Obama Abroad: Media Conservatives on Tour from Reality
President Obama's trip to the Middle East and subsequent speech in Cairo were a predictable source of fodder for media conservatives. Then again, Obama's trips abroad tend to bring out the worst from the right: a complete rejection of honest self-reflection, implicit xenophobia and anti-Islamic bigotry, relentless fearmongering, and a desire to portray any critics of U.S. policy as being un-American.
In order to prove their point, the conservative media have routinely cropped Obama's statements, including his honest assessment of U.S. failures under the Bush administration while excluding his critiques of other nations. This gave rise to the "apology tour" theme that Fox News pushed heavily during Obama's trip to Europe in April. That theme was rekindled this week as Fox's Sean Hannity aired an Obama "apology tour" video montage, while Fox & Friends asked if Obama would continue his "'apology-looza'" in Saudi Arabia. This time, however, the theme had broader reach and was repeated by CNN's Lou Dobbs, as well as MSNBC's Chris Matthews. Ironically, the typically abysmal right-wing fringe radio host Neal Boortz defended the president, claiming that he "didn't see any apologia, show of weakness" in Obama's Cairo speech.
When Fox's Steve Doocy claimed that "some" commentators have referred to the trip "as President Obama's Muslim apology tour" (by "some," he apparently meant "Steve Doocy"), he found a way to link the right-wing belief that honesty equals weakness with conservatives' deathly fear of the world's largest religion, Islam, practiced peacefully by well over 1 billion people around the world, as well as millions here in America. Commentator Joe Pagliarulo joined in the fun while guest-hosting Glenn Beck's radio program. Channeling his inner 11th-grade thug, Pagliarulo showed stunning ignorance when he stated that instead of reaching out to Muslims, Obama should have said what he claimed Ronald Reagan would have: "Hey, screw you. We're big and bad, and we are the promoters of peace and independence and liberty around the world. Either get with us or you can go on hating us and we'll enjoy life and you'll live in your cave." And during a discussion of the murder of Dr. George Tiller, the always-sage Ann Coulter made perfectly clear just who the far right thinks Obama was talking to this week, claiming, "Unlike Muslims, pro-lifers actually are peaceful." No wonder, then, that the purportedly bias-free Fox Nation website felt compelled to warn its readers that "Obama Says U.S. Is a 'Muslim Country.' "
Classic right-wing fearmongering was on constant display this week, as Fox News' Dick Morris warned of an impending Holocaust, Hannity claimed that Obama had given Iran the "go-ahead" to build nuclear weapons, Rush Limbaugh stated that Obama is more dangerous than Osama bin Laden, and radio talker Lee Rodgers held out the specter of a "few million dead Americans" finally proving that we are all under the thumb of an "anti-American president."
Rodgers really hit the nail on the head for the right, returning to the central theme of its argument over the past 18 months: The U.S.-born, Hawaii-raised, former senator from Illinois just isn't one of us. While CNN's Candy Crowley implied that the Obama administration wasn't a "stalwart defender" of Israel, numerous conservative media figures did whatever they could to prove that the president is taking orders from Riyadh, all while he is continuing his campaign to sublimate American sovereignty to the United Nations and turn America into a socialist/fascist nightmare.
It was fine with the right when President Bush held hands with the Saudi king as they walked through his palace, but ever since Obama politely bowed to the monarch, the right has been foaming at the mouth. The fixation with Obama and the king continued this week, as Fox's Gretchen Carlson and Doocy cited their initial interaction as the "most important moment" of their meeting. While CNN questioned whether shouts of admiration during Obama's Cairo address would be taken poorly "at home," a blog post at The Weekly Standard asked conspiratorially if the president secretly spoke "the language of the Koran."
When Joe Scarborough declared Obama to be "perhaps the greatest challenge Osama bin Laden has faced" since 2001, he gave the week one of its only moments of sanity and perspective. Unfortunately, he stood alone, and it was Fox News' Martha MacCallum who embodied the remarkable and dangerous lack of thought among those in the right-wing media establishment when she asked why we would "have to reach out to the Muslim population" when "we were the ones attacked on September 11th."
Other major stories this week: The murder of Dr. George Tiller
Dr. George Tiller, a doctor whose clinic legally performed late-term abortions, was shot to death as he entered his Kansas church this past weekend. In 1985, Tiller's clinic was bombed, and in 1993, he was shot by an anti-choice activist in both arms. Following news of his murder, Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry released a statement saying in part: "George Tiller was a mass-murderer. We grieve for him that he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God."
As Media Matters noted, on the February 2, 1992, edition of CBS' 60 Minutes, Lesley Stahl reported: "While Terry insists he has never committed any violent acts himself, this footage, taped by the staff of the Boulder Abortion Clinic in Colorado, shows him asking his followers to pray for either the salvation or the death of the clinic's doctor." 60 Minutes then aired video of Terry stating, "But pray that this family will either be converted to God or that calamity will strike him." Stahl added, "The doctor he's talking about is Warren Hern, who runs the clinic. He's been a major target of pro-life groups for years because he's one of only three doctors in the country who specialize in late-term abortions."
Coverage this week of the murder varied.
A report in USA Today falsely suggested that Tiller indiscriminately aborted viable fetuses. Its June 1 story reported that Tiller was a "controversial figure" whose clinic "performs abortions after the point when a fetus is considered viable." But USA Today did not report that Kansas law permits the abortion of viable fetuses when the doctor performing the abortion and a second doctor agree that the "abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant woman" or that the pregnant woman would be irreparably harmed -- physically or mentally -- by giving birth.
The right-wing media police at the Media Research Center's NewsBusters blog complained that media reports of Tiller's death failed to describe him as "controversial," even though several outlets described him just that way, including the previously mentioned USA Today article. To make its point that Tiller was in fact "controversial," NewsBusters cited a Kansas City Star "timeline of major events in George Tiller's career." The first entry in the timeline was the 1986 bombing of Tiller's clinic. The second was the 1991 blockade of his clinic by anti-choice protesters, leading to more than 2,500 arrests. The third was the 1993 shooting in which Tiller was hit in both arms. The fourth entry was a 1998 letter Tiller received threatening to contaminate his clinic with anthrax. The fifth was another illegal protest outside Tiller's clinic. The sixth and seventh were proceedings that found no wrongdoing by Tiller. And that was it; that's the whole list. Calling Tiller "controversial" just because conservative anti-choice terrorists tried to, and finally did, kill him is insulting and suggests some justification for his murder. Calling Tiller "controversial" blames the victim. In subsequent posts to its website, NewsBusters would go on to fault the media for "do[ing] nothing to help their audience understand why [Tiller] was targeted."
Following Tiller's murder, Media Matters unearthed video of a Bill O'Reilly producer's 2007 ambush interview of Tiller and 2006 "confrontation" with Tiller's attorney. Additionally, Media Matters posted a 2006 rant from O'Reilly's radio show, in which the Fox News host said, "[I]f I could get my hands on Tiller -- well, you know. Can't be vigilantes. Can't do that. It's just a figure of speech."
Salon.com's Gabriel Winant wrote regarding O'Reilly that there was "no other person who bears as much responsibility for the characterization of Tiller as a savage on the loose, killing babies willy-nilly thanks to the collusion of would-be sophisticated cultural elites, a bought-and-paid-for governor and scofflaw secular journalists. Tiller's name first appeared on 'The Factor' on Feb. 25, 2005. Since then, O'Reilly and his guest hosts have brought up the doctor on 28 more episodes, including as recently as April 27 of this year. Almost invariably, Tiller is described as 'Tiller the Baby Killer.' "
Responding to the widespread criticism, O'Reilly falsely claimed he had only "reported what groups" were calling Tiller. Reading an email from a viewer who asked, "Mr. O'Reilly, how can you be sure that reciting 'Tiller the baby killer' over and over again did not inflame the assassin?" O'Reilly responded, "The doctor was involved in a criminal case. I reported what groups were calling him. I reported accurately." In fact, O'Reilly has not only "reported" on the term's usage by "pro-life groups," but also repeatedly referred to Tiller as "the baby killer" himself. To put a finer point on the criticism, during a June 2 broadcast of The O'Reilly Factor, Patricia Ireland caught O'Reilly red-handed referring to Tiller as "Dr. Killer."
Fanning the flames further, O'Reilly referred to his critics as "pro-abortion zealots and Fox News haters" who "attempt[ed] to blame us" for Tiller's murder. He also hosted a panel of anti-choice guests asking whether "the far left is exploiting this, trying to shut guys like me up."
BREAKING NEWS: Michael Savage tells the truth!
Well, for about a third of a sentence, anyway. Still, it's a start. Here's right-wing radio host Michael Savage, as quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle:
"I'm going to make an allegation that I can't support: these out of context soundbites came from Media Matters, funded by George Soros, whose goal is to wipe out conservative voices in America,'' he told the Chronicle. "If it turns out they're continuing to do this, they're next on my list. I'm not going to tolerate them trying to get me killed."
What has Savage, the third-highest-rated radio host in America, so upset this time? He thinks Media Matters is responsible for his being banned from the United Kingdom.
Savage is now threatening to sue Media Matters, which would be consistent with his history of suing his critics. His lawsuits don't tend to be successful in court, but maybe they help him feel like he has regained the "manhood" that he says the government "stole" from him. In any case, Savage has a long and despicable history of making baseless and false allegations; it's nice to see that, for once, he admits he's making things up.
* Savage claims Media Matters is "trying to get me killed"
* Savage advocated "kill[ing] 100 million" Muslims; called alleged Duke rape victim a "drunken slut stripping whore"
Is Fox News making money off of its Al Gore lies?
On Thursday, Fox News began promoting a segment on "Gore's green money" for The O'Reilly Factor, asking: "Is Al making tons of cash off global warming fears?"
Given The O'Reilly Factor's track record on the subject, one could guess what to expect from the teased segment.
Just last month, while guest-hosting the Factor, Laura Ingraham said: "It seems that being green does pay big time -- just ask Al Gore. Mr. Global Warming was worth about $2 million or so when he left office in 2001, but after eight years of tirelessly working to save the world, the planet, he's now reportedly -- get this -- worth a whopping $100 million. His financial windfall came up at last week's Capitol Hill hearing."
Ingraham then aired clips of Gore's April 24 congressional testimony that had been edited to remove his statements that he donates the money he makes from his climate-related work to a nonprofit organization.
So, how did the Factor's latest segment on Gore's "tons of cash" turn out?
True to form, O'Reilly smeared the former vice president by stating that Gore has profited from his advocacy of renewable energy and climate change mitigation, while Fox's Megyn Kelly misrepresented congressional testimony Gore gave to suggest that he had lied when he said otherwise.
This week's media columns
This week's media columns from the Media Matters senior fellows: Eric Boehlert discusses Sotomayor, Gingrich, and the demise of our press corps, and Karl Frisch wonders if TheFoxNation.com is the seedy underbelly of Rupert Murdoch's evil, right-wing media empire.
Don't forget to order your autographed copy of Eric Boehlert's compelling new book, Bloggers on the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press (Free Press, May 2009).
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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.