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Center for American Progress

The Mainstream Media Is Gobbling Up Conservative Crazies

The Mainstream Media Is Gobbling Up Conservative Crazies

Increasingly outlandish claims by polarizing figures in the Republican Party are not being dismissed by the media. Rather they are being taken seriously and promoted to an unfortunate degree.

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Ted Nugent listens as President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address on February 12, 2013. (AP/ Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Ted Nugent listens as President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address on February 12, 2013. (AP/ Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Perhaps liberals ought to send Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) flowers and a box of chocolates. The Texas Republican—who recently threatened President Barack Obama with impeachment should the president use his executive power to strengthen the nation’s gun control laws—escorted Ted Nugent to President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night. If anyone wished to create a more perfect depiction of just how disconnected—not merely from reality but perhaps even from civilization as well—the modern conservative movement appears to be, what better symbol than the presence of Nugent? Here’s a man who has said:

  • “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.”
  • “Our president, attorney general, vice president, Hillary Clinton. They’re criminals … get everybody in your lives to clean house in this vile, evil, America-hating administration … we need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November.”
  • While toting a machine gun: “Obama, he’s a piece of shit. I told him to suck on my machine gun … hey Hillary, you might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch.”

Nugent has occasionally been visited by law enforcement officials for his inflammatory remarks, and was even barred from performing at Fort Knox for some particularly incendiary comments on the president.

Meanwhile, speaking in Philadelphia on Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden tried to explain that the right-wing reports alleging that the president sought to take Americans’ guns away was a “bunch of malarkey,” and added, “To be very blunt with you, we’re counting on all of you, the legitimate news media, to cover these discussions.”

Good luck with that, Mr. Vice President. The sad truth is that this nonsense is introduced into the media ecosystem by right-wing reality-denying sources, and it almost always makes its way into the mainstream media—often going unchallenged. Take, for example, Ted Nugent himself. Why in the world, while previewing a report on—you guessed it—Nugent’s views on firearms, would CNN’s Deb Feyerick claim that this violent lunatic enjoyed “a very deep connection with the facts and the facts that he needs to make his argument”? In the first place, it’s a logically nonsensical statement.

More importantly, however, it is patently false. There are said to be as many as 80 million guns in private hands in this country. Nobody could take them away, even if they wanted to—and as Vice President Biden tried to explain, nobody does. Yet just three days after Feyerick made herself look foolish in the service of Nugent’s nuttiness, during a February 4 segment on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront,” both Feyerick and Burnett went even deeper into the weeds, wondering aloud what would happen if the Obama administration attempted to “take all the guns away tomorrow.”

Predictably, following the president’s State of the Union address this week, it was absolutely crucial for mainstream media reporters such as The Wall Street Journal’s Siobhan Hughes to cover Nugent’s “thoughtful” response—as he was surrounded by competing journalists: “You just can’t get more of a predictable flowery script … and every time he is done speaking, he either does just the opposite or nothing at all.” To be fair to Hughes, he wasn’t the only one scribbling away furiously. Look at all this coverage of Nugent’s remarks and appearance. Those journalists’ mothers must be awfully proud.

Of course, covering the wit and wisdom of a hate-filled miscreant such as Ted Nugent is merely the tip of a dirty-media iceberg. The conservative media is filled with false notions, defamatory statements, racism, and conspiracy theories—all of which and more strain credulity to even fathom that anyone could believe them.

Among the most recent of a multitude of examples—and the most outlandish of the right-wing conspiracy theories afoot, as Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall notes—is the contention of ex-FBI agent and anti-Islam activist John Guandolo regarding CIA director nominee John Brennan. Apparently, “Guandolo left the FBI after sleeping with a witness in the investigation of disgraced Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana,” and then proceeded to go on Tom Trento’s radio show to make the claim that Brennan “did convert to Islam when he served in an official capacity on the behalf of the United States in Saudi Arabia.” Moreover, according to Guandolo, “[Brennan’s] conversion to Islam was the culmination of a counterintelligence operation against him to recruit him.” We’ll see if that one shows up on CNN, as well.

In addition to the purposeful mindlessness of alleged news outlets such as CNN, a second problem that the dwindling number of sane conservatives face in reigning in the loud voices representing their movement has been the refusal of most conservative intellectuals to respond responsibly. One of the few conservative voices showing genuine concern for this tendency is the blogger Conor Friedersdorf. Writing recently on The Atlantic‘s website, Friedersdorf took to task Rich Lowry, the editor of the conservative magazine National Review. He criticizes Lowry for cozying up to Rush Limbaugh—whom Friedersdorf understandably sees as helping drive the conservative movement off the deep end of illogic, to say nothing of racism, sexism, xenophobia, and other intellectual sins.

Friedersdorf argues that, “National Review‘s editor ought to be an intellectual leader of movement conservatism, using his position to offer something different than the populist entertainers on talk radio and cable news”—owing to the fact that an “ideological coalition cannot flourish when a man like Rush Limbaugh is its thought leader.” Why, then, Friedersdorf asks, is Lowry claiming in his recent Politico column that “Rush Was Right”? What exactly was Rush so right about with regard to the president? It could be any of the following—all are claims that Limbaugh has made of late:

  • Barack Obama is trying—to dismantle, brick by brick, the American Dream. … this is what we have as a president: a radical ideologue, a ruthless politician who despises the country and the way it was founded and the way in which it became great. He hates it.”
  • “Obama is telling us he is a black American first and an American second.”
  • “In Obama’s America the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, ‘Yay, right on, right on, right on, right on,’ and, of course, everybody says the white kid deserved it, he was born a racist, he’s white.”
  • “When I look at Obama, I don’t see black. I see a socialist. I see a Marxist. I see a guy who’s got this country in his crosshairs.”
  • “As far as Obama is concerned, the original flaw of slavery still exists, and this is what he and Bill Ayers are busy trying to teach as many young people in America as possible.”

Such statements—and the thousands of others like them—are part and parcel of what Paul Krugman calls “The Ignorance Caucus,” made up of people such as Limbaugh and Nugent, who are clearly hostile to knowledge and truth. The problem is that the members of this caucus are not remotely radical in the context of the contemporary conservative movement. This tendency toward illogical thinking is all-too-perfectly illustrated by the members of the Texas Republican Party, who in 2012, explicitly condemned efforts to teach “critical thinking skills” because such efforts “have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

You can see this distaste for truth and facts almost everywhere that conservatives are now finding their views under attack. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), for example, called in a speech last week for an end to federal funding of social science research. Rep. Cantor isn’t the only one who wants to eliminate what he doesn’t support—House Republicans have made intense efforts to suppress any research they don’t like or agree with, whether it’s about gun violence, comparative effectiveness research regarding health care treatments, global warming, or a recent Congressional Research Service report that undermined conservative arguments about the value of cutting tax cuts for the wealthy. And what of freshman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who charged at an Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday that—I kid you not—former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), President Obama’s nominee to be the next secretary of defense, is on the payrolls of North Korea’s paranoid totalitarian regime.

As with the likes of Nugent, Limbaugh, Guandolo, and other conservative thought leaders, it’s hard to believe that anyone—including the speakers themselves—can pretend to believe such outrageous allegations. But they just keep coming.

Ironically, the only conservative as of late who appears to be worried about the tendency of conservatives to say crazy things is Karl Rove. It’s not that he’s worried about the quality of their arguments or the honesty of their beliefs. Rather, Rove and his fellow moneymen are worried that these nutty folk will make losing candidates in looming elections. Rove’s new group, the Conservative Victory Project, is now involved in a delicate and sensitive undertaking to “impose a new sense of discipline on the party, particularly in primary races,” according to a recent New York Times article.

Steven J. Law, president of Rove’s super PAC, American Crossroads, is heading up the new project because, as he told the Times, “There is broad concern about having blown a significant number of races because the wrong candidates were selected.” Rove and his cronies are particularly worried that Iowan conservatives will pick as their Senate candidate in 2014 Rep. Steve King, a particularly wacky wordsmith who compares undocumented immigrants to dogs and Capitol Hill maintenance workers to “Stasi troops” because they were switching the building’s old light bulbs to more environmentally friendly ones.

Perhaps in the future, we can at least look forward to only seeing on the ballot those conservatives who are just crazy enough to pass Karl Rove’s muster. I wonder if Ted Nugent has any electoral plans.

Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a CUNY distinguished professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College. He is also “The Liberal Media” columnist for The Nation. His most recent book is The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama.

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Eric Alterman

Senior Fellow

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