The Queen Of Astroturf Doesn’t Know The Meaning Of Astroturf

When Sharyl Attkisson left CBS over her flagrant insertion of conservative political bias into the stories she covered, she might have tried to rehabilitate her decaying reputation by affiliating herself with a credible news organization. Instead, she immediately signed up with Fox News (not exactly the place to prove your aren’t shilling for the right) and took a position with the The Daily Signal, the pseudo-news Internet outlet run by the ultra-rightist Heritage Foundation.

Media Circus

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Her post-CBS work has mainly been limited to three areas of shameless whining: 1) Bashing those in her past that she felt had discriminated against her freedom to propagandize; 2) Promoting her anti-Obama diatribe “Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama’s Washington;” and 3) Telling paranoid (and ultimately debunked) tales of being spied on by shadowy, unnamed enemies in the government determined to destroy her professionally and personally.

Continuing her transparently prejudiced crusade against a select group of imagined adversaries, Attkisson has published her list of “The Top 10 Astroturfers.” In the process she has demonstrated that she is viscerally determined to persist in slandering her perceived foes. What’s more, she is proving that she doesn’t have any idea what Astroturfing is. For the record, here is the generally recognized definition of this neologism:

Astroturf: An apparently grassroots-based citizen group or coalition that is primarily conceived, created and/or funded by corporations, industry trade associations, political interests or public relations firms. It seeks to disguise a powerful special interest as a popular movement.

On that basis, here is Attkisson’s list:

  1. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Everytown
  2. Media Matters for America
  3. University of California Hastings Professor Dorit Rubenstein Reiss and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Dr. Paul Offit
  4. “Science” Blogs such as: Skeptic.com, Skepchick.org, Scienceblogs.com (Respectful Insolence), Popsci.com and SkepticalRaptors.com
  5. Mother Jones
  6. Salon.com and Vox.com
  7. White House press briefings and press secretary Josh Earnest
  8. Daily Kos and The Huffington Post
  9. CNN, NBC, New York Times, Politico and Talking Points Memo (TPM)
  10. MSNBC, Slate.com, Los Angeles Times and Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times, MSNBC and Jon Stewart.

There is not a single group on the list that meets the definition of an Astroturf enterprise. The one that comes closest is Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense due to its relationship with another group founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. However, MDA was started by an actual mom in Indiana and has a membership of more than 150,000. The rest of the list is patently absurd.

Media Matters is a watchdog group that documents conservative bias in the media. It does not lobby any government entity, organize citizens to demonstrate, or otherwise engage in social activism. However, it is one of Attkisson’s most effective critics and thus won the number two slot on the list.

The U.C. professor and Children’s Hospital have worked on educating the public about the importance of vaccinations. Apparently that has stirred Attkisson’s ire. Also in this category are a few science-related blogs. However, Attkisson doesn’t explain why they should be on the list other than because they have a point of view. She never even bothers to try to connect them to some well-heeled benefactor. In any case, universities, hospitals, and independent blogs are not Astroturfers by any stretch of the imagination.

The most well-represented group on the list are media enterprises. They range from mainstream outlets like CNN, NBC, and the New York Times, to established magazines and Internet sites like Mother Jones, Salon, and Politico, to more alternative sources like Daily Kos, and the Huffington Post. The only conceivable reason for Attkisson citing these media players on her list is that they are all regarded by conservatives like herself as left-leaning, and therefore deserving of her wrath. But they are certainly not Astroturf.

Attkisson really goes off the rails by including the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest and the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart on the list. How can anyone define either of them as faux grassroots-based citizen groups backed by wealthy special interests? More than any other people or groups on the list, these two show that Attkisson cannot be taken seriously.

Attkisson describes her list as “an informal, non-scientific survey.” Her footnote reveals that “the results represent 169 Twitter respondents who answered a public query either directly or through direct message.” What could possibly be more ludicrous as a sampling of opinion than a tiny group of respondents to her own Tweet? Is Atkisson purposely sabotaging her reputation in a public spectacle of professional suicide? The remainder of her commentary accompanying the list essentially redefines Astroturfing to fit her personal enemies list. It’s like dieters defining cupcakes as vegetables so they can eat more of them.

If she wants some examples of bona fide Astroturfers, she need look no further than her employer the Heritage Foundation, which began as a right-wing think tank, but with new leadership provided by former Republican senator Jim DeMint, it has become a full-fledged factory for fake activism. Under DeMint’s tenure it launched the Daily Signal which publishes highly biased articles including those by its new correspondent, Sharyl Attkisson.

Other Astroturfers include the Tea Party Express, which was founded by a Republican public relations firm and is notorious for funneling nearly all of the donations it receives back into its own pockets. Karl Rove’s American Crossroads. Numerous Koch brothers funded entities like Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks, Generation Opportunity, The LIBRE Initiative, Concerned Veterans for America, and many more. Even Sarah Palin has joined the con game with her Super PAC and the subscription Internet site she launched that often has no content for days on end. In all of these cases there is little evidence of public support, but massive bankrolling by wealthy conservative rainmakers.

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A recent study by a conservative news organization highlighted the rampant corruption in many of the right-wing Astroturf enterprises and political action committees. The Washington Post reported that…

“Right Wing News released a report on a group of conservative PACs that took in millions of dollars in contributions in 2014, ostensibly for the purpose of electing Republicans, but spent almost none of it on actual political activity. Instead, the money went into the pockets of the people who run the PACs and their associates.”

This appears to be the rule, and not the exception. And part of why it becomes so easy to rip-off the ignorant wingnut community is that fakers like Attkisson permit the scams to proceed without consequence. By shining her spotlight on an array of organizations that in no way qualify as Astroturf, Attkisson allows the grifters to operate freely while their victims are lost in a maze of false accusations.

Could Stephen Colbert Join Al Franken To Form A Senate Comic Caucus?

Stephen Colbert - Al FrankenPublic Policy Polling has just released a new survey of South Carolina residents on who they would prefer as the replacement for Sen. Jim DeMint, who is leaving the senate to head the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Among those included in the speculation are long-time state pols like former governor Mark Sanford, his ex-wife Jenny Sanford, congressmen Tim Scott, Joe Wilson, and Trey Gowdy, and GOP official Henry McMaster. All of these folks would be conventional picks for Governor Nikki Haley, whose responsibility it is to appoint DeMint’s successor.

But leading the pack is Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert, a South Carolina native and former candidate for President of the United States of South Carolina. According to PPP…

“Colbert tops the wish list of who South Carolina voters would like to see join that body at 20%, followed by Tim Scott at 15%, Trey Gowdy at 14%, Jenny Sanford at 11%, Henry McMaster and Mark Sanford at 8%, Jeff Duncan and Joe Wilson at 5%, and Mick Mulvaney at 4%.”

This could send shock waves through the political world. Colbert has a hefty campaign war chest via his Super PAC that has nearly a million dollars left over from the presidential campaign. He has a devoted following that is nationwide in scope, and a platform for expressing his views on his television show, which gets a bigger audience than Fox News. He has testified before congress on labor issues. He delivered an epic speech before the White House Correspondents He has won two Peabody Awards. However, he also has powerful enemies. Nancy Pelosi launched the Stop Colbert campaign earlier this year:

Yet to be heard from is Minnesota senator Al Franken. The two have a common background and could form a coalition in the senate to advance legislation favorable to political satirists. A “Comic Caucus” in Washington could be a significant counterweight to the other congregation of politi-clowns, the Tea Party.

Neither Colbert nor Gov. Haley have given any indication of their intentions. For Colbert the decision has to include consideration of the fact that a seat in the senate would be a demotion for him. He has far more influence where he is now, although he could earn more money taking kickbacks from lobbyists who would eventually provide him with a multimillion dollar job when he tires of the senate, just as Sen. DeMint has done.

The New GOP Base: Rich, Philandering, Terrorist Symps

This election, like any election, is a contest of persuading targeted blocks of voters to support your candidacy. It’s a deceptively complex game of identifying groups of people with characteristics that are in harmony with the theme of your campaign and getting them to the polls.

Democrats typically solicit union members, middle-income families, senior citizens, and minorities, and attempt to cobble together a coalition. Republicans have been known to make appeals to business people, the white working class, and evangelicals. But this year there is something happening that is curious and perverse. This new development is observable in a couple of recent comments by GOP leaders and media.

Newt Gingrich, in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, was asked about his his multiple affairs and marriages. He responded with a rather unique justification for why behaving like a rutting pig would make him a better candidate:

“It may make me more normal than somebody who wanders around seeming perfect and maybe not understanding the human condition and challenges of life for normal people.”

Apparently Gingrich thinks that cheating on your wife, and/or wives, is “normal” and humanizing. He actually believes that his moral indecencies make him a superior candidate. And conversely, that marital fidelity exposes one’s arrogance as attempting to pass off a facade of phony perfection. By Gingrich’s ethical standards Romney would be wise to shag a BYU cheerleader if he really wants to connect with America and win the presidency.

Another peculiar comment came from Sen. Jim DeMint (Tea Party, SC). He spoke with Neil Cavuto on Fox News in response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech and the issue of tax fairness and whether the wealthy are paying their fair share:

“Well, Neil, we’ve got a challenge in America because about half the country is getting something from government, and that message is going to appeal to them. Republicans have got to appeal to the half of Americans who are paying income taxes, who are working and know better. And it’s not a matter of kind of watering down our message to appeal to those who want more from government, we’ve got to unite that part of America that understands what makes us great. It’s not going to be easy, because it sounds good to say: Let’s tax the rich.”

DeMint is suggesting that the GOP disregard the portion of the electorate that he says are not paying taxes. First of all, he is regurgitating a false argument that people who do not pay federal income taxes are not paying any taxes at all. They do, of course, pay payroll taxes, sales taxes, and state and local taxes, in amounts that raise their effective tax rates to levels comparable to the national averages. But more importantly, the “half of Americans” that DeMint is writing off are, by and large, senior citizens, students, and the working poor, because that is who generally qualify for exemptions from federal income taxes. Perhaps he’d like to tax them more to make up for the tax cuts he has given to his rich pals.

Finally, Fox News chimed in with a segment on their business network. Regular contributor Liz Trotta was called upon to offer her impressions of the State of the Union speech. What struck her was the news released after the speech about the rescue of an American held hostage by Somali pirates:

“How many times is he going to use Seal Team 6 to get out of trouble?” […] “They are becoming political operatives. I don’t trust this guy at all.”

Seriously? Trotta is appalled that the President is sending elite commando squads to save the lives of American citizens. She is implying that it would have been better if the hostages had been left to rot in the pirates’ lair. And if her indifference to the suffering of the victims weren’t bad enough, she goes on to insult the heroes who risked their lives, freed the captives, and dispensed with the terrorists.

So yesterday was a day that saw the Republican Party cast aside vast amounts of voters who are average citizens and retirees. They rejected voters who dare to be faithful to their spouses. And they insulted heroic soldiers and the patriots who support them. Consequently, it appears that the GOP has staked out a claim for the upper-class, philandering, terrorist sympathizer vote. That’s a unique campaign strategy, to say the least. And if that’s the case, I say let them have it, and good luck in November.

Paranoia Strikes Deep: The Right’s Irrational Fear Goes Into Orbit

If you thought that Glenn Beck was a fount of surreal conspiracy theories that make Charles Manson look like the Dalai Lama, well, you’re right. But that’s another story. These days the virus infecting Beck is spreading rapidly throughout his community of wing nuts. There are raving rightists railing about fearsome fantasies everywhere you turn.

Senator Jim DeMint, who famously called health care Obama’s Waterloo, now has not only backed away from that statement, but he believes that the media misrepresented it. Even worse, he told a reporter that…

“…the version played over and over on cable news networks was slowed down ‘so it would sound more sinister.’

I think DeMint saying that stopping Obama on health care “will be his Waterloo. It will break him,” is pretty sinister at any speed.

Then we have radio talker Roger Hedgecock penning a column for WorldNetDaily that could serve as the basis for a sequel to “The Sixth Sense.” Hedgecock’s version would have a kid who sees fatalities from faulty automobiles, except in a surprise ending Barack Obama is a terrorist plotting against a foreign manufacturer.

“But is government ‘greed’ a factor here? As a co-owner of Toyota rivals GM and Chrysler, is the Obama administration and its jihad against Toyota ‘consumer protection’ or revenge against a successful, non-union, red state based rival?

Never mind that Toyota acknowledged and apologized for the problem and the recall. If you look hard enough (and you’re not entirely sane) you can see the government ghosts slandering Toyota on behalf of GM.

And you can’t have an article about paranoia without Andrew Breitbart. The Godfather of pimps is now afraid that the Attorney General and his justice thugs held James O’Keefe incommunicado and leaked information to damage his reputation (as if that were possible). Furthermore, Breitbart believes that the DOJ is out to get him because…

“Well, it’s tied to the Justice Department. And we’ve been very aggressive in asking Eric Holder to investigate what’s seen on the ACORN tapes, and he’s ignored it.”

I can hear it now. O’Keefe was picked up in New Orleans and the call went out to the AG’s office with the White House and the CIA on conference. The whole national security apparatus was fired up as they concocted a scenario to take down a fake investigative journalist and his propaganda baron mentor.

Finally, the master, Beck himself, steps up to spin another of his horror filled tales of doom. In this episode Beck is convinced that some dastardly secret purpose is embedded in the dark recesses of health care or energy reform or education or even college football. The topic doesn’t really matter, Beck will find the evil in it. And it will be something about which he has warned you before:

“I told you for months: Do not allow anything to pass from this congress or this administration. Because they are building something. I don’t know what they’re building but they are putting pieces of whatever it is they are building in all of these bills and we don’t know it.”

I wonder how he knows that they are doing this if he doesn’t know it. And I wonder what he’s afraid of if he doesn’t know what it is. But just to be on the safe side he insists that nothing be passed for another three years, maybe seven. And this isn’t the first time that Beck raised fears of some ambiguous construction project. It’s a good thing we have Beck to cast out the demons of the world, people like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom Beck believes is planning some monstrous assault on humanity in the next couple of weeks. We can depend on Beck to stand strong as a righteous defender of virtue:

“[L]iberalism and Marxism would have crushed all human dignity in their power-seeking and money-grubbing claws. Nothing would have remained of human and spiritual principles.”

My apology. That last quote was actually Ahmadinejad. Sometimes it’s hard to tell these prophets of paranoia apart.

Republicans Are To Blame For Terrorism

On Christmas day the passengers of a plane bound for Detroit narrowly missed a catastrophe. At this time there is still much that is unknown about the attempted act of terrorism, the culprit, or his affiliations. But one thing is clear: It is all the Republican’s fault.

Republicans Screw AmericaIs that too hyperbolic an assertion so soon after the incident occurred? Of course it is. But that hasn’t stopped Republicans from asserting that very same claim against Democrats with all seriousness. In a cynical and self-serving search for blame, it only took a few hours for Republicans to start throwing charges at President Obama.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) was asked Sunday if it was fair to blame Obama. Without hesitation he answered, “Yeah, I think it really is.” Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) fingered the unionization of airport security workers and the closing of Gitmo, along with the standard allusion to appeasement. And scads of right-wing bloggers piled on the Transportation Security Administration and Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano.

A closer look at the circumstances preceding the attempted attack paint an entirely different picture. For instance it is DeMint who has been personally blocking the President’s TSA chief appointment for months. House Republicans, including most of their leadership, just voted against funding for explosives detection systems and other aviation security measures. And the House recently passed a Republican-authored bill to ban the use of the full-body scanners that many are claiming could have prevented this incident.

The most damning evidence of the Republicans guilt is seen in the rhetoric they’ve employed for many months that casts Obama as weak and our nation as more vulnerable than ever. They seem to be signaling to Al Qaeda that now is the time to strike. Take note of what Dick Cheney said about this five years ago:

“Terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength; they are invited by the perception of weakness.”

And ever since Obama took office Cheney and other Republican officeholders and pundits have been striving to manufacture such a perception. Some examples:

Cheney: It is recklessness cloaked in righteousness and would make the American people less safe.

Mitt Romney: It’s the very kind of thinking that left America vulnerable to the attacks of Sept. 11th.

Joe Scarborough (MSNBC): I knew by the second day that America was less safe.

Laura Ingraham (Fox News): I think you can make a pretty compelling case that we’re less safe today.

John Boehner: I think this is a pre-9/11 mentality, and I think it’ll make our nation less safe.

Karl Rove: They’re doing the wrong thing for our country, they’re doing the wrong thing for our men and women in uniform, and they’re making us less safe.

David Gregory (Meet the Press): But do you agree with the vice president when he says that the country is less safe under President Obama?
Newt Gingrich: Absolutely.

In other words, “Come on down, Al Qaeda. The door’s wide open and we’re sitting here playing tiddlywinks.” I first asked this question last May:

“How does announcing to the terrorists that they believe our nation is becoming weaker make us safer? Do they even care? Are they just pasting a big bulls eye on America and hoping for an ‘I told you so’ moment?”

It appears from the Republican’s response to this latest incident of terrorism that my speculation was sadly on target. It appears that the only things the right are interested in are bashing Democrats, announcing alleged security flaws, and gloating when the unthinkable (almost) happens. That is not a recipe for national security. And if they don’t cut it out, they are going to regret the consequences which will be tragic and entirely their fault.

News Blights: January 8, 2009

Item 1: The host of MSNBC’s Hardball, Chris Matthews, has decided not to join the race for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania. In doing so he has resisted a groundswell of support from hard-of-hearing misogynists throughout the state. Some reports suggested that Matthews was only floating the campaign as a means of enhancing his contract negotiations with MSNBC. If so, it worked for MSNBC, because Matthews will be re-signing for less than half of his previous salary.

Item 2: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent for CNN, has been chosen by President-elect Barack Obama as the next Surgeon General of the United States. Dr. Gupta is a practicing neurosurgeon and an effective communicator. He is also a shill for pharmaceutical corporations and a critic of universal healthcare. He famously debated Michael Moore on the Larry King Show about the accuracy of the movie Sicko. Now he will be Obama’s spokesperson on matters related to expanding healthcare to the 47 million Americans who are not presently covered.

Item 3: Congressman Mike Pence and Senator Jim DeMint have introduced bills in their respective bodies to prevent the FCC from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. The Broadcaster Freedom Act of 2009 has been expressly drafted to prevent something that no one has proposed. In fact, Obama has stated his opposition to re-imposition of the Doctrine. That hasn’t stopped right-wing fear mongers from firing off panicky op-eds and fund raising appeals.

Item 4: Sarah Palin, bless her heart, is still providing more chuckles per pound than any of her contemporaries. She sat down for an interview with a rabidly conservative activist who runs a web site dedicated to insulting Obama supporters. The discussion included a fair bit of whining about her treatment by the press, including her assertion that she wanted to ditch Katie Couric after the first round of talks, but McCain’s strongmen forced her back into the lioness’ den.