Phil Brennan, Conservative Lackey
The longtime Newsmax columnist has demonstrated himself to be a reliable shill for conservative causes and basher of liberal ones.
By Terry Krepel
Phil Brennan has an eclectic background -- a former Marine who has written for both the National Review and the National Enquirer. He has brought the worst of both worlds to his gig as a Newsmax columnist: Brennan not only slavishly regurgitates conservative talking points, he's prone to taking liberty with the facts along the way.
Brennan has been writing columns for Newsmax since at least 2001, which makes him something akin to a charter member of the anti-Clinton cabal. Indeed, Brennan asserted in a January 2001 column that Bill and Hillary Clinton were nothing but "conscienceless white-trash boors" and the Democratic Party was "a collection of would-be Mafia dons who have converted a once relatively honest and respected political party into a criminal conspiracy."
ConWebWatch has documented Brennan's various misdeeds over the years:
But those aren't the only things Brennan has misled readers about or has gotten wrong over the years.
Brennan has served as a longtime promoter of the claims of global warming skeptics, even when they are contradicted by clear evidence to the contrary.
For instance, Brennan has repeatedly claimed that, as he wrote in a Nov. 5, 2008, column, "The Earth is not warming. The 28-year period of warming between 1970 and 1998 stopped dead in its tracks, and the climate has been cooling ever since." In fact, while 1998 remains the warmest year on record, the 11 warmest years on record occurred in the past 13 years. Further, most scientists who aren't on the take from the oil and gas industry believe the Earth remains in a warming trend.
Similarly, in a Sept. 8, 2008, article, Phil Brennan selectively reported climate information to assert that "The global warming theory is going into the freezer." Brennan quoted from a Reuters report stating that "The first half of this year was the coolest in at least five years, according to the World Meteorological Organization." But Brennan failed to note a statement in the very same article that temperature dips "do not undermine the case that man-made greenhouse gas emissions are causing long-term global warming, climate scientists say."
Brennan has also repeatedly suggested that cold winter temperatures disprove the existence of global warming. In fact, weather conditions in a given location at a given time do not prove or disprove the fact that global warming is occurring -- even fellow global warming skeptic Patrick Michael agrees with that. The New York Times reported that Michaels "has long chided environmentalists and the media for overstating connections between extreme weather and human-caused warming" and that "those now trumpeting global cooling should beware of doing the same thing, saying that the 'predictable distortion' of extreme weather 'goes in both directions.'"
In a Nov. 19, 2008, column, Brennan quoted a UK Daily Mail article featuring a claim that global warming might be blamed on "falling -- rather than climbing -- levels of greenhouse gases," featuring the statement: "Lead author Thomas Crowley from the University of Edinburgh and Canadian colleague William Hyde say that currently vilified greenhouse gases -- such as carbon dioxide -- could actually be the key to averting the chill." But Brennan didn't quote the part of the Daily Mail article in which lead author Crowley warned against using the study to dismiss the threat posed by global warming, saying:"There’s no excuse for saying 'we’ve got to keep pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.'"
In a May 19 column, Brennan falsely suggested that environmentalists want to get rid of all carbon dioxide:
So just what is this atmospheric pollutant we call carbon dioxide? Is it a deadly greenhouse gas much of which we should get rid of?
In fact, no one is claiming that carbon dioxide, in and of itself, is a pollutant, as Brennan suggests. Rather, scientists argue that excessive levels of CO2 in the atmosphere can have a polluting effect, and that global industrialization has increased the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere -- an argument Brennan does not address.
Shockingly, Brennan was not the only member of the ConWeb to jump on Fegel's claim; NewsBusters' Noel Sheppard (like Sheppard a global warming bamboozler) and WorldNetDaily's Chelsea Schilling did as well.
Brennan has been a longtime defender of soldiers accused of crimes in a 2005 incident in the Iraqi town of Haditha, in which several civilians were killed. While charges were eventually dropped against most of the accused soldiers (with another acquitted by a military jury), Brennan made false claims in defending the soldiers that he was later forced to retract.
A Sept. 5, 2007, article by Phil Brennan alleged that a video shot from an unmanned aerial vehicle "was heavily edited by government investigators." Brennan claimed that the video "was a small, carefully edited part of what the Scan Eagle transmitted during its daylong surveillance flight over the battle scene on Nov. 19, 2005. And shockingly, the approximately one hour of edited footage was the only Scan Eagle footage provided to the Marines’ defense teams by the prosecution." Brennan further claimed that prosecutors engaged in "deliberate editing of the video to show the defendants in the worst possible light." Brennan attributed these claims to an anonymous "Marine intelligence expert."
A moth later, however, Newsmax issued a correction that walked much of that back:
In a September 5th story “Haditha Video Doctored by Investigators” by Phil Brennan, NewsMax.Com reported that a video taped from a Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle that purported to show the action that took place in Haditha when 24 Iraqi civilians and insurgents were killed was heavily edited by government investigators and the entire video withheld from the defense.
After PBS' "Frontline" did an episode on the Haditha incident, Brennan insisted in a Feb. 20, 2008, article that the program "distorted the real picture by omitting crucial facts." On Feb. 25, Newsmax published a response to Brennan's piece from "Frontline" story editor Catherine Wright:
Mr. Brennan is wrong in his assertion that FRONTLINE portrayed Haditha as peaceful and free of insurgents prior to the arrival of the Marines, while Newsmax and other media had reported the city to be firmly under insurgent control. In fact, what we reported is that Haditha was a "serene oasis" and "a popular vacation spot" before the war, but that "by the fall of 2005, nearly three years into the war, Haditha was war torn, and Sunni insurgents were in complete control."
At the end was Brennan's response to Wright, in which he walked back most of his criticisms -- "I was wrong to infer that Frontline misrepresented the extent of insurgent control of Haditha" -- and stating:
The Frontline documentary was on the whole stunningly accurate and went a long way toward destroying the media-fed portrayal of the November 19, 2005 battle in Haditha as a mindless massacre of innocent civilians, and I praise Frontline for what they have done.
Brennan's overenthusaism to defend also went awry in August 2006 article, which began: "Unnamed sources in the Pentagon with their own agenda have been leaking false information about the killing of civilians in Haditha by Marines last November," To whom did Brennan attribute this claim? Anonymous "Marine intelligence sources" and " one well-placed NewsMax source." Citing anonymous sources to complain about the citing of anonymous sources severely undercut Brennan's argument.
Other claims and right-wing fealty
During the 2008 election, Brennan was an enthusiastic backer of Sarah Palin, using a Sept. 10 article to uncritically repeat a claim in a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Republican Rep. Jim DeMint that Palin "killed" the "bridge to nowhere" project in Alaska. In fact, the project was dead as a federally funded enterprise long before Palin "killed" it.
Writing about the contentious post-election battle for a Minnesota Senate seat between Democrat Al Franken and Republican Norm Coleman in a Nov. 9 2008, article, Brennan wrote: "one election judge who recalled that because of a communications snafu, the vote tallies could not be transmitted to the state electronically and that the top official in his voting district, a Democrat, simply took the results and carried them to the state in her car -- with no one to keep an eye on her." In fact, the ballots were kept in a secure location and were never left in anyone's car. Further, even a lawyer for Coleman, Fritz Knaak, has said of the claim that "we've heard enough from the city attorney to let go of this. It does not appear that there was any ballot-tampering, and that was our concern."
A Jan. 18, 2008, article by Brennan took a one-sided view of a controversy over Radio & Records magazine's reversal on honoring longtime conservative radio host Bob Grant, telling only Grant's side of the story, bashing his detractors and refusing to detail the controversial remarks by Grant that led to the reversal. R&R decided not to honor Grant with a planned lifetime achievement award after, according to a Washington Post article, activist Scott Pellegrino emailed the magazine's employees with some of Grant's more notorious rantings over the years, such as calling blacks "screaming savages" and "sub-humanoids" and saying in 1996 that then-Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, also an African American, had survived a plane crash, adding "because at heart, I'm a pessimist."
But Brennan made no mention of Pellegrino -- noting only that Grant had called the person who emailed R&R a "stalker" -- instead attacking liberal media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Media, which had apparently compiled the Grant remarks Pellegrino sent to the magazine, as "deceptively named" and repeating Grant's attacks on FAIR. Brennan then noted that FAIR "transcribed the e-mailed comments from tapes of Grant's show, whom he says has obsessively harassed him for years." Of course, transcription of comments is a universally accepted form of media watchdogging; we suspect that Brennan and Grant wouldn't describe, say, the Media Research Center as obsessive harrassers.
Further, nowhere did Brennan detail the offensive remarks attributed to Grant, even though they are central to the controversy, vaguely describing them only as "remarks he made back in the 1990s "and allowing Grant to complain of Pellegrino, "He keeps regurgitating the same things I said back in the early '90s. There’s no statute of limitations." Brennan provided no evidence that he explored the issue of whether Grant has offered others a similar "statute of limitations" on remarks he considers offensive.
(Newsmax has long been a defender and supporter of Grant -- indeed, Newsmax chief Christopher Ruddy was among Grant's final guests before his retirement in 2006, after which "NewsMax feted the radio trailblazer at Gallagher's restaurant in Manhattan, where luminaries from former Congressmen John LeBoutillier and Dan Frisa, to Grant's former WABC colleagues Barry Farber and Lynn Samuels, paid tribute." In 2005, it declared Grant the victim of "the forces of political correctness" over his Brown remark, which got him fired from New York's WABC. Newsmax insisted in 2006 that Grant's comment on Brown "prompted no outrage at the time" and it was only after "Grant enemies" former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and Rev. Jesse Jackson got involved that he was fired.)
Brennan has also offered unusually fluffy interviews of conservatives. In an August 2006 article, Brennan first drooled over David Horowitz's questionably sourced book "The Shadow Party" -- uncritically shilling Horowitz's claim that liberal supporter George Soros "might just be the most dangerous man in America, a frenzied leftist ideologue with both a surfeit of the money -- an estimated $33 billion -- and the brains needed to use his money skillfully to impose his twisted will on the United States and the world" -- then tossed softballs at Horowitz in a Q-and-A, such as "Brennan tosses such hard-hitting questions as "Just how dangerous is George Soros?" and "What is Soros ultimate aim?"
Similarly, in a March 2007 interview of R. Emmett Tyrrell, author of "The Clinton Crack-Up," Brennan tossed several slowpitch-softball questions Brennan Tyrrell's way:
Brennan has demonstrated himself to be a hater of all things liberal and a fluffer of all things conservative -- that is, a loyal Newsmax employee.