It’s Ba-aa-ack! The Return of the 90’s style Clinton-Hit-Machine

It’s Ba-aa-ack! The Return of the 90’s style Clinton-Hit-Machine

Suddenly right-wingers are in love with the New York Times AND government regulations.

The New York Times handed the right-wing media attack machine a big, yummy early Easter egg with their journalistically challenged report on Hillary Clinton’s use of private e-mail as Secretary of State.

The article was heavy on suggestion but unclear to the point of misleading on whether Ms. Clinton had violated any laws when she forwent a government account and opted for a private system which she used for all official business.

Since then other outlets have attempted to fill in the gaps in the Times report and the consensus is that no laws were broken.

The law pertaining to use of private e-mail that the Times report seemed to be referring to (again, the report was indefinite) was not in place until over a year after Clinton left her post at State. The Times has since come back to say they were referring to other statutes, but if that’s the case, why were they not mentioned specifically in the original reporting?

Colin Powell also used private e-mail during his tenure as Secretary of State but I don’t recall any outcry then. Maybe the Times was too busy at the time churning out false reports on Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction that had the effect of helping the Bush administration mislead the nation into war.

It’s not that issues around the use of private e-mail by high-profile public officials aren’t worthy of attention and that concerns around transparency and national security are not involved. They are.

The problem is that the Times’ vague and misleading report raised more questions than it answered and was more about insinuation than facts and hard journalism.

As a result a picture was painted that was a perfect Rorschach, in which the right-wing media smear machine could project all its paranoid conspiratorial imaginings while being able to point back to the alleged credibility of the Times to bolster its case.

But we should not by now be surprised to see the “lame stream media” acting as an amplifier and enabler of Fox/talk radio-style faux journalism. In 2013, 60 minutes’ Laura Logan interviewed an “eye-witness” to the attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, whose testimony was then trumpeted by Fox and the rest of the echo chamber as validation of their conspiracy theories and political talking points. 12 days later, CBS was forced to pull the report when serious issues became known concerning the credibility of their source’s claims alleging to be a witness of events that night. In other words, he lied on-air and CBS broadcasted his lies after failing to do due journalistic vetting beforehand.

This is what is so disturbing and dangerous: it seems we can no longer grapple with real issues in the way that is necessary in a democracy because everything becomes fodder for the conspiracy mill of the right-wing media fear & smear machine.

Meanwhile, mainstream outlets that should know better, and that should have the integrity and skill to do better, are more and more succumbing to the paradigm of sensationalism, cynicism, and misinformation that haunts our politics and culture like a curse.

The result is commentators like Bill O’Reilly who, when revealed to be a serial liar, is shielded from consequence because his ratings remain high, reporters like Lara Logan who is given a few months off to let the dust settle before taking up where she left off at CBS, and the New York Times which is now refusing to address the glaring journalistic deficiencies of their “Hillary-gate” reporting.

Zombie Notions Want to Eat Your Brains

Zombie Notions Want to Eat Your Brains

On our recent radio segments, we’ve been talking about Toxic Town Halls, the right-wing media misinformation bubble, and how the crack pots who spew vitriol at these venues are not only not challenged by Tea Party members of Congress but are affirmed and encouraged in their insanity.

Last August, Representative Martha Roby of Montgomery Alabama held an event for Tea Partiers to sound off in what was really a conspiracy theory echo chamber that she endorsed and participated in.

It was the usual recitation of hoax scandals that have been destroyed by the light of real-world scrutiny but inside the RWM bubble they are shielded from this light and live on as zombie notionsThank God for Fox News

Zombies of legend are dead bodies brought back to a shambling shell of life by dark magic. The zombie notions still circulating in these town halls are reanimated by the dark magic of media, money and propaganda. Both kinds of zombies want to eat your brains.

What is sold as “grassroots” citizens’ uprising is in reality “Astro Turfing,” funded by big money corporate shadow groups and heavily promoted by media like Fox and round the clock right-wing talk radio.

As organizers and advocates on health care reform, we have witnessed this phenomena first hand.

Last August, The Heritage Foundation, an extreme right organization headed by former Tea Party Senator Jim DeMint, staged a national “Defund Obamacare” tour in a doomed effort to press Congress to refuse funding to the Affordable Care Act by shutting down the government.

In that it was nothing but a replay of debunked smear and misinformation the tour could have been called “Gullible’s Travels.” Even Politifact, which tends to contort itself to give rightward misinformation the benefit of the doubt, went out of its way to call out the blatant dishonesty of the tour. 

And yet when we attended the event staged in Pittsburgh the room was packed with people raring to hear yet another round of such nonsense.

Like the recent town hall in Oklahoma, those in attendance weren’t there just to talk about health care policy, they were itching to express their irrational hatred. This woman caught on tape casually bemoans the lost era of “assassins” in America.

Once the program began a small group of us infiltrators were ready with small signs, the word “LIE “ written on sheets of paper, which we silently held up each time a bright line falsity was spoken from the stage. We felt it was our responsibility to provide real time fact-checking as a public service, given the unlikelihood that Jim DeMint’s pants would actually burst into flames as they certainly should have.

It only took a few minutes and much mendacity for the private security guards to escort us toward the doors as attendees booed at us and a few hissed, “Communists” as we exited.

The Heritage Foundation received $500,000 in 2012 from a Koch Brothers funded front group, Freedom Partners. Koch funding is a many tendriled beast which animates a host of organizations which join in with RWM to amplify misinformation, distortion and inflammatory false narratives on health care, energy, education and many other issues.

This onslaught of fantasy has a very real impact on real world policy as we saw when the Tea Party in Congress did manage to force a government shut down to try and extort its demands. 

When you talk about “Astro-turf” and the manufacturing of outrage, many folks caught up in this furor will push back saying: “My outrage is REAL, its not manufactured!” But it isn’t that they’re faking or not really feeling what they feel, it’s that they are victims of a strategy to deceive and mobilize through emotional manipulation. The whole point is to whip-up raw emotions that will cause people to react outside of reason.

In an ABC report describing a 2009 Congressional event that was disrupted by angry Tea Partiers, one woman in attendance summed it up by saying what she heard was an echo of what is preached everyday on Fox and talk radio…” If it’s not manufactured, they’re brainwashed.”

In truth, it’s both.

Roundup: A big week for right-wing media crazy talk

Roundup: A big week for right-wing media crazy talk

RWM roundup: It’s been a big, crazy week in media crazy talk.

Reality-based viewers were left to starve as Bill O’Reilly shoveled chunks of red meat to the Fox “News” base during the Super Bowl pre-game interview with President Obama.

It was all hoax and conspiracy all the time as O’Reilly interrupted the President dozens of times, beating the dead horses of IRS and Benghazi while completely ignoring pressing issues of jobs, minimum wage and unemployment insurance extension.

It was as if he were speaking from an alternate bizzarro dimension… perhaps from a twisted wormhole reality created by a right-wing cable channel and amplified by hundreds if not thousands of talk radio voices across America. I expected Rod Serling to walk onto the set at any moment.

Twilight Zone

For his part, President Obama refused to let the exchange be sucked into O’Reilly’s netherworld of conspiracy and pushed back against Fox’s fantasy-based broadcast model saying, “These kinds of things keep on surfacing in part because you and your TV station will promote them.” 

Meanwhile in Oklahoma, Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R) held a town hall event to get  some feed back from his constituents. What he got was a face full of “Obama derangement” flamer insanity.

One woman called for the execution of the President as an “enemy combatant.” Another more moderately, wants impeachment. She doesn’t elaborate for what crime. Because MuslimKenyanMarxist, I guess.

If you assume the Congressman pushed back against or attempted to tamp down this ugliness, you’d be way wrong. 180 degrees wrong in fact, because he jumped right in the crazy pot with them declaring the “lawlessness” of the President.

Its almost like him and his unhinged, crack pot constituents and Bill O’Reilly are all trapped together in a bubble of festering madness and malicious misinformation that’s been designed for some radical political agenda! Could it be?

Of course its not just Fox that’s guilty of perpetuating unreality. In this digital era of “report first and ask questions later” just about every outlet is jumping on the misinform America bandwagon.

This week the CBO released numbers on the Affordable Care Act’s effect on the economy and the media immediately set its hair on fire sensationalizing the stats.

Almost everybody got it wrong. 

The stats described a positive aspect of the ACA in that folks who are working jobs just to hang on to health care would be free to opt out and start their own businesses or take better care of their families. This would also free up jobs which are in short supply for other seekers.

Instead the media overwhelmingly misreported that the CBO was talking about a loss of jobs to the economy not an opting out of workers.

Chuck “It’s-not-my-job-to-fact-check” Todd predictably lodged this totally wrong report: “CBO essentially reaffirms GOP talking points on health care. Says it will cost jobs…”

This is another glaring case in point of why we fight for journalistic standards of truth and accuracy over sensationalism and report-it-first mania.

One more example is WTAE in Pittsburgh’s “Obamacare” hit piece from last week. Sign the petition here to call for a correction of this bogus and biased reporting.

Charlene signed and commented:

This is important to me because if you present yourself as a news program, then you should present the news–not someone’s opinion. When people want to be told what to think, they listen to Fox “News” or Rush Limbaugh. I expect better from WTAE. If you continue to sensationalize the news, I will stop watching.

A Walk Down Hoax Scandal Lane: the IRS

A Walk Down Hoax Scandal Lane: the IRS

An unexciting truth may be eclipsed by a thrilling lie. — A. Huxley

The right-wing media continues to throw out smoke screens in the form of debunked hoax-scandals in an attempt to deflect focus from Chris Christie’s NJ Bridgegate.

The latest is the claim that the mainstream media is giving more attention to Bridgegate than they did to the IRS scandal of last year.

The truth is that there was intense initial focus on the claim that the IRS was targeting right-wing/Tea Party groups but as emerging facts contradicted this claim, the media’s ADD kicked in big time and they checked out in search of fresh sensationalism.

The Hindenburg turned quickly into a toy balloon, deflating flatulently on its way to a dead stop.

Which is a problem because the early hyped reporting persists in public memory while the less sexy truth-of-the-matter is much less well known or understood.

The bold and simple story that ran wild was that the IRS had abused its wildly unpopular powers to put the big-government screws to right-wing groups; targeting the Tea Party for their political views in a tyrannical crackdown.

Wow, sort of confirms what the Tea Party has been trying to warn us about all along. TIME TO HIT THE ALL CAPS AND GO BALLISTIC!!!

Except that none of it was at all accurate.

The more mundane fact is that the IRS has the unenviable (and understaffed) task of making determinations as to which applying groups are eligible for special tax exempt 501c(4) status.

Having this status is not automatic, not a right. Under the law, It is a privilege conferred on organizations who are deemed to promote the social welfare and who do not unduly engage in partisan politics.

This system has been increasingly abused especially in the wake of the gutting of campaign finance laws, bringing on an avalanche of groups looking to set up as non-profits as a front for dark-money-funded political activity.

The IRS was overwhelmed by an influx of newly formed Tea Party groups seeking tax exempt status in the run up to the 2012 elections.

IRS and Tea Party

Opposition to social welfare is pretty much the Tea Party’s reason for existing. That and ad hominem political attacks against Democrats, especially against President Barack (where’s the birth certificate!) Obama. Why would such rabidly partisan groups not be subject to specific review?

Even the assertion, however, that they were singled out was blatantly false. Lost in the right-wing media screeching and theatrics was the fact that not a single Tea Party group was denied status (they were merely sent follow up questionnaires to their applications) while a progressive group was denied.

Indeed, an FBI investigation concluded there was no illegal activity as the IRS checked up on groups with “Occupy” and “Progressive” in their names with the same zeal as Tea Party applicants.

To sum up, the IRS was simply doing its job under difficult conditions. And despite the conspiracy narrative of the right, they did it in a balanced way and bent over backwards to give the benefit of the doubt as to the partisan nature of Tea Party groups seeking the tax free benefit of 501c(4) designation.

But since so many media consumers did not have the benefit of the full story and only heard the sensationalized conspiratorial version, it continues to be trotted out as a diversionary tool to protect Governor Christie from his reality-based debacle.

Here again, right-wing media voices are asking us to go on hunting unicorns and to give a big fat pass to the all too real elephant in the room.

We shouldn’t let them get away with it.