Conservatives Rehash Debunked Myths and Caricatures For Kagan Hearings

Eric Hananoki

Commentary
By Eric Hananoki
Media Matters for America

Spoiler alert: Barring unforeseen circumstances, Elena Kagan will be confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Even Fox News admits as much. Reporter Carl Cameron called her confirmation "likely"; Fox News Sunday‘s Chris Wallace said she’ll "sail through"; Fox political analyst Charles Krauthammer called it "a shoo-in"; Fox reporter Shannon Bream predicted she’ll get GOP votes; and Fox senior analyst Brit Hume said there’s "nothing" that would merit a filibuster.

Part of the reason for her expected confirmation is that Kagan not only has bipartisan support and a "fantastic resume," but the ammunition prepared against her in the weeks leading up to the hearings — see them debunked by Media Matters here — have fallen flat.

Still, that hasn’t stopped Republicans and their conservative media counterparts from pushing tired falsehoods and myths. But why fight a battle when even their cheerleaders at Fox think the outcome has been virtually decided?

As conservatives made clear months before the hearings, the opposition is based on politics rather than Kagan’s actual qualifications and opinions. In other words, the Kagan confirmation battle is just one piece of the larger battle for the Supreme Court. As Democrats hold confirmation power in the U.S. Senate, and nomination power in the White House, conservatives need to shift power in upcoming elections. And on point, conservative media figures have used the Kagan hearings to drum up old caricatures about Democrats and progressives on old base issues like god, guns, abortion and the military.

The most popular Kagan myth is that she banned military recruiters while dean at Harvard Law. In reality, Harvard students had access to military recruiters throughout her tenure, were allowed access to Harvard’s Office of Career Services, and military veterans at Harvard Law spoke out in favor of Kagan.

Those facts haven’t stopped Fox News, The Washington Times, the New York Post, and The Weekly Standardfrom pushing the "military ban" myth. The talking point also found prominence on the Sunday talk shows, where the hosts for CNN, Fox, and NBC failed to challenge Republican officials spouting the attack.  

With his characteristic charm, botanist Michael Savage, who also hosts a radio show, called Kagan "an unqualified idiot" because she puts her "gay agenda" ahead of national security. Rush Limbaugh said Kagan "doesn’t like the U.S. military." Laura Ingraham claimed Kagan believes "military recruiters are second-class citizens." And radio host and Washington Times columnist Jeff Kuhner claimed Kagan’s action towards military recruiters "was an act of treason."

Conservatives have also set their sights on a memo Kagan wrote in 1987, distorting it to claim that she’s anti-Second amendment. CNN’s Erick Erickson, last seen touting his wife’s shotgun and calling Justice David Souter a "goat fucking child molester," said Kagan is "hostile to Second Amendment rights." Michelle Malkin wrote that Kagan has "hostility to the 2nd Amendment." And Limbaugh claimed Kagan "would have voted against the Second Amendment."

In reality, Kagan’s Second Amendment views are within the mainstream, and Justice Antonin Scalia has agreed with Kagan that Second Amendment rights are "not unlimited."

Conservative media have also ramped up claims that Kagan is hostile to religion. Late last week, Matt Drudge promoted an attack by Rabbi Yehuda Levin of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, who attacked Kagan for turning "traditional Judaism on its head" because she supposedly wants to "homosexualize every segment of society." Strong words made more understandable when one realizes that Rabbi Levin is a hateful bigot. Not only has he spent much of his adult life protesting gays and lesbians (even going so far as to protest the inclusion of gays in a Holocaust museum), Rabbi Levin has claimed gays are responsible for 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the earthquake in Haiti. Fun fact: they’re not!

Savage, the fourth most popular radio talker in the country, has provided a clearinghouse for personal attacks on Kagan. He called "Kagan the pagan" a "bagel and lox Jew" who "shuns her own religion." He also said Kagan has "aesthetics" problems, "looks like she belongs in a kosher deli," and "we understand that they gave her makeup, lipstick, and pearls to make her look like a woman."

When it comes to abortion, Fox News host and recovering lawyer Megyn Kelly falsely claimed that Kagan advised President Clinton to "essentially" endorse a health exception that would have allowed women to "get an abortion in the third trimester" because of "a headache." In reality, Kagan advocated for a middle position that would have banned late-term abortions with a narrowly drawn health exception.

Limbaugh took the baby-killer meme one step further by claiming that Kagan "may have a bigger problem with me eating an egg than with a woman killing her child."

If the Kagan myths and smears sound familiar, it’s because they’re virtually the same caricatures used against Democrats for years. Barack Obama, you’ll remember, is the pro-baby killing candidate with questionable faith and a desire to replace the military and take your guns.

Of course, none of that has happened. The claims were rhetorical grandstanding for votes, money, and viewers — a playbook repeated during the Kagan hearings.

Fox News still failing econ

Earlier this week, America’s Newsroom, one of Fox News’ purported straight news programs, aired a chart claiming to show "job loss by quarter." What the chart actually showed was the number of unemployed during four random quarters over the past two-and-a-half years — and Fox News’ lax research standards and accountability.

As Media Matters’ Jocie Fong noted, Fox News’ chart appears to have been deliberately manipulated to generate a less favorable trend line for the Obama administration. The chart used a straight red line to show that job loses have been on the rise since December 2007 to this month. But the chart distorted the scale of the horizontal and vertical axes and included only four data points, thereby omitting any information from the 15-month period between March 2009 and June 2010. Fox viewers came away with the false notion that the unemployment trend has been unchanged since the beginning of the recession.

On Fox & Friends, Brian Kilmeade — whose economic background includes charting the number of Swedish "pure genes" compared to those of Americans — said the chart shows the stimulus "doesn’t seem to be helping" (prominent economics not named Kilmeade disagree).

Fox & Friends also repeatedly attacked Obama’s recent town hall remarks on the stimulus by falsely referring to the stimulus as the "bailout" and claiming that it "didn’t work." Fox News, and their colleagues in the conservative media, also falsely suggested that Vice President Joe Biden admitted the stimulus failed when he said, "There’s no possibility to restore 8 million jobs lost in the Great Recession"; and attacked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for stating that unemployment insurance stimulates the economy and creates jobs (economists agree that extending unemployment insurance has a strong stimulative effect on GDP and employment during a recession).

As regular readers of Media Matters know, mistakes like this are fairly common for Fox News. In that vein, Media Matters sent its seventh letter to Fox News senior vice president Michael Clemente to ask how the network would handle its recent on-air errors, such as the bogus "job loss" chart, in light of the network’s "zero tolerance" policy. Media Matters has sent Clemente six previous letters about such errors but has yet to receive a response.

Glenn Beck’s principles don’t apply to Glenn Beck

Back in early January 2009, as President Obama was preparing to enter the White House, Glenn Beck was readying his own (lower-stakes) move from CNN Headline News to Fox News. Promoing his forthcoming show, Beck claimed he was "tired of the politics of left and right" and decried conservatives who say things like "Oh, those donkeys trying to turn us into communist Russia." He then yelled, "Stop!"

Beck’s proclamation was a tad hypocritical since he had a long, pre-Fox history of comparing progressives to Russian communists, Marxists and socialists. And in the first several weeks of his Fox News program, Beck continued the trend by similarly smearing Democrats and their policies.

Fast forward to today. As Media Matters‘ Ben Dimiero noted, history professor Beck has spent significant time trying to rehabilitate the supposed unfairly tarnished legacy of Joseph McCarthy. Beck added that today, "Marxism is alive and well" and "thriving here in the United States." In other words, as Beck might put it, "those donkeys [are] trying to turn us into communist Russia."

Speaking of fear-mongering about "Marxism," Beck also continued to attack President Obama’s family this week, stating: "[H]is dad leaves him for Marxism, his mom leaves him for Marxism." Just weeks ago, Beck commented that "there is absolutely no excuse or reason to ever, ever, ever, ever even come close to the line of dragging somebody’s family into the debate."

Glenn Beck’s principles simply don’t apply to Glenn Beck.

This weekly wrap-up was compiled by Eric Hananoki, a research fellow at Media Matters for America.