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Eric Boehlert Headshot

Birthers, Billionaires and Fox: The GOP Freak Show in Full Effect

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This is going to be an election season unlike any other. And not in a good way.

With a new breed of conservative media outlets making their presence felt during the 2012 campaign season, the emerging general election is being waged by the right with an unmistakable stamp of irresponsibility and a complete lack of adult supervision. Each passing day draws new revelations and guffaws.

Raise your hand if you thought 14 months after the White House released the president's long-firm birth certificate that birther booster Donald Trump would be dominating multiple campaign news cycles. But thanks in part to Fox News and the right-wing blogosphere, led by Breitbart.com, which finds the debunked birther topic fantastically alluring, the birthplace charade powers on indefinitely, complete with Mitt Romney's tacit endorsement.

And who ever thought they'd read a dispatch like the one posted at Politico that announced a small stable of right-wing billionaires are willing to try to buy the November elections by flooding the campaign season with a tsunami of unlimited cash (ten figures), aimed at swamping the media landscape and driving down the approval ratings of Democrats with a nonstop barrage of attacks ads.

Of course, this week Fox News gave the billionaires' secretive super PACs a run for their money by producing its own campaign attack ad. Like Glenn Beck's infamous wake-up appearance three summers ago when he announced to Fox's breakfast audience that Obama was a "racist" with a "deep-seated hatred for white people," Fox & Friends debuting its blistering, four-minute evisceration of Obama, complete with jarring graphics and ominous music, will likely live in cable news infamy.

The brash and unethical move, which had been in the works for weeks and was cheered in real time by Fox hosts, represented yet another door the Fox Team has marched through in its unapologetic transformation into a purely political operation. Tired of playing the middle man and increasingly eager to be the origin of partisan attacks and campaign initiatives (not merely reporting on them), the ad was Fox News' not very subtle nudge to the Republican National Committee: This is how you go after a sitting president!

And yes, that's the type of professional hijinks the White House warned about in 2009 when it pointed out that Fox News was not a legitimate news organization and should not be treated as one. At the time, lots of Beltway media insiders protested and actually rushed to Fox's defense, insisting the White House had no business critiquing the press or calling out Fox News by name.

Fast forward and Fox News is now in the business of producing and airing campaign attack ads. At least most Beltway insiders have smartly silenced their defense of Fox.

But it's not just Fox. What we're seeing unfold this year, and what came into such sharp focus this week with the Zombie-like return of Trump's birther sideshow, is just how radical today's conservative movement has become, and how that radical streak is being championed by the right-wing press, which enjoys unprecedented influence at the highest levels of the Republican Party.

Witness the type of fringe, hate-based bloggers Romney personally met with for two hours last month. Witness the fact Romney refused to even mildly rebuke Rush Limbaugh when he spent three days on his nationally syndicated radio show unleashing a non-stop barrage of sexist attacks against Sandra Fluke. And note how Romney refused to denounce his prominent supporter, and Fox News favorite, Ted Nugent after he unleashed a violent rhetorical attack on the president that earned him a private visit from the Secret Service.

In the context of embracing the right-wing media's extremist side without reservation or concern for public appearance, Romney's decision this week to wallow in the fumes of the birther movement begins to make a little bit of sense.

For some conservatives though, it's all become too painful to watch. Detailing his break from what he calls the "new right" (i.e. Breitbart, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News), former National Review writer, and Reagan administration official, Michael Fumento last week denounced the movement's signature lack of seriousness. He complained that, "Nothing the new right does is evidently outrageous enough to receive more than a peep of indignation from the new right."

Also last week, Atlantic conservative writer Conor Friedersdorf dismantled Breitbart.com's ongoing attempt to "vet" the president, calling it a "case study" in "right-wing malpractice." He dismissed the Breitbart.com effort as "an utter waste of time."

Like Fumento's critique of the new right, Friedersdorf was struck by the foolishness and complete lack of common sense that ran through the Breitbart.com series:

Perhaps "The Vetting" drives traffic to Breitbart.com. When it comes to giving insight into Obama's actions, or the course his second term would be likely to take, or advancing conservative insights, it's utterly pointless -- it misleads more often than it clarifies, and whereas actually digging into Obama's behavior during his first term, or his donors, or the gulf between his promises and actions might produce newsworthy scoops, Breitbart.com is spending its time digging up old play posters with Obama's name on them and proving he once dressed patriotically.

But those conservative voices of dissent have been few, while incoherent Breitbart.com bloggers are increasingly seen as leaders of the movement. It seemed even fewer far-right voices of concern were raised on Wednesday when Fox decided to obliterated all journalism guidelines and actively campaign against Obama with the in-house production of a scathing attack ad.

Like I said, the guffaws just keep coming. It's now clear the guardrails have come down around the conservative media movement, and the collateral campaign damage is just beginning.

Crossposted at County Fair, a Media Matters blog.