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“Predisposed To Believing Nonsense”: From The Far-Right Fringe To The Halls Of Congress

Rachel led the show the other night with a look at conspiracy theories, once relegated to the fringes of American politics, now being embraced by growing numbers of conservatives, including elected lawmakers. The segment specifically noted ridiculous theories about the Boston Marathon bombing, spewed by activist Alex Jones, and touted by a GOP lawmaker in New Hampshire.

As best as I can tell, no member of the U.S. Congress has embraced Jones’ Boston-related nonsense, but it’s clear that many federal lawmakers are taking some of his other ideas seriously.

The right wing media’s promotion of a widely-debunked Alex Jones conspiracy theory about the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) ammunition acquisitions prompted House Republicans to hold a hearing to investigate. The theory, which assigns some sinister motivation behind the recent ammo purchases, first gained traction on the websites of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones before finding its way to Fox News and Fox Business and finally to the halls of Congress.

On April 25, Republican Reps. Jim Jordan (OH) and Jason Chaffetz (UT) held a joint hearing “to examine the procurement of ammunition by the Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General.”

At a distance, if we set aside the bizarre ideology that leads elected officials to believe nonsense, it’s fascinating to watch the trajectory — a fringe activist comes up with an idea, which is then picked up by a more prominent far-right outlet, which is then echoed by Fox News and Fox Business, which is then embraced by some of Congress’ sillier members who are predisposed to believe nonsense, which then leads to a congressional hearing.

This just doesn’t happen on the left. This is not to say there aren’t wacky left-wing conspiracy theorists — there are, and some of them send me strange emails — but we just don’t see prominent, center-left media professionals trumpet such silliness or Democratic members of Congress racing to take the nonsense seriously.

As for the underlying ammunition claim itself, it’s been shown to be baseless. Someone might want to let Jordan and Chaffetz know.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 26, 2013

April 29, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Guns, But Not Trials, For Terror Suspects”: The Land Of Liberty According To Lindsey Graham

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is not pleased that the Obama administration decided to prosecute Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in civilian court, even though it would probably be illegal and counterproductive to treat the U.S. citizen as an enemy combatant.

The senator, a lawyer and reserve Air Force JAG officer himself, called for stripping Tsarnaev of his constitutional rights to due process even before the 19-year-old was captured Friday evening. “The accused perpetrators of these acts were not common criminals attempting to profit from a criminal enterprise,” Graham said on Twitter on Friday. “Under the Law of War we can hold #Boston suspect as a potential enemy combatant not entitled to Miranda warnings or appointment of counsel.”

But Graham seems to hold the opposite view when it comes to different constitutional rights for those accused or suspected of terrorism. At a press conference he set up this afternoon to slam the White House on the enemy combatant decision, he was asked about legislation that would stop people on the Terrorist Watch List from buying guns. Here’s his response:

GRAHAM: “I think, anyone who’s on the Terrorist Watch List should not lose their Second Amendment right without the ability to challenge that determination. I think, Senator Kennedy was on the Terrorist Watch List. There’ve been people come up on the watch list. I did not want to make that a — the basis to take someone’s Second Amendment rights away. What I would suggest, is that if you come up on the Terrorist Watch List, you have the ability to say, “No, I’m not a terrorist.” And that would be the proper way to do that.

Currently, the federal government can only prevent a firearm sale for 11 reasons — suspected ties to terrorism, or even suspicion that a gun would be used in an attack, are not one of them. Between February 2004 and December 2010, 1,453 people on the terror watch list tried to buy a gun and over 90 percent were not stopped.

Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s bill to close what he calls the “terror gap” would not automatically strip anyone’s Second Amendment rights, as Graham suggests. It would, in fact, allow “any individual whose firearms or explosives license application has been denied to bring legal action to challenge the denial.” In Graham’s world, Tsarnaev would have no such clear recourse to challenge his status as an enemy combatant.

The Terrorist Watch List is imperfect and there are plenty of legitimate civil libertarian arguments to be made against restricting firearms access to people on the list, since people on it haven’t been convicted of any crimes and they’re not even allowed to know whether they’re on the list. For instance, Ted Kennedy was, indeed, briefly and erroneously placed on the no fly list in 2004, though that’s a different list. But Graham’s opposition to limiting the Second Amendment rights of people suspected of being terrorists is wholly inconsistent with his support for completely stripping away their Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights to a fair trial in court.

Contrast his opposition to closing the “terror gap” with this, from a 2011 New York Times article:

Citizens who are suspected of joining Al Qaeda are opening themselves up “to imprisonment and death,” Mr. Graham said, adding, “And when they say, ‘I want my lawyer,’ you tell them: ‘Shut up. You don’t get a lawyer. You are an enemy combatant, and we are going to talk to you about why you joined Al Qaeda.’ ”

So the only right that Graham seems interested in preserving for people suspected of being affiliated with al-Qaida is their right to purchase firearms.

The NRA also opposes closing the “terror gap,” fearing that it would be used to strip the Second Amendment rights of “Americans who disagree with the policies of the Obama Administration,” “who believe in federalism,” or “who post their political opinions on the Internet.”

 

By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, April 22, 2013

April 24, 2013 Posted by | Constitution, Terrorism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Paranoid And Ethically Challenged”: Boston And The Right-Wing Media’s Collapse

Prefacing his comments by insisting he knows “how foreign affairs work,” Glenn Beck on April 18 announced that his website, The Blaze, was breaking news about the Boston Marathon bombing: A Saudi national student on a student visa and was “absolutely involved” in the Patriot’s Day blast was being deported by the U.S. government for security reasons.

Beck went further, claiming the student, or “dirt bag,” as the host described him, was “possibly the ringleader” in the bombing that killed three people and injured more than one hundred, and the government was deliberately covering it up.

Beck urged listeners to spread the breaking news via Twitter and Facebook because, he warned, the mainstream media would ignore the revelation. But the right-wing media would pick up the slack. Fox News’ Sean Hannity helped launch the story on April 17 and continued to fan it yesterday, claiming the student had previously “been involved with a terrorist or terror activity,” while a swarm of right-wing sites pushed the paranoid tale.

By making his wild allegations, Beck was asking listeners to ignore the fact that law enforcement officials had previously, and repeatedly, denied earlier right-wing media claims that the Saudi student had been taken into “custody,” or was in any way responsible for the blast.

Indeed, officials at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security both soundly denied the story, explaining that there were two different Saudi nationals: one recovering in a Boston hospital who had witnessed and been injured in the explosions but was not a suspect, and another in ICE custody who was unrelated to the bombing investigation. Beck responded by calling for President Obama to be impeached for what he considered the sprawling government cover-up that now surrounded the student, Saudi Arabia and Al Qaeda.

So yeah, it was that kind of week for the right-wing media. It was a debacle.

In the same week that Pulitzer prizes were announced honoring the finest in American journalism, many in the far-right media worked to set news standards in mindless, awful behavior in the wake of the Boston attack.

Faced with covering the most important American terror news story in a decade, too many players opted to just make stuff up. Prompting witch hunts, they cast innocents as would-be killers and then couldn’t be bothered with apologies.

It was a memorable week in which the conservative media’s highest profile newspaper, Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, seemed committed to getting as many stories wrong about the Boston attack as possible.

The hapless Post somehow managed to completely botch the simplest Journalism 101 fact of how many people were killed in the Patriot’s Day attack. But hey, according to beleaguered Post editor Col Allan the Post tried its best and that’s all that really matters. (It would’ve taken a “crystal ball” to get the story right, Allan now complains.) So no, there doesn’t appear to be much introspection unfolding inside Murdoch’s daily; a big-city tabloid that managed to get wrong, for days, a breaking crime story.

Yes, CNN this week was forced to concede mistakes when it reported sources had informed the news channel that arrests had been made in the case. But CNN quickly, and publicly, corrected the errors. Those unfortunate miscues happen when reporters let a be-first mindset trump the more important be-right standard. What we saw from portions of the far-right press this week however, was completely different; they almost couldn’t have gotten more stories if they had tried.

Of course Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham used the terror attacks to push her partisan agenda about immigration reform. (This, before she knew anything about the suspects.) Of course chronic Obama critics like Fox News host Oliver North attacked the president for traveling to Boston to attend a prayer service for the terror victims; to try to help comfort the rattled city. And of course Fox News couldn’t wait more than five minutes after that prayer service concluded before inviting Stephen Hayes on to criticize Obama for how he’d handled the issue of gun legislation.

That’s what anti-Obama programming looks like and Fox News saw little reason to alter that chronically caustic approach this week.

What was truly stunning though, as highlighted by irresponsible rants about the Saudi student, was the aggressive push by key conservative media players to simply concoct stories about the breaking news event.

Back to Beck:

I believe this is possibly the ringleader, this guy is absolutely involved, and we are flying this dirt bag out of the country because he has connections and we are covering up.

Keep in mind, this was after unethical right-wing bloggers had already harassed the Saudi bombing victim online, publishing his name, home address, and what they claimed were Facebook pictures of the 20-year-old Saudi national student. The same student police had cleared of any implication in the blast. (His only crime this week appeared to be his Saudi origin.)

And who led the early crusade against the bomb victim? Murdoch’s New York Post, which erroneously reported he was a “suspect” who had been taken “into custody.”

The same Post, of course, which then made headlines by irresponsibly splashing on its front page a photo of two local men at the marathon finish line, one a high school runner, and putting them under the headline “Bag Men,” strongly suggesting they were involved with the terror attack. They were not. But that didn’t stop ethically-challenged blogger Jim Hoft from referring to them six times in one report as “suspects” in the deadly blast.

“Grossly irresponsible” and “egregious” were some of the descriptions media pro’s used to explain the Post’s shocking performance this week. As one journalism professor told Media Matters, “It does appear that the Post, there is something crazy going on there.”

Trust me, it’s not just the Post.

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, April 19, 2013

April 22, 2013 Posted by | Right Wing | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It Isn’t Just Boston”: An Event Like The Bombing Brings Out The Best In People, No Matter Where They’re From

We’ve heard many inspiring and heartwarming stories from Boston about how people acted in the aftermath of Tuesday’s bombing—rushing to aid the injured, opening up their homes to strangers, being kinder and more considerate than they would have been a week ago, in ways small and large. Many people elsewhere have expressed solidarity with the city of Boston, and I think that’s great. But amidst it all there are some strange expressions about how all that admirable response is somehow uniquely Bostonian. I’m not trying to condemn anyone, but it’s something we always seem to fall into when there’s a shocking and tragic event like this one. It certainly happened after September 11, when stories of heroism and generosity were so often followed with the sentiment that “Nowhere else in the world” would people have acted in such praiseworthy ways, as though had a similar tragedy happened in Tokyo or Copenhagen or Johannesburg, people would have just left each other to die on the sidewalk. I’m not the only one who thinks this way; at Slate, Luke O’Neill is a little discomfited by the way people are talking about his city:

This line of thinking cropped up more and more frequently as the night wore on. This is Boston! Now we’re about to show you what we’re made of. What does that mean? Are we sending a team of our most drunken, sports-crazed townies over to—where exactly?—to find the people responsible? Are we going to settle this terrorist attack with a fistfight outside The Fours? “Clearly … someone forgot what happened the last time evil showed its face in Boston” read another meme friends have been posting over an image of two icons of Boston cinema’s trademark roguish Irish outlaws. I can’t decide if that’s more or less infantile to think the fictional characters from The Boondock Saints are going to materialize to fight terror than to post pictures of Charlie Brown and Snoopy offering Boston a hug. Elsewhere, Today trotted out “Boston” prop Mike Barnicle to explain how owah tragedies ahh moar powerful than yowahs. “This was as if someone came into your living room and attacked you in your home,” the longtime Boston newsman said. “That’s the feeling, that’s the sense of the crowd. This was an attack on family.”

Some of the support from outside the city was even worse. One particularly parasitic example came from page-view profiteers BuzzFeed, whose list of 29 Reasons to Love Boston (subhead: “Wicked awesome”; sample entry: the Citgo sign) explained to the world that we’re a city that has things to do and look at. Thanks for the reminder. One of those things we’re known for here is Dunkin’ Donuts, which, somehow, inexplicably, showed up in numerous expressions of defiant pride. What does a fast-food and coffee chain have to do with how Boston specifically reacts to a terrorist attack? It’s like people were just listing off things that they associate with Boston in order to … well, I don’t really know what the motivation behind that is. I’m not sure what the missing steps are between watching videos of people rush to the aid of bombing victims and pledging your allegiance to a specific brand of iced coffee.

It isn’t that cities don’t have particular personalities, born of history, the particular mix of people who live there, the industries that dominate, the way geography and weather shape the lives people live, and so on. Of course they do. For instance, I used to live in Philadelphia, which takes pride in a certain boorishness (Did we boo Santa Claus and throw snowballs at him at an Eagles game? Yeah, well, he had it coming). I also grew up in New Jersey, whose motto, I’ve long maintained, should be, “New Jersey: Fuck me? No, fuck you.” Washington, where the Prospect is based, certainly has some things to commend it, but it has far less of a distinctive municipal personality than many other cities do. But the point is, the things that distinguish different cities have virtually no impact on how their citizens will react to an event like this bombing.

What does? Our humanity, that’s what. It turns out that confronted with a shocking, dramatic, tragic event like this, people instantaneously find what’s best in themselves. They become braver than they might have thought they’d be. They extend a hand to each other. They come together. That’s what people do.

By all means, we should shower praise on the people of Boston for how they’ve reacted; they deserve it. And we should hear from them about how this event has affected their city. But it would be wrong to convince ourselves, in our understandable eagerness to laud them, that the good things they’ve done wouldn’t have been seen elsewhere, too.

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April17, 2013

April 20, 2013 Posted by | Terrorism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Trouble With News Scoops”: If You’re Obsessed With Getting It First, You End Up Not Getting It Right

It seems that every time there’s a dramatic breaking story like yesterday’s bombing in Boston, media organizations end up passing on unconfirmed information that turns out to be false. This happens, of course, because in a chaotic situation where many people are involved in some way and the causes and results of some event are not initially clear, it can be hard to separate actual facts from what somebody thought or heard or believed. News organizations trying to cover it have an incredibly difficult job to do, and we should acknowledge the ones who do it well, even heroically, in the face of those challenges. For instance, The Boston Globe will deserve all the accolades and awards they get for their coverage of this event. And yet, the news media seem to get so much wrong when something like this happens. Why?

I’d argue that the reason is that in the frenzy of this kind of happening, they fail to realize something important: Scoops are beside the point. When Americans are looking to learn about and understand this kind of horrible event, they don’t care whether you got a scoop. They want to understand what happened. I don’t think the news organizations, particularly the TV networks, understand this at all.

Let’s take an example. The New York Post insisted for most of yesterday that 12 people had died in the explosions, for no apparent reason (they’re not claiming it anymore, but today their web site prominently features Mark Wahlberg’s reaction to the bombings, so they’ve still got the story covered). I don’t know what reporter came up with that information, but the fact that they disseminated it despite being wrong shows how useless the search for “scoops” becomes at a time like this. There were lots of other pieces of information circulating that turned out to be untrue (like the story repeated everywhere that the police had found more unexploded devices) as well.

There are two kinds of scoops, the real and the ephemeral. A real scoop is a story that would not have come to light, either at all or at least for a considerable amount of time, had it not been for your reporting. When a reporter exposes corruption, or details the unforeseen consequences of official policy, or even just offers a compelling portrait of people whose story wouldn’t have otherwise been told, she has gotten a genuine scoop. Then there’s the far more common kind, what many in the media consider a scoop but is no scoop at all. That’s when you discover and publish some piece of information that everyone is going to learn very soon, but you happen to be the one who got it out ten minutes or ten seconds before your competitors.

Media organizations, particularly television news operations, are obsessed with this second kind of scoop, despite the fact that not only does it offer nothing of value to their audience, it doesn’t even give them any advantage in the hyper-competitive arena in which they operate. Nobody ever said, “I used to watch MSNBC, but then I heard that CNN went on the air with the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial a full 30 seconds before any other network, so I’m watching CNN from now on.” When everybody is going to have a piece of news in seconds, getting it first doesn’t help you at all. Nobody remembers and nobody cares, nor should they.

But if you’re obsessed with getting it first, you end up not getting it right. That goes beyond reporting things that are false (which happens often enough) to offering second-rate coverage because your reporters are running around trying to find out something, anything, that none of their competitors know, instead of trying to assemble a complete and informative picture for the audience.

When something like the Boston bombing happens, the chaos pushes journalists toward those we-got-it-first scoops, when in fact there’s no time when those scoops are less important. Almost all the big critical facts are going to end up being given to journalists by the authorities, whether it’s about the casualties or the nature of the devices used or the suspects, once they have them. No reporter is going to catch the bomber before the FBI does. Given that, they’d do much better to slow down and worry less about what piece of information they can get a minute or two before their competitors do than about how they can give their audiences something closer to true understanding.

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April, 16, 2013

April 17, 2013 Posted by | Media, Press | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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