Right-wing media are increasingly and uniformly pushing the "personhood" position in their anti-choice attacks, an absolutist argument that equates fetuses with persons and goes beyond repealing Roe v. Wade to banning all abortions.
As recently as the 2012 presidential campaign, the GOP standard bearer claimed that although he opposed Roe v. Wade, he supported standard exceptions to abortion restrictions, and overturning 40 years of reproductive rights precedent would merely "return to the people and their elected representatives the decisions with regards to this important issue." This so-called moderate Republican position on "limits on abortion" was endorsed by prominent right-wing media figures such as Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post, who assured her readers that "the GOP isn't waging a 'war on women'; it is waging a war on abortion on demand."
Now that the election is over, Rubin is following the lead of right-wing media and using convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell to attack extremely rare and mostly prohibited late-term abortions, by arguing a "baby is far more than a fetus" or a "a clump of cells" because "there's a lot of science out there that...allows us to save these children." From Rubin's appearance on the May 13 edition of Fox News' America Live:
We're talking about infants that if they would be operated on, for example, by a surgeon at 24 weeks, would likely survive. As you say, you can take sonogram, you can see them sucking their thumb, they respond to music, there's all sorts of indications that that baby is far more than a fetus, which is the way the pro-abortion lobby likes to refer to it. And I think this makes Americans confront that. The president doesn't want to talk about it. He goes out and talks to Planned Parenthood, and says I'm all with you folks, and those are the people who want abortion on demand for any reason, any place, any time.
I think one of the problems that the abortion lobby is having is the science. They say conservatives don't like science. Well, there's a lot of science out there that not only allows us to save these children but also allows you to see them. And to obtain an indication that this is something far more than just a clump of cells.
In falsely comparing Gosnell's killing of newborns with legal abortion, Rubin is making an important rhetorical shift that is being repeated elsewhere on Fox News. On May 14, Fox News co-host of The Five, Andrea Tantaros, did the same:
[Gosnell's conviction] gives the pro-life movement an argument against the pro-abortion movement, which is they continue to argue, argue, argue in favor of abortion. However, this court just said, you kill a baby outside the womb, it's murder. But what about a baby inside of the womb? That question has to be answered. And I think that this does give the pro-life movement some fuel for their fight.
Wall Street Journal online editorial page editor James Taranto ignored the thousands of hate crimes committed against minorities each year, misleadingly fixating on four allegedly falsified incidents to claim minority oppression "scarcely exists."
In a May 2 Journal post, Taranto focused on four incidents in which individuals allegedly falsely claimed they were the victims of hate crimes, and claimed that these "phony" accusations were "common, especially on college campuses." He concluded:
Oppression of minorities, and certainly of women, scarcely exists in America in the 21st century. Genuine hate crimes happen, but they are very rare. Few societies in history have offered more security to the previously downtrodden. But the presence of security only makes the need for identity and stimulation more pressing. Hate-crime hoaxes are an extreme way of meeting those needs.
Taranto's fixation on a small number of discredited cases hides the reality that hate crime in the United States is not as rare as he claims. According to the FBI's most recent data, law enforcement agencies reported thousands of hate crimes in 2011 alone:
- In 2011, 1,944 law enforcement agencies reported 6,222 hate crime incidents involving 7,254 offenses.
- There were 6,216 single-bias incidents that involved 7,240 offenses, 7,697 victims, and 5,724 offenders.
- The 6 multiple-bias incidents reported in 2011 involved 14 offenses, 16 victims, and 7 offenders.
These crimes included murder, rape, assault, intimidation, and destruction or theft of property. According to the data, most of the crimes were motivated by racial bias, followed by bias against sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity and national origin, and disability.
However, these numbers likely underestimate the true amount of hate crime in the United States. Business Insider explained that hate crimes are vastly under-reported to the FBI, as the data "is highly dependent on reports from local police, some of whom are better at reporting hate crimes than others."
Indeed, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a subdivision of the U.S. Department of Justice, only 35 percent of hate crimes from 2007 to 2011 were reported to the police. Accounting for hate crimes not reported to authorities, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that there were 181,190 violent hate crimes in 2011. An additional 13,200 violent hate crimes were motivated by gender bias, which the FBI does not track. The percentage of violent hate crimes that resulted in an arrest declined from 10 percent in 2003 - 2006 to 4 percent in 2007 - 2011.
Taranto's baseless dismissal of oppression is unsurprising given his history, including claiming that the "legal regime ... is highly indulgent of sexual-harassment allegations" and attacking the Voting Rights Act.
Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto questioned the authenticity of a New York Times op-ed authored by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords by claiming that the op-ed appeared online too quickly to have been written by someone "who has severe impairments of her motor and speech functions."
Giffords' April 18 op-ed was written in response to the failure of expanded background checks legislation. On January 8, 2011, Giffords was shot in the head during a constituent meeting in an attack that killed six and left 13 wounded.
Taranto's comments occurred on the April 19 edition of the National Rifle Association's news show, Cam & Company, where he said it was "odd" that the Times op-ed, which Taranto described as "Giffords' personal reaction as somebody who's been wounded by gun violence," was published approximately five hours after the Senate voted on background checks. Taranto cast doubt on the idea that Giffords had authored the piece, commenting, "So we are supposed to believe that somehow in less than five hours a woman who has severe impairments of her motor and speech functions was able to produce 900 publishable words and put in an appearance in the White House in the course of it."
From Cam & Company:
TARANTO: One fascinating thing about this is this piece was published no later than 9:03 PM on Wednesday evening, because that's when it first appears on the New York Times' Twitter feed. The last Senate vote on amendments to the gun bill was a bit after 6 [PM]. Giffords appeared at the White House at 5:35 [PM] when we saw that enraged rant by the president. The Manchin-Toomey [background check] provision was the first vote. That was at 4:04 PM. So if you read this piece it's presented as a cry from the heart, as Giffords' personal reaction as somebody who's been wounded by gun violence to the betrayal of these Senators. So we are supposed to believe that somehow in less than five hours a woman who has severe impairments of her motor and speech functions was able to produce 900 publishable words and put in an appearance in the White House in the course of it. So I think that's a little bit odd.
Taranto offers no evidence for his offensive insinuation that Giffords would not have been capable of authoring the piece herself. He also ignores the possibility that Giffords could have authored the op-ed ahead of time in expectation of the widely-predicted outcome - hardly an unusual practice.
The argument by conservative media that former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and other survivors of gun violence who supported a failed Senate compromise to expand background checks on firearms sales are "props" of the Obama administration is both hypocritically partisan and logically flawed.
Right-wing media are unable to acknowledge that President Obama's gun violence prevention agenda mirrors the priorities of gun violence survivors, who are not mere "props," to pass stronger gun laws. As Greg Sargent of The Washington Post notes, "the families want to stand with the President at events for a fairly obvious reason: Obama is fighting for the same things they want":
All of this aside, the "props" line is actually an insult to the families, posing as a defense of them. It implies that the families, in lobbying on these issues, are not thinking for themselves. In reality, the families want to stand with the President at events for a fairly obvious reason: Obama is fighting for the same things they want. Indeed, one of the family members, Mark Barden, who lost his son Daniel in the shooting, voluntarily stood with the president at the White House yesterday as Obama reacted to news of the Senate vote, and thanked Obama for his leadership. Needless to say, if Barden felt like he was being exploited or used as a prop, he wouldn't be thanking the president. [emphasis in original]
Logical flaws aside, those who would call Newtown families and other gun violence survivors "props" fail to acknowledge that presidents routinely evoke the experiences of victims in advocating for policies that would prevent future tragedies.
In 1991, former President Ronald Reagan evoked his own experience of being shot by a would-be assassin, as well as the experiences of others wounded in the 1981 attack in order to advocate for background checks on gun sales. In a New York Times op-ed Reagan wrote about his press secretary, Jim Brady, who was grievously wounded in the attack by a man who acquired a gun despite a lengthy history of serious mental illness. Brady would go on to lend his name to the legislation -- the Brady bill -- that mandated a background check for gun sales conducted by licensed dealers:
Wall Street Journal editorial board member James Taranto downplayed a new Kansas bill that significantly restricts reproductive rights and ignored the consequences of a "personhood" provision that declares life begins "at fertilization."
Writing in reference to articles by the Associated Press and Reuters that describe the "sweeping" Kansas bill, reported as "one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation," Taranto instead characterized the restrictions in the bill as "modest" and mocked reproductive rights advocates who are raising alarm about the bill's thinly-veiled "personhood" provision. From the WSJ editorial:
[A]bortion proponents are especially exercised about a provision "declaring that life begins 'at fertilization' "
Holly Weatherford, another ACLUer, frets that the stipulation could "be used as a tool of harassment."
Hey Holly, did you know the word "gullible" isn't in the dictionary? Just kidding, it's there, as we noted in October. You know what else is there? "Fertilization." Here's Merriam-Webster's definition 2(b), the relevant one for this discussion: "the process of union of two gametes whereby the somatic chromosome number is restored and the development of a new individual is initiated."
This is basic reproductive biology. The assertion that life begins at fertilization is a tautology. [Deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project Talcott] Camp and Weatherford might as well be objecting to a legislative finding that A is A or 2+2=4 or a tautology is true by definition.
If your goal is to maximize sexual freedom, then it's expedient to answer the abortion question in the most permissive way possible. We suppose in that case simply defying science and logic, as Camp and Weatherford do, is a tempting shortcut. But when your position depends on denying a tautology, you may find it a difficult one to defend.
A Wall Street Journal op-ed acknowledged the constitutionality of race-conscious law, breaking from the traditional narrative of right-wing media that touts a non-existent "colorblind" Constitution, but incorrectly described the issues in a new Supreme Court case that will examine state bans on affirmative action.
In the case Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, the Supreme Court has decided to examine whether amendments to state constitutions that ban race-conscious equal opportunity programs violate the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by impermissibly rigging a state's political process. Contrary to editorial board member James Taranto's description of the case in a recent WSJ op-ed, Schuette is not properly understood as "an opportunity to revist" the constitutionality of affirmative action in higher education admission policies.
Grutter v. Bollinger, which reaffirmed the permissible use of race-conscious admissions in furtherance of the educational benefits of diversity, is indeed at risk in the as-of-yet unreleased decision of Fisher v. University of Texas. Schuette, on the other hand, examines what political means of prohibiting race-conscious admissions are acceptable under the U.S. Constitution and what means unconstitutionally manipulate state political processes to the detriment of persons of color and others who support the use of race-conscious affirmative action.
Described as the crown jewel of civil rights law, the Voting Rights Act has been the target of right-wing misinformation for decades, and a parallel legal assault against its constitutionality will be argued before the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder on February 27. The VRA, enacted to stem voter suppression on the basis of race in the South, contains a provision within it - Section 5 - which identifies the worst historical offenders and requires that election changes in those jurisdictions pass federal review. The current legal challenges to the VRA focus on Section 5, and are the continuation of the same discredited claims lodged against this anti-discrimination law since its inception.
The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto illogically claimed that recent comments from a National Urban League activist prove that voter ID laws do not suppress minority votes. Despite Taranto's defense of his flawed theory, research clearly indicates that voter ID laws target minority voters.
In his Wall Street Journal column, Taranto highlighted comments by Chanelle Hardy, a vice president at the National Urban League. According to Talking Points Memo, Hardy stated that Republican efforts to pass voter ID laws may have backfired by increasing enthusiasm among African American voters and increasing turnout. Taranto argued that Hardy's comments contradict claims from voter ID opponents that the laws restrict the rights of eligible minority voters.
Taranto's argument is absurd: an increase in voter enthusiasm in a specific group does not prove that other members of that group did not have their voting rights restricted. This claim is similar to one made in 2011 by Taranto's fellow voter ID proponent Hans von Spakowsky who argued at the time that high turnout in Georgia in 2008, following the passage of voter ID laws, proved that the legislation had no effect on voting rights. Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School, pointed out that von Spakowsky's logic was also flawed:
In a recent column, Wall Street Journal editorial board member James Taranto seized on a tribute to lifelong civil rights activist Lawrence Guyot written by the progressive Constitutional Accountability Center as an opportunity to attack the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But Taranto's criticism of the most effective anti-discrimination law in history ignores ample relevant history and case law.
Guyot passed away on November 22 at the age of 73. As a civil rights worker in the 1960s, he was beaten, jailed, and tortured for the voting rights and anti-segregation advocacy he undertook on behalf of African-Americans in Mississippi. In their tribute to Guyot, CAC noted that while current voter suppression is nowhere as violent as the tactics Guyot suffered, if unchecked by the Voting Rights Act, their effects still present discriminatory voting obstacles.
In his November 29 column, Taranto used CAC's Guyot obituary to attack Section 5 of the VRA, which Congress and federal courts have consistently reauthorized and utilized as essential for protecting the voting rights of millions of citizens who aren't white. Taranto also criticized the absence of extensive legal analysis in the obituary, complaining that it instead had "adjectives and adverbs," and more than one use of the word "iconic."
For a pair who work for something called the Constitutional Accountability Center, [Doug] Kendall and [Emily] Phelps don't have a lot to say about the constitution. Their defense of Section 5 is purely sentimental, with lots of intensifying adjectives and adverbs. Shelby County v. Holder, they exclaim, is "a monumentally important challenge to a key part of the Voting Rights Act, the iconic law for which for which [sic] Mr. Guyot shed blood."
Taranto, who cites a map and the Supreme Court brief for the Alabama county challenging the constitutionality of the VRA, focuses solely on the obituary to accuse CAC of not discussing the Constitution more in their tribute to Guyot. Yet Taranto fails to mention the extensive legal analyses and legal briefs CAC has written on the constitutionality of the VRA, all easily accessible on their website, as well as in other news outlets.
It is true that that CAC used the word "iconic" four times. It is also true that Taranto managed to write an entire column on the inappropriateness of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act without once using the words Jim Crow, and only referencing voter suppression in quotes. Discussion of these topics is crucial to any analysis of the VRA.
Throughout his column, Taranto questions why only certain areas must get approval for changes to their election practices under the VRA. The answer is simple: even with the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution following the Civil War, states of the Old Confederacy in the South refused to recognize equal protection and voting rights for African-Americans, through Reconstruction to the late Jim Crow era. From the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights' 1971 introduction to the 1970 VRA amendments:
Despite these constitutional protections [of the Reconstruction amendments], blacks in the South were virtually disenfranchised from the end of the Reconstruction Period until 1965, and members of other minority groups have also frequently been denied the right to vote.
It was not until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, however, that this right was extended to black people in the South in a meaningful way.
As Congress discovered more evidence of discrimination against racial, ethnic, and national origin minorities, more geographic areas were added to the scope of the VRA's anti-discrimination protections. Evidence of this discrimination can be shown by disproportionate effects or basic logic, which is why one appellate court recently found evidence of the former in South Carolina, and another appellate court utilized the latter to explain that if the predominant number of "young,...elderly and poor voters" affected by voter suppression in Texas are racial minorities, the VRA applies.
The reason that non-Southern areas remain uncovered by Section 5 of the VRA despite recent evidence of similar voter suppression is also unexplained in Taranto's column. States uncovered by the VRA do indeed engage in the same discriminatory tactics that have been overwhelmingly rejected in the courts. The answer to this omission is not complicated: it was difficult enough to pass the 2006 reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act during a Republican presidency, and as evidenced by current Republican obstruction, updating the VRA to cover additional areas has become increasingly unlikely.
Taranto was correct that CAC's obituary of Guyot did not go into a detailed legal analysis of whether the reauthorization of the VRA in 2006 was appropriate. If he wants to see their legal analyses, however, he can read the briefs they have filed in the case or he could read any of the many blogs and articles they have written on the issue. From the CAC's Text & History:
To anyone who takes the Constitution's text seriously, there are glaring holes in the conservative constitutional attack on the Voting Rights Act. Shelby County's primary argument is that the Act's preclearance requirement is outdated and unnecessary, given changes in Alabama (where Shelby County is located) and elsewhere, but the Constitution, in fact, assigns to Congress the job of deciding how to enforce the Constitution's ban on racial discrimination in voting.
It is certainly true that the coverage formula relies on decades-old data that has less relevance today. But, as the D.C. Circuit concluded, the formula was always less important than the jurisdictions it covered. Going all the way back to 1965, "Congress identified the jurisdictions it sought to cover - those for which it had 'evidence of actual voting discrimination' - and then worked backward, reverse-engineering a formula to cover those jurisdictions." And, as the record described by Judge Bates and Judge Tatel in Shelby County shows, these jurisdictions continue to be the worst offenders, consistently refusing to live up to the Constitution's promise of a multi-racial democracy.
John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou, hosts of Los Angeles radio show The John & Ken Show, were suspended by KFI-AM on Thursday after referring to the late Whitney Houston as a "crack ho" and wondering why her death "took this long" during their February 14 broadcast. Listen:
Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto joined the onslaught of conservative media figures downplaying or dismissing sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain as "meaningless" or not "a real thing." Fox News has repeatedly hosted guests to talk down the allegations and push the claim that "so many" sexual harassment cases may be "frivolous."
In his latest Wall Street Journal column, Taranto suggested that the women making the allegations against Cain "took advantage of a legal regime that ... is highly indulgent of sexual-harassment allegations." Taranto concluded by calling for "a rebalancing of the burden of proof in sexual-harassment cases."
From his November 3 column titled, "Who Smeared Herman Cain?":
With virtually no facts available, a fair-minded person cannot possibly draw any conclusions from these stories. Maybe Cain behaved badly. Maybe the women were unhappy in their jobs and took advantage of a legal regime that -- especially in the wake of the furor over Anita Hill's unsubstantiated accusations of ribaldry against Clarence Thomas -- is highly indulgent of sexual-harassment allegations. Maybe the real story is something in between and involves elements of misunderstanding.
It seems to us, however, that the original Politico report is a pretty poor excuse for journalism. Of the six questions a reporter is supposed to answer, Politico told us only where and when -- at the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s. Politico withheld information about who (both the accusers and its sources) and either didn't know or didn't say what, why and how.
Journalists have confidentiality agreements of their own, which they strike with sources in exchange for information -- but in this case there wasn't enough information to make a real story. That is in part because of a practice of also concealing the identities of women who make any kind of sexual allegations against men, a custom originally intended to protect rape victims.
The latter assumption presupposes the sexual innocence of women -- a paternalistic assumption that dates back to an era in which women were also held accountable through social shaming to standards of sexual innocence. If women in such disputes enjoy a presumption of innocence that is nearly impossible to rebut -- "I believe Anita Hill" -- that amounts to a presumption of guilt against any accused man.
At least Hill was an identifiable person making specific accusations. With the Cain stories, we are asked to presume he is guilty even though we don't know what he is accused of or by whom. Anyone who believes in the American ideal of equality before the law should consider it a travesty.
None of this is to say that Herman Cain is the best available candidate to be president of the United States. We can think of several reasons why he may not be. His "9-9-9" plan is great fodder for Twitter humor (Did you hear Herman Cain has a plan to adopt three cats?) but does not strike us as a serious economic proposal. He seems proud to know little about foreign policy. And while his business experience is a plus, he has even less governing experience than Barack Obama did four years ago.
A consequentialist Cain skeptic might argue that it would be a good thing for the country if Cain's campaign fell apart even if by unjust means. We can't agree with that. If a rival campaign is behind this, it would be better if voter revulsion at such tactics sank that campaign -- and eventually prompted a rebalancing of the burden of proof in sexual-harassment cases.
More than 11,000 sexual harassment charges were filed last year. About 16 percent of those were made by men, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
From the August 15 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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From the July 2 edition of Fox News' Journal Editorial Report:
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In a column equating those concerned about climate change with members of a "doomsday cult," the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto quoted the following two headlines in an apparent effort to bolster his claim that global warming is not "real science":
Taranto suggests that this year's record snowpacks in western states undermine previous research indicating that global warming is pushing down snowpack levels. But, as is often the case with conservative media seeking to downplay the threat of climate change, Taranto relies on the misconception that short-term data can invalidate a long-term trend.
The first article he references, from the Washington Post in February 2008, reports on a study which concluded that a significant portion of the decline in snowpack in the western U.S. between 1950 and 1999 was a result of human-induced climate changes. According to the authors of that study, Taranto is making a fundamental mistake in suggesting that this year's snowpack levels contradict their findings.
Tim Barnett, research marine physicist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography said Taranto is comparing "apples and oranges" and that "the difference between year to year changes in the weather and long term changes in climate are not really comparable." Barnett's co-author David Pierce similarly explained that "confusing the year-to-year up and downs with the long-term decline is a fairly common mistake that people make" and "shows a sad ignorance of climate science." He added:
In his May 23 Wall Street Journal column, James Taranto called Harold Camping -- who predicted the Biblical day of rapture would occur on May 21 -- the "Christian Al Gore." Taranto further compared global warming activism to a "doomsday cult."
From Taranto's column:
Something else bothers us about the media mockery of Harold Camping, as justifiable as it may be. Why are only religious doomsday cultists subjected to such ridicule? Reuters notes that "Camping previously made a failed prediction Jesus Christ would return to Earth in 1994." Ha ha, you can't believe anything this guy says! But who jeered at the U.N.'s false prediction that there would be 50 million "climate refugees" by 2010? We did, but not Reuters.
Doomsday superstitions seem to fulfill a basic psychological need. On the surface, the thought that God or global warming will destroy the world within our lifetimes is horrifying. But all of us are doomed; within a matter of decades, every person alive will experience the end of his own world. A belief in the hereafter makes the thought of death less terrifying. But so does a disbelief in the here, after. If the world is to end with us--if there is no life for anyone after our death--we are not so insignificant after all.
To reject traditional religion is not, as the American Atheists might have it, to transform oneself into a perfectly rational being. Nonbelievers are no less susceptible to doomsday cults than believers are; Harold Camping is merely the Christian Al Gore. But because secular doomsday cultism has a scientific gloss, journalists like our friends at Reuters treat it as if it were real science. So, too, do some scientists. It may be that the decline of religion made this corruption of science inevitable.