Justice & Civil Liberties

Issues ››› Justice & Civil Liberties
  • Media Should Be Reporting About The Consequences Of A Permanent Hyde Amendment

    Senate Approval Would Do More Than Extend This Anti-Choice Funding Rule -- It Would Make It Stricter, And More Harmful Than Ever

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    Anti-choice lawmakers in Congress just voted to make abortion care even more inaccessible in the United States -- and the media should be reporting on the potential consequences of their efforts.

    The day after President Donald Trump issued an executive order to reinstate prohibitions on U.S.-funded nongovernmental organizations from even mentioning abortion services to their international patients, 235 Republicans and three Democrats in the House of Representatives voted to further block domestic abortion access by making the Hyde Amendment permanent.

    The Hyde Amendment is a longstanding budgetary rider that has barred the use of federal Medicaid funds to cover abortion care, except in cases of rape or incest, or to save the mother’s life. Nevertheless, right-wing media and anti-choice politicians have long called for further action to prevent taxpayers from funding abortions.

    If the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2017” (HR 7), now passes the Senate, it would do more than extend the current restriction; it would also make the rule stricter and more harmful than ever. Media should be taking note.

    While some outlets such as Cosmopolitan, New York magazine, and Broadly have prominently highlighted HR 7’s negative impacts in their headlines -- emphasizing its disastrous consequences for low-income and already marginalized communities -- outlets like CNN, Fox News, and Buzzfeed have framed their coverage around the argument that the bill would prevent federal abortion funding. Here’s what they’re missing:

    1. The Hyde Amendment Would Now Be Permanent (And More Expansive) Law

    The Hyde Amendment was passed in 1977 and has since been extended as a budgetary rider to Medicaid appropriations bills. In practice, this has meant the House has had to vote to apply the rider to every funding bill. If HR 7 becomes law, anti-choice politicians would eliminate this step in the process and make the Hyde Amendment an automatic funding restriction that can be reversed only via future legislation.

    Plus, as permanent law, the ban would apply to more than just federal Medicaid funds. As Mother Jones explained, HR 7 also prohibits federal funds from contributing to any “health benefit plans that include abortion coverage.” Unlike in previous iterations of the Hyde Amendment, this version creates penalties for even private insurance plans obtained through non-religious companies that cover abortion care.

    As the Huffington Post reported:

    The bill also provides incentives for private health insurers to drop abortion coverage, bans abortion coverage in multi-state health insurance plans except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment, and denies women and small businesses tax credits if they choose health plans that cover abortion.

    2. Abortion Providers And Public Facilities Would No Longer Be Able To Support Abortion Services

    In addition to targeting insurance coverage for abortion care, HR 7 also prohibits federally owned or operated facilities and federal employees from providing abortion services:

    “No health care service furnished—

    “(1) by or in a health care facility owned or operated by the Federal Government; or

    “(2) by any physician or other individual employed by the Federal Government to provide health care services within the scope of the physician’s or individual’s employment, may include abortion.

    The impact of the Hyde Amendment has previously been felt by anyone dependent on federally subsidized medical care, including service members or veterans. By expanding the restriction to include prohibitions on federally owned or operated facilities and providers, the bill’s authors have substantially curtailed the number of available care options for these populations. The Guardian explained:

    The bill would also convert a slew of existing, provisional bans on abortion coverage into permanent law. These include bans on abortion coverage for women on federal insurance, such as many Native American women, women in the Peace Corps, in federal prisons, or those enrolled in Medicare or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and prohibit the city of Washington DC from using its own local funds to subsidize abortion services.

    3. Low-Income And Marginalized Communities Were Already Disproportionately Impacted

    The Hyde Amendment has already created a significant barrier to accessing abortion care for low-income patients and those from marginalized communities. Given the number of economic and logistical barriers patients already face in trying to access abortion, the Hyde Amendment adds an additional and unnecessary complication to what is normally a safe procedure.

    In a statement to Refinery29, Destiny Lopez, the president of All* Above All -- a coalition of reproductive rights activists -- explained the dire consequences of HR 7 for low-income patients. She said:

    "Already, too many women are denied abortion coverage because of how much they earn: HR 7 is cruel and callous legislation that would make these discriminatory bans permanent law … This is all part of the Trump-Pence agenda to punish women.”

    Beyond low-income patients, women of color -- especially black women, Latinas, and American Indians -- suffer a particularly disparate impact from the Hyde Amendment's restrictions.

    4. Blocking Abortion Access Doesn’t End Abortion -- It Just Makes It Less Safe

    Abortion is one of the safest and most common medical procedures. By making abortion care less accessible, anti-choice lawmakers don’t decrease the number of abortions -- they make abortion care overall less safe.

    According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “Where abortion is legal, it is extremely safe. … In contrast, historical and contemporary data show that where abortion is illegal or highly restricted, women resort to unsafe means to end an unwanted pregnancy.”

    * Image courtesy of Sarah Wasko

  • Donald Trump Threatens To “Send In The Feds” Into Chicago In Response To Bill O’Reilly Segment

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President Donald Trump appears to be proposing policy responses to a segment from Fox News host Bill O'Reilly on the violence in Chicago. Trump announced on Twitter that he will "send in the Feds" to respond to the "carnage" in Chicago. Trump's tweet included statistics that were used in a graphic from O'Reilly's show and referenced statements made by O’Reilly during the segment.

    During the January 24 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly discussed the violence in Chicago, asking, “can President Trump override local Illinois and Chicago authorities, and stop the murder?”

    BILL O'REILLY (HOST): And in the Impact Segment tonight, the violence in Chicago getting worse, if you can believe it. The first 23 days of this year, 42 homicides in the Windy City, up 24 percent from last year. An unbelievable 228 people have been shot and Chicago in 23 days. While campaigning last July, Donald Trump said this.

    [...]

    The question is, can President Trump override local Illinois and Chicago authorities, and stop the murder? Joining us now from Washington, Horace Cooper, an attorney that specializes in federal law. So, can he go in? And Cook County is where Chicago is located. Everybody says the same thing, gun crimes are not prosecuted aggressively, the sentences are way too low, the gang thing is getting worse, the mayor of Chicago has no clue, the governor of Illinois doesn't want to do anything about it, so can the feds go in and stop this?

    HORACE COOPER: Well absolutely the feds can do this. And as you’ve pointed out there has been a wholesale failure on the part of the state and local communities to address this really serious problem. I don’t know another word besides carnage to describe the devastation that’s been taking place.

    The segment included on-air graphics of Chicago's violence so far in 2017.

    In what appears to be a response to O'Reilly's segment, Trump mimicked O’Reilly’s language in a tweet about an hour later noting that Chicago has had 228 shootings and 42 murders so far in 2017. And in what appears to be a reference to Horace Cooper, Trump called the violence "carnage," claiming that "If Chicago doesn't fix the horrible 'carnage' ... I will send in the Feds!"

  • NRATV Co-Host: Time To Scrub "Obama's Mocacchino Stain" Off America 

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    Just two days after President Trump’s inauguration, Chuck Holton, co-host of NRATV’s Frontlines, wrote on Twitter that the “party’s over” and it's time to scrub “Obama’s mocacchino stain off of America!”

    “Mocacchino” is a term for a chocolate coffee drink -- and, in this case, an apparent reference to the former president’s race.

    Launched by the National Rifle Association in late October 2016 with the mission of providing “the most comprehensive video coverage of Second Amendment issues, events and culture anywhere in the world,” NRATV has largely served as a pro-Trump propaganda outlet.

    As part of NRATV’s programming schedule, Holton co-hosts the military-themed show Frontlines alongside Fox News contributor Oliver North.

    Holton has a history of making racially insensitive and sexist commentary. In a 2015 column for the NRA magazine America’s 1st Freedom, Holton attacked a State Department spokeswoman as "spokesperson barbie (sic)," and described her as one of various "clueless, poorly accessorized mouthpieces." During an August 2016 appearance on the NRA radio program Cam & Company, Holton referred to “white privilege” as “simply the culture that we have created, that our fathers and grandfathers have work hard to create” while lobbing numerous attacks against the black community.

    The January 22 tweet was also not Holton’s first inflammatory attack on Obama. On November 16, the NRATV co-host responded to a picture on Twitter of Obama and Trump shaking hands by calling the then-president a “pussy.” 

  • CBS Atlanta Anchor Who Gave “Pizzagate” Conspiracy Theory Credence Previously Worked With Anti-Semitic Outlet

    Anti-Defamation League Criticized Swann’s Former Network For Featuring “Programs Hosted By Anti-Semites”

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Ben Swann, an anchor at CBS Atlanta affiliate WGCL who is under fire for hosting a segment giving credibility to the dangerous “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, previously had a radio show with Republic Broadcasting Network (RBN), a fringe outlet that is a hotbed of anti-Semitism.

    During the January 17 broadcast of WGCL’s evening news program, Swann gave credence to several components of the discredited “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton’s campaign trafficked children through a Washington, D.C., pizzeria. That baseless claim recently inspired a man to enter the pizzeria and fire an assault weapon while “self-investigating” the allegations.

    Swann and his employer have come under criticism for the “Pizzagate” segment. Reporters have also noted that Swann has routinely used reports packaged as real news programming to push conspiracy theories about the 9/11 terror attacks, the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, and other calamities.

    Swann joined WGCL in June 2015. He previously worked at Cincinnati Fox affiliate WXIX, where he also used his airtime to host a “Reality Check” segment that promoted conspiracy theories. Swann left WXIX in 2013. In between those two gigs, he worked at RT, a Russian state-sponsored news outlet, and for several months he hosted a radio show that was broadcast by RBN.

    The Ben Swann Radio Show was first broadcast in March 2014 and ended in June 2014, with Swann issuing a statement saying he is “grateful to RBN for the opportunity to launch a new platform for our brand” but that “after trying the talk radio format we have made a decision to move away from radio and to an internet broadcast format.”

    In 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center profiled RBN and its owner, John Stadtmiller, as part of a series on the anti-government Patriot movement. SPLC reported that RBN’s “talk radio fare is peppered with warnings about enslavement by a one-world government” and highlighted that RBN broadcasted a show hosted by “Michael Collins Piper, who has written copiously for the anti-Semitic American Free Press and its predecessor, The Spotlight, as well as The Barnes Review, a Holocaust denial journal.” (When Piper passed away in 2015, RBN issued a statement saying he had been subject to “unwarranted criticism by people who disagree with some of his perceptions” but that “he has continued to be the stalwart standard of journalistic truth.”)

    The Anti-Defamation League also criticized RBN in 2010, stating that it “regularly features programs hosted by anti-Semites.”

    In 2009, Stadtmiller aired a “series exposing zionists and elite Jews” that included topics such as “Jewish Money Controls US.” Stadtmiller, who is also the host of an RBN program, interviewed former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard and notorious anti-Semite David Duke “for a conversation about current events” in 2015.

    In 2014, when Swann joined RBN, his colleagues included several anti-Semite radio hosts.

    During Swann’s tenure, the station broadcasted The American Freedom Party Report w/ James Kelso. SPLC calls Kelso “David Duke’s former right-hand man” and describes the American Freedom Party as “a political party initially established by racist Southern California skinheads that aims to deport immigrants and return the United States to white rule.”

    RBN also broadcasted Current Issues w/ Dr. Hesham Tillawi. According to the Anti-Defamation League, a televised version of his radio show “has become a megaphone for Holocaust deniers and white supremacists seeking to broadcast their hatred and anti-Semitism into American homes. Tillawi has hosted a ‘who’s who’ of American anti-Semites on his show, including David Duke, Willis Carto, Edgar J. Steele, Mark Weber and Bradley Smith.”

    Another program on RBN during Swann’s run was Spingola Speaks with Deanna Spingola, a show that has also served as a platform for Holocaust denial. Spingola is the author of the book The Ruling Elite: The Zionist Seizure of World Power. According to a 2012 RBN archive, Spingola discussed topics such as “the alleged holocaust” on her program.

    All three of these programs remain on the air at RBN.

    RBN was also the home of prominent white nationalist radio program Political Cesspool until it moved to Liberty News Radio Network in 2009.

    A cursory review of RBN’s website indicates that it was rife with anti-Semitic and racist material before, during, and after Swann’s association with the outlet.

    Days before Swann began broadcasting with RBN, the outlet published an article complaining about “the constant reminder of the mythical ‘six million jews’ who died in ‘homicidal gas chambers’ at Auschwitz, despite all evidence to the contrary.”

    During Swann’s time with RBN, the outlet published an article on May 4, 2014, with the headline “5 Geniuses who believed in Jewish Conspiracies.” The article featured quotes from prominent anti-Semites, such as Henry Ford’s claim that “Jewish bankers” started World War I. Also during Swann’s tenure, RBN published a racist article attacking President Obama as “some mongrel masquerading as an American.”

    RBN continued to publish anti-Semitic material after Swann left. For example, a 2015 article promotes a video that it claims proves “Hitler saved Jews of Ukraine.”

  • Des Moines Register Demands Specifics About So-Called “Alternatives” To Planned Parenthood

    Register’s Editorial Board Showed Local Papers What Questions To Ask When Anti-Choice Lawmakers Threaten Access To Essential Care

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    As conservatives on Capitol Hill threaten to defund Planned Parenthood under dubious pretenses, Iowa’s Des Moines Register is modeling how state papers should handle efforts by local anti-choice lawmakers to do the same.

    The Register’s editorial board called on Gov. Terry Branstad (R-IA) to “sit down and write the names of the entities that can provide comprehensive family planning services in Iowa” before following through on his budget plan to eliminate state funding for Planned Parenthood. The paper quoted Branstad saying that his plan “redirects family planning money to organizations that focus on providing health care for women and eliminates taxpayer funding for organizations that perform abortions.”

    Branstad’s plan comes from a familiar anti-choice playbook. To justify defunding Planned Parenthood, right-wing media and anti-choice politicians in a number of states have wrongly claimed that the organization uses taxpayer money to subsidize abortion services. Although in reality, the government reimburses Planned Parenthood only for non-abortion services, and that money is provided via Medicaid, lawmakers use this incorrect allegation to demand that funds be shifted to so-called “community health clinics” (CHC). Lawmakers believe these CHCs could absorb patient demand should access to Planned Parenthood be eliminated -- a claim experts call “a gross misrepresentation of what even the best community health centers in the country would be able to do.”

    By demanding specifics from conservatives who claim that there are numerous “alternatives” to Planned Parenthood, the Register modeled the kind of reporting local outlets should be doing about threats to defund essential health care in their communities.

    1. Demand To Know What So-Called “Alternatives” To Planned Parenthood Are Available

    Planned Parenthood is an essential care provider for millions of Americans nationally, 60 percent of them low-income patients covered through Medicaid. In Iowa, this process is facilitated through the Iowa Family Planning Network (IFPN) waiver program, which gives patients the option to receive “a form of limited insurance coverage” through Medicaid that covers “basic family planning services.”

    As the Register noted, Branstad “must know that many of the more than 30,000 Iowans obtaining services made possible by the waiver receive them from Planned Parenthood,” which means that if he “rejects this particular organization, he should specify exactly who has the statewide ability to take its place.”

    There’s ample reason to believe that this task will prove impossible for the long-serving anti-choice governor. As the Register reported, providers have already warned state officials that there “are not enough providers in Iowa to absorb the patients Planned Parenthood of the Heartland currently serves.”

    Rather than taking Branstad or other anti-choice lawmakers at their word about the viability of so-called alternatives, the Register performed a critical journalistic function and demanded to know what these facilities were, and whether they have the capacity to meet the medical needs of low-income patients across the state.

    2. Ask About The Types Of Services “Alternatives” Can Actually Provide

    Beyond asking Branstad to name specific alternatives to Planned Parenthood, the Register also asked that the list exclude clinics that are “no longer in business” and include only facilities that “actually provide family planning services.”

    This may seem like an odd stipulation, but the Register’s specific question about alternative providers’ actual services is exactly the kind of scrutiny local outlets should apply when lawmakers threaten to radically alter the infrastructure of essential health care systems.

    Across the country, anti-choice lawmakers have conflated the total number of CHCs with the much smaller number of those facilities that are actually equipped to provide primary care and family planning services. As the Register explained:

    Florida lawmakers learned that lesson the hard way. After passing an anti-Planned Parenthood bill last year, they sought to demonstrate there were numerous, alternative providers. Their list became a national joke because it included the names of elementary and middle schools, dental practices and at least one eye clinic.

    While Planned Parenthood clinics all offer preventive and basic care services, CHCs can qualify for that classification while providing more limited care -- making direct comparisons between the overall numbers a misleading measure of actual health care provision capacity.

    By demanding specific answers about threats to defund Planned Parenthood, The Des Moines Register’s editorial board provided a model for local outlets to critically interrogate claims by lawmakers about so-called alternatives -- questions that are essential when access to health care is on the line.

  • NRATV: Martin Luther King Jr. "Would Be Ashamed Of John Lewis"

    NRATV Employees Use MLK Day To Bash Lewis As “Anti-American,” “Unpatriotic,” And “A Threat To Democracy”

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, NRATV host Grant Stinchfield accused Georgia congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis of “race-bait[ing]” and claimed King “would be ashamed” of him after Rep. Lewis (D-GA) said he would not attend President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.

    Lewis said he plans to skip the inauguration, explaining that he believes Russian interference helped get Trump elected and that he is not a “legitimate president.” Two days before MLK Day, Trump wrote a series of tweets attacking the congressman, suggesting he “focus on the burning and crime infested inner cities of the U.S.” and calling him “all talk, talk, talk -- no actions or results.” Lewis, who marched with King in Selma, AL, and led the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s, is largely revered as a civil rights hero.

    During the January 16 edition of the National Rifle Association’s NRATV Live Updates with Grant Stinchfield, Stinchfield claimed that in “the decades since Lewis” marched with the civil rights leader, he has “forgotten what Dr. King stood for.” Stinchfield questioned why the congressman continues to “divide this nation” and said that is not what “Martin Luther King was about”:  

    GRANT STINCHFIELD: (HOST): Today, on Martin Luther King Day, I believe Dr. King would be ashamed of John Lewis. I’m saddened to say that because Lewis marched with Dr. King. But apparently the decades since Lewis has marched with Dr. King, he’s forgotten what Dr. King stood for: freedom. Freedom for all Americans, even Americans you disagree with.

    [...]

    STINCHFIELD: You want to talk about freedom? We had freedom to elect the leader that we wanted, to serve America, to lead our military, to fight for what we believe in. Things that maybe he doesn’t believe in. But I ask you this, John Lewis, why do you call Donald Trump a racist? Why do you race-bait? Why do you follow the lead of Barack Obama and continue to divide this nation? That is not what Martin Luther King was about.

    During an interview with NRATV commentator Dana Loesch that same day, Stinchfield admitted that Lewis is a “civil rights hero,” but he called his refusal to attend the inauguration “anti-American,” “unpatriotic,” and “sad.” Loesch agreed that Lewis is a civil rights “icon,” but she called his comments “unfortunate” and “a threat to democracy”:

    GRANT STINCHFIELD (HOST): Yesterday on Meet the Press, John Lewis, the congressman who really is a civil rights hero, comes out and he says that Donald Trump’s presidency is illegitimate. He is doing this to delegitimize Trump’s entire presidency, I think it's anti-American, it's unpatriotic, and it's sad coming from a guy -- especially today, it's Martin Luther King Day, Lewis is a guy who marched with Martin Luther King. I think it's sad.

    DANA LOESCH (NRATV COMMENTATOR): I think it is as well, and while I believe that Lewis is a civil rights icon, it's unfortunate that he chose to behave in this particular manner.

    [...]

    LOESCH: John Lewis, by his actions is -- he is posing to be a threat to democracy by refusing to acknowledge the results of this election, by refusing to acknowledge the results of the Electoral College. The individuals spoke, and it's not their fault if they refused to vote as John Lewis would have had them voted.

    During the January 17 edition of Live Updates, Stinchfield added he was “very glad” to see that Trump had met with King’s son, Martin Luther King III, “at a time when so-called black leaders are coming out and doing everything they can to derail Donald Trump’s presidency before he even takes office.”

    This is not the first time the NRA has attacked Rep. Lewis; NRA radio host Cam Edwards compared participants in last summer’s U.S. House of Representatives sit-in to protest GOP inaction on gun violence, led by Lewis, to “criminals and terrorists” because he said that, like terrorists, the representatives were not following the rules. 

  • VIDEO: The “Alternative” To Roe Will Put Lives On The Line

    Trump And Right-Wing Media Are Demanding Greater State Control Over Abortion -- Even If It Causes Harm

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN, DAYANITA RAMESH & JOHN KERR

    Forty-four years ago, Roe v. Wade determined that the constitutionally protected right to privacy ensures an individual’s ability to make personal, medical decisions without interference from politicians -- including the decision to have an abortion.

    But now, President-elect Donald Trump and anti-choice politicians who have made careers from promoting scientifically dubious and medically harmful anti-abortion laws want to eliminate Roe’s protections.

    During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump promised to appoint “pro-life justices” who would “automatically” overturn Roe. After the election, Trump told CBS’ Lesley Stahl that he would prefer control over abortion “go back to the states” even it it meant that women would “perhaps have to go … to another state” to obtain necessary reproductive health care.

    This may sound like hyperbolic campaign rhetoric, but the threat is very real -- and it’s impossible to overstate how dangerous losing federally protected abortion rights would be.

    Right-wing media have consistently argued that greater state control over abortion clinics and providers is necessary to “protect women’s health.” The Supreme Court rejected this allegation in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which rebuked states for attempting to baselessly regulate abortion clinics under the guise of improving public health and safety.

    Legal abortion is one of the safest and most common medical procedures. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “Where abortion is legal, it is extremely safe. … In contrast, historical and contemporary data show that where abortion is illegal or highly restricted, women resort to unsafe means to end an unwanted pregnancy.”

    In contrast, life before Roe v. Wade -- without federally protected abortion rights -- was dangerous and difficult. Women traveled to neighboring states or even other countries to receive an abortion, often alone, in secrecy, with just enough money pooled together from friends or roommates. Some even saw their friends die from what can and should be a safe and simple procedure.

    Trump and anti-choice lawmakers seem to think a return to this grim reality would constitute “protecting women.”

    Even without attacks on Roe, accessing reproductive health care is already difficult -- especially for marginalized communities. Between rules like the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion, and the targeted restriction of clinics meant to increase logistical barriers to abortion access, essential reproductive care is already tenuously out of reach for many.

    Conservatives are already putting people’s lives at risk with medically unnecessary laws that restrict abortion access. If they succeed in eliminating the federal and constitutional protections guaranteed by Roe v. Wade, people will get hurt.

    Anyone trying to spin that as “protecting women’s health” is lying to you.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz’s “Challenge” To The Media To Cover AG Nominee Sessions’ Involvement In Prosecuting A KKK Murderer Lacks Key Details

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) implored the media to run segments on attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions’ (R-AL) participation in the prosecution of an Alabama Klansman who lynched an African-American youth. But in his retelling of the 1981 prosecution, Cruz omitted key information, specifically that Sessions’ subordinate in the U.S. attorney’s office later testified that Sessions tried to dissuade him from pursuing prosecution in the case.

    On March 21, 1981, Michael Donald, an African-American teenager, was lynched in Mobile, AL, by Henry Hays and another conspirator. Hays was acting on the orders of his father, who was second in command of Alabama’s Ku Klux Klan organization, to randomly kill an African-American in retaliation for the murder of a white police officer.

    Local law enforcement severely botched the murder investigation. As reported by The Atlantic, one law enforcement officer told reporters that the murder was a case where “three junkies had killed this lowlife black man who thought he could take drugs from them and not pay.” Other members of law enforcement attempted to smear Donald with allegations of other criminal conduct.

    At the time of the murder, Sessions was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. Following the failure of local law enforcement to properly investigate the case, an assistant U.S. attorney in Sessions’ office, Thomas Figures, became the “driving force” in securing the involvement of attorneys in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. During the subsequent prosecution, Sessions took on a “supervisory role,” working in concert with Figures, attorneys from the Civil Rights Division, and state prosecutors. Hays was convicted of murder, sentenced to death, and later executed.

    Sessions lists his participation in the case as one of his biggest career accomplishments, and conservative media have repeatedly cited the case to defend Sessions against longstanding allegations of racism. (In 1986, the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected Sessions’ nomination to the federal bench amid testimony that he directed racially derogatory language toward Figures, who was black, and allegations that Sessions used his position as a prosecutor to unfairly target minorities.)

    During the first day of Sessions’ confirmation hearings on January 10, Cruz cited the case and the statements of other attorneys who worked on the case who said that Sessions was cooperative and helpful during the prosecution. Cruz then issued a "challenge," saying, “I would encourage the news media: Cover this story. Tell the story on the six o’clock news about Jeff Sessions helping prosecute a Klansman who had murdered an innocent African-American man, and putting him on death row, and bankrupting -- helping bankrupt the Klan in Alabama. That’s a story that needs to be told.”

    In his remarks, Cruz failed to mention Figures’ testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee during Sessions’ failed 1986 nomination. Figures testified that Sessions sought to prevent him from forming a prosecutable case, telling him at the time “that the case was a waste of time, that it wasn’t going anywhere, that I should spend more time on other things, and that, if the perpetrators were found, I would not be assigned to the case.” As Figures recounted, Sessions came on board only when it “became increasingly apparent that we were going to break the case.” During the 1986 hearing, Sessions denied Figures’ allegations. From The Atlantic:

    In 1986, Figures testified before the Senate that while it was “literally true” that Sessions had not “obstructed the investigation of the murder of Michael Donald,” Sessions had “tried to persuade me to discontinue pursuit of the case.” Figures said that Sessions “remarked, with regard to the investigation, that the case was a waste of time, that it wasn’t going anywhere, that I should spend more time on other things, and that, if the perpetrators were found, I would not be assigned to the case.” Figures told the Senate that after the case went to the grand jury, and it “became increasingly apparent that we were going to break the case, Mr. Sessions attitude changed” and that he supported the prosecution.

    Sessions’s statements to the Senate in 1986 about his supervisory role in the case are more modest than what he and his supporters say today, and while his testimony at the time generally did not directly contradict Figures’s account, Sessions insisted that he did not urge Figures to drop the case.

    Significantly, Cruz’s secondary claim about Sessions helping to bankrupt the Klan greatly overstates Sessions’ involvement. It was actually Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center who conceptualized and executed the novel civil lawsuit that led to that outcome, using the facts of the Hays murder case to establish that the Klan had organizational liability for Donald’s murder. A 1987 New York Times article on the verdict makes no mention of Sessions, instead focusing on the members of Donald’s family, attorneys, and activists who played the primary role in securing the outcome.

  • NRATV Offers Up A False History To Whitewash Sen. Sessions' Prosecution Of Civil Rights Workers 

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    The National Rifle Association’s NRATV defended attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) against allegations of racial bias by offering a bogus history of a controversial criminal case Sessions prosecuted when he was a U.S. Attorney.

    The NRA has endorsed Sessions for attorney general. During the first day of Sessions’ hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, longstanding allegations of racial bias resurfaced during questioning. (In 1986, the Judiciary Committee rejected Sessions’ nomination to the federal bench amid testimony that he directed racially derogatory language toward a subordinate and allegations that Sessions used his position as a prosecutor to unfairly target minorities.)

    During the January 10 broadcast of NRATV, host Grant Stinchfield defended Sessions by claiming that “when the left doesn’t agree with you, what they do is they throw out the race card and they accuse everybody of being a racist.”

    NRATV commentator and conservative talk radio host Dana Loesch agreed and said she is “pretty damn tired of these racial accusations.” She claimed that critics of Sessions are “mad because he busted one group in Alabama who was engaged in voter fraud.” But in fact, the group in question was not engaged in voter fraud. Instead, Loesch was mischaracterizing the 1985 voter fraud investigation in Alabama, led by Sessions after civil rights activist and Martin Luther King Jr. adviser Albert Turner tried to help African-Americans vote using protections secured by the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The defendants were acquitted on all charges, and Sessions’ handling of the case was later cited as the primary reason the Senate considered him unfit to serve as a federal judge in 1986.

    Here is what actually happened: Turner and two other activists formed the Perry County Civic League, aimed at helping African-Americans in their county register to vote. Like other organizations at the time, the Perry County Civic League helped people register to vote absentee. (At the time, polls in Perry County were only open for four hours on Election Day.) After a number of black candidates won in the 1982 elections, Sessions, who was then a U.S. attorney, headed up an investigation for voter fraud that culminated in a 29-count indictment against Turner and two other civil rights workers alleging mail fraud, conspiracy to commit voting fraud and voting more than once.

    Sessions’ case was incredibly weak, giving rise to the accusation that he was motivated by racial animus. According to The New York Times, “During the trial, the prosecution adopted an exceptionally broad theory, arguing that it was a crime for a voter to sign a ballot that someone else filled out for him.” As a result, “The judge ruled that this theory was contrary to election law and the Constitution, and at the close of trial, threw out many of the counts against the Turners and Hogue. They were acquitted of the rest by the jury.”

    The NRA’s scrubbing of Sessions’ 1985 prosecution isn’t surprising, given that the organization has campaigned for his “swift” confirmation. NRATV previously grossly exaggerated the number of murders that occur in Chicago in arguing that Sessions should be confirmed as attorney general.

    From the January 10 edition of NRATV’s Live Updates with Grant Stinchfield:

    GRANT STINCHFIELD (HOST): Any surprises so far during the hearing?

    DANA LOESCH: No, Grant. I’m not surprised at all. This is what happens when a dying ideology and grievance-mongers lose the election. They have to whine like crybabies about it for weeks after. Al Sharpton has promised a season of civil disobedience. I would love to see Al Sharpton demonstrate just a week of common sense before he really attempts to go that far with it. Look, I am not shocked by any of this. Jeff Sessions is a threat to a politicized Department of Justice. The DOJ has been weaponized, and has been used to go after individuals. We all remember how the DOJ went after the press, how they went after -- I told you this yesterday, Associated Press reporters, a number of other individuals, how they allowed for voter fraud and inflated fraud to take place on voter rolls across the country. How they wouldn’t prosecute a lot of cases that really deserved the DOJ’s attention. Jeff Sessions is a threat to this. Also, Jeff Sessions upholds that recognition. He did it as AG of Alabama, he’ll do it as AG here of the United States of America, as [NRA top lobbyist] Chris Cox said. He’s going to uphold that recognition, the federal recognition that our right to bear arms doesn’t just stop at a state line and this is something that goes across all of the United States, which is why I’m happy to see national reciprocity. And I’m going to tell you too, Grant. I’m getting pretty damn tired of these racial accusations going up against Jeff Sessions because Democrats right now are repeating discredited arguments that have been discredited since 1986. When you have Thomas Figures, who was indicted on bribery -- he was one of two accusers who tried to make up some accusation that Jeff Sessions was a racist. The other was Gerald Herbert, who was publicly put down by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals because he acted with impropriety. These are the two completely ineligible for consideration people that Democrats are relying on for the whole of their racial argument about Jeff Sessions. And I’ll end with this, Grant. A number of associates with Jeff Sessions, black and white, have defended his character, they’ve defended his integrity, they’ve defended his record, and that’s why they’re coming together. And that’s why, from some of these Democrat senators, you’re seeing such soft questioning, because they’ve been there shoulder to shoulder with Jeff Sessions and they know he’s the DOJ America needs.

    STINCHFIELD: Well you and I both know, Dana, that when the left doesn’t agree with you, what they do is they throw out the race card and they accuse everybody of being a racist. What really gets me is they look at Jeff Sessions as such a threat simply for one reason: He has vowed to uphold the law on the books already. That’s it, it's that simple. It’s how you change America around, it's how you make America safe again.

    LOESCH: Well they’re mad because he busted one group in Alabama who was engaged in voter fraud. I don’t like how there are groups that exist and they try to hide behind the guise of calling themselves a civil rights group. ACORN did it. 

  • Alex Jones’ Infowars.com Attempts To Profit Off Fort Lauderdale Mass Shooting

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ radio show used the January 6 mass shooting at an airport in Fort Lauderdale, FL, to urge viewers to buy body armor from Jones’ online store.

    On January 6, a gunman killed five people and wounded six others when he opened fire with a handgun in the baggage claim area at Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport. The suspect, who was arrested at the scene, legally checked the firearm used for the shooting in his luggage on a flight from Anchorage, AK, to Fort Lauderdale.

    The day of the shooting, two guest hosts on The Alex Jones Show -- Infowars’ Owen Shroyer and David Knight -- used the violence to urge viewers to buy body armor.

    Citing the shooting and claiming “gun control areas are killing zones,” Knight said, “You need to make sure -- if they’re going to take your gun away, if they’re going to keep you defenseless -- you need to make sure that you can at least shield yourself. That’s why we’re selling tactical nanotechnology body armor that was previously available only to the military, only to law enforcement, is now available exclusively at InfowarsStore.com.”

    As he spoke, the screen showed body armor -- some of which costs more than $1,000 -- available for purchase at InfowarsStore.com.

    Apparently referencing the Fort Lauderdale shooting again, Knight then touted body armor inserts, saying, “You can get it in a vest form or you can buy something that you can stick into your backpack and turn your backpack into a shield, for you, for your children. So that when you’re in an airport where you're not allowed to carry a gun or you’re picking up your bags and you’ve got some idiot who decides he’s going to do this or you’re bunched up going through the TSA lines as they make you into a vulnerable target during their screening, you have something at least that will stop a bullet.”

    There is no evidence that gun-free zones pose a danger to the public or that civilians with concealed weapons are an effective deterrent to mass shootings. A strong majority of mass shootings actually occur where guns can be carried.

    Jones, a prominent conspiracy theorist and self-proclaimed “founding father” of the 9/11 Truth movement, has used The Alex Jones Show to claim that several high-profile incidents of gun violence were false flags carried out by the government, including the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 children and six educators dead.

    Jones was an important media ally of President-elect Donald Trump’s during the 2016 election. Trump appeared on Jones’ show in 2015 to praise Jones’ “amazing” reputation. Following Trump’s victory, Jones claimed that Trump told him he would appear on his show in the coming weeks, although the promised appearance has not materialized.  

  • Watch AM Joy Show How To Report The Impact Of Defunding Planned Parenthood

    Joy Reid Models Four Must-Do’s When Reporting On Reproductive Rights Topics During The Trump Administration

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    During the January 8 edition of MSNBC’s AM Joy, host Joy Reid put on a master class in how to cover anti-choice lawmakers’ latest attempts to defund Planned Parenthood.

    The Sunday after House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that Republicans would prioritize defunding the essential health care provider, Reid demonstrated four best practices for reporting on reproductive rights topics: hosting diverse guests, discussing the material consequences of policy decisions, including personal testimony in reports, and emphasizing the disparate impact of anti-choice laws on marginalized communities.

    Planned Parenthood is an essential health care provider for millions of Americans -- many of them low-income patients reliant on Medicaid to access primary care. To justify defunding Planned Parenthood, right-wing media and anti-choice politicians have falsely claimed that the organization’s primary goal is to coerce women into having abortions using taxpayer money.

    In reality, this could not be further from the truth. Due to the Hyde Amendment, the federal government is already barred from funding abortion services. Instead, the government reimburses Planned Parenthood for non-abortion services provided to low-income patients via Medicaid -- just like any other health care provider. Although right-wing media argue that so-called “community health clinics” (CHCs) could absorb this patient demand should Planned Parenthood clinics close, experts agree that CHCs lack the capacity, experience, and resources to replace Planned Parenthood.

    In its coverage of the defunding effort, AM Joy set the standard for reporting the consequences of congressional Republicans’ politically motivated attack on health care access -- and other outlets should take note.

    1. Host Diverse Guests

    During the January 8 segment, Reid hosted two women to discuss the impacts of defunding Planned Parenthood: the organization's president, Cecile Richards, and the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), Jessica González-Rojas.

    In a previous study of prime-time cable news coverage of reproductive rights topics, Media Matters found that networks relied heavily on male panelists to discuss the consequences of policy decisions about abortion and reproductive rights issues. This problem of representation is also more generally borne out across the Sunday political talk shows, which have overwhelmingly relied on guests who are white, conservative, and male.

    Hosting diverse guests is essential to providing in-depth, quality coverage of many topics. Non-white and non-male perspectives in newsrooms are often rare, a trend that should incite concern not only about equality but also about coverage accuracy.

    2. Discuss The Material Consequences Of Policy Decisions

    AM Joy also focused on the material impacts of defunding Planned Parenthood -- not just the political spectacle of the legislative fight.

    At the start of the segment, Reid immediately debunked the pervasive conservative arguments about the consequences of defunding Planned Parenthood:

    JOY REID: Let’s be clear about this so-called defunding legislation -- what it would really do. It would prohibit Medicaid recipients from obtaining any kind of services from Planned Parenthood. We're not talking about abortion services because federal law already prohibits those being paid for with federal dollars. We're talking no cancer screenings, no contraception, no STD testing, no medical services as all. The defunding will be packaged with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, which is currently providing health insurance to 22 million people and counting.

    Richards and González-Rojas each provided examples of the consequences that defunding Planned Parenthood would have for a number of patients across the country. As Richards explained, “Any senator who votes [to defund] is hurting women in their own home state” because they are “essentially saying to low-income women, 'You can't go to Planned Parenthood for your cancer screenings and birth control.’”

    González-Rojas agreed, adding that when Indiana denied Planned Parenthood state Medicaid reimbursements, “we saw an STI outbreak,” and when Texas blocked the reimbursements, “we saw the rates of unintended pregnancy and birth increasing. We heard stories of women splitting birth control pills to make it last longer.”

    3. Include Personal Testimony About Reproductive Health

    Throughout the January 8 segment, Reid emphasized personal testimony from herself, Richards, and González-Rojas about relying on Planned Parenthood for essential health care.

    Reid noted that Planned Parenthood was “the place where, when I graduated from college and had no money and was broke and had a low-paying job, [I] got all my health care.” Richards echoed the sentiment, explaining that “one in five women in this country go to Planned Parenthood for health care in their lifetime, including me, including you.”

    The practice of including personal testimony should be a staple when reporting on the consequences of anti-choice laws, including -- while not directly relevant here -- abortion access.

    4. Highlight The Disparate Impact Of Anti-Choice Laws On Marginalized Communities

    AM Joy also provided a platform to discuss the disparate impact of anti-choice laws, which have a greater impact on marginalized communities than on other groups.

    As González-Rojas explained:

    JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: I think a good example comes from Texas when we saw the defunding of a lot of the family planning services in Texas. We saw a health crisis happen. We saw health disparities happen. Things like cervical cancer, which is largely preventable, Latinas had huge rates of cervical cancer and that's something that they shouldn't have happen in their life. If they have access to regular screenings, paps, mammograms -- all the services that Planned Parenthood provides -- those types of things would be prevented. So this is a disproportionate impact on communities of color, on immigrant communities, on low-income women and families, young people, so a fight against Planned Parenthood is a fight against our communities.

    Because the economics of accessing necessary health care are already so precarious for many communities, networks and outlets should emphasize the disproportionate impact anti-choice laws have on these groups whenever possible.

  • Will Megyn Kelly Bring The Hate Group Leaders And Extremists Who Frequented Her Fox Show To NBC?

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT & CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    In her past role at Fox News, new NBC News hire Megyn Kelly has invited onto her show a number of extremists and hate group leaders who spread and espouse anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant views, statements, and lies. Will she continue her practice of hosting bigotry in her upcoming daytime news and Sunday evening programs?