A Washington Post column by columnist Katrina vanden Heuvel denounced conservative media narratives surrounding the "war on Planned Parenthood," noting that Republicans have seized on the Center for Medical Progress' "widely-debunked series of videos" and intentionally used "a highly misleading chart from Americans United for Life" -- which was heavily pushed by conservative media figures -- to engage in "a modern-day inquisition" against the organization.
Planned Parenthood has come under attack from conservative media outlets after the Center for Medical Progress released a series of deceptively edited videos, purporting to show Planned Parenthood staff engaging in the illegal sale of fetal tissue to medical firms. These videos were repurposed by the House Oversight Committee in an attempt to promote its investigation into Planned Parenthood.
Katrina vanden Heuvel noted in her October 6 column for the Washington Post that Rep. Jason Chaffetz "brandished a highly misleading chart from Americans United for Life that appeared to indicate -- falsely -- that Planned Parenthood performs more abortions than cancer screenings," the same chart also promoted heavily by conservative media figures, in a baseless attack on Planned Parenthood. She further wrote that, "What really demands attention are the lives currently hanging in the balance" because, despite the false claim that community clinics could fulfill the demand for services provided by Planned Parenthood, the reproductive health care provider is already filling a niche by providing a majority of services to low-income Americans and those in rural or under-served areas:
Republicans haven't done this much hand-wringing since Donald Trump rode his escalator into the presidential race. But McCarthy's "gaffe" hasn't put the brakes on the GOP's cynical strategy. In fact, they plan to replicate it.
Exhibit A was the recent announcement of a Benghazi-like select subcommittee tasked solely with exposing Planned Parenthood's supposedly nefarious activities, after the release of a widely-debunked series of videos purporting to show the organization selling fetal body parts. The new panel should not be confused with the House Energy and Commerce Committee's existing probe into Planned Parenthood. Or the House Judiciary Committee's "Planned Parenthood Exposed" investigation. Or the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's hearing.
Planned Parenthood, mind you, provides 2.7 million Americans annually with cancer screenings, birth control and STI testing. Abortions comprise a small percentage of its work. The organization estimates one in five American women have visited a Planned Parenthood clinic in her lifetime, and 75 percent of the $500 million in federal funding Republicans hope to eliminate comes from Medicaid reimbursements for treating America's poorest patients. Break out the subpoenas!
We got a taste of the GOP's latest assault on women's health when House Republicans hauled Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards in front of a mostly-male hearing last week. Republican committee members compared Richards to a criminal. They expressed astonishment over her salary (which is comparable to those of other chief executives of large nonprofits). Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) brandished a highly misleading chart from Americans United for Life that appeared to indicate -- falsely -- that Planned Parenthood performs more abortions than cancer screenings. It was, to put it gently, a modern-day inquisition.
Seeing the anti-choice crowd's open misogyny, some might conclude, as Post reporter Sarah Kaplan wrote , that "the stormy sessions could help Planned Parenthood." Progressives point to polls showing that 61 percent of Americans support federal funding for Planned Parenthood (only 29 percent support the Republican Party). They recall the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation's ill-fated 2012 attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, which backfired and resulted in $3 million in donations and an outpouring of support for Planned Parenthood. Heck, Politico reports that Hillary Clinton's campaign is "eager for [a] Planned Parenthood fight with GOP."
What really demands attention are the lives currently hanging in the balance. Since 2011, states have enacted an astonishing 287 new restrictions on abortion access. One-and-a-half abortion clinics are closing every week. Last Wednesday, a Planned Parenthood clinic near Los Angeles was deliberately set on fire.
These setbacks seriously hinder access to desperately-needed health services, especially for those without other options. Planned Parenthood says that 78 percent of its patients are low-income. A third are black or Latino. More than half of its clinics are located in rural or underserved areas. As Richards reminded us, "We're not fighting political battles just to get a tally of win-losses. It's because it actually does matter in womans' lives."
A Politico Magazine story debunked the conservative media myths that gunmen target "gun-free zones" and more armed civilians would stop mass shootings that have been pervasive following the Oregon community college mass shooting, explaining that "active-shooter scenarios occur in all sorts of environments where guns are allowed," and "no armed civilian has ever actually stopped a school shooting."
Following the October 1 shooting where a gunman killed nine people at a community college in Oregon, media figures immediately made references to the campus as a "gun-free zone," falling back on the conservative media myths that gunmen target locations because guns are not allowed, and more people carrying guns would stop mass shootings.
On October 5, Politico Magazine contributor Matt Valentine struck down the myths that "a good guy with a gun will stop a bad guy with a gun," and gun-free zones are targeted for mass shootings, writing "that's neither true in general nor true in this instance," noting that guns are actually allowed under some circumstances on Oregon college campuses. More generally, Valentine explained that "active-shooter scenarios occur in all sorts of environments where guns are allowed," and "no armed civilian has ever actually stopped a school shooting":
It's an intuitive and appealing idea--that a good guy with a gun will stop a bad guy with a gun. We can imagine it. We see it in movies. At least 80 million Americans have gone into the gun store, laid money on the counter, and purchased that fantasy. And yet it rarely plays out as envisioned. Is it because there aren't enough guns? Is it because the guns aren't allowed where they are needed? Or is there something else wrong with our aspirations to heroism?
Speaking Friday on CNN Newsroom with Carol Costello, perennial gun rights advocate John Lott said, "My solution for these mass shootings is to look at the fact that every single time, these attacks occur where guns are banned. Every single time."
That's neither true in general nor true in this instance. The FBI tells us that active-shooter scenarios occur in all sorts of environments where guns are allowed--homes, businesses, outdoor spaces. (In fact, there was another mass shooting the same day as the Oregon massacre, leaving three dead and one severely wounded in a home in North Florida.) And Umpqua Community College itself wasn't a gun-free zone. Oregon is one of seven states that allow guns on college campuses--the consequence of a 2011 court decision that overturned a longstanding ban. In 2012, the state board of education introduced several limitations on campus carry, but those were not widely enforced.
I asked Dr. Peter Langman, a clinical psychologist and author of the book School Shooters: Understanding High School, College, and Adult Perpetrators, whether the presence of guns is a factor rampage shooters consider when they plan their attacks.
"I don't think it is. Many of these shooters intend to die, either by their own hand or by suicide by cop. There was an armed guard at Columbine. There were armed campus police at Virginia Tech. The presence of armed security does not seem to be a deterrent," Langman said. "Because they're not trying to get away with it. They're going in essentially on a suicide mission."
A quotation popular in conservative media circles that allegedly demonstrates Thomas Jefferson opposed the regulation of firearms was repeated by GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson when he was asked on Fox News to react to the October 1 mass shooting at Umpqua Community College. The quote, however, has been identified as "spurious" by research compiled by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.
When asked by Fox News host Neil Cavuto whether or not the regulation of firearms offers a solution to mass shootings on the October 5 broadcast of Your World with Neil Cavuto, Carson claimed, "Thomas Jefferson himself said, 'Gun control works great for the people who are law-abiding citizens and it does nothing for the criminals, and all it does is put the people at risk.'"
Carson was likely misattributing the following quote, which was written by Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria and copied by Jefferson into a journal:
Laws that forbid the carrying of arms...disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes. Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed one.
The Jefferson Monticello website, maintained by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, lists the quote as "spurious" when attributed to the former president because there is no clear annotation to suggest Jefferson agreed or disagreed with the claim.
Jefferson copied the Beccaria quote in Italian into his legal commonplace book, a "journal or notebook in which a student, reader, or writer compiles quotations, poems, letters, and information, along with the compiler's notes and reactions." Jefferson notated the copied passage with the words, "False idee di utilità," which is a summation of the idea contained in the quotation.
Carson's talking point is popular within gun rights circles and conservative media outlets that cover gun policy. Conservative radio host Dana Loesch included the quote, as well as several other deceptively edited Founding Father quotes, in her book Hands Off My Gun: Defeating the Plot to Disarm America, with the false suggestion that Jefferson was quoting Becceria approvingly.
Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler relied on a strained justification to award President Obama "two Pinocchios" for stating the truth: "We know that states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths."
Kessler criticized Obama for including gun suicides in the number of "gun deaths" in America during recent public comments about the easy availability of guns. He justified his criticism of the president by underplaying studies that have found a link between gun availability and suicide.
On October 1, Obama delivered a statement from the White House after a gunman killed nine people and wounded nine others at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. In his remarks, Obama said:
There is a gun for roughly every man, woman, and child in America. So how can you, with a straight face, make the argument that more guns will make us safer? We know that states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths. So the notion that gun laws don't work, or just will make it harder for law-abiding citizens and criminals will still get their guns is not borne out by the evidence.
In an October 5 Washington Post article, Kessler wrote that many readers asked him to fact check Obama's statement that "states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths." Kessler awarded Obama "two Pinocchios," which according to his rating scale means he believes Obama created "a false, misleading impression."
Obama administration officials told Kessler that the president's statement was in reference to research findings that were reported in an August 28 National Journal article, which concluded, "The states that impose the most restrictions on gun users also have the lowest rates of gun-related deaths, while states with fewer regulations typically have a much higher death rate from guns." Gun homicides, suicides, accidents, and legal interventions were all included in National Journal's dataset.
Kessler wrote that Obama's mention of that fact was "a classic situation in which a politician bases a statement on a study, but then exaggerated the conclusions to justify a policy. It also lacks context because the results change, sometimes dramatically, when suicides are removed from the gun deaths."
But Kessler's criticism of Obama for including suicides by gun as among U.S. "gun deaths" is very questionable, because it ignores the vast body of research done by experts who count such suicides as gun deaths. Instead of debunking Obama's actual statement -- which Kessler cannot do because the statement is true -- he instead has to move the goalposts in order to criticize Obama.
In fact, a statement similar to Obama's has previously appeared in The Washington Post. In a December 2012 entry in the Post's Wonkblog, Ezra Klein wrote, "States with tighter gun control laws appear to have fewer gun-related deaths."
Kessler cited two academic articles to support giving Obama two Pinocchios:
Some might argue that it is wrong to exclude suicides from the data, as less access to guns might result in fewer suicides. The data on that is mixed. Gun-related suicides might decline, but studies have shown little connection between suicides and access to guns. A 2004 report published by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that "some gun control policies may reduce the number of gun suicides, but they have not yet been shown to reduce the overall risk of suicide in any population."
Kessler misleads his readers by making the sweeping claim that evidence is "mixed" on whether there is a connection between gun access and suicide, when the majority view among academics is that there is indeed a relationship.
According to Means Matter, a project of the Harvard School of Public Health, "Twelve or more U.S. case control studies have compared individuals who died by suicide with those who did not and found those dying by suicide were more likely to live in homes with guns."
The Harvard Injury Control Research Center similarly concluded, "The preponderance of current evidence indicates that gun availability is a risk factor for youth suicide in the United States. The evidence that gun availability increases the suicide rates of adults is credible, but is currently less compelling." The Harvard researchers also concluded, "people in states with many guns have elevated rates of suicide, particularly firearm suicide."
According to a survey of the authors, out of "1,200 articles on firearms published since 2011 in peer-reviewed journals focused on public health, public policy, sociology, and criminology," 84 percent of respondents agreed that access to guns increases the risk of suicide:
Despite a nearly week-long boycott, Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump still outpaced his GOP rivals in Fox News interview airtime in September.
Trump beat out every other candidate with 2 hours and 42 minutes -- almost a full 30 minutes more than the next closest contender (New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who clocked in with 2 hours and 16 minutes), and more than an hour more than the third place finisher (former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who managed 1 hour and 32 minutes of interview airtime for the month). Trump's airtime total was once again inflated thanks to the network re-airing his interviews in primetime -- a Hannity Trump campaign special that originally aired in August was broadcast again on Sunday, September 6.
Christie's interview airtime has surged forward, going from 1 hour and 15 minutes in August to nearly double that in September. Possibly due to his proximity to New York City, Christie appears in-studio for interviews more often than any other candidate. In September, 80 percent of his 15 appearances were conducted were in studio. The next closest candidate was former Pennsylvanian Senator Rick Santorum with only 50 percent of his six interviews being in-studio.
Christie tied for the most total appearances (15) with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who was hosted several times on the network to discuss the controversy over Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis.
Santorum, a former Fox News employee, continues to lag behind several other candidates in interview airtime in recent months. After appearing for 1 hour and 42 minutes in July, Santorum appeared for just 19 minutes in August and only 24 minutes in September. In comments to Media Matters reporter Joe Strupp at last month's Values Voter conference about the amount of coverage Trump has received from the media, Santorum said, "All you have to do is look at the airtime, look at the airtime."
Overall, Hannity again far outpaced Fox's other shows for total candidate time. Sean Hannity's show devoted 3 hours and 32 minutes to the candidates in September, which brings it to a total of 16 hours and 43 minutes since May. The second place show, Fox and Friends has devoted less than half that time -- 7 hours and 57 minutes.
Most Total Airtime In September: Donald Trump (2 hours and 42 minutes)
Most Total Appearances In September: Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee (15 appearances each)
Fox Show With The Most Total Candidate Airtime In September: Hannity (3 hours and 32 minutes)
Fox Show With The Most Candidate Appearances In September: Hannity (25 appearances)
Softball Question of the Month: The day after the September 16 CNN Republican presidential debate, Hannity set up a question about critics who "doubt" Florida Governor Jeb Bush's "conservative credentials" by listing off a series of the Republican's supposed conservative accomplishments:
HANNITY: Governor, I've looked at your Florida record. I've discussed a lot of these issues with you. You governed as a very solid conservative. You created a lot of jobs. You cut taxes -- don't remember the exact number -- you probably do -- a number of times.
BUSH: $19 billion!
HANNITY: What's that?
BUSH: Yes. Every year.
HANNITY: All right...
BUSH: $19 billion every year I cut taxes.
HANNITY: ... you went up to AAA bond rating, which is an enormous success. You even were the first governor to institute state -- state vouchers, a school voucher system.
And whenever your name comes up on social media, it always immediately races to immigration and Common Core. I think you know that that's true, right? What is your answer to those people that doubt your conservative credentials because of these two issues?
Most Total Airtime Since May 1: Donald Trump (13 hours and 3 minutes)
Most Total Appearances Since May 1: Donald Trump (67 appearances)
Fox Show With The Most Total Candidate Airtime Since May 1: Hannity (16 hours and 43 minutes)
Fox Show With The Most Candidate Appearances Since May 1: Hannity (89 appearances)
Previous Fox Primary Reports
For this study, we used FoxNews.com's "2016 Presidential Candidate Watch List." Jim Gilmore's inclusion in the study began after his formal announcement on July 30. Rick Perry's data extends until September 11, and Scott Walker's data extends until September 22, which is when each candidate respectively ended their campaigns. Any future appearances from these former candidates will not be included in this study.
Media Matters searched the Nexis database and our internal video archive for all guest appearances on Fox News Channel between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. and Fox News Sunday for the 17 presidential candidates in question: Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, George Pataki, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, Donald Trump, and Scott Walker.
Beginning with the August report, Media Matters has collected appearances on weekend shows in addition to weekday shows and Fox News Sunday. All weekend data from May 1 onward is now included.
For programs where a transcript was unavailable, we reviewed the raw video.
Charts by Oliver Willis. Additional research by Media Matters' research staff.
The Associated Press properly identified Liberty Counsel -- the legal group defending Kentucky's Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis -- as an anti-LGBT hate group, in an all-too-rare example of a major news outlet accurately informing its audience about Liberty's extreme views.
Liberty Counsel's defense of Davis has put it at the center of a months-long media firestorm over the clerk's refusal to follow the law and issue same-sex marriage licenses. Yet major news outlets have repeatedly failed to note that Liberty Counsel has been labeled an anti-LGBT "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center, often only referring to the group as a "Christian" or "conservative" legal organization.
From the Associated Press (emphasis added):
Kim Davis' lawyer stood onstage in a Washington D.C. hotel and pointed to a photo on the screen. It showed 100,000 people packed into a Peruvian soccer stadium, Mat Staver told the crowd, all there to pray for the Kentucky clerk battling against gay marriage.
The crowd erupted.
It wasn't true.
Staver's firm, the Liberty Counsel, which revealed Davis' secret meeting with Pope Francis, has been accused by advocacy groups of peddling misrepresentations in the past. Yet it has become the main source of details about the controversial pope meeting.
Online sleuths quickly debunked the Peru story Staver told at the Values Voter Summit, a conference for the conservative Family Research Council. The photo was from a year-old gathering unrelated to Davis, who spent five days in jail for defying a court order and refusing to license gay marriages. Staver could provide no evidence of a massive Davis rally. On Monday, he called it a mistake and blamed miscommunication with the Peruvian authorities who gave him the photo.
The next day, the firm dropped a bombshell. It said Pope Francis, on his celebrated visit to America, secretly met with Davis. The pope hugged her, thanked her for her courage and told her to "stay strong," Liberty Counsel said. The Vatican on Friday said the pope had a brief meeting with Davis that should not be seen as support for her stance.
The Southern Poverty Law Center lists the Liberty Counsel as an anti-gay hate groups for spreading false information.
"A group that regularly portrays gay people as perverse, diseased pedophiles putting Western civilization at risk are way, way over the line," said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the center.
The Liberty Counsel has connected homosexuality to higher rates of promiscuity and incest, Potok said, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. The firm opposes laws banning hate crimes and supports discredited conversion therapies that purport to turn homosexuals into heterosexuals. Staver once declared that the Boy Scouts would become a "playground for pedophiles" once it allowed gay troop leaders.
Students and alumni at Santa Clara University are protesting an upcoming speech by syndicated columnist George Will. After Will "trivialized" campus sexual assault victims in a 2014 column, he has faced widespread opposition at schools that have hosted him. Last year, Will was uninvited from a speech at Scripps College and protested by hundreds of students at two other schools.
Will first came under fire after his June 2014 column dismissed "the supposed campus epidemic of rape, aka 'sexual assault,'" and argued that efforts to combat campus sexual assault have made "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges."
A petition at Change.org states that the signatories are "extremely disappointed" with Will's inclusion in Santa Clara's President's Speaker Series on October 8. "We find Will's flatly dismissive statements about sexual assault, climate change, and the Pope not only disrespectful," the petition states, "but contrary to the very spirit of a speaker series dedicated to 'engaging people and ideas that shape our world'" (emphasis added):
While we believe that hosting speakers with a wide range of political viewpoints is vital to the intellectual life of the university, publications by Will demonstrate that he is not interested in the kinds of presentation and discussion that make this series a successful contribution to the mission of the university.
Will has repeatedly issued statements that both trivialize the problem of campus sexual assaults and invalidate the experiences and feelings of sexual assault survivors. Moreover, his recent claim that national and local efforts to combat campus rape have made "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges" is not merely misguided, but deeply misogynistic and ignorant.
The invitation of Will, at considerable financial cost to the university, sends a profoundly contradictory message to our campus community and particularly our students. At this year's university convocation, President Engh talked about the need for students, faculty, staff -- and the institution as a whole -- to respond with more courage and concern to the problem of violence against women, particularly on college campuses across the country.
Featuring George Will in the President's Speaker Series also undercuts the dedication of many universities (including SCU) to promoting sustainability, an effort Will derides as a silly "progressive gesture." Moreover, leading climatologist Michael Mann notes, "George Will is known for grossly misstating the science of climate change." Ironically, in a recent opinion piece titled "Pope Francis's fact free flamboyance," Will described Pope Francis as embracing ideas "impeccably fashionable, demonstrably false and deeply reactionary," with the "intellectual tone of fortune cookies."
Last October, Will was uninvited from a speaking engagement at Scripps College, after the school's president said Will had "trivialized" sexual assault cases, including one "that reflects similar experiences reported by Scripps students." Later in the year, hundreds showed up to protest a speech Will gave at Miami University in Ohio, while over a thousand students signed a letter criticizing the speech. Some students at Michigan State University also turned their backs on Will during his recent commencement speech. Other students and faculty at MSU even held a separate commencement ceremony, and Michigan Senator (and MSU alumna) Debbie Stabenow condemned the decision to host Will.
Image of Miami University protest courtesy of the Facebook page of the school's Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program.
The New York Times published in print a story about the International Association of Firefighters backing away from an endorsement of Hillary Clinton, but only published in a blog online that the National Education Association (NEA), the biggest union in the country, announced its support for Clinton on Saturday.
On October 2, The New York Times published in print a 971-word report in print about the firefighters' union deciding not to endorse Hillary Clinton for president. The next day, the Times' First Draft blog posted a 519-word report about Clinton winning the support of the NEA, which appeared only online, and not in print. The NEA is the biggest labor union in the country, the second major group of teachers to endorse Clinton, and Clinton's eighth labor endorsement overall.
A CBS Evening News segment in response to the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College featured Sheriff David Clarke, a frequent Fox guest with a history of inflammatory statements, pushing the debunked myth that gunmen in mass shootings target "gun-free zones."
On October 2, CBS Evening News host Scott Pelley announced a new series called "Voices Against Violence" as part of "the national conversation about violence" after the recent mass shooting that killed nine and wounded nine more at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon. One of the featured speakers was Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who claimed that shooters target "gun-free zones" because they "know that nobody is going to be able to interrupt [them] until mass carnage occurs":
SHERIFF DAVID CLARKE: I'm Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke. Any time we have a horrific incident like a mass shooting, these things have a tendency to become politicized. One of the things that I would do to reduce -- we're not going to be able to eliminate these entirely -- but to reduce the likelihood that there's mass carnage, is to get rid of these gun-free zones. These gun-free zones -- theaters, churches, college campuses, elementary schools -- are chosen by the perpetrator for a reason. He knows that nobody is going to be able to interrupt him until mass carnage occurs. And we ought to give people the individual freedom, the individual right to -- under certain circumstances like a concealed carry license -- to go armed in these venues in case something like this happens for their own protection, and to have a chance. Look at Chicago, Illinois. Look at Washington, D.C., the federal district. If gun control really worked, those would be two of the safest areas in the United States. In fact, they're two of the most violent.
Clarke's "gun-free zones" claim is not supported by any evidence. According to an analysis by Everytown for Gun Safety, only 13 percent of the 133 mass shootings that occurred between January 2009 and July 2015 took place in "gun-free zones." An analysis by Mother Jones found that, of 62 public mass shootings over a 30 year period, not a single shooting was stopped by a civilian carrying a firearm. Mother Jones also found that gunmen do not choose to target locations because guns are not allowed, but rather for personal reasons such as a workplace grievance.
Clarke has a history of making outrageous statements and associating with fringe personalities and organizations. During a 2013 appearance on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' radio show, Clarke responded to Jones' claim that "the Obama Marxist types" wanted to confiscate guns, stating, "I believe that if somebody tried to enforce something of that magnitude you would see the second coming of an American Revolution, the likes of which would make the first revolution pale by comparison." He also claimed that Obama had encouraged violence in Ferguson, Missouri after a police officer killed resident Michael Brown by calling for calm "with a wink and a nod." Clarke was named "sheriff of the year" by the far-right fringe group Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), whose leader proposed using women as human shields during a 2014 dispute between Cliven Bundy, a lawless Nevada rancher, and the Bureau of Land Management. And in a 2014 speech to the National Rifle Association, Clarke said, "If you're going to stand with me, you have to be willing to resist any attempt by government to disarm law-abiding people by fighting with the ferociousness of a junkyard dog. For it says in the Declaration of Independence that it is our right, it is our duty, to throw off such government and to provide new guards for our future security."
Kim Davis, the Kentucky country clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, is embroiled in yet another media firestorm following revelations that reports about her private meeting with Pope Francis during his recent visit to the U.S. may have been grossly misrepresented by her and the legal group representing her, Liberty Counsel. But the controversy should come as no surprise to those familiar with Liberty Counsel, which has a reputation for lying in order to elevate its profile and further demonize LGBT people.
Florida-based Liberty Counsel was founded in 1989 by its now-chairman, Mat Staver. For years, the organization has distinguished itself as one of the anti-gay right's most extreme and blundering legal groups, taking on doomed efforts to defend harmful "ex-gay" therapy and slow the inevitable advance of marriage equality.
Before it began representing Davis, Liberty Counsel was perhaps most notorious for representing Lisa Miller. After ending a same-sex relationship with her partner, Miller took their daughter and moved to another state, defying a court order and refusing to allow her former partner to see the child. Liberty Counsel rallied to Miller's defense, creating a public relations nightmare for itself when Miller subsequently kidnapped the child and fled the country.
In addition to Davis, the group is also defending Scott Lively, an American evangelist facing charges of "crimes against humanity" for his involvement in promoting Uganda's extreme anti-LGBT law, which threatens gay Ugandans with life in prison.
Apart from its ham-handed legal work, Liberty Counsel is a run-of-the-mill anti-gay group that regularly makes asinine and hateful proclamations about the LGBT community. Liberty's Staver has linked homosexuality to pedophilia and disease, and predicted that marriage equality could cause society to "cease to exist." In 2014, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) added Liberty Counsel to its list of anti-gay "hate groups."
The Kim Davis marriage-license story offered Liberty Counsel an opportunity to capitalize off of the national media spotlight trained on the law-breaking clerk - a chance for it to raise its visibility and carve out a niche for itself alongside more successful anti-LGBT legal organizations. Staver became a regular fixture in the media's coverage of Davis, cited in nearly every major mainstream media report about the controversy.
But that increased media attention also brought with it increased media scrutiny and vetting, especially as it become clear that Davis would face jail time for refusing to do her job. Commentators began openly wondering whether Liberty was cynically taking advantage of Davis to raise its profile. Others noted Liberty's penchant for pursuing dead-end, extreme anti-gay litigation. Even on Fox, media figures were suspicious of Staver's arguments and intentions. A panel of Fox commentators mocked Staver's "ridiculously stupid" suggestion that Kentucky isn't bound to follow the Supreme Court's orders. In an interview with Staver, Fox's Neil Cavuto seemed sincerely perplexed by Staver's legal reasoning, admitting he was "thoroughly confused" by the end of the segment.
That doubtfulness about Staver and Liberty Counsel's credibility turned out to be well-warranted. Since Davis' release from jail, Liberty Counsel has been embroiled in several PR controversies, almost exclusively attributable to Staver's own incompetence. During the September 17 edition of Liberty Counsel's Faith and Freedom broadcast, Staver claimed that the hosts of ABC's The View had called for Kim Davis to be killed, a blatant falsehood he was later forced to apologize for.
A few weeks later, while speaking at the conservative Values Voter Summit, Staver displayed a picture of what he claimed was a 100,000-person prayer rally in Lima, Peru for Davis. The photo was met with immediate suspicion from media commentators, who could find no evidence on social media that such a massive rally had taken place. After days of doubling down, attacking its critics, and revising its defense of the photo's authenticity, Liberty Counsel was forced to admit that the image actually came from a completely unrelated event in 2014, calling the mix-up "an honest mistake."
And then came Pope Francis' visit to the United States. On September 29, Liberty Counsel announced that the pope had met privately with Davis in Washington, DC to thank her for her "courage" and encourage her to "stay strong." In interviews with major media outlets, Liberty Counsel depicted the meeting as a de facto endorsement of Davis' case, telling CBS News that the meeting "sends a huge message worldwide that [the pope] stands for the inherent right of religious freedom." Staver also told CNN's Jake Tapper that the pope "did encourage [Davis] for standing."
But on October 2, the Vatican released an official statement clarifying that the meeting was not an endorsement of Davis' case:
Pope Francis met with several dozen persons who had been invited by the Nunciature to greet him as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City. Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope's characteristic kindness and availability.
The Pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.
One official said there was "a sense of regret" at the Vatican over the meeting, while an advisor close to Pope Francis tweeted that the pope was "exploited" by a "meeting that never should have taken place." Liberty Counsel has responded by disputing the Vatican's description of the event, effectively throwing more fuel on the media fire.
Liberty Counsel's recent PR crises aren't anomalies -- they're characteristic of an organization run by a man whose only real claim to fame is spewing vitriol and championing fringe, losing legal battles against LGBT equality. LGBT activists who have followed Liberty Counsel's work for the past several years probably aren't surprised that the group is again embarrassing itself in the national media's spotlight. But major news outlets, which have largely been reluctant to dig in to Liberty Counsel's history of extremism, are less likely to treat the group with the skepticism and hesitance that it deserves.
To be fair, this problem isn't unique to Liberty Counsel -- a number of extreme anti-LGBT hate groups have duped the media into taking them seriously. As LGBT equality becomes less and less controversial, media outlets have a shrinking number of radical anti-gay charlatans to rely on as representing the voice of the opposition. And in the case of Kim Davis, Liberty Counsel has cast itself as a central character in the drama.
Staver's repeated missteps and embarrassments are a worthwhile reminder of why these kinds of organizations are labeled "hate groups" in the first place. They're not just ideologically extreme - dishonesty, exaggeration, and propaganda are core components of their brands. Given how frequently hate groups like Liberty Counsel lie about LGBT people on a daily basis, media outlets should anticipate that same level of dishonesty when they're the subject of major news stories, and treat them accordingly.