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:,, (Respectful Insolence), and
  5. Mother Jones
  6. and
  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,, 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.

Fox News Propped Up By Republicans And Southerners

A new poll by Daily Kos/Research 2000 explores some interesting, but not entirely surprising, viewing patterns for the three top cable news networks. The poll’s most revealing results are those that break out party affiliation and regional viewing.

Overall, 25% of respondents watch Fox News at least once a week. That number includes 23% of Democrats and 14% of Independents. The obvious partisan standout is Republicans with 52% watching at least once a week. Similarly, regional viewing is heavily weighted to the south with 39% of southerners tuning in to Fox News. The rest of the nation is far less attracted to the right-wing network who draws significantly fewer viewers from the west (23%), the midwest (21%), and the northeast (13%). Also notable is the dismal performance of Fox amongst young voters (18-29) and minorities, at least 80% of whom report that they never watch Fox News. In fact, more than 50% of all of the groups of viewers (party, region, ethnicity, age) never watch Fox News, except for Republicans (38%).

Republicans and southerners are also the most sharply segmented groups in the survey when queried on viewing of CNN and MSNBC. An examination of the data shows that these two groups almost completely shut out any news source other than Fox News. To be sure, Democrats favor MSNBC and, to a lesser extent CNN, in greater numbers than other demographic breakouts, but the disparity is nowhere near as great as that for Republicans and southerners.

These numbers are essentially repeated when the question turns from viewing habits to perceptions of accuracy. The only significant variance is in the “not sure” column. For those who reported being unsure with regard to accuracy, both CNN and Fox had percentages in the low twenties. MSNBC, however, reported 60% not sure. This number probably reflects the lower distribution of MSNBC on cable outlets nationally.

The bottom line is that Republicans and the south occupy a very different country than the rest of us do. This party and regional divergence could not be more pronounced. It suggests that a case could be made that the Civil War was not a particularly constructive event. The consequence of this discord is that neither the conservative south, nor the more progressive north, west, and east, are being represented very well. Previous studies have shown these same distinctions on policy questions like health care and opinions on whether the President was a natural born U.S. citizen.

This new poll is a useful glimpse into cable news viewing habits, but I would still like to see what a Nielsen survey would show. There is ample evidence that Fox is a predominately regional network whose viewers are clustered in the south. With Nielsen data to confirm this, advertisers might alter the way they allocate their budgets. Also, cable operators might adjust their channel offerings, which could help to resolve the distribution problem that MSNBC has been hampered by.

It is truly a shame that the majority of the country is being held hostage by a minority that is pushing a Dark Ages platform that opposes universal health care, civil rights, tax fairness, and environmental protection. And it compounds the shame that an overtly biased cable news network is artificially elevated in a manner that inflates its clout so that it can further distort the political landscape.

However, one other thing needs to be taken from this survey. The numbers of respondents who say they never watch any of the cable news nets (averaging over 2/3) affirms my long held belief that far too much is made of what these networks do and say. The total viewership in primetime for the whole bunch is less than 2% of the American population. Putting that into perspective should give analysts pause when attributing any significance to what is said on cable news.

Fox News: Want Terrorists In Your Back Yard?

President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order today aimed at restoring the rule of law, as well as our nation’s commitment to human rights. He reiterates the message in his inaugural speech that we are not bound by “a false choice between our safety and our ideals.” The order provides for the…

“…closure of the Guantanamo detention center no later than one year from the date of the Order. Closure of the facility is the ultimate goal but not the first step. The Order establishes a review process with the goal of disposing of the detainees before closing the facility.”

Despite specifications that the Order be implemented in a manner that regards the welfare of the American people as the highest priority, Fox News via their Fox Forum has a posting that asks, “Would You Want Terrorists In Your Back Yard?” The blatant unfairness and imbalance of that question is typical of Fox News. Obviously, no one is proposing that the detainees be released into anyone’s petunia gardens. The Order requires a thorough review to determine how best to proceed toward a goal of bringing terrorists to justice and disposing of others appropriately.

It should be remembered that the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have not been convicted of, or even charged with, any misdeeds. For justice to prevail, those who may be guilty must be arraigned and prosecuted so that they can be punished. The rest should have their cases reviewed to determine if they represent a threat, and then dealt with accordingly. Even POWs are eventually repatriated. The problem with this war is that the enemy is an amorphous cloud of evildoers that cannot be certifiably defeated. There will be no ceremony on the deck of a battleship where the enemy leader surrenders his sword. How long, then, should the U.S. incarcerate alleged combatants without even permitting them a defense? Obama’s EO puts an end to this quandary.

The question posed on the Fox Forum has inspired over 2,300 responses at the time of this writing. Some of them illustrate the sick and twisted pathology of Foxism. Bill O’Reilly has repeatedly condemned web sites like Daily Kos and the Huffington Post because he found a few repugnant remarks by anonymous commenters. He is apparently too stupid to understand that open forums sometimes result in expressions of free speech that are indefensible. So he blames the site and attributes the sentiments to its operators. This has led to his over-the-top assertions that Arianna Huffington and Markos Moulitsas are worse than the Nazis and the KKK.

Well now it’s time for O’Reilly to demonstrate his fairness and consistency. Comments on the Fox blog refer to Obama as a terrorist; as the anti-Christ; they wish for his family to be burned alive; they threaten assassination by invoking Lincoln’s fate at the Ford Theater. Does O’Reilly attribute those sentiments to Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch? Will he condemn Fox News for hosting these comments:

Tom BB: America’s enemies rejoice now around the world and in the US. Obama the terrorist is in charge.

Steven: Hell No! Obama is of the devil!


Jim: The Antichrist has arrived and is doing well in the White House. Say goodbye to what we all know as a free and God loving America.


Don Brown: Obama needs to be checked to see if he has a 666 somewhere on his body.

To be clear, these examples are the bottom of the Fox barrel. But the vast majority of comments on the Fox Forum were in opposition to the closing of Guantanamo. What surprises me about that is the fierce lack of confidence that these people have in American ideals and law. Why don’t they believe that justice, if allowed to work, would not prevail? Why don’t they believe that American values would produce a just result? Why are they so dismissive of the Constitution and its capacity to bring about the right ends? It seems to me that they are decidedly skeptical as to the merits of our nation’s founding principles. Isn’t that, by definition, unpatriotic?

Personally, I don’t attribute the remarks of anonymous commenters to the whole of Fox News. The anchors and correspondents do just fine themselves incriminating the network with their prejudices and disinformation. The Fox blogging community simply reflects that bias. And O’Reilly is the leader of the pack. That’s why I don’t expect him to have the integrity to be consistent. He will neither repudiate these remarks, nor criticize Fox News for promoting them. And he won’t retract his condemnations of others whom he disparaged for doing the very same thing. That’s just the way he is. He’s a sanctimonious, hypocritical, demagogue, who is fixated on disseminating his agenda of lies. His audience has found him, and he has found his home in the arms of Rupert Murdoch. I’m sure they are all very happy together.