Asymmetric Warfare: The Fight Against Conservative Smear Campaigns
We are engaged in asymmetrical warfare: telling a lie is easy, while disproving a false claim is difficult. But disprove we must.
According to Fox News and other conservative media, Hillary Clinton is a criminal who makes Richard Nixon look like Mother Theresa. Hillary paid off the FBI to avoid conviction, incited violence at Trump rallies, jeopardized national security and obstructed justice with deleted emails, promoted massive voter fraud, irresponsibly neglected security in Benghazi (remember Benghazi?), and accepted foreign donations through the Clinton Foundation. That cake of paranoid and false accusation is frosted with endless claims of Obamacare’s failure. The problem is that every one of these stories is either completely false or so pumped full of selected half-truths and misdirection as to create a myth with no connection to reality.
The right wing has attacked Hillary with the equivalent of “Chinese water torture” using the slow drip of unsubstantiated innuendo to drive sane people mad. Let’s together dive into this deep and troubled ocean of conservative misrepresentation, fable and fabrication to see how it all works. This is our burden when we find ourselves in a war fought so disproportionately on one side.
Lost and Deleted Emails
With conservative attacks on Clinton’s emails we have the political equivalent of a Turducken: a terrible case of false equivalency wrapped in phony indignation stuffed uncomfortably into affected righteous indignation.
Nothing offers a better example of conveniently differential partisan outrage than the email “scandal” that Fox News has tried to pin on Hillary. To understand how outrageous this entire episode is, we need to look at recent history to gain perspective as we evaluate Hillary’s alleged crime.
We do so by first noting the inconvenient fact that Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice also used a personal server for government emails. In fact an internal investigation revealed that , “the State Department found that emails handled on private email accounts associated with Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice contain “information classified at the Secret or Confidential levels.’” Yet only Clinton is singled out for this practice in an astonishing demonstration of double standards. But Rice and Powell are just a tease.
Karl Rove and Dick Cheney used almost exclusively a private server at the Republican National Committee for their official email. In fact, 95% of all the emails of Bush’s chief advisers’ (including Cheney and Rove) were housed on a private email system. Where was right wing outrage? Did Fox News cover this story? Were there unending congressional investigations? But wait, stay tuned: there’s more! Between 2003 and 2009 the Bush White House deleted 22 million emails (compare that to Hillary’s thousands). This is a violation of the Presidential Records Act, unlike in the case of Hillary who violated no such law as Secretary of State. Yet Karl Rove, who extensively used a private email server for government business, and whose emails were deleted by the millions in a clear obstruction of justice, is one of the loudest critics One can hardly imagine a more outrageous example of raw hypocrisy.
Even more damning, these Bush White House emails were deleted during active criminal investigations, including an unseemly episode of politically-motivated firings of eight U.S. attorneys. Worse, Bush refused to comply with a congressional subpoena to review emails relating to the case. But even more egregious, the period covered by the deleted emails includes the run-up to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq during which the American people were misled about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Conspicuously absent was any indignation from bloviating pundits on Fox News. In fact there was essentially zero press coverage of this issue in conservative media. Compare that paucity of coverage of Cheney and Rove to saturation reporting on Clinton: according to media analysts, between March 2015 and September 2016 there were just under 561,000 articles on Clinton’s emails.
True, of course, one wrong does not justify another, but some rational perspective is needed. We rightfully condemn a slap to the face as violence that can never be tolerated; but that does not mean that such violence is equivalent to murder just because we condemn that too. With this faux outrage about Clinton’s emails Fox News is doing just that, by making a slap equivalent to murder, and then ignoring the murder completely and reporting only on the slap. With saturation coverage the slap is all that is remembered.
Obstructing the FBI
There is no story here, only innuendoes plied by Fox News to smear Clinton with hyped allegation she illegally influenced an FBI investigation. Here is what really happened, as summarized in the Wall Street Journal, not exactly a hotbed of Clinton support. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, central to the story, is a prominent Democrat with close ties to the Clintons. McAuliffe’s PAC donated about $500,000 to the 2015 state senate election campaign of Dr. Jill McCabe. In addition, another $207,788 was donated to McCabe’s campaign via the Virginia Democratic Party. This total of $675,000 represents about 35% of the total that McCabe raised. McCabe ultimately lost to Republican Richard Black. Nothing about these donations is unusual or in any way out of the ordinary. For example, candidate Dan Gecker benefited to the tune of $781,500 from that same PAC and $214,456 from the state party. Jeremy McPike received $803,500 from the PAC and $535,162 from the state party.
So why any fuss? Because McCabe’s husband is Andrew McCabe, who is now Deputy Director of the FBI. At the time of the campaign, he was an Associate Deputy Director. He had no role in the senate campaign and no ties to Clinton’s presidential election efforts. Month after Jill McCabe’s campaign ended (in defeat), Andrew was promoted to his current position, giving him an oversight role in investigating Clinton’s emails.
Yet given those fact, here is the Fox News headline: “Clinton ally helped fund campaign of key FBI official’s wife.” The story concludes with, “Given all we know about how the corrupt Clinton machine operates, it’s hard not to see this as anything other than a down payment to influence the FBI’s criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.” Fox News makes much of the fact that Jill McCabe is married to FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, neglecting to mention that he was not in that position at the time of the election. A lie by omission is a lie.
So let’s recap: McAuliffe’s PAC (not Clinton or her campaign) and the Virginia state Democratic Party donated transparently to a Virginia senate campaign according to long-standing tradition and legal practice in amount consistent with all past campaigns. This was done long before the candidate’s husband would later have any role investigating Clinton’s emails. But Fox News notes darkly that somehow Clinton must have commanded Virginia Gov. McAuliffe to donate to the Virginia senate campaign knowing with prescience that someday the candidate’s husband would investigate Clinton’s emails. I could not make this up. But Fox News did.
We are told in large font boldface print that a “Video shows Clinton coordinated with liberal group to incite crowds.” The National Review posted this headline: “Undercover Video: Hillary Clinton personally directed plan to incite violence at Trump rallies.”
Well, no, not quite. This is a fabrication, untrue, an outright falsehood. Clinton did not personally direct nor did she coordinate nor was she aware of any such plans. These major news organizations simply lied.
The video in question comes from none other than James O’Keefe, a discredited activist paid by the Trump Foundation. Here is the story from right wing sources: “O’Keefe claims that his lawyers have informed him that there’s ‘strong evidence’ of ‘criminality’ on the explosive video. As noted by Red Alert Politics, O’Keefe even shows independent consultant (who he labels “black hat operatives”) who work for Bob Creamer, the husband of Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, admitting on camera that they’ve trained people to provoke violence outside of Trump rallies. Such ‘consultants’ admit to paying mentally ill people to protest and make ‘shit’ happen.”
As an aside, no mention is made that rally attendants would be so easily incited after a rousing round of “build a wall - kill the all“ and “kill her” - which needed no incitement at all. No condemnation of this hatred on Fox News.
Let us not overlook the fact that O’Keefe has a history of doctoring video with heavy editing to create misleading impressions. For example, O’Keefe put out a video of NPR commentator Ron Schiller calling Tea Party activists racists - conveniently editing out the fact that Schiller was in fact quoting a Republican. In another, O’Keefe portrayed an employee being a willful participant in an underage prostitution scheme even though the employee was part of a sting operation to expose the prostitution scheme. Given this history of dishonest manipulation of video, Creamer has called for the release of the full, unedited video of him talking about rally violence.
But the bottom line, no matter what did or did not happen on that video, in spite of those fiery headlines, there is in fact no evidence at all tying Clinton or anyone managing her campaign to the actions of Creamer or his associates. The headlines are a lie. But that is what people remember.
The GOP’s overt attempts to disenfranchise voters with onerous demands and closed poll booths is not enough to secure victory, so they resort to scare tactics about voter fraud. There is virtually none, as every study continues to report. The Brennan Center’s ongoing examination of voter fraud claims reveals, as all previous studies have, that “voter fraud is very rare, voter impersonation is nearly non-existent...”
But that does not stop the lies. James O’Keefe is at it again, again paid for by Trump, unleashing a video purporting to show that Clinton is promoting massive voter fraud. Well, no, she is not.
Here is what the NY Magazine says about his claims: “The second video... revolves around a hypothetical scheme for getting illegal votes cast that O’Keefe seems to think of, which is then batted around by Foval [Scott Foval, formerly of Americans United for Change], turned down by his alleged co-conspirator from the first video, and batted around some more by a third operative who is himself an undocumented alien. So whereas someone sympathetic to O’Keefe’s case might conclude it turns up shady talk worthy of investigation, a smoking gun it is not.” More important: nowhere is Clinton anywhere involved, even if the video showed anything interesting, and it does not. But the lie that Clinton is promoting voter fraud is the story remembered.
During George Bush’s presidency, the U.S. suffered 13 attacks on embassies and consulates in which 60 people died (some put the total at 87). What is important here: Fox News (or any conservative media for that matter) mentioned not at all or only in passing any of these attacks and deaths. Compared to the never-ending coverage of the deaths of four Americans in Libya, I can find not one single Fox News or conservative media reports on the 8 Americans killed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; not one story of Jim Mollen’s murder, and none on the murder of Edward Seitz. Are their lives less worthy than those who died in Libya?
The deaths in Benghazi were covered in saturation nearly non-stop for almost two full years after the attacks. According to MediaMatters, Fox News ran 1,098 segments on the Libya attacks, at least 20 per month, with a peak of 174 in October 2012. Of these, 281 segments alleged a “cover up” by the Obama administration, without offering any evidence for the claim, and pushing the story long-past when the claim was proven false. There is and was no cover up. The House Armed Services Committee report concluded that the Obama administration was “not guilty of any deliberate, negligent wrongdoing.” The GOP panel confirmed that “no one was deliberately misled, no military assets were withheld and no stand-down order” was given to the military. This is a Republican majority report. The bi-partisan Senate report on Benghazi came to the same conclusion that there was no cover up.
Equally corrupt, Fox aired 100 segments pushing the blatant lie that the Obama administration issued a “stand-down order” before there was any evidence for the claim and even after the accusation was known to be false. So Fox aired hundreds and hundreds of segments on an alleged cover up and stand-down order that they knew to be wrong. Compare this blitzkrieg of false accusations concerning four American deaths to the complete lack of coverage or investigation into the 60 deaths suffered during 13 attacks under Bush.
There is simply nothing remotely equivalent to this onslaught of blatantly biased coverage and accusations fabricated from thin air in liberal media. Fox manipulated news with the intent of harming Hillary Clinton in collaboration with allies in Congress. During an interview with Fox News, then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) admitted that the committee investigating Benghazi had set out with the clear purpose of damaging Hillary Clinton. Fox News gleefully covered the Benghazi hearings with no filter. Bradley F. Podliska, a staffer to the committee, openly stated that the investigation was designed to harm Clinton politically. (Conservative media predictably subsequently tried to minimize this damaging admission). Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) reiterated this claim. You simply cannot point to something this outrageous on the left.
Hillary is a staunch supporter of the Affordable Care Act, and this is used against her with the idea that Obamacare is a disaster. Failure by association. The recent Fox News headline about Obamacare is “Death Spiral“ with breathless conclusions that the program is doomed, gasping its last breath. The reality is quite different. The truth is that, yes, in some cases, premiums will rise as much as 25% — but that is not the whole story. What Fox News does not tell you is that “80% of people shopping on Healthcare.gov will pay less than $100/month for premiums once tax credits are included.” The sky is hardly falling. More to the point, “more than 70% of people will pay less than $75/month after tax credits.” The other story touted by Fox is that insurers are dropping out of the program like rats off a sinking ship - and again reality is no match for this fantasy. Obamacare in this open season will offer the average consumer a choice of 30 plans, with each insurer offering 10 plans from which to choose. To put this in perspective, remember that when health insurance was primarily secured through one’s employer, most offered far fewer options.
By every objective measure, Obamacare is a huge success, even in its current state, which everybody acknowledges needs substantial tweaking (just as Social Security did when first implemented). Here is the bottom line from Census Bureau data: “The uninsured rate fell sharply from 13.3 percent in 2013 to 10.4 percent in 2014 and the number of uninsured Americans dropped from 41.8 million to 33.0 million.” This is the largest single year reduction in uninsured on record. Nearly 30 million people have obtained insurance under Obamacare, and the uninsured rate is now the lowest ever recorded in our history. More than 3 million young adults have insurance now because under ACA they can stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26. In total, 6.1 million young adults who previously had no health insurance are now covered under ACA. No matter: ACA lives in spite of the House forcing more than 60 unsuccessful votes to repeal Obamacare, even as the program helps more people than ever. This is hardly the “death spiral” so proudly trumpeted by Fox News. But what will people remember: that pithy but false headline or the positive and real impact of Obamacare on American lives?
Smear Stains Are Hard to Remove
The unrelenting campaign to smear Hillary Clinton has had the desired impact. Voters remember the headline fabrications rather than the truth. Republicans don’t talk much anymore about Benghazi, but the stench of their witch hunt still fouls the air: ask any voter why he does not trust Hillary and the first response is almost always Benghazi and email. Ask what about those stories causes mistrust - and explanations fall flat with mumbled befuddlement. There is no there there, but Fox News and colleagues have thrown so many lies against the wall that some have stubbornly stuck. Fighting the lie is costly and time consuming, so advantage to Fox News. Such is the nature of asymmetric warfare.
Dr. Jeff Schweitzer is a marine biologist, consultant and internationally recognized authority in ethics, conservation and development. He is the author of five books including Calorie Wars: Fat, Fact and Fiction (July 2011), and A New Moral Code (2010). Dr. Schweitzer has spoken at numerous international conferences in Asia, Russia, Europe and the United States.Dr. Schweitzer's work is based on his desire to introduce a stronger set of ethics into American efforts to improve the human condition worldwide. He has been instrumental in designing programs that demonstrate how third world development and protecting our resources are compatible goals. His vision is to inspire a framework that ensures that humans can grow and prosper indefinitely in a healthy environment. Formerly, Dr. Schweitzer served as an Assistant Director for International Affairs in the Office of Science and Technology Policy under former President Clinton. Prior to that, Dr. Schweitzer served as the Chief Environmental Officer at the State Department's Agency for International Development. In that role, he founded the multi-agency International Cooperative Biodiversity Group Program, a U.S. Government that promoted conservation through rational economic use of natural resources.Dr. Schweitzer began his scientific career in the field of marine biology. He earned his Ph.D. from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. He expanded his research at the Center for Learning and Memory at the University of California, Irvine. While at U.C. Irvine he was awarded the Science, Engineering and Diplomacy Fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.Dr. Schweitzer is a pilot and he founded and edited the Malibu Mirage, an aviation magazine dedicated to pilots flying these single-engine airplanes. He and his wife Sally are avid SCUBA divers and they travel widely to see new wildlife, never far from their roots as marine scientists..To learn more about Dr Schweitzer, visit his website at http://www.JeffSchweitzer.com.
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