Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sick Children Left Behind

Bush vetoes bill that would help sick children while the far-lunatic-fringe demonize kids (who were near death) and attack and threaten their family

Eric Boehlert
Media Matters
October 16, 2007

Between Michelle Malkin Swift Boating a traumatically injured 12-year-old boy, Rush Limbaugh denigrating anti-war veterans, and Bill O'Reilly insulting black Americans (not to mention Ann Coulter dissing Jews), the mighty right-wing media machine -- firmly attached to the hip of the Republican Party -- is in the process of driving American conservatism right off a cliff. The loudmouths whom conservatives have supported for years, and whom Republican politicians have used for political gain, have become increasingly unhinged. And their recent public antics are drawing more and more disbelieving stares.

With the Bush administration in a state of prolonged decline and with Republicans out of power on Capitol Hill, it's the right-wing media machine that maintains the highest profile among conservatives on a daily basis. And it's Malkin and Limbaugh and O'Reilly who have become the face of the Republican Party.

For liberals, that's a good thing, as the GOP is forced to deal with the sludge that keeps washing up on its shores, courtesy of its favorite media stars who now bide their time insulting black entrepreneurs, war vets, and injured children.

Make no mistake, it was that bewildering list of undeserving targets that caused so many people in recent weeks to express disgust with the conservative talkers. Their comments and attacks could not be explained away as merely Malkin, Limbaugh, and O'Reilly playing their distasteful brand of partisan hardball and taking whacks at public figures. Rather, much like the unexplainable attack Don Imus leveled at the Rutgers women's basketball team, the barbs were aimed at ordinary Americans, leading to the collective refrain of, "What is wrong with these people?"

What's wrong is their recent wild-eyed pronouncements and consuming sense of martyrdom (why should they apologize when they're the victims?) created the type of cumulative, three-week media meltdowns that we haven't seen in years. And, with specific regard to Limbaugh and O'Reilly, the fact that both men physically could not stop talking about the controversies (i.e. themselves) was a huge boost for progressives, many of whom were privately nervous the O'Reilly-goes-to-Harlem and Limbaugh-attacks-the-troops stories might fizzle after a day or two.

Instead, thanks to O'Reilly and Limbaugh's inability to look away from their own reflection or to turn down the volume of their own microphones, the stories motored on week after week, doing great damage to both men and to the conservative movement, which defends the talkers at any cost.

Then, as if on cue, Malkin unleashed her crusade to slime the family of a 12-year-old boy after he came forward to publicly support a government-funded health insurance program for children known as SCHIP. President Bush recently vetoed an attempt to expand the program. Democrats this week are trying to override that veto. The boy, Graeme Frost, survived a week-long coma after his family's SUV crashed into a tree three winters ago. Graeme's sister was even more severely injured in the crash. Today she is blind in one eye and has difficulty with memory, learning, and speech.

That's who right-wing bloggers picked as the target of their smear campaign, posting all kinds of venom and falsehoods about the family.

Honestly, the Malkin-led jihad unfolded like a parody of blood-thirsty Republican bloggers -- an Onion-worthy spoof -- the kind that even I would have been too sheepish to dream up because the premise made them seem even loonier than I thought they were. How far off the range did Malkin and company roam with their wayward attacks on the Frost family? So far that even the trigger-happy crew at Fox News refused to saddle up and join the midnight posse, out to unmask a sick kid and his needy parents. (Keep in mind that for years Malkin maintained a steady presence on Fox News, yet the channel still wouldn't touch her pet project of hate last week.)

Driven to distraction

Over the years I've found that there's a direct link between the degree to which right-wing bloggers become unhinged and how lost the issue at hand is. That's one reason the war in Iraq has collectively driven them to distraction.

The same is true with their opposition to SCHIP. Politically, it's a lost cause. Americans overwhelmingly want the program to be expanded, and Bush's veto could be politically damaging for Republicans going into next year's elections, trying to explain why the GOP picked children's health care as the one issue to draw the line on government spending.

The Republican Noise Machine cannot stomach the issue of health care and tends to label any additional government aide to be the first step toward "socialized medicine." Unfortunately for them, the debate has moved substantially since that rallying cry was used nearly 15 years ago in an effort to beat back the Clinton health-care initiative. During the intervening years, according to the polls, the Democratic Party has taken ownership of the health-care issue, which more and more Americans select as one of the nation's top priority.

In other words, conservatives are in a very deep hole when it comes to health care. And last week the right-wing bloggers dug that hole a little deeper when the Frost story began to break online after a clueless member of the FreeRepublic community posted a completely erroneous attack on the family's supposed riches. Soon the cyber pitchforks were out, with the bloggers convinced they had uncovered a monumental fraud (i.e. Rich liberal kids get free health care!).

And yes, the Republican Party was on-board with the smear campaign. Fanning the flames early was an aide to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who sent out an email to journalists urging them to follow up on the online swarm that was enveloping the Frost family. Days later the White House rewarded for its litany of Frost attacks by sending the site an exclusive statement regarding the upcoming SCHIP vote. (That kind of White House nod is considered to be a major coup among the right-wing blogs.)

Keep in mind that the entire premise of the vicious anti-Frost campaign was faulty: SCHIP is intended for families who aren't poor enough to qualify for Medicaid but are not wealthy enough to afford private insurance -- it's intended for families just like the Frosts, with four kids (two of them in serious need of medical attention) and a household income of about $45,000. The bloggers kept pulling their hair out, shrieking about how the Frost family owns a (modest) house. The Frost family owns cars. The Frost parents have jobs, as if those were all shocking revelations. As if those disqualified the Frost family from receiving SCHIP support. As if those made the Frost family a fraud. They did not.

Prior to the accident, the Frosts did not have insurance because: a) they could not get any through their employers; and b) a policy purchased privately would have eaten up nearly one-third of their annual income. When a cataclysmic health-care emergency struck, the Frost family turned to the government for help for their children's medical costs. They qualified for SCHIP help because the Frost family confirmed, through tax returns or Social Security documents, their modest income status.

So where was Malkin's gotcha in all of this? There was none. None of the online vigilantes claimed the Frosts had duped the government by hiding their possessions, or that Democrats gave the family special treatment. The pointless, hateful exercise in intimidation was simply to humiliate a family whose children were nearly killed in a car accident.

Aside from feeling badly for the abuse the Frost family had to endure, in a way I was happy that everyone got to watch the hateful antics unfold in public. Like when Malkin called young Graeme Frost a "human shield" for Democrats, a term usually used in reference to Middle Eastern terrorists. (Malkin was appalled that when debating children's health care, Democrats brought forward a child like Graeme and let him tell his story.) Or when bloggers posted the Frosts' home address at a time when threats against the family were already being made. Or when Malkin did a creepy reconnaissance mission and drove by the Frosts' Baltimore home and reported which bumper sticker was affixed to their front door. Or when Malkin published a nameless email from somebody claiming to be the Frosts' neighbor with the breathless news about the numbers of vehicles the family supposedly owns.

Neighbors digging up dirt on neighbors anonymously, that's a nice touch.

The examples of depravity were everywhere last week, with virtually every robotic right-wing blogger dutifully dumping on the Frost family, and often doing it with a demented sense of glee. Go here to read Weekly Standard blogger Samantha Sault's take on the Frost story and count the number of falsehoods she passed along, while making fun ("just for laughs") of the working family with two seriously injured children. Also note that when the right-wing lies about the Frosts were quickly disproved (i.e. they do not pay $20,000 a year to send their kids to private schools), Sault failed to acknowledge the litany of smears she helped spread about a 12-year-old boy who survived a coma. (No wonder so few people take the Weekly Standard seriously when it lectures The New Republic about journalism ethics; the Standard appears to have none of its own.)

But the whole messy slime offensive against the Frost family came as no surprise to anyone who follows Malkin and her army of true believers. As I detailed last winter and spring, they're most dangerous when they accidentally bump into some facts and suddenly think they're Woodward and Bernstein.

The irony, of course, is that radical-right bloggers despise journalists and claim they're dishonest, biased, and even treasonous. But when the bloggers try to become journalists themselves, when they try (sort of) to report out a story like the supposed Frost blockbuster, the bloggers prove themselves to be comically incompetent as they publish falsehoods, connect nonexistent dots, cherry-pick information, and generally make fools of themselves. And boy, were Malkin and company busy last week doing all of the above.

Learning at Limbaugh's knee

Where did the right-wing bloggers learn their brand of drive-by invective? From Rush Limbaugh of course, who has made a career out of making hollow and erroneous allegations. So it was fitting that when Limbaugh recently stepped in it with his "phony soldiers" slur, it was right-wing bloggers who came to his rescue.

They wrote about the controversy obsessively -- you could almost hear the blood vessels pop over at RedState -- while most progressives were content to let the story play out, watching Limbaugh feed himself just enough rope each day. Like when he first claimed his "phony soldiers" comment (note the plural) was in reference to a single serviceman who faked his military service, then changed his story. Or when he later included Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA.), a retired Marine colonel and decorated Vietnam veteran who opposes the war in Iraq, on his list of "genuine phony soldiers." Or when Limbaugh claimed to play "the entire transcript" of his "phony soldiers" exchange and post it on his website, when in fact he edited out a large chunk of the discussion. Or when he likened U.S. Iraq war vet Brian McGough to a suicide bomber after McGough taped a television ad criticizing Limbaugh's comments.

But here's what was most telling: It wasn't just bloggers who rushed to Limbaugh's defense, it was also key leadership members of the Republican Party. It was presidential contenders Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney. It was Senate Republican Conference chairman Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ). It was House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and his number two, Roy Blunt (R-MO), along with fellow Reps. Mike Pence (R-IN), Scott Garrett (R-NJ), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who supported legislation that commended Limbaugh following his "phony soldiers" crack, and Eric Cantor (R-VA) who unveiled a Stand With Rush e-petition, urging "conservatives around the country" to fight for Limbaugh.

An attack on Limbaugh is now seen by Republicans as an attack on the party itself. Why the GOP prefers to have a polarizing, hateful, and widely disliked talk show host as its point person remains open to speculation. What's not debatable, though, is that Limbaugh can often be an anchor around the GOP's neck.

Does anybody think Limbaugh helped Republicans win a single extra vote last autumn when, on the eve of the midterm elections, he uncorked a startling attack on actor Michael J. Fox for having the nerve to tape a television commercial urging political support for stem-cell research. Limbaugh claimed Fox, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, was faking his life-threatening ailments during the commercial: "It's purely an act. ... This is really shameless of Michael J. Fox." While Limbaugh made his audacious claim on the radio, in-studio video captured him making mocking, herky-jerky motions, as he did his best Parkinson's patient impersonation.

When Media Matters highlighted the bewildering attack and a full-fledged media firestorm ensued, Limbaugh, just like with the "phony soldiers" snafu, refused to apologize for his hateful and widely condemned harangue. A CNN poll taken at the time found that just 26 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of Limbaugh. Days later Republicans were swept out of office. And if the Democratic Party had sent over a gigantic gift basket to Limbaugh's EIB Broadcasting headquarters, it would have been completely appropriate.

Based on the recent ranting and ravings from Malkin and Limbaugh and O'Reilly, a lot more progressives may be expressing their thanks in the months to come.


Emily said...

This site is thoughtful hilarious. I hope you receive some hits as Ive forwarded it to some of my liberal leaning friends. Keep up the good work

Emily said...

Why do you like Ron Paul so much? I think a Hilary andEdwards ticket would be nice

Real Truth Online said...

well, Hillary and Edwards would be nice yes, if you want continual war and more of the same. Plus, these 2 are global elitists, and Bilderbergers. Ron Paul is the real deal and his voting record is consistant. Look him up!

Maria said...

Hey guys and gals. Thanks for the link Emily. I'll chime in here. O'reilly is a complete asshole and I do like Ron Paul as far as republicans go but Hilary is going to win it all (I hope!!!). We need a woman in power because men screw everything up!!!

Maria said...

Test test

Maria said...

My posts aren't showing up Whats HTML tags?

Real Truth Online said...

Hillary is a joke. Shes a total flip-flopper and she will continue the war. Theres only TWO people running that will REALLY stop the war: Ron Paul and Kucinich, the rest either say they will continue it or say they will stop it (but will really continue it).

Anonymous said...

Emily thanks for the link. My dad thinks its BS because he loooooves Bill O'Reilley but IThis is an informative sight but what's the deal with the 9/11 conspiracy stuff. Does the owner read these? Maria is that you, its Shelly from daycare. You're little daughter is an angel if thats you :)