Lies, Distortions, And Smears: How Right-Wing Media React To Obama's Nominees And Appointments

Throughout the Obama administration, conservative media have responded to the president's nominees and executive appointments with lies about processes, distortions of nominees' own words, and smears about nominees' past actions, with the goal of convincing Senate Republicans to obstruct the nominees or force Obama to withdraw them from consideration or relieve them of their appointments.

Lies About Precedent And Ideological Stances Are Staples Of Right-Wing Media Reaction To Obama's Judicial Nominees

Conservative Media Ignored History To Suggest Elena Kagan's Lack Of Past Judicial Service Was A Disqualifier For Supreme Court Position. In May 2010, after Elena Kagan was nominated to serve on the Supreme Court, conservative legal commentator Ed Whelan suggested that prior service as a judge was a key qualification to being nominated to the Supreme Court, even though at least 38 other justices had no prior judicial experience when they were appointed. Whelan later misrepresented an article Kagan wrote to claim that she believed it a necessity to have previous judicial experience, even though she specifically stated that this wasn't necessary. The Daily Caller also pushed Republican claims that Kagan's lack of a judicial record would prevent senators from having “a vigorous debate about [her interpretation of] the law.” [Media Matters, 5/10/10]

Right-Wing Media Falsely Labeled Sonia Sotomayor A “Reverse Racist” And “Bigot” For Emphasizing Importance Of Judicial Diversity For Civil Rights Cases. In 2001, Sonia Sotomayor delivered a speech to the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, in which she specifically mentioned the importance of diversity among judges to determining race and gender discrimination cases, saying in part, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.” Right-wing media distorted her speech in May 2009 when she was nominated to the Supreme Court to smear her: Radio host Rush Limbaugh called her a “reverse racist,” radio host Mark Levin said he believed she “is a bigot,” Fox host Megyn Kelly said her remarks were “reverse racism” and denied Sotomayor “was taken out of context,” and many others in conservative media blasted her statement as “racist.” [Media Matters, 5/27/09]

Right-Wing Media Smeared Cornelia Pillard As Having “Radical Feminist” And “Militant” Views For Supporting Mainstream Liberal Opinions On Gender Equality And Reproductive Rights. Right-wing media repeatedly smeared Cornelia “Nina” Pillard when she was nominated to the D.C. Circuit Court in 2013 over a legal article she wrote in 2007. The piece referenced former Chief Justice Williams Rehnquist's conservative condemnation of gender stereotypes in the seminal gender equality case Nevada Dept. of Human Resources v. Hibbs. Right-wing media accused her of being a “radical feminist” pushing “militant feminism,” even though half of the Supreme Court agreed with her perspectives on reproductive rights and abortion. [Media Matters, 11/25/13; 9/19/13; 7/19/13; 7/24/13]

Conservative Media Distorted Legal Opinion To Smear David Hamilton As Anti-Christian. In November 2009, when David Hamilton was being considered for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, right-wing media smeared him as anti-Christian over a ruling he made on prayer in legislatures, where he wrote that prayer in the Indiana House of Representatives “should refrain from using Christ's name.” These media outlets portrayed the ruling as “Jesus, No, But Yes to Allah.” In fact, the ruling struck down all sectarian prayer in the Indiana legislature -- not just the words “Jesus Christ” -- and allowed prayers that made “non-sectarian” references to God in any language. [Media Matters, 11/3/09; 11/11/09]

Washington Times Falsely Claimed Goodwin Liu Is “Beholden To Foreign Law.” In April 2010, when Goodwin Liu was being nominated for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, a Washington Times editorial distorted a 2006 law review article Liu wrote to claim he is “beholden to foreign law.” But Liu did not write that foreign law should be controlling legal precedent; he just approvingly cited Supreme Court decisions that looked to foreign law for guidance, decisions he would be obligated to follow if confirmed to the position. [Media Matters, 4/21/10]

Right-Wing Media Falsely Labeled Caitlin Halligan A “Radical Choice” For Federal Bench. Right-wing media outlets misleadingly claimed in 2011 that Caitlin Halligan was a “radical choice” for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, despite the support she had from numerous law enforcement personnel, prominent attorneys from across the political spectrum, and nearly two dozen people who clerked for Supreme Court justices, including conservative justices. [Media Matters, 12/2/11]

During Sri Srinivasan's Nomination, Conservatives Parroted GOP Lies That Attempting To Fill Judicial Vacancies Is Similar To “Court Packing.” When then-Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced plans to revisit filibuster reform in mid-2013 to overcome unprecedented GOP obstruction of President Obama's executive and judicial nominees, including the nomination of Sri Srinivasan to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, right-wing newspaper editorials parroted false comparisons made by Republicans that the selection of judges like Srinivasan was similar to the court-packing plan of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. [Media Matters, 5/20/13; 5/24/13]

Right-Wing Media Similarly Smeared Obama's Executive Nominees For Upholding Legal Principles And Engaged In Racial Attacks

Fox Smeared Debo Adegbile As “Cop Killer's Coddler.” A Fox News host in January 2014 smeared Department of Justice civil rights division nominee Debo Adegbile as a “cop killer's coddler.” The insult referenced the criminal defense efforts of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund -- which Adegbile worked for at the time -- to successfully overturn Mumia Abu-Jamal's unconstitutional death sentence for killing a Philadelphia police officer. [Media Matters, 1/27/14]

Conservative Media Baselessly Labeled Loretta Lynch “Radical” For Supporting Voting Rights. In November 2014, as Loretta Lynch was being considered for the post of attorney general, a right-wing legal commentator said Lynch was “on the side of radical” because she supported Department of Justice litigation against unnecessarily strict voter ID requirements. [Media Matters, 11/10/14]

Fox Misled About Vivek Murthy's Priorities In An Attempt To Sink His Nomination. As Dr. Vivek Murthy was being considered for the position of surgeon general in early 2014, Fox News launched a smear campaign to sink his nomination, painting him as obsessed with gun safety instead of public health. However, during a Senate Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, Murthy explained that obesity prevention, not gun safety, would be his top priority as surgeon general. Murthy's public health perspective on gun violence was in accord with that of the medical community at large. [Media Matters, 3/11/14]

Fox Guests Engaged in “Race-Baiting” Smears Against Tom Perez. During Thomas E. Perez's confirmation as secretary of labor, then-Fox contributor Michelle Malkin called Perez an “extremist race-baiter,” and frequent Fox guest J. Christian Adams claimed that Perez's leadership of the Department of Justice civil rights division saw it “infested with racial animus.” Republican lawmakers later claimed that the division under Perez's leadership was racist. [Media Matters, 4/17/13]

Right-Wing Media Pushed Lies And Vicious Sexist And Anti-Gay Smears Against Executive Appointments

Fox Hosts Falsely Claimed John Holdren Supported Forced Abortion For Population Control. In 2009, Fox News hosts Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and Jim Pinkerton claimed that Obama science and technology adviser John Holdren supported forced abortion or forced sterilization as a method of population control. PolitiFact, checking a decades-old textbook cited by conservatives to back up the claim, found that the text was taken out of context and the ideas were “not posed as suggestions or proposals” and rated the claims “pants on fire.” [Media Matters, 10/5/09]

Conservatives Launched Anti-Gay Smear Campaign To Demand Kevin Jennings' Firing. In late 2009, right-wing media targeted Kevin Jennings, appointed by President Obama as director of the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, with a relentlessly vicious and anti-gay smear campaign aimed at securing his resignation or firing. They called him “profoundly sick and immoral” and a “pervert,” falsely claimed he was an advocate of the North American Man-Boy Love Association, and falsely claimed that he “facilitated” a relationship between an underage student and an older man. [Media Matters, 10/1/09; 10/1/09; 10/9/09]

Fox Smear Campaign Against Van Jones Forced Him To Resign From Obama Administration. In 2009, Van Jones resigned from his administration post as special adviser for green jobs at the Council on Environmental Quality, following a smear campaign against him. Former Fox News host Glenn Beck led the charge against Jones, falsely accusing him of being a “convicted felon” and repeatedly calling him a communist and a Marxist. Other Fox hosts and reporters ran with Beck's claims to further the perception that Jones was a communist and a problem for the administration. [Media Matters, 9/30/09; 3/16/10]

Right-Wing Media Called Susan Rice's Appointment As National Security Advisor An “Insult” To Americans, Suggested She Was Appointed Only Because She's A Woman. After President Obama appointed Susan Rice as his national security advisor in June 2013, right-wing media were incensed over the pick due to their false beliefs that she lied about the September 2013 Benghazi attacks. Radio host Rush Limbaugh said her an appointment was “eff you” to conservatives, while Fox News Radio's Todd Starnes said it was an “up yours” to America. Columnist Michelle Malkin and conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin characterized Rice's appointment as “a middle finger” and “an in-your-face insult” to the Benghazi attack victims. Additionally, Fox News hosts disparaged Rice because of her gender after the appointment. Sean Hannity said on his radio show that Obama picked her “with the hopes that Republicans will now be beating up -- in the public eye -- a woman.” Fox's Andrea Tantaros said the Obama administration “uses women as human shields” and that Rice was nominated to “set up a trap for Republicans to go after women.” [Media Matters, 6/6/13; 6/6/13]