The Supreme Court will hear arguments March 2 in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstadt, which challenges Texas anti-choice law HB 2. A ruling against abortion provider Whole Woman's Health would close at least 75 percent of Texas' clinics and likely enable anti-choice legislation across the country. Texas' brief to the Supreme Court utilized arguments that mirror talking points from right-wing media, including the claim that HB 2 would prevent another "Kermit Gosnell scandal," in which illegal operations led to multiple deaths at a Philadelphia clinic.
On January 25, a grand jury assembled by the Harris County District Attorney's office in Texas elected to clear a local Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing alleged by deceptively edited videos from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) and instead indicted its founder, David Daleiden -- Media Matters' 2015 Misinformer Of The Year. This indictment elicited objections from right-wing media outlets, claiming that the investigation was "biased" and violated Daleiden's First Amendment rights. They dubiously argued that despite his dishonesty, Daleiden should be considered a journalist because he relied on "the same undercover techniques that investigative journalists have used for decades" and that his indictment would constitute a chilling effect on other journalists.
But these First Amendment arguments are a red herring - as Slate's legal expert Dahlia Lithwick explains, it is crucial that media remember Daleiden is not and never was an investigative journalist.
In a February 2 article for Slate, Lithwick argued that the distinction between Daleiden and real journalists is that "journalists seek truth" while Daleiden "allegedly falsified evidence" to bolster "a truth he cannot quite prove but wants us to believe anyhow." Given that CMP's website was "only recently revised" to include any mention of being "citizen journalists," Lithwick noted Daleiden's claim to a journalist's First Amendment protections is even more unconvincing and a "nihilistic and cynical view of the profession." Drawing on a wide variety of expert testimony and case law, she concluded Daleiden's smear campaign "can be called many things, but 'journalism' probably isn't one of them":
[I]s it so simple to say that what CMP was doing was truly journalism? Amanda Marcotte has argued at Salon that Daleiden "has no right to call himself a journalist," in part because when the hours of footage he shot failed to turn up any examples of criminal conduct on the part of Planned Parenthood, Daleiden didn't back off the story but doubled down on it. Indeed he allegedly falsified evidence, so the videos would show through trickery--including flawed transcripts and stock images--that which he could not prove. In an interview in On the Media this week, Jane Kirtley, professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota, similarly explained that American courts have almost always found that general criminal laws apply to the press, unless a story is so terrifically important it couldn't have been unearthed any other way. That might justify allowing journalists to be immune from prosecution, but only a small handful of such cases exist, and as Kirtley points out, it will be difficult for Daleiden to claim that his actions were critical to exposing vast criminal wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood, given that the grand jury's own investigation, and 11 independent state investigations, have unearthed no wrongdoing. The difference between journalism and what CMP did is that journalists seek truth, while Daleiden seeks to show that somewhere in between the edited seams and faked voiceovers of his films there lies a truth he cannot quite prove but wants us to believe anyhow. That can be called many things, but "journalism" probably isn't one of them.
[It]'s entirely possible that even while Daleiden attempts to argue that what he did--or at least what he now says he was doing--is genuine journalism, there are real risks to the rest of us in allowing him to make such broad claims. We aren't merely risking our privacy and our livelihoods by allowing anyone with a camera and an inextinguishable fantasy to call himself a reporter. We are courting the possibility that his nihilistic and cynical view of the profession could someday become the norm.
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent used the outcome of the Iowa caucuses to call Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton a "lying America destroying criminal ass bitch."
Nugent's attack on Clinton comes weeks after he said that Clinton and President Obama should be hanged for treason.
In a February 2 post on his Facebook page, Nugent wrote:
Nugent has called Clinton a "worthless bitch," "toxic cunt," "two-bit whore," and claimed she has "spare scrotums."
On January 27, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz announced the formation of his new anti-choice coalition: "Pro-Life For Cruz." As part of the announcement, Cruz named anti-choice extremist Troy Newman as a "national co-chair" of the group, despite Newman's problematic history of harassing abortion providers and endorsing violent rhetoric about them.
Reporting for The Nation on January 28, George Zornick detailed why Cruz's "doubling down on his connection with Newman" was as problematic as Newman's own appalling history of anti-choice activism. According to Zornick, Cruz praised Newman for having "led the charge for the pro-life cause" and being a "true inspiration." Yet Newman has a well-established history of harassing abortion providers and spouting violence-endorsing rhetoric against them.
As the president of the anti-choice organization Operation Rescue, Newman argued that "the murder of abortion doctors is legally permissible" and he openly harassed clinic employees. In his radical book Their Blood Cries Out, Newman suggested that 9/11, AIDS, and even California's historic drought were all punishments from God for allowing legal abortion. Newman's views are so extreme that, as The New York Times reported in 2015, Australia cancelled Newman's visa over "concerns that he might encourage violence against abortion providers or women seeking the procedures."
Most recently, Newman served as a board member of The Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the organization responsible for propagating a smear campaign so fraudulent that the organization earned the title of Media Matters' Misinformer of the Year for 2015. Last week, the president of CMP, David Daleiden, and one of his co-conspirators were indicted by a grand jury in Harris County, Texas for their involvement in this attack on Planned Parenthood. Troy Newman is no longer on the board of CMP -- as The New York Times reported, he "resigned from the center's board when Mr. Daleiden was indicted."
As The Nation's Zornick noted, Cruz also praised Tony Perkins, the leader of known hate group Family Research Council for agreeing to lead the "Pro-Life For Cruz" coalition. From The Nation:
With the Iowa caucuses only days away, Senator Ted Cruz has announced the formation of a "Pro-Lifers for Cruz" coalition that aims to "champion every child, born and unborn."
Among the national co-chairs of that coalition is Troy Newman, one of the more malevolent figures in the anti-choice movement. He is the president of the radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, and a board member at the Center for Medical Progress, which just saw two employees indicted in Houston for deceptions conducted while creating the now-infamous "baby parts" videos that targeted Planned Parenthood.
Newman has often suggested that the murder of abortion doctors is legally permissible, and his group has been connected to several notorious anti-choice acts of violence over the past 20 years.
It would be virtually impossible not to be aware of this fact--it defines Newman's career--yet Cruz said in a statement Wednesday that "Every single national co-chair in this coalition has led the charge for the pro-life cause and is a true inspiration." Newman formally endorsed Cruz back in November, which created a small stir-up in the press, and Cruz is now doubling down on his connection with Newman.
Pro-choice advocates quickly noticed Cruz's bear hug of Newman. "Given that this announcement came out after [David Daleiden's] indictment, I'm pretty shocked that he included him," said Sasha Bruce, NARAL's vice president of campaigns and strategies. "It's not enough that he made his endorsement at a presidential level of somebody who advocates violence, he has now been indicted."
A video released by conservative commentator Steven Crowder that dishonestly suggested that it is not possible to buy a firearm at a gun show without a background check was touted by the National Rifle Association and conservative media despite its false conclusion.
In 32 states, laws regarding background checks for gun sales have not been expanded beyond federal law, meaning that it is possible to engage in a "private sale" to buy a firearm at a gun show -- or other venues including over the internet and through newspaper classified ads -- without a background check.
Under current federal law, individuals who are "engaged in the business" of selling firearms must obtain a Federal Firearms License (FFL) and run background checks on customers, while so-called "private sellers" who say they only engage in "occasional sales" do not have to run a background check. This discrepancy is what is known as the "gun show loophole" or "private sales loophole." Recent executive actions announced by President Obama seek to limit the scope of this loophole by clarifying that high-volume commercial gun sellers do need to obtain a license.
On January 28, Glenn Beck's The Blaze released a video of Crowder's "undercover stunt" purporting to determine whether the "gun show loophole" exists. At the end of the video, Crowder concluded that the "gun show loophole" is "nonexistent."
The video, which was broken into two parts, featured Crowder approaching various firearm vendors at gun shows where he tries and then fails to purchase a firearm without a background check.
In the first section, Crowder unsuccessfully attempted to buy fully automatic machine guns without a background check. But rules surrounding the sale of automatic weapons have nothing to do with the "gun show loophole." Under the National Firearms Act (NFA), people who wish to own fully automatic weapons must obtain a license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that includes undergoing a background check. (People were, however, exploiting a loophole in the NFA that allowed the background check requirement to be avoided by purchasing weapons through a trust. The ATF is currently finalizing a rule to close that loophole.)
The real issue covered by the "gun show loophole" is the purchase of semi-automatic and other firearms from private sellers at gun shows without a background check, an occurrence Crowder purported to debunk in the second part of his video.
In his video, Crowder is seen approaching gun vendors at a gun show in Crown Point, Indiana. Debunking Crowder's premise is reporting that indicates "private sales" without a background check have been allowed at that gun show.
Crowder is seen engaging in bizarre interactions with vendors that result in him not being able to purchase a firearm without a background check. In one interaction, Crowder tells a vendor that he has DUI conviction because he ran over a pregnant woman with his car and that he previously shot someone.
One of two things is occurring when Crowder fails to buy a gun from the vendors he approaches. Either his overtly strange behavior is raising red flags with vendors, or he is simply approaching licensed dealers (not "private sellers") who are required to perform background checks on customers.
Some of the scenes were not even filmed at a gun show. In at least two scenes, Crowder is seen attempting to buy a gun without a background check from a brick and mortar gun store, and then expressing exasperation when they refuse to complete the sale. At one of the stores, Crowder is seen filling out the paperwork for a background check, but fails to complete it after he draws a penis on the form.
According to actual undercover investigations of gun shows, many private sellers are willing to sell a gun to someone who discloses in a more subtle manner that they probably cannot pass a background check.
Despite the absurdity of Crowder's video, it was widely cited throughout conservative media in order to attack the notion of the "gun show loophole." The video was also promoted by the National Rifle Association:
Crowder's stunt is not original. In May 2014, Media Research Center released a video attempting to make the same claim. Unlike Crowder's video, MRC's video was not released in an undercover format, but it used the same tactic of approaching licensed dealers to create the misleading impression it is not possible to buy a gun without a background check at a gun show.
From the January 31 edition of Fox News' MediaBuzz:
Loading the player reg...
Leading up to last night's mainstage GOP debate, Fox News noted that "gun control" was "the most searched issue last month" and that Americans "want to hear about gun control." But during the debate, the moderators failed to ask any questions about gun policy.
Fox News and Google sponsored a January 28 Republican primary debate featuring Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). According to a Washington Post transcript, the issue of gun policy was only mentioned in passing when moderator Chris Wallace asked Rubio about his accusation that Christie is a flip-flopper.
In failing to ask a gun policy question, Fox News moderators missed an opportunity to ask the Republican field about why they oppose background checks for all gun sales even when the measure is overwhelmingly popular with Republicans.
Due to its partnership with Google, Fox News was aware that Americans wanted to hear a question about gun policy. In a January 28 segment on Fox News program Happening Now about "what issues are most important" to voters, Fox News anchor Shannon Bream noted that according to Google Trends data, people "want to hear about gun control."
During Fox's January 28 undercard debate for candidates that failed to qualify for the main debate, moderator Martha MacCallum noted "according to Google, gun control is the most searched issue last month, making up nearly 80 percent of all the U.S. searches," before asking a question about how much funding the federal government should spend on building new mental health institutions. (Conservative media frequently overly conflate gun policy with mental health policy, even though the vast majority of people with a mental health condition are not violent.)
"Violent." "Sickening." "Disgusting." "Inhuman." These are all words regularly used by prominent media sources to stigmatize and mislead on the reality of abortion.
Listening to these words used to smear and shame women who exercise the right to an abortion, it'd be easy to forget that 43 years ago the Supreme Court protected that constitutional right.
Women's access to reproductive health care is as much in jeopardy as ever, as anti-choice activists and their GOP accomplices in Congress are rapidly chipping away at that right, emboldened by the echo chamber where media figures perpetuate abortion stigma.
Abortion stigma is the "shared understanding" that abortion is morally wrong or socially unacceptable. It shows up in all facets of popular culture but is especially dangerous when it taints news coverage of abortion stories.
Abortion stigmatization can be incredibly obvious in right-wing media, where abortion is often referred to as sickening, "grizzly," unethical, and on par with terrorism, while abortion providers are smeared as villains and compared to Nazis. But some of the most insidious perpetuations of abortion stigma are subtly pushed by mainstream media, like in news stories about abortion laden with emotionally manipulative language and images, and in popular culture, such as our favorite TV shows and movies.
When news outlets use footage of extremely pregnant women and even babies to cover abortion stories, the viewer's focus shifts from the women seeking abortions to the contents of their wombs. Stock footage that cuts off the heads of women and shows only their bodies in later stages of pregnancy is particularly egregious. These images also offer a subtle nod to the anti-choice activists who want news consumers and voters to believe that the majority of women getting abortions are 40 weeks pregnant. But that could not be further from the truth. The vast majority of abortions -- 90 percent -- occur during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, when it's often not visible.
The media also help carry water for anti-choice activists when they squander opportunities to correct misinformation. In the past year alone, states have introduced 45 TRAP laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers), which are deceptive measures aimed at shutting down abortion providers by imposing medically unnecessary regulations under the guise of protecting women's health. TRAP laws include requirements for abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges and rules that clinics must be outfitted like ambulatory surgical centers -- measures that are not only unnecessary, but that also impede abortion access and put women's health at risk by delaying or even preventing care. When the media report on these TRAP laws without acknowledging the medical community's consensus that these rules are medically unnecessary, they further promote abortion stigma by telling women that abortion is inherently unsafe and in need of regulation.
Rush Limbaugh is wrong -- Hollywood will not do "anything" to "normalize" and "promote" abortion. In fact, it's often the opposite. Abortion stigma shows up in other media as well, like when our favorite TV shows and movies depict abortion as anything other than a routine medical procedure. A recent study conducted by University of California, San Francisco sociologists Gretchen Sisson and Katrina Kimport of TV stories from 1916 to 2013 explained that abortion in fictional shows is often linked to death for female characters -- whether they obtain the procedure or not -- perpetuating the false myth that abortion frequently causes death. In reality, pregnancy is a more frequent cause of death than is induced abortion. Another study by Sisson and Kimport identified how TV depictions of abortion contribute to misconceptions about who has abortions and why. In an interview with The Washington Post's Alyssa Rosenberg*, Sisson explained that characters who get abortions on TV tend to be wealthy, white teenagers who have never given birth before. She noted that while in reality, such women do get abortions, the depictions on aggregate underrepresent the Latina and black women who obtain abortions, and distort the reasons why they obtain them. When shows emphasize women obtaining abortions when they either don't want children, or want to prioritize their careers or education, and underrepresent women who make the choice due to financial pressures, health risks, or a need to focus on their other children, they create the "perception that abortion is a want rather than a need." And when they depict a disproportionate number of women obtaining abortions because the pregnancies were the result of rape or incest, they send the message that abortion is a legitimate choice only in those horrific circumstances.
The year 2015 saw an uptick in the number of attacks against abortion providers over previous years, culminating in the deadly November shooting attack on a Colorado Planned Parenthood by a man who called himself a "warrior for the babies" and said he was trying to ensure that there were "no more baby parts." The phrase "baby parts" had been used repeatedly in cable news coverage about Planned Parenthood in the months prior to the attacks. The deadly attack on a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood affiliate came after an FBI Intelligence Assessment reportedly concluded, "it is likely criminal or suspicious incidents will continue to be directed against reproductive health care providers, their staff and facilities." And as Vox's Emily Crockett pointed out in November, "threats, vandalism, and violence against abortion providers and clinics have escalated since this summer," when the anti-abortion organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP), "released deceptively edited videos that accused Planned Parenthood of 'selling baby parts.'" CMP's smear campaign was bolstered by the conservative echo chamber and right-wing media, which obsessively aired and backed the organization's false claims that Planned Parenthood had committed crimes. The Colorado Springs shooter's vitriol bore remarkable resemblance to the deceptively edited smear videos. It serves as a tragic reminder of the violent repercussions of pervasive abortion stigma when anti-choice activists are able to capitalize on the conservative echo chamber.
At least five other Planned Parenthood facilities were attacked in 2015 since the release of CMP's first video in July (some reports from September 2015 indicated there may have been as many as nine criminal or suspicious incidents targeting the group). Before Colorado, clinics in Thousand Oaks, CA; Pullman, WA; Aurora, IL; and New Orleans, LA, experienced attacks that in some cases impeded clinic operations.
There is no definitive evidence tying a specific attack to a specific media report, but it is crucial to note that the incidents have occurred in the midst of a prevalent smear campaign against abortion providers that has been enabled in part by abortion stigma.
Attacks on reproductive rights don't occur in a vacuum. According to RH Reality Check, "A report released in February  found that threats of harassment, intimidation, and violence against women's health clinics have doubled since 2010. Reproductive rights advocates have raised concerns that radical anti-choice activists have been emboldened by a wave of GOP legislative attacks on reproductive rights."
Legislative attacks by the GOP on reproductive rights are marshaled in by media figures perpetuating abortion stigma. According to a November 2015 report from NARAL Pro-Choice America, 22 states enacted 41 anti-choice measures in 2015. These measures included medically unnecessary TRAP laws, mandatory delays that force women to wait a certain period of time before obtaining an abortion, and laws barring abortion providers from receiving public funds.
This year there will be a landmark decision regarding abortion access when the U.S. Supreme Court hears Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt. The case is expected to determine the constitutionality of a Texas anti-choice law that, if allowed to stand, will have far-reaching consequences involving the ability to access abortion. The law is both medically unnecessary and based on the myth that abortion is unsafe and requires extra regulations to protect women's health -- a myth used to stigmatize abortion and shutter providers.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court's previous decisions on abortion have already echoed stigmatizing language on abortion.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has repeatedly adopted one of the right-wing media's favorite stigmatizing anti-choice abortion myths. Slate notes that Justice Kennedy has exhibited a troubling pattern of using "language straight out of the anti-abortion movement's talking points," including floating the right-wing media myth that women "regret" their choice to have an abortion. Medical experts have repeatedly debunked the stigmatizing myth, explaining that the vast majority of women receiving abortions "felt it was the right decision." Amicus briefs have been submitted to the justices in the Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt case that were meant to combat the media-encouraged stigma and ensure that justices hear from women who say access to abortion care improved their lives.
Anti-choice laws have dire consequences for women and families, causing clinic closures and restricted access to services. Texas' anti-choice restrictions have already forced about half the state's clinics to close, and some estimates predict up to 75 percent of clinics could ultimately close as a result of the law. The closures would disproportionately harm low-income women in rural areas of the state and strand nearly 1 million women more than 150 miles from the nearest abortion provider. The Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) interviewed a number of women whose access to abortion care was severely impeded as a result of Texas' anti-choice law, and found that women's health care "was delayed, and in some cases [women were] prevented altogether" from obtaining an abortion. Investigators noted that women not only "reported a lack of information and confusion" in the wake of clinic closures, but also that once they had located an affordable provider, many "faced substantial added travel and hotel costs when seeking abortion services." Experts have warned that the Texas law could actually place more women at risk, predicting that women are more likely to self-induce abortion "as clinic-based care becomes more difficult to access."
Abortion isn't scary, but the threat that these laws and anti-choice extremists pose to women's health and basic human rights is terrifying. Imagine a potentially imminent future where women are forced back into the margins of society, and expected to sacrifice their lives, jobs, and education because they no longer control their own bodies or decision to give birth -- where miscarriages can become criminalized and the basis to investigate women for self-abortions. That future sounds alarmingly like the past, like a time when women were forced to take their health care into their own hands, and risk their lives to end unwanted or life-threatening pregnancies in the shadows. When women lose control over their reproductive health, they lose control over nearly every other aspect of their lives.
*Rosenberg is married to Media Matters Research Director Matt Gertz.
Image: Creative Commons: Thomas Hawk
Jim Wallace, the head of the National Rifle Association's Massachusetts affiliate organization, compared a local ordinance that requires people who want to carry a gun in public to show a good reason for doing so to an unconstitutional poll tax.
On the January 27 broadcast of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Wallace, who is the executive director of Gun Owners Action League, criticized a new ordinance in Lowell, Massachusetts, that requires applicants for an unrestricted gun license -- the license typically needed to carry a concealed gun in public in that state -- to explain in writing why the license should be granted. The ordinance also requires seekers of the unrestricted licenses to take additional gun training and pay additional fees.
Wallace said of the ordinance, "I suppose it's balanced and reasonable to somebody who doesn't want you to exercise your civil right. I mean the people who initiated the original poll tax probably thought that was very reasonable as well":
Unlike poll taxes, which were used to discriminate against African Americans and others and violate the U.S. Constitution, law enforcement discretion for issuing concealed carry permits has been upheld as consistent with the Second Amendment by federal appeals courts.
Like other conservative media outlets covering the Lowell ordinance, Fox News described the written requirement for the license as an "essay" requirement, creating the false impression that it is unusual.
In fact, a written requirement, sometimes called a "good cause statement," is a common feature of states that have what are known as "may issue" concealed carry permitting systems that generally give local law enforcement discretion in determining who is allowed to carry a gun in public.
According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Massachusetts is one of nine states with "may issue" licensing schemes. Another 17 states give local law enforcement "limited discretion" in awarding permits.
Several U.S. Courts of Appeals have rejected recent legal challenges to different states' discretionary permitting systems, in some cases reversing lower federal district court decisions. In 2013, New Jersey's "justifiable need" requirement for a concealed carry permit was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The Supreme Court let that decision stand, declining to hear an appeal of the case in 2014. (The Supreme Court has also declined to hear similar cases out of New York and Maryland.)
The NRA frequently compares the conditions placed on firearm ownership to unconstitutional racial discrimination, and draws parallels with Jim Crow laws and the segregation-era "separate but equal" doctrine. The vast majority of laws regulating firearms, however, are found by courts to comport with the Second Amendment.
On January 25, a grand jury assembled by the Harris County District Attorney's office in Texas cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing related to the deceptively edited videos of the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) and instead indicted two CMP members, most notably its founder, David Daleiden. Right-wing media has attempted to distract from Daleiden's indictment by reviving an old -- and since debunked -- claim that a prosecutor in the district attorney's office who had affiliations with Planned Parenthood created a "conflict of interest."
From the January 27 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:
Loading the player reg...
Major newspaper editorial boards urged politicians to abandon efforts to defund and slander Planned Parenthood after a grand jury indicted two members of the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), an anti-choice group that released smear videos against the women's health organization.
On January 25, David Daleiden, the founder of the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP), was indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a government record and a misdemeanor charge of violating the "prohibition of the purchase and sale of human organs" for the actions he took to manufacture smear videos of Planned Parenthood officials. Daleiden has a history of working with conservative groups on anti-choice campaigns.
From the January 26 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
Loading the player reg...