A Media Matters study on the coverage of key policy issues in nightly news' midterm election broadcasts finds that 65 percent of network news segments that dealt with the midterm elections failed to discuss the policy issues most important to the American people.
Media are promoting Republican gains in the House and Senate in Tuesday's midterm elections as evidence that the country has shifted to the "center-right" on political issues, despite the fact that ballot initiatives and national polling reveal broad support for progressive positions.
National Public Radio's Morning Edition presented falsehoods about Republican Senate candidate Cory Gardner (CO) as fact, misrepresenting his extreme policy positions on reproductive rights in a discussion on the battle for the women's vote in the midterm elections.
Fox News expressed outrage over a recently launched online course geared toward clinicians, health care workers, and students aimed at addressing the gaps in knowledge about safe, legal abortion. While Fox demands the course include abortion opponents' perspective, the network ignores the necessity of increasing knowledge about the legal but widely stigmatized and under-served procedure.
The University of California San Francisco recently launched a new online course to "address abortion care from both clinical and social perspectives." The course, "Abortion: Quality Care and Public Health Implications" will be taught under the university's Innovating Education in Reproductive Health program, and has the aim to "fill in the gaps left by the exclusion of abortion from mainstream curricula."
Fox's Adam Housley reported on the university's "web-based class focused on abortion," on the October 21 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, blasting the class as "propaganda" and lamenting that the publicly funded university is offering the "controversial" course. Housley's report accused the university of launching the course as a tool of propaganda aiming "to get into the minds of younger people" and "to get them interested to want to do abortions." Host Bill O'Reilly concluded that the course is an "in your face to all Californians who believe that abortion may be morally wrong" because it doesn't include anti-abortion perspectives for "balance":
From the October 21 edition of Fox News' Special Report With Bret Baier:
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National Review Online's Ian Tuttle disregarded history when dismissing fears that "personhood amendments" and fetal-homicide laws could open the door to criminal prosecutions for women who have miscarriages or abortions. Women have already been prosecuted for miscarriages in several states, and personhood advocates are explicitly pushing to end legal abortion.
In an October 21 article, Tuttle wrote that "liberals are lying about personhood amendments" like Colorado's proposed Amendment 67, which would define "'person' and 'child' in the Colorado criminal code and the Colorado wrongful death act to include unborn human beings." Tuttle asserted that opponents are mischaracterizing personhood amendments to claim they would make abortion illegal and allow the prosecution of women who have had miscarriages:
That is the talking point of opponents such as Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and Vote No 67, the main opposition campaign, which says that "any woman who suffers a miscarriage would be open to investigation for murder."
This feverish scenario runs contrary to both experience and law.
Since 2006, Alabama has defined "person" in its homicide statute to include "an unborn child in utero at any stage of development, regardless of viability." No women have been investigated for miscarriages in Alabama. Or in Alaska, where a similar law also took effect in 2006. Or in Kentucky (2004). Or in North Dakota (1987). Or others.
But Tuttle ignored the fact that similar state laws have already been used to prosecute women -- in Indiana, a woman who attempted to commit suicide while eight months pregnant was charged with murder. In fact, in Alabama, cited by Tuttle as an innocent actor, the judiciary is no stranger to interpreting the law in a way that pushes a personhood agenda. In that state, two women were prosecuted for endangering their unborn children by ingesting illicit drugs during their pregnancies, even though their "behavior ... was not intended to be criminalized when the Legislature enacted the chemical-endangerment statute." According to RH Reality Check, these laws are increasingly "misused by overzealous prosecutors and judges to trample women's rights in favor of the nebulous personhood rights of fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses."
Tuttle also waved off concerns that Colorado's personhood amendment would effectively prohibit abortion, despite the fact that the Colorado amendment was proposed by Personhood USA's state chapter Personhood Colorado, a group explicitly pushing to end legal abortion:
And as in the Alabama Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Hamilton v. Scott in 2012, reaffirming Alabama's inclusion of unborn persons in its homicide statutes, the constitutional protections to abortion afforded by Roe v. Wade would almost certainly be read into Colorado's law. A "woman's right to terminate her pregnancy" (Roe's language) is not explicitly exempted from criminal prosecutions, but this is likely, as a practical matter, unnecessary.
The very case Tuttle cites has been described as an explicit roadmap for overturning Roe v. Wade. As ProPublica explained, the judge who authored the opinion in Hamilton is "a pivotal figure in the so-called personhood movement" who wrote that "a centerpiece of Roe -- that states cannot ban abortion before the point of viability -- was 'arbitrary,' 'incoherent,' and 'mostly unsupported by legal precedent.'"
George Will dismissed Colorado Senate candidate Cory Gardner's support for federal fetal personhood legislation that would outlaw abortions and some birth control measures nationwide, suggesting that Gardner's position is irrelevant because the legislation has "zero chance of passing."
In his October 17 syndicated column, Will sought to neutralize some of the most controversial parts of Gardner's record: his past support for a statewide personhood bill in Colorado and current co-sponsorship of the Life At Conception Act in Congress:
Gardner favors over-the-counter sales of oral contraceptives. In addition to being common sense, Gardner's proposal is his way of making amends for formerly advocating a state constitutional "personhood" amendment (it is again on the ballot this year and will be decisively rejected for a third time) and for endorsing similar federal legislation that has zero chance of passage. By defining personhood as beginning at conception, these measures might preclude birth control technologies that prevent implantation in the uterus of a fertilized egg.
While Gardner has denied that the federal bill is personhood legislation that would broadly roll back women's reproductive rights, independent fact-checkers and leading health organizations say he is wrong. The language of the Life At Conception Act would give rights to a "preborn human person," which is defined as "each and every member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being."
Will's defense of Gardner's record on personhood is in line with The Denver Post editorial board's October 10 endorsement Gardner, which pardoned his history of opposing marriage equality and abortion rights. National women's group NARAL: Pro-Choice America blasted the Post for endorsing a candidate with positions "that deeply conflict with the paper's previous editorial stances."
National women's organization NARAL: Pro-Choice America and MoveOn are calling out The Denver Post's recent endorsement of Republican Senate candidate Rep. Cory Gardner (CO), running a full-page ad in the paper's Sunday edition that highlights the Post's omission of Gardner's anti-choice policy positions that "deeply conflict with the paper's previous editorial stances."
An October 17 announcement from NARAL: Pro-Choice America and MoveOn.org Political Action declared that the two organizations are teaming up in an effort to "rebuke" The Denver Post's recent "misguided endorsement" of Cory Gardner. Criticizing the news outlet for glossing over Gardner's extreme stance on personhood legislation as well as his positions on climate change and immigration, the organizations will run a full-page ad in the Post's Sunday edition as well as an online ad on DenverPost.com:
A hard-hitting, full-page ad from MoveOn.org Political Action and NARAL Pro-Choice America running inthis Sunday's Denver Post blasts the state's largest newspaper for endorsing Cory Gardner, a far-right candidate who holds views that deeply conflict with the paper's previous editorial stances. MoveOn.org Political Action and NARAL Pro-Choice America are running the print ad as well as online ads on DenverPost.com.
The print ad highlights contrasts between previous positions from The Denver Post editorial board and Gardner's stance on issues including a woman's right to choose, global warming, and immigration reform.
Contrary to The Denver Post's refusal to hold Gardner accountable for his position on fetal personhood legislation, which would greatly infringe on women's access to health care and legal abortion, NARAL and MoveOn's recent ad follows the lead of other media figures unwilling to give Gardner's incomprehensible stance on personhood a pass.
A Colorado reporter called out Republican Senate candidate Cory Gardner's efforts to conceal the fact that the federal personhood bill he co-sponsored would end abortion, a refreshing contrast to other media figures' refusal to hold Gardner accountable for his stance.
In the October 15 debate between Gardner and Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Udall, Kyle Clark, a reporter for NBC-affiliate KUSA, pressed Gardner on his continued denial that the Life At Conception Act is a federal personhood bill that would effectively end abortion procedures, by granting human eggs at fertilization the rights of a living person. Clark emphasized the fact that Gardner is a co-sponsor of the bill, which independent fact checkers widely agree would end abortion, and asked what the candidate's denial says about his judgment and willingness to hide the truth:
CLARK: You continue to deny that the federal Life At Conception Act, which you sponsor, is a personhood bill to end abortion -- and we are not going to debate that here tonight because that's a fact. Your co-sponsors say so; your opponents say so; and independent fact-checkers say so. So let's instead talk about what this entire episode may say about your judgment more broadly. It would seem that a charitable interpretation would be that you have a difficult time admitting when you're wrong, and a less charitable interpretation is that you're not telling us the truth. Which is it?
Gardner's support for personhood legislation has previously been glossed over by many in the media. The Denver Post's editorial board endorsed the candidate by claiming he posed "no threat to abortion rights," a declaration that completely ignores Gardner's support of the federal personhood legislation that would severely handicap women's access to health care and legal abortion.
Syndicated Washington Post columnist George Will echoed the Denver Post's endorsement, claiming that the issue of reproductive rights had already been settled and would not be affected by Gardner's election.
Thankfully, as Clark made clear in his questioning of Gardner, not all media figures are willing to give Gardner a pass on his incomprehensible personhood stance.
National Review editor Rich Lowry equated Kentucky senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes' refusal to disclose which presidential candidate she voted for in 2012 with former Republican Rep. Todd Akin's (MO) stunning claim that it is "really rare" for a woman to become pregnant as a result of "a legitimate rape." Lowry suggested the two positions were politically equivalent "gaffes," whitewashing the fact that Akin's statement was not only absurdly disconnected from scientific reality -- it also happened to reflect actual policy priorities of the Republican Party.
During an October 10 interview with the editorial board of The Louisville Courier-Journal, Grimes said she "respect[ed] the sanctity of the ballot box" when asked if she voted for President Obama in past elections. During an October 13 candidate debate, Grimes reiterated her stance on voter privacy:
GRIMES: This is a matter of principle. Our constitution grants, here in Kentucky, the constitutional right to privacy at the ballot box, for a secret ballot. You have that right, Senator McConnell has that right, every Kentuckian has that right.
GRIMES: I am not going to compromise a constitutional right provided here in Kentucky in order to curry favor on one or other side or for members of the media.
In an October 15 column published by Politico Magazine, Lowry exclaimed that "Alison Lundergan Grimes is the Todd Akin of 2014," and argued that Grimes' stated position defending the secret ballot was "a defining political gaffe" for this election. He likened her comments to then-Rep. Todd Akin's infamous statements about rape and pregnancy, in which Akin stated that pregnancies resulting from rape are rare because, "if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." Lowry argued that the two candidates represented similar levels of political ineptitude, writing that each was "telegenic, mockable and universally condemned."
Grimes' decision to stand on principle with regard to voter privacy has been labeled a "gaffe" by some, but, as MSNBC's Steve Benen pointed out, it is "an issue the media has deemed extremely important, but which actually affects no one."
By comparison, Akin's alarming comments on rape and pregnancy were reflected to varying degrees in actual policy decisions favored by Republican elected officials and candidates. Akin would later attempt to clarify his remarks amid a "firestorm" of controversy, but maintained his opposition to legal abortion access for women -- a constitutional right codified by the Supreme Court in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. In 2012, many prominent Republican candidates and conservative media figures supported banning safe and legal abortion, making the issue a central part of campaign rhetoric.
In October 2012, Indiana Republican senate candidate Richard Mourdock voiced his opposition to abortion "even when life begins in that terrible situation of rape," stating that "it is something that God intended to happen." Around the same time, Republican Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois supported a ban on all abortion, including cases that would threaten the life of the mother. Walsh falsley claimed that "modern technology and science" had solved the problem of potentially life-threatening pregnancies. During a 2007 Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney said "we don't want to have abortion in this country at all, period." He went on to state that it would be "terrific" if Congress passed a bill outlawing abortion, which he would be "delighted" to sign. Romney dodged abortion questions throughout his 2012 campaign, but promised to eliminate federal funding for women's health organizations like Planned Parenthood and vowed to be "a pro-life president."
Outlawing access to abortion remains a lightning rod for conservative media, with some right-wing outlets going so far as to tie debates about legal abortion to the crimes of convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell. Right-wing media figures like Karl Rove have pushed the myth that some forms of contraception are actually forms of abortion, while others such as Bill O'Reilly advanced extremist views on fetal "personhood" that would criminalize most abortions.
There is no appropriate comparison between Akin's extreme rhetoric and false scientific claims, and Grimes' personal defense of privacy at the ballot box.
Washington Post columnist George Will ignored Colorado GOP Senate candidate Cory Gardner's controversial policy positions on women's rights to smear Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) as a one issue candidate. But Gardner has supported measures that would severely limit women's reproductive choice.
On October 10, the Denver Post editorial board endorsed Republican Cory Gardner citing Udall's prioritization of what the Post called "his obnoxious one-issue campaign" on women's issues like abortion.
George Will parroted the Post's criticism of Udall on the October 14 edition Special Report with Bret Baier. Will claimed that "the whole war on women thing has been really worn out by this point," adding that the issue has been settled because contraception and abortion rights have been firmly ingrained in America for more than 40 years:
The Denver Post's endorsement of Republican Senate candidate Rep. Cory Gardner (CO) claimed that he posed "no threat to abortion rights," a declaration that ignores Gardner's support of federal personhood legislation that would greatly infringe on women's access to health care and legal abortion.
From the October 9 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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National Review Online's foremost legal analyst is continuing his colleagues' attacks on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg by criticizing her for "speaking publicly on abortion policy," despite previously defending Justice Antonin Scalia's penchant for similar public comments and interviews.
In the past week, National Review "roving correspondent" Kevin Williamson echoed his outlet's debunked insinuations from 2009 that Ginsburg supported eugenics. Williamson accused her of harboring a "desire to see as many poor children killed as is feasibly possible," an argument that NRO editor-at-large Jonah Goldberg offered "three cheers for" and that Williamson later compounded when he argued that women who have abortions should be hanged. NRO legal analyst Ed Whelan continued the attacks on Ginsburg, joining other anti-choice voices in condemning Ginsburg's statements in a recent interview in which she criticized a Texas law that closed down a number of the state's reproductive health clinics, arguing that commenting on legislation that could soon be before the Supreme Court was grounds for her recusal.
But Whelan went on to broaden his critique of Ginsburg, suggesting in a later post that she not speak publicly about abortion policy at all, regardless of whether it is in reference to a reproductive justice case before the court or not. In a September 30 blog post, Whelan complained about Ginsburg speaking "on all sorts of other matters related to abortion policy" and suggested that it was improper for the justice to "speak her mind openly on this matter."
Whelan's condemnation of Ginsburg and her discussion of general "abortion policy" appears inconsistent with his defense of his former boss, Justice Antonin Scalia, who also frequently speaks on contentious public policy. For example, in 2011, when Scalia spoke at a "closed-door session with a group of conservative lawmakers," Whelan balked at the suggestion that Scalia's attendance at a Tea Party function was inappropriate. According to The New York Times:
M. Edward Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a former clerk to Justice Scalia, disputed [George Washington University law professor Jonathan] Turley's criticism.
"Does he think it's improper for any justice ever to speak to any group of members of Congress who might be perceived as sharing the same general political disposition?" Mr. Whelan told The Los Angeles Times. "My guess is that, schedule permitting, Scalia would be happy to speak on the same topic to any similarly sized group of members of Congress who invited him."
National Review Online launched an ad hominem attack on actress Lena Dunham for writing a piece for Planned Parenthood Action Fund that encourages people to vote, continuing NRO's pattern of denigrating women who advocate for reproductive rights.
In a September 28 post headlined "Five Reasons Why You're Too Dumb To Vote," NRO's Kevin D. Williamson responded to Dunham's piece, published on the Women Are Watching blog, a project of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. In her post, clearly targeted to young women, Dunham asserted that every vote counts and urged young women to vote to protect their reproductive rights.
Williamson started his response by levying a personal attack at Dunham, calling the actress "distinctly unappealing" and describing her piece as "a half-assed listicle penned by a half-bright celebrity and published by a gang of abortion profiteers," directed toward Dunham's "presumably illiterate following." He claimed that "cultural debasement" is the "only possible explanation" for Dunham's career.
The NRO columnist echoed a previous infantilizing attack on feminism, casting Dunham's view of voting as "nothing other than a reiteration of the original infantile demand: "I WANT!" Williamson also took issue with Dunham's encouraging young women to vote on issues that directly affect them, framing an interest in reproductive rights as an "'all about me!' attitude":
Miss Dunham's "all about me!" attitude toward the process of voting inevitably extends to the content of what she votes for, which is, in her telling, mostly about her sex life. Hammering down hard on the Caps Lock key, she writes: "The crazy and depressing truth is that there are people running for office right now who could actually affect your life. PARTICULARLY your sex life. PARTICULARLY if you're a woman. Yup."