Media Matters: Limbaugh's Off the Wall spin on Michael Jackson's death

Mama-Say-Mama-Saw-Mama-Would have to hear it to believe it. While fans the world over mourn the passing of the King of Pop, the King of Talk, Rush Limbaugh, put the death of Michael Jackson this way: He “flourished under Reagan,” “languished under Clinton/Bush, and died under Obama.”

Mama-Say-Mama-Saw-Mama-Would have to hear it to believe it. This one doesn't really need much of a setup.

While fans the world over mourn the passing of the King of Pop, the King of Talk, Rush Limbaugh, put the death of Michael Jackson this way: He “flourished under Reagan,” “languished under Clinton/Bush, and died under Obama.” Over on MSNBC, both David Shuster and Chuck Todd poked Limbaugh for his unsavory take on the tragedy, with Todd quipping, “It's always Reagan, right?”

Meanwhile, El Rushbo's pals over at Fox News knew exactly how to interpret the wall-to-wall coverage of Jackson's death. An actual Fox News chyron alleged a “cover-up” because the media were devoting more coverage to Jackson than cap-and-trade legislation. Lord, the fun one could have using this very rationale to pick apart the stories Fox chooses to cover. I guess when you're a hammer, everything is a ... wild conspiracy designed to frighten your audience and fan the flames of their paranoia.

Other major stories this week:

Ricci-ing for the absurd

Several weeks ago, conservatives took a first run at undermining the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor. But their everything-and-the-kitchen-sink attack plan -- charging that she is an unqualified, Marxist, radical activist and a reverse racist/normal racist who is also, interestingly, far too empathetic to be on the Supreme Court -- fell flat under the weight of serious examination.

This week, however, offered another opportunity for media conservatives to revisit their central criticism: that Sotomayor's “wise Latina woman” comment was a window into the prejudicial soul of the judge who ruled against hard-working white firefighters (and a Hispanic firefighter) simply because they weren't black.

First, the facts. On Tuesday, ABC's Bob Woodruff misstated the crux of the case, reporting that Ricci v. DeStefano involved firefighters “passed over for promotion in favor of less qualified black candidates.” In fact, no one was promoted over anyone else. Rather, the results of a test to determine which members of the New Haven Fire Department could receive promotions were thrown out because city officials were unhappy with a racial disparity in the results and stated they feared being sued for racial discrimination. In the decision that Sotomayor joined denying en banc rehearing of the appeal of the district court's decision, Judge Barrington Parker -- a George W. Bush appointee -- wrote that “the City acted out of a concern that certifying the exam results would have an adverse impact on minority candidates” -- a view that fit cleanly within previous Supreme Court precedent. That decision was overturned by the 5-4 vote of the Supreme Court on Monday.

Instead of looking at the legal merits of the case, conservatives have drawn the conclusion that Sotomayor was actively seeking to promote African-American firefighters at the expense of everyone else. The Washington Times opined that the case showed how, "[i]n Judge Sotomayor's America, people are judged by the color of their skin, not the content of their character." Investor's Business Daily chimed in as well: “The Supreme Court's overturning of high-court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's ruling in the New Haven firefighter case exposes what lies at the core of her misguided philosophy: stark racial favoritism.”

Of course, Limbaugh, who has accused Sotomayor of racism on numerous occasions since her nomination was announced, was the most vocal: “Sonia Sotomayor was following her basic instinct: She is racist.”

Most judges nominated by Democrats are accused by the right of being radicals, and Sotomayor is no different -- numerous efforts were made this week to portray the court's reversal of Ricci as proof of Sotomayor's inherent radicalism. But the fact of the matter is, four Supreme Court justices, including Justice David Souter, whom Sotomayor was nominated to replace, agreed with her -- a fact that conservatives have done their best to cover up.

A number of media conservatives subsequently claimed that the court had unanimously rejected Sotomayor's reasoning. Ed Whelan (who can't use The Google) and Kathryn Lopez of National Review Online started the trend ( “9-0 Against Sotomayor” ), followed quickly by Fox News' Laura Ingraham and Rush. Ingraham's Fox News colleague Sean Hannity wasn't far behind. In fact, while Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent that "[o]rdinarily, a remand for fresh consideration would be in order" and that “I would not oppose a remand for further proceedings fair to both sides,” she concluded, consistent with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision, which Sotomayor joined: "[W]hat this case does not present is race-based discrimination in violation of Title VII."

Furthermore, an article in Politico promoted the myth that a Supreme Court reversal is unusual, even though the court has reversed more than 60 percent of the federal appeals court cases it considered each year since 2004. In doing so, Politico was following The Washington Times, which had already argued that such an outcome would be an “extraordinary rebuke” of Sotomayor. It should come as no surprise, then, that Fox's Alexis Glick impartially described the ruling as “a major slap” to Sotomayor. And for MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, the whole episode showed that it isn't just Sotomayor who is out of touch: nearly half of the Supreme Court is, too.

When the AP and The New York Times failed to note false statements by Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, they revealed just how far-reaching the problematic reporting on Sotomayor has become. It's clear that plenty of work needs to be done to ensure that she will have a fair hearing when she finally comes before the Senate. At least Jonathan Capehart is bringing some rationality to the discussion.

Franken victory sparks conservative media panic-fest

This week, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Al Franken be officially certified as the winner of last fall's U.S. Senate election in the state. Shortly after the decision came down, former Sen. Norm Coleman conceded defeat, making it clear he wouldn't launch additional legal efforts to stop Franken from being seated.

Conservatives in the media were beside themselves. Franken, after all, made a handsome living sparring with the likes of Fox News, Limbaugh, and, perhaps most notably, Bill O'Reilly (still must see TV after all these years.)

Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade -- or "brown-haired guy who isn't Steve Doocy," as Stephen Colbert would say -- epitomized the conservative media's response to the official Franken victory. First, he was “in denial,” describing Franken as someone who “is barely sane.” Then he confessed that “it hurt” to call Franken “a senator from Minnesota” and wondered about “who's safe now.” He wasn't done quite yet -- he would go on to call Franken an “embarrassment,” “hateful,” “maniacal,” “angry, evil,” and a “bitter partisan.”

Kilmeade was hardly alone at Fox. It seems the entire network was "in denial." Saying a lot more about himself than Franken, Glenn Beck said, “This is like having me in the Senate. ... [I]t shows that we've lost our minds.”

Limbaugh wasn't too happy with Franken's win, either. He compared the Iranian recount to the Minnesota Senate recount and called Franken a “genuine lunatic” to boot. Clear Channel's Jim Quinn shared Rush's assessment, saying Franken had “stolen” the election while pegging ACORN as a likely culprit. Is there anything media conservatives won't blame on ACORN?

Proving once again that the real joke during this hyper-extended campaign was not the fact that a former comedian might win, but the way the media covered the long legal battle, Politico's Mike Allen claimed Franken prevailed because "[h]e shut his mouth, and when you are Al Franken, that's not easy to do," while MSNBC's Mike Barnicle said that it was “kind of a surprise” that Franken “behaved like a responsible adult.”

The global warming whistleblower who wasn't

It's hard to believe, but some conservatives aren't convinced that global warming is real. In fact, some of them think it's a left-wing, anti-American conspiracy, nothing more than propaganda pushed by the liberal media and traitorous members of Congress, all in the hope of turning you into eco-slaves. Scared yet? So is Fox News' Dick Morris, who, when it comes to this issue, is apparently one-third sane.

It's no wonder, then, that the conservative media sighs with relief when somebody wakes up and tells the truth! Someone honest and courageous. Someone like Alan Carlin, a "legendary" EPA official and co-author of an internal document disproving global warming -- a document that the agency then "suppressed," presumably stomping on it with a Birkenstock.

According to the EPA's own records, Carlin is an economist, not a climate scientist -- something Fox's Steve Doocy and Gretchen Carlson ignored when they hosted him on Wednesday to discuss his work. Furthermore, the report he authored made a false and deceptive claim: that global temperatures “have declined for 11 years,” a reality he said the EPA ignored. Fox News duly reported it as gospel, as did, without context or correction.

In fact, the EPA did review Carlin's work and decided it was flawed. No wonder, as Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeler at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, described it as possessing “a number of basic flaws” and demonstrating a “complete lack of appreciation of the importance of natural variability on short time scales.”

But who is a scientist like Schmidt to criticize someone who ... isn't a scientist? I mean, how about a little respect? Heck, even a reputable publication like The Washington Times says the earth is getting cooler. Let's not lose our heads here.

This week's media columns

This week's media columns from the Media Matters senior fellows: Eric Boehlert explains how ABC News debunked the Obama “honeymoon” myth; Jamison Foser looks at Howard Kurtz's wasted opportunity; and Karl Frisch lets us in on the right's super-secret 2010 census plan to end all plans.

Buy the book

Don't forget to order your autographed copy of Eric Boehlert's compelling new book, Bloggers on the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press (Free Press, May 2009).

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This weekly wrap-up was compiled by Karl Frisch, a senior fellow at Media Matters. Frisch also contributes to County Fair, a media blog featuring links to progressive media criticism from around the Web as well as original commentary.