Baker has mastered the art of the conspiracy theory, the agile evasion of cognitive dissonance that has become the modus operandi of right-wing media at both national and local levels. For people like me, volunteers hoping to put a dent in one of our country’s most difficult problems, the biggest obstacle we face is not any particular policy point, but the refusal of a portion of our population to enter a debate in good faith. When a fact doesn’t fit, they simply deny it, or better yet, conclude it is part of a sinister plot by communists, Muslims or the UN. National media figures such as Glenn Beck and Alex Jones are famous for these maneuvers, but they’ve trickled down to local media and to conversation-level micro-denials as well, and they have poisoned the public sphere.
This fixation has migrated from the fringe of the fringe over on Breitbart.com, which shamed itself in July with headlines announcing that border officials had found a “Muslim prayer rug” at the Arizona border that turned out to be an Adidas soccer jersey. In August, Breitbart protégé James O’Keefe, the goofball behind the ACORN sting and other dumb stunts to entrap evil liberals, snuck across the border in an ludicrous Osama bin Laden costume, to “prove” America’s worst enemy could penetrate our weak southern flank, even though he’s dead.
If you heard about O’Keefe’s stunt, you probably chuckled darkly (especially if you saw photos.) You chuckled, that is, unless you’re Sen. John McCain. If you’re Sen. John McCain, you used O’Keefe’s stunt to browbeat a top Homeland Security official, Francis Taylor, at last week’s Senate hearing about the ISIS threat.
When Taylor insisted officials “have the intelligence and the capability at our border” to block terrorists from crossing, McCain shot back: “Well you know it’s interesting because a American reporter named James O’Keefe dressed as Osama bin Laden walked across the border at the Rio Grande river undetected. Does something like that concern you?” Taylor said O’Keefe was not “undetected,” and that border officials saw him and his crew, but McCain wasn’t satisfied.
Now it’s a full-blown panic. The Drudge Report’s top headline hypes “ISIS at the border?” even though the New York Times story it links to explains how the U.S. is working hard to debunk this conspiracy, though it can’t work faster than Fox News is hyping it.
Fox News contributor Richard Grenell and his public relations firm have been coordinating interviews for soldiers criticizing the actions of recently-released Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.
Those critics have said that Bergdahl, who had been imprisoned by the Taliban since 2009, risked the lives of soldiers who tried to find him after he reportedly walked off his Afghanistan base.
Several media outlets have reported on these soldiers and their concerns, including Fox News, The New York Times, Time, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Mail, and The Daily Beast. According to a report in Buzzfeed, Fox News contributor Richard Grenell and his firm Capitol Media have “played a key role in publicizing” these critics.
Grenell served as a spokesman for former U.N. ambassador (and current Fox News contributor) John Bolton in the George W. Bush administration, and also worked for a short time on the Romney 2012 campaign.
The New York Times reported on June 2 that “Republican strategists” arranged for the paper to interview soldiers who served with Bergdahl and have animosity towards him because they believe he is a deserter.
One of the soldiers quoted in the article, Cody Full, sent out a tweet thanking Grenell “for helping get our platoon’s story out.”
Buzzfeed reported that Grenell’s partner at his firm, Brad Chase, confirmed that they were behind the public relations campaign (Grenell also sent out a tweet explaining his firm offered “pro bono services” to the soldiers). Chase disputed the Times’ characterization of his firm as “Republican strategists” because he is not a Republican.
But a radio producer who booked one of the soldiers told Buzzfeed that Grenell was their point of contact for the appearance. Two other reporters confirmed to Media Matters that Grenell put them in contact with the soldiers.
David Zucchino of the Los Angeles Times, who posted an article late Monday quoting Bergdahl’s critics, said he had reached out to Grenell, who personally helped him contact Evan Buetow, a member of Bergdahl’s platoon.
The New York Times' Helene Cooper, whose article identified the source of her interview subjects as “Republican strategists,” said she was contacted on Sunday with information on former platoonmates of Bergdahl who wanted to talk to the paper.
Since word spread about three weeks ago that the neo-Confederate League of the South (LOS) was coming to middle Tennessee this weekend to protest immigration and refugee resettlement, local anti-racists have been working hard to make sure the group’s stay is as uncomfortable as possible.
"We are completely non-violent,” Darlene Neal of the Tennessee Anti Racist Network told Hatewatch. “But we want to disrupt the League’s process, because their process is one of hate mongering and creating divisiveness in communities wherever they go.”
So far, so good.
The League has scheduled a two-hour rally in Murfreesboro for Saturday, the latest stop on the hate group’s “Southern demographic displacement” tour – a white supremacist version of a traveling pity-party. The League is also planning a second rally in Shelbyville, about 25 miles south of Murfreesboro. But after being contacted by members of the Anti Racist Network and told about the League’s pro-secessionist, white nationalist, anti-immigrant philosophy, two area hotels canceled the League’s block reservations and group rate.
As the Network says on its website, “Racism: ignore it and it won’t go away.”
Neal also sent an E-mail to the mayor of Murfreesboro, Tommy Bragg, alerting him to the League’s use of the city logo on its website, advertising the rally. She urged the mayor to ask the League to remove the logo.