With two weeks to go before midterm elections, the North Carolina Senate race is on track to be the most expensive Senate race ever. But on Fox News, the focus is on spending by teachers unions, not the conservative-backed groups pouring money three times that amount into the state.
Fox News' America's Newsroom highlighted on October 21 how two prominent teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA), are "on track to spend a record amount this [campaign] cycle." Focusing specifically on the North Carolina Senate race, host Martha MacCallum asked, "What are the teachers unions doing there?" Correspondent Mike Emanuel noted that Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan is polling narrowly ahead of her Republican challenger Thom Tillis, as "the National Education Association super PAC has spent about $3 million on ads blaming Republican Tillis for making class sizes bigger and for reduced art and sports programs. Expect more of this down the final stretch," because Tillis is "a target."
With its focus on teachers unions, Fox conveniently left out the spending from outside groups that totals nearly three times more. For example, the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group backed by the Koch brothers has poured in at least $8.3 million in ad money. At least $6 million has come from groups linked to conservative Karl Rove, a Fox News contributor.
Such selective reporting on election spending is becoming standard for the network, which has worked to minimize the influx of money supporting Republican candidates into states with hotly-contested congressional races this election cycle.
National Review Online's Ian Tuttle disregarded history when dismissing fears that "personhood amendments" and fetal-homicide laws could open the door to criminal prosecutions for women who have miscarriages or abortions. Women have already been prosecuted for miscarriages in several states, and personhood advocates are explicitly pushing to end legal abortion.
In an October 21 article, Tuttle wrote that "liberals are lying about personhood amendments" like Colorado's proposed Amendment 67, which would define "'person' and 'child' in the Colorado criminal code and the Colorado wrongful death act to include unborn human beings." Tuttle asserted that opponents are mischaracterizing personhood amendments to claim they would make abortion illegal and allow the prosecution of women who have had miscarriages:
That is the talking point of opponents such as Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and Vote No 67, the main opposition campaign, which says that "any woman who suffers a miscarriage would be open to investigation for murder."
This feverish scenario runs contrary to both experience and law.
Since 2006, Alabama has defined "person" in its homicide statute to include "an unborn child in utero at any stage of development, regardless of viability." No women have been investigated for miscarriages in Alabama. Or in Alaska, where a similar law also took effect in 2006. Or in Kentucky (2004). Or in North Dakota (1987). Or others.
But Tuttle ignored the fact that similar state laws have already been used to prosecute women -- in Indiana, a woman who attempted to commit suicide while eight months pregnant was charged with murder. In fact, in Alabama, cited by Tuttle as an innocent actor, the judiciary is no stranger to interpreting the law in a way that pushes a personhood agenda. In that state, two women were prosecuted for endangering their unborn children by ingesting illicit drugs during their pregnancies, even though their "behavior ... was not intended to be criminalized when the Legislature enacted the chemical-endangerment statute." According to RH Reality Check, these laws are increasingly "misused by overzealous prosecutors and judges to trample women's rights in favor of the nebulous personhood rights of fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses."
Tuttle also waved off concerns that Colorado's personhood amendment would effectively prohibit abortion, despite the fact that the Colorado amendment was proposed by Personhood USA's state chapter Personhood Colorado, a group explicitly pushing to end legal abortion:
And as in the Alabama Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Hamilton v. Scott in 2012, reaffirming Alabama's inclusion of unborn persons in its homicide statutes, the constitutional protections to abortion afforded by Roe v. Wade would almost certainly be read into Colorado's law. A "woman's right to terminate her pregnancy" (Roe's language) is not explicitly exempted from criminal prosecutions, but this is likely, as a practical matter, unnecessary.
The very case Tuttle cites has been described as an explicit roadmap for overturning Roe v. Wade. As ProPublica explained, the judge who authored the opinion in Hamilton is "a pivotal figure in the so-called personhood movement" who wrote that "a centerpiece of Roe -- that states cannot ban abortion before the point of viability -- was 'arbitrary,' 'incoherent,' and 'mostly unsupported by legal precedent.'"
George Will dismissed Colorado Senate candidate Cory Gardner's support for federal fetal personhood legislation that would outlaw abortions and some birth control measures nationwide, suggesting that Gardner's position is irrelevant because the legislation has "zero chance of passing."
In his October 17 syndicated column, Will sought to neutralize some of the most controversial parts of Gardner's record: his past support for a statewide personhood bill in Colorado and current co-sponsorship of the Life At Conception Act in Congress:
Gardner favors over-the-counter sales of oral contraceptives. In addition to being common sense, Gardner's proposal is his way of making amends for formerly advocating a state constitutional "personhood" amendment (it is again on the ballot this year and will be decisively rejected for a third time) and for endorsing similar federal legislation that has zero chance of passage. By defining personhood as beginning at conception, these measures might preclude birth control technologies that prevent implantation in the uterus of a fertilized egg.
While Gardner has denied that the federal bill is personhood legislation that would broadly roll back women's reproductive rights, independent fact-checkers and leading health organizations say he is wrong. The language of the Life At Conception Act would give rights to a "preborn human person," which is defined as "each and every member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being."
Will's defense of Gardner's record on personhood is in line with The Denver Post editorial board's October 10 endorsement Gardner, which pardoned his history of opposing marriage equality and abortion rights. National women's group NARAL: Pro-Choice America blasted the Post for endorsing a candidate with positions "that deeply conflict with the paper's previous editorial stances."
Conservative radio host Michael Savage accused those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, including military veterans, of being "weak," "narcissistic," "losers." Savage added that "we're being laughed at around the world. No wonder ISIS can defeat our military."
As Right Wing Watch's Brian Tashman documented, Savage began an October 14 segment by complaining about a plan to rename a San Francisco tunnel after the late comedian Robin Williams. Savage called Williams "a depressed clown who was so selfish he choked himself to death with a belt." He added: "What is this sick, backwards area I live in?"
After getting into a heated argument with a caller who said he suffered from PTSD while in the military, Savage went on an unhinged rant in which he explained why he is "so sick and tired of everyone with their complaints about PTSD, depression":
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat spoke at a fundraising event for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a right-wing legal group that works to defend anti-LGBT discrimination and supported the criminalization of homosexuality.
On October 16, ADF held an event titled "The Price of Citizenship: Losing Religious Freedom in America" in Denton, Texas. The event, which focused primarily on highlighting the alleged tension between LGBT equality and religious liberty, featured a conversation between radio show host Hugh Hewitt and Douthat.
The event also featured an appearance from the Benham brothers, the right-wing activists who lost their HGTV reality show because of their history of extreme anti-gay, anti-choice, and anti-Muslim rhetoric:
The event touched on a number of popular right-wing horror stories about LGBT equality, from the plight of anti-gay bakers and florists, to the outrage over the recent subpoenaing of several Houston pastors. David Benham, who has previously warned that the gay "agenda" is "attacking the nation," urged the audience to take "dominion" of the media and legal system back from the "sexual anarchy agenda":
DAVID BENHAM: Unfortunately, the church, now that we have the keys to authority that Christ gives the Christian church, we give that dominion back through our silence. And so what we see now is the struggle for dominion. And one of the ways that we've lost dominion is because Christians, unfortunately, don't believe in the sovereignty of God. God is sovereign over all things. The Bible says in Psalm 24 "the Earth is the Lord's and everything in it," including government, entertainment, media, education, the legal system, everything. My finances, my sexuality, everything is under God. ... Does this agenda, this sexual anarchy agenda, does it want dominion? Take a look. Has it got dominion in government? Has it got dominion in entertainment? Has it got dominion, I mean, you name it, in the marketplace? Yes. Absolutely it does. How does God get dominion back? ... The government exists for the punishment of evildoers and for the reward of those who do good. The problem is, is when we switch good and evil and evil and good. There's only one institution that can fight that dominion battle, and that's the church. [emphasis added]
Like most journalists, Chuck Todd hates becoming part of the story. So when his recent criticism of Kentucky Democratic senatorial candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes was used as the basis of a Mitch McConnell campaign ad, the new Meet the Press host felt "physically ill."
Todd spoke at length with Media Matters last week about life in the hot seat of NBC's top Sunday morning news program to which he ascended after two decades of political reporting at the network, MSNBC, and National Journal. Since he was handed the Meet the Press reins last month, Todd has to his credit granted extensive interviews to several longtime critics of the program, of which Media Matters is one.
In the first part of a three-part series, Todd shares his thoughts on how the media covers political crises, scandals, and gaffes in the modern era, including how the press has handled Ebola, the 2012 Benghazi attacks, and the alleged IRS political targeting.
Earlier this month, Todd argued that Grimes had "disqualified herself" as a candidate when she refused to answer whether she had voted for President Obama. His comments were quickly turned into a statewide television ad by Senator McConnell's reelection team.
Asked about having his comments turned into a political ad, Todd stood by his critique of Grimes and her alleged obfuscation, though admitted his wording was "sloppy" because he had been trying to suggest that it was Kentucky voters who would decide that Grimes had disqualified herself.
Pressed on what types of things should disqualify a political candidate - like, for example, McConnell's dismissal of climate science - Todd was elusive, saying that candidates being "caught lying" is a red flag, but that it should be up to voters to make those calculations, not reporters.
Todd also discussed the tradeoffs that are necessary when covering Ebola, which has dominated the news in recent weeks.
According to Todd, outlets need to make "smart decisions" and balance the need to provide the public with information about the disease and the government's handling of it without simply stoking hysteria about a domestic outbreak. Todd noted that the nonstop collective coverage from the media has led to a situation where it feels like "one case is going to turn into a hundred," which makes it important for outlets to "explain how hard that is."
Then there are two so-called "scandals" that Republicans have endlessly tried to hammer away at and use to criticize both the Obama Administration and Hillary Clinton: Benghazi and the IRS.
Discussing Benghazi, Todd said there is a "constant campaign" from both the left and the right to "work the refs" on the story, with conservatives engaged in a "search for conspiracies" and the promotion of supposedly scandalous stories that are "not news."
As for the IRS story, in which the agency has repeatedly been accused of targeting conservative political groups, Todd suggested it is symptomatic of how, with the proliferation of opposition research, news outlets need to be active debunkers instead of just reporters, something they cannot always do.
A pair of recent studies debunk some of right-wing media's favorite rationales for legal "reforms" that make it more difficult for consumers to sue corporate wrongdoers.
Right-wing media have consistently railed against class action lawsuits, despite the fact that such suits make it easier for consumers to group low-value claims together that attorneys might otherwise not take. The Wall Street Journal in particular has been critical of class actions, calling them "frivolous," too expensive, and only beneficial to the plaintiffs' lawyers. In one editorial after the Supreme Court upheld the decades-long use of class actions for investors in securities, the Journal attacked the decision as "a champagne day for trial lawyers ... as the Justices voted to maintain the status quo." In another, the editorial board claimed that class action lawsuits that were filed to help workers recover back wages for the time they spent waiting in security check lines "would benefit lawyers far more than workers," ignoring the potential wage theft at issue.
But two new studies undercut some of the main premises behind the Journal's anti-lawsuit crusade. According to a recent report from the Center for Justice & Democracy, "class actions have not only helped victims of corporate law-breaking, but have also resulted in injunctive relief that protects us all from a wide array of corporate wrongdoing, from employment and civil rights violations to price-fixing and consumer fraud to automotive defects to health care abuses." From servicemember financial abuse to systematic sex discrimination at the country's largest employers, the report analyzed hundreds of class action lawsuits and settlements and found that nearly all of them provided meaningful relief to the plaintiffs who had been injured or defrauded. CJ&D note that "without the class action tool, corporations and businesses can ignore the law far more easily and operate with impunity."
Moreover, the conservative idea that class action lawsuits result in higher costs in the industry with the challenged practices is also suspect -- at least in the context of healthcare. A new study from the Rand Corporation suggests that even though "many believe that fear of malpractice lawsuits drives physicians to order otherwise unnecessary care and that legal reforms could reduce such wasteful spending," states that have enacted such reforms have not seen a corresponding reduction in healthcare costs.
For example, as The American Prospect's Paul Waldman explained, healthcare costs have actually gone up in Texas since the state passed a constitutional amendment that severely limited money damages that could be recovered in medical malpractice suits:
[I]n Texas, they passed a constitutional amendment in 2003 that made it almost impossible to recover meaningful damages from medical malpractice. That was good for doctors -- the number of malpractice claims plummeted, and malpractice premiums went down -- but instead of falling, health care costs in the state actually rose faster than in the rest of the country.
When you ask Republicans what they'd like to do to reform American health care, the first thing out of their mouths is usually "tort reform." But the fact that all the evidence suggests it would do nothing to cut costs is probably not going to dent their commitment to laws limiting people's ability to sue for malpractice. That's because the truth is that conservatives see this as a moral question as much as a fiscal one. "Frivolous lawsuits" make them livid, and as far as they're concerned a frivolous lawsuit getting filed (even if it never goes anywhere) is a greater outrage than someone who was victimized not being able to get compensation.
Class action lawsuits provide a valuable legal remedy for consumers who have been defrauded or injured by large corporations, but right-wing media have often discounted their value and hyped their supposed societal costs. Yet as these recent studies once again demonstrate, conservative justifications behind tort "reform" seem to be based less on sound policy and more on antipathy to a court system that encourages corporate accountability.
After repeatedly using his regular Forbes column to attack gun safety efforts without mentioning that he also writes for the National Rifle Association, Frank Miniter's latest column discloses his ties to the gun group.
In an October 20 column about the relationship between gun laws and law enforcement officers, Miniter added, "Full disclosure: The often politically incorrect truth about guns led me to write the recently published book The Future of the Gun. I'm also a former executive editor of the NRA's magazine American Hunter. I still write for the NRA and for many other publications and am a 'field editor' (an honorary title) for American Hunter."
Media Matters previously criticized Miniter and Forbes for not disclosing his NRA ties in a September 25 column that claimed the gun safety initiatives undertaken by Everytown for Gun Safety and the group's founder Michael Bloomberg were "backfiring."
Miniter's latest column proves the need for the disclosure. In the piece, he cites a discredited survey previously hyped by the NRA in order to create the impression members of law enforcement typically oppose gun safety laws.
George Will's planned appearance at Miami University this week is sparking fierce opposition and planned protests on campus, with both students and faculty speaking out against the event as "highly inappropriate" due to Will's repeated comments that trivialize campus rape.
Will, who is distributed by the The Washington Post News Service and Syndicate, has been under fire from U.S. senators, media, and women's equality groups since the publication of his June 6 column, which argued that efforts to fight sexual assault have made "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges."
Will has been making similar comments for more than two decades, and has refused to apologize for his most recent remarks.
Critics at the Oxford, Ohio campus warn that rewarding Will with a paid platform "sends a negative message" to sexual assault survivors. Miami University's troubled recent history regarding campus rape prompted President David Hodge to state last year that the school had an "obligation to foster and maintain an environment that is free of harassment, discrimination and sexual violence."
An open letter to the university's administration is currently circulating, with more than 200 students and faculty members signing on to the statement opposing Will's appearance.
The letter reads, in part: "the hosting of George F. Will ... sends the wrong message to current students, prospective students, and their families about the tolerance of rape culture and predatory sexual behavior at Miami University." It adds that his column "belittled the 'progressivism' of new measures to help prevent sexual assault on campus. Sexual assault is not a political issue."
"Furthermore, Will states baldly that colleges 'make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges,' a message that is contrary to the experience of many assault survivors who find the process of reporting assault shaming and silencing," the letter adds. "We as a campus should be working to make that process less stigmatizing, not more."
Protests are currently planned for the night of the speech, as well as a sexual assault "teach-in" by at least one women's, gender and sexual studies instructor to be held right outside of the event, according to the Miami University Women's Center, an on-campus student resource center.
In early October, Scripps College of Claremont, CA, canceled a planned appearance by Will in light of the column, with the school's president stating, "Sexual assault is not a conservative or liberal issue. And it is too important to be trivialized in a political debate or wrapped into a celebrity controversy."
The columnist will receive $48,000 for his scheduled speech at Miami University's Farmer School of Business for its annual Anderson Lecture Series on October 22. Last week, a school spokesperson told Media Matters that the administration is aware of the controversy surrounding Will and that "Members of our campus community may rightfully have questions about Mr. Will's writings on a number of issues and we support their right to pose those questions."
Reaction has been swift, with multiple statements condemning the decision coming from student and faculty groups.
"Paying George Will to speak at Miami after the column he wrote sends a negative message to survivors of rape and sexual assault on campus," the Miami University Women's Center declared in an email to the campus community that also urged attendance at the protests. "He doubts the legitimate struggle of rape and sexual assault -- this is extremely harmful to survivors. Although he's not talking about this issue, his presence here sends the message that rape and sexual assault is not a big enough issue to turn him away from campus like other colleges have done."
A new commentary video from the National Rifle Association defends the controversial practice of openly carrying firearms in public, arguing that firearms are not capable of intimidation.
In an October 20 video, NRA News commentator Billy Johnson took on open carry critics, stating, "Somehow we have completely dehumanized gun violence, and have instead humanized guns. Guns kill. Guns strike fear. Guns intimidate. Seriously? They're just bits of plastic and metal." Johnson also apparently defended the controversial practice of open carrying firearms in Michigan public schools.
Johnson centered his commentary around "a little bit of a dust-up over a law-abiding citizen enacting his right to open carry" in his community. He didn't identify the specific incident, however, stating, "I'm not going to get into the details, because they honestly don't matter."
Johnson stated that he is "baffled by why society is so damn afraid of" open carry and attributed concern about the practice to "our irrational, media-fed hysterical fear of guns." According to Johnson, guns "are no more capable of intimidation than my vacuum is capable of cleaning my house, or my lawn mower is capable of mowing my lawn."