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“It’s ACORN’s Fault”: Fake Prostitutes, Fake Terrorists, And The Trouble With Conservative Media

Just before the 2012 election, the Daily Caller, a website run by Tucker Carlson, produced a blockbuster report claiming that New Jersey senator Robert Menendez had frequented underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, and they had the prostitutes’ testimony to prove it. Bizarrely, mainstream media did not pick up the story, Menendez was re-elected, and to almost no one’s surprise, the whole thing now appears to have been a slander cooked up by Republican operatives. How did such a thing happen? The answer is, it’s ACORN’s fault. Hold on while I explain.

It turns out that Republican operatives pitched the Menendez story to ABC News at the same time as the Daily Caller, but after looking into it ABC decided it was probably bogus, as they explain here. It was pretty obvious the women were being coached, and their stories just strained credulity:

Her account of sex with Menendez in the video interview was almost word-for-word the account given by two other women who were produced for interviews about having sex with the man they knew only as “Bob.”

Asked during the interview with ABC News how she knew that the man named “Bob” was a United States Senator, one of the other women said she had put the name “Bob” into a web search site and a picture of Menendez popped up.

Only a liberally biased journalist could be at all skeptical of that story, which explains why ABC passed on it, and the Daily Caller ran with it. And lo and behold, one of the women eventually came forward with an affidavit saying she had been paid to accuse Menendez of patronizing her services. And this only the latest in a string of instances in which conservative media outlets have embarrassed themselves by “reporting” things that turn out to be absurdities or outright fabrications, from Jeff Sessions’ crazy GAO report to Chuck Hagel’s relationship with the fictional “Friends of Hamas” (Michael Calderone has a long story exploring this issue).

What does this have to do with ACORN? You’ll remember that the group, which had been mismanaged for a long time, was brought down by a video in which young James O’Keefe claimed he had gone into ACORN offices dressed as a pimp, with a girl he claimed was an underaged prostitute, and got advice on how to set up his prostitution business from ACORN staff. It turned out that much of what O’Keefe said was false (he didn’t actually wear the pimp outfit when visiting the offices, and he got tossed out of one ACORN office after another before finally getting some employees on tape giving what seemed like helpful advice), but the damage was done. Conservative media at all levels swung into action against ACORN, joined by Republican politicians. In short order, the group disintegrated, and went out of business in 2010.

This weekend, Up With Chris Hayes featured a panel with a group of conservatives about the state of the conservative media, and during the discussion, Hayes made an excellent point, tying the buffoonery of outlets like the Daily Caller, Breitbart, and the Washington Free Beacon back to ACORN. “The ACORN thing ruined a lot of conservative media,” he said, because it worked. O’Keefe targeted ACORN, and when it was all over, ACORN no longer existed. “It sent everyone chasing down this rabbit hole: what’s going to be the next undercover sting operation that destroys part of the left?”

I’d argue that looking for something that will produce the next ACORN—an actual scalp—is part of the explanation for why these outlets do what they do how they do it, but at heart it’s an issue of psychology. It’s about how they view liberals in general and Barack Obama in particular: not as people who are wrong or misguided, but deeply, fundamentally, corrupt and immoral. So even when these conservative journalists hit upon a story that may have some substance to it, their fervent belief that corruption and immorality lies beneath every administration policy and beats within the heart of every Democrat ends up twisting their approach to the story and eventually destroying their credibility. It will never be enough for them to discover that, say, a program to track guns moving from the United States to Mexico was incompetently handled, and the people responsible should be held accountable. Instead, they have to believe that it was all part of a grand conspiracy to send jackbooted thugs into Americans’ homes to take away their guns, a conspiracy that went all the way to the Oval Office. When it turns out not to be so dramatic, they end up looking foolish.

And when you’re so convinced that your opponents are corrupt to their very core, crazy sting operations exposing that sinister corruption begin to look like the appropriate way of attacking them. Why bother poring through the details of policy, when those bastards are probably using underage prostitutes and stealing money and intentionally letting Americans die in war zones and consorting with terrorists and who knows what else?

As I argued last week, the problem for the right goes beyond the media people themselves; it runs through their elected officials and the audiences to whom both are appealing. And lo and behold, it turns out that the budget bill House Republicans just submitted contains a provision mandating that no government funds be given to ACORN, which is kind of like prohibiting the government from buying any Wang computers. But if you can’t find any new corruption to attack, you might as well go after an organization that ceased to exist three years ago. That’ll show ’em!


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, March 6, 2013

March 7, 2013 Posted by | Journalists, Media | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Other Different Groups”: Opposition To The Violence Against Women Act Isn’t Helping The GOP

Last week, Congress passed a bill with bipartisan support and sent it to the president. Even though the bill essentially reauthorized a law that has been on the books for nearly 20 years, in this era of gridlock, despite a fair amount of Republican resistance, it was a noteworthy result because of its largely bipartisan support. President Obama will sign the bill on Thursday, once again enacting the law.

It was legislation that reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, a statute first championed by then-senator Joe Biden and originally signed into law in 1994. Since then, the law has been reauthorized twice, in 2000 and 2005, with overwhelming bipartisan support until the House Republicans let it expire at the end of last year.

One has to wonder why, when the evidence has been crystal-clear that the law has worked effectively, that it was ever allowed to expire. Since 1994, the rate of intimate partner violence has declined by 67 percent. From 1993 to 2007, the rate of intimate partner homicides of females decreased 35 percent and the rate of intimate partner homicides of males decreased 46 percent.

So, what made this reauthorization process different? Was it opposition to the added provisions that help eliminate the backlog of unprocessed rape kits to allow law enforcement officers the ability to apprehend and convict more rapists? Was it the added provisions requiring colleges to collect and disclose information about sexual assault and provide greater services to protect students against dating violence and stalking?

Neither is the answer; the opposition came from 168 Republicans including Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, who joined 10 other GOP women in voting against the measure, and said: ” I didn’t like the way it was expanded to include other different groups.”

Who might be those “other different groups”? One word: women.

The Senate added provisions to enhance protections for Native Americans, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth, and undocumented women who have been victims of domestic violence. Those are the women that Blackburn considers “other different groups” and therefore should not be afforded the same protections under the law.

The Justice Department reports that 1 in 3 Native American women is raped over their lifetime and that non-Indian men, who are immune from prosecution by tribal courts, commit more than 80 percent of sex crimes on reservations. The new provision included language to close this loophole allowing for the prosecution of these men while protecting their right to effective counsel and trial by an impartial jury.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, almost half of bisexual women have been raped in their lifetimes and nearly 1 in 3 lesbians has experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner.

In the 2012 election, Mitt Romney lost the women’s vote by 18 points, in part, by failing to connect with women on issues that matter to them most. Going forward, if the GOP ever hopes to bridge that gap, perhaps it should start by defining and treating all women equally as women and not “other different groups.”

It is incumbent that our lawmakers work to protect all victims of domestic and dating violence and sexual assault, and not exclude those women who might not fit ones traditional definitions. Let’s allow the reauthorization of this legislation to act as a guide for our country in continuing to be a cutting-edge proponent for women victim rights in the world.


By: Penny Lee, U. S. News and World Report, March 6, 2013

March 7, 2013 Posted by | Domestic Violence, Women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Too Often Ignored”: Radical-Right Wing Groups Reach All Time High

While the more mainstream anti-government Tea Party movement faded from view as the GOP co-opted it in the past few years, the action has moved to the fringes, where the number of radical right-wing Patriot groups reached an all time high in 2012, according to a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center. What’s more, it’s the fourth year in a row that the record has been broken.

Conspiracy-minded Patriot groups first entered the public consciousness in the 1990s with the rise of the militia movement, and then the Oklahoma City bombing. Now, the SPLC is warning government officials that they see eerie similarities between the current era and that leading up to the bombing.

“As in the period before the Oklahoma City bombing, we now are seeing ominous threats from those who believe that the government is poised to take their guns,” the group’s president, Richard Cohen, wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

The number of Patriot groups peaked after the bombing in 1996 at 858, before falling off steeply and remaining low under George W. Bush. However, since the election of Barack Obama, the number of groups tracked by the SPLC has skyrocketed and continued to climb.

Last year, the SPLC found 1,360 Patriot groups in the country — up more than 500 over the ’96 peak — including 321 militia groups.

Meanwhile, the number of hate groups the group tracks — which includes some arguably mainstream conservative groups like the Family Research Council, in addition to more radical groups like white supremacists — remained over 1,000.

The SPLC blames the resurgence on the down economy (hate and radicalism always tick up when things seem desperate), along with the election and reelection of Barack Obama, a push on gun control, and racial tensions over immigration and the declining power of white America.

“Another factor driving the expansion of the radical right over the last decade or so has been the mainstreaming of formerly marginal conspiracy theories,” notes senior fellow Mark Potock. Indeed, one needs only watch Fox News for an hour or read a Dick Morris column to see that. And conspiracy theorizing seems to have reached new heights recently.

The big fear is that some of this will lead to violence — or rather, more violence. The incidents are too often ignored or viewed as isolated from each other, but there has been much more right-wing terrorism than most people probably realize, from the Sikh Temple shooting, the Holocaust Memorial shooting, the Pittsburgh police shootings, of any of the dozens of attacks on law enforcement officers.

But the people in the federal government responsible for stopping it are poorly equipped to deal with the threat. In part, that’s because Republican lawmakers, stoked by the Tea Party, neutered a Department of Homeland Security task force that was supposed to track homegrown radical groups. After a conservative uproar over a leaked report that warned about the rise of right-wing radical groups in the wake of Obama’s election, DHS relented. It repudiated the paper and dissolved the group responsible for it.

“DHS is scoffing at the mission of doing domestic counterterrorism, as is Congress,” Daryl Johnson, the man who led that task force, told Wired last year. “There’ve been no hearings about the rising white supremacist threat, but there’s been a long list of attacks over the last few years. But they still hold hearings about Muslim extremism. It’s out of balance.”


By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, March 6, 2013

March 7, 2013 Posted by | Militia Movement | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Class Act”: Let’s Hope Our Next First Lady Is As Exemplary As Michelle Obama

Something happened last week that was political, gratuitous and embarrassing for our country — and it actually can’t be blamed on the sequester.

Out of nowhere, the first lady of the United States appeared at the Academy Awards and announced the winner for Best Picture. Not landing by helicopter, not inside an egg like Lady Gaga, but via satellite from the White House, where she was hosting the nation’s governors for dinner, surrounded by smiling military personnel.

Immediately, the appearance — not her idea, but an invitation — became a national subject of scorn. Most of the first lady’s detractors were conservatives, like Michelle Malkin, who slammed “the White House-Hollywood industrial complex.” Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post blogged: “It is not enough that President Obama pops up at every sporting event in the nation. Now the first lady feels entitled, with military personnel as props, to intrude on other forms of entertaining (this time for the benefit of the Hollywood glitterati who so lavishly paid for her husband’s election) … it makes both the president and the first lady seem small and grasping.”

But other critics were liberals. Donny Deutsch of MSNBC, an “elite” of the first order, sniffed, “there was an elitist flavor to it.” The Post’s Courtland Milloy wrote he had “enough with the broccoli and Brussels sprouts” and all the attention paid to Obama’s toned arms and hair. “Where is that intellectually gifted Princeton graduate, the Harvard educated lawyer and mentor to the man who would become the first African-American president of the United States?” he asked.

These deeply disappointed Americans don’t exactly know what they want from the first lady — just that it isn’t what she is offering. And that’s why it’s so sad. No, Michelle Obama is not going to throw her Ivy League credentials around, or weigh in on war or peace. But she has led an awareness movement to tackle the epidemic of obesity and diseases associated with it, and she helped build a support net for military families and veterans returning from war, the likes of which they never had before.

Those who cannot understand the importance of Obama helping communities most affected by poor eating and poor health engage to improve their choices and habits must not appreciate not only the prevalence of obesity and diabetes, particularly among African-Americans, but the economic toll diabetes and other weight-related illnesses are taking on our healthcare system. Obama has not only worked on federal legislation requiring new standards for school lunches but is urging corporations to open new stores in the 6,000 “food deserts” the Department of Agriculture has identified across the country, areas where fresh food is not readily available.

Meanwhile, she has quietly invested thousands of hours — without any camera crews in tow — supporting military families along with Jill Biden, the wife of the vice president. Together they founded Joining Forces to encourage businesses to hire veterans returning from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Veterans groups have said Obama has hosted and participated in more events for veterans and military families than any other first lady.

Let’s hope our next first lady is an exemplary wife and mother, and a daughter who would move her mother in to the White House with her. Let’s hope she embraces strangers and hugs them tightly, just the first lady we have now.

We can all freak out if Obama appears on “Wife Swap.” But unless she does, please stand down.

Americans taking swipes at the first lady, asking why she is having a good time — when invited — with comedians and producers planning the Oscar ceremony, should instead think about saying “thank you.”


By: A. B. Stoddard, Associate Editor, The Hill, March 6, 2013

March 7, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Washington Political Reporting”: Ignoring The Sequester’s Inconvenient Truths

Republican strategy during the sequestration fight depends upon two political givens: widespread public ignorance, and the extreme reluctance of the traditional Washington news media to exhibit “liberal bias” by stressing inconvenient facts. After all, aren’t “both sides” equally responsible for the current budgetary impasse? And shouldn’t President Obama lead by making the GOP the proverbial offer it can’t refuse?

Exactly what such an offer might consist of remains vague. Mostly, it’s coulda, shoulda, woulda stuff from celebrity pundits like Bob Woodward, the Washington Post editor who spent much of last week on national TV demonstrating that he can’t distinguish a warning from an apology.

“You do not ever have to apologize to me,” Woodward had responded to an allegedly intimidating email from longtime White House source, Gene Sperling. “I also welcome your personal advice. I am listening.”

Wow, that must have been scary! Faced with incredulity after the inoffensive email became public, Woodward alibied that he’d never exactly called it threatening.

Which begs the question of why he was talking about it on TV. Look, people frequently wander into newspaper offices describing government plots against them—often spelled out in all caps, with lots of red-ink underlining and rows of exclamation points. Most often they’re gently shown the door.

But I digress. Sperling’s point was that Woodward was completely off base in saying President Obama had “moved the goalposts” by seeking to close tax loopholes enabling guys like Mitt Romney to pay lower income tax rates than his wife’s horse trainers.

Could there be anybody in America who didn’t know that?

Certainly not Bill Keller. To the former New York Times editor, Obama’s big sin was building “a re-election campaign that was long on making the wealthiest pay more in taxes, short on spending discipline, and firmly hands-off on the problem of entitlements.”

Keller thinks that had President Obama campaigned on Simpson-Bowles-style austerity so beloved of “centrist” pundits whose own finances are secure, “he could now claim a mandate from voters to do something big and bold.” Instead, a weakened president now sounds “helpless, if not acquiescent.”

True, Keller does concede that “much of the responsibility for our perpetual crisis can be laid at the feet of a pigheaded Republican Party, cowed by its angry, antispending, antitaxing, anti-Obama base.”

But nowhere in all this sonorous muck will you find a factual account of exactly what the White House proposes to resolve the sequester that congressional Republicans find so abhorrent.

To do so would endanger the whole centrist enterprise enabling Washington wise men like Woodward and Keller to masquerade as non-partisan and above the battle.

Which brings us back to Ezra Klein, boy pundit.

When last we encountered the 28 year-old Washington Post blogger, he’d done the unthinkable: phoned David Brooks and informed him that his column lampooning the Obama White House for proposing no plan was bollocks. He directed Brooks to the White House website, where a detailed deficit reduction proposal based upon spending cuts, entitlement reforms and revenue increases has been posted for months.

Also unthinkable, and much to his credit, Brooks admitted the error in the lede of his next column. Evidently, he’d been taken in by Speaker John Boehner, who’s been doing TV interviews for weeks now urging Obama and the Democrats to get off their collective asses.

So was it really possible, Klein wondered, that Republicans didn’t actually know about President Obama’s offer? He got himself invited to a GOP background briefing “with one of the most respected Republicans in Congress.” As a policy wonk, Klein was astonished to learn that Republicans in attendance had no idea that the Obama administration had put “chained CPI,” for example, on the table.

That’s a way of restraining the growth in Social Security payments by reconfiguring inflation. Most liberals bitterly oppose it.

Indeed, Klein found that on a whole range of issues, “top Republicans simply don’t know the compromises the White House is willing to make on Medicare and Social Security.”

So it’s all a big misunderstanding? Or was Klein simply being naïve?

The latter, chided friendly rival Jonathan Chait at New York magazine. “If Obama could get hold of Klein’s mystery legislator and inform him of his budget offer,” he predicted, “it almost certainly wouldn’t make a difference. He would come up with something—the cuts aren’t real, or the taxes are awful, or they can’t trust Obama to carry them out, or something.”

That’s precisely what happened. Klein posted a series of Twitter posts from influential GOP consultant Mike Murphy, downgrading “chained CPI” from an essential reform to a meaningless “gimmick” within hours of learning that the White House proposed it.

It’s all quite funny, from a cynical perspective, but perfectly illustrative of today’s GOP.

Meanwhile, Klein and Chait’s brand of irreverent, fact-driven journalism is a refreshing change in the clubby world of Washington political reporting.


By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, March 6, 2013

March 7, 2013 Posted by | Journalism, Media | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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