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Noel Sheppard's Year of Apologies

NewsBusters' associate editor has had a long year of getting things wrong and doing offensive things -- only some of which he has corrected and/or apologized for.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 9/19/2012

Noel Sheppard is the associate editor of NewsBusters, a perch from which he is allowed to hurl factually dubious attacks at the idea of global warming, tell lies about Al Gore, be shocked by non-shocking things, and repeatedly use tired cliches in headlines.

For someone with an editor's title -- which, presumably, means he's getting paid by the Media Research Center for doing all of the above -- he makes a surprising amount of mistakes in his blog posts and goes to areas of questionable taste.

The problem, though, is that Sheppard has apologized for only some of his errors and lapses in taste. Let's look at the record over the past year.

What Sheppard has apologized for

Using an anti-Semitic image: Media Matters caught Noel Sheppard inserting into a May 24 NewsBusters post a Photoshopped image of President Obama that turns out to be a tad anti-Semitic. The image is the work of The Dees Illustration Studio, operated by David Dees, which has several images with anti-Semitic and conspiratorial themes on its website and whose work has been highlighted by the Anti-Defamation League. One clue that it's a tad anti-Semitic is that the pattern of Sen. Joe Lieberman's tie has been replaced with an Israeli flag, Obama's tie has a Star of David pattern, and his lapel has an Israeli flag pin.

After getting called out on it, Sheppard removed the image and added an editor's note:

Readers are advised that the original article included a doctored picture of Obama and others that turned out to have anti-Semitic imagery that I didn't notice when I incorporated it into the piece. Those familiar with my work know that's not something I would intentionally do. I apologize to anyone with better eyes than I have that noticed the imagery and was in any way offended.


Confusing a boy band with a racist joke: Mediaite noted that Sheppard, in an April 21 post, accused Bill Maher of telling a "racist joke about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman" for a quip in which a judge granted Zimmerman permission to kill off the hot new boy band One Direction.

Sheppard had to issue a correction because, it turns out, he had no idea who One Direction is:

Now, to be fair to Maher, my ignorance of boy bands was showing Saturday.

This article was originally titled “Bill Maher Curses Out Audience for Not Laughing at Racist Joke About Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.” I didn’t realize the HBO Real Time host was referring to the popular British-Irish singing group.

I thank the eagle-eyed NewsBusters reader Erik for bringing this to my attention via email, and apologize to Maher for accusing him of making a racist joke about Martin and Zimmerman.

As an editor, shouldn't Sheppard make an effort to understand what he's writing about before he publishes it?

Misquoting Joy Behar: Sheppard's reign of error struck again in a June 12 NewsBusters post on a remark by Joy Behar about wanting to see Mitt Romney's house burn down, which now begins with a notice of a "CRITICAL UPDATE AT END OF POST." And what was that CRITICAL UPDATE?

*****Update: There was an error in the original transcript posted at Mediaite that I missed. After listening to the audio numerous times with headphones, it's become apparent that Behar didn't say, "It would be kind of cool - the Mormon fire patrol." Instead she said, "Who's he going to call, the Mormon fire patrol?" As such, headline, text, and transcript have been corrected.

Mediaite expanded on Sheppard's errors:

Newsbusters‘ Noel Sheppard even got a Drudge link out of the deal, aided by our early transcription error that quoted Behar as saying It would be kind of cool – the Mormon fire patrol,” when she actually said, “Who’s he going to call, the Mormon fire patrol?”

Sheppard opined, “Imagine for a moment a conservative commentator making such a remark about President Obama or any leading Democrat,” while The Blaze‘s Jonathon Seidl similarly wondered “do we really need to ask what the outrage would be if the tables were turned?”

Since Joy Behar isn’t exactly beloved among right-wingers (and is probably delighted at the outrage), it seems she isn’t entitled to a reasonable person’s interpretation of her remark, which was clearly meant to raise a hypothetical in response to Romney’s call for fewer firemen, as in “I’d like to see what would happen if Mitt Romney’s house caught fire. Who’s he going to call since he doesn’t want more firemen? The Mormon fire patrol?”

But, hey, fair enough, I’m sure both sides engage in unkind interpretations of their foes’ words, and Joy isn’t some helpless babe in the woods. But what this mini-brouhaha really illustrates is the right wing’s screwed up sense of priorities. They’re at once outraged by what they all recognize as a joke (perhaps a liberal was around to explain it), and they’re outraged by the lack of outrage, and they’re outraged at the hypothetical outrage that would occur if a conservative made the same joke.

Indeed, Sheppard makes no effort to explain the full context of what Behar was responding to, stating only that they were in response to "Romney's comments on the need for more police, teachers, and firefighters." That's an utterly dishonest way to portray what Romney actually said, which was that we don't need more police, teachers, and firefighters.

What Sheppard hasn't apologized for

Defending Michael Savage's autism-bashing: NewsBusters normally steers clear of right-wing extremists like Michael Savage (even though its operator, Brent Bozell, would fit right in on Savage's show for his calling Obama a "skinny ghetto crackhead"). Which is why it was odd to see Sheppard running to Savage's defense in an April 14 post.

Sheppard noted that an episode of ABC's "What Would You Do?" dealt with "how people respond in a public setting when an autistic child acts up," apparently inspired by Savage's statement that in "99 percent" of autism diagnoses, "it's a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out." Sheppard complained that it wasn't noted that Savage's words "were spoken almost four years ago," then defended Savage's attack by noting that some callers to his radio show -- "including a school psychologist -- [were] agreeing with him that autism like so many childhood behavior disorders is overdiagnosed oftentimes for financial reasons." Sheppard then complained: "Did What Would You Do? even casually address the possibility that autism is currently being overdiagnosed in America? Not at all. Instead the show depicted Savage as a kook for thinking so."

Sheppard didn't note the rest of what Savage said in his anti-autism rant, in which he went far beyond concerns about overdiagnosis and well into insulting those with autism as coddled brats who need someone to tell them to "act like a man":

SAVAGE: Now, you want me to tell you my opinion on autism, since I'm not talking about autism? A fraud, a racket. For a long while, we were hearing that every minority child had asthma. Why did they sudden -- why was there an asthma epidemic amongst minority children? Because I'll tell you why: The children got extra welfare if they were disabled, and they got extra help in school. It was a money racket. Everyone went in and was told [fake cough], "When the nurse looks at you, you go [fake cough], 'I don't know, the dust got me.' " See, everyone had asthma from the minority community. That was number one.

Now, the illness du jour is autism. You know what autism is? I'll tell you what autism is. In 99 percent of the cases, it's a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out. That's what autism is.

What do you mean they scream and they're silent? They don't have a father around to tell them, "Don't act like a moron. You'll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don't sit there crying and screaming, idiot."

Autism -- everybody has an illness. If I behaved like a fool, my father called me a fool. And he said to me, "Don't behave like a fool." The worst thing he said -- "Don't behave like a fool. Don't be anybody's dummy. Don't sound like an idiot. Don't act like a girl. Don't cry." That's what I was raised with. That's what you should raise your children with. Stop with the sensitivity training. You're turning your son into a girl, and you're turning your nation into a nation of losers and beaten men. That's why we have the politicians we have.

Further, Savage has called autism a "phony disease" -- which undermines Sheppard's argument that he was concerned only about overdiagnosis. Savage later recast his rant to claim he was taken out of context.

Sheppard needs to ask himself if he really thinks Michael Savage is a credible spokesman for autism overdiagnosis -- and read what Savage actually said to see if it's really worth defending as vociferously as he did.

Falsely claiming Al Gore said he "invented the Internet": In a Sept. 9 NewsBusters post, Noel Sheppard was just as apoplectic that CBS' Norah O'Donnell "actually equated the error to Al Gore saying he invented the internet." Sheppard repeated himself later in the post, saying that O'Donnell "compared his error - about a marathon time from 22 years ago! - to another politician boasting about inventing the internet," huffily adding: "Does O'Donnell really think someone's time in a race is as consequential as an invention that has radically changed our very way of life?"

Misleading about who was to blame for gay aide leaving Romney campaign: The first thing you realize when reading the May 7 NewsBusters post about Noel Sheppard's appearance on CNN to discuss the resignation of Richard Grenell from Mitt Romney's campaign is that, despite the "NB Staff" byline, it's pretty clear it was written by Sheppard himself. The phrase "video follows with transcript and commentary" appears here as it does in many Sheppard posts, and the attention lavished on further elucidating on what Sheppard said could only have been done by someone with a personal stake in it. Like, you know, Noel Sheppard.

The second thing you notice is that Sheppard got it all wrong. He repeatedly blamed "the Obama-loving media," including the host for his on-air discussion, CNN's Don Lemon, for purportedly making Grenell an issue as a distraction from reporting on the economy:

It’s the media that made it a gay rights issue because they’d rather talk about anything other than how lousy the economy is.

Consider that this discussion took place the day after the Labor Department released horrible numbers about job creations in April. There were other terrible economic stats that emerged in the prior week involving real estate, durable goods, consumer spending, as well as the very disappointing first quarter GDP estimate.

Instead of discussing those issues Saturday night – issues that every poll including the one Sheppard referred to show are front and center on the minds of the American people – Lemon chose to address a social issue that although important doesn’t appear on most national priority surveys.

This of course is what the media have been doing all year beginning with the contraception issue in January to the student loan issue last month and now Romney’s gay adviser.

Everything is important to the media EXCEPT the state of the economy.

Sheppard went on to insist, "It was Grenell's decision to resign. There’s absolutely no evidence that he did so due to pressure from either Romney or the campaign." Never mind the fact that nobody, including Sheppard, knows what actually went on behind the scenes.

But Sheppard conveniently ignored who made a big issue out of Grenell's sexuality in the first place -- right-wing activists like Bryan Fischer and Sheppard's MRC colleague Dan Gainor, who declared that it was "not conservative" for Romney to hire a "gay spokesman." If Grenell's sexuality wasn't a big deal as Sheppard claimed, why did Fischer and Gainor make it one? Sheppard might want to ask Gainor about that the next time they pass in the hallway at MRC headquarters.

And Sheppard's furious spinning on this tells us that all his ranting about how "the media" would rather talk about anything but the economy is a smokescreen for the fact that Sheppard would rather talk about anything but right-wing homophobia.

After all, Sheppard's employer does have a pretty obvious anti-gay agenda, which was further exemplified by Gainor's Grenell-bashing. And despite Sheppard claiming that "the media" are seizing on this issue to "try to make Romney appear as a homophobe who's opposed to gay rights issues," it's obvious Romney was under pressure by anti-gay activists -- whose votes he needs -- to get rid of Grenell. Neither liberals nor "the media" were pressuring Romney over this.

Making a snide "joke" about birth control. Sheppard wrote in a Feb. 16 tweet: "If contraceptives R 2 B covered by health insurance shouldn't alcohol since sober people don't need birth control?"

This was immediately followed by tweets insisting that he was joking, i.e.,"You're into comic books and you can't tell a joke when you see one? Now THAT's entertainment!"

Sheppard never explained where exactly the humor was in his "joke."

Likening EPA chief to Hitler, Khomeini. In a June 2011 NewsBusters post, Sheppard got all bent out of shape when CNN's Piers Morgan asked if the tea party was a "similar mob to Mussolini’s and Hitler’s in the modern democratic era." But Sheppard has no problem doing the exact same thing when it suits his right-wing agenda.

In a fawning interview of fellow global warming denier Sen. James Inhofe ("If Margaritas were the official drink in Cancun, what would you and I be drinking if we were in Durban right now?"), as transcribed in a Nov. 30 post, Sheppard asked him whether Politico naming EPA chief Lisa Jackson as "Energy Policy Maker of the Year" was "kind of like Time picking Hitler or Khomeini as Man of the Year -- whoever had the most impact whether for good or ill?"

Only Sheppard, it seems, is allowed to go Godwin -- do as he says, not as he does.

Later in the interview, Sheppard asserted that Jackson is "trying to set policy without oversight by the legislature" based on the "anthropogenic global warming myth." In fact, as Media Matters points out, the EPA is required to regulate greenhouse gases under the bipartisan Clean Air Act.

Likening Al Sharpton to Jefferson Davis. In a Feb. 11, post, Sheppard went on a bizarre rant over Al Sharpton's contention that a person's basic rights shouldn't be put to a vote, declaring it to be "something that every American on both sides of the aisle should totally fear." The capper, though, came in an addition to his original post:

Update: Eagle-eyed Twitter follower @BrettBannor accurately notes that in his February 22, 1862, inaugural address, the Confederacy's Jefferson Davis also argued against "the tyranny of the majority." He was referring to the majority's wish to give slaves the right to be free.

Yes, Sheppard is likening a civil-rights activist to the president of the Confederacy.

You'd think Sheppard would run out of ways to embarrass himself in public, but he keeps proving that wrong.

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