Print media outlets in Wisconsin and Alabama have begun reporting on the discredited theories of anti-choice advocate Vincent Rue, who is being used by state officials to coordinate an attack on reproductive rights in federal court. As these cases progress, media should be aware of Rue's affiliation with the national anti-abortion movement as well as his questionable track record as an "expert."
In May, doctors in Wisconsin and Alabama went to federal court to challenge unnecessarily restrictive laws introduced in both states that require abortion providers to obtain unusual hospital admitting privileges -- a mandate that could force some of the state's clinics to close because the doctors there lack those privileges at local hospitals. These kinds of laws -- known as Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers, or TRAP laws -- have become increasingly common throughout the country as a way to block access to abortions under the guise of women's health. Admitting privileges are not only extremely difficult to obtain and maintain, many medical professionals believe they are unnecessary for these types of clinics because abortions are generally safe, safer than other medical procedures that don't require such privileges, and patients rarely need to be admitted to the hospital due to complications.
Providers in the Wisconsin case -- Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin v. Van Hollen -- have argued that if the law stands, they would be forced to close down essential clinics throughout the state, placing a significant burden on the remaining providers, and putting women's health and safety at greater risk. Planned Parenthood has argued that such closures could increase wait times from three to four weeks to eight to ten weeks at its Milwaukee clinic. In Planned Parenthood Southeast v. Strange, doctors are challenging a similar law in Alabama, arguing that abortion clinics there are also at risk of shutting down due to the stringent, and unnecessary, admitting privileges requirement.
However, state officials in Wisconsin and Alabama are still defending these laws in court, claiming that admitting privileges are necessary to promote the health and safety of women. To prove this point, each states' attorneys general have called on "expert witnesses" -- specifically pro-life doctors -- who have testified in support of admitting privileges. But only two local outlets appear to have reported the connection between these "expert witnesses" and Vincent Rue, an unreliable psychotherapist who "coined the term 'post-abortion syndrome,' which purports a link between abortion and mental health issues," who has been behind the coordination and coaching effort of these witnesses in multiple states.
In a 2000 interview with the Elliot Institute -- an anti-reproductive choice organization that has been criticized for "building a literature to be used in efforts to restrict access to abortion," Rue supported his study on "post-abortion syndrome" by saying: "Since ambivalence is a good predictor of postabortion problems, it is likely that many of these women are having post-abortion symptoms that simply fall short of full-blown PAS."
Outlets such as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and the Wisconsin State Journal covered the trial in Wisconsin, highlighting pro-life physician Dr. James Linn's testimony that he had patients "abandoned" by their doctors when traumatic complications arose. But they did not mention that Linn, as well as pro-life physician Dr. James Anderson, had been coached by Rue. According to Isthmus, an alternative weekly newspaper in Madison, Anderson testified in open court that he joined the case after he was contacted by Rue, "who helped him with 'wordsmithing' his report to the court."
As Isthmus reported, Linn's testimony was called into question by lawyers representing abortion providers because Rue's "post-abortion syndrome" diagnosis "had been discredited":
First proposed in the early 1980s, the condition is not recognized by the American Psychological Association or the American Psychiatric Association. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University, who conducted a comprehensive review of the scientific literature in 2008, also rejected the hypothesis.
According to an online bio, Rue is currently the director of the Institute for Pregnancy Loss in Jacksonville, Fla., described as an "independent nonprofit research and treatment center." Rue notes that he has treated "numerous women and men who have been traumatized by their abortion experience" and that he serves as a "litigation consultant" for numerous offices of state attorneys general in abortion-related lawsuits.
According to documents obtained by Isthmus, the Wisconsin Department of Justice expects to pay Rue $47,362.50 for his work as an "expert consultant" on the admitting-privileges lawsuit.
In Alabama, where officials are also fighting to severely restrict women's access to abortion, the state's largest papers have mostly relied on wire stories from the Associated Press (which also have not mentioned Rue) to report on the legal challenge to Alabama's TRAP law. But the Montgomery Advertiser, a daily newspaper in Alabama, was one of the few newspapers in the state to both cover the trial and highlight Rue's connection to the witnesses. According to the Advertiser, Anderson, who gave testimony in Wisconsin, also testified in support of Alabama's admitting privileges law in May after being prepped by Rue:
[Attorneys for the abortion providers] challenged Anderson's connection with Vincent Rue, a pro-life activist who has suggested links between abortion and subsequent mental illness in women, an idea that has been twice rejected by the American Psychological Association; Rue assisted Anderson in preparation of his expert statements. Griffith asked Anderson if he knew that Rue had been "discredited" in other trials; Anderson, who earlier testified that depression could be a complication of abortion, said he did not. Griffith also noted that Rue's degree was from the University of North Carolina's School of Home Economics.
Judge Thompson also questioned Anderson about his relationship with Rue, asking if Anderson had any knowledge of where Rue worked or his professional credentials. Anderson said he did not, a response that seemed to surprise Thompson.
"You don't know his employment or any organization he belongs to?" Thompson asked. "Why do you trust him?"
Anderson said he had worked with Rue on other abortion cases, and found him reliable.
As both cases are still pending, it will give media outlets in those states the opportunity to ensure their reporting begins or continues to shine a light on Rue's sketchy science and his coordination of state's witnesses in defense of these TRAP laws -- especially since a similar "post-abortion syndrome" rationale has already been alluded to in Supreme Court opinions limiting women's access to safe abortion procedures. Writing for the majority in 2007, Justice Anthony Kennedy concluded that "it seems unexceptionable to conclude that some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained" and that "severe depression and loss of esteem can follow." The conservative majority subsequently ignored reproductive rights precedent and upheld the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, a George W. Bush-era law that criminalizes late-term abortions.
An Associated Press article about the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed regulations to cut carbon emissions failed to disclose that Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a source it cited criticizing the proposal, is a front group for the Koch brothers that routinely makes false attacks against clean energy initiatives.
A June 2 AP article reported that Colorado could serve as a model for reducing carbon emissions while handling its energy needs, following comments from the Obama Administration and Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO). The article cited Dustin Zvonek, the Colorado director of Americans for Prosperity, which the outlet described as a group "which warns the EPA's rules would cost billions and lead to higher energy costs," but failed to mention the organization's oil industry funding:
"There's still a lot to be clarified," said Dustin Zvonek, Colorado director of the group Americans For Prosperity, which warns the EPA's rules would cost billions and lead to higher energy costs. Zvonek said Colorado's action to cut carbon emissions may have only prompted an even lower bar to meet.
"Are we going to be penalized or punished for the fuel-switching standard and therefore take an even bigger hit? That's not clear," Zvonek said.
Among AFP's major supporters are brothers David and Charles Koch, their charitable foundations and their company, Koch Industries, Inc., which has significant operations in oil and gas exploration and coal supply and trading. A 2012 report by the International Forum on Globalization explained that the Koch brothers have used their wealth to attempt to block legislation or rules aimed at mitigating the damage climate change is causing.
Greenpeace reported that AFP has received nearly $6 million from Koch-affiliated groups from 2005-2011.
Editorial boards across the country continue to use the Chamber of Commerce's study to claim that the Environmental Protection Agency's new carbon pollution standards will cost jobs and increase electricity bills, even though that study incorrectly assumed that the standards would be stricter and would require expensive technology.
State-based editorial boards from around the country have acted as an echo chamber for conservative misinformation by repeating national conservative media outlets' myths.
A Columbus Dispatch editorial claimed the IRS was attempting to punish employers for sending their employees to Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges instead of providing employer-based insurance. However, the rule would ensure that employers don't get a special benefit for sending their employees to the exchanges, which they are still allowed to do, while preserving the employer-based health care system.
The May 30 editorial criticized an IRS rule first reported in the New York Times that claimed the rule meant that the IRS would stop "any wholesale move by employers to dump employees into the exchanges" by subjecting certain businesses to a tax penalty of $100 per day for each worker that is sent to the individual marketplace instead of provided insurance by the employer. The Dispatch, which has often used its editorial page to mislead about the ACA, extrapolated this claim to float the theory that "the move is an acknowledgement" by the administration that people don't like the exchanges and the law is making things worse for "millions of Americans":
In this context, a report in The New York Times over Memorial Day weekend takes on greater meaning. The story revealed that the Internal Revenue Service has issued a rule that punishes employers that end company-sponsored health plans and dump employees onto the new government health-care exchanges.
The move is an acknowledgement that many who have gone to the exchanges have found the policies more expensive and less desirable than expected. The law has made things worse for millions of Americans in the name of extending coverage to a relatively small number of people.
The Dispatch's theory that the new rule is an effort to shield people from the exchanges and the purported ill effects of the law is not accurate. The IRS rule is actually an effort to ensure that certain companies can't take advantage of a loophole allowing them to take tax deductions for moving their employees to the exchanges. As Modern Healthcare explained, the rule is intended to prevent companies from "double-dipping" by "threatening massive fines against companies that offer employees tax-advantaged money to help them buy federally subsidized health plans on the Obamacare insurance exchanges." The article continued:
The need for the new IRS rules came about because tax consultants have been aggressively hunting for ways to combine the tax write-offs that come with traditional group coverage with the federal subsidies available to buy individual coverage through an insurance exchange, said Joel Ario, a managing director at Manatt Health Solutions and a former HHS director over insurance exchanges.
"There are two mutually exclusive worlds, and there are people who keep trying to figure out how to use money from one in the other," Ario said. "That's what the IRS is trying to prevent."
New Jersey's major newspapers largely failed to cover allegations of ethical misconduct involving the state's public pensions and prominent political donors with ties to the Christie administration, mentioning the alleged "pay-to-play" scandal only three times collectively despite the allegations receiving several months of national media attention.
Emily Miller, chief investigative reporter for Washington D.C.'s Fox affiliate, fabricated quotations to claim Hillary Clinton recently said, "Nobody should have guns" and "There's too many guns." In fact, Clinton expressed the opposite sentiment, referencing "the right of people to own guns."
During a May 19 appearance on FOX 5, Miller twisted Clinton's recent remarks at the National Council for Behavioral Health conference in order to suggest that the former secretary of state has held inconsistent positions on gun regulation. Miller claimed that Clinton had "talked about hunting and fishing and all that stuff, now she is like, 'We need to pull back guns, nobody should have guns'":
A recent Union Leader editorial suggested Fmr. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) were partly to blame in failing to prevent the mass kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls by the terrorist group Boko Haram, because they did not designate the group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) in 2012. However, Clinton was the first to designate top Boko Haram leaders as terrorists, and many international organizations and experts on Africa agreed that designating the group as an FTO at that time was premature, as it would cut off foreign aid to the region, negotiation lanes with the group, and raise the profile of the organization.
The May 14 editorial accused Secretary Clinton and Senator Shaheen of delaying FTO designation of Boko Haram in an attempt to protect President Obama's al Qaeda-focused foreign policy agenda. The editorial continued by praising then-Senator Scott Brown's sponsoring of a 2012 bill seeking to list Boko Haram as an FTO, and claiming Secretary Clinton and Senator Shaheen were unwilling to prevent a "real war on women":
Designating Boko Haram as a terrorist organization, like admitting Benghazi was a terror attack, would have undermined -- during a presidential election year -- the President's narrative that he had curtailed the spread of Islamist terror. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee aided the President by killing the Boko Haram Terrorist Designation Act. Shaheen, ever the loyal partisan, sat in silence as a few senators tried in vain to weaken the group that two years later would kidnap hundreds of schoolgirls in an actual war on women, not the imaginary one in which Democrats accuse Scott Brown of taking part.
What does Scott Brown have to do with this? He was the sponsor of the Boko Haram Terrorist Designation Act. The man who tried in vain to stop a real war on women and on education (Boko Haram means Western Learning Forbidden) is accused of being anti-woman by allies of a senator who did nothing to stop those wars.
Despite the attempt by the Union Leader to cast Scott Brown as the real hero by attacking Shaheen and Clinton, the paper glossed over key facts which explain why the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Secretary Clinton decided, at the time, not to designate the group an FTO.
Ohio may soon become the first state to freeze its clean energy mandates after a relentless effort from utilities. But the state's major newspapers continue to overlook that the legislators behind the bill are members of the American Legislative Exchange Council -- an organization that connects corporations, including fossil fuel interests, to legislators -- despite repeatedly quoting the organization's members.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review criticized the renewal of federal tax credits for wind energy, claiming the credits "would blatantly waste taxpayer dollars on a manifestly unsustainable industry that's wholly dependent on government subsidies." However, other energy industries also receive billions of dollars in federal subsidies and tax breaks to keep them competitive, which the editorial did not mention.
In a May 13 editorial the Tribune-Review noted that the Senate Finance Committee recently approved a two-year renewal for wind energy projects, slated to cost $13 billion over 10 years. It called the renewal a "waste" of taxpayer dollars and advocated for "more reliable coal and nuclear plants" to meet electricity demand:
The last renewal, for 2013, allowed tax credits for projects under construction. The credits previously applied only to finished projects. American Wind Energy Association figures show installations rose sharply as 2012 ended and spiked again in 2013's fourth quarter as the industry took advantage of that change. It all prompted Erika Johnsen to write for the website Hot Air: "Could the wind industry's utter dependence on ... taxpayer help ... be any more apparent?"
There are better uses for taxpayer dollars than subsidizing wind energy, which "undercuts" more reliable coal and nuclear plants that are critical for meeting electricity demand, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., writes in The Wall Street Journal.
The example provided in the editorial of the spiking number of wind installations shows an industry attempting to increase production in a climate of uncertainty, something the fossil fuel industry does not have to contend with. As DBL Investors pointed out in a 2011 paper on the differences in subsidies different energy sources receive, unlike many other energy incentives, specifically for the oil and gas industry, which are permanently in the tax code, wind energy support has been allowed to expire several times since the creation of wind's primary incentive in 1992:
Some energy incentives, like the depletion allowance for oil and gas, are permanent in the tax code. Wind energy's primary incentive, the PTC, has been allowed to expire multiple times since its creation in 1992, and has been consistently reinstated for only one or two year terms.
Due to the series of shorter-term, 1-to-2-year PTC extensions, growing demand for wind power has been compressed into tight and frenzied windows of development. This has led to boom and bust cycles in renewable energy development, under-investment in manufacturing capacity in the U.S., and variable in equipment and supply costs. Recent work at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab suggests that this boom-and-bust cycle has made the PTC less effective in stimulating low-cost wind development than might be the case if a longer term and more stable policy were established.
A recent editorial in The Columbus Dispatch dismissed the impact of federal budget sequestration on jobs and the economy in Ohio, claiming it "did not cause the sky to fall." However, past editorials and news reports published by the paper highlighted the economic repercussions on Ohioans that would result from the cuts.
Scott Bach, an NRA board member and head of the NRA's New Jersey affiliate, dismissed the family of a child who died during the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre as "a prop" in response to the family's support for a New Jersey bill that would limit gun magazine size.
The New Jersey legislature is currently considering a bill which would reduce the legal ammunition magazine capacity from 15 rounds down to 10. Supporters of the legislation have pointed to mass shootings where high-capacity magazines were used, including Sandy Hook, to argue that such magazines threaten public safety. On May 5, the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee will hold a hearing and possibly advance the bill to the full New Jersey Senate. The General Assembly version of the bill passed in March.
Bach, who is executive director of the official NRA affiliate group Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, made an April 30 appearance on the NRA News show Cam & Company in order to warn NRA members about the hearing, but while doing so he insulted Newtown families who have supported the legislation. In claiming that the real purpose of the legislation is to make Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie "uncomfortable because of the emotional component," Bach claimed the bill's backers "brought out the Newtown victim's family and frankly used them as a prop or a show."
The Columbus Dispatch incorrectly claimed that an effort by the Census Bureau to achieve a more accurate health care picture will eliminate the ability to gauge whether the law has achieved the goal of insuring the previously uninsured.
The April 28 editorial criticized a decision by the Census Bureau to alter the way it measures who has insurance coverage in an effort to achieve clearer results, claiming instead that the change "will make it impossible to get an apples-to-apples picture of how many Americans reported having health-insurance coverage before and after the law."
On April 15, the Census Bureau announced it would change the way it determines who had or did not have insurance coverage in the Current Population Survey (CPS) in an effort to obtain more accurate results. This process began under the Bush administration and, according to the Census Bureau, is "the culmination of 14 years of research." A statement released by the Bureau explained the reasoning behind the change:
The recent changes to the Current Population Survey's questions related to health insurance coverage is the culmination of 14 years of research and two national tests in 2010 and 2013 clearly showing the revised questions provide more precise measures of health insurance through improved respondent recall.
This change was announced in September 2013 and implemented because the evidence showed that reengineering the questions provides demonstrably more accurate results. The Census Bureau only implements changes in survey methodology based on research, testing, and evidence presented for peer review.
Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, reinforced this when he told The New Republic that the Current Population Survey (Census) was never really an accurate way to measure the uninsured. That's because the question asked by the Census measured the insured as a point in time, "but it's of course always been ambiguous what point in time."
The Richmond Times Dispatch cited a misleading poll that showed waning support for Medicaid expansion in Virginia and failed to explain the questionable phrasing used by the pollster.
The Times Dispatch editorial relied on an April 24 poll conducted by Christopher Newport University (CNU) that found that 53 percent of Virginians oppose the expansion of Medicaid currently being considered by the General Assembly. While the editorial board claimed to "share [the] concerns" of the poll's critics, they still used the poll's results to validate the Republican strategy of obstructing Medicaid expansion. The Times Dispatch continued:
We suspect the poll reflects the GOP's success in tying Medicaid expansion to Obamacare. The consequences of the botched debut of the Affordable Care Act continue to resonate. Backers of the plan may complain about unfair reactions, but a political fact is a political fact. Obamacare put Medicaid on Virginia's agenda, yet Medicaid's predicaments would exist even if Obamacare had gone down in congressional defeat.
The poll's results quickly came under scrutiny, mostly due to the way in which the polling questions on expansion differed markedly from the university's previous questions on the topic. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities explained, previous polls about Medicaid expansion conducted by the university asked about expansion in a more neutral fashion, leading their February poll to find support for expansion. This time, the question highlighted each party's argument, reinforcing the Republican's "straw man argument that the federal government will renege on its commitment to fund nearly all the costs of the expansion":
What the pollsters do not fully acknowledge, however, is that they asked the question in two markedly different ways, making this a highly misleading, apples-to-oranges finding that doesn't necessarily show a shift in public opinion:
- § On February 3 the question was asked: Medicaid is a health care program for families and individuals with low income that is funded by both federal and state tax dollars. Currently, Virginia is faced with a decision about whether to expand the Medicaid program to cover an additional 400,000 mostly working poor Virginians who are uninsured. In general, do you support Medicaid expansion or oppose it?
- § But on April 24 poll the question was asked: In [the Medicaid expansion] debate, the Democrats propose to subsidize private insurance for 400,000 uninsured and low income Virginians by using federal Medicaid money that would otherwise not come to Virginia. Republicans oppose this expansion because they fear the federal Medicaid money will not come as promised, and also say the current Medicaid program has too much waste and abuse and needs reformed before it is expanded.
Thus, unlike in February, Virginians in the most recent poll were asked whether the state should expand Medicaid only after they were read the straw man argument that the federal government will renege on its commitment to fund nearly all the costs of the expansion. As we have explained, the history of Medicaid's financing shows that federal funding has remained remarkably steady for decades.
With Republicans in control of the state legislature and governor's office, Tennessee has become an easy target for out-of-state dark money groups looking to push corporate interests through state legislatures. The Koch brothers, through their political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity (AFP), have been at the forefront of the Tennessee takeover, pushing tax cuts, measures to block public transportation, and anti-Medicaid legislation among others. While some of Tennessee's newspapers have been quick to connect the questionable legislation with AFP, local television coverage rarely mentions the outside influence.
AFP is considered an example of a "dark money" organization -- a politically-focused group whose donors are not disclosed and whose actions reflect partisan positions. David Koch is co-founder of AFP and the Koch Family Foundation is known to have contributed generously to AFP based on records published by the foundation. In Tennessee, the state AFP chapter creates advertising campaigns and holds events that provide a platform for AFP staff to drum up support for their legislation.
Tracking the Koch brothers' outsized influence has recently been a popular endeavor among national news sources, so the billionaires' leap into Tennessee sounded the alarm across national media outlets. Local and state media have been slower to point out AFP's influence in state politics. While Koch pressure in Tennessee is nothing new, the state chapter of AFP opened last year, making this year the first legislative session with active local AFP participation. As the editorial board at the Tennessean explained, AFP's push to influence state politics has profound implications:
The billionaire Kochs do not live in Tennessee and never have. That is not important, as they, through their group Americans For Prosperity (AFP), and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), also not Tennessee-based, are increasingly deciding what laws the General Assembly should impose on the people of our state.
The force of the Kochs came down last week when the Tennessee Senate voted to stop Nashville's Amp project. StopAmp.org Inc. publicly thanked AFP for its help. Regardless of what you think of the pricey and controversial bus rapid-transit project, such out-of-state interference is troubling, because it supersedes local knowledge and authority on either side of the issue.
But an analysis of 22 local television news affiliates from January 1 to April 21 of this year -- the span of the state's most recent legislative session so far -- shows only four mentions of AFP's connection to pending legislation in the state. Despite the lack of coverage, AFP was busy pushing multiple pieces of legislation in recent months, including a reduction of state income tax, bills to slow the possibility of Medicaid expansion, and opposing Common Core education standards. While the top four newspapers covered the relevant issues and legislation being influenced by AFP in the same time frame, the disclosure of AFP's involvement varied. The Tennessean and the Knoxville News-Sentinel included AFP's involvement in their reports, mentioning the group's connections 14 and nine times respectively. The Chattanooga Times Free Press, with three mentions, and Memphis' Commercial Appeal with two mentions, made little effort to note AFP's activity. While disclosing legislative influences is crucial across all forms of media, it is especially vital for local television to disclose outside influence like AFP's as local television remains the country's top source for news.