Media Matters: Conservatives are foaming at the bench

As news that Supreme Court Justice David Souter will be stepping down at the end of this term thus providing President Obama with his first Supreme Court appointment continued to burn up the airwaves this week, Media Matters released an extensive report documenting and correcting common myths and falsehood propagated by the media on the subject -- an essential primer for anyone following or covering the story.

As news that Supreme Court Justice David Souter will be stepping down at the end of this term thus providing President Obama with his first Supreme Court appointment continued to burn up the airwaves this week, Media Matters released an extensive report documenting and correcting common myths and falsehood propagated by the media on the subject -- an essential primer for anyone following or covering the story.

Yes, there's nothing like a pending Supreme Court nomination to get media conservatives hot under the collar.

Even Obama's desire for an empathetic nominee was maligned. Several media figures and outlets -- among them The Washington Post, Fox News congressional correspondent Major Garrett and O'Reilly Factor guest host Laura Ingraham -- falsely suggested that Obama said that he will seek a replacement for Souter who demonstrates the quality of “empathy” rather than a commitment to follow the law. Blinded by the rest of Obama's statement, they ignored the simple fact that immediately after stating that he saw the “quality of empathy” as “an essential ingredient for arriving as just decisions and outcomes,” Obama stated that he would “seek somebody who is dedicated to the rule of law, who honors our constitutional traditions, who respects the integrity of the judicial process and the appropriate limits of the judicial role.”

Others advanced the bizarre claim that, in the words of a National Review editorial, "[e]mpathy is simply a codeword for an inclination toward liberal activism." Perhaps they'd benefit from a review of two recent studies of Supreme Court justices indicating that in two key categories, those most frequently labeled “conservative” were also among the most activist. Moreover, several former Republican senators have previously cited “compassion” as a qualification for judicial nominees.

Of all the names on the media's short list for Obama, Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge Sonia Sotomayor has been the subject of the harshest criticism from media conservatives, with many misrepresenting her past comments. For example, Fox News host Jane Skinner asserted that Sotomayor “is coming under some fire for making some comments that were recorded on tape a while back, saying that it's her job, really, to make policy from the bench” when, in fact, Sotomayor did not say that. Still others, like The New Republic's Jeffrey Rosen and Fox News' Andrew Napolitano, sank to citing anonymous sources criticizing Sotomayor, including law clerks, which an American University law professor called “extremely problematic.” Rosen, incidentally, has perhaps been Sotomayor's harshest critic, even resorting to misrepresenting a footnote in making his purported “Case Against Sotomayor.”

Conservatives in the media have also sought to prop up the profile and background of Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, who was selected to lead the Republican minority on the Senate Judiciary Committee leading into the Supreme Court confirmation hearings. The Washington Times reported that Sen. Sessions' 1986 nomination to a federal court was “blocked by Democrats,” but offered no explanation for that opposition. However, two Republicans voted against Sessions' nomination, which failed amid accusations that his pursuit of voter fraud charges against three African-American civil rights activists as U.S. attorney in 1985 were racially motivated and that he had made racially insensitive comments. Which must explain why Fox News' Neil Cavuto described Sessions as “widely respected on all sides.” I'll wait while you finish laughing.

Finally, if you really want to get a feel for just how off the wall conservative media coverage of this story has been over the past week, you need only look at the Fox News' new website, Fox Nation which this week stated (with a question mark to play it safe): "Why aren't white males being considered for Supreme Court?"

Other Major Stories This Week:

Hate crimes: Backed into a corner, media conservatives cry “pedophilia”

Perhaps fearing a hate crimes bill that protects gay, lesbian, and transgender people will soon be enacted, many media conservatives have seen fit to maliciously attack the legislation often times raising the right-wing's favorite red herring that efforts to protect the LGBT community will somehow protect “pedophiles.”

During a recent edition of his top-rated cable program, Fox News' Bill O'Reilly said of the hate crimes bill, which not only adds gay, lesbian, and transgender people to the list of protected classes but the disabled as well, "[Y]ou could make an argument that a pedophile has a disease, and because the disease is there, he's a target or she's a target." O'Reilly later added that pedophiles could be included because "[d]isability is included. They have a mental disability." He's wrong. Pedophilia is not considered a “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990; in fact, the ADA specifically excludes pedophilia. But then, bringing up “pedophilia” during discussion of gay and lesbian issues is old hat for those opposed to full equality for the LGBT community.

O'Reilly wasn't alone pushing this line of attack at Fox News. Sean Hannity, Bill Hemmer, and The Fox Nation website all advanced the false claim that House Democrats voted to “protect” or “defend” pedophiles. On-screen text along the bottom of the screen on Fox quite literally read, “HOUSE DEMS VOTE TO PROTECT PEDOPHILES, BUT NOT VETERANS.”

Equally misleading were the false claims by media conservatives that passage of the bill would somehow suppress religious thought or speech. During a segment on Fox News' America's Newsroom, correspondent Molly Henneberg reported without question that religious groups are concerned that “they may be prosecuted for their religious beliefs if they believe that homosexuality is a sin, that it could gag ministers who preach that, or even if a church may not want to marry a gay couple. There is concern that they could face lawsuits as well.” In fact, the legislation in question specifically protects an individuals First Amendment's right to free speech and exercise of religion - something you just won't hear from those lined up against the bill.

What discussion of LGBT civil rights wouldn't be complete without a healthy dose of mean-spirited hate from the likes of Rev. Pat Robertson, who this week suggested the “ultimate conclusion” of legal same-sex marriage is legal polygamy, bestiality, child molestation, and pedophilia, or self-described “openly gay, pro-choice, gun owning, pro-death penalty, voted-for-President Bush authentic feminist” Tammy Bruce who chatted about how the “gay Gestapo,” as she put it on Fox News, “ultimately smears every gay person.”

The right obsesses over Obama's choice of food again -- this time it's mustard

Stop the presses -- President Obama is eating a hamburger with the Vice President! In all seriousness, if you were watching cable news this week you may have heard news that Obama, horror of horrors, asked for mustard rather than ketchup on his lunchtime burger -- spicy mustard, no less. That's right, following his visit to Ray's Hell Burger in Arlington, Virginia (which I highly recommend to anyone visiting the Commonwealth) Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Rush Limbaugh Show guest host Mark Steyn criticized the president as an elitist because he ordered a burger with “spicy mustard” or “Dijon mustard.” Hannity claimed that Obama ordered a “fancy burger” with a “very special condiment,” while Steyn asserted Obama is trying “to enlighten us” through his order. Ingraham asked of Obama: “What kind of man orders a cheeseburger without ketchup but Dijon mustard? ... The guy orders a cheeseburger without ketchup? What is that?” In their discussions of Obama's burger order, Hannity, Ingraham, and Steyn all referenced a Grey Poupon commercial featuring actors portraying wealthy British men expressing desire for the mustard. Wonder why Fox News' attempt at a comedy show never worked out? Here's a hint -- they aren't funny.

MSNBC's Ed Schultz did an admirable job highlighting Hannity's Dijon derangement, while the Chicago Tribune's food blog, The Stew, interviewed Barry Levenson, curator of the Mount Horeb Mustard Museum, who noted, “There's nothing pretentious about Dijon mustard ... It's a very simple product. To say that it's elitist to put Dijon mustard on a hamburger is absurd.” Indeed.

Regular readers of Media Matters know this isn't the first time right-wingers in the media have gone berserk over Obama's choice of food or beverage.

Pentagon pundits redux

You may recall mention here of David Barstow's Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times exposé detailing the hidden relationship among numerous media military analysts, the Pentagon, and defense contractors. Shortly after Barstow's piece was published, Media Matters released an exhaustive report which found that since January 1, 2002, the pundits named in the Barstow's story appeared or were quoted more than 4,500 times by news outlets.

Earlier this year, The Washington Post reported the findings of a January 14 report by the Defense Department's inspector general's office on the Pentagon's Retired Military Analyst program, which found that, according to the Post, “The Pentagon did not violate internal policies or regulations in a program that gave briefings to retired military officers who served as news commentators on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor did those analysts use their access to benefit their business interests.” But with the exception of brief write-ups in two blogs and an online column, the Post has yet to report that the inspector general's office this week withdrew its findings. Reporting on a May 5 memo by the Pentagon's deputy inspector general for policy and oversight, Barstow wrote that “the report was so riddled with flaws and inaccuracies that none of its conclusions could be relied upon.” He added: “In addition to repudiating its own report, the inspector general's office took the additional step of removing the report from its Web site.”

It makes you wonder if aides to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will continue to bash Barstow in news reports now that the initial DOD inspector general's report has been withdrawn and disowned.

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow ran a hilarious "special report" on the withdrawal and attacks on Barstow, while Democracy Now's Amy Goodman sat down for a fascinating exclusive interview with Barstow that everyone should take some time to watch - definitely some must see web-TV. Keep in mind, his exposé came out more than a year ago and Goodman is still able to call this interview an “exclusive.” As Barstow notes, he hasn't received “any invitations” to appear on “any of the main network and cable programs.” Surprise, surprise.

The Washington Times vs. reality on Obama's popularity

County Fair, the official Media Matters blog, last week called out the conservative Washington Times for its bizarre, fact-free editorial that claimed President Obama's job approval ratings were “in the basement” and that he was historically unpopular. True Alice-in-Wonderland stuff since recent polling data suggest the exact opposite about the president's popularity. Well, it took a whole week, but the Times finally walked back that nonsense retracting the entire editorial noting, “We hereby retract our April 28 editorial 'Barack's in the basement' because we misapplied several polling comparisons of various presidents after their first 100 days in office.” That's being generous when you consider the entire piece was completely made up.

So, now the only question that remains is whether those who ran with the Times editorial will do the right thing and run a retraction of their own. We're talking to you Amy Holmes, Ann Coulter and Jim Pinkerton.

This week's media columns

This week's media columns from the Media Matters senior fellows: Eric Boehlert looks at how Limbaugh is living large while his radio boss Clear Channel implodes; Jamison Foser asks where Sonia Sotomayor should go to get her reputation back; and Karl Frisch details how the media still can't get it right on hate crimes 10 years after Matthew Shepard.

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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.