative-leaning states have seen multiple attempts at "personhood" bills similar to Ryan and Akin's legislation. This fall, Colorado will likely again have a "personhood" ballot initiative presented to its voters, even though the unconstitutional measure just failed in Mississippi and was held "void on its face" in Oklahoma by the state Supreme Court.

    Accordingly, it is unsurprising that Akin's apology for becoming "nationally notorious...for saying something stupid" was specifically only for the "words I said" in reference to rape and not for "the heart I hold," wherein presumably all abortion is criminalized pursuant to "personhood" legislation. A radical criminalization that, the National Review fails to mention, could also apply to in-vitro fertilization, stem-cell research, most forms of contraception, and even miscarriage

  • Note to Politico: Not all Christians are white & conservative

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Once again, a news organization seems to think the only people of faith who matter are white, conservative people of faith. This time it's Politico:

    But it turns out (big surprise) that by "Christian voters," Politico meant "conservative Christian voters."

    Though several moderate to conservative evangelical pastors support the president, polls show that a significant percentage of conservative Christians remain skeptical about Obama's sincerity when it comes to the values that he says they share, and many say they doubt his faith. [Emphasis added]

    Oh, and it also turns out that Politico meant white Christian voters:

    During the 2008 presidential election, voting patterns show Obama won modest but significant swaths of religious voters, winning a higher percentage of Protestant, Catholic and Jewish voters than John Kerry did in 2004.

    But according to a recent Pew Research poll, more white evangelicals erroneously believe that Obama is Muslim than those who believe he is Christian, and 42 percent say they don't know what religion he practices at all. [Emphasis added]

    That's the only polling data Politico offers in support of its claim that "Christian voters" are abandoning Obama: poll data about white evangelicals. The entire article is about conservative, evangelical voters. (The word "conservative" appears eight times in the article.)

    It's like Politico has forgotten that non-whites and non-conservatives can be Christians, too. Which is odd since the photo accompanying the article shows President Obama speaking to what appears to be a largely African-American congregation:

    I can only assume Politico's headline writers understood that "Conservative white evangelicals don't like Obama" isn't exactly news, and that understanding led to the conflation of conservative white evangelicals with all Christians.

    Meanwhile, here's a recent Pew finding Politico didn't mention:

    Most Republicans (57%) see the GOP as friendly to religion, which is little changed from last year (59%). However, the proportion of white evangelicals saying the Republican Party is friendly to religion has slipped, from 53% last year to 46% today.

    So, white evangelicals, a core GOP constituency, are "losing faith" in the Republican Party -- but Politico ignores that and runs an article conflating the skepticism of President Obama among white evangelicals with the views of all Christian voters.

    I've previously addressed the conflation of "observant Catholics" with "white, non-Hispanic Catholics" by the Washington Post and Ramesh Ponnuru. Also related: Byron York's weird suggestion that President Obama's approval among African Americans doesn't really count.

  • Dept. of Lousy Comparisons

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Peter Wehner and Ramesh Ponnuru think they've caught Bill Clinton in an act of hypocrisy. Here's Wehner, writing about Clinton's denunciation of dangerously overheated rhetoric:

    The problem for Mr. Clinton is that his concern about the dangers of incendiary rhetoric seems to have taken flight during the two terms of the Bush presidency, as well as during his own. Regarding the former, there was, for starters, the 2006 film, The Death of a President, on the assassination of President Bush. Mr. Clinton did not, to my knowledge, condemn the movie in a front-page story in the New York Times or in a major speech.

    Ponnuru joins in:

    Former president Clinton--who, as Peter Wehner reminds us, didn't raise a peep when liberals were writing novels and making movies about assassinating President Bush--got into the act over the weekend, suggested that today's anti-government rhetoric could encourage bloodshed.

    A few facts about The Death of a President make it a pretty lousy comparison. First, it was a British film, not an American one, which undercuts Ponnuru's attempt to equate today's overheated right-wing rhetoric with previous liberal speech. Second, nobody saw it. The movie grossed a meager half a million dollars in the US, and was in theaters for only 14 days. It was utterly insignificant, which goes a long way towards explaining why Bill Clinton didn't bother to condemn it.

    By the way, Hillary Clinton did weigh in, calling the movie "despicable" and "absolutely outrageous" and adding "That anyone would even attempt to profit on such a horrible scenario makes me sick."