Right-wing media have spent nearly a decade making false claims about birth control -- and now those falsehoods have found their way into the mouths of Supreme Court justices.
The Supreme Court on March 25 heard consolidated arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, which examine whether for-profit businesses can deny employees health insurance coverage based on the owners' personal religious beliefs, a radical revision of First Amendment and corporate law. The owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga argue they should not be forced by the government to provide their employees insurance which covers certain forms of contraception, because they believe those types of birth control can cause abortions.
The owners are wrong. Medical experts have confirmed they are wrong, repeatedly and strenuously, including experts at the National Institute of Health, the Mayo Clinic and the International Federation of Gynecology. The contraceptives Hobby Lobby objects to -- which include emergency contraceptives like Plan B and long-term contraceptives like Intrauterine Devices (IUDs) -- delay an egg from being fertilized, and as the former assistant commissioner for women's health at the FDA noted, "their only connection to abortion is that they can prevent the need for one."
Despite this overwhelming medical evidence, the myth that some of the contested forms of birth control are "abortifacients" has gone all the way to the Supreme Court -- and now has been repeated by some of the justices themselves. During the oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case, Justice Antonin Scalia responded to a point made by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the lawyer for the government, by referring to "birth controls ... that are abortifacient."
JUSTICE SCALIA: You're talking about, what, three or four birth controls, not all of them, just those that are abortifacient. That's not terribly expensive stuff, is it?
GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, to the contrary. And two points to make about that. First, of course the -- one of the methods of contraception they object to here is the IUD. And that is by far and away the method of contraception that is most effective, but has the highest upfront cost and creates precisely the kind of cost barrier that the preventive services provision is trying to break down.
Justice Stephen Breyer, while describing the position of the Hobby Lobby owners, also referred to "abortifacient contraceptives."
This misunderstanding matters because it could determine the outcome of the case. In order to win, a majority of justices may have to understand there is a compelling government interest in facilitating equal access to contraceptives across health insurance plans. It is an entirely different and more difficult question if the justices examine whether there is a compelling interest in the government facilitating access to abortion. Even though federal law explicitly prohibits federal funding of abortion and these birth control methods are not abortifacients, if the justices mistakenly think abortion is involved, this case becomes far more dangerous.
So whether the employees of for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby are guaranteed access to basic preventative health care could ultimately come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions. Whether for-profit companies are considered religious persons, a drastic change to constitutional corporate law, could come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions. Whether the rights of gay and lesbian employees are respected, and whether taxes, vaccines requirements, minimum wage, overtime laws are all upheld could come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions.
This simple lie about birth control could set up a chain of events that drastically alter health care by rewriting First Amendment and corporate law in this country -- and it's a lie that comes straight from the media, who have been pushing it for almost a decade.
Studies came out as early as 2004 pushing back on the idea that Plan B caused abortions, but Media Matters has repeatedly noted the tendency of journalists to get their facts wrong when addressing the issue. In 2005, CNN host Carol Costello gave a platform to a pharmacist who refused to fill a prescription for birth control pills because she thought they were equivalent to "chemical abortion." In 2007, Time magazine called the morning-after pill "abortion-inducing," while an AP article pushed the false Republican claims that emergency contraception destroys "developing human fetuses." In 2010, The Washington Times repeatedly equated emergency contraception to abortion.
And there was Lila Rose, the anti-abortion activist who in 2011 released videos heavily edited to deceptively portray practices at Planned Parenthood clinics, and who has equated contraception to "abortion-inducing drugs" which she claims exploit women. Rose and her mentor, James O'Keefe, defended their manipulation and falsification of evidence as "tactics" against the "genocide" of abortion, and she was supported and promoted on The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity's America, The Glenn Beck Show, The Laura Ingraham Show, while her work was been featured by Reuters, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, and National Review.
When the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, and medical experts including the Institute of Medicine recommended including comprehensive coverage for contraception as part of the preventative care provisions, right-wing media freaked out, calling it "immoral" and "a way to eradicate the poor." Fox News ignored the overwhelming support for the resulting contraception policy, instead pretending that Catholic hospitals and employers were being victimized -- even as exemptions and accommodations were included for churches and religious nonprofits. By 2012, Fox News' Michelle Malkin was referring to the contraception regulations as an "abortion mandate." Now, right-wing media figures have used the Hobby Lobby case and others to bring back this lie, from Fox News to the Wall Street Journal, while Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham have become particularly fond of discussing these "abortifacients."
As Media Matters has previously explained, right-wing talking points demonizing birth control made their way into the amicus briefs presented to the court before the case was even argued, and Justice Scalia in particular has been known to repeat verbatim right-wing myths, such as the dubious idea that if the Supreme Court upheld the ACA the federal government could ultimately require consumers to purchase broccoli.
But the presence of the "abortifacient" lie during oral arguments takes this worrying tendency to a new level, raising the prospect that right-wing media's lies could potentially determine the outcome of a crucial case for religious and corporate law, hugely damaging reproductive rights in the process. If women lose the guarantee for their basic preventative health care, and corporations are granted even more flexibility as "persons" with religious rights, right-wing media will be partly to blame.
A 60 Minutes segment claiming that federal government efforts to encourage clean tech -- the production and use of alternative energy sources and more efficient technology -- have failed drew some harsh disagreement among reporters covering the energy beat who say the negative report ignored many successes and focused too narrowly on a few unsuccessful companies.
Correspondent Lesley Stahl concluded in the January 5 piece that while stimulus spending including the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program was invested in the industry, "instead of breakthroughs, the [clean tech] sector suffered a string of expensive tax-funded flops."
Stahl's segment has drawn criticism from observers who have noted that 60 Minutes focused on Solyndra and a handful of other failed companies whose loans made up a tiny fraction of federal loans and ignored the clean tech breakthroughs and the explosive growth in the sector that have occurred.
The report was only the latest in a series of 60 Minutes reports that have been subject to stinging critiques in recent months. The program has been excoriated by media observers and accused of "check[ing] its journalistic skepticism at the door" by The New York Times.
Journalists who cover the same energy industries took issue with the clean tech report in interviews with Media Matters, noting that it did not take into account the long-term development needs of clean energy and the many ongoing successes.
"I thought it was a pretty poor piece of journalism, frankly," said David Baker, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter covering clean tech and energy. "There are areas of this field that are hurting, but there are others that are doing very, very well."
Baker added that 60 Minutes' error begins with its conception of the story: "The problem really begins when you just talk about clean tech as one thing - it is a bunch of things and a lot of it is energy generation and energy use. In a report like this where you look at clean tech in general, you have difficulty because it is not the same for each sector."
"The other biggest problem with the CBS story is it looked at some of the flops and really seemed to turn a blind eye to the success," he continued. "That is one of the most fundamental mistakes Lesley Stahl and her producers make."
Baker pointed to several west coast examples of successes, including the recently created California Solar Ranch, the largest solar plant in the nation that went online late last year.
"We are going to have a huge amount of power going on the grid from solar," Baker explained. "Some of those projects were funded in part through the Department of Energy loan program, the same one that funded Solyndra."
Media outlets including NPR and Fox News are targeting federal disability benefits programs through a campaign deceptively portraying these programs as wasteful and unsustainable. In reality, these programs have low fraud rates and help the rising number of Americans with severe disabilities survive when they are unable to work.
In the weeks leading up to Election Day, major media outlets whitewashed many of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's extreme positions, including on abortion, health care, and the situation in the Middle East. In doing so, these outlets aided Romney's efforts to remake himself as a moderate politician.
Analyzing the presidential campaign in the wake of the first debate, Time's Mark Halperin wrote on October 10 that Mitt Romney's sudden "rush to the center" politically had emerged as the key topic - "the central tactical issue"-- for the Barack Obama's team to address. Halperin stressed it would be a challenge for Democrats because the Romney's campaign's "brazen chutzpah knows no bounds."
How odd. At the first debate Romney had so brashly reinvented himself by shifting his position on taxation, immigration and health care away from the Republican Party, that the onus was on Obama to counter Romney's slick maneuver. In other words, Romney's flip-flops, according to Halperin, were a major problem for the Obama campaign, not for the Republican who late in the game unveiled a new political persona. (Farewell "severely conservative.")
It's also telling that on October 10, Halperin considered Romney's makeover into a moderate to be the campaign's dominant issue. Yet one week earlier on the night of the first debate when Halperin graded both participants, the pundit made no reference to Romney's "rush to the center." In real time, Halperin heaped praise on Romney's style "(Started strong, level, and unrattled -- and strengthened as he went along") as well as his substance ("He clearly studied hard.")
Final grade, Romney: A-
Between the first debate and October 10, Romney's brazen flip-flops were not subject to any serious critique from Time's political team. What coverage Romney received for altering his campaign positions (aka his "tack toward the political center") mostly revolved around how conservative activists reacted to Romney's sudden embrace of moderate rhetoric. (They're totally fine with it.) Time was much less interested in what the about-faces said about Romney's candidacy, his character or what his presidency might look like.
The fact that the Republican candidate had radically altered his positions on core domestic issues just one month before Election Day was not treated as a campaign evolution that reflected poorly on Romney. To the contrary, it was largely portrayed as a savvy move by the Republican.
Time's soft peddling of Romney's broad reinvention was typical of how the Beltway press has politely covered the candidate's latest chameleon turn.
Suggesting that the failed solar company Solyndra is representative of a larger trend, Time magazine claimed that clean energy jobs grew slower than the economy as a whole between 2003-2010. In fact, the opposite is true. Time's purported source, the Brookings Institution, actually found that clean energy jobs grew "more than twice as fast as the rest of the economy."
This is not unimportant. Kristol lies very close to the throbbing heart of the Fox News sensibility. And I've heard, from more than a couple of conservative sources, that prominent Republicans have approached Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes about the potential embarrassment that the paranoid-messianic rodeo clown may bring upon their brand. The speculation is that Beck is on thin ice. His ratings are dropping, too--which, in the end, is a good part of what this is all about. But I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a mirror-Olbermann situation soon.
TIME Magazine released its candidates for 2010 Person of the Year, and included in the list of 25 nominees is Fox News' Glenn Beck.
This week Beck launched a falsehood-ridden smear campaign against George Soros and made comments about Soros's experience during the Holocaust that the leader of the Anti-Defamation League called "totally off limits and over the top."
From TIME's 2010 Person of the Year candidate page:
Pundit, proselytizer and paranoid, Fox News Channel's Glenn Beck isn't just the king of cable's 5 p.m. hour anymore. The year 2010 saw Beck pen a politically tinged airport thriller, launch his own online university (featuring such courses as "Presidents You Should Hate"), draw tens of thousands of Tea Party faithful to D.C. for his "Rally to Restore Honor" and help motivate a devoted cadre of Obama haters to return control of the House to the Republicans. At a time when the political echo chamber is more cacophonous than ever, the weeping wild man is cutting through the din and amassing a media empire that takes in tens of millions of dollars each year.
Announcing that the president "is being politically crushed in a vise," Mark Halperin delivers an extraordinarily condescending scolding in Time this week. The interesting part is that Halperin's obituary for Obama, penned on behalf of Washington, D.C. "elites" who all know the president is cooked, comes in the wake of Obama's polling rebound last week. (See here and here.)
But Halperin makes no mention of that fact. He's too busy telling us what all the really, really smart people know: Obama is in over his head. Worse, he's "clueless" as to "how to get along with or persuade members" of the media! So Halperin rolls over every conceivable RNC, anti-Obama talking point.
But this one to me seemed just bizarre:
Throughout the year, we have been treated to Obama-led attacks on George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, Congressman Joe Barton (for his odd apology to BP), John Boehner (for seeking the speakership -- or was it something about an ant?) and Fox News (for everything). Suitable Democratic targets in some cases, perhaps, but not worth the time of a busy Commander in Chief.
That's right, Obama, in the eyes of media elites like Halperin, is not allowed to fight back against his political opponents. Why? Because it's unseemly. Apparently it's not that unseemly when his opponents accuse him of being a racist and a Nazi and tyrant and a liar and a terrorist-sympathizer and foreign-born. It's unseemly when Obama answers his critics. It's unseemly when he defends himself.
This is really just astonishing. Media elites like Halperin have been witness to the most unhinged and hateful and sustained attack on a sitting president in modern American history. Their take-away after nearly two years of this hate-fest? It's Obama's fault. And worse, it's his fault when he defends himself.
As I've previously explained, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz has a rather spotty track record when it comes to disclosing the conflicts of interest that arise as a result of his dual employment by the Post and by CNN. Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander has scolded Kurtz for failing to disclose his financial relationship with CNN when writing about the cable channel.
But Kurtz's column today serves as a reminder that even if Kurtz were to disclose his CNN employment every time he writes about CNN, that would not be adequate. He should disclose it every time he writes about a CNN competitor as well -- and every time he writes about a member of CNN's corporate family.
Today, for example, Kurtz devotes the bulk of his column to praising Time magazine. Well, Time is owned Time Warner, which also owns CNN. But Kurtz didn't reveal for readers the fact that the magazine he gushed over is a corporate sibling to the company that pays him to host Reliable Sources.
Time's Mark Halperin, explaining an obvious truth:
The Sherrod story is a reminder — much like the 2004 assault on John Kerry by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth — that the old media are often swayed by controversies pushed by the conservative new media. In many quarters of the old media, there is concern about not appearing liberally biased, so stories emanating from the right are given more weight and less scrutiny. Additionally, the conservative new media, particularly Fox News Channel and talk radio, are commercially successful, so the implicit logic followed by old-media decisionmakers is that if something is gaining currency in those precincts, it is a phenomenon that must be given attention. Most dangerously, conservative new media will often produce content that is so provocative and incendiary that the old media find it irresistible.
There's nothing about that statement that should be even remotely controversial. Yet many people -- like, say, the Washington Post's ombudsman -- don't understand it. Conclusion: Those who do understand it need to say it more frequently and more forcefully.
Stein's piece focuses on the cultural changes immigration has brought to his hometown of Edison, N.J. since he grew up there in the 1970's and 80's:
"I am very much in favor of immigration everywhere in the U.S. except Edison, N.J. The mostly white suburban town I left when I graduated from high school in 1989 — the town that was called Menlo Park when Thomas Alva Edison set up shop there and was later renamed in his honor — has become home to one of the biggest Indian communities in the U.S., as familiar to people in India as how to instruct stupid Americans to reboot their Internet routers."
Several organizations have responded with outrage, criticizing TIME's decision to publish the article. For example, the advocacy group South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) issued a statement and online petition in response to Stein's piece.
"Most offensive is his remarkably blasé tone about the discrimination and hate crimes that targeted the New Jersey South Asian Community during the 1980s," the SAALT statement reads.
As Gellman notes, both TIME and Stein have since apologized for the piece:
TIME responds: We sincerely regret that any of our readers were upset by Joel Stein's recent humor column "My Own Private India." It was in no way intended to cause offense.
Joel Stein responds: I truly feel stomach-sick that I hurt so many people. I was trying to explain how, as someone who believes that immigration has enriched American life and my hometown in particular, I was shocked that I could feel a tiny bit uncomfortable with my changing town when I went to visit it. If we could understand that reaction, we'd be better equipped to debate people on the other side of the immigration issue.
Today, Time.com presents a slideshow titled "The Dirty Dozen: Who to Blame for the Oil Spill." Time.com claims that "There's no shortage of folks to blame for the spill." Unfortunately for them, there is a "shortage" of logic employed in their rationale for ranking President Obama eighth on the list. Their explanation -- in its entirety -- is:
His Administration has now begun strengthening federal oversight of offshore drilling, but the President also proposed opening vast new tracts for such production shortly before Deepwater Horizon exploded.
If someone has a plausible argument for why Obama proposing an expansion of offshore drilling on March 31 makes him at fault for an oil spill that began on April 20, I'd really like to hear it. The Deepwater Horizon rig was "placed into service" in 2001 and finished drilling the well in question in September 2009. Unless Obama's announcement triggered weeks of drunken partying on the rig which caused its destruction (somewhat unlikely), Time's commentary doesn't really hold water.
Time's Joe Klein does a commendable job pointing out some of the flaws in Fred Barnes' Wall Street Journal column yesterday. Alas, Barnes' foolishness proved too much for one person to catalogue, so some loose ends remain.
Barnes central premise is that President Obama wants, or should want, Republicans to gain control of Congress, because that will make it easier to cut spending and thus waltz to re-election.
That's silly because, as Klein notes, "The Republicans have shown no--I mean, zero--interest in cutting the budget in the past. They didn't do it under Reagan; they didn't do it under Bush Junior. Quite the opposite, they exploded the budget deficit with wars and tax cuts." Klein also points out that Barnes' focus on domestic discretionary spending is "chump change" in the context of what Barnes describes as a "debt crisis."
But there's another fundamental flaw with Barnes' argument: His repeated suggestion that trimming domestic spending would pave the way for Obama's reelection:
If Mr. Obama wants to avert a fiscal crisis and win re-election in 2012, he needs House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to be removed from her powerful post. A GOP takeover may be the only way.
Over the past 50 years, it should be no surprise which president has the best record for holding down discretionary spending. It was President Reagan. But who was second best? President Clinton, a Democrat. His record of frugality was better than Presidents Nixon, Ford and both Bushes. Mr. Clinton couldn't have done it if Republicans hadn't won the House and Senate in the 1994 election. They insisted on substantial cuts, he went along and then whistled his way to an easy re-election in 1996.
Mr. Obama's re-election to a second term is heavily dependent on his ability to deal effectively with the fiscal mess.
Incredibly, Barnes never once makes any mention of the economy's effect on Obama's reelection prospects, or the effect it had on Clinton's in 1996. Didn't mention unemployment, either. In Barnes' telling, the nation's fiscal condition is key to a president's re-election and cutting spending is the way to win. But in actual electoral history, voters' finances are more important than the government's finances. Clinton's 1996 victory, for example, came after the unemployment rate, which ranged from 6.5 to 7.3 percent for his first year in office, had fallen to the mid-5s for two full years.
Having ignored the fact that voters tend to vote based on their financial condition, not the government's, Barnes apparently felt free to ignore the effect his proposed spending cuts would have on the economy. Just completely ignored it. (Number of mentions of the words "jobs," "employment," "unemployment" in Barnes column: 0.) Given the tendency of economists to argue that cutting government spending is not exactly the best way to kick-start the economy, Barnes' advice would seem to make for bad policy as well as bad politics.
(One last problem with Barnes' contention that a GOP takeover of Congress would be good for Obama: Republicans are already clamoring for investigations of complete non-scandals, and the last time we had a Republican Congress and a Democrat in the White House, the GOP handed out subpoenas like they were lollipops, even going so far as to investigate the White House cat. Arguing that a GOP congress would be good for Obama without noting the likelihood of frivolous, partisan investigations is like arguing that BP has been good for the Gulf of Mexico without noting all that oil in the water.)
UPDATE: Brendan Nyhan drops some science on Barnes.
During the 2008 presidential election we noted that Time's Mark Halperin had offered up his list of "Things McCain Can Do to Try to Beat Obama" which happened to include attacks on the future president's race and name:
In a February 25 entry to his website, The Page, Time magazine political analyst Mark Halperin posted a list titled "Things McCain Can Do to Try to Beat Obama That Clinton Cannot," in which he suggested that McCain "can ... [a]llow some supporters to risk being accused of using the race card when criticizing Obama" and "can ...[e]mphasize Barack Hussein Obama's unusual name and exotic background through a Manchurian Candidate prism."
In addition, Halperin suggested that McCain can "[l]ink biography (experience/courage) and leadership (straight talk) to a vision animated by detail -- accentuating Obama's relative lack of specificity." In doing so, Halperin not only failed to offer any examples of McCain's "specificity" "relative" to Obama, he repeated the media myth that McCain is a straight talker, despite his growing list of falsehoods.
Well, Halperin is back with another list designed to rescue Republicans. This one though focuses on the 2010 mid-term elections and encourages the GOP to, "focus the broad message relentlessly on Obama's spending policies" and to come up with a "2010 version of the Contract with America."
Tellingly, Halperin writes at length in the post about what he perceives the Democratic Party's plan for the 2010 mid-terms to be -- it's the Republican Party however, that Halperin saves his political consulting for... as if the GOP didn't have a plan of its own already.
From Halperin's posting at Time's The Page blog (emphasis added):
As the primaries proved, it is hard to get organized without a clear leader, and therein lies the greatest asymmetry between the two parties right now: Democrats are led clearly, in public and in private, by Barack Obama and his political team; Republicans remain essentially leaderless. (Among the GOP's ever-revolving options: RNC Chairman Michael Steele, Newt Gingrich, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, Sarah Palin, Karl Rove, Mitt Romney and Haley Barbour.) Sure, there are Democratic intraparty disagreements, but in terms of fundraising, allocation of resources, political and policy strategy, coordination with allied interest groups, and message, the Democrats have a smooth, efficient system already in place. The Republicans do not. At the top of their to-do list should be tuning out the underlying bedlam and pulling together a workable party plan.
On the rest of the list: stay away from the kinds of fights — such as the one Dr. Paul started in Kentucky with his comments about Civil rights — that can cast the party as extreme. Take care in devising and promoting a 2010 version of the Contract with America. Play down expectations for success in public, while being wildly enthusiastic behind the scenes. Most of all, focus the broad message relentlessly on Obama's spending policies — not on Democratic ethics, competence, Supreme Court nominees or anything else the voting public considers mere luxury items when economic woes are front and center.
Last Tuesday's results gave Democrats reason to be more optimistic about their chances in the midterms, and Republicans reason to worry. In recent years, the words "organized" and "disciplined" have not been too often associated with the Democratic Party, but in the Age of Obama, they represent the biggest difference between the two sides. With just five months left, closing the gap with the Democrats' sizeable organizational advantage has got to be the GOP's main to-do target.