Friday, September 10, 2010

Media Matters Weekly UPDATER! Fox News thinks you're all idiots

Editors (note): Fox News thinks(knows)you're all idiots

Though the conservative media are fueled by overhyped, often-false, phony "scandals," every so often a story comes along that is so mind-bogglingly absurd that it exposes in no uncertain fashion the entire conservative media for what it is: a propaganda machine far more interested in pushing pre-determined narratives than conveying accurate information.

For much of the summer, conservatives have been aggressively working to blur the lines between the radicals who attacked us on September 11 and the moderate Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in order to claim his planned Islamic center in lower Manhattan is some sort of "victory mosque." This week, when conservatives were not busy trying to equate Rauf with lunatic pastor Terry Jones and his plan to burn Qurans, they were suggesting that Rauf literally commands the forces of Al Qaeda.

On Wednesday, Rauf went on CNN's Larry King Live and warned of the dangers of perceived anti-Islam sentiment in the United States, especially as it relates to his Park51 project. Specifically, Rauf said that outspoken opposition to his project creates "danger from the radicals in the Muslim world to our national security." Before we get to the resulting epic conservative freak-out, it's important to point out that Rauf's comments track closely with comments from national security experts -- including Gen. David Petraeus -- who have repeatedly warned of the security implications of anti-Muslim protests.

Undeterred by reality, conservatives claimed Rauf was "threatening" America when he made this entirely non-controversial statement of fact.

Fox Nation broadcast as its top story that "Imam Threatens U.S., Says If Mosque Moves, Terror Will 'Explode.'" Pam Geller -- whose anti-Muslim bigotry leads her to view the world as a Magic Eye book filled with hidden Islamic crescents --announced in a headline that "Ground Zero Supremacist Imam Rauf Threatens America." Jim Hoft claimed in a post about Rauf's "threat" that the "radical" Rauf "warned that if America did not get down on its knees and allow the victory mosque to be built on the bones of dead Americans that ...'They will attack.'" Hoft instructed Rauf to "take your victory mosque and shove it."

Rush Limbaugh, Charles Krauthammer and Media Research Center's Brent Baker speculated that Rauf may be engaging in "blackmail." Fox News hosted Debra Burlingame to say that Rauf had given an "ultimatum" and that his comments represented a "form of extortion." Fox also gave a 9-11 firefighter a platform to smear Rauf as a "tax-evading, terrorist sympathizing, Armani-wearing slumlord" who is "try[ing] to extort America" and "wants to build a Towe r of Triumph on the graveyard of my friends." Bill O'Reilly fearmongered that Rauf's warning about violence may be a "self-fulfilling prophecy."

This morning, the Fox & Friends hosts (and the accompanying on-screen text) referred to Rauf's comments as a "threat" at least ten times. Gretchen Carlson interpreted his "troubling" statement as "If you move it now, we're gonna attack you."

The lone voice of sanity in the conservative wilderness was Chris Wallace, who twice stated that he did not hear Rauf's comments as a "threat." As always, this acknowledgment of reality made him the exception, not the rule.

There is no gray area here: by pushing this story, conservative media figures have revealed -- as they do pretty much every week -- that they are either completely oblivious to reality, or they think their viewers/listeners/readers are. And they do this all the time -- remember the forty-eight hours during the 2008 presidential campaign when conservatives decided to pretend Barack Obama had compared Sarah Palin to a pig when he said "you can put lipstick on a pig; it's still a pig" to describe McCain's policies?

When the top-rated cable news organization in the country joins with leading conservative bloggers and radio hosts to smear someone as "threatening" to attack America for stating something that is widely agreed-upon by security experts, their dishonesty should be news. Unfortunately, since media conservatives seem to have a knack for escaping consequences for their serial mendacity, their role in the unwarranted demolition of Rauf's character will likely disappear down the memory hole.

The damage will already be done, and conservatives' perpetual dishonesty machine will roll on.

Glenn Beck's Black Robe Republican Regiment
Two weeks ago, Glenn Beck capped his shift into hyper-religiosity by unveiling the "Black Robe Regiment." The formation of the group and our culture's alleged "turn back to God" at his "Restoring Honor" rally were supposed to mark the "beginning of the end of darkness." While hyping the group, Beck has repeatedly stressed that they are non-political. Like most other things he says, this does not hold up to scrutiny. In fact, it's becoming increasingly clear that the Black Robe Regiment is simply a thinly-veiled get-out-the-vote push for the GOP.

Beck announced last week that he was working with James Dobson to help form the Regiment. In the past, Dobson and his organizations have repeatedly used churches to attempt to influence elections. The Alliance Defense Fund, which Dobson co-founded, sought preachers who were willing to challenge the IRS over whether tax-exempt churches could explicitly endorse or oppose candidates. Last month, Beck promoted the ADF's "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" initiative. During the segment, David Barton - whom Beck has credited with helping hatch the idea of the Regiment -- described the movement as "several hundred preachers" saying to the IRS, "come after me. I d are you." Additionally, as reported byThe Washington Post in 2006, Dobson's Focus on the Family group announced that it would "work with affiliated groups in eight battleground states to mobilize evangelical voters in the November elections."

Speaking of mobilizing voters, Dr. Richard Lee, Black Robe Regiment member and pastor at First Redeemer Church in Atlanta, told Media Matters last week that part of the Regiment's mission is to return to their places of worship and boost voter involvement. Lee's words were echoed by fellow Black Rober Richard Land, who explained that the Regiment mission entails "Energizing all of our members to register to vote, to be informed as to where the country stands on issues and leave it to them to connect the dots."

The Black Robe Regiment's connections to partisan politics run even deeper. At least two members of the group areclosely tied to former Speaker of the House and putative 2012 presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and his Renewing American Leadership group. Barton, who "spearheaded the Republican National Committee's rigorous outreach to pastors in 2004," is listed as a board member. Joining Barton is Black Rober Dr. Jim Garlow, who serves as the group's chairman.

So what is the goal of Renewing American Leadership? As explained on their "Who We Are" page, the group is "dedicated to educating, organizing, training, and mobilizing people of faith to renew American self-government and America's role in the world." When the group launched last year, Founding Director Rick Tyler described the group toU.S. News in explicitly political terms, saying that they wanted to "prove" to Republican donors that "mobilizing evangelical voters leads to the best economic policies."

As we documented this week, numerous members of the supposedly nonpolitical Black Robe Regiment share a fervent opposition to the "homosexual agenda" and are strident opponents of gay marriage. Included in this anti-gay army of God is Maggie Gallagher, whose association with the Black Robe Regiment further makes a mockery of the idea that this group is non-political. Gallagher, who confirmed her involvement with the group to Media Matters, is neither a pastor nor a religious figure; she's an anti-gay activist. Her organizations, National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, both revolve around "protecting marriage" - by which, of course, they mean denying gays t he right to marry.

So if Beck is serious that his followers should "run from any pastor, priest or rabbi" advocating that "any one policy God says is the right thing," then he apparently thinks people need to flee from his Black Robe Regiment.

This weekly wrap-up was compiled by Media Matters' Ben Dimiero.

An Invisible Chief Justice By LINDA GREENHOUSE

The Pew Research Center asked people this summer to identify the current chief justice of the United States from among four possibilities: John Roberts, Thurgood Marshall, John Paul Stevens and Harry Reid. Only 28 percent correctly picked Chief Justice Roberts. The late Thurgood Marshall came in second, with 8 percent. Fifty-three percent could not make a selection, answering “don’t know.”

The result was surprising; after all, people weren’t asked to pull a name out of thin air. And the alternatives to the real chief justice were scarcely plausible: Justice Thurgood Marshall died 17 years ago (or maybe people thought the question referred to Chief Justice John Marshall — he died in 1835); Senator Harry Reid has never been a justice at all; and Justice John Paul Stevens was prominently in the news this summer not for being chief justice, but for retiring.

To anyone who spends a few minutes a week thinking about the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is far from invisible. Political scientists and legal scholars debate whether the court under his leadership has become a whole lot more conservative or scarcely more conservative at all. A Roberts court decision earlier this year, the Citizens United campaign-finance ruling, prompted President Obama to criticize the chief justice and his colleagues to their faces in the middle of the State of the Union speech. And an unusually rapid pace of personnel change, with three additional new justices since Chief Justice Roberts took his seat on Sept. 29, 2005, has kept the court and its members under a brighter than usual spotlight. So the chief justice’s low public profile is a bit of a mystery.

Thinking about both the Pew poll result and the approaching fifth anniversary of John Roberts’s first day on the bench brings back memories of the strangely disquieting summer of 2005 that ushered the Roberts court into existence. On the eve of the July 4 weekend that summer, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor surprised nearly everyone by announcing her retirement. Two months later, on the Saturday night of a quiet Labor Day weekend, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist died at the age of 80. It was hard to call his death unexpected, because he had been seriously ill with thyroid cancer for nearly a year. But just six weeks earlier, to counter rumors of his imminent retirement that had grown so frenzied that news photographers were camped out day and night on his front lawn, the chief justice had issued a statement denying that he planned to step down.

He had privately told Justice O’Connor the same thing. Had she anticipated that the chief justice would not serve out the next Supreme Court term, she told me after his death, she would have delayed her own retirement for a year rather than burden the court with two simultaneous vacancies. An affecting memoir published last year of Chief Justice Rehnquist’s life and death, titled “Rehnquist,” by a close friend, Herman J. Obermayer, recounts how optimistic the chief justice was in midsummer about his chances for recovery, and how he handled the news only weeks before he died that despite radiation and chemotherapy, the tumor had started to grow again.

As another first Monday in October approaches and the history of the Supreme Court takes still another turn with the arrival of Justice Elena Kagan, it’s worth revisiting these events if only as a reminder of how tricky and contingent history can be. Experience shows how easily even the recent past can take on a retrospective aura of inevitability, and the advent of the Roberts court is no exception. It’s easy to forget, for example, that John Roberts was an accidental chief justice.

President George W. Bush first chose him for the O’Connor vacancy. After Chief Justice Rehnquist’s death, with the approach of a new term placing an extra premium on speed, the president switched his fully vetted associate-justice nominee to the new vacancy.

Experience shows how easily even the recent past can take on a retrospective aura of inevitability, and the advent of the Roberts court is no exception.

At 50, John Roberts became the youngest chief justice since John Marshall, in 1801. He had been William Rehnquist’s law clerk during the court’s 1980-81 term. He was a well-known and widely admired member of the Supreme Court bar who had served two years and written 49 opinions as a federal appeals court judge but who, unlike his mentor or other recent chief justices, had never run any institution. Whether he would have otherwise have been an obvious choice for chief justice is a question I don’t have to be able to answer in order to suggest that his trajectory was hardly inevitable.

And had Chief Justice Rehnquist learned of his dire prognosis a month sooner than he did, I think there is at least a fair chance that Sandra Day O’Connor would still be on the court. Her reason for leaving was that her husband, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, needed her care at home. But John O’Connor’s rapidly progressing dementia soon made that plan unrealistic, and he spent his final years in a nursing home in Phoenix. He died last November at 79. Had Justice O’Connor waited a year to resign, as she was prepared to do, it might have become clear to her that there was little she could do to help her husband, on or off the bench.

Now a vigorous 80 — a decade younger than the recently retired John Paul Stevens — Sandra Day O’Connor is constantly on the road, sitting as a senior judge on federal appeals courts around the country and speaking in support of her twin causes, judicial independence and civics education. This week found her in Des Moines. Had she remained on the court, she would be beginning the new term as the senior associate justice.

Now back to the mystery of the chief justice’s public invisibility. It’s the opposite of what I expected. After his masterly performance at his confirmation hearing, I anticipated that he would become the new young public face of the Supreme Court. I admired Chief Justice Rehnquist, but with his ungainly shuffle and often distracted and slightly demonic air, no public relations expert would have picked him to help personalize a remote and forbidding institution. John Roberts seemed the opposite, with his cute young children and a ready smile that made the television camera his friend. Not that I expected him to go on a barnstorming tour or to turn the Supreme Court into the People’s Court. But I did think he might air the place out a bit, demystify it, make it more approachable through some well-placed public outreach.

Instead, that role seems to have fallen to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who in her public appearances speaks readily about her life and who will soon publish a pre-court memoir. In her native New York City, she has even become a bit of a rock star, her visits to favorite restaurants deemed worthy of public attention. I’m not suggesting that she seeks publicity, but she enjoys people, and people respond to her.

The chief justice’s hard-wiring is simply different. I suspect that the Pew poll, if he learned about it, came as welcome or at least not disappointing news. He is an intensely private person, and it may not be too unfair to suggest that in his heart of hearts, he’d like to take the Supreme Court private as well. After all, it was his decision, rich in unfortunate symbolism and imposed over vigorous internal opposition, to take a step that seems as amazing now as it did when it was announced four months ago: to keep the public from entering the Supreme Court by the front door.
Linda Greenhouse on the Supreme Court and the law.NY Times

Maybe O J needs a roomate?! MAYWEATHER out of control.

Mayweather arrested for grand larceny

Floyd Mayweather Jr. has been booked on charges of grand larceny related to Thursday's domestic violence incident against an ex-girlfriend, Las Vegas police confirmed Friday.

He was booked into the Clark County Detention Center at about 10:45 a.m., police said.

The charge stems from personal items Mayweather took from ex-girlfriend Josie Harris' house Thursday morning. Police have not arrested Mayweather for domestic violence because the charge is a misdemeanor and the alleged crime happened more than 24 hours after the arrest. Police will submit that case to the District Attorney's office.

A temporary protection order filed by Harris, who has three children with the boxer, says he punched her in the head, pulled her hair and tried to break her arm after entering her home as she slept.

Harris said Mayweather "let himself in" to her home in the 3800 block of Tropical Vine Street at about 2 a.m. and began searching through her belongings.

After she confronted Mayweather, he accused her of dating another man, she wrote in the report.

"He would 'have me and my guy friend taken care of,'" she said Mayweather told her.

Harris called Las Vegas police and officers escorted Mayweather from the home about 3 a.m., she said.

Several hours later, Mayweather returned to the home, knocked on their son's bedroom door and asked to be let in.

Harris, who was sleeping on a couch, awoke to find Mayweather standing over her, she said. Mayweather pulled her off the couch and began assaulting her in front of their children, she said.

Harris said she told the children to call 911 or run outside to get help, but Mayweather said "if they ran or tried to call the police he would beat them the same way," she said.

Mayweather followed the children outside and Harris fled to the garage, she said. Mayweather yelled he was going to kill Harris and her boyfriend and "make sure we are taken care of," she wrote. He then fled the residence in his car.

Harris said Mayweather also visited her home a week and a half before the incident and threatened her about a new boyfriend. Police were called, but Mayweather had left the home before officers arrived, she wrote.

After the incident she was taken to Southern Hills Hospital and Medical Center, where she was treated and released for minor injuries.



The 9/11 Media Hijackers

Terry Jones' Quran-threatening circus shows that the enemy of American democracy isn't just foreign terrorists, but also homegrown idiots turning U.S. policy into reality TV.

How does a fringe preacher go from 50 congregants to the front page of 50 newspapers overnight?

Just say you're going to burn the Quran. It took little more for the "Reverend" Terry Jones and his ironically named Dove World Outreach Center to go from obscure even in their hometown of Gainesville, Florida, to instant international infamy. But this twisted celebrity came at a cost: violent protests in Afghanistan and beyond. Generals, Cabinet secretaries and even the president were reduced to reasoning with an essentially unreasonable and insignificant man.

Reality TV, having adjusted our notion of reality by creating D-list celebrities famous just for being famous, now threatens to unsettle the world, and define the American Dream down. Octomom and Balloon Boy are bad enough, but Jones embodies the Joe the Plumber-ization of actual public policy—below-average people christened as symbols of a pre-fab populism, suddenly coming alive as actors on a larger stage. No less lame, we're expecting that the president of the United States should know who "Snooki" is to prove that he's in touch with the American people. This gossip-magazine approach to politics—perhaps the long-predicted legacy of entertainment businesses taking over news divisions—is an evolutionary step down from the sports metaphors that always afflict election season. Because this isn't a game—it's real life, with real consequences that contribute to the making of history. And when news organizations follow the lowest common denominator rather than take the responsibility of leading, the joke's on all of us. The inmates end up running the asylum.

Just because you're crazy doesn't mean you're stupid. The crusty Rev. Jones was just following an established formula for manipulating the Pavlovian press in the Internet age perfectly. It goes like this: Take a pre-existing narrative like the mosque debate ("Are Americans Islamophobic?"), add a fresh news peg, make it more extreme—and, presto, you're guaranteed wall-to-wall coverage that the best PR agency couldn't buy. Jones gamed the system so well that his decision Thursday afternoon not to burn the Korans became breaking news—and usually not doing something is the opposite of news. Then, by evening, he was equivocating yet again, generating still more headlines.

We can try to justify the coverage by dressing up the "Burn a Quran" stunt as a constitutional debate between freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but vibrant debates require two sides and even the most intrepid cable news booker couldn't have found too many willing to endorse the Rev. Jones' position. There wasn't any high-minded explanation; it was just a base fascination that draws our attention for the same reason that people used to view public hangings or watch the Anna Nicole Smith show.

Rev. Jones knew what he was doing—he'd developed a taste of Westboro Baptist Church-style controversies (and now the Westboro folks are threatening to burn the Quran on his behalf. According to Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Thomas, Jones previously sent some parishioners' kids off to school wearing T-shirts that read "Islam is the Devil," with predictable results. Earlier this year, he weighed in on local politics with the similar subtlety, this time offering the slogan "No Homo Mayor" (hint: it's not Spanish) against a local candidate.

Rev. Jones is not the only hatemonger masquerading as a man of God—every faith has them. And, of course, there isn't anything new about publicity stunts in politics or religion.

But in the Internet age, local cranks can quickly become national—and even international—stories, providing that they are willing to be shamelessly crazy in a way that confirms the worst stereotypes.

It's an extension of the shock-jock strategy that has leapt from talk radio to congressional candidates in recent years—there's no such thing as too extreme if it drives ratings, and screaming "fire" in a theater always draws a crowd outside. There's now a greater incentive for testing the boundaries of taste and judgment, while more thoughtful voices too often get drowned out.

This is the dark side of populism and it reflects something of a market failure. Any fool can draw eyeballs with the promise of sex or violence—proposals to solve slow-moving problems are a tougher sell. With globalization, the stakes are even higher. A corrupt carnival barker's stunt is now broadcast around the word enflamed by the oxygen of mainstream media attention. What happens in Gainesville doesn't stay in Gainesville. It can end up threatening the lives of American soldiers in Afghanistan, undercutting hard-won counterinsurgency gains, and serving as a recruitment tool for our enemies.

Media barons might approvingly quote the Romans' admonition about "bread and circuses" while they count their money and media share, but they have forgotten the full context. Societies are capable of amusing themselves to death, just as the Romans did when they stopped caring about responsible civic participation and started indulging their all their base instincts all the time. Soon the barbarians were at the door.

The media didn't create Rev. Jones, but it briefly made him infamous and increased his reach. There is a higher purpose in shining a light on extremists—keeping an eye on their influence. In this case, though, the attention gave an idiot disproportionate influence, and made it seem as if he was remotely representative, fueling the myth of moral equivalence with the fundamentalists we are fighting.

America came out looking bad, in part because we've forgotten that scandal and spectacle are not the same thing as news—bread and circuses are not enough to sustain a democracy. The "more perfect union" we strive for depends on a press with a sense of responsibility, an internal gut check that knows the antidote to demagogues is often a sense of humor combined with a sense of perspective.

John Avlon's new book Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America is available now by Beast Books both on the Web and in paperback. He is also the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics and a CNN contributor. Previously, he served as chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.