Image at top via Flickr user Fintrvlr using a Creative Commons License.
The host of the National Rifle Association's radio show reacted to the fatal shooting of two journalists in Virginia by attacking "anti-gun politicians" and "anti-gun activists" for using the tragedy to call for stronger gun laws, claiming they "politicized" it and demonstrated "a lack of shared humanity."
But not only is the NRA hypocritical for saying gun policy debates should be off-limits after a shooting -- it has used mass shootings to call for looser gun laws -- it's also self-serving, because its political agenda benefits when potential new laws that it opposes are not debated and discussed.
The NRA's declaration that this is not the time to discuss gun policy also stands in stark contrast to comments made just hours after the shooting by the father of one of the victims, who said publicly that he will make it his life's work to convince politicians to close loopholes in gun laws.
During the morning of August 26, reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward, of Roanoke, Virginia's ABC affiliate station WDBJ, were gunned down while doing a live report from a recreation area. The shooter, who later that day committed suicide, was a disgruntled former co-worker. The tragedy quickly made national headlines and prompted calls for stronger gun laws and action by President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Virginia Gov. Terry McAullife (D).
Later that same day during an afternoon broadcast, Cam Edwards, host of the NRA radio show, Cam & Company, lashed out at people who consider this latest incident of shocking public gun violence as more evidence the nation needs stronger gun laws.
Edwards complained, "Before we know any of the details, we are seeing anti-gun politicians, anti-gun activists trying to turn this tragedy into some sort of political advantage," and went on to characterize calls for new gun laws as "the wrong response to take here. I think it shows a lack of shared humanity."
He went on to lament, "It has been really disheartening to see in a matter of minutes how this story became politicized," and said, "This is a community that is absolutely heartbroken right now and you've got people who are trying to turn this tragedy into some sort of political advantage for them[selves]. I just think it's gross."
That reaction typifies the gun group's strategy whenever a shooting captures national headlines. Hiding behind expressions of concern for the victims of the attack, the NRA condemns anyone who sees the violence as a reason to change or reform laws and accuses them of "politicizing" a tragedy.
This argument is nonsensical. As Ezra Klein explained for The Washington Post following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, saying that it's not appropriate to talk about new gun laws "is a form of politicization":
When we first collected much of this data, it was after the Aurora, Colo. shootings, and the air was thick with calls to avoid "politicizing" the tragedy. That is code, essentially, for "don't talk about reforming our gun control laws."
Let's be clear: That is a form of politicization. When political actors construct a political argument that threatens political consequences if other political actors pursue a certain political outcome, that is, almost by definition, a politicization of the issue. It's just a form of politicization favoring those who prefer the status quo to stricter gun control laws.
With statements that attempt to police what can and can't be said following a shooting, the NRA not only seeks to shut down debate that could lead to tougher gun laws, it also purports to speak for the victims and their family members.
But no one who has been personally affected by gun violence needs the NRA to speak for them. Certainly not Parker's father, who appeared on Fox News the night his daughter was shot and made an impassioned plea for gun reform.
Noting that he had spoken by phone with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Andy Parker said: "I'm going to do something, whatever it takes, to get gun legislation to shame people, to shame legislators into doing something about closing loopholes in background checks and making sure crazy people don't get guns," adding that McAullife told him, "I'm right there with you":
ANDY PARKER: And, you know, I'm not going to let this issue drop. We've got to do something about crazy people getting guns. And, you know, and the problem that you guys have is that -- and I know it's the news business and this is a big story. But next week it isn't going to be a story anymore and everybody is going to forget it. But you mark my words, my mission in life -- and I talked to the governor today. He called me and he said -- and I told him, I said, I'm going to do something, whatever it takes, to get gun legislation to shame people, to shame legislators into doing something about closing loopholes in background checks and making sure crazy people don't get guns. And he said, you go, I'm right there with you. So, you know, this is not the last you've heard of me. This is something that is Alison's legacy that I want to make happen.
Veteran ESPN ombudsmen are weighing in on ESPN baseball analyst Curt Schilling's "hurtful" comments comparing Muslims to Nazis, including one who labeled him a "right-wing dummy." They're also urging the sprawling sports media empire to bring back the ombudsman position that has not been filled since late 2014.
"I think an internal critic is really, really healthy," said George Solomon, who was named the first ESPN ombudsman in 2005 and served for 21 months. "Having someone in that role is a good thing and I would hope they would reinstitute it. I think they should have kept the position, it's good to have an internal critic."
Schilling kicked off a controversy this week after a Twitter post in which he compared Muslims to Nazis, a move that caused ESPN to pull him from its Little League World Series coverage and this week's edition of Sunday Night Baseball. After ESPN announced disciplinary measures, Schilling tweeted, "I understand and accept my suspension. 100% my fault. Bad choices have bad consequences and this was a bad decision in every way on my part."
But the offending tweet wasn't a momentary lapse in judgment. Schilling has a history of posting and sharing incendiary material on social media, including suggesting Hillary Clinton is a drunk murderer, defending the confederate flag, and criticizing civil rights leaders.
Josh Krulewitz, ESPN vice president of communications, declined to say if more discipline would occur.
The incident took place at a time when ESPN has been without an ombudsman for more than eight months, having failed to replace Robert Lipsyte when his term ended in December 2014.
Lipsyte was one of three former ESPN ombudsmen who spoke to Media Matters Wednesday about Schilling, calling him a "right-wing dummy" and saying his views hurt his image on the network.
"My feeling is that if Curt Schilling can make the kind of comments that he does outside the white lines then I don't trust anything he has to say about anything," Lipsyte said. "He's obviously a right-wing dummy."
He later added, "Everybody in journalism these days is under pressure to be on social media, which also reflects on your employer. There are no personal tweets. You are reflecting whoever you represent and Curt Schilling is representing ESPN."
George Solomon, the first ESPN ombudsman hired in 2005 for 21 months, said the Muslim/Nazi comparison "can be quite hurtful to a number of people."
He added, "ESPN gives its employees, particularly its commentators, a lot of leeway and it seems sometimes that causes a problem and in Schilling's case it seems to be a problem that ESPN will have to deal with, looking at his whole body of work ... ESPN will have to decide, 'Do we want Mr. Schilling to represent us with these comments?' Coming from an era where Twitter was not a factor and social media was not part of my life that can be difficult because people who represent ESPN or other networks will put things on Twitter and other social media outlets that they would not say that can be a problem."
Asked what he would do if he was still the ombudsman, Solomon said, "I would probably comment on the remarks. To compare the Muslims with the Nazis is a stretch."
The network had employed an ombudsman regularly since 2005, with five people holding the job through the years. But the position has been empty since Lipsyte left.
Krulewitz said the network has not ruled out bringing the position back, but stopped short of offering any firm plans: "We're in the process of determining our plans for our next ombudsman. We're exploring what our options are ... we're in the midst of the process now."
Asked if the latest Schilling situation would change the plans to expedite the ombudsman, he said, "no."
"The ombudsman is an independent, someone we hire independently to review and discuss her or his viewpoint of ESPN," Krulewitz said. "We're going to go through the process and we obviously want to do the process the right way."
But the former ombudsmen who spoke to Media Matters said the position is needed, perhaps now more than ever given the recent Schilling situation.
"I can't understand what's taking them so long, with all the things," said Lipsyte. "When I left ESPN, my exit interview, the takeaway was 'why should we pay for criticism when we get so much for free.' That doesn't sound to me like an organization that really wants independent oversight. Everybody needs an ombudsman."
Solomon agreed: "I've said that from the start. Taking myself out of the mix, the ombudsmen they've had have been really valuable and informative and really good."
He also added, "I think ESPN was sensitive to what the ombudsmen, including myself, had to say. They listened, they paid attention, they were very responsive when I did the reporting for my column."
Le Anne Schreiber, another ESPN ombudsman who served from 2007-2009, urged the position's return, saying they helped many of the network's journalists who conduct in-depth reporting.
"Some of the employees are very, very serious journalists," she said. "The ombudsmen have always had their backs. Many of them said to me how much moral support they felt in their place in the institution by the presence of the ombudsman, if only for that reason. Just being a watchdog and just being a voice raised the traditional journalist values. It gave a lot of aid comfort and support to the serious journalists who are there and who deserved it."
She also said the network needs specific policies about what is allowed and what the punishment will be for these type of actions.
"ESPN needs to have a very clarified policy about what is acceptable and what is not on their airwaves and ESPN.com," Schreiber said. "ESPN should stop dealing with these ad hoc, making them up in response to public heat of the moment; make a very clear policy. It really is about a consistency of policy."
Fox News chief Roger Ailes has apparently negotiated another ceasefire in the back and forth between his network and leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Fox figures and Ailes pushed back on Trump early this week after he again asserted that Megyn Kelly was a poor journalist and promoted a tweet calling her a "bimbo."
After Ailes and Trump traded hostile press releases, on Wednesday Trump told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham that he and Ailes spoke and settled the latest dispute: "Roger Ailes is great. He's a special guy and a good friend of mine. We just spoke two minutes ago. I mean, Roger Ailes is a great guy and no, I have no problem."
As the Washington Post's Erik Wemple argues, this is evidence of Ailes working outside of the realm of a news network executive to directly confer with a political candidate: "Yet by participating in these peace-making discussions with Trump, Ailes comes off more as a player in the GOP primary game than as a news executive. His role is to drive news stories on Trump, not to hop on the phone with him to work things out."
An independent analysis commissioned by Planned Parenthood and conducted by forensic experts has found evidence that the anti-choice organization, Center for Medical Progress (CMP), "manipulat[ed]" footage in both the edited and supposedly full-length videos it has released in its campaign to smear the health care provider.
The Center for Medical Progress has released eight videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood "selling aborted baby parts." Although the videos have been roundly called out by the media for "show[ing] nothing illegal" and containing selectively-edited footage -- and multiple state and federal investigations have cleared the health care provider of any wrongdoing -- the videos nonetheless continue to prompt calls from conservatives to defund Planned Parenthood.
The independent forensic analysis of CMP's short, edited videos, as well as what the group claimed are the full, unedited versions, provides the strongest proof yet that the anti-choice organization is manipulating the truth about Planned Parenthood. The analysis found that the videos "contain intentionally deceptive edits, missing footage and inaccurately transcribed conversations," according to an August 27 article from Politico, which obtained a copy of the report. The forensic analysis was conducted by independent transcription experts working for the research firm Fusion GPS, which was retained by Planned Parenthood. The experts found "42 instances in which CMP edited out content from the short as well as so-called full versions of the tapes" and that "at least two of the filmed interviews with Planned Parenthood officials are missing at least 30 minutes of content":
Fusion GPS outlined 42 instances in which CMP edited out content from the short as well as so-called full versions of the tapes, several of which were secretly recorded. The company also identified instances in which context was eliminated, minutes of film were deleted and transcripts released by CMP did not match what was said on the tapes.
The report concludes that the degree of manipulation means the videos have no "evidentiary value" in a legal context, can't be used in "official inquiries" and lack credulity as journalism. Those findings are a direct response to CMP's arguments in court -- while fighting efforts to prevent it from releasing more video -- that it is protected by the First Amendment.
But the firm also wrote that it is impossible to characterize the extent to which the edits and cuts distort the meaning of the conversations depicted and that there was no "widespread evidence of substantive video manipulation."
Fusion GPS found that at least two of the filmed interviews with Planned Parenthood officials are missing at least 30 minutes of content. It speculates that the cuts could include moments in which CMP activists, who were posing as representatives of a fictitious tissue procurement company, said things to lead the officials into damning statements
Ten years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, environmental justice advocates feel the time is long overdue for the media to start connecting the dots between climate change and social justice.
There may be no clearer example of this intersection than in the impact and aftermath of 2005's Hurricane Katrina. Between the devastating effects of the storm itself, and the decade-long effort to restore destroyed communities afterwards, the region's African-American population has demonstrably suffered the most.
In media coverage of the storm's upcoming 10-year anniversary, a few reports have discussed how the hurricane's strength was exacerbated by climate change -- warmer seas lead to stronger storms, and global warming-driven sea level rise causes catastrophic storm surges. Others have looked at how African-American communities have suffered -- and continue to suffer -- disproportionately compared to white communities from the storm's impacts.
But rarely do media discuss the relation between the two.
There have been a handful of excellent exceptions, including a Guardian op-ed from Elizabeth Yeampierre, the executive director of Uprose, an organization that fights for environmental justice. Yeampierre wrote:
Those of us from low-income communities of color are on the frontlines of the climate crisis. US cities and towns that are predominantly made up of people of color are also home to a disproportionate share of the environmental burdens that are fueling the climate crisis and shortening our lives. One has only to recall the gut-wrenching images of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath to confirm this.
Yeampierre explained to Media Matters that "understanding the intersectionality" between climate change and social justice is "really important. We can't pick, we can't choose. It all matters to us, all of these issues." When asked why media should report on the connection between the two issues, Yeampierre said: "On top of generations and generations of struggling to have their human rights respected, now [communities of color] are dealing with climate change on top of that. That's the story for front-line communities all over the country."
Yeampierre also noted the problem with dealing with these issues in "silos," adding that climate change "is demanding something different":
Our communities have always known that there is an intersection, that's not new. We've always known that. ... The way that people usually solve problems is in silos, so because they think and provide resources and attention in a way that's siloed, it slows down the ability to really address our communities' needs in a holistic way. This is a problem that goes across issues.
Climate change is demanding something different. Climate change is demanding that we build just relationships. Climate change is demanding that, because we know that by 2040 people of color will be the majority in this country, at a time when climate change will have fully taken a hold, it's important that we are developing intergenerational indigenous relationships on the ground right now.
Yeampierre is not alone in her views. Tracey Ross, associate director of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress, told Media Matters that she hopes the Katrina anniversary will bring renewed media attention to "just how vulnerable low-income communities and communities of color are to extreme weather events":
Following Hurricane Katrina, news reports revealed to the country just how vulnerable low-income communities and communities of color are to extreme weather events. While days of hurt turned into years of struggle for families, news coverage largely shifted its focus away from the impacts of the tragedy. Today, low-income communities in New Orleans remain in disrepair, and the intersections of climate change, racial inequality, and poverty are more pressing for the country than ever before. We hope that the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina brings renewed attention to these important issues.
Vien Truong, the national director of Green for All -- which works to "make sure people of color have a place and a voice in the climate movement" -- told Media Matters that the real story of Katrina's devastation on low-income communities "has been under-reported":
Hurricane Katrina showed the country the devastating impacts extreme weather events have on us all -- and especially to low income communities. The impact of the storm -- the loss of homes, lives, and livelihood -- revealed the importance for all communities to engage in the conversation around environmental equity. This is a story, however, that has been under-reported.
She added: "As we remember the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, let us also reaffirm the importance of environmental justice."
Image at the top from Gulf South Rising, a movement created to highlight the impact of the global climate crisis on the Gulf South region.
CNN political commentator Jeffrey Lord attacked Univision anchor Jorge Ramos for playing the "race card" even though he is a "blue-eyed, light-skinned ... European Mexican." Lord also connected Ramos to Virginia shooter Vester Lee Flanagan II and alleged Charleston shooter Dylann Roof, claiming they all engaged in "dividing the country by race."
On August 25, Ramos, one of the country's top Hispanic journalists, was booted from Donald Trump's press conference while attempting to ask the Republican presidential candidate questions about his immigration policy. Ramos was later allowed to return. Conservative media subsequently cheered Trump for his treatment of Ramos.
In his August 27 column for The American Spectator, Lord criticized Ramos for being "in Iowa to score a blow for race card playing" by "rant[ing]" against Trump on immigration. Lord dismissed him as "a left-wing illegal immigration activist disguised as a journalist" who fulfills "every stereotype of the smarty-pants rude media type that millions of Americans have come to loathe."
Lord then transitioned to an attack on Ramos' ethnic background. He cited a 2011 column by Ruben Navarrette Jr. stating that in Mexico, many of the most important jobs go to those who "have the lightest skin." Lord then wrote, "Now let's get back to Jorge Ramos. The blue-eyed, light-skinned Ramos -- let's be candid he is a European Mexican -- is the epitome of what Navarrete is saying."
Lord proceeded to criticize the idea that America should be a "multiethnic, multi-racial and multicultural" nation, claiming:
Ramos also penned a 2002 column in which he revealed that he wants to turn America from the "melting pot" of historical fame into a North American version of Mexico -- divided by class and race. In the words of Ramos, "the challenge of the United States is that it recognize itself as it is--a multiethnic, multi-racial and multicultural nation."
This is exactly antithetical to the American Dream. America is not supposed to be an "ethnic" or "racial" nation let alone a "multiethnic, multi-racial and multicultural" nation. "All men are created equal" in the Declaration of Independence is about "all men." Period. Full stop. It says nothing about race or ethnicity. The nation is founded on principles of freedom and liberty -- ideas, not skin color or class structure.
Yet that is not what Ramos is seeking. He is playing the Mexican version of the race card and wanting to transfer the rigid class structure of his native country northward.
He continued by drawing a line from Ramos' advocacy to "slavery to segregation to lynching to the Ku Klux Klan":
It is no accident that his ideas get such a warm welcome on the American Left. As we note here so often, the political party that fuels the American Left is the Democrats -- the party that arose around the organizing principle of dividing Americans by skin color. From slavery to segregation to lynching to the Ku Klux Klan to illegal immigration, the beating heart of the American left is race -- race card-playing, outright racism.
It is no wonder that Ramos, coming from a Mexican society that is itself hopelessly divided by out and out racism thinks it would be terrific to import this way of life to America. And it is no wonder that millions of Americans -- yes, those supporters of Donald Trump -- are furiously resisting. Trump supporters come from a wide diversity of ethnicities -- and in a country that is 100% populated by the descendants of immigrants from all over the globe -- Trump supporters are demanding a colorblind society of American social mobility -- where race and class remain the foreign notions that so many millions came here to escape.
During an appearance today on CNN's New Day, Lord also connected Jorge Ramos to mass shooters in Virginia and Charleston.
When asked about potential solutions to shootings, Lord said that "when you read this guy's manifesto ... he was into a race war. A reaction, which he mentioned, of the Charleston shooting. And that guy was motivated by race." He then connected the mass-shooters to Ramos, stating: "I'm suggesting here that instead of dividing the country by race, which is what we seem to do, which is what, for instance, Jorge Ramos was all about in that press conference. It's all about the race of people. We shouldn't be going down that path." From CNN:
LORD: You know, two things that are not being discussed here at all when you read this guy's manifesto, one is race and the other is value of life. And what do we have here? We have this whole Planned Parenthood issue going on in which basically they're selling baby parts, devaluing life.
ALISYN CAMEROTA: But how is that connected to a man who's just, who feels slighted and decides that killing other people is the answer?
LORD: Right. In other words he's not valuing life. He didn't value the lives of the people that he killed. And aside from that, he was into a race war. A reaction, which he mentioned, of the Charleston shooting. And that guy was motivated by race. So I'm suggesting here that instead of dividing the country by race, which is what we seem to do, which is what, for instance, Jorge Ramos was all about in that press conference. It's all about the race of people. We shouldn't be going down that path. This is a color blind country, that was Dr. King's goal, that's where we should be headed, and I think that is something that we should be discussing as well as mental illness and guns.
Lord has a history of pushing fringe rhetoric and misinformation. He engaged in a "profoundly ahistorical" crusade to deny the lynching of a black man, has repeatedly defended Trump's false anti-Mexican immigrant rhetoric, and pushed bogus conspiracies about progressives and Democrats.
Despite his history, CNN hired Lord as a CNN political commentator earlier this month.
A Wall Street Journal editorial on student debt takes aim at Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's New College Compact college affordability plan, arguing that Democrats have "encouraged student debt" in order to win over young voters with debt relief proposals. In addition to favoring fewer opportunities for low-income students, the board's argument ignores the flawed and sometimes corrupt private lending system that led the government to reform the student loan process, and the recession-driven policies supported by both parties that have sent higher-ed costs skyrocketing.
The August 21 WSJ editorial characterized Clinton's recently-announced student debt relief proposal as part of a larger "arc of progressive politics" that first causes problems, and then presents voters with solutions. The short editorial - which is also short on facts - is worth quoting in its entirety (emphasis added):
The arc of progressive politics these days seems to be hoping to benefit from proposing policies to solve the problems their previous policies have created--and hoping nobody notices the cause and effect.
Hillary Clinton and the other Democratic presidential candidates have been proposing new ways for college students to reduce or write-off their student loans. The goal is to win over millennial voters with more taxpayer largesse, while slowly turning higher education into one more universal federal entitlement. Mrs. Clinton's proposal would cost a hefty $350 billion over 10 years, by her own no doubt conservative estimate.
What Democrats don't say is that such taxpayer generosity wouldn't be necessary if they hadn't done so much to encourage students to load up on taxpayer-guaranteed debt. The Education Department reported this week that some 6.9 million Americans with student loans hadn't made a single payment in at least 360 days. That's up 6%, or 400,000 borrowers, in a year.
The Obama Administration took over the student loan market in 2010, easing terms and expanding benefits. Now that the bills are coming due in (sic) more deadbeats, Democrats hope to benefit again by handing the tab to taxpayers. They nail you coming and going. [Wall Street Journal, 8/21/15]
The editorial lays the blame for the national student debt crisis at the feet of the Obama Administration, which it says "took over the student loan market" in 2010. That's a reference to The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, which eliminated the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program, a lending system that dates back to 1965 and offered government-guaranteed student loans through private and nonprofit lenders. In its place, the government created the present-day Direct Loan program, which cuts out private lenders and issues loans directly to students (private lending continued without the government's backing).
Among other things, the 2010 education loan overhaul lowered interest rates for certain borrowers, upped maximum award amounts for Pell grants, expanded access to both income-based repayment and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness plan by allowing borrowers to consolidate into loans eligible for these programs, and made income-based repayment significantly more affordable. The Congressional Budget Office projected that the new, simplified loan program would save the government $68 billion over 11 years.
The WSJ editorial made no mention of the 2010 law's cost savings for the government or students, or the circumstances that laid the groundwork for the reform. Before 2010, the government was paying millions to private lenders to subsidize interest rates on federally-backed loans. In 2004, it was discovered that private lenders were exploiting a legal loophole and overcharging the government for those subsidies. In 2007, several lenders also admitted to engaging in illegal deals with colleges to encourage students to borrow from them.
Those revelations shook public and policymakers' confidence in the whole system of privately-issued, taxpayer-backed student loans and helped set the stage for the 2010 reforms.
In August, 2012 -- two years after the Direct Loan program began -- the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a report that showed how private student loans, which often come with variable interest rates and limited repayment options, expose borrowers to greater credit risk and higher costs. Despite that damning finding, the Republican Party's 2012 party platform called for an end to direct lending and a return to the FFEL-style lending system that had allowed private lenders to overcharge taxpayers and exposed student borrowers to higher debt costs.
Another of The Journal's claims -- that progressive policies have created a cycle of "entitlement" -- is undermined by the fact that bipartisan measures have increased pressure on students to borrow ever-higher amounts of money to pay for college. State-level budget cuts to higher education in the wake of the 2007 recession, for example, have been a proven cause of higher college costs across the board, especially at community colleges. An in-depth analysis of state higher education disinvestment from 2007-2012 by the Center for American Progress found that 29 of 50 states had lowered their direct funding of public institutions. By Media Matters' count, legislative leadership in those 29 states was almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, proving the fallacy of the Journal's claim that progressive policies are responsible for driving up higher-ed costs.
Finally, the Journal's claim that expanding access to student loans leads to more "deadbeats" looking to taxpayers to foot their loan bills echoes a common conservative talking point that says expanding access to higher education through accessible student loan programs results in unqualified (read: undeserving) students going off to college.
That argument ignores the reality that taking on some measure of student debt is inevitable for most Americans, regardless of what kind of school they attend. In 2013, the most recent year for which data is available, nearly 70 percent of graduates of public or private nonprofit schools had loan debt. Tuition costs are rising quickly at every type of higher education institution, according to figures from the National Center for Education Statistics: private colleges, state universities, vocational schools, community colleges, even professional certification programs. And the growing debt burden is shouldered disproportionately by low-income, black and Hispanic borrowers, many of whom lack the adequate financial resources to avoid borrowing.
The bottom line is that any argument against the loan simplification measures and expanded student aid established in 2010 is an argument to limit college opportunities, which will inevitably hit low-income, minority students hardest. The Wall Street Journal's elitist dismissal of the serious problem of student debt, and its partisan argument against worthwhile policy solutions, reinforces a stratified system of higher education that limits opportunities for deserving Americans.
The Houston Chronicle thoroughly debunked a popular myth being peddled by opponents of the Houston Equal rights Ordinance (HERO). Other Houston news outlets, which have been uncritically repeating the false talking point for months, should follow the Chronicle's lead.
The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO, is a broad non-discrimination ordinance that was passed by Houston's City Council in 2014. HERO prohibits discrimination in areas like housing, employment, and city contracts on the basis of 15 characteristics, including race, sex, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Anti-LGBT conservatives in Houston have fought to repeal the ordinance, successfully lobbying to put HERO up for a public vote on Houston's November ballot.
Since the start of the debate over HERO, Houston media outlets have made a consistent habit of uncritically repeating right-wing misinformation about the ordinance, including peddling the widely-debunked myth that HERO would allow sexual predators to sneak into women's restrooms by pretending to be transgender - a bogus talking point championed by HERO's opponents.
In an August 25 column, The Houston Chronicle's Lisa Falkenberg did what other local news outlets have failed to do - investigated and debunked the bogus "bathroom bill" claim:
The so-called HERO ordinance, which will appear on the November ballot, really has little to do with potty time. It's about protecting people against discrimination in employment, housing and other sectors. It protects gay and transgender people, but also bans discrimination based on sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy and genetic information, as well as family, marital or military status. So why are we talking about bathrooms? Because one small aspect of it would let transgender people use the bathroom of their choice.
That means a transgender woman who may wear dresses and makeup can use the women's restroom, rather than turning heads at the urinals. A transgender man who may sport lumberjack attire and a burly beard can use the men's restroom. It's really quite simple. It's about reducing drama, not creating it. As one transgender activist explains in a popular Twitter hashtag, #wejustneedtopee.
This simple accommodation has become the bogeyman's best weapon. Critics suggest it will lead to men dressing up as women to assault women and girls in bathrooms.
As Richard Carlbom with the pro-ordinance Houston Unites campaign told the Chronicle: "Nothing in the equal rights ordinance changes the fact that it is - and always will be - illegal to enter a restroom to harm or harass other people."
If this ordinance posed a real danger, opponents wouldn't have to find some future parent to feign fear of becoming a victim "one day." They could surely find a real victim in one of the other cities that passed anti-discrimination ordinances decades ago.
In 1997, the city of Cambridge became one of the first jurisdictions in Massachusetts to amend its human rights ordinance to include gender identity and expression, police spokesman Jeremy Warnick said Tuesday.
He sent me the full testimony of police Superintendent Christopher Burke before the state House in 2011, advocating for a statewide bill for transgender equal rights.
Burke, speaking "as a member of the law enforcement community, husband, father and citizen," testified that the bill would not harm women and children. He said there had been no incidents or issues regarding people abusing the Cambridge ordinance.
Massachusetts passed the law. Houstonians should do the same.
Even if you insist on voting against it, pick another reason. Maybe you don't want to condone a transgender lifestyle. Maybe you believe protections for some groups are already extended by federal law, and you don't want a local ordinance that could offer relief more quickly and less expensively for your fellow Houstonians.
But don't vote against the ordinance because of urban myths about sexual predators in bathrooms. Sexual predators exist. But if they wanted to attack you in a public bathroom, they wouldn't need a city ordinance to do it.
With some basic investigative reporting, The Houston Chronicle effectively debunked the "bathroom bill" claim as a baseless myth meant to scare and mislead Houstonians. Other Houston news outlets should do the same and give Houstonians the facts about HERO.
It seems like a different study attacking the EPA's Clean Power Plan pops up in the media every other week. But many of these studies are riddled with flaws and funded by fossil fuel interests, so media should think twice before repeating their claims.
A new briefing from the Energy & Policy Institute (EPI) detailed the fossil fuel funding and methodological flaws of six reports attacking the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) carbon pollution standards. One of them, a study from NERA Economic Consulting, has been thoroughly debunked by multiple experts, who say the report is completely out of date, uses faulty efficiency cost assumptions and outdated renewable energy cost assumptions, and does not acknowledge any of the EPA plan's economic benefits, rendering its findings irrelevant.
The deeply flawed NERA study also forms the basis for a new analysis from the Institute for Energy Research (IER) (not included in EPI's briefing), which concluded that the Clean Power Plan will result in 14,000 premature deaths. IER's analysis led to horrific (and completely false) headlines like this, from the conservative news site Daily Caller:
To arrive at their conclusion, IER used NERA's GDP loss estimate and converted it directly into increased premature deaths. However, using that method doesn't make much sense, as NERA failed to acknowledge the Clean Power Plan's projected life-saving health and economic benefits. Thankfully, IER's conclusion has so far been confined to the conservative media fringe.
However, numerous groups have touted the public health benefits of pollution standards, and the EPA estimates that its plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants would prevent 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children. So how does IER's analysis arrive at such a drastically different conclusion? A look at the chain of fossil fuel-funding behind IER and the NERA study may provide the answer.
The cover page of the NERA study states that it was prepared for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, the Association of American Railroads, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, Consumer Energy Alliance, and the National Mining Association. Combined, they're a who's who of fossil fuel industry trade groups and advocacy organizations. EPI put together a graphic showing many of the coal and oil companies that comprise these groups:
As for IER, the group lists former Koch lobbyist Thomas Pyle as its president and is partly funded by the oil billionaire Koch brothers and their political network. IER has also received funding from Exxon Mobil, the American Petroleum Institute, and the Koch-backed DonorsTrust and Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation.
The other reports detailed in EPI's briefing include one from the National Black Chamber of Commerce, another from the Beacon Hill Institute, two from Energy Ventures Analysis (one of which was funded directly by coal giant Peabody Energy), and one from IER. These reports are often publicized through coordinated media campaigns and newspaper op-eds across the country.
EPI's report illustrates how multiple industry-funded studies work in concert to simulate a chorus of diverse voices attacking the EPA's flagship climate plan. But really, it's just the industry protecting its bottom line.
Image at top via Flickr user Fintrvlr using a Creative Commons License.