We talk a lot here at C&L about how right-wing mainstream media act as "transmitters" for right-wing extremism, legitimizing radical ideas from the most violent and racist elements of the Right by repackaging them for general consumption. The inevitable outcome of this kind of transmission is what Anders Breivik, the Norwegian right-wing terrorist, represented in many ways -- but it's something that occurs far more often in the USA, and most frequently in recent years on Fox News.
David Holthouse at Media Matters has the most recent example: Fox's recent coverage of an ATF sting operation called "Operation Castaway," which Fox has been trying to depict as yet another rogue gun operation gone awry -- except that it's not:
Nothing in the more than 500 pages of Operation Castaway court documents, which are public records, indicate anything other than a textbook operation culminating in the interdiction of a large shipment of firearms bound for Honduras. Eight traffickers including Crumpler were convicted and sentenced to between two and a half and seven years in federal prison.
Despite this winning outcome, Operation Castaway is under attack from right-wing bloggers and Fox. These critics are disregarding basic standards of fact checking in their rush to link the Tampa investigation to Operation Fast and Furious, the failed ATF initiative in which agents knowingly allowed firearms to be trafficked across the border into Mexico.
In one typical example, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs branded Operation Castaway "a second version of the botched operation Fast and Furious" during his July 11 broadcast.
And who was their source for this information? Why, the far-right wingnutosphere's nastiest and nuttiest elements, of course -- a militiaman straight out of a 1990s caricature:
There is no evidence in the court files to support Dobbs' claims and he offered no original reporting to back them up. Instead, he relied on references to "new reports" and "allegations" without revealing their dubious origin--anonymously sourced blog items on conspiratorial websites.
The first of these posts appeared July 6. It was headlined "Breaking News: Source claims ATF's Tampa SAC walked guns to HONDURAS! Part of Operation Castaway?" [SAC is an acronym for Special Agent in Charge.] Citing "private correspondence from a proven credible source," the blog item reported that Tampa ATF deliberately facilitated the smuggling of firearms to Honduras "using the techniques and tactics identical to Fast and Furious."
The July 6 blog item was republished with no additional reporting by dozens of pro-militia and other right-wing websites. It jumped to Fox News in the July 8 broadcast of Special Report with Bret Baier, which featured an interview with "online journalist" Mike Vanderboegh, one of the bloggers who posted the original item. Vanderboegh was a leading figure in the 1990s militia movement who more recently led the Alabama Minuteman Support Team, a border vigilante group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Vanderboegh was also one of the first to report on the failed Fast and Furious investigation.
"Mike Vanderboegh communicates with a host of ATF agents daily on his web site," said Fox News reporter William La Jeunesse. "Agents told him Wednesday Operation Castaway out of the Tampa office, also knowingly sold guns to criminals, in this case, 1,000 to buyers for the violent drug gang, MS-13. Those guns to Honduras."
La Jeunesse gave no indication that he'd made any attempt to confirm Vanderboegh's story. He simply gave the blogger a national platform.
Some of you may remember Vanderboegh from the health-care debate: he's the fellow who urged his readers to throw bricks through Democrats' windows, and they in fact did so. One of his victims was Gabrielle Giffords, who had a brick thrown through an office window -- well before she was shot. (Wonder if they've checked that brick for Jared Loughner's DNA.)
And of course, being the sensitive and thoughtful fellow he is, Vanderboegh escalated the rhetoric when he was called on it:
May I tell you my personal motive for doing this? I’m trying to save the lives of Nancy Pelosi, and every one of these people who do not understand the unintended consequences of their actions. [...] Because they are not paying attention to the million of people across this deepening divide that politics no longer avails them. [...] We refuse to participate in the system, and we refuse to pay the fines, and we refuse arrest. Now where do you suppose that’s going but a thousand little Waco’s.
This is almost identical to the phony rationale that Vanderboegh has trotted out for publicly fantasizing about my violent death: he's just trying to wake me up to the consequences of my work, you see. As you can imagine, I'm deeply touched.
Here's Vanderboegh leading one of those open-carry "Second Amendment" rallies in the Washington area last year:
I guess it should no longer be a surprise that Fox News would treat this kind of character as a credible information source. But that's because being a right-wing propaganda channel means you don't have to actually tend to the truth, fact, or reality.