Author Page | Media Matters for America

Sarah Wasko

Author ››› Sarah Wasko
  • Right-wing media’s tantrum over inclusive sex education

    Blog ››› ››› SARAH WASKO

    When right-wing media and groups talk about sex education, they often fixate on vilifying sex educators and fearmongering about comprehensive and inclusive sexual health programs. Abstinence-only programming promotes fear of same-sex attraction, reinforces gender stereotypes, slut-shames, mandates heterosexual marriage, and neglects to inform youth about the spectrum of contraceptive and reproductive options. We spoke with experts Tyunique Nelson, Lincoln Mondy, Dr. Jamila Perritt, and Lucinda Holt about how comprehensive sexual health education makes us safer and healthier.

    Many experts say that sex education, like any other school topic, should begin early in life with foundational concepts -- like consent or setting and respecting boundaries -- that prepare children for the sexual health programming they receive when they’re older. When students learn about these concepts early on, they can better grasp lessons about sexual assault when they are in high school, which ultimately helps to mitigate instances of sexual assault on college campuses.

    Right-wing media and conservative groups fearmonger about discussions of gender and sexual orientation in classrooms -- going so far as to claim sex educators are “planting” the idea that a child may be gay. Sex ed provides an opportunity for educators to normalize trans and nonbinary identities and to talk to youth about queer relationships and family structures. The data show that when sexual health classes include these topics, students are less likely to experience bullying in schools.

    And if sex educators are talking about identity, experts believe they should also talk about race and class. Black youth are at a higher risk of negative health outcomes and are more likely to become pregnant than white youth. This is due to lack of comprehensive sexual health programming in Black communities and racism in the medical space. When young people receive comprehensive information on contraception and reproductive health options, they are more likely to use contraception, have safer sex, and seek the health care they need.

    When all else fails, right-wing media vilify sex educators and make sex education appear to be part of some imaginedliberalagenda. But expert data supports comprehensive and inclusive sexual health programming, and the vast majority of Americans are in favor of sex education in schools. At the end of the day, sexual health information is health care, and young people should be learning about sex in an environment that does not double down on stigma but rather makes them feel supported, affirmed, and equipped to lead healthy lives.

    Video edited by Miles Le

  • Racist right-wing media myths allow the racial wealth gap to persist

    Blog ››› ››› SARAH WASKO

    Wealth inequality in the U.S. has been steadily increasing along racial and ethnic lines since the Great Recession, according to a Pew study. White Americans disproportionately enjoy the economic security that wealth affords to people in this country, and right-wing media figures often blame Black people for their lack of financial means.

    In perpetuating this racist myth that Black people are somehow less capable or driven to succeed, right-wing media ignore that Black people face a myriad of barriers to building wealth: Burdened by a history of state-sponsored discrimination from slavery to Jim Crow, Black people continue to be racially discriminated against when seeking a mortgage for a home, and they regularly face racially targeted wealth extraction and policing that results in financially devastating fines and fees.

    Media Matters spoke with Anne Price, president of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, where she leads the Closing the Racial Wealth Gap Initiative that elevates the voices of experts of color in national economic debates and policymaking. She dispelled the racist right-wing media myths that link the wealth gap to behavioral pathology and deservedness.

    According to Price, many of these tropes date back to slavery, and they inform policy decisions that play a critical role in how families of all races accumulate wealth. She says, “We’re [currently] thinking more about individual choice than we are about the types of investments that can actually be made. And this idea that we will never have enough resources to do that is really becoming a dark road that we’re going down as a nation. But in fact, we do have the resources to actually address racial wealth inequality, and the idea that we can’t actually afford to do this is also really a false myth.”

    Video edited and animated by Miles Le

  • The March for Black Women: They stand up, they fight, and they vote, and it's time media took notice

    Blog ››› ››› SARAH WASKO & MILES LE

    During the 2018 March for Black Women, Black womxn and allies marched in Washington, D.C., to protest the systemic injustices they face and to disavow systemic over-policing, gender-based violence, sexual assault, wealth inequity, and lack of political response to securing Black womxn’s basic rights. Protesters also spoke about the media’s failure to adequately cover their causes.

    Black womxn have long been the leading forces in social justice movements. They stand up, they fight, and they vote. It’s about time media start highlighting their invaluable leadership and elevate their voices as they fight for social change.

  • As advocates work to protect LGBTQ people from conversion therapy, media often fail to explain its many harms

    Blog ››› ››› SARAH WASKO

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The conversion therapy industry seeks to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ people, and its practitioners are profiting off of the harm and sometimes eventual death of the queer and trans individuals subjected to this torture. Despite its being a total failure and there being zero evidence to support its efficacy, it is still legal in many states, and advocates are working to protect the LGBTQ community from the gruesome practice. Many folks have no idea how common conversion therapy remains, and the media has a responsibility to report the facts about its harms.

    Medical experts are in agreement -- conversion therapy can lead to depression, anxiety, self-destructive behavior, and suicidal ideation. Conversion therapists have deeply held prejudices against queer and trans people that can wrongfully affirm self-hatred often already experienced by the patient.

    Media, however, tend to present conversion therapy as a two-sided issue by hosting conversion therapists or so-called “ex-gay” people on their programs. We spoke with The Trevor Project’s Sam Brinton, a genderfluid activist, nuclear engineer, and survivor of conversion therapy. In their words, “You do not need to have a person who believes the world is flat on your program.”

    Instead, Brinton says, the “press can report on an innovate and exciting way that the LGBTQ community is stepping up for itself and saying, ‘You will not erase us anymore.’” The LGBTQ community is doing just that, thanks in large part to The Trevor Project’s 50 Bills 50 States campaign. They are working to ensure that every state introduces legislation that protects LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, and five states have enacted such measures in 2018 alone.

    Media outlets can do their part by reporting the facts about the dangers of conversion therapy without giving airtime to proponents of a harmful practice that can leave lasting scars on people in the LGBTQ community. “When the media is reporting about a recall for a product,” Brinton says, “they are trying to warn the public that this product could hurt them. That’s exactly what they should be doing with conversion therapy. We’re recalling it.”

    If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, you can contact The Trevor Project's TrevorLifeline at 1-866-488-7386 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

    Video filmed and edited by Miles Le
    Research contributed by Brennan Suen and Brianna January

  • Coverage of the SESTA-FOSTA legislation must include sex workers’ voices

    The new law is meant to combat sex trafficking, but it harms trafficking victims and sex workers alike, particularly marginalized people. Media should include sex workers' perspectives in the coverage.

    Blog ››› ››› SARAH WASKO

    Sex workers use online platforms to stay safe, find clients, and maintain independence. With access to the internet, they can work from the safety of their homes, warn each other of aggressive clients, negotiate pay online, and find business without having to involve a third party. The passing of legislation known as SESTA-FOSTA this spring has taken these freedoms away and made their work more dangerous. This is especially true for marginalized people, who are more likely than others to turn to sex work as a means of making an income. Mainstream media should have done more to tell that story before it was too late.

    Two similar bills known as SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) and FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) were introduced in Congress in 2017 and were combined under FOSTA and ultimately passed with overwhelming majorities earlier this year. President Donald Trump signed the legislation into law in April, with some fanfare. It was widely regarded as legislation designed to combat sex trafficking (as the names suggest), but it conflated sex trafficking with consensual sex work. And sex workers were too often left out of the media conversation.

    In the lead-up to SESTA-FOSTA’s passing, mainstream media rarely featured sex workers’ perspectives -- often ignoring the sex worker and advocate opposition to the legislation entirely in their limited news coverage or featuring misinformed celebrities and politicians. Fox News, meanwhile, simply mocked sex workers’ concerns.

    And their concerns were significant: Websites that host user-generated content (like Craigslist) are now discouraged from moderating their content and reporting trafficking ads, because, according to the law, the host site is now also liable for what is posted. Because SESTA-FOSTA conflates sex trafficking with consensual sex work, consensual sex workers who used these kinds of platforms to find and conduct business are finding it more challenging to stay safe in their work. Law enforcement also used these sites to recover trafficking victims, and now that they’re gone, there’s no telling where traffickers will go.

    Sex trafficking is a heinous crime, but tragically, this law is exacerbating the issue and putting consensual sex workers in danger. This could have been avoided if sex workers were a bigger part of the mainstream media coverage of this law before it was passed. When communities affected by these laws are included in the conversation, the outcome is better for all parties.

    Video edited by Miles Le

    Story edited by Pamela Vogel 

  • Video: Coverage of #MeToo must include marginalized voices

    Blog ››› ››› SARAH WASKO

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    During a conversation for The Washington Post, #MeToo founder Tarana Burke said, “We are trained as a country to respond to the vulnerability of white women.” Burke’s statement challenges us to look at who we are conditioned to empathize with and who we are leaving behind.

    Burke founded the #MeToo movement to protect vulnerable communities, and she continues to work on their behalf. But much of the mainstream media coverage focuses on the stories of white, cis, straight, able-bodied women. And when our response to white women’s plight is disproportionate to that for the marginalized folks among us, we have a problem.

    Many in the media have focused on the stories of white women despite black women facing harassment and assault at higher rates than white women. The instances are even higher for those who identify as queer, trans, nonbinary, and those with visible and invisible disabilities. Media need not contribute to this burden by siloing the communities the movement was built to protect.

    However, some outlets have gotten it right, and they’re to be celebrated. They’ve given voice to people whose #MeToo stories have been wrongfully overlooked and set an important example for outlets whose coverage has been exclusive to one kind of #MeToo story.

  • These are the right-wing/fringe media figures Trump supposedly communicates with

    Based on reporting and the people themselves, Trump is on the phone with right-wing media and fringe figures a lot

    Blog ››› ››› SARAH WASKO & CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Alex Jones, Infowars host:

    “Trump gave me a call, and I told him, ‘Mr. President-elect, you’re too busy, we don’t need to talk.’ But we still spent over five minutes -- he said, 'Listen, Alex, I just talked to the kings and queens of the world -- world leaders, you name it.' But he said, 'It doesn’t matter, I wanted to talk to you to thank your audience, and I’ll be on in the next few weeks to thank them.'” Jones added that Trump indicated it was not a “private call” and told him, “I want to thank your viewers, thank your listeners for standing up for this republic. We know what you did early on and throughout this campaign to stand up for what’s right.” -- Alex Jones [Media Matters, 11/14/16]

    “As I said in one speech, ‘I’m sorry I missed Trump’s call.’ I know the numbers. I know when he calls. He calls like three times in a row. I was on air. He gets confused. He called me and I missed the calls and I just feel guilty because who knows what it was about. And I know Trump doesn’t -- I’ll tell the enemy this because Trump knows it’s true. They need to know this. Trump just wants to connect with a spirit that is good. He needs that energy.” -- Alex Jones [Media Matters, 2/24/17]

    “You and others have reached out and said, “If you talk to Trump, tell him this.” Half the time I’ve missed the calls and other ones, early on, calls were like 15 minutes long. We really talk. Now it’s like, “Alex. Lot of folks watching.” He knows everything he’s saying is being recorded. “Keep it up, great job. How’s the family? Just keep it up, you know I’m delivering. Are you happy?” It’s mainly a pat on the head, and I get that -- but then I talk to folks that have to go have private meetings with him and he’s just literally just like -- and I can’t get into it.” -- Alex Jones [Media Matters, 4/5/17]

    “You know why the FBI admits a month ago in Congress that I’m under investigation and that I’m being wiretapped? Because I talk to the president and I talk to people that talk to the president every day. And they want to be able to say, ‘Mr. President, he’s under investigation -- you can’t talk to Alex Jones.’” -- Alex Jones [Media Matters, 4/12/17]

    Sean Hannity, Fox News host:

    “But the fact is I know from the White House that no one in media talks to President [Donald] Trump more than Sean Hannity. Sean Hannity talks to President Trump two or three times a day, sometimes at length, and I'll just tell you right now, Sean Hannity is currently the main leader of the resistance against the globalists outside of Trump and then, of course, myself.” -- Alex Jones [Genesis Communications Network, The Alex Jones Show, 6/22/17]

    Chris Ruddy, Newsmax CEO:

    “Ruddy has been a ubiquitous presence in Trump’s sphere over the past several months, the ‘Zelig’ of the administration, as the Atlantic’s Rosie Gray wrote. He converses regularly with Trump and White House officials, and says he has given the president advice on everything from health care to Chinese relations to fake news.” [The Washington Post, 6/15/17]

    Corey Lewandowski, One America News Network commentator, and David Bossie, Fox contributor:

    “President Donald Trump personally reached out to two of his former campaign aides – his first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and his deputy campaign manager, David Bossie – to sound them out about working with the administration as crisis managers, according to two people familiar with the situation.” [Politico, 5/22/17]

    Kimberly Guilfoyle, Fox News host:

    KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE (CO-HOST): I don't think this is a deal that anybody should be crying about. Like we said, it's nonbinding, and the United States is already a clean energy, oil and gas leader. So, we can keep doing what we're doing, we can keep reducing our emissions. Why would we in fact put ourselves at an economic disadvantage, giving and subsidizing an economic windfall to other countries, in sort of a climate redistribution of wealth scheme? It makes no sense to me. I think he did the brave and courageous thing, and in fact, I told him that this morning at 8 a.m., when he called. And I spoke to him about it, and this was something very much so on his mind, but he seemed like--

    GREG GUTFELD (CO-HOST): Wait a second, who called you?

    GUILFOYLE: The president.

    GUTFELD: Why?

    DANA PERINO (CO-HOST): To ask about climate change?

    GUTFELD: Why did he call you?

    GUILFOYLE: Climate change, taxes. The Five. [Fox News, The Five, 6/1/17]

    Roger Stone, Infowars contributor:

    GUEST CO-HOST: When was the last time you talked to him?

    ROGER STONE: Been a little while now. I would say -- I don’t want to characterize it, but less than a week ago.

    GUEST CO-HOST: Good talk?

    STONE: From time to time. He’s easier to find on the weekends. He’s got more time on his hands. But I’m happy to say after I was on with George Stephanopoulos, he called. After I was on with Chuck Todd, he called. After the Netflix document trailer was released, he called.

    GUEST CO-HOST: What’d he say?

    STONE: Well, I mean, he was certainly pleased with those appearances because, of course, I was happy to defend Donald Trump. [SiriusXM Patriot, The David Webb Show, 5/5/17]

    “On May 11th Roger Stone, Donald Trump’s on-again, off-again political adviser for several decades, had just wrapped up a pair of morning television appearances when, according to two sources with direct knowledge, he received a call from the President. ... As Stone left the studio on May 11th, the President, who the evening before had essentially pretended not to know him anymore, had a simple message: good job.” [The New Yorker, 5/31/17]

    Eric Bolling, Fox News host:

    “Fox News host Eric Bolling said he’s talked to President Donald Trump about how to best go about “draining the swamp” — one of Trump’s top campaign promises and the central topic of the cable-news star’s latest book. [...] Bolling said the president has read his book, and he’s had several discussions with him about how to best go about fighting corruption.” [The Daily Caller, 6/26/17]

    Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp. and 21st Century Fox, CEO of Fox News:

    “The president’s relationship with Mr. Murdoch is deeper and more enduring than most in his life, and the two commiserate and plot strategy in their phone calls, according to people close to both.” [The New York Times, 4/22/17]

  • How Fox News Celebrates Black History Month


    As most of the country celebrates Black History Month, Fox News has spent February peddling racist tropes about the black community. Fox personalities and guests repeated racist canards about black-on-black crimeout-of-wedlock births, and "black behavior," mocked a video highlighting the impact of structural racism, criticized Beyoncé's Super Bowl performance as an attack on police officers, and accused a Black Lives Matter activist running for Baltimore mayor of having proved only that "he could burn things down":