The right-wing media misinformation behind the 231 restrictions on abortion passed by state legislatures in the last four years has found its way into Congressional Republicans' latest strategy to roll back abortion rights nationally. Medical experts agree that such anti-choice legislation is often based on medically inaccurate or outright false information and that these regulations harm women. Here are the facts behind the myths underpinning the GOP's war on abortion rights.
Right-wing media mourned Rep. John Boehner's (R-OH) re-election to a third term as House Speaker by comparing his opponents to the American revolutionaries, the hero David from the biblical story of David and Goliath, and lobbing accusations of election rigging.
Conservative media personalities have long ignored the public's overwhelming support for wider access to birth control, instead pushing long debunked myths that birth control is cheap and easy to access, is only about preventing pregnancies, and can cause abortion.
Here are the facts behind right-wing media's three biggest myths about birth control:
Conservative media lashed out at President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for recounting personal experiences with racism in an interview with People magazine, accusing the Obamas of playing the victim and even asking if the interview made race relations worse.
Right-wing media lobbed harsh criticism and conspiracy theories at Jeb Bush in response to his decision to "actively explore" a 2016 presidential bid, even urging more conservative Republicans to run against him.
Right-wing media reacted with disbelief and outrage at President Obama's post-election speech, in which he said he intends to cooperate with Republicans -- despite Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell making the same claim earlier the same day.
In his continued crusade against the Common Core education standards, Glenn Beck encouraged people across the country to boycott tests associated with Common Core, later declaring, "The day we're all willing to peacefully go to jail like Martin Luther King, we will win."
In a live broadcast to nearly 700 theaters nationwide, Beck and his fellow anti-Common Core "warriors" joined forces Tuesday night to "make Common Core history" (emphasis original) in a two-hour live movie titled We Will Not Conform. Those "warriors" included conservative commentator and notorious Common Core misinformer Michelle Malkin, hosts Dana Loesch and Pat Gray from Beck's The Blaze, "self-proclaimed historian" David Barton, Townhall columnist Terrence Moore, Jay Spencer of Liberty University (a sponsor of the event), and representatives from state-based groups waging war on Common Core.
The participants also included Matt Kibbe and Ellen Wheeler from FreedomWorks, a group which "started out as the Koch-funded Citizens for a Sound Economy" and came under scrutiny last year "due to bizarre internal feuding and questions about its finances." Former FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey told Media Matters at the time that "the group wasted money by paying Glenn Beck $1 million ... to fundraise for the organization."
This live event is just the latest salvo in Beck's campaign against the state-based education standards, which were originally adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. Beck and co-author Kyle Olson released a book in May called Conform, which, in addition to baselessly attacking teachers and public schools for 222 pages, argued that Common Core helps progressives remove parents from their children's lives. The day before the event, Beck compared Common Core to slavery.
Right-wing media have dishonestly portrayed recent reports of children fleeing across the U.S.-Mexico border to escape violence in Central America, even portraying the immigrants as dangerous disease-carriers, terrorists, and cartel members.
Notorious misinformer Glenn Beck appeared on Fox News to push various myths about the Common Core education standards while promoting his upcoming live movie We Will Not Conform.
On June 12, Fox's Sean Hannity hosted Beck, a former Fox host and founder of The Blaze network, to discuss the Common Core State Standards, which were adopted in 2010 by 45 states and the District of Columbia. "Political turbulence" surrounding the standards, however, has led a few states to opt out of Common Core, following months-long smear campaigns from right-wing media figures, including Beck and Fox. Beck even wrote an "angry and ignorant" book titled Conform, which spent 222 pages lobbing ridiculous attacks against the standards and public education in general.
On Hannity, Beck plugged his July 22 live movie, which will also feature fellow Common Core misinformer and conservative columnist Michelle Malkin. After Hannity explained that Beck was "going to show in this movie how to defeat Common Core," Beck claimed that Common Core opponents are "winning on this." He then propagated a series of myths about the standards, including that Common Core is about "control, manipulation, [and] propaganda" and that it takes away freedom from teachers, despite polls showing that teachers support it. Beck even likened Common Core to education in China because it "use[s] propaganda in the classroom" to "shape these minds to get them to be good little boys and girls for the state."
Given that he launched his campaign against Common Core by stating, "We will not save our country unless we save it first from this attack," Beck's live movie promises to be yet another absurd ruse in his constant, fact-free crusade again Common Core.
Right-wing media ignored immigration experts and blamed President Obama's immigration polices for the recent influx of unaccompanied children apprehended illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. In reality, experts cite increased violence in Central America as the driving factor.
A Mississippi bill that will severely limit access to reproductive health is being promoted by conservative lawmakers using misleading arguments that mirror those pushed by right-wing media outlets.
In 2012, Mississippi passed House Bill 1390, legislation that would require all physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed the law, stating, "To further protect patient safety in the event of a complication during the procedure, this bill also requires the physician to have staff and admitting privileges at a local hospital." The governor's spokesman noted that Bryant felt the law was "an important step in strengthening abortion regulations and protecting the health and safety of women."
Rep. Sam Mims, HB 1390's sponsor, said in a CNN interview that the purpose of the law is "to make sure that women who are receiving these abortions are receiving abortions by a professional physician who is certified," and that "If something goes wrong, which it might -- we hope it doesn't, but it could -- that physician could follow the patient to a local hospital. That's the intent. And what happens afterwards, we'll have to see what happens." In a May 8, 2012 blog, the Mississippi Republican Party wrote "HB 1390 will require all physicians performing in abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a local hospital; a necessity to protect life in case of an emergency during an abortion."
In July of that year, however, the law was partially blocked by a federal judge after the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit alleging that the law is unconstitutional. The law made headlines again in 2014 as the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is considering whether to uphold the injunction.
Talking Points Memo argued that, despite the governor's purported concern for women's health, the law has more to do with restricting reproductive access than it does with women's health, arguing that medical organizations oppose requiring admitting privileges and pointing to Bryant's history of anti-choice advocacy. Diane Derzis, the owner of Jackson Women's Health Organization, agreed, telling Politico, "These people hide behind words like 'safety,' 'women's health,' 'concern' and 'compassion.' "
But the same could be said for choice opponents in the right-wing media, who frequently couch their anti-choice activism as concern over women's health.
Right-wing media responded to news that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is resigning by lobbing personal attacks against the secretary and demonizing health care reform.
After Mitt Romney's loss in the 2012 presidential election, the GOP acknowledged it needed to change its stance on immigration and Hispanic outreach. But conservative media figures lashed out at Jeb Bush after he expressed compassion for undocumented immigrants.
Conservative media's incessant campaign to demonize the Common Core State Standards, often confined to the right-wing bubble, is now playing out in local politics.
Over the past year, the Common Core State Standards have been at the center of a heated national education debate. Released in 2010 by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, with input from parents, school officials, teachers, and experts, Common Core is "a set of clear college- and career-ready standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts/literacy and mathematics." Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have voluntarily adopted the Common Core standards, though news out of Indiana this week has reduced that number.
On Monday, Republican Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed legislation withdrawing the state from Common Core, even though the state had already started implementing the standards. A release from Pence's office stated, "I believe our students are best served when decisions about education are made at the state and local level."
Pence's statement buys into one of the many myths popularized by conservative media about Common Core -- that it's a federal takeover of education, guilty of "central planning." Other prevalent myths are that it creates a class curriculum, teaches wrong answers, injects partisan ideology, dumbs down standards, and data mines children's information.
These myths and more have made the Common Core debate so vitriolic that states are actually changing the name of their standards because the mere phrase "Common Core" has become "toxic." New York is negotiating to delay Common Core-based tests, and an Oklahoma Senate panel voted to repeal Common Core earlier this week. As the Associated Press reported on Monday, "the Common Core initiative has morphed into a political tempest fueling division among Republicans."
These state-level decisions come on the heels of a robust campaign from various misinformers in the right-wing media who consistently use inflammatory language and stoke fears to mislead about the standards.
Here are the five most incendiary media figures and outlets fueling the Common Core outrage machine.
Fox News' misinformation on Common Core has been well-documented. The network appears to have no idea how the standards actually work, accusing them of everything from "sneak[ing] in partisan lessons" to creating doctors who might "operate on the wrong knee." Fox & Friends co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck even falsely invoked Common Core to back an attempted book ban in North Carolina.
There is perhaps no louder voice against Common Core than conservative author and columnist Michelle Malkin. From her "Stop Common Core" Twitter list to her plethora of anti-Common Core columns at National Review Online, Malkin routinely uses inflammatory rhetoric to demonize the standards. She has given out "Biggest Common Core Jerk" awards and referred to "Common Core jerkitude" as a "bipartisan disease." She's referred to the standards as a "lab-rat testing experiment," called them a "Trojan horse for lowering [expectations]," and claimed they create "a Big Brother gold rush and an educational Faustian bargain." Her constant, erroneous insistence that Common Core is a "top-down" approach that the Obama administration is using to "corrupt education" leaves little doubt that Malkin will leave no stone unturned in her relentless and false attacks on the standards.
Roughly one year ago, conservative commentator and founder of The Blaze.com Glenn Beck turned his attention to Common Core on his BlazeTV show, claiming that "our kids are going to be indoctrinated with extreme leftist ideology" because progressives "jammed this through in the dead of night." Beck went so far as to declare that "We will not save our country unless we save it first from this attack."
Since then, TheBlaze.com has repeatedly distorted the conversation on Common Core often through hyperbolic headlines posted on the site:
NPR reported earlier this year that Beck "has often led the push" against Common Core:
The mainstream business wing of the Republican Party strongly backs Common Core, arguing that raising standards is vital to creating the next-generation American workforce. But in an echo of the rifts in the GOP nationally, the Tea Party branch has been critical of the new standards.
Conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck has often led the push. On his show The Blaze, he often charges that Common Core will undermine student individuality and teacher autonomy, and that it marks a dangerous takeover of local control by federal bureaucrats pushing a leftist agenda.
"This is a progressive bonanza, and if it's allowed to be in our schools in any form and become the Common Core of America's next generation, it will destroy America and the system of freedom as we know it," Beck told his audience last year.
Dr. Susan Berry at the conservative news site Breitbart.com writes frequently about the supposed perils of Common Core. She has pushed the myth that Common Core dumbs down "standards and curricula for all students in order to achieve a social justice agenda." She has also turned to conservative groups like The Heartland Institute and Heritage Foundation to propagate the false assertion that Common Core is a "national takeover of schooling" and that the "Obama administration is intent on controlling what is taught at each grade level in schools across the United States."
Berry has claimed that the standards are "part of a world-wide initiative that may ultimately serve to make American values and practices secondary to global sharing." After Bill Gates appeared on ABC to discuss his foundation's funding of Common Core, Berry went so far as to ask: "The question is, why is a college dropout non-mathematician being asked to defend the Common Core math standards?"
Right-wing news site the Daily Caller has posted dozens of articles about Common Core, often with photos of school assignments and incendiary headlines like, "Here's PROOF Common Core aims to make America's children cry," and, "How MORONICALLY HARD can Common Core math make subtraction?" Many are sourced from Michelle Malkin's Twitchy website. Various myths accompany its inflammatory rhetoric, including claims that the lessons derived from Common Core amount to "authoritarian propaganda" and that Common Core critics oppose "centralized" education. Like Breitbart's Susan Berry, the Daily Caller has also turned to the conservative Heartland Institute to push the falsehoods about Common Core, including that it is "a national monopoly on education."
In the continued battle over Common Core, even supporters have acknowledged that implementation has not been smooth, and that the process needs improvement. But these media figures and outlets doing their damndest to ensure that the national conversation on Common Core is steered in a distorted direction only make it harder to have a reasonable discussion.
For more on the lies and truths about Common Core, visit Media Matters' Mythopedia Project.
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.