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  • Hillary Clinton, Comedians, And How Conservatives Turned An Anonymous Phone Call Into A Clinton Conspiracy

    Slate Explains How Conservative Media Can Create Hillary Clinton Smears

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Slate columnist Michelle Goldberg explained how an unfounded accusation spread throughout conservative media, claiming that Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign team tried to force Laugh Factory to take down a video about her.

    According to the right-wing organization Judicial Watch, "Hillary Clinton's campaign is going after five comedians who made fun of the former Secretary of State in standup skits at a popular Hollywood comedy club." Judicial Watch claimed that a Clinton staffer called Jamie Masada, the comedy club's founder, asking for the names of the actors and for the video to be taken down.

    In her November 19 Slate post, Goldberg explained that the threat to Masada came from an anonymous call that was not confirmed to be from Clinton's campaign and detailed how the unfounded accusation spread through right-wing media, despite the fact that Masada could not verify that anyone from Clinton's campaign had actually contacted him:

    In short order, right-leaning sites including NewsBusters, NewsMax, Mediaite, the Daily Caller, and the Daily Mail aggregated the accusation.

    This seemed bizarre. Even if you buy the most grotesque right-wing caricatures about Clinton's humorlessness and authoritarianism, it's hard to believe that the campaign would be so clumsy, especially at a time when it's going out of its way to make the candidate seem fun. Such a demand would only reinforce the worst stereotypes about Clinton while ensuring that the offending video went viral. Besides, there's nothing in the video itself to attract the campaign's notice: It's less than three minutes long and is mostly stale cracks about Hillary's clothes and age, along with familiar insinuations that she's a lesbian. One of those insinuations is even admiring: "I would love if you become president, divorce Bill, and then you marry a bitch," says Tiffany Haddish.

    Yet there was Masada--a man who has won awards from the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP, and has no discernable right-wing agenda--quoted as saying, "They threatened me. I have received complains before but never a call like this, threatening to put me out of business if I don't cut the video."

    Masada doesn't actually know that the call came from the Clinton camp.


    How does Masada know that John was actually from the Clinton camp? He doesn't. "I'm glad I'm not in politics or any of that stuff; you might know more than I do," he says. "Maybe it was a prank, I have no idea. Was it real? Not real? I have no idea. He didn't call back, that's all I can say." Nor is Masada sure how Judicial Watch even heard about the call. "The way I understand it, it's because one of the [Laugh Factory] employees told a couple of people," he says.


    What we have here is a small-scale demonstration of how the Hillary smear sausage gets made. It starts with a claim that's ambiguous at best, fabricated at worst, and then interpreted in the most invidious possible light. The claim is reported in one outlet and amplified on Twitter. Other outlets then report on the report, repeating the claim over and over again. Talk radio picks it up. Maybe Fox News follows. Eventually the story achieves a sort of ubiquity in the right-wing media ecosystem, which makes it seem like it's been confirmed. Soon it becomes received truth among conservatives, and sometimes it even crosses into the mainstream media. If you watched the way the Clintons were covered in the 1990s, you know the basics of this process. If you didn't, you're going to spend the next year--and maybe the next nine years--learning all about it.

  • Right-Wing Media Baselessly Warn Of International Climate Change Court That Would Punish U.S.


    Conservative media are baselessly fearmongering that the upcoming climate change negotiations in Paris will create a United Nations "court" with the power to punish the U.S. for its "climate debt" and implement a massive redistribution of wealth from the U.S. and other wealthy nations to developing countries. These media figures are referring to a proposal by Bolivia to establish an "International Tribunal of Climate Justice" to deal with countries that fail to comply with an international climate change agreement, but the Tribunal is reportedly "a non-starter with almost every other country going to the Paris talks," and experts believe there are more feasible methods along the lines of nuclear non-proliferation treaties for ensuring countries meet their climate-related commitments.

  • Tabloid Science Infiltrates House Climate Hearing

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Source: Greenpeace/TAZZ2013 via ThinkProgress
    False claims popularized by the media in recent weeks were used as fodder in a Republican hearing to cast doubt on global warming. 

    The House Energy and Power Subcommittee interrogated cabinet officials Gina McCarthy and Ernest Moniz on Wednesday in a hearing that Organizing for Action dubbed "DenierPalooza." Committee members have accepted over $12 million from the fossil fuel industry in 2013 alone, and a majority are known to deny the science demonstrating manmade global warming. During the hearing, several false claims about climate change that originated in the media were repeated as fact. 

    An egregious claim advanced by British tabloid The Mail On Sunday was recited by Congressman David McKinley (R-WV) in an effort to claim that global warming isn't happening, asserting "Arctic ice has actually grown 60 percent." Congressman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) also cited the Mail, stating "I recently read an article that stated that the Arctic ice had nearly a million more square miles of ocean covered with ice than at this time of year."

    However, these claims were based on a typographic error from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), later corrected. The NSIDC found the Arctic sea ice increase was actually half of what the Mail reported: about 500,000 square miles of ice were added to the Arctic from the previous year (not one million), an increase of 29 percent.

    Regardless of this error, it is misleading to use these figures to argue that we are experiencing "global cooling" (as did the Mail On Sunday), as 2012 was a record low for Arctic ice, and some increase in ice extent was expected. Even with the increase, the August 2013 average sea ice extent was about 70 percent less than the 30-year average -- the Arctic is still experiencing rapid sea ice decline in the long-term, mostly due to global warming. Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment concluded that the article was "deliberately misleading." 

    As misinformation from British tabloids about climate change has been magnified by American conservative media in the past several weeks, it was only a matter of time before inaccuracies permeated Congress and entered the political debate. 

  • Right-Wing Media Already Falling For O'Keefe's Latest Smear Campaign

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Conservative activist James O'Keefe released a new highly edited video that he's using to suggest there are widespread problems with a government program that provides phones and phone service to low-income Americans.

    The Lifeline phone program, which according to the Federal Communications Commission "provides discounts on monthly telephone service for eligible low-income consumers to help ensure they have the opportunities and security that telephone service affords, including being able to connect to jobs, family, and 911 services," has existed for decades and was expanded to include cell phones during the Bush administration. Conservatives have criticized the program repeatedly, which they have called the "Obama phone" for years.

    O'Keefe's video, which coincides with the launch of his self-congratulatory book, purports to show O'Keefe's actors receiving free cell phones after telling employees of a wireless phone company that they plan to sell the phones to pay for drugs, other purchases, or bills. The edited video includes a narration by O'Keefe asking if the employees would tell his actors "to sell the phones and break the law."

    The raw footage that O'Keefe also released doesn't show any of the featured employees telling the actors to sell their free phones, despite the actors repeatedly saying that they intend to do so and asking about their resale value. As New York magazine's Jonathan Chait explained, the employees only acknowledged that personal property, in the form of these cell phones, can be sold by their owners to buy other things. The raw footage also shows that none of the actors actually received a free phone -- only information about how they could apply for a free phone and the eligibility requirements to receive one, with the actors walking away saying they'd bring their documentation later.

    But O'Keefe's edited video is fulfilling its intended effect and is fooling right-wing media. The Daily Mail Online's David Martosko, who wrote the exclusive article about O'Keefe's video, falsely wrote in his headline that the video "catches wireless employees passing out 'Obama phones' to people who say they'll sell them for drugs, shoes, handbags and spending cash." Martosko again wrote that the video:

    [S]hows two corporate distributors of free cell phones handing out the mobile devices to people who have promised to sell them for drug money, to buy shoes and handbags, to pay off their bills, or just for extra spending cash.

    Again, the raw footage shows that the actors who stated their intention to sell free phones for these reasons never actually received phones.

    Fox News has teased a segment on the O'Keefe video for Tuesday's edition of The O'Reilly Factor. Will Fox fall for O'Keefe's misleading framing?

  • Reasons To Be Wary Of The Daily Mail's Saudi Letter "Exclusive"

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    The UK's Daily Mail has an "EXCLUSIVE" story this morning on the government of Saudi Arabia reportedly sending a letter to the Department of Homeland Security in 2012 warning about suspected Boston marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. It's being promoted heavily by conservative bloggers and is, at the moment, featured on The Drudge Report. There is ample reason, however, to take this story with a massive grain of salt. As it's reported, the story is extremely thin, and its two authors have a history of wildly inaccurate reporting.

    According to the Daily Mail, the "Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sent a written warning about accused Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2012, long before pressure-cooker blasts killed three and injured hundreds." The report is based on a single anonymous source: a "senior Saudi government official with direct knowledge of the document." By all indications, the Daily Mail did not obtain a copy of the letter, and they quoted officials in DHS and the White House denying that any such letter was received.

    The paper even acknowledged that they could not confirm their source's claims: "If true, the account will produce added pressure on the Homeland Security department and the White House to explain their collective inaction after similar warnings were offered about Tsarnaev by the Russian government." [emphasis added] The paper also seemed unable to confirm which intelligence agency produced the document: "The letter likely came to DHS via the Saudi Ministry of Interior, the agency tasked with protecting the Saudi kingdom's homeland."

    As for the Saudi source, despite claiming to have "direct knowledge" of the document, he offered vague and arguably contradictory descriptions of its contents, describing it as "very specific" about its warning that "something was going to happen in a major U.S. city." And, curiously, the Saudi source claimed the same letter was sent to the British government, but the Daily Mail report offered no indication that the paper contacted British intelligence services to confirm or deny this.