Right-wing media have spent nearly a decade making false claims about birth control -- and now those falsehoods have found their way into the mouths of Supreme Court justices.
The Supreme Court on March 25 heard consolidated arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, which examine whether for-profit businesses can deny employees health insurance coverage based on the owners' personal religious beliefs, a radical revision of First Amendment and corporate law. The owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga argue they should not be forced by the government to provide their employees insurance which covers certain forms of contraception, because they believe those types of birth control can cause abortions.
The owners are wrong. Medical experts have confirmed they are wrong, repeatedly and strenuously, including experts at the National Institute of Health, the Mayo Clinic and the International Federation of Gynecology. The contraceptives Hobby Lobby objects to -- which include emergency contraceptives like Plan B and long-term contraceptives like Intrauterine Devices (IUDs) -- delay an egg from being fertilized, and as the former assistant commissioner for women's health at the FDA noted, "their only connection to abortion is that they can prevent the need for one."
Despite this overwhelming medical evidence, the myth that some of the contested forms of birth control are "abortifacients" has gone all the way to the Supreme Court -- and now has been repeated by some of the justices themselves. During the oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case, Justice Antonin Scalia responded to a point made by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the lawyer for the government, by referring to "birth controls ... that are abortifacient."
JUSTICE SCALIA: You're talking about, what, three or four birth controls, not all of them, just those that are abortifacient. That's not terribly expensive stuff, is it?
GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, to the contrary. And two points to make about that. First, of course the -- one of the methods of contraception they object to here is the IUD. And that is by far and away the method of contraception that is most effective, but has the highest upfront cost and creates precisely the kind of cost barrier that the preventive services provision is trying to break down.
Justice Stephen Breyer, while describing the position of the Hobby Lobby owners, also referred to "abortifacient contraceptives."
This misunderstanding matters because it could determine the outcome of the case. In order to win, a majority of justices may have to understand there is a compelling government interest in facilitating equal access to contraceptives across health insurance plans. It is an entirely different and more difficult question if the justices examine whether there is a compelling interest in the government facilitating access to abortion. Even though federal law explicitly prohibits federal funding of abortion and these birth control methods are not abortifacients, if the justices mistakenly think abortion is involved, this case becomes far more dangerous.
So whether the employees of for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby are guaranteed access to basic preventative health care could ultimately come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions. Whether for-profit companies are considered religious persons, a drastic change to constitutional corporate law, could come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions. Whether the rights of gay and lesbian employees are respected, and whether taxes, vaccines requirements, minimum wage, overtime laws are all upheld could come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions.
This simple lie about birth control could set up a chain of events that drastically alter health care by rewriting First Amendment and corporate law in this country -- and it's a lie that comes straight from the media, who have been pushing it for almost a decade.
Studies came out as early as 2004 pushing back on the idea that Plan B caused abortions, but Media Matters has repeatedly noted the tendency of journalists to get their facts wrong when addressing the issue. In 2005, CNN host Carol Costello gave a platform to a pharmacist who refused to fill a prescription for birth control pills because she thought they were equivalent to "chemical abortion." In 2007, Time magazine called the morning-after pill "abortion-inducing," while an AP article pushed the false Republican claims that emergency contraception destroys "developing human fetuses." In 2010, The Washington Times repeatedly equated emergency contraception to abortion.
And there was Lila Rose, the anti-abortion activist who in 2011 released videos heavily edited to deceptively portray practices at Planned Parenthood clinics, and who has equated contraception to "abortion-inducing drugs" which she claims exploit women. Rose and her mentor, James O'Keefe, defended their manipulation and falsification of evidence as "tactics" against the "genocide" of abortion, and she was supported and promoted on The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity's America, The Glenn Beck Show, The Laura Ingraham Show, while her work was been featured by Reuters, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, and National Review.
When the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, and medical experts including the Institute of Medicine recommended including comprehensive coverage for contraception as part of the preventative care provisions, right-wing media freaked out, calling it "immoral" and "a way to eradicate the poor." Fox News ignored the overwhelming support for the resulting contraception policy, instead pretending that Catholic hospitals and employers were being victimized -- even as exemptions and accommodations were included for churches and religious nonprofits. By 2012, Fox News' Michelle Malkin was referring to the contraception regulations as an "abortion mandate." Now, right-wing media figures have used the Hobby Lobby case and others to bring back this lie, from Fox News to the Wall Street Journal, while Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham have become particularly fond of discussing these "abortifacients."
As Media Matters has previously explained, right-wing talking points demonizing birth control made their way into the amicus briefs presented to the court before the case was even argued, and Justice Scalia in particular has been known to repeat verbatim right-wing myths, such as the dubious idea that if the Supreme Court upheld the ACA the federal government could ultimately require consumers to purchase broccoli.
But the presence of the "abortifacient" lie during oral arguments takes this worrying tendency to a new level, raising the prospect that right-wing media's lies could potentially determine the outcome of a crucial case for religious and corporate law, hugely damaging reproductive rights in the process. If women lose the guarantee for their basic preventative health care, and corporations are granted even more flexibility as "persons" with religious rights, right-wing media will be partly to blame.
CNN's Carol Costello shot down conservative talking points disparaging the minimum wage, correctly noting that raising it would increase incomes and decrease poverty.
On February 18, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released estimates of the economic impacts of proposals to lift the minimum wage to $9.00 and $10.10, respectively. Among the report's summary conclusions was the revelation that the $10.10 option would raise the wages of 16.5 million workers while lifting up to 900,000 Americans out of poverty. Ignoring these positive side-effects, conservative media have focused heavily on estimates that increasing the minimum wage to such levels could reduce full-time employment by approximately 0.3 percent, the equivalent of roughly 500,000 positions.
On the February 19 edition of CNN Newsroom, host Costello was joined by Wall Street Journal editorial board member and Heritage Foundation chief economist Stephen Moore to discuss the CBO report. Moore, a prominent right-wing media figure, rehearsed standard talking points about the alleged disastrous impacts of increasing the minimum wage for low-skilled and entry-level workers.
Despite Moore's efforts, Costello checked his spin at every turn, continually pointing to the positive impacts of increasing the minimum wage.
Costello's strong reporting highlights the important role of media in sifting through misinformation to present unbiased results. While the median estimate of a $10.10 per hour minimum wage was decreased full-time employment, the CBO's projection also concludes that job loss could be "very slight" -- a fact highlighted by Costello. She also noted the positive income effects of increasing the federal minimum wage -- effects that are being ignored in media coverage of the CBO report -- and argued that many Americans would accept marginal job loss in exchange for lifting hundreds of thousands more out of poverty.
Costello's coverage of the minimum wage hopefully reflects a mainstream media trend of actually analyzing policy news, rather than allowing right-wing media to spin the narrative.
One economic study, two news outlets, and two very different reports on its findings.
When the nonpartisan CBO released its Budget and Economic Outlook for the years 2014 to 2024 this week, right-wing media distorted its projection that the supply of labor would decline by about 2 million workers over the next three years, due to the ACA allowing workers the option to work less and still maintain health coverage. In the conservative echo chamber, pundits from Jennifer Rubin to Fox anchors argued that the CBO report proved the ACA is destroying jobs.
CNN's Carol Costello corrected the record about this conservative "spin" on the CBO report on February 5, explaining, "To be clear, the CBO did not say jobs would actually be lost. It said workers could choose to work fewer hours to meet Obamacare requirements for coverage," and calling out the misinformation surrounding the report:
COSTELLO: [C]ritics say a new nonpartisan report proves the law will indeed kill jobs. But when you cut through the spin, this is all about workers' choices, not job cuts.
As Costello was clarifying the CBO's findings, the very "spin" she highlighted was underway on Fox News. Anchor Bill Hemmer dismissed the notion that the CBO projection concerned workers' choice, arguing that it boiled down to "job losses" caused by the ACA. Frequent Fox guest Art Laffer added, "If you don't love your work, it doesn't mean you should be paid not to work so you can sit at home and dream. That's just silly."
Fox has attacked health reform at every turn, pushing myths and phony scandals to argue for its repeal. The network's repeated misinformation on the CBO report in order to continue its war on the ACA, no matter what the facts, is just another example of Fox prioritizing politics over accurate reporting.
Mainstream media outlets echoed a deceptive framing, created by the conservative media and amplified by House Republicans, of comments by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), leaving the false impression that he dismissed the plight of cancer-stricken patients denied care by the government shutdown.
From the October 2 edition of CNN's CNN Newsroom:
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From the December 18 edition of CNN Newsroom:
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CNN anchor Carol Costello questioned Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Cory Booker's efforts to raise awareness of hunger in America, asking whether his decision to take the food-stamp challenge amounted to a publicity stunt. But Costello's own reporting on food insecurity sheds light on the need for greater public awareness, even as funding for supplemental food programs faces cuts during the final weeks of 2012.
In November, Booker announced that he would take the food-stamp challenge and live for one week on a food budget equal to that of a New Jersey resident on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. That came after a Twitter user challenged the mayor over the need for federal nutrition assistance. Booker's challenge began Monday and will last a week.
On Tuesday, CNN correspondent Alina Cho reported that Booker was taking the challenge to demonstrate the need for "deeper consideration" of Americans who rely on SNAP benefits and to "reduce the stigma" that often comes with reliance on the program. Costello questioned the long-term impact of Booker's campaign and asked whether it was "helpful or a pointless exercise."
Booker's challenge comes at a critical time for SNAP funding, as House Republicans push to reduce spending on the effective antipoverty program during year-end negotiations over broader spending cuts and the federal farm bill, which includes SNAP spending. Costello herself noted the push to cut SNAP funding during a discussion of the farm bill in September.
And, as Costello herself has demonstrated, public understanding of food insecurity and federal nutrition programs is often ill informed:
In questioning the effectiveness of Booker's efforts to raise awareness of this issue, Costello opined:
I'm not saying Booker is insincere. I'm just wondering what living for just a week in someone else's shoes really proves. It's not like the food stamp challenge hasn't been done before. The mayors of Philadelphia and Phoenix, even super chef Mario Batali have done it. What will it tell us that we don't already know? The talk back question for you today: is Cory Booker's food stamp challenge helpful or a pointless exercise?
Her own reporting on what Americans don't already know about food insecurity provides an answer.
Reports by major media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and CNN, are giving credence to Republicans' baseless attacks on Ambassador Susan Rice over statements she made in September appearances on Sunday morning political shows regarding an attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya. In fact, Rice's remarks were based on the intelligence available at the time, and commentators from across the political spectrum agree that the attacks on Rice are inaccurate and driven by partisanship.
From the November 1 edition of CNN's CNN Newsroom:
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CNN cited the Drudge Report to legitimize the false right-wing talking point that President Obama has gone on an apology tour, though numerous fact checkers, independent media analysts, and even CNN have denounced it as phony.
In a segment previewing tonight's presidential foreign policy debate, CNN host Carol Costello cited the Drudge Report and its "many pictures of President Obama supposedly bowing to foreign leaders" to bring up "this idea of an apology tour conducted by the president."
She then linked the fake apology meme with the Obama administration's reported talks with Iran on that country's nuclear program, and asked how both would figure in the debate.
In fact, as The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler noted, the apology tour "never happened." In giving the claim its highest false rating, "Pants on Fire," PolitiFact also called the charge "ridiculous." The Associated Press added: "Obama has not apologized for America" and concluded that "there has been no formal -- or informal -- apology."
During the segment, CNN contributor LZ Granderson pointed out that this is a phony political argument and noted that Republicans have repeatedly used this line to criticize Obama's foreign policy. Granderson said: "There's nothing in transcripts to suggest he apologized. They're just using this to try and make him look weak."
Addressing CNN contributor Will Cain, Costello countered: "Well, still, Will, I have heard Governor Romney say that line a million times, 'I will not apologize for America.' "
But as Kessler noted in his fact check, this is a lie that Romney refuses to abandon. "Despite earning Four Pinocchios for months, Romney keeps saying this," Kessler wrote.
Moreover, CNN itself has debunked it. When Republican Congressman Peter King trotted out the apology line on Starting Point, host Soledad O'Brien noted that this framing has been adopted by Republicans to criticize Obama. O'Brien went on to shoot down King's theory, pointing to the fact that FactCheck.org has found it baseless. King replied: "I don't care what FactCheck says."
Which raises the question: Despite earning Four Pinocchios, why is CNN legitimizing this?
Today CNN aired Newt Gingrich claiming that "the Obama administration is trying to use the EPA to cripple the development" of natural gas. CNN offered no pushback to this claim and instead turned to a farmer who has leased his land to a natural gas company and supports Mitt Romney to assess the impact of EPA regulations. But the Obama administration has embraced natural gas, and the EPA's air pollution and chemical disclosure rules have drawn praise from the industry for their restraint.
From CNN Newsroom:
Contrary to Gingrich's claims, the Obama administration has boosted natural gas development, including a major gas project on federal lands. The Environmental Protection Agency has just begun to regulate a process that is quickly spreading across many areas that have never before dealt with extensive drilling. As National Journal reported, "Obama directed the Interior Department to allow hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, under new rules that are not very different from a law that conservative Republican Gov. John Kasich just signed in Ohio."
The EPA issued a regulation to reduce emissions of smog-forming air pollution that even the right-wing Wall Street Journal editorial board praised for its "restraint." And the EPA proposed a rule that would require the gas industry to disclose chemicals used during fracking on public lands, but gave what the New York Times described as a "significant concession" to the industry by only requiring that companies reveal the composition of fracking fluids after drilling. The EPA also required that the gas industry reduce cancer-causing chemicals released during fracking, a rule that will also reduce the emissions of methane -- a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Bloomberg reported that several companies supported the rule, which could prevent a "backlash" that would shut down production.
If CNN is seeking to inform its audience about the energy policies of the presidential candidates, it should probably be turning to experts. And if CNN is seeking the human face of natural gas drilling, it might also want to talk to landowners who have been stuck with the bill after natural gas companies polluted their land.
From the November 30 edition of CNN's CNN Newsroom:
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CNN just spent nearly 8 minutes on a segment about Don't Ask, Don't Tell and whether gays should be able to serve openly in the military. Incredibly, in all that time, CNN never once so much as alluded to the fact that the current policy is discriminatory.
Instead, they talked mostly about money and logistics, with CNN journalists repeatedly parroting the Republican non-sequitur that the current economic uncertainty makes this a bad time to allow gays to serve openly in the military.
Eight minutes, and they didn't once mention the fundamental question at hand.
You may recall a Media Matters video from May 20 highlighting some odd examples of journalistic excellence from some very unlikely sources. Some, of course, were from people you would have expected. Well, I'd like to present you with "Good News: Ten More Examples Of Journalistic Excellence":
Media figures have used President Obama's second overseas trip to Europe and the Middle East to stoke fears that he may be too close to the Muslim world or harbors a secret, anti-American agenda.