In response to Senate Democrats invoking the so-called "nuclear option," right-wing media advanced a number of myths not only about filibuster reform, but about the qualifications of President Obama's nominees who have languished in the confirmation process. What right-wing media have ignored is that Democrats used the "nuclear option" only after unprecedented GOP obstruction prevented Obama's judicial and executive nominees from receiving an up-or-down vote.
Absurd smears against a highly-qualified judicial nominee for her support of family planning, sex equality, and conservative attempts to dismantle gender stereotypes made the jump from right-wing blogs to the Fox News Channel.
On November 25, Fox News' Shannon Bream correctly reported that the former Connecticut attorney general, among a wide collection of bipartisan legal experts, supports the nomination of the eminently qualified Georgetown Law Professor Cornelia "Nina" Pillard to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C Circuit. Unfortunately, Bream proceeded to repeat right-wing media myths accusing Pillard of "radical feminis[m]" and hosted National Review Online contributor Carrie Severino to recycle the smears. From America's Newsroom, with co-host Martha MacCallum:
MACCULLUM: What are the critics saying that are opposed to her?
BREAM: Well they say she is way out of the mainstream and she deserves a lot of scrutiny. Here's a bit of what she has said when writing about abortion issue. Here's a quote from one of her articles: "Anti-abortion laws and other restraints on reproductive freedom not only enforce woman's incubation of unwanted pregnancies, but also prescribe a 'vision of the woman's role' as mother and caretaker of children in a way that is at odds with equal protection." Here's Carrie Severino of the Judicial Crisis Network.
SEVERINO: Nina Pillard is probably the most extreme judge that has been nominated for this court and possibly for any court in the country. She has a very radical track record as a law professor, really seems to view everything from a radical feminist perspective, down to thinking that abstinence education violates the Equal Protection Clause and feeling like women are being objectified as breeders in the country.
BREAM: She has used that word referring to women as breeders if they are forced to carry pregnancies that they don't want to have. But at this point it looks like there is no blocking her, it is likely she will take a seat on that very important court.
Since Pillard was nominated, she has been subjected to sexist, retrograde, and false accusations that her views on reproductive rights are not in the mainstream. In fact, they are based on decades-old constitutional law, including a decision written by arch-conservative former Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
For example, the quote that Bream yanked out of context from a 2007 academic article in which Pillard noted that "antiabortion laws and other restraints on reproductive freedom not only enforce women's incubation of unwanted pregnancies, but also prescribe a "vision of the woman's role" as mother and caretaker of children in a way that is at odds with equal protection[,]" is an explicit reference to the fact that justices on the Supreme Court have already incorporated equal protection principles into their reproductive rights precedent. Unmentioned by Bream, the quote was part of a discussion of the 1992 decision of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, which reaffirmed the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade.
The notion that damaging gender stereotypes can be at the core of restrictions on reproductive rights is also based on long-standing constitutional precedent.
Fox News' Shannon Bream and Megyn Kelly continued the network's general defense of anti-gay discrimination in separate reports on a New Mexico Supreme Court ruling concerning a photographer who was sued after refusing to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. Bream omitted critical context from the court's decision while Kelly pondered its slippery-slope implications, tactics in keeping with Fox's history of inaccurate and offensive reporting on the case.
In August, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Elane Huguenin -- owner of Elane Photography -- violated New Mexico's anti-discrimination law when she refused to photograph the commitment ceremony of a same-sex couple. Huguenin filed an appeal of the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court last week.
In the eyes of Special Report's Bret Baier, the central issue for the Court to consider in the case is "whether you must check your religious values at the door when you open a business," as he stated on the November 12 program. He then aired a package regarding the case by correspondent Shannon Bream, who did not explain the constitutional basis for the court's ruling, but instead cited only the concurring opinion's general reference to "the legal rights" of the same-sex couple.
The segment heavily featured the Huguenins' attorney, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) senior counsel Jordan Lorence. Lorence accused the court of dictating that "once you agree to enter the workplace, the marketplace, you surrender all your constitutional rights."
Despite Fox's suggestion otherwise, this case does not concern religious freedom. The court held that because Elane Photography chooses to offer services to the public, it is engaged in commercial conduct that can be regulated by the state, and so it must comply with the state's Human Rights Act. Just as these businesses may not discriminate based on race or gender, it is likewise a violation to discriminate based on sexual orientation:
We conclude that a commercial photography business that offers its services to the public, thereby increasing its visibility to potential clients, is subject to the antidiscrimination provisions of the NMHRA and must serve same-sex couples on the same basis that it serves opposite-sex couples. Therefore, when Elane Photography refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, it violated the NMHRA in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races.
The purpose of the NMHRA is to ensure that businesses offering services to the general public do not discriminate against protected classes of people, and the United States Supreme Court has made it clear that the First Amendment permits such regulation by state. Businesses that choose to be public accommodations must comply with the NMHRA, although such businesses retain their First Amendment rights to express their religious or political beliefs. They may, for example, post a disclaimer on their website or in their studio advertising that they oppose same-sex marriage but that they comply with applicable anti-discrimination laws.
Fox News lent credence to True the Vote's fearmongering over Obamacare and voter registration during the network's 2013 election night coverage, never acknowledging the extremist nature of the tea party group.
When signing up for health insurance on the HealthCare.gov exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), customers are prompted with the option to register to vote. This is due to the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which requires state agencies engaged in public assistance to offer voter registration services, including the state and federally-run exchanges.
According to True the Vote (TTV), an activist tea party group which describes itself as an election watchdog organization, the registration option will "corrupt" voter rolls and lead to "bogus voter registrations." As evidence, the group links to a report from Demos, a liberal think tank, detailing how many Americans could potentially register to vote because of the ACA. True the Vote's theory is that health care navigators like Planned Parenthood -- organizations that assist people in exploring their insurance options in the exchanges -- will use the registration information "in political activities."
A November 5 Special Report package treated True the Vote's conspiracy theory as a damning revelation. Host Bret Baier introduced the segment by saying, "The president's plan is not just about making sure everyone has insurance. There is also a not-so-subtle political objective."
Fox correspondent Shannon Bream then profiled True the Vote's concerns, featuring TTV president Catherine Engelbrecht's claims that "the implications of this are mind-blowing."
BREAM: Pursuant to the National Voter Registration Act, state agencies that provide public assistance are also required to give applicants the opportunity to register to vote. A number of states believe that includes the health care exchanges. ... The Demos document also stresses that navigators be trained to walk applicants through the voter registration process, but it's the navigators critics are worried about, saying groups with partisan agendas like Planned Parenthood shouldn't be handling voter information. True the Vote, which calls itself a citizen-led organization aimed at restoring integrity to the U.S. election system, says it's been unable to get any answers about how the voter registrations are being transmitted or verified. And worries about the potential for confusion.
What Fox never admits is that True the Vote is a discredited organization with a partisan agenda.
Fox News continues to falsely accuse the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) of threatening religious liberty, asserting that the bill's broad religious exemptions simply won't be enforced by the Obama administration.
During the November 4 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brett Baier, correspondent and pro-discrimination champion Shannon Bream discussed concerns about ENDA - which would bar employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity - suggesting that the law might be used to punish religious employers:
BREAM: The stated goal of this legislation is to make sure that there's no discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Now, both people who oppose and support the bill say they support that, that everybody should be treated with dignity in the workplace. Their fear is that this is going to get tricky for religious employers. Drafters of the bill say, 'Well, there are religious exemptions built in.' But as you can imagine, there are plenty of skeptics who say, 'Well, look how it's working out with the [Health and Human Services] HHS contraception mandate.' So they have worries.
In a report on the renewed judicial nominations struggle over three vacant seats on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Fox News' Shannon Bream incorrectly reported that the court was balanced evenly and that past Democratic opposition to highly controversial Republican judicial nominees is equivalent to the blanket obstructionism President Obama's nominees are currently facing.
Appearing on Special Report with Bret Baier, Bream advanced the right-wing myth that filling the vacancies on the D.C. Circuit would "tip the balance" ideologically and is unnecessary, given its "lighter" caseload. From the October 29 edition of Special Report:
BREAM: The problem is this is the D.C. Circuit Court. And what's important about it is it is the key appeals court for looking at federal regulations and federal agencies, things like the EPA, the IRS. So it's something that looks at administrative action that goes around Congress. So it is a real check on administrative power. Now, this is the court that looked at the NLRB recess appointments, those appointments that the president made to the National Labor Relations Board, and found them unconstitutional. So it's very important. It's balanced right now evenly between judges who were appointed by Republican presidents and Democratic presidents, so adding even one new nominee of the president to this court is going to tip the balance. By the way, four of the current Supreme Court justices served on this court. It's very important.
BRET BAIER: But Democrats rightly point out there are a lot of empty seats so why shouldn't they be filled?
BREAM: Yeah, there are three vacancies. The President has tapped three different lawyers to fill those seats, including one who is currently a judge in a lower court. And basically, there were vacancies back when President George W. Bush was fighting to fill these seats as well. Back then Democrats said the court doesn't have enough of a workload to justify filling all of these seats. It's what Republicans are saying now and they add the workload has gotten even lighter in the last eight years. One of the judges currently sitting on the bench said this, quote, "if any more judges are added now, there won't be enough work to go around." That's from one of the current folks who's on this court.
Bream's report on Republican obstruction of Obama's judicial nominees parrots repeatedly debunked right-wing talking points. Bream is correct that the D.C. Circuit Court is a significant part of the federal court system -- it is considered second only to the Supreme Court in terms of its impact on federal law. It is strange, then, that she would uncritically report on Republican efforts to prevent the court from operating at full capacity. Moreover, her characterization of Democratic opposition to George W. Bush's D.C. Circuit nominees is demonstrably false -- that opposition did not result in the elimination of any seats, and ultimately four of Bush's nominees were confirmed. And unlike Bush's judicial picks, President Obama's nominees have faced unprecedented obstruction from Senate Republicans.
Fox is accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of a "power grab" for proposing a rule to clarify the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. In fact, the new classification is based on sound science and intended to address years' worth of confusion surrounding the proper protection of the nation's waterways.
Newly-proposed guidelines would allow "greater consistency, certainty, and predictability nationwide by providing clarity in determining where the Clean Water Act (CWA) applies," per the EPA, specifically by incorporating recent research on the extent to which small streams and wetlands connect to larger bodies of water downstream. That research, which is under review by the EPA's Science Advisory Board, found that small streams, even those that only flow at certain times, "are connected to and have important effects on downstream waters," and that wetlands are similarly integrated, making them subject to CWA protection.
That is, unless you ask Fox News and Fox Business. This week, the networks have adopted the complaints of GOP lawmakers to claim that the EPA is only using the study to justify a "power grab." Lou Dobbs claimed on his show that the clarified jurisdiction represented "unprecedented control over private property" -- "maybe" extending to "mud puddles." And Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano baselessly asserted on Fox & Friends that the study is "bogus" -- merely a rationalization to "regulate all bodies of water" and "control more behavior."
Despite these claims, the new EPA study did not provide the basis for regulating "all bodies of water" (or "mud puddles"). It found that the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could evaluate small streams on a case-by-case basis to determine their impact downstream. The rule is necessary because the parameters of the CWA are currently quite muddled, as even conservative critics and industry lawyers have noted in the past. This process is in keeping with the March 2013 decision in Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, which re-affirmed nearly unanimously that federal agencies are granted a wide berth in interpretations of their own rules.
Fox News attacked efforts to restrict school bullying by describing them as attempts to limit conservative free speech and misrepresenting a study on the effectiveness of certain anti-bullying programs.
During the October 20 edition of America's News HQ, Fox's resident pro-discrimination crusader Shannon Bream invited Fox News contributor David Webb and radio host Mark Levine to discuss whether efforts to combat school bullying "suppress" conservative students' right to free speech:
A U.S. airman is facing a formal investigation for allegedly falsely claiming that he was punished for opposing marriage equality - a statement widely promoted by Fox News. Now, Fox News is citing the investigation as further evidence that the military is cracking down on anti-gay Christians.
Hoping to advance the right-wing myth that the military has an anti-Christian bias, Fox News has aggressively touted the case of Air Force Sgt. Phillip Monk. In August, Monk told Fox News that he had been relieved of his duties for vocally opposing marriage equality - a claim that the Air Force flatly denied, saying he was simply at the end of his assignment.
Now, Monk is being investigated for providing false statements about the incident, prompting further outrage from Fox.
During the September 23 edition of America Live, Fox's Shannon Bream - who's made a career of trumpeting bogus religious liberty claims - spoke to hate group leader Tony Perkins about Monk's case. Bream and Perkins framed the investigation as further evidence of anti-Christian bias, asserting that Monk was being punished for advocating for his "First Amendment right":
Fox's Shannon Bream claimed that the Obama administration has remained silent on violence against Christians in the Middle East and Africa, ignoring that the White House has condemned violence targeting Christians in the region.
On September 21, armed terrorists shot and killed at least 62 people and wounded more than 150 in a terrorist attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. The Associated Press reported that only non-Muslims were targeted by the Islamic extremist group al-Shabab in the attack.
On the September 23 edition of Fox News' America Live, host Shannon Bream claimed that "despite an increase in these kinds of attacks in Kenya and Pakistan, we still have not heard anything specific from the White House about whether the treatment of Christians in this part of the world has to change":
Fox News reporter Shannon Bream has become a reliable proponent of right-wing efforts to discriminate against LGBT people, using her national platform to validate religious extremists who claim that any LGBT protections infringe on religious liberty and freedom of speech.
Before joining Fox News in 2007, Bream practiced corporate law in Tampa, FL. In 2000, she left her legal career to pursue journalism, eventually getting noticed by Fox News' Brit Hume. She joined Fox as the network's Supreme Court reporter and is the host of Fox's Sunday show America's News Headquarters.
Bream is also a devout Christian who claims to have been inspired by the work of the notoriously homophobic conservative activist Jerry Falwell. Bream attended Falwell's right-wing Liberty University for her undergraduate degree, and in May of 2013, she became the first woman to deliver the keynote address at her alma mater's commencement ceremony.
During her speech, Bream urged the graduating class to live a life guided by the kind of Christian principles espoused by Falwell, challenging them not to "stand silently" as their "most deeply held beliefs are being questioned in the public square":
Now is not the time to stand silently by as your most deeply held beliefs are being questioned in the public square. Speaking up is rarely easy when the world is actively waiting to discredit and misconstrue what you have to say. But we have Christ as our model. He didn't care what others thought of him. He hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors. He loved them, never condemning them but also never condoning their sin. He spoke boldly and unapologetically in a way that made him a very unpopular guy and ultimately cost him his life. We are not called to live some kind of watered-down version of that truth. In fact, it is just the kind of life the Dr. Jerry Falwell I knew would expect his Liberty grads to live. [emphasis added]
Bream went on to urge the graduating class to fight against "religious oppression" while "never backing down" from "scriptural absolutes":
Not talking about politics, and I personally don't care what party you do or don't belong to. This is about right and wrong, unwavering absolutes, respecting life, loving our neighbors, yeah, as much as we love ourselves, purging our lives of the secret sins that we've convinced ourselves is just no big deal, living in humility, defending those who cannot defend themselves, fighting to end religious oppression against men and women and children all across the globe and never backing down from the scriptural absolutes we must stay tethered to. [emphasis added]
Bream also called on her audience to bring their fight for religious liberty into their workplaces, asking, "if we don't, if you don't, who will?":
Now along with religious liberty, one of the most important things our country has granted from its inception is freedom of speech. There are ways to disagree without compromising, to debate without annihilating each other, but it requires us to know what we believe and why. There are men and women who have fought and died for those freedoms, our very brave service members, and we must never allow the lives sacrificed in pursuit of the goals of liberty and freedom for all to be forgotten or in some way diminished because we are fearful of taking up the cause into our homes and our workplaces, whatever our sphere of influence. If we don't, if you don't, who will? [emphasis added]
Bream's comments offer a glimpse into the kind of narrative she's been working to promote at Fox News, where she's consistently given airtime to right-wing religious extremists and hate group spokespersons who claim their free speech and religious liberty are threatened by even the most basic protections for LGBT people.
Fox News host Shannon Bream invited the hate group Family Research Council's (FRC) Peter Sprigg to confirm her baseless belief that a proposed non-discrimination ordinance would ban Christians from holding public office in San Antonio, marking her third failed attempt to smear the measure.
On the August 27 edition of America Live, Bream and Sprigg peddled unfounded right-wing attacks on the proposal - which adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the city's existing non-discrimination ordinance - as an assault on the rights of Christians. Bream opened the segment by echoing critics who claim the ordinance could be "the first step to banning Christian conservatives from holding public office":
BREAM: New developments today with a controversial proposal in San Antonio that critics say could be the first step to banning Christian conservatives from holding public office. The city council proposing an ordinance that disqualifies anyone who has ever, quote, demonstrated a bias against a person based on race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. That appears to include people who have spoken out against things like gay marriage and in support of traditional marriage.
Fox News has continually injected race into its coverage of the murder of Oklahoma college student Christopher Lane, despite law enforcement's insistence that the crime, allegedly committed by three teens -- two black, one white -- has no evidence of a racial motive.
Fox News anchor Shannon Bream defended a New Mexico photographer who was sued after refusing to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, suggesting that forcing the photographer to serve gay customers would infringe on religious liberty.
On August 22, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Elane Huguenin -- owner of Elane Photography -- violated New Mexico's anti-discrimination law when she refused to photograph the commitment ceremony of a same-sex couple.
During the August 23 edition of America Live, Bream invited Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) senior counsel Jordan Lorence -- who unsuccessfully represented the Huguenins -- for a one-sided interview to criticize the court's decision as an attack on religious liberty:
BREAM: So many parts of the opinion raise a lot of questions. The concurring judge ... said that the Huguenins, the couple here, have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. What about the Huguenins?
LORENCE: Well that's exactly right. In a free society, we have to, people of different beliefs have to learn how to get along. There were plenty of photographers available, willing to shoot this same-sex ceremony. They got them. The Huguenins just need to be excused. This can't be used in an authoritarian, coercive way to force people to basically promote the messages that they don't agree with.
If you want to know how ridiculous this line of reasoning is, just replace "gay couple" with any other marginalized group. What if the photographer had refused to offer her services for a commitment ceremony for Latinos, or an interracial couple, or a Muslim couple? As the Justice Richard C. Bosson wrote in his concurring opinion:
The Huguenins today can no more turn away customers on the basis of sexual orientation--photographing a same-sex marriage ceremony--than they could refuse to photograph African-Americans or Muslims.
Fox host Shannon Bream and correspondent Molly Henneberg continued Fox's relentless campaign to demonize Planned Parenthood and stoke fears about their participation in an initiative to expand health insurance. Bream and Henneberg dishonestly linked abortion with federal funds going to Planned Parenthood to cover federal funds helping enroll Americans in health insurance.
On the August 22 edition of America Live, Bream proclaimed there was "outrage over a new plan to give federal money to Planned Parenthood," and concluded that "critics are upset that the government wants to give funds to clinics that also provide abortions." Henneberg brought up the irrelevant red herring that Planned Parenthood is "the largest abortion provider in the country":
Despite Henneberg's dishonest attempt to tie the funding to abortion, the purpose of the navigators is to provide "'fair, impartial and accurate information that assists consumers with submitting the eligibility application, clarifying distinctions among [qualified health plans] and helping qualified individuals make informed decisions during the health plan selection process.'"
Henneberg then attempted to portray the funds as a broken promise by the president by claiming Obama said "no federal dollars that fund Obamacare would go to abortion providers." As The Daily Beast's Amanda Marcotte notes, this is a blatant falsehood:
Well, if you're watching Fox, you'd think it's apocalyptic. Right-wing radio host Mike Gallagher acted like there was nothing more outrageous than a public health clinic getting involved in a program that helps people get better access to health care. "I always try to anticipate what my friends on the left will possibly say to try to defend this egregious about-face," he chuckled on Fox. The "about-face" is a reference to the overt lie underpinning this entire campaign against Planned Parenthood, which is the conservative claim that Obama somehow promised that Planned Parenthood as an entity would not get any federal funding under the Affordable Care Act. Obama made no such promise. He signed an executive order disallowing abortion to be covered in health-care plans sold on the exchange, but signing people up for health care should not be equated with giving them abortions or even giving them plans that cover abortion. That's like saying the Department of Motor Vehicles is casting your ballot for you by giving you the opportunity to register to vote--an outright and inflammatory lie.
Fox even read a statement by Planned Parenthood Vice President Eric Ferrero, who assured that the grants "have nothing to do with abortion and won't be used for abortion services," which would fulfill Obama's promise.
Planned Parenthood is one of 105 groups to receive federal funds under the Affordable Care Act to aid in enrolling Americans in health insurance. According to The Hill, "organizations on the other side of the ideological spectrum also received grants," including Ascension Health, the nation's largest Catholic and non-profit health system, and Catholic Social Services, an arm of the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.