Right-wing media have responded to a Supreme Court justice's decision to temporarily block the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) birth control mandate by falsely claiming that abortifacients are included in the coverage required by the health care law.
2013 was an epic year of right-wing media misinforming the public on the health care debate, particularly on women's health issues. Ignoring women's health experts, conservative media spent this year stoking fears about everything from birth control to maternity care, ignoring science, distorting state and federal regulations, and demonizing women's health care options in the process. These are the top six scare tactics from 2013.
Media Matters looks back at the best of the worst of right-wing media's treatment of women in 2013.
Conservative media outlets have repeatedly asserted that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) - federal legislation that would ban employment discrimination against LGBT workers - discriminates against Christian businesses, but a new report from PolitiFact has rated that claim "False."
On December 16, PolitiFact evaluated a fundraising email from the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) which claimed that ENDA would unfairly punish Christian businesses. PolitiFact rated TVC's claim "false," noting that ENDA includes religious exemptions that are actually more generous than those contained in other federal non-discrimination laws.
PolitiFact also noted that non-religious businesses operated by religious individuals have to comply with the law regardless of the business owner's faith (emphasis added):
Under Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964], and therefore under ENDA, religious organizations, which need not be church-run, would be exempt. Additionally, all businesses with fewer than 15 employees are exempt, whether they're religious or not.
Nelson Tebbe, a professor at Brooklyn Law School who specializes in religious liberty, said ENDA's religious exemption exceeds Title VII's.
"It's broader because the religious exemption in Title VII only allows religious organizations to discriminate [against LGBT individuals] on the basis of religion," he said. But it doesn't allow religious groups to discriminate based on factors like an employee's gender or race.
So by permitting religious organizations to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, ENDA allows them more flexibility than Title VII.
The bill's religious exemption indicates that churches, church-run initiatives and other religious businesses need not comply by employing people of all sexualities and gender identities. And there's no special negative treatment for Christians.
Businesses of any religion could qualify for the exemption. Individuals of any faith who oppose sexuality would have to abide by the law, so no religion is singled out.
We rate this claim False.
The myth that ENDA would discriminate against Christian businesses has been widely debunked, but that hasn't stopped the lie from gaining prominence among right-wing media outlets.
The Washington Times editorial board denounced a judge's ruling that a Denver baker violated Colorado's anti-discrimination law by not serving a same-sex couple, assailing "militant homosexual activists" for having the temerity to oppose business discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In a December 10 editorial, the Times cast the judge's decision as an affront to religious freedom, not bothering to distinguish between one's right to personally hold anti-LGBT religious views and discriminatory practices by a business operating in the public marketplace (emphasis added):
A Colorado court is making it a crime to refuse to cater to militant homosexual activists. Judge Robert N. Spencer held on Friday that a bakery owner who, citing his Christian religious beliefs, wouldn't bake a wedding cake for a homosexual couple must "cease and desist from discriminating" or pay fines so large that he'd go out of business.
In this clash of values, the religiously observant are relegated to the back of the legal bus. In Judge Spencer's view, the First Amendment's protection of freedom of religion must give way to a state anti-discrimination law, even though the Colorado Constitution clearly states, "Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as marriage in this state." The plaintiffs, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, were "married" in Massachusetts, where another court declared such unions to be legal. The couple had demanded that Jack Phillips, owner of the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, produce a cake for a July 2012 reception in Colorado.
It's not as though Mr. Phillips was unwilling to serve the groom or the other groom. "I'll make you birthday cakes, shower cakes, sell you cookies and brownies," Mr. Phillips told the men. "I just don't make cakes for same-sex weddings."
The activists here could easily have taken their business elsewhere (rather than to the ACLU), but they wanted to force Mr. Phillips to endorse their conduct, regardless of his deeply held values. Unlike, say, cookies and brownies, a wedding cake is a creative endeavor that communicates a message from the artist, Mr. Phillips' Alliance Defending Freedom attorney explains. "If the service or the product is expressive, if it sends a message, and the government says you have to make it, create it and carry it for someone else," ADF lawyer Nicolle Martin said on a Denver talk-radio show, "that is forced speech.
As is often the case, the Times' editorial board doesn't appear to understand what it's talking about. In this case, the notoriously homophobic paper at least managed to discern which side of this dispute a committed opponent of LGBT equality would take, but the Times' logical consistency stops there.
Take the Times' non-sequitur concerning marriage equality. It's true, as the editorial notes, that same-sex marriage remains illegal in Colorado. How, though, does this invalidate Judge Spencer's finding that Phillips' refusal to serve the couple was a violation of the state's anti-discrimination law? The law explicitly prohibits businesses from refusing to serve customers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Colorado's lack of marriage equality doesn't change that.
Washington Times columnist Robert Knight falsely claimed that a lawsuit of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is an assault on religion that is trying to "force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions." In fact, if the complaint is accurate, it is a straightforward negligence claim that alleges a pregnant woman's life was needlessly put in harm's way when she was denied appropriate care by a Catholic hospital adhering to binding directives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
On November 29, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of Tamesha Means, a Michigan woman who alleges she was denied proper and ethical medical care for an emergency miscarriage by Mercy Health Partners (MHP), a Catholic hospital under the authority of the USCCB. The USCCB forbids hospitals like Mercy from assisting in or facilitating abortions.
According to Means' complaint, she went to the emergency room at Mercy when she started to miscarry at just 18 weeks. Despite the fact that the fetus would most likely be stillborn or "die very shortly thereafter," doctors at Mercy never provided information about the option of an abortion, even though prolonging the pregnancy was life-threatening. Instead, Means says, the hospital sent her home twice -- even though she was having contractions, was in pain, and bleeding. On Means' third visit to Mercy's emergency room -- the only hospital reportedly within a half-hour's drive of her home -- she went into labor. Means' baby died just two hours after delivery.
In his December 5 editorial, Knight mischaracterized the basis of the lawsuit, complaining that the ACLU is attempting to "force Catholic doctors everywhere to violate their faith by facilitating abortions":
The ACLU wants Catholic hospitals to practice medicine without morals.
The American Civil Liberties Union is so upset that a Michigan baby died just after being born that the group is suing the Catholic Church for not deliberately killing the child earlier.
In a lawsuit filed on Nov. 29 against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in U.S. District Court in Michigan, the ACLU contends that the church's medical directives reflecting a pro-life stance against abortion resulted in negligent care for a woman with a troubled pregnancy who eventually lost the child.
"It's not just about one woman," said Kary Moss, executive director of the Michigan ACLU, in a Newsmax report quoted in The Washington Times. "It's about a nationwide policy created by nonmedical professionals putting patients in harm's way."
Translation: Either the Catholic Church directs Catholic hospitals to perform abortions or it will be bankrupted, courtesy of the ACLU, which fights for the "right" to abort even full-term, healthy babies.
This is about far more than Ms. Means' tragic situation or one hospital's alleged negligence. It's about forcing Catholic doctors everywhere to violate their faith by facilitating abortions. It strikes at the very heart of religious freedom and freedom of conscience. It's a corollary to the Department of Health and Human Services' mandate under Obamacare that faith-based institutions or businesses run by devoutly religious owners provide contraceptives regarded as abortifacients or face ruinous fines.
Since only the Catholic Church bothered to build a hospital within 30 minutes of Ms. Means' home, the ACLU contends that the facility should operate without religious principles guiding it or simply switch to the ACLU's brand of moral relativism, where unborn children are merely options.
It's like building the only power plant and providing electricity where there was none and then getting sued for not electrocuting the people that the ACLU thinks are expendable.
But this complaint is not questioning the religious faith of Catholic doctors. Following basic personal injury law and theories of vicarious liability, the ACLU alleges that because the USCCB required an anti-abortion policy at the Catholic hospital, the USCCB was responsible for egregiously substandard medical care.
Way back in November 2008, Mitt Romney wrote an op-ed for the New York Times that bore the headline: "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." At the time, the economy was crashing and the Bush White House was considering a multi-billion dollar bailout of the auto industry to prevent its collapse and the resulting wholesale economic devastation. Romney argued against the bailout, pushing instead for a "managed bankruptcy" for the troubled automakers, which he referred to collectively as "Detroit."
Four years later, Romney was the Republican presidential candidate, and that op-ed became the subject of repeated attacks from Barack Obama, who supported the auto bailout and wanted to remind voters that the automobile industry had been saved by timely government intervention. "We refused to let Detroit go bankrupt. We bet on American workers and American ingenuity, and three years later, that bet is paying off in a big way," Obama said at the time, also referring to the automobile industry by its well-known nickname, "Detroit."
Jump forward to the present day, and the city of Detroit (not the automobile industry both Romney and Obama referred to as "Detroit," which has flourished) is declaring bankruptcy. It's an unfortunate state of affairs for a great American city. What's also unfortunate is how many conservatives are using Detroit's bankruptcy to claim that Mitt Romney was right and Obama broke his promise when he said he "refused to let Detroit go bankrupt" -- knowingly and deliberately confusing "Detroit" as it refers to the auto industry with Detroit the city.
Rush Limbaugh attacked a federal program that keeps children from going hungry, arguing that food stamps are instead the cause of childhood obesity -- but studies find no link between the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP -- also called food stamps) and obesity in children.
On the December 3 edition of his radio show, Limbaugh agreed that a Washington Times op-ed by James Bovard proved the theory that "more food stamps means fatter kids." Limbaugh asserted that minority children were casualties of "Obama's obesity epidemic" because the "Democrat party has made everybody they can think they are victims" by giving them food stamps.
But Limbaugh's claims are false. Bovard's op-ed never asserted that most childhood obesity occurs among minorities and Bovard mislead his readers about obesity studies to craft a false narrative that food stamp use is linked to childhood obesity. Bovard referenced a study by Baruch college professor Diane Gibson titled "Food Stamp Program Participation is Positively Related to Obesity in Low Income Women" which "estimated that participation in the food-stamp program for five years boosted the odds of young girls being overweight by 43 percent." But Gibson pointed out that her research "did not control for food insecurity, and this omission potentially complicates the interpretation of the FSP [Food Stamp Program] participation variables."
In a recent editorial, The Washington Times accused Democrats of planning to play "the race card" by criticizing Senate Republicans' historic obstruction of President Obama's well-qualified and diverse judicial nominees.
Senate Republicans have engaged in unprecedented obstruction of Obama's judicial nominees, which is preventing an up-or-down vote on current nominees to the critical U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Cornelia "Nina" Pillard, Patricia Millett, and district court judge Robert Wilkins. Yet the editors of the Times are quick to side with Senate Republicans who dismiss any criticism of their obstructionist strategy as nothing more than "a well-worn card."
From the November 18 editorial:
Senate Republicans are standing up, so far, to President Obama's attempt to pack the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit with radical judicial activists. A filibuster blocked a vote on the confirmation of Cornelia Pillard last week and of Patricia Millett two weeks before that. Predictably, Senate Democrats declared that the forthright Republican opposition was another skirmish in the "war on women."
"It's a well-worn card," says Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, of the Democratic strategy. "And they play it every time." Well, not quite every time. When Republicans attempt to block confirmation of U.S. District Judge Robert L. Wilkins, who is black, to the appellate bench, Democrats will play the race card.
Opposing women and blacks is said to be part of Republican war on two fronts. It's not war when Democrats oppose female and black nominees. Forty-three Democrats voted unsuccessfully to deny George W. Bush's nominee Janice Rogers Brown to the appellate bench because she was not woman enough, just as Clarence Thomas was judged by Democrats to be not black enough. The Democrats guard their race and gender formulas as fiercely as Coca-Cola protects the formula for the popular soft drink.
Mr. Obama let slip the game at a private Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser early this month. "We are remaking the courts," he told them. The claim was brazen enough to make the ghost of FDR, lurking nearby, blush.
Republicans are rightly troubled by the prospect of remaking the courts by adding radical activists to a bench that doesn't even need new judges. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says that if more judges are added to the panel, "there wouldn't be work enough to go around." With some other federal appeals courts having legitimate vacancies, attention should be paid to "where judges are needed and where they're not," says Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, "And this court demonstrably doesn't need new judges. It's not any more complicated than that."
The editorial is a stale rehashing of repeatedly disproved right-wing talking points.
The Washington Times published an op-ed that downplayed the epidemic of sexual assault in the military and called efforts to curb assaults "emasculat[ing]," ignoring reports that confirm sexual assaults are indeed a crisis in the military.
Amid recent reports that "sexual assault in the military increased sharply during the last fiscal year," a November 17 op-ed in The Washington Times titled "The feminist campaign to make weaklings of America's warriors" claimed that recent efforts to curb sexual assault in the military "emasculate[d] men" and "objectif[ied] women" who want to be in combat units. The article opened (emphasis added):
Feminism is trying to yank the U.S. military in two directions at once. While claiming that women have no problem meeting the rigorous standards of the SEALs or infantry, advocates of opening these branches to women argue that female members of the military must be protected from the male sexual predators that, we are assured, are widely represented in the military. However, they can't have it both ways. Are women "hear me roar" Amazons, or are they fragile flowers who must be protected from "sexual harassment," encouraged to level the charge at the drop of the hat?
While author Mackubin Thomas Owens noted that there "was no excuse for sexual assault," he continued to downplay sexual assault statistics, claiming that the focus on curbing assaults objectified women as "weaklings who have no place in the military" (emphasis added):
The data cited by the Pentagon creating widespread panic within the military are rendered suspect for two reasons. The first problem is methodological: The numbers -- some 26,000 active-duty service members out of a population of 1.4 million claim to have been sexually assaulted in 2012 -- are based on an anonymous survey. This number far exceeds reported cases of sexual assault.
The second and more significant problem is that the survey uses the term "sexual assault" in a way so broad as to render it nearly meaningless. Indeed, much of what is now covered by the Pentagon's sexual-assault rubric represents the de facto criminalization of normal relations between the sexes of the sort that come about when young males and females are thrown into proximity.
One of the ironies of the focus on sexual assault in the military is that it serves to objectify women, not as sexual objects but as weaklings who have no place in the military. It diminishes the significant contributions that women have made to the nation's defense, serving honorably, competently and bravely during both peace and war. The fact is that the vast majority of women in today's armed forces are extremely professional and want nothing to do with Elshtain's two wings of feminism. Yet they are being infantilized by the Pentagon's focus on sexual assault.
If the United States insists on opening infantry and special operations forces to women, the focus should be on upholding high standards, no matter the outcome. Instead, those who want to open these heretofore restricted military specialties to women insist on stigmatizing males as sexual predators and women as childlike victims whose only protection is to charge sexual assault. The result will be a less effective military, rent by dissension.
But Owens' critiques of recent reports are unfounded. The "Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military" noted that the findings are consistent with a study prepared for the Air Force by Gallup, which had a significantly higher response rate. In fact, the report's research supervisor, Dr. David Lisak, worked with Gallup and the Air Force on the earlier study. In addition, the Army Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Program explained that the military of definition of sexual assault is "unwanted and inappropriate sexual conduct or fondling" and added that sexual assault is a crime:
Right-wing media figures capitalized on provocative advertisements for Obamacare from non-profit groups in Colorado to attack a woman who uses free birth control as a "slut," "whore," and "prostitute."
Continuing its misinformation campaign against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which bans workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, The Washington Times published a column falsely asserting that the legislation would trigger a wave of lawsuits, impose quotas, and lead to the criminalization of conservative religious denominations.
In a November 10 column for the Times, American Civil Rights Union senior fellow Robert Knight blasted ENDA as a bill that would "expand government and repeal the Bible":
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act doesn't say that directly, but its core meaning is that employers -- and their employees -- must accommodate every sexual expression under the sun or face federal prosecution and nuisance lawsuits by the American Civil Liberties Union.
House Speaker John A. Boehner said the bill would not reach the House floor. People who believe in the freedoms of speech, religion and assembly, not to mention what's left of property rights, had better hope he keeps his promise. This is about so much more than the threat of "frivolous lawsuits."
Even if you're not persuaded by moral arguments, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is a massive expansion of federal power and a gift to trial attorneys, who are among the largest donors to the Democratic Party.
In reality, no serious observer expects ENDA to spur a rash of lawsuits. A study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examining states with LGBT workplace protections demonstrated that only a tiny fraction of states' employment discrimination complaints were based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Over a five-year period, less than five percent of California's discrimination complaints were from LGBT workers. In Colorado - which tracked sexual orientation- and gender identity-based complaints separately -- only 5.5 percent of employment discrimination complaints were based on sexual orientation, and a mere 0.29 percent were based on gender identity. In Iowa, the respective figures were 3.6 percent and 0.6 percent. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) expects ENDA to increase complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by a modest five percent.
Knight proceeded to distinguish other protected categories, like race and sex, from sexual orientation and gender identity, which "no one would know" about if not for employees' "behavior":
Far from ensuring equality, the bill is a radical departure from civil rights laws, whose protected classes stem from immutable characteristics with no moral content, such as skin color, place of birth or sex. The exception is religion, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment.
What makes "sexual orientation" or "gender identity" different is that these categories are vague, not immutable, and the associated behaviors have moral implications. In fact, behavior defines the groups. Otherwise, unlike race or sex, no one would know.
Several local media outlets published editorials and opinion pieces highlighting and praising CBS' faulty 60 Minutes Benghazi report. Now that CBS has apologized and withdrawn its report, will local media follow suit?
On October 27, CBS' 60 Minutes aired a report highlighting comments from security officer Dylan Davies, who went by the pseudonym "Morgan Jones" and said that he was an eyewitness to the September 12, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. After several inconsistencies surfaced in Davies' statements about the evening, CBS pulled its report, apologized to viewers, and said it would "correct the record" on the next edition of 60 Minutes.
Immediately following the 60 Minutes report, various local media outlets across the country published editorial and opinion pieces hyping the report and heralding it as evidence that President Obama and his administration were lying about the attacks. At least six local media outlets, including The Columbus Dispatch, The New Hampshire Union Leader, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Washington Times, The Charleston Post and Courier, and The Boston Herald, all hyped the CBS report with one outlet calling it a "damning report" while another said the administration's "coverup [is] being exposed." Pittsburgh Press writer Jack Kelly published a piece in the Post-Gazette claiming the report was "noteworthy for the new information provided -- in particular the interviews with 'Morgan Jones' and [Lt.] Col. [Andrew] Wood."
The 60 Minutes report reinvigorated the widely debunked myth that there are "lingering questions" about the Benghazi attack and continued to push a right-wing media narrative that the Obama administration has engaged in a cover-up in response to the attacks. The pervasiveness of the myth even hit Congress as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) threatened to hold up presidential nominations until questions surrounding Benghazi were answered.
Now that CBS has retracted its report, will local media outlets who also injected this misleading myth into their opinion pages do the same, or will they continue to rely on debunked information that misleads their readers?
The Washington Times marked the U.S. Senate's historic vote for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) by publishing a column from an anti-LGBT hate group leader who baselessly asserted that the legislation permits "reverse discrimination" and doesn't truly exempt religious employers.
On November 8 - one day after the Senate voted 64 to 32 to ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity - the Times granted Tony Perkins, president of the hate group Family Research Council, a platform to smear ENDA as "a major threat to liberty." Perkins attacked the bill's religious exemption as inadequate and claimed that the legislation promotes "reverse discrimination" against social conservatives:
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act contains a very narrow "religious exemption," but previous experience with similar laws and similar "exemptions" at the state and local level give little confidence that they will fully protect conscience when the law is applied. Sometimes, the enforcers will seek to limit the exemption to actual clergy but insist that church employees who do not proclaim the faith are not exempt. Some will exempt all employees of actual churches, but leave nonprofits and parachurch ministries unprotected. Sometimes, religious nonprofits are protected, but not if a significant part of their work is "secular" in nature (such as feeding the poor or educating children). In any case, any exemption is unlikely to apply to any profit-making entity -- even a religious publishing house or radio station.
Unfortunately, the mere language of a legislative "exemption" is inadequate to predict how liberal activists on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or in the courts will interpret it.
Even more alarming than the lack of a strong religious exemption, however, is the prospect that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would lead to a form of reverse discrimination, whereby anyone who expresses or promotes a view of family or morality that can be interpreted to be a disapproval of homosexual conduct or disagreement with elements of the homosexual political agenda (such as the redefinition of marriage) will be subject to retaliation and discrimination.
Despite Perkins' eagerness to frame ENDA as an unprecedented assault on religious freedom, Section 6 of ENDA explicitly exempts religious organizations, affirming that the same religious organizations exempt under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are also exempt under ENDA. Since Senate debate began on the bill, the right of religious organizations to discriminate against LGBT individuals has only been reaffirmed. On November 6, the Senate adopted by voice vote an amendment from ENDA supporter Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) prohibiting retaliation against religious organizations.
Moreover, businesses required to comply with ENDA's non-discrimination requirements won't see any loss of religious liberty. There's a stark difference between personal religious views against homosexuality and discriminatory public business practices against LGBT people. Just as civil rights protections for racial minorities don't punish private racist thoughts, ENDA won't deploy the thought police to go after religious conservatives.
Right-wing media claimed opposition to the Affordable Care Act influenced the Virginia governor election despite polls that show the health reform law was an insignificant factor in the race.