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Using Stigmatizing Right-Wing Media Misinformation, The Daily Caller Lashes Out Over A Woman’s Personal Narrative About Receiving Necessary Medical Care
Following Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s inaccurate attacks on late-term abortion at the final presidential debate, The Daily Caller “edited” a woman’s personal story to vilify and shame her for having a legal and medically necessary late-term abortion.
On October 20, The New York Times published an op-ed by Meredith Isaksen about her decision to terminate a wanted pregnancy after the 20th week. In the op-ed, titled “Late-Term Abortion Was the Right Choice for Me,” Isaksen described deciding to terminate after discovering that the developing fetus “was missing half his heart” and was “very unlikely [to] survive delivery.” Isaksen wrote that to “Trump and politicians like him, a late-term abortion is the stuff of ’80s slasher films” -- a depiction that is “void of consideration for women, medical professionals or the truth” -- and concluded that she had no doubts that “we made the right decision for our family.”
In response, The Daily Caller attacked Isaksen -- mocking her personal experience and rewriting her narrative “for accuracy and clarity” by substituting stigmatizing language about late-term abortion that is frequently pushed by right-wing media. In one example, The Daily Caller “revised” Isaksen’s statement that she was “a better wife, daughter and friend” after making “the right decision for our family” to read as: “I am a better wife, daughter and friend [because I chose to kill him].” In another, The Daily Caller wrote:
As the day of my termination [the death of my baby boy] approached and I felt my baby’s kicks and wiggles, I simultaneously wanted to crawl out of my skin and suspend us together in time. I wanted him to know [before I killed him] how important he was to me, that the well of my grief and love for him would stretch deeper and deeper into the vastness of our family’s small yet limitless life.He may have moved inside me for only five months, but he had touched and shaped me in ways I could never have imagined [and soon he would feel an abortionist rip him apart piece by piece].
Women do not elect to terminate their pregnancies after the 20th week on a whim because they simply “don’t want to have the kid” anymore.
Stigmatizing language about late-term abortion is often used by anti-choice groups and media to “vilify women” who are often facing the “loss of a wanted pregnancy.” The language used by The Daily Caller is a prime example of how not to speak about abortion no matter where you stand on choice, or about the countless women across America who have made the decision to have one or will need to in the future.
As Isaksen wrote (in her original words):
As the two-year anniversary of my abortion approaches, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that we made the right decision for our family — and that our government has absolutely no place in the anguish which accompanies a late-term abortion, except to ensure that women and their families have the right to make their choice safely and privately.
Saying goodbye to our boy was the single most difficult and profound experience of my life, and the truth is, it has come to define me. Today I am a better mother because of him. I am a better wife, daughter and friend. He made me more compassionate and more patient. He taught me to love with reckless abandon, despite the knowledge that I could lose it all.
“Partial-Birth” Abortion Is A Right-Wing Media Myth Used To Completely Eliminate Abortion Access After 20 Weeks
During the final presidential debate, Republican nominee Donald Trump invoked the right-wing media myth of “partial-birth” abortion to falsely allege that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton supported abortion procedures that “rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month [of pregnancy.]”
Trump’s “scare rhetoric” about so-called “partial-birth” abortion is both misinformed and problematic, but the issue goes beyond his repetition of this particular stigmatizing, anti-choice talking point. Media take note: Trump isn’t just echoing right-wing media myths about abortions occurring moments before live full-term birth; he’s using them to advocate for an unconstitutional ban on all abortions after 20 weeks.
If elected, Trump has promised a panacea to right-wing media’s favorite anti-choice complaints: He’s promised a “national ban on [all] abortions after 20 weeks,” committed to “defunding Planned Parenthood,” and even pledged to appoint “pro-life justices” who would “automatically” overturn Roe v. Wade.
Trump’s anti-choice agenda, much like the right-wing media myths at its foundation, fails to account for the realities of abortion, or those who have them.
The term “partial-birth” -- and by extension Trump’s misleading description -- is a fiction conjured up by anti-choice groups to vilify and shame individuals who have an abortion later in pregnancy. Although approximately 99 percent of abortions in the United States take place before the 20th week of pregnancy, the Supreme Court has explicitly protected the right to an abortion beyond this point when the life or health of the mother is endangered. As a result, some courts have rejected late-term abortion bans that either exclude these exemptions or attempt to restrict abortion prior to the point of fetal viability.
For Trump and right-wing media to suggest women impudently or frivolously terminate pregnancies at the 20th week or beyond is not just insulting, but also a blatant misrepresentation of the circumstances many women face. As Vox’s Emily Crockett explained, women can obtain an abortion at this stage only when "there is something seriously wrong with either the fetus or her own health." She continued that "pretending otherwise" not only "misrepresents reality," but also “inspire[s] legislation that does real harm to women who have to make heartbreaking medical decisions very late in pregnancy” by eliminating their access to a necessary medical procedure.
Unfortunately, these lived realities appear unimportant to Trump, who pushes what Talking Points Memo called “a grossly inaccurate view of abortion in the United States.” Rolling Stone concluded that “nowhere in [the third debate] was his ignorance on brighter, flashier display than on the subject of late-term abortion.”
Following the debate, Breitbart News published its approximation of a fact-check: an inaccurate article claiming that Trump’s description of “partial-birth” abortions as “ripping babies apart” was “correct.” To reach this conclusion, the article conflated the “dilation and extraction” (D&X) procedure -- which it described as “puncturing the skull [of the fetus] with scissors” -- with the legal, and most common, late-term abortion procedure called dilation and evacuation (D&E).
In Gonzales v. Carhart, the Supreme Court decided that although D&X procedures could be prohibited under the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, banning the vastly different -- and in fact, medically necessary -- D&E procedure constituted an “undue burden” on the constitutional right to an abortion. As Justice Kennedy explained, “The Act does not proscribe D&E,” which was found by a district court “to have extremely low rates of medical complications.” Clearly, the procedure being described by the Supreme Court as both legal and safe is a far cry from Breitbart News’ “partial-birth” abortion fever dream.
In a similar show of ignorance, during the October 20 edition of The O’Reilly Factor, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly denounced women’s health exemptions for late-term abortion because “the health of the mother could be anything.” O’Reilly previously had the audacity to suggest that women abuse health exemptions by fabricating conditions like sprained hands or headaches because they have glibly decided to terminate pregnancies, even if the “kid is going to be born next week.”
After a campaign steeped in misogyny, it’s not surprising that these are the right-wing media talking points Trump has adopted about abortion. And they are every bit as insulting, ignorant, and inaccurate as when anti-choice groups first invented them in order to stigmatize both abortion and those who exercise their constitutionally protected right to have one.
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Conservative media and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s presidential campaign are revisiting the debunked right-wing media pseudo-scandal of voter intimidation by the New Black Panther Party to defend Trump’s assertion that “large scale voter fraud” will affect the election.
After the 2008 election of President Barack Obama, a video went viral of two members of the New Black Panther Party standing outside a Philadelphia polling station on Election Day. One was a registered Democratic poll watcher; the other held a nightstick. Under President George W. Bush, the Department of Justice (DOJ) opened an investigation into the incident after Republican poll watchers complained (no voters ever alleged that they were intimidated by the men). Later, under Obama’s administration, the DOJ obtained a default judgment against the member carrying the nightstick and dropped the case against the poll watcher, the organization, and its leader.
Bush’s U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which at the time was packed with conservative activists, responded to the conclusion of the case by opening an investigation, even though the Republican vice chairwoman of the commission called the case “very small potatoes” and criticized the “overheated rhetoric filled with insinuations and unsubstantiated charges.” Nevertheless, J. Christian Adams, an activist Republican member of the commission, went on a lengthy crusade against Obama’s Justice Department for dropping the charges, resigning and claiming the decision showed unprecedented, racially charged corruption.
Adams found a friendly and eager platform for his position in Fox News, particularly with host Megyn Kelly. In 2010, Fox News devoted at least 95 segments and more than eight hours of airtime in two weeks to the phony scandal, including more than 3.5 hours on Kelly’s America Live. Adams admitted that he had no first-hand knowledge of the conversations leading to the decision.
One year later, an internal investigation at the Justice Department found that “politics played no role in the handling” of the case and that “department attorneys did not commit professional misconduct or exercise poor judgment.” Fox News spent only 88 seconds covering the debunking of a phony scandal of its own creation. Kelly spent only 20 seconds of her show covering the report.
But the damage was already done, and the obsessive coverage of the non-event has bubbled back up in the 2016 presidential election.
On October 17, Trump tweeted, “Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day.” As they tried to play defense for their candidate, right-wing media figures invoked the faux New Black Panther scandal. CNN’s paid Trump surrogates Kayleigh McEnany and Scottie Nell Hughes got in on the action, with McEnany claiming that Trump “doesn’t want a scenario where there's New Black Panthers outside with guns, essentially like intimidating people from coming into the polls” and Hughes saying that “voter suppression happened when the Black Panthers stood outside the election room.” (CNN’s Kristen Powers retorted, “There was not a single complaint from a single voter.”)
Conservative radio hosts joined in, with Mike Gallagher asserting that “in Philadelphia we know all about the New Black Panther movement and what they did in Philadelphia at the polling places,” and Howie Carr accusing the Obama administration of “refus[ing] to prosecute” them for “roaming outside polling places, precincts in Philadelphia with baseball bats and threatening white people.”
Key figures in creating the scandal have also resurfaced to defend Trump’s voter fraud narrative. Fox & Friends hosted J. Christian Adams to push the myth that “dead people are voting … and it’s going to affect the election” (in reality, claims of dead voter fraud are “plagued by recurring methodological errors” and actual instances of this kind of fraud are exceedingly uncommon). The Trump campaign also hired Mike Roman as head of a “nationwide election protection operation.” Roman is a Republican political consultant who shopped the 2008 video to Fox News, worked with Adams to push the scandal, and offered to contact every Republican voter in the Philadelphia precinct to determine if any were intimidated at the polling location.
The New Black Panther Party pseudo-scandal’s resurgence is only the latest example of how obsessive right-wing coverage of a comprehensively debunked myth, followed by scant coverage of news that does not fit the narrative, can allow a myth to pass as truth for years. Fox’s infatuation with Benghazi still continues to this day and, like the New Black Panther Party issue and other myths, it is frequently revived to attack Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton or bolster ridiculous assertions by Trump. By bringing the overblown and debunked New Black Panther story back into the mainstream, Trump backers in the media are grasping at straws to defend his rigged election nonsense.
Fox & Friends berated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for her tax and economic policy agenda, arguing it wouldn’t do enough to curtail future spending, while giving Republican nominee Donald Trump a pass for his supposed pro-growth tax cuts that are projected to explode the national debt over the next decade.
Fox Business host Stuart Varney joined the cast of Fox & Friends on October 21 to attack Clinton for claiming during the final presidential debate that her tax plan “will not add a penny to the debt.” Varney contended that Clinton’s statement was false because current federal spending is on track to accumulate roughly $9 trillion in debt over the next decade. During his critique, which cited the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) as its source on screen, Varney neglected to mention that, according to the CRFB, Clinton’s tax and spending plans would only add about $200 billion in new debt accumulation to the $9 trillion already baked into continuing federal spending. After accounting for the roughly $275 billion of new revenue that Clinton estimates her proposed business tax reforms will generate, her proposals are more or less balanced.
Even though Varney seems to be a deficit scold, when Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt asked him which candidate had the better economic plan, Varney chose Trump’s plan, which the CRFB projects would add $5.3 trillion to the national debt on top of current spending. When CRFB compared the two plans side by side, Clinton’s left projected debt levels virtually unchanged while Trump’s contribution resulted in a doubling of the national debt over the next decade:
Varney claimed Trump’s budget-busting plan would be better for the economy because of the debunked trickle-down economic “theory” that lowering taxes in the way Trump has proposed will generate 4 percent economic growth annually. Co-host Pete Hegseth agreed with Varney, claiming that tax cuts for the rich creating economic activity nationwide “has played out in reality in the past” as Varney cited the Reagan tax cuts of the 1980s and the Bush tax cuts of 2001 as examples.
Varney’s misleading claim that previous tax cuts instituted by Republican presidents have led to increased economic growth has been a central theme of his repeated appearances on Fox & Friends. On October 11, Varney appeared on the show and claimed that Trump’s plan would get the American economy to “4 percent growth within a couple of years.” He admitted that the plan would “initially” increase the federal deficit before speculating that “over the longer term, the deficit, I think, comes down.” Varney also appeared on September 28 when he defended Trump’s tax cuts for the rich and claimed a huge tax cut for the wealthiest Americans is “how we grow the economy.”
The assertion that the Reagan tax cuts of 1981 and the Bush tax cuts of 2001 created an economic boom is unsubstantiated by the facts. According to The Washington Post, the Bush tax cuts increased the deficit and income inequality, and, according to a review by CBS News, they did not positively impact economic growth. Economist Austan Goolsbee stated as much on the October 20 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, arguing that the Bush tax cuts “didn't get growth” that was promised and that Trump proposing an even larger tax cut “makes no sense.” The Reagan tax cuts did no better; PolitiFact rated claims that the Reagan tax cuts led to “exponential growth” as “mostly false,” and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman labeled the Reagan tax cuts “a one-hit wonder” where “the rich got much richer” while there was also an increase in poverty.
According to a September 2014 report from the Brookings Institution, tax cuts do not always create economic growth and can even discourage growth by undermining economic incentives to invest. A September 2012 report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) similarly concluded that reducing top income tax rates does not correlate with increased economic growth, but lowering top rates does "appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution."
Right-wing media consistently attack Democratic politicians for their supposedly irresponsible approach to deficit spending, while ignoring Republican tax plans that would explode deficits by an even greater amount. This kind of misleading equivalency was even a feature of Fox News host Chris Wallace’s questioning during the October 19 presidential debate. The fact remains that if right-wing media really care about the debt and deficit, they have to start caring about the budget-busting tax plans pushed by conservative politicians.
Watch the full segment from Fox & Friends here:
National Rifle Association committees making independent campaign expenditures to oppose Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton have spent more than $14 million on the race, surpassing the spending of the most active pro-Trump Super PAC.
According to FEC filings collected by ProPublica covering spending through October 20, the NRA Institute for Legislative Action has spent $7,057,970 opposing Clinton and the NRA Political Victory Fund has spent $7,127,423:
The combined $14 million is more money than Rebuilding America Now, a pro-Trump Super PAC, has spent. Additionally, the NRA has spent nearly $9 million so far on independent expenditures supporting Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, whom the NRA endorsed at its annual meeting in May.
While other conservative outside spenders have backed away from Trump, the NRA has thrown its lot in with him -- and continues to do so despite Trump’s ongoing collapse in national polling amid multiple allegations of sexual assault and misconduct.
As of October 12, the NRA had already spent a record-breaking $21 million attempting to get Trump elected, nearly double the $12 million the group spent in its failed “all in” effort to elect Romney in 2012.
The NRA is showing no signs of letting up either. This week, it released a $5 million ad that distorted comments Clinton has made on the Second Amendment and on her use of a private email server in order to falsely brand her as a liar. Other NRA ads have pushed the falsehood that Clinton opposes all gun ownership, an NRA claim that has been repeatedly rated false by independent fact-checkers.
As early as August, The New York Times reported that conservative outside spenders other than the NRA were backing away from Trump. The Times article reported that “Donald J. Trump’s candidacy has driven away throngs of Republican elected officials, donors and policy experts. But not the National Rifle Association,” noting that the NRA is “the institution on the right most aggressively committed to his candidacy, except for the Republican National Committee itself” and that the NRA “has spent millions of dollars on television commercials for Mr. Trump, even as other Republican groups have kept their checkbooks closed.”
According to the NRA’s November magazine, the group is touting itself as “the key” to electing Trump and claiming he is the only candidate who can “save our freedom.”
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News outlets covering the presidential election have made the mistake of treating Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as two equally flawed candidates. That false equivalence has made it harder for voters to understand the categorical differences between their options on November 8.
In typical elections, news outlets often treat both major presidential candidates as relatively similar -- comparing their flaws, scrutinizing their respective scandals, and framing the election as a choice between two comparable options.
That approach hasn’t been appropriate this election cycle. Clinton is not a flawless candidate -- her campaign has been dogged by conspiracies surrounding the Clinton Foundation and her use of a private email server as secretary of state. But she is a relatively conventional one -- abiding by both constitutional and political norms.
Trump, on the other hand, represents a dramatic break from mainstream American politics. He threatens the First Amendment, demonizes minority groups, cozies up to white supremacists, championed the birther movement, invites Russian interference in the election, promises to arrest his political opponent, lies constantly, lacks the most basic interest in and knowledge of public policy, says he may not accept the results of the election because he believes it to be “rigged” -- the list goes on and on.
These are not equally flawed candidates. But a number of news outlets have treated them as such, devoting similar amounts of attention and ink to Clinton and Trump’s respective controversies.
The New York Times has been criticized for its disproportionate focus on Clinton’s email server and the Clinton Foundation, so much that the paper’s public editor penned a defense of the paper’s coverage:
The problem with false balance doctrine is that it masquerades as rational thinking. What the critics really want is for journalists to apply their own moral and ideological judgments to the candidates.
If Trump is unequivocally more flawed than his opponent, that should be plenty evident to the voting public come November. But it should be evident from the kinds of facts that bold and dogged reporting unearths, not from journalists being encouraged to impose their own values to tip the scale.
That approach, treating both candidates’ scandals equally and hoping voters come to the correct conclusion, is a big part of the reason that voters view Trump and Clinton as being similarly untrustworthy, and view their missteps as similarly concerning. Audiences internalize the way the media covers each candidate in relation to the other.
Treating two wildly different candidates as if they’re equally flawed is not “fairness” -- it’s a journalistic failure. And news outlets that have failed to explain the categorical differences between the controversies dogging Trump and Clinton’s presidential campaigns have done a real disservice to voters who want to understand what’s at stake in November.
Illustrations by Dayanita Ramesh.
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