With Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton facing a barrage of criticisms over the tone of her voice during a recent speech, Media Matters looks back at the rampant sexism she faced from the media during her 2008 presidential bid.
On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Holocaust survivors warned about the demagoguery and rhetoric espoused by Donald Trump that they say echoes back to Nazi Germany -- the same rhetoric which has been sanctioned by right-wing media and praised by white nationalist media as "wonderful."
On December 17, Newsweek published a cover story entitled: "America's Abortion Wars (And How to End Them)." The article argued that the solution to the "brutal stalemate" between pro-choice and anti-choice advocates was for both sides to let go of "bumper-sticker logic" and instead bankroll policy measures to support lower-income women who choose to give birth.
In a December 21 response for The Nation, Katha Pollitt criticized Newsweek for mischaracterizing the debate over abortion and failing to recognize the strategies of pro-choice supporters, in particular those of reproductive justice proponents. Pointing to the long history of anti-choice violence against abortion providers, Pollitt argued that Newsweek's cover story supported a false equivalency between the goals of the pro-choice and anti-choice movements, explaining the two sides couldn't be equated because "in the so-called abortion wars, only one side is murdering the other."
She concluded that by distorting the problem and proposing inadequate policy reforms, Newsweek problematically elevated the credibility of the anti-choice movement and minimized the actual needs of pregnant women and parents:
Sorry, Newsweek. In the so-called abortion wars, only one side is murdering the other. Pro-choicers don't invade Christian "crisis pregnancy centers," guns blazing; they don't picket Catholic churches and scream at the people going into worship. Only one side wants to force women to do their bidding. Only one side fights broad access to birth control and realistic sex education. Only one side has allied itself with the Republican Party, which wants to cut every program and rescind every law that helps women and children and promotes gender equality in the workplace.
But then, Eichenwald doesn't seem to know much about the actually existing reproductive-rights movement. As if drawing a rabbit out of a hat, he points out that the majority of women (69 percent) who have abortions today are poor or low-income. This will come as a surprise to few people involved with supporting abortion rights and access--or who have spent an afternoon in a clinic waiting room. He notes that a study shows that three-quarters of women choosing abortion give finances as one reason (he skips over the study's conclusion that typically women give multiple reasons, including responsibilities to others, lack of a partner and not being ready for motherhood). Since poverty is the cause, the way to end the abortion wars is for both sides to "put down their placards and open their wallets"--i.e., support laws and programs that will help poor women keep their pregnancies if they want them. "Here," he writes, "are all the new costs": an increase in the minimum wage, free government-funded daycare, free prenatal care, stronger legal protection for pregnant workers, and an end to the fight against Obamacare.
It's a pretty minimal list--it doesn't even include paid parental leave or subsidies for low-income women who want to go to college as mothers, or help with housing or support in escaping abusive men. It doesn't consider that having a baby affects a woman's life forever, not just while she's pregnant or a new mother. And it has a strange focus on adoption as part of the solution. If he'd looked into the literature on adoption, he would have discovered that very few women (and black women least of all) are interested in having babies to give to adoptive couples--even ones who are willing to pay for their prenatal care, as he suggests. Almost all women who go through pregnancy and childbirth seem to want to keep the child.
That he considers his list complete shows that Eichenwald hasn't spent a lot of time looking at women's lives. He's spent even less looking at the pro-choice movement, which he seems to think is a bunch of child-hating tightwads, when in fact most pro-choicers are Democrats. The anti-tax crowd is in the other party--the anti-choice party.
Worst of all, he does not seem to know that the brilliant new idea he thinks he figured out on his own is what today's reproductive-rights movement is all about. That women need the right to have babies as well as not to have them, that freedom from poverty--and racism and violence--is part of that right, is called reproductive justice, and for 20 years it's been gradually replacing the libertarian "choice" framework for the abortion-rights movement. Today even Planned Parenthood embraces it. If only Eichenwald had picked up the phone and actually talked to some pro-choice leaders and thinkers. Loretta Ross, founder of the black-feminist organization SisterSong, where the reproductive-justice framework originated, could have set him straight in five minutes.
On December 17, Newsweek published a cover story featuring the digitally-manipulated image of a "relatively late-term" fetus depicted without reference to the mother. In the article, Kurt Eichenwald argued that the solution to the "brutal stalemate" between pro-choice and anti-choice groups was for both sides to bankroll policy measures (such as universal daycare) to support lower-income women who choose to give birth.
In a December 18 article for Elle, In These Times' Sady Doyle criticized Newsweek's choice for a cover image. She explained that she "was flabbergasted" by the choice to use what she described as: "a computer-enhanced illustration of a well-developed, relatively late-term fetus with no sign of the actual person in whose uterus it is presumably housed." Doyle criticized Newsweek for using an image that looked "more like a baby" to describe the current controversy surrounding abortion access and cited a "long history of fetal images being used to scare people and rile up anti-abortion sentiment." She concluded that by minimizing the material effects of the abortion debate on the person carrying the fetus, Newsweek perpetuated a problematic narrative that ignored the decisions and experiences of many pregnant people:
Which is why I was flabbergasted by Newsweek's cover image: a computer-enhanced illustration of a well-developed, relatively late-term fetus with no sign of the actual person in whose uterus it is presumably housed.
At a guess, it looks to be between twelve and fourteen weeks along - just at the upper limit of the fetal age for most abortions, or a bit older - although given the nature of its digital, um, "improvements," it's hard to tell. For one thing, if the Newsweek fetus is twelve weeks along, it looks about five times bigger than the translucent, two-inch-long fetuses you normally find at that stage; this image looks less like an actual pregnancy, and more like an adorable computer-generated alien.
Or, to be blunt: More like a baby. And, given the presence of the word "ABORTION" in all caps, we can assume it's not going to be around for long. Intentionally or not, the Newsweek cover sums up what's wrong with how we talk about abortion: Everything is about the fetus, which is humanized, and the actual pregnant person is erased.
Granted, I'm only talking about the cover, here -- not the story inside, but there's a long history of fetal images being used to scare people and rile up anti-abortion sentiment. It's why mandatory ultrasound laws exist. It's why anti-abortion protesters hold up gory, bloody images of fetuses at protests, and why "crisis pregnancy centers" (anti-abortion organizations that market themselves as abortion and pre-natal care clinics) show unsuspecting pregnant people movies like "The Silent Scream," which purports to show an ultrasound of an abortion in progress. Supposedly, you can see the fetus screaming in pain.
But talking about the fetus, and what it looks like, is beside the point. All of these scenarios involve a decision made by one person: a woman. (Or non-binary person, or transgender man.) Deciding whether to stay pregnant is not about the fetus. It's about them: their lives, safety, and futures. By focusing exclusively on fetuses, and promoting the imagery of endangered, persecuted "babies" in the womb, people who oppose abortion are able to totally avoid talking about the ways in which their positions endanger and persecute the actual people carrying those fetuses around.
Newsweek may not have intended this, but putting the phrase "abortion wars" next to a fetus ignores so many of the casualties of these wars. It ignores Robert Lewis Dear's victims, murdered abortion doctors, and rape victims forced to carry their rapists' children to term. It erases poor women forced to have children they can't afford, and people who aren't able to pursue educations because they had children too early. It leaves out any person who wants to control their own body, but can't, because of abortion restrictions. Put "abortion wars" next to their faces, and you get a whole different message - one that's much closer to the truth.
Media outlets slammed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for invoking President Dwight Eisenhower's "inhumane" and "unabashedly racist" deportation program as a blueprint for his own immigration plans, explaining that the program -- derogatorily called "Operation Wetback" -- resulted in dozens of immigrant deaths and used methods described as "indescribable scenes of human misery and tragedy."
Newsweek senior writer Kurt Eichenwald called out the media for promoting the misleading and "deceitful information" released by the House Select Committee on Benghazi in an ongoing effort to hurt Hillary Clinton's poll numbers, as it is becoming "increasingly clear they are enablers of an obscene attempt to undermine the electoral process."
In his October 21 "Benghazi Biopsy," Eichenwald describes the Benghazi Committee as a "taxpayer-funded political research of the opposing party's leading candidate for president." He goes on to criticize the media for parroting the committee's numerous false claims, from misleading characterizations of Susan Rice's supposedly deceptive Sunday morning show talking points, to the persistent "stand down" order myth, to the incorrect assertion that Clinton personally signed off on a cable weakening the security at the U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi.
Eichenwald points out that the media have been routinely duped by the committee's "bogus 'scoops.'" In fact, the media play a crucial role in the committee's partisan efforts to target Clinton. As Eichenwald puts it, "the modern McCarthys of the Benghazi committee cannot perform this political theater on their own -- they depend on reporters to aid in the attempts to use government for the purpose of destroying others with bogus 'scoops' ladled out by members of Congress and their staffs":
But, as they have time and again, the Republicans on the Benghazi committee released deceitful information for what was undoubtedly part of a campaign--as Kevin McCarthy of the House Republican leadership has admitted--to drive down Clinton's poll numbers.
The historical significance of this moment can hardly be overstated, and it seems many Republicans, Democrats and members of the media don't fully understand the magnitude of what is taking place. The awesome power of government--one that allows officials to pore through almost anything they demand and compel anyone to talk or suffer the shame of taking the Fifth Amendment--has been unleashed for purely political purposes. It is impossible to review what the Benghazi committee has done as anything other than taxpayer-funded political research of the opposing party's leading candidate for president. Comparisons from America's past are rare. Richard Nixon's attempts to use the IRS to investigate his perceived enemies come to mind. So does Senator Joseph McCarthy's red-baiting during the 1950s, with reckless accusations of treason leveled at members of the State Department, military generals and even the secretary of the Army. But the modern McCarthys of the Benghazi committee cannot perform this political theater on their own--they depend on reporters to aid in the attempts to use government for the purpose of destroying others with bogus "scoops" ladled out by members of Congress and their staffs. These journalists will almost certainly join the legions of shamed reporters of the McCarthy era as it becomes increasingly clear they are enablers of an obscene attempt to undermine the electoral process.
Unlike almost every congressional committee investigation in history, the [Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy] has insisted that much of the relevant questioning be conducted behind closed doors.
The other reason to keep the testimony secret has rapidly become clear: so that they can selectively--and often incorrectly--portray to reporters what was said in the statements.
Other false stories repeatedly found their way into the press. There was the "criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton" article that appeared in The New York Times; once the story was knocked down, the Times sheepishly acknowledged its sources included officials from Congress. (The "Clinton is under criminal investigation" story has continued; she's not.) The Daily Beast falsely reported that Blumenthal testified he was in Libya on the day of the Benghazi attack.
Conservative media are defending the "right" of fossil fuel companies to knowingly deceive the public about climate change, after a group of climate scientists and members of Congress called for an investigation of such companies under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Contrary to claims by conservative media that these advocates are seeking to "shut down free speech," RICO would only apply to those who purposefully misled the public about climate change, with some Congressmen pointing to recent reports that ExxonMobil funded climate science denial for decades after discovering that fossil fuels drive climate change.
The last time Newsweek published an anti-environment op-ed without disclosing the author's oil industry ties, the esteemed news outlet was forced to acknowledge the error and provide proper disclosure to its readers. Now it's happened again.
On October 1, Newsweek published an op-ed by the Cato Institute's Walter Olson that argued against calls for the government to investigate climate science deniers under the federal racketeering law. But Newsweek identified Olson only as "a senior fellow at the Cato Institute's Center for Constitutional Studies," failing to disclose that Cato has received funding from the oil industry, including ExxonMobil.
ExxonMobil is currently under fire after an InsideClimate News investigation revealed that although Exxon's own scientists discovered decades ago that fossil fuel emissions could lead to catastrophic climate change, the company subsequently "spent more than 20 years discrediting the research its own scientists had once confirmed." Additionally, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and a group of 20 prominent scientists have called for an investigation of "corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change" under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, the same law that tobacco companies violated by deceiving the public about the health risks of smoking.
In his Newsweek op-ed, Olson pushed back against the idea of investigating climate science deniers under the RICO statute, claiming it threatens the right to free speech. Olson asserted that "controversial speech need not be true to be protected" and defended the right to use "half-truths, selectively marshaled data, [and] scientific studies that spring from agendas," arguing that these tactics are merely "common currency of everyday debate in Washington."
Newsweek failed to disclose the Cato Institute's industry funding, which includes at least $125,000 from ExxonMobil. Cato was co-founded by the oil billionaire Koch brothers and has received millions of dollars from the Koch family.
The Cato Institute is also home to long-time climate science denier Patrick Michaels, and once published a fake "addendum" to a federal climate report, which Climate Science & Policy Watch characterized as "counterfeit."
In April, Newsweek published a deeply-flawed op-ed attacking wind energy by Utah State University professor Randy T. Simmons without disclosing that Simmons' full title at Utah State was the Charles G. Koch professor of political economy, or that he is a senior fellow at the Koch- and ExxonMobil-funded Property and Environment Research Center. After Media Matters and others drew attention to the lack of disclosure and other problems with the op-ed, Newsweek added a correction and an editor's note disclosing Simmons' oil industry ties, and also published an op-ed responding to his misleading claims.
Following the incident, Newsweek Managing Editor Kira Bindrim told Politico: "Admittedly, we did not do an outside vetting of Simmons, and we are not in the habit of fully fact-checking opinion pieces picked up like this from outside sites. These are aspects of our workflow that we're looking at now."
Image at the top from Flickr user Tommaso Galli with a Creative Commons license.
Media reporting on a National Rifle Association-backed bill introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) to change the national background check system for gun purchases should know that the bill would actually weaken the system by making it easier for some people with serious mental health issues to buy guns.
Many major media outlets reported that a new Environmental Protection Agency study found no evidence that hydraulic fracturing (aka "fracking") has had "widespread" impacts on Americans' drinking water, but did not mention the EPA's explanation for why the study doesn't necessarily indicate "a rarity of effects on drinking water resources." The EPA study identified several "limiting factors," including insufficient data, the lack of long-term studies, and inaccessible information, which it said "preclude a determination of the frequency of [drinking water] impacts with any certainty."
UPDATE (6/5/15): Following the publication of this post, The Washington Times changed its headline from "EPA: Fracking doesn't harm drinking water" to "EPA finds fracking poses no direct threat to drinking water." However, the New York Post published an article on June 5 adopting The Washington Times' original language, headlined, "Fracking doesn't harm drinking water: EPA."
Within hours of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) releasing a study on hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," Newsweek and The Washington Times published online articles with headlines that falsely claimed the EPA determined fracking does not pollute drinking water. However, while the EPA said it found no evidence that fracking has led to "widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States," the study also identified "specific instances" where fracking "led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells."
In its headline, Newsweek asserted: "Fracking Doesn't Pollute Drinking Water, EPA Says." The Washington Times' similar headline, "EPA: Fracking doesn't harm drinking water," was also adopted by The Drudge Report, a highly influential conservative news aggregator.
But the EPA study said none of those things. Rather, the EPA concluded (emphasis added):
From our assessment, we conclude there are above and below ground mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources. These mechanisms include water withdrawals in times of, or in areas with, low water availability; spills of hydraulic fracturing fluids and produced water; fracturing directly into underground drinking water resources; below ground migration of liquids and gases; and inadequate treatment and discharge of wastewater.
We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States. Of the potential mechanisms identified in this report, we found specific instances where one or more mechanisms led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells. The number of identified cases, however, was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells.
A more accurate headline about the EPA's study would have resembled that of U.S. News & World Report, which stated: "EPA: Fracking Tainted Drinking Water, but Problems Not Widespread."
Indeed, the EPA's determination that fracking has contaminated some drinking water wells was even included within the body of The Washington Times article. But a headline often shapes the way the rest of the article is perceived, and even reading the article may not be enough to correct for the headline's misinformation -- that is, if the reader gets past the headline, which most Americans do not.
In addition to mischaracterizing the EPA study, Newsweek and The Washington Times also excluded EPA's explanation of why its findings don't necessarily indicate "a rarity of effects on drinking water resources." The agency identified several "limiting factors" in its analysis, including insufficient data, the lack of long-term studies, and inaccessible information, stating that these limitations "preclude a determination of the frequency of [drinking water] impacts with any certainty." As the Environmental Defense Fund stated in a press release about the EPA study, "Better and more accessible data on activities surrounding hydraulic fracturing operations is needed."
UPDATE (4/21): Newsweek added an editor's note at the top of Simmons' op-ed, which reads: "Editor's note: The author of this piece, Randy Simmons, is the Charles G. Koch professor of political economy at Utah State University. He's also a senior fellow at the Koch- and ExxonMobil-funded Property and Environment Research Center. These ties to the oil industry weren't originally disclosed in this piece."
Newsweek also published an op-ed in response by the Environmental Defense Fund's Jim Marston, and issued the following correction to Simmons' op-ed: "Correction: This article has been updated with a corrected figure for wind power's current share of US electricity generation. It also clarifies the range of cost estimates from Lazard."
Newsweek missed by a mile when it promised to provide readers with "full disclosure" concerning the author of a deeply flawed opinion piece it published attacking wind energy.
Newsweek stated that the April 11 column's primary author, Randy Simmons, is a "professor of political economy at Utah State University" and added: "Full disclosure: Randy Simmons receives funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (grant has been completed and there is no current funding) and Strata, a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization."
But Simmons isn't just any professor of political economy; he is the former Charles G. Koch professor of political economy at Utah State's business school.* He's also a senior fellow at the Koch- and ExxonMobil-funded Property and Environment Research Center.
If Newsweek was serious about disclosing any pertinent information about Simmons' possible motives for arguing against wind energy, the obvious place to start would be with his ties to the Koch brothers, who have a vested interest in opposing sources of energy like wind that would reduce America's dependence on carbon-based energy sources. Instead, Newsweek considered it "full disclosure" to simply note that Simmons has received grants from the U.S. government and a non-profit organization.
New reporting highlights the links between Newsweek's new owners, IBT Media, and an evangelical college that threatens to punish students if they're caught engaging in "homosexual activity."
After a one-year print hiatus, Newsweek is back on newsstands and under the new ownership of IBT Media. In-depth reports in The Guardian and Mother Jones document the extensive ties between IBT and David J. Jang, the leader of an evangelical Christian sect called "the Community" and founder of the Bay Area Olivet University.
Writing for Mother Jones, Ben Dooley revealed that IBT CEO Etienne Uzac and Chief Content Officer Johnathan Davis have cultivated deep ties with Olivet and the Community:
- Olivet and IBT are linked to a web of dozens of churches, nonprofits, and corporations around the world that Jang has founded, influenced, or controlled, with money from Community members and profitable ministries helping to cover the costs of money-losing ministries and Jang's expenses. Money from other Community-affiliated organizations also helped fund IBT's early growth.
- Olivet students in the United States on international student visas say they worked for IBT and other Community media entities, sometimes for as little as $125 a week. Both Olivet and IBT described these positions as internships, and said no-one was allowed to work illegally. Several students I spoke with say they were not told they were interns, and documents from Olivet and the businesses list students as reporters, editors, and salespeople.
- According to the Times, Uzac and Davis "said Jang had no financial stake in IBT or influence on the business." But the pair acknowledged to Mother Jones that Jang has provided "advice" to IBT. And while there's no evidence Jang controlled editorial matters, internal documents show him routinely weighing in on a wide range of business decisions, from personnel and business strategy to typography.
- Jang sees Community-affiliated media organizations, including IBT, as an essential part of his mission to build the kingdom of God on Earth. He has said that media companies affiliated with the Community are part of a new Noah's ark designed to save the world from a biblical flood of information.
There aren't any formal links between the Community and IBT, but in an email unearthed by Dooley, Davis wrote that his ties to Jang's network were "inherently covert."
Several prominent former Newsweek journalists criticized the error-ridden recent cover story by playwright David Mamet that sought to discredit attempts to strengthen gun laws.
Some former staffers point to the Mamet piece as evidence that the magazine, which recently ceased print publication, isn't what it used to be, noting it seems to be seeking more readers through provocative pieces rather than in-depth journalism.
A Media Matters review of the piece found glaring factual mistakes related to background checks, assault weapons, and U.S. Secret Service protection for President Obama's family.
Michael Tomasky and Andrew Sullivan, both of whom write for The Daily Beast, Newsweek's online sibling, also found fault with the article. Tomasky called Mamet's piece a "bizarre rant" while Sullivan stated "Mamet's broad generalizations are empirically wrong and need to be corrected."
In comments to Media Matters, former Newsweek scribes were strongly critical of the poor reporting and accuracy of the piece.
Howard Fineman, who spent three decades at Newsweek covering politics and national issues and is now editorial director of the AOL Huffington Post Media Group, said the piece does not reflect the Newsweek he once knew.
"I don't think it's what the Newsweek that I knew would have done with its cover space or its cover story, on many levels," Fineman said after reviewing the material involved. "But if they want to go that direction with it, that's up to them...So of course they should stick to basic journalistic rules when they do. Is it the Newsweek that I worked for? No."
He later stressed the need for accuracy and fact-checking, especially when outsiders are writing for the publication.
"Any news operation should stick to the facts and if they haven't in this case, they should explain why they didn't, or correct the record if they need to," he said. "There probably were times when we invited outsiders to write and put outsiders on the cover, I think, I doubt that Newsweek, just politically in the old days, Newsweek would have invited an outsider to denounce gun control. But again, somebody else bought the name and they can do whatever they want with under its banner, but they need to stick to basic journalistic principles when they do, it seems to me."
Asked about the impact such uncorrected stories can have on future research when the magazine is used as source material, Fineman said that should be taken into consideration.
"I think you raise a very good point, let's hope that they honor the fact that Newsweek has been a source for research and information and credible reporting for almost 80 years and they should keep it that way, they should respect that history," he said. "And I'm sure they should and I am sure they will because I think Tina is a very good journalist. I think Tina Brown is very creative and very good and I am sure she doesn't like to get things wrong."