Limbaugh: "Don't tell me the Democrats are not responsible for" the congressional baseball practice shooting
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Right-wing media show no self-awareness of their role in influencing violent incidents
James T. Hodgkinson, a man with a record of domestic violence, a legally purchased assault rifle, and a valid concealed carry permit, on June 14 opened fire on Republican congressmen and staffers practicing for the congressional baseball game.
The FBI is still investigating the incident, but one thing is already clear about this latest example of unhinged gun violence. The overwhelming evidence of conservative media's influence on a significant number of deadly incidents makes their attempt to deflect attention from their role in creating a toxic political culture both cynical and exploitative.
According to reports, the gunman had shared anti-Republican sentiments publicly online and had been critical of the president. Reports of the shooter’s political background immediately prompted unscrupulous right-wing hacks to pounce on the tragedy, looking to exploit the terrifying gun violence incident as a way to score cheap political points by blaming the left. In a new display of audacious defiance of reality, conservative voices have put the blame of the shooting not only on the left, but also on the press and various celebrities as well. But, blaming the left or the media for Hodgkinson’s actions is equivalent to blaming Jodie Foster for the attempted assassination of former President Ronald Reagan.
The gimmick, however, is deplorable not just for its cynical exploitation of fear, pain and human tragedy; it’s also a hollow attempt to distract from the conservative right’s own responsibility in creating a political culture that inspires violence by fanning the flames of hatred. It’s a red herring aimed at avoiding the obvious, and very concrete, policy-centered conversation that needs to happen around gun violence.
Additionally, the NRA, an organization that customarily deflects conversations about gun violence by blaming fatal shooting incidents on video games, political correctness, and strict gun laws, skirted its own precedent to also blame the left at large for the shooting.
Right-wing figures’ opportunistic attempt to draw direct correlation from out-of-context phrases from progressive politicians to the actions of a violent man with easy access to assault weapons also points to a critical lack of self-awareness when it comes to their own role in influencing violent incidents.
Take Byron Williams and his failed plot to shoot people at the Tides Foundation and the ACLU. Williams explicitly pointed to Glenn Beck’s now-defunct TV show and Alex Jones’ websites as the information sources that prompted his violent actions on the Tides Foundation, a relatively unknown organization that Beck repeatedly vilified on his program. Or the assassination of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, which followed continuous vitriol from former right-wing star Bill O’Reilly, who told his “audience of millions over and over again” that Tiller was “an executioner.” Or the murder of three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, CO, at the hands of Robert Dear, a man whose “paranoid delusions, misogynist beliefs, and violent fantasies” matched “perfectly” the usual narratives that come out of “Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones and Bill O’Reilly and countless far-right web sites.”
Or the racially motivated massacre that ended nine black lives in Charleston, SC, perpetrated by a habitual commenter at the Trump-supporting, neo-Nazi outlet The Daily Stormer. After a man opened fire at a Washington, D.C., family pizzeria, it was hard to forget Alex Jones asking his audience to investigate the conspiracy theory that alleged the restaurant was hiding a child sex-trafficking ring. In the same way, Jones also exhorted Trump to use force against his opponents and threatened violence against supporters of “parasitical maggot” Bernie Sanders.
So no, right-wingers don’t get to exploit this tragedy. They should not be able to get away with using pain and fear to avoid important policy conversations about gun access in American society. Not when the evidence of their role in promoting violence over politics is so overwhelming.
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After five people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), were wounded during a baseball practice in Alexandria, VA, right-wing media figures blamed comedian Kathy Griffin, a New York theater, the investigation into President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, and several others for the shooting.
As President Trump's executive orders banning immigration from first seven, then six, majority-Muslim nations have moved through the U.S. court system, they've been met with a series of legal setbacks and direct action and have drawn extensive media coverage. What follows is a timeline of events surrounding the ban, with a focus on right-wing media hypocrisy, denial, and defense of the president's increasingly indefensible policy. This post will be updated.
Right-wing media and fake news purveyors are attacking Robert Mueller, special counsel to the FBI’s Russia probe, claiming he is biased because he has connections to former FBI Director James Comey and that he is “the poison fruit of a deliberate manipulation” by Comey.
Lie that Comey said Trump didn't pressure him on Russia-related investigations came from an “alt-right” troll and then was picked up by fake news purveyors
The Republican National Committee (RNC) pushed a false talking point that originated from the “alt-right”/fake news ecosystem to try to discredit former FBI Director James Comey’s June 8 testimony to the Senate intelligence committee.
During his testimony, Comey said that he believed President Donald Trump fired him due to the FBI’s Russia probe, saying, “I know I was fired because of something about the way I was conducting the Russia investigation was in some way putting pressure on him, in some way irritating him, and he decided to fire me because of that.” He discussed a number of other issues as well, including saying that Trump directed him to end an investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and that he wrote memos on his one-on-one interactions with the president because he feared Trump might lie about the exchanges.
Responding to the testimony, the RNC tweeted, “#BigLeagueTruth: Comey testified under oath that @POTUS never asked him or anyone else to end any investigation. #ComeyHearing.” The tweet included a video of Comey’s previous testimony before the Senate intelligence committee -- on May 3 -- in which Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) asked him if “the attorney general or senior officials at the Department of Justice” tried to block an FBI investigation, to which Comey replied, “Not in my experience.”
Contrary to the RNC’s implication, Comey did not contradict himself. On May 3, he was talking specifically about the Department of Justice, not the president. The RNC’s false claim was pushed early on by “alt-right” trolls Jack Posobiec and Nick Short, and was then repeated by fake news purveyors and other “alt-right” outlets before more traditional right-wing media figures and outlets, such as Fox & Friends and Rush Limbaugh, picked it up. Since then, Republican politicians such as Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have also repeated the false assertion. The false claim even impacted the stock market.
In a statement to Media Matters, Sen. Hirono criticized the RNC for taking “a far-right conspiracy theory as fact,” and noted that she “only asked former Director Comey about pressure from officials at the Department of Justice”:
“If you listen to the exchange, it’s clear that I only asked former Director Comey about pressure from officials at the Department of Justice, but the RNC chose to move forward and take a far-right conspiracy theory as fact. This sends a clear message that Republicans are willing to share fake news and dangerous narratives in their quest to deny Russian interference in our elections. Unfortunately, we’ve come to expect no less from the mouthpiece of an Administration that deals in alternative facts.”
The RNC’s incorrect claim is yet another example of how the “alt-right”/fake news ecosystem has been able to amplify its misinformation out of the fringe, pushing forged documents, baseless conspiracy theories, and smear campaigns into more of the mainstream.
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Fox News’ Fox & Friends gave members of the Trump administration a platform to attack former Secretary of State John Kerry after Kerry pointed out that the president’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord will hurt children with asthma. Research has in fact demonstrated a connection between worsening climate change and the prevalence of asthma.
In response to President Donald Trump, Kerry said to NBC’s Andrea Mitchell that by pulling out of the agreement, Trump “is not helping the forgotten American. He's hurting them.Their kids will have worse asthma in the summer.” Kerry added that the decision is “one of the most self-destructive moves I’ve ever seen by any president in my lifetime.”
The next day, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway appeared on Fox & Friends, and host Abby Huntsman highlighted Kerry's comments about asthma for Conway. Conway called Kerry's full statement “a very disappointing assessment,” saying it “tells you why he lost when he ran for president.” From the June 2 edition:
Later in the program, host Ainsley Earhardt also cited Kerry's warnings about children's asthma in her interview with Vice President Mike Pence, who asserted, “It is disappointing to hear the hot rhetoric”:
Conservative media have a history of attacking the fact that climate change can have negative impacts on people with asthma. Despite research showing that lower emissions reduce asthma attacks and would create an overall healthier society, conservative media figures such as Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh, Tammy Bruce, and Sean Hannity have relentlessly mocked the science and misinformed their audiences.
According to a study published in the Journal of Asthma and Allergy, “Trends in the incidence of childhood asthma worldwide have paralleled the sharp increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, over at least the last two decades. The prevalence of asthma in the United States has quadrupled over the last 20 years in part due to climate-related factors.” Additionally, “As atmospheric CO2 levels have risen and global temperature fluctuations have increased, so has the incidence of childhood asthma. According to one CDC-based survey, the number of children under 17 years of age with asthma increased from almost 40 to 60 per 1000 from 1980 to 1993.”
ISIS has claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack in Manchester, England, which killed more than 20 people. During Barack Obama’s presidency, right-wing media figures exploited terrorist attacks that ISIS claimed responsibility for to blame, criticize, and attack the president. Additionally, right-wing media figures castigated Obama for not leaving a foreign trip in the aftermath of an attack.
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Experts and reporters are criticizing Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent comments opposing reform agreements the Obama administration reached with a handful of controversial police departments, saying Sessions’ opposition to the consent decrees has “no basis in fact.”
The Obama administration reached consent decrees with the law enforcement agencies of roughly two dozen cities including Baltimore, MD, Ferguson, MO, and Seattle, WA. The consent decrees were the products “of aggressive efforts by the Obama administration to improve relations between the police and the communities they serve,” as The New York Times noted.
Those actions are now under fire from the new Trump administration. Sessions has “ordered Justice Department officials to review reform agreements with troubled police forces nationwide, saying it was necessary to ensure that these pacts do not work against the Trump administration’s goals of promoting officer safety and morale while fighting violent crime.” And he has been criticizing them in the media, claiming the consent decrees “can reduce morale of the police officers” and “discourage the proactive policing that keeps our cities safe.”
Sessions’ actions have been applauded by conservative media such as The New York Post and Rush Limbaugh, who praised Sessions for unraveling “the extraconstitutional, extrajudicial behavior of the Obama administration.”
But experts say the opposition to the agreements from the Trump administration and its right-wing media cheerleaders is based on myths.
Vanita Gupta, the head of the civil rights division of the Department of Justice from 2014 to 2017 who oversaw investigations resulting in consent decrees, said she hasn’t seen any data “to back anything” Sessions has been saying about the orders.
“The attorney general has said a lot about his views on consent decrees, but I will confess that I have seen no data to back anything he says, either vis-a-vis police morale or crime upticks,” Gupta told Media Matters. “In fact, there is evidence to the contrary in places like Newark where they are entered into their second year of a consent decree. Crime has been going precipitously lower. And other places like Seattle and New Orleans where many crime rates have been going down even as their consent decrees are implemented.
“The other thing that seems striking to me about what is happening right now is that there are only 15 consent decrees in a country with anywhere between 16,000 and 18,000 police departments,” she added. “It seems a lot of hay is being made about a tool that is very judiciously used. It leads one to think about whether they are politicizing the program in a way that both undermines the push for constitutional policing and, frankly, at the end of the day, the rebuilding of trust in communities where there has been such a severe erosion of it, and where consent decrees have been really necessary at producing the kind of systemic reform that they do.”
Reporters on the ground in cities that have been under consent decrees say they have found positive results, with several city leaders warning that stopping the decrees now would get in the way of improvements.
“It doesn’t deter policing or result in additional harm to officers,” said Steve Miletich, a Seattle Times reporter who has covered that city’s consent decree that was implemented in 2012 to address excessive force and discriminatory policing. “The general feeling is that ours is pretty locked in place, largely because the city is fully on board. The police chief is part of that. She has made it clear she is committed to the reform process and finishing the consent decree.”
Asked about Sessions’ claims, Miletich said, “The city disputes that. They are taking the position that we are at a point where we can measure that crime has actually gone down some and police injuries have dropped a little bit.”
In Cleveland, which instituted a consent decree in 2015 to improve staffing levels, equipment, and training in the use of force, reporter Eric Heisig of Cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer said, “I don’t think it has affected morale. I haven’t seen a lowering of morale as a result of the reforms.”
He also pointed to praise that Cleveland police received for their work during last year’s Republican convention in the city, which sparked some protests and heated rallies but no police problems.
“The way they were received -- they were present, but they did not appear threatening,” Heisig said about the convention-related policing. “That went a long way to give them a morale boost.”
He said the consent decree “was a factor in that. There had been talk and stories weeks before about how police would handle this.”
As for Sessions’ attempts to change things, Heisig said, “The city, the monitor, the judge have said they do not want to see changes happen as a result of Trump. The judge said in January that he did not want to see a change.”
Among the most-watched consent decrees is in Ferguson, MO, where the shooting death of Michael Brown in 2014 sparked protests, as well as accusations of police abuse.
Since a court-ordered consent decree took effect there in early 2016, reporter Jeremy Kohler of the nearby St. Louis Post-Dispatch says he hasn't seen public criticism of the agreement from either the city or the local police department.
“The city hasn’t complained about the consent decree. The department hasn’t said anything publicly about it making it hard to police,” Kohler said, adding that shortly after his 2017 re-election, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said it would rip the fabric of the community if it were removed.
“I haven’t heard anyone say publicly Ferguson should back out of it or it is unfair since it has been in effect,” Kohler added. “I think it is far enough along that it would be difficult to get rid of it.”
In New Orleans, which has been under a consent decree since 2012, reporter Emily Lane of The Times-Picayune points to a citizens survey done each year that found satisfaction with police is up from 33 percent in 2009 to 64 percent in 2016.
“The [police] union spokespeople at least have been pretty receptive to the changes, most of the changes,” said Jessica Mazzola of The Star-Ledger in Newark, NJ, where a consent decree has been in place since March 2016. “Saying they are anxious to do better for the public. … They have cited a big reduction in crime and violent crime specifically, 2016 over 2015.”
Police experts, meanwhile, say the decrees are a positive tool in most communities that give police a way to improve themselves and work with residents.
“The consent decrees provide for a more direct connection that a change needs to be made,” said Steven Brandl, professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the author of two related books, including The Police in America.
Asked what could happen if they are removed, he said, “The negative is there is one less inducement for police departments to get better, to change.”
Christy E. Lopez, a Georgetown University Law Center professor and former deputy chief of the special litigation section that oversaw police practices for the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division under President Obama, agreed.
She said of the attorney general’s comments, “There’s no actual data to support what Sessions is saying about consent decrees. … Sessions is, from everything I understand, behaving in an extremely emotional manner. He is making emotional decisions with no basis in fact and in doing that he is disrespecting people in the Department of Justice.”
Samuel Walker, a retired professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, said of Sessions: “He’s wrong on his basic assumptions. He ignores the positive benefits of consent decrees that have occurred. This is a lawful court order signed by a judge -- the judge is in charge. One party can’t just walk away from it.”