Olivia Kittel

Author ››› Olivia Kittel
  • Media Matters’ Do’s And Don’ts For Moderators And Media Covering The 2016 Presidential Debates

    ››› ››› OLIVIA KITTEL

    The 2016 presidential debates will kick off on September 26, giving voters one of their last chances to judge the candidates on the substance and breadth of their policy proposals. With over 100 million people expected to watch, the stakes could not be higher. Voters are mere months away from selecting the person who will become the president of the United States and whose actions will have an immense impact on their everyday lives. Informing this decision is a responsibility that media cannot afford to take lightly.

  • Fox Is Replacing Greta Van Susteren With Ailes-Defender And Sexual Assault Denier Brit Hume

    Blog ››› ››› OLIVIA KITTEL

    Brit Hume, the Fox News analyst replacing former host Greta Van Susteren, has a long history of downplaying sexual assault and was a fierce defender of former Fox CEO Roger Ailes from the sexual assault allegations leveled by dozens of women, including several of Hume’s Fox colleagues.

    Fox media critic Howard Kurtz reported September 6 that network anchor Van Susteren is leaving Fox News after 14 years and will be replaced by senior political analyst Hume. Kurtz noted that “this would be among the major programming decisions made by [head of Fox News’ parent company 21st Century Fox] Rupert Murdoch since the network’s owner stepped in as acting CEO of Fox News after Ailes’ resignation.” New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman reported that “a source close to Van Susteren … [said she] left because ‘she is troubled by the culture’ Ailes built.”

    Ailes was forced to resign from Fox in July after dozens of women accused him of sexual harassment. Former network anchor Gretchen Carlson and host Andrea Tantaros have both filed lawsuits alleging sexual harassment against Ailes and claiming they were taken off air as retaliation. Network anchor Megyn Kelly also reportedly told lawyers she was sexually harassed by Ailes. Ailes is still working as a consultant to Rupert Murdoch during a “transition period” for the network. Numerous media figures have reported that the culture of sexual harassment at Fox News goes way beyond Roger Ailes and that several network executives, including newly promoted Fox co-president Bill Shine, knew about and covered up Ailes’ harassment.

    Hume was among Ailes’ fiercest defenders inside Fox News amid the allegations and called his resignation “heartbreaking.” Hume responded to his colleague Carlson’s allegations by victim-blaming and disparaging her character, asking why she didn’t just quit following the alleged harassment:

    Following Ailes’ resignation, Hume said he was “absolutely heartbroken that all this happened,” saying of the former Fox chief, “I love the guy, and I love working for him.”

    Hume has a long history of using his national platform to downplay sexual assault. Here are a few of his worst attempts:

    Hume: "I, Myself, Totally Dispute" Campus Sexual Assault Statistics. Hume disputed statistics pointing to an epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses, saying, “I think an almost entirely false narrative … has been constructed and perpetrated and now perpetuated, I think,  largely by the American left.”

    Hume: Blame “The Deregulation Of Sex” For Campus Sexual Assaults. Hume blamed “the deregulation of sex” for causing sexual assaults, saying that “boys will be boys,” but the “sexual revolution in the ‘60s did away with” the strict rules governing male-female interactions that used to protect women from “lusty” “guys.” He also criticized plans by lawmakers to curb assault, saying of new proposals calling for verbal consent at various stages of a sexual encounter: “It suggests that the people who are drawing up these new plans for how consent is to be given have never had any sex.”

    Hume Repeatedly Downplayed Prevalence Of Sexual Assault. Hume downplayed the prevalence of campus sexual assaults in 2014 by conflating two studies and  baselessly dismissing the veracity of the often-cited statistic that one in five "undergraduate women experience an attempted or completed sexual assault during their college years."

  • Trump Campaign CEO Steve Bannon Repeatedly Failed To Disclose Breitbart News’ Financial Ties To Egyptian Businessman

    Blog ››› ››› OLIVIA KITTEL

    Undisclosed ties to an Egyptian businessman and former political official are just the latest disclosure issues for Stephen Bannon, chief executive for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign.

    Bannon, who is also the executive chairman of Breitbart News, “is known to stay,” according to The Guardian, in a Washington, D.C., town home owned by Egyptian businessman and former politician Mostafa El-Gindy. Gindy’s home also reportedly serves as the Breitbart News D.C. headquarters. Breitbart News has not disclosed its financial ties to El-Gindy in numerous pieces that cite him favorably, while Bannon and Breitbart News have baselessly accused Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton of engaging in pay-for-play deals with foreign countries as secretary of state and spread false smears shared discredited book Clinton Cash.

    Bannon, whom Trump hired on August 17 to help head Trump’s presidential campaign, used his position as Breitbart News’ executive chairman to run the conservative website as a propaganda arm of the Trump campaign.

    The Guardian reported August 26 that Bannon is “is known to stay” in a Washington, D.C., town home, known as the “Breitbart embassy,” that’s owned by “Mostafa El-Gindy, an Egyptian businessman and former member of parliament.” Breitbart has reportedly operated its Washington, D.C., bureau from the Gindy-owned home since 2011. From the Guardian’s report:

    Bannon also co-owns a condominium in Los Angeles and is known to stay at the so-called “Breitbart embassy”, a luxurious $2.4m townhouse beside the supreme court in Washington DC, where his website’s staff work from basement offices. A Bloomberg profile of Bannon published last October, with which he cooperated, stated that Bannon “occupies” the townhouse and described it as being “his”.

    But according to records at the DC office of tax and revenue, the Breitbart house is actually owned by Mostafa El-Gindy, an Egyptian businessman and former member of parliament. Gindy has received favorable coverage from Breitbart News, which styles him as a “senior statesman”, without an accompanying disclosure that he is the website’s landlord.

    As the Guardian report noted, “Gindy has received favorable coverage from Breitbart News, which styles him as a ‘senior statesman’, without an accompanying disclosure that he is the website’s landlord.” Breitbart News has consistently refused to disclose its financial ties to Gindy.

    Ironically, Bannon and his conservative website have long led a smear campaign against Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation by making discredited and false attacks and spreading the baseless smears hyped in the discredited book Clinton Cash, which was written by Breitbart editor-at-large Peter Schweizer. (Trump has also predictably adopted their unfounded attacks on Hillary Clinton.) Bannon wrote and produced a documentary film that accompanied the error-filled book, both of which made a series of baseless allegations of corruption and quid pro quo by the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton that have been widely discredited. Bannon is also the executive chairman and co-founder of the Government Accountability Institute, of which Schweizer is president.

  • The Conservatives Who Said That Trump’s New Campaign Chief Betrayed Breitbart's Memory By Backing Donald Trump

    ››› ››› OLIVIA KITTEL

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s new campaign chief Stephen Bannon is the executive chairman of conservative website Breitbart News, which has been embroiled in a civil war over the publication’s Trump support. Numerous conservative media figures have slammed Bannon -- who is taking a leave of absence to work for Trump -- and Breitbart News for destroying the legacy of the site’s founder Andrew Breitbart, who said in 2011 that Donald Trump is “not a conservative.”

  • NBC Gives Glenn Beck A Platform To Re-Mainstream Himself

    Blog ››› ››› OLIVIA KITTEL

    NBC's Chuck Todd gave noted-conspiracy theorist Glenn Beck a national platform to re-mainstream himself on the July 17 edition of Meet The Press. Todd introduced Beck as "founder of the conservative website and TV network The Blaze" and a "vocal critic of Donald Trump right from the start."

    During his appearance, Beck criticized presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his vice presidential running mate Indiana Gov. Mike Pence -- who Beck alleged has previously criticized Trump behind closed doors -- and lamented that "the problem is in our society that there's no authenticity. You can't trust anybody." Beck also criticized Republican officials, including RNC chairman Reince Priebus.

    After the interview, Todd said he was “aghast” and there were “some times where I felt speechless” during Beck’s interview, but didn’t disclose during or after the interview that Glenn Beck is a noted conspiracy theorist. Beck’s Fox News show was cancelled in 2011 after the network lost sponsors for the program due to continuous controversy over its bizarre and extreme content.

    Ranging from violent, racist, and anti-semitic rhetoric to outlandish conspiracy theories, Beck’s on-air track record includes  accusing President Obama of being a "racist" with a "deep-seated hatred for white people," claiming that "all of the decisions that the president has championed" led to the terrorist attacks on Paris, and repeatedly invoking Nazis, Hitler, and the Holocaust to attack his political opponents.

    Over the past year, Beck has been vocally critical of Trump, likening his Muslim ban proposal to the policies of Adolf Hitler. He also has called Trump a progressive and asserted that if Trump wins the GOP presidential nomination it will "bring an end to the Republican Party."

    Beck has also  threatened to quit the National Rifle Association (NRA) over the long-debunked conspiracy theory that NRA board member and conservative activist Grover Norquist is an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood. Beck's antics culminated in an NRA investigation and Norquist "voluntarily suspend[ing] his Board activities pending the outcome."

  • Fox Personalities Respond To Gretchen Carlson's Sexual Harassment Lawsuit With Familiar Victim-Blaming

    Fox’s Response Serves As A PSA In How NOT To Cover Sexual Harassment Stories

    Blog ››› ››› OLIVIA KITTEL

    After Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Fox CEO Roger Ailes, Fox News personalities have rushed to defend Ailes while disparaging Carlson’s character, dismissing her allegations, and accusing her of having ulterior motives. Their response mirrors the false tropes the network hosts push in their sexual assault coverage.

    On July 6, former Fox News host Carlson filed a lawsuit against Fox CEO Roger Ailes, alleging that he fired her “after she rebuffed Mr. Ailes’ sexual advances and also tried to challenge what she felt was unequal treatment of her in the newsroom by some of her male colleagues.” Carlson also alleged that while she was a host of Fox & Friends, her co-host Steve Doocy “engaged in a pattern of severe and pervasive mistreatment” of Carlson. Carlson has been a witness to years of sexism from her male colleagues, plenty of it directed at her.

    Several other women have come forward with complaints or contacted Carlson’s law firm to report similar experiences of mistreatment.

    Numerous Fox figures have rallied to Ailes’ defense, falling back on the network’s long-held strategy of dismissing sexual harassment – and even sexual assault – allegations by blaming the victims, trying to discredit the allegations by disparaging the victims’ characters, and rushing to defend the character of the accused. Just as New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman predicted, the “Fox News PR machine” is fighting the sexual harassment allegations by “try[ing] to discredit Carlson’s claims and any of the other women’s claims who come forward.”

    Disparaging The Victim’s Character

    After Carlson filed her lawsuit, her former Fox colleagues defended Ailes by immediately disparaging her character, dismissing her allegations, and suggesting she may have had ulterior motives.

    Greta Van Susteren suggested Carlson may have falsely accused Ailes of sexual harassment because she was “unhappy that her contract wasn’t renewed.”

    In a flurry of tweets on July 12, Sean Hannity dismissed Carlson’s allegations, suggesting that if she had really been harassed, she would not have stayed, asked for more airtime, or written to Ailes:

    Brit Hume asked Carlson why she didn’t just quit following the alleged harassment:

    This behavior isn’t new for Fox figures. In the past, Andrea Tantaros has asked, “At what point do women need to take some responsibility” for sexual harassment. Hannity blamed a victim of sexual harassment for “staying in the car” with the accused offender after the alleged harassment. Greg Gutfeld claimed that victims allege sexual harassment “to safeguard future reputation-damaging things.”  

    The network’s victim-blaming isn’t limited to sexual harassment. Hosts have blamed victims of sexual assault for “wearing a miniskirt,” characterized victims as “bad girls … who like to be naughty,” and altogether disputed the prevalence of sexual assault.

    Defending The Character Of The Accused

    Fox figures also responded to Carlson’s lawsuit by touting Ailes’ character.  

    Jeanine Pirro called Carlson’s allegations “absurd” and called Ailes a “no-nonsense guy,” saying, “I just loved him.”

    Kimberly Guilfoyle claimed that of the women she’s talked to at Fox, “Nobody believed” Carlson’s allegations, adding that Ailes “is a man who champions women.”

    Bret Baier said that’s “not the Roger I know,” and added, “I can’t say enough good things about Roger.”

    Neil Cavuto called Carlson’s allegations “sick” and said they “don’t remotely resemble the Roger that I know” because Ailes “is ALL professional.”

    Ainsley Earhardt, Martha MacCallum, and Harris Faulkner have also vigorously defended Ailes, calling him a “father figure” and a “terrific boss.”

    By focusing on defending the character of the accused, reporters treat the accused offender as the victim. And it’s not just Ailes. Fox has a history of treating accused offenders as victims, including by claiming  that the focus on campus sexual assault amounts to “a war happening on boys” and dubiously hyping the frequency of false accusations of sexual assault against men, even though  false accusations are rare.  

  • A Comprehensive Guide To Benghazi Myths And Facts

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & OLIVIA KITTEL

    After nearly four years of right-wing myths about the September 2012 attack on an American diplomatic compound and CIA compound in Benghazi, Libya, and as Republicans and Democrats on the House Select Committee on the attacks release their reports, Media Matters has compiled a list of more than 50 myths and facts regarding the origin of the attack, the security surrounding the compounds, the Obama administration’s handling of the attack during and after its occurrence, attacks on then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other lies and misinformation regarding the Benghazi attack.

  • This Supreme Court Case Propelled By Right-Wing Media Myths Could Have Major National Consequences

    Blog ››› ››› OLIVIA KITTEL

    The Supreme Court is expected to rule this month in the landmark abortion case centered around 2013 Texas law HB 2, a statute that was propelled by right-wing media myths and imposes unnecessarily restrictive requirements on the state’s abortion providers. If the country’s highest court allows the Texas law to stand, it will set a dangerous precedent, opening the door for similar restrictions in other states and putting women’s health at dire risk.  

    Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt ­–  “the most important Supreme Court abortion case in a generation,” –  will determine the fate of HB 2, the Texas law that has already forced nearly half of the state's abortion clinics to close by placing medically unnecessary requirements on providers. HB 2 "requires abortion doctors to be affiliated with nearby hospitals and also limits abortion to ambulatory surgical centers," under the guise of necessary women’s health protections, but health experts overwhelmingly say those requirements are both dangerous and “medically unnecessary.” Admitting privileges laws like Texas' HB 2 not only impose stricter requirements on abortion providers than on facilities that perform riskier procedures, but they also severly limit the number of abortion providers; most providers "cannot meet the number-of-admissions standard for gaining privileges because so few of their patients need hospital care."

     

     

    In the March oral arguments, Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller relied on a common right-wing media myth to justify the restrictions, falsely claiming that they’re necessary to prevent another “Kermit Gosnell” scandal in which illegal operations led to multiple deaths in Philadelphia. But Gosnell’s crimes bear no resemblance to safe, legal abortions –  such as  those performed at the clinics targeted by HB 2 – and the Texas law, if allowed to stand, could actually make crimes like Gosnell’s more likely given that his business model was to prey on low-income women who could not access legal abortions and “felt they had no alternative.” The Texas lawmakers who pushed for this legislation echoed the right-wing media myth that women's health clinics were unsafe and required increased regulation, capitalizing on a lie that originated with anti-choice activists. Numerous reviews have concluded that abortion facilities nationwide are safe, routinely inspected, and subject to onerous regulation.

    The Texas law has already forced more than half of the state’s abortion clinics to close, and if the law is allowed by the Supreme Court to take full effect, another 10 of the 19 remaining clinics in the state could close meaning that 75 percent of all of the clinics in the state will be shut down because of  the law. The final remaining clinics would all be clustered in metropolitan areas. This means the average distance women must travel each way to reach a clinic would be 85 miles (the national average is 30 miles), with nearly 1 million women more than 150 miles from the nearest abortion provider, effectively ending “abortion access for low-income women in rural areas of the state, who are already having a hard time finding providers.” Research conducted by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) demonstrated the law has “resulted in significant burdens for women” attempting to access abortion care, and the burdens would disproportionately impact low-income women, women of color, and Latinas in particular.

    But it’s not just Texan women’s fates at stake in the Supreme Court ruling. The same medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion providers exist in at least 22 other states -- and dozens of additional abortion restrictions exist throughout the country.

    As Refinery29’s Lilli Petersen explained, “what’s at stake in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt isn’t actually the legal right to have an abortion, but what states are allowed to do to regulate the procedure.” A “decision in favor” of HB 2, Petersen expounded, “would set a national precedent and open the door for other states to enact similar limitations on abortion.”

    If the Supreme Court finds in Texas’ favor it's likely to have an immediate impact on neighboring state Louisiana, for example, which passed a similarly styled law in 2014. If allowed to stand, Louisiana’s law would shutter three of the state’s four abortion clinics. Just days after hearing oral arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court issued a brief order that reversed the Fifth Circuit, allowing the temporary closed clinics in Louisiana to reopen, but the law’s ultimate fate is still in question. Likewise Alabama has also passed a similar bill that requires doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges. That law has been struck down by a federal court but its status could also be affected by the ruling in Whole Women’s Health and reportedly “if the law is allowed to take effect, four of the state’s five clinics would close, and the lone surviving clinic could never meet the demand for abortions in Alabama, which average around 9,000 a year.”  

    If the impact in Texas is an indicator of what might happen elsewhere, the consequences of the Supreme Court upholding HB 2 are dire. Another TxPEP study predicted that if the Supreme Court fails to overturn HB 2, women in Texas will become increasingly more likely to self-induce abortion "as clinic-based care becomes more difficult to access." Incidents of self-induced abortions are most prevalent among women who reported facing significant obstacles to reproductive healthcare in the past, as is the case with Latina women living in a rural area of Texas that has seen several clinic closures.

    In a New York Times article, economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz outlined how demand for self-induced abortion is concentrated in areas where abortion is most difficult to access, “reminiscent of the era before Roe v. Wade.” Stephens-Davidowitz analyzed data based on Google searches for phrases like “how to miscarriage” and “how to self-abort,” and found that the “state with the highest rate of Google searches for self-induced abortions is Mississippi, which now has one abortion clinic.” Stephens-Davidowitz concluded: “there is an unambiguous fact in Google search data that the eight justices of the Supreme Court and everyone else should know. In some parts of the United States, demand for self-induced abortion has risen to a disturbing level.”

    As Dr. Daniel Grossman, co-author of the TxPEP study told reporters, "This is the latest body of evidence demonstrating the negative implications of laws like HB2 that pretend to protect women but in reality place them, and particularly women of color and economically disadvantaged women, at significant risk."

    Medically unnecessary restrictive laws don’t protect women and they don’t curb the number of abortions. They actually tend to increase unsafe abortion, according to international evidence. As Taylor Crumpton wrote in Glamour magazine, “when providers are too far away, or waiting periods become untenably long, women look to cross the border to secure abortion-inducing medication or try to get abortion pills through the black market.”

    Unless the Supreme Court makes a binding rule striking down both restrictions in HB 2, the door to similar restrictions in other states will be left wide open. The outcome could also be negatively affected by the unprecedented GOP obstruction of the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Due to the empty seat, there’s a chance the court could deadlock or postpone a decision, which could permit Texas HB 2 to stand, but wouldn’t set a binding precedent, “leaving uncertainty for other states and highlighting more than ever the importance of the next Supreme Court appointment,” as The New York Times reported. That uncertainty could weigh especially heavily on “states like Alabama, Mississippi and Wisconsin [as they] press to remove blocks on their admitting-privilege laws.”

    Refinery29 has laid out a number of possible outcomes: