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Sharon Kann

Author ››› Sharon Kann
  • Indiana’s WTHR expertly called out anti-abortion harassment after an extremist group’s protest

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In the midst of a week of protests organized by anti-abortion extremist group Operation Save America (OSA), Indianapolis NBC affiliate WTHR produced a stellar segment calling out OSA’s extreme tactics while also highlighting the history of anti-abortion violence and harassment more broadly.

    OSA has made a habit of organizing protests across the country, targeting abortion providers, patients, and clinics. In 2017, the group organized events in Kentucky and Indiana. Beyond protesting outside of clinics in the states they visit, OSA members have also spent years targeting individual abortion providers at home -- circulating flyers around providers’ neighborhoods with identifying information and inflammatory language. During OSA’s 2017 Indiana event, group members not only shared these flyers but also attempted to protest outside the home of a Planned Parenthood employee -- embarrassingly ending up at the wrong location. Despite the frequency with which OSA deploys such tactics, as well as the extremism of its actions, local media have previously downplayed the severity of these protests.

    But during WTHR’s July 25 segment, reporter David MacAnally and his colleagues Andrea Morehead and John Stehr highlighted the extreme rhetoric OSA used and fact-checked a claim from a spokesperson that these tactics posed no threat to providers. They also provided greater context about the severity of anti-abortion violence. This is not the first or likely the last time that OSA will target Indiana abortion providers -- here are lessons that other media should take from WTHR on how to cover the extremist group and its actions:

    Don’t allow OSA or other anti-abortion extremists to downplay the severity of their actions

    Although OSA claims to be nonviolent -- a sentiment a spokesperson echoed in the WTHR report -- the organization has a long history of engaging in harassment, using violent rhetoric, and even associating with violent anti-abortion extremists. MacAnally’s report focused on but one example of OSA’s tactics: its circulation of threatening flyers in Indiana with the names and home addresses of Planned Parenthood doctors -- a tactic the group has employed many times.

    During his July 25 report, MacAnally highlighted the extreme rhetoric deployed by OSA and fact-checked a claim by a local OSA spokesperson that the tactic posed no threat to providers. With the identifying information obscured, MacAnally noted that OSA’s flyer included claims that the providers “murdered children” and encouraged recipients to join OSA in prayer that the providers “repent to killing preborn children.”

    At one point, MacAnally spoke with Aletheia Church pastor and OSA local partner Derin Stidd, who dismissed fears of violence against providers, stating that he wasn’t “particularly concerned” because the tactic was “done often.” Rather than letting Stidd’s characterization remain unchecked, MaAnally debunked the claim, explaining, “Nationally, though, shooters have tracked abortion doctors to their homes and offices and murdered them.”

    Make clear the severity and frequency of anti-abortion violence and harassment

    After MacAnally contextualized OSA’s attempts to downplay anti-abortion harassment, WTHR anchors Morehead and Stehr provided additional reporting on the long history of violence by anti-abortion activists against abortion providers -- making the stakes of OSA’s actions crystal clear. As Morehead explained, “Adding to the concern over this mailer is the history of violence against doctors, or even clinics, that provide abortion services.” She noted that in 1998, a “sniper killed [abortion provider] Dr. Barnett Slepian in his home,” that an anti-abortion extremist killed Dr. George Tiller in 2009, and that Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood was attacked in 2015, leaving “three people … dead.”

    MacAnally’s and Morehead’s accounts of anti-abortion violence and harassment provide a much-needed rebuttal to common excuses offered by anti-abortion extremists when questioned about their methods. In reality, anti-abortion violence and harassment pose an increasing threat to providers, patients, and clinics, and -- as recent data from the National Abortion Federation (NAF) demonstrates -- this trend shows little sign of abating. Already in 2018, there have been numerous reports of violence or threats against clinics, with incidents reported in Illinois, New Jersey, Utah, Texas, Pennsylvania, California, Washington, Massachusetts, and more.

    While MacAnally did note that OSA participants “signed a nonviolence agreement,” other comments made by the group illustrate its definition of “nonviolence” is likely very narrow. For example, as James Farrar, another pastor at the Aletheia Church, told The Indianapolis Star, the flyers were “intended to let the neighborhood know that someone in their neighborhood makes their living by killing children” in the hopes they “would generate pressure from neighbors like an awareness campaign, so people realize that these people are living right around you.” Although this action in itself is not violent, it's more than clear that OSA’s goal is to harass, demonize, and alienate abortion providers -- regardless of the consequences.

    On August 11 and 12, OSA will be joining like-minded anti-abortion extremists in Spokane, WA, to “liberate America from the blood guiltiness that is savaging our nation.” Media in Spokane, and any future cities where OSA holds protests, would be well-served by following in WHTR’s footsteps when covering the group’s tactics.

  • The Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade. Don’t buy these right-wing excuses that it’s not a big deal.

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Following the announcement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, media have been speculating about the possibility of a nominee selected by President Donald Trump casting the deciding vote overturning Roe v. Wade.

    While some mainstream outlets have rightly warned about the likelihood and negative impacts of overturning, or even further hollowing out, Roe’s protections, many conservative outlets and figures deployed a variety of excuses either to suggest that Roe is not at risk or to downplay any potential negative effects such a move would have. But make no mistake -- the Trump administration and its anti-abortion allies haven’t been shy about their goal: making abortion inaccessible or even illegal in the United States, no matter what the consequences.

    In 2016, then-candidate Trump said in response to a debate question about whether he would overturn Roe: “Well, if we put another two or perhaps three justice on, that’s really what’s going to be — that will happen. And that’ll happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court.” Previously, in July 2016, then-vice presidential nominee Mike Pence said that he believed that electing Trump would lead to the overturning of Roe and that he wanted to see the decision “consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs.” In return, anti-abortion groups have also supported the administration -- a fact underscored by Trump’s keynote address at the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List’s (SBA List) gala in May.

    Despite the administration’s promise, conservative media and figures are deploying a number of inaccurate excuses to either deny or downplay the severity of the threat to abortion rights with another Trump-appointed justice on the court:

    1. Claiming that abortion rights are safe because Roe is precedent, and none of the current justices will vote to overturn it.

    In the aftermath of Kennedy’s announcement, some conservative media argued that abortion rights are not threatened because the sitting justices -- including Chief Justice John Roberts and Trump’s previous nominee Justice Neil Gorsuch -- would be reticent to overturn precedent.

    For example, an editorial in The Wall Street Journal argued that because “the Court has upheld [Roe’s] core right so many times, ... the Chief Justice and perhaps even the other conservatives aren’t likely to overrule stare decisis on a 5-4 vote.” Similarly, during a June 27 appearance on Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs Tonight, conservative lawyer Alan Dershowitz claimed that Roe is safe because “true conservatives also follow precedent,” and therefore any conservative appointee would not vote to overturn it. Short-serving former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci said it is unlikely that Roe would be overturned because “the court recognizes that there are certain fundamental principles that are in place and certain presidential precedent-setting principles in place." He concluded, “I know there are conservatives out there that want it to be overturned but I just don't see it happening."

    It appears highly unlikely that the new Supreme Court would keep Roe intact. Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern wrote that Kennedy’s retirement “ensured” that Roe will be overturned -- even if it ultimately will “die with a whimper” as the Supreme Court would allow anti-choice lawmakers to foist “extreme regulations on clinics, outlawing abortion after a certain number of weeks, or barring a woman from terminating a pregnancy on the basis of the fetus’ disability or identity.” As Stern concluded, “the constitutional right to abortion access in America is living on borrowed time.” This argument was also echoed by The Daily Beast’s Erin Gloria Ryan who contended that one more Supreme Court vote against abortion would mean that “the conservative minority in this country will have the power to uphold laws designed to force pregnant women into motherhood.” During the June 27 edition of MSNBC’s Deadline: White House, host Nicole Wallace explained that the impact of Kennedy’s retirement means “actually talking about a future generation growing up with abortion being illegal again” and “young women and men taking the kinds of risks that a generation now hasn't had to consider.”

    2. Arguing that Roe is “bad” law, and therefore a Trump nominee would only be correcting judicial overreach.

    In other instances, conservative media have argued that Roe is "bad" law because the constitution doesn't include a right to abortion. By this logic, they contend, a reversal of precedent is inconsequential because the new nominee would merely be helping correct previous judicial overreach.

    In an opinion piece for The Sacramento Bee, The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro argued that Roe v. Wade is a decision that was rendered “without even the most peremptory respect for the text and history of the Constitution,” but that “pleased the Left.” An improved Supreme Court, according to Shapiro, “would leave room for legislatures – Democrats or Republicans – to make laws that don’t conflict with the Constitution.”

    In National Review, Rich Lowry similarly said that Roe “is, in short, a travesty that a constitutionalist Supreme Court should excise from its body of work with all due haste.” Lowry concluded that Roe “has no sound constitutional basis” and implied that it should be overturned because it is an embarrassment for the court.

    The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway claimed on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier, “Even people who are pro-choice recognize that it was a poorly argued judicial decision.” She also said that Trump does not need to ask the judicial candidates about Roe v. Wade as “so many people regard it as such a poorly reasoned decision.” Fox News contributor Robert Jeffress also said on Fox News’ Hannity that Trump doesn’t need to ask about Roe because “there is no right to abortion.” Jeffress continued that though abortion is “nowhere in the Constitution” there is, however, a constitutionally protected “right to life that has been erased for 50 million children butchered in the womb since 1973.”

    But, as legal analyst Bridgette Dunlap wrote for Rewire.News, these claims that Roe is bad law are part of a conservative tactic to invalidate abortion rights more broadly. She explained: “In order to portray abortion rights as illegitimate, conservatives like to argue—inaccurately—that the Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade by inventing a right to privacy that is not grounded in the Constitution’s actual text.” Instead, she noted, Roe is based on the idea that “using the force of law to compel a person to use her body against her will to bring a pregnancy to term is a violation of her physical autonomy and decisional freedom—which the Constitution does not allow.”

    In addition, Roe is not just an important acknowledgement of the right to legally access abortion care -- even if states have already chipped away at the accessibility of that care. As Lourdes Rivera of the Center for Reproductive Rights explained in the National Law Journal, overturning Roe would impact the right to privacy and mean “uprooting a half-century of judicial decision-making, with profound consequences for our most cherished rights and essential freedoms.” Lawyer Jill Filipovic similarly wrote for Time magazine that “if Roe is done away with under the theory that privacy rights don’t exist, this could mean that there is no constitutional right to birth control, either.” In addition, she said, “cases that came after Roe, including Lawrence v. Texas, which invalidated a Texas law that criminalized sex between two men, were decided on similar premises — and could be similarly imperiled.”

    3. Claiming that abortion would not be completely outlawed because regulatory power would merely be “returned to the states.”

    A common argument by conservative media -- and in some cases, Trump himself -- is that an overturning of Roe would merely return abortion regulations to the states and not completely outlaw the practice.

    For instance, according to Fox News guest and constitutional attorney Mark W. Smith, even if Roe were overturned, it wouldn’t “outlaw abortion” in the United States, it would just allow “states and voters [to] decide what to do about abortion.” Fox News commentator Andrew Napolitano also made this claim, saying the “worst case scenario” is that if Roe “were to be repealed or reversed, the effect would be the 50 states would decide” their own abortion regulations. This inaccurate claim was also made during segments on CNN and MSNBC. During a June 27 appearance on CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin, CNN legal commentator and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli argued that “all overturning Roe v. Wade does is” give the regulation power “to the states.” The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol made a similar claim on MSNBC Live with Velshi and Ruhle, when he argued that overturning Roe would merely “kick [abortion regulation] back to the states.”

    In reality, sending abortion regulation “back to the states” would functionally outlaw abortion access across large parts of the country. As Reva Siegel, a professor at Yale Law School wrote for The New York Times, returning the issue to the states would be disastrous because already, “27 major cities are 100 miles or more from the nearest abortion provider, and we can expect these ‘abortion deserts’ in the South and the Midwest to spread rapidly” if states are given free reign. New York magazine’s Lisa Ryan similarly reported that currently “there are only 19 states in which the right to abortion would be secure” if Roe is overturned.

    This landscape could easily worsen with anti-abortion groups turning their attention more directly to legislation on the state level rather than the federal level. As HuffPost’s Laura Bassett noted, a number of “abortion cases are already worming their way through the lower courts” that could further entrench abortion restrictions in a number of states. In 2016, ThinkProgress explained what a world before Roe looked like: “Wealthy women were able to access safe, though illegal, abortions, but everyone else had to risk their safety and sometimes their lives, and doctors had to risk going to jail.”

    4. Casting blame on abortion rights supporters for “overreacting” or trying to “attack” any Trump nominee on principle.

    Another common reaction among conservative media has been to cast blame back on abortion rights supporters. In this case, right-wing media have attacked supporters of Roe for “overreacting” to the potential loss of abortion rights, and accused others of opposing Trump’s nominee not on facts, but on principle.

    For example, during the June 27 edition of Fox Business’ Making Money with Charles Payne, guest and attorney Gayle Trotter argued that abortion rights supporters were just “trying to scare people” in order to “defeat the president’s nominee.” Federalist Society Executive Vice President Leonard Leo also echoed this argument during a June 27 appearance on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier. According to Leo, “The left has been using the Roe v. Wade scare tactic since 1982, when Sandra O’Connor was nominated. And over 30 years later, nothing has happened to Roe v. Wade.”

    Similarly, on June 29, Trump supporters and YouTube personalities Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, popularly known as Diamond and Silk, appeared on Fox News’ Fox and Friends to discuss potential replacements for Kennedy. During the segment, Diamond asked why Democrats were “fearmongering” and “going into a frenzy” before knowing the nominee or their position on abortion. After interviewing Trump on Fox Business about his thought process for nominating Kennedy’s replacement, Maria Bartiromo said on the Saturday edition of Fox & Friends Weekend she believed that “all of this hysteria” about a potential overturn of Roe was being "a little overdone” by the left.

    Pro-choice advocates are not “overreacting” to potential attacks on the protections afforded by Roe. As journalist Irin Carmon explained on MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, Kennedy’s retirement “is the point that the conservative movement, that the anti-abortion movement, has been preparing for for 40 years” by “taking over state legislatures and passing laws that are engineered to chip away at the abortion right.” Carmon said that even with Kennedy on the bench, “access to abortion, and in many cases contraception, was a reality [only] on paper already.” Now, “it is disportionately Black and brown women who are going to suffer with the regime that is going to come forward.” Attorney Maya Wiley similarly argued on MSNBC’s The Beat that overturning of Roe would mean “essentially barring a huge percentage of women from huge swaths of the country from access” to abortion.

    5. Claiming that there’s no public support for Roe or abortion access.

    Polling shows a large majority of Americans support the outcome of Roe. But some right-wing media personalities have said that such findings ignore other polling about Americans’ supposed support for restrictions on later abortion.

    For example, The Weekly Standard’s John McCormack argued on Fox News’ Outnumbered Overtime that the claims of support for abortion access are inaccurate because there is a “great misunderstanding about Roe v. Wade” and the impact it has on abortion restrictions and that “there is actually pretty popular support for second trimester regulations.” This talking point has been used elsewhere, such as by the Washington Examiner and anti-abortion outlet Life News, in an attempt to discredit perceived support for Roe.

    The argument deployed by McCormack has also frequently been used by right-wing outlets in the past -- despite the disregard such an argument shows for the complexities involved in abortion polling. As Tresa Undem, co-founder and partner at the public-opinion research firm PerryUndem, wrote for Vox, most “standard measures” that are used “to report the public’s views on abortion ... don’t capture how people really think” about the issue. In contrast to right-wing media and anti-abortion claims, polling done by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Hart Research Associates shows that support for later abortions goes up when people realize that abortions in later stages of pregnancy are often undertaken out of medical necessity or for particular personal circumstances.

    As Trump prepares to announce his selection for the Supreme Court on Monday, July 7, right-wing and conservative media will only offer more of these excuses to downplay that Roe v. Wade is firmly in the crosshairs.

  • The Supreme Court just enabled fake health clinics to lie to patients

    Right-wing media are calling it a "win" for the First Amendment

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT & SHARON KANN

    On June 26, the Supreme Court decided National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra in favor of a network of fake health clinics. Right-wing media and anti-abortion organizations framed the decision as a “win” for the First Amendment, but those outlets (and even some more mainstream ones) ignored that these clinics are harmful and actively deceive people seeking abortions.

  • Infowars livestreams a Planned Parenthood protest the day after the anniversary of Dr. Tiller's murder

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On May 31, 2009, an anti-abortion extremist murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, who had been harassed and targeted by anti-choice groups and right-wing media for years. On May 31, 2018, Infowars reporter Owen Shroyer announced that he would be hosting and livestreaming a protest outside a Texas Planned Parenthood location.

    During the May 31 segment of Genesis Communication Network’s The Alex Jones Show, Shroyer announced that Infowars would “launch a protest here in Austin at Planned Parenthood” the next day in response to his frustration that the NRA and Infowars were “being blamed for anytime there’s a shooting” while Planned Parenthood wasn’t blamed for being part of “a death cult.” Shroyer noted that in addition to organizing the protest, he would also be livestreaming the event to various channels. Toward the end of the segment, host Alex Jones and Shroyer started mocking the people they think will show up to the protest, calling them satanists and claiming they'll say things like “We are slaves, we are dying,” “I love abortion,” and “I want to kill kids.”

    Back in reality, anti-abortion violence and harassment are both very real and very serious threats to those who publicly provide, write about, or even discuss abortion. Since 1993, 11 people have died as a result of anti-abortion violence, and numerous providers, patients, and their families have been injured; as recent data from the National Abortion Federation (NAF) demonstrates, this trend shows little sign of abating. NAF found that in 2017, “trespassing more than tripled, death threats/threats of harm nearly doubled, and incidents of obstruction rose from 580 in 2016 to more than 1,700 in 2017.” There was also a continued “increase in targeted hate mail/harassing phone calls, and clinic invasions,” as well as “the first attempted bombing in many years.”

    According to NAF’s 2016 report, rates of anti-abortion clinic protests were already at the highest levels seen since the organization began tracking incidents in 1977. And in 2018, there have already been numerous reports of violence or threats against clinics, with incidents reported in Illinois, New Jersey, Utah, Texas, Pennsylvania, California, Washington, Massachusetts, and more. In North Carolina, abortion provider Calla Hales has documented the frequent anti-abortion protests and harassment directed at her clinic -- including attacks on her personally.

    Nevertheless, right-wing media have frequently fostered or encouraged anti-abortion harassment -- sometimes directly targeting abortion providers by name. Before being ousted from Fox News after public reports that he sexually harassed multiple colleagues, Bill O’Reilly spent years not only spreading misinformation about abortion, but also openly bullying abortion providers like Tiller. Prior to Tiller’s death, O’Reilly called the doctor “Tiller the baby killer” and insisted there was a “special place in hell” for him. After a deadly shooting attack at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic in 2015, O’Reilly defended his previous attacks on Tiller, claiming that his comments were accurate.

    Even without O’Reilly, Fox News programming is still rife with anti-abortion misinformation and demonization of abortion providers. In just one example, after Fox News’ The Five briefly moved to a prime-time slot, co-host Greg Gutfeld took a page out of O’Reilly’s playbook and called for anti-abortion violence. During the April 2017 segment, Gutfeld compared abortion to slavery and argued that “if you are pro-life and you believe it is murder, you should be willing to fight” and “start a war” to stop abortions from being performed.

    Beyond Fox News, wider right-wing programming has also contributed to an atmosphere that fosters anti-abortion violence and harassment. In 2016, after Robert Dear allegedly opened fire in a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood center (killing three and injuring at least nine more), The New Republic reported on Dear’s penchant for right-wing media such as Fox News and Infowars -- noting in particular how these outlets contributed to Dear’s paranoid, conspiratorial views on abortion and Planned Parenthood. According to The New Republic:

    In fact, as I learned from hours of speaking with Dear, the narratives he learned from Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones and Bill O’Reilly and countless far-right web sites meshed perfectly with his paranoid delusions, misogynist beliefs, and violent fantasies. The right-wing media didn’t just tell him what he wanted to hear. They brought authority and detail to a world he was convinced was tormenting him. They were his shelter and his inspiration, his only real community.

    Fox News had launched in October 1996, a little more than a year after the Oklahoma City bombing, and O’Reilly was one of its biggest on-air talents. “Fox gives voice to people who can’t get on other networks,” O’Reilly later told a reporter. “When was the last time you saw pro-life people unless they shot somebody?” Like Limbaugh, O’Reilly devoted lots of air time to denouncing abortions, and those who provided them.

    That the conspiracy theory site Infowars would follow this playbook for stoking anti-abortion harassment is of little surprise.

  • Fox News added more female hosts but still had the same abortion misinformation problem

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT & SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    When Media Matters last crunched the numbers on Fox News programming responsible for the most abortion misinformation, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and Tucker Carlson were unsurprisingly the worst culprits. However, as allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against O’Reilly (and other network figures including Eric Bolling) and he was eventually fired, Fox News transitioned to an evening lineup with more female hosts -- Shannon Bream, Martha MacCallum, and Laura Ingraham. But this change has not come close to fixing the network’s abortion misinformation problem.

    Media Matters analyzed evening prime-time news programs on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN from March 1, 2017, through March 1, 2018, and identified segments featuring a substantial discussion of abortion and reproductive rights. The resulting 211 segments were then coded for the number of accurate or inaccurate statements made about four abortion-related topics: the discredited anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP), abortion funding rules, Planned Parenthood’s essential services, and so-called extreme abortion procedures. We found that Fox News dominated the conversation about abortion -- airing 114 of the 211 total segments across all cable news networks (54 percent) -- and that its coverage of the four abortion-related topics was inaccurate 77 percent of the time. And 44 percent of its 114 segments were aired on programs Bream, MacCallum, and Ingraham anchored.

    The shows Bream, MacCallum, and Ingraham hosted had 107 statements about the four abortion-related topics, out of which the hosts either personally spread -- or gave a platform to those spreading -- anti-abortion misinformation 76 times (71 percent). Here’s a sample of what each host has offered her viewers in the last year:

    Shannon Bream

    Overall, Bream made 30 appearances on Fox News where a substantial discussion of abortion occurred. Although Bream entered the prime-time lineup when she started hosting her own show, Fox News @ Night, on October 30, 2017, she had previously regularly appeared as a guest or a correspondent during The First 100 Days and Special Report. Bream individually made 35 total statements about CMP, abortion funding rules, Planned Parenthood’s essential services, and so-called extreme abortion procedures. Of these 35 statements, 23 contained misinformation (66 percent).

    As Media Matters documented after Fox News @ Night debuted, Bream appears well-attuned to the talking points and interests of the anti-abortion movement; an anti-abortion leader even celebrated her promotion, tweeting that Bream “covers Life issues with fearlessness and fairness.” Since then, Bream has promoted anti-abortion talking points and myths -- suggesting they were simply concerns she “heard from a lot of pro-life groups” -- including by asking a misleading question about taxpayers paying for the abortions of undocumented minors who come to the United States.

    As a host, Bream has been consistent in repeating misinformation about anti-abortion group CMP, which engaged in a smear campaign against Planned Parenthood by releasing deceptively edited videos. Just as she had done repeatedly in the past, Bream promoted CMP and said its actions caused Planned Parenthood to become “mired in scandal” and that CMP’s videos showed “Planned Parenthood officials discussing pricing for fetal body parts and tissue left over after abortions.”

    Martha MacCallum

    MacCallum made 14 appearances in Fox News segments that had a substantial discussion of abortion. All these segments were on the two Fox News programs she hosted during the study period -- The First 100 Days and The Story. During those appearances, MacCallum made nine statements in total about CMP and so-called extreme abortion procedures, all of which were inaccurate (100 percent). MacCallum also frequently relied on extreme and stigmatizing rhetoric about abortion.

    When discussing CMP, MacCallum often treated the discredited organization and its deceptive smear videos as credible sources of information. For example, during a March 2017 segment of The First 100 Days, MacCallum not only played a long excerpt from one of the videos, she also said that it was “still hard to watch,” implying that it accurately depicted that Planned Parenthood was engaged in the sale of fetal body parts. In an interview with Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), MacCallum focused on Blackburn’s phrasing in one of her campaign ads, which Twitter briefly blocked her campaign from promoting. In the ad, Blackburn referred to her time on the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, saying, “I fought Planned Parenthood and we stopped the sale of baby body parts.” Instead of questioning Blackburn on her inaccurate phrasing or talking about the smear campaign that Blackburn and the panel had engaged in against Planned Parenthood, Bream accepted her narrative, saying, “You fought hard, as you say, to ban the sale of baby body parts. I mean, it’s such a difficult phrase even to say and I think you’ve fought very hard for it.”

    Similarly, during a July 2017 segment on The Story, MacCallum pushed several myths about the existence and widespread practice of so-called sex-selective, late-term, and full-term abortions. In reality, these are inaccurate descriptions of abortion, created by anti-abortion groups to vilify those accessing legal health care. In one example, MacCallum said that an Oregon bill (now law) that ensured protection of reproductive rights for all -- including undocumented immigrants -- would allow for “sex-selective” and “late-term, even full-term, abortions for an illegal immigrant.” MacCallum continued to push the misinformation, asking her guest, political commentator Danielle McLaughlin, whether she thought it was “OK for someone to decide because they don’t like the sex of their baby to abort it at eight months” and demanding to know, “Why would any state want to pass a law that would allow that?”

    Laura Ingraham

    During the study period, Ingraham made 10 appearances in Fox News segments where there was a substantial discussion of abortion. Like Bream, Ingraham started hosting her own show, The Ingraham Angle, on October 30, 2017, and before that, she had also occasionally appeared as a guest on Special Report and Hannity. Although Ingraham made only three statements total about the four abortion-related topics, two of these statements were inaccurate (67 percent).

    Despite only making 10 appearances during the period of study, Ingraham made a splash with her frequent use of alarmist and stigmatizing rhetoric. In one appearance, Ingraham called Planned Parenthood a “monstrosity of killing.” A December 2017 segment of The Ingraham Angle may be the most bewildering segment of the year about abortion. It started as a fairly regular Fox News segment about abortion, with Ingraham fearmongering that because of a court decision to allow undocumented minors abortion access, the United States would become “an abortion magnet.” Then, Ingraham insisted that a picture of a baby be put up on screen and demanded that her guest, attorney Rachel Self, “look at the screen.” Self calmly explained that she was unable to see the image because she was not in studio. Undeterred, Ingraham escalated the situation and eventually cut Self’s mic off, saying, “I can’t hear her talking over me.”

    Fox News added more female hosts to its prime-time lineup, but having greater gender representation didn't translate to accurate and nuanced coverage of abortion. Bream, MacCallum, and Ingraham show that a push for gender parity in the cable news world cannot happen in a vacuum and must go hand-in-hand -- particularly for abortion-related issues -- with a commitment to frank, fair, and accurate coverage.

  • Right-wing media are filling a void of abortion-related coverage with misinformation

    Fox News is dominating the conversation about abortion on evening cable news -- and the network is doing it all wrong

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    A 12-month-long Media Matters study of evening cable news programs found that Fox News dominated discussions of abortion and reproductive rights and that the network was wrong about four common abortion-related topics 77 percent of the time.

  • Trump to keynote anti-abortion group's gala after it promoted his DC hotel

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In anticipation of its annual gala, the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) has been promoting official room blocks for the event at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., and running a contest in which the prize includes a free stay at the property during the gala. On May 14, during the White House press briefing, deputy press secretary Raj Shah then announced that President Donald Trump would be delivering the keynote address at the gala.

    Since Trump’s election, many experts have warned about the potential for the president to benefit from expenditures made at Trump Organization properties. As part of an ongoing analysis of how political groups leverage use of the Trump hotel in D.C. to gain influence with the administration, The Washington Post noted that since Trump’s election, the property has “turned into a Republican power center where foreign governments, political groups, religious organizations and business interests have held dozens of events.” In March, CNN reported that in February alone, Federal Election Commission documents indicated that “the RNC spent more than $271,000 on venue rental and catering at Trump properties in Florida and Washington, DC," noting that "more than half of that" was spent at the Trump International Hotel. Politico similarly explained, “Because Trump has maintained his financial interest in his vast business while president — and, unlike previous presidents, filed for reelection soon after taking office — the relationship between pro-Trump political groups and the Trump businesses has no precedent.”

    SBA List is one group cashing in on its ties to President Trump. On May 22, the group will host its annual “Campaign for Life” gala, with Trump as the keynote speaker. Before Trump’s appearance was announced, SBA List promoted on its website a discounted room rate ($399 per night) at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. for those attending the gala. However, after the White House announced Trump as the speaker, SBA List’s website stopped listing the hotel among its accommodation options. It’s unclear exactly when the change was made, but according a Google cached version of the webpage, SBA List took down the page listing the hotel and discounted rate as early as the night before the announcement.

    In addition, before and after the announcement of Trump as keynote speaker, SBA List promoted a contest in which its members could win a trip to the gala and a stay at the Trump International Hotel.

    SBA List enjoys close ties to the president and his administration. Last year, Vice President Mike Pence delivered the gala’s keynote address, while this year “longtime friend” of the organization Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, will be awarded “SBA List’s 2018 Distinguished Leader Award.” Previously, SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser was appointed to lead Trump’s “Pro-Life Coalition.”

  • Kevin Williamson says he was persecuted. Abortion providers and patients face much worse.

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    What’s a would-be conservative provocateur to do after being fired for misleading his employer and arguing on multiple occasions that people who’ve had abortions should be hanged? If you’re former National Review writer Kevin Williamson, the answer is apparently pontificating in The Wall Street Journal about your perceived victimization at the hands of the unsophisticated masses and media elite alike, who just don’t respect your audacity to “tell people things they don’t want to hear.”

    In his April 20 Wall Street Journal article, Williamson argued that his “trollish and hostile” comments about hanging women who have abortions were meant as rhetorical strategy to highlight “the sloppy rhetoric of the abortion debate,” and not as “a public-policy recommendation.” He argued that his comments instead detracted from his intended purpose of discussing "the more meaningful questions about abortion," claiming that "there aren’t very many people on the pro-choice side ... who are ready to talk candidly about the reality of abortion.”

    Williamson’s idea that people are unwilling to have candid conversations about abortion tells us far more about Williamson and the state of right-wing punditry than about the nature of conversations about abortion among pro-choice advocates. Abortion rights advocates have emphasized the importance of empowering people to share their abortion experiences. In contrast, right-wing media have long demonized and vilified those who have abortions, describing the legal medical procedure as “sickening,” “grisly,” and on par with terrorism. In some instances, abortion providers are attacked as villains and compared to Nazis while those who have had later abortions are called “selfish and disgusting.” 

    Abortion is a common health care experience in the United States. But right-wing media outlets and personalities -- particularly those self-styled as edgy firebrands -- show little sign of candidly engaging on the topic in good faith. For example, in 2016, in response to a woman sharing her abortion story with The New York Times, The Daily Caller “edited” her narrative “for accuracy and clarity” and added stigmatizing language and ad hominem attacks in brackets. In 2014, Renee Bracey Sherman wrote about the litany of threatening “Facebook posts, messages, emails, and tweets” she received after authoring a piece about her abortion experience.

    For Williamson, victimization appears to mean suffering the slings and arrows of conservatives and liberals in “the Twitter mob,” or being denied “sponsorships from Google and Pepsi.” Meanwhile, abortion providers, patients, and clinics in the United States are consistently and openly subjected to targeted harassment and in some cases violence. According to data from the National Abortion Federation (NAF), targeted harassment of abortion providers and clinics rose in 2016 to the highest levels seen since NAF began tracking incidents in 1977, including “a wide range of intimidation tactics meant to disrupt the provision of health care at facilities, including vandalism, picketing, obstruction, invasion, trespassing, burglary, stalking, assault and battery, and bomb threats.” Since 1993, attacks on abortion clinics and abortion providers have led to 11 deaths, including a 2015 attack on a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic that killed three and injured at least nine more.

    Already in 2018 there have been numerous reports of violence or threats against abortion clinics. In February, anti-abortion activist Luke Wiersma was “charged with sending a series of online death threats to Chicago-area abortion clinics,” and according to one report, Wiersma allegedly said that he would “do anything and everything to stop the unmitigated murders of fetuses” including “kill to stop these atrocities.” In another incident, in New Jersey, Marckles Alcius “deliberately crashed a stolen truck” into a Planned Parenthood clinic and “indicated to investigators after his arrest that the act was intentional and that he was willing to die.” These are hardly isolated incidents -- similar attacks or threats have also been recently reported in Illinois, Utah, Texas, Pennsylvania, California, Washington, Massachusetts, and more.

    Beyond bemoaning his alleged victimization, Williamson also argued that his undoing was the result of “the rage-fueled tribalism of social media” and that “no one is very much interested in my actual views on abortion and capital punishment.”

    Actually, we’re very interested. And the one in four women who have had an abortion in the United States are even more so. Williamson and his cadre of right-wing allies will continue to attempt to reframe the conversation away from the substance of his remarks -- to make his firing about anything other than the ramifications of his own rancor. Williamson will continue to play the victim, but that doesn’t change the facts: He was not a conservative thought leader sacrificed at the altar of vindictive liberal bias and elitism. He casually and cruelly gave voice to the idea that people who’ve had abortions should be brutally murdered.

    Kevin Williamson isn’t the victim of a vast left-wing conspiracy, or even an ill-informed “Twitter mob.” He’s only the victim of his own desire to provoke, no matter whom his argument may hurt -- and he’s learning what it’s like to be held accountable for his actions.

  • Yes, Kevin Williamson wanted to hang people who've had abortions. Don't let conservatives rewrite history.

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    This week, former National Review writer Kevin Williamson was fired by The Atlantic after 2014 audio proved that Williamson did, in fact, mean it when he said people who’ve had abortions should be hanged. In the resulting conservative meltdown, what right-wing outlets seemed desperate to do is have any conversation other than the one actually at hand. Instead, they chose to cry censorship, bemoan so-called liberal bias, and tried to rewrite history by saying Williamson was fired for holding a general anti-abortion stance.

    But this retelling is fundamentally untrue. Williamson wasn’t fired because he holds anti-abortion views. He was fired because he repeatedly, across multiple platforms, advocated for the criminalization and brutal execution of people seeking abortion care. And the fervor to distract from that truth would be truly astounding, if it wasn’t so eminently predictable. 

    When news of Williamson’s hiring first broke, a number of pundits across the ideological spectrum tripped over themselves to downplay and excuse his statements -- defending a so-called “provocateur” whose cherished turns of phrase include calling attacking transgender people as being “delusional,” and arguing that “it just simply is not the case that young black men are getting gunned down, unarmed, by police officers in any sort of significant numbers.” These writers -- including The Atlantic’s Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg, who initially framed Williamson’s comment as an “objectionable tweet” -- argued that Williamson hadn’t really meant what he said about people who’ve had abortions being executed, and asked us to kindly calm down. “For heaven’s sake,” wrote The New York Times’ Bret Stephens, “it was a tweet.” Others, such as Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum called the rightful outrage over Williamson’s hiring, “weird,” while National Review’s David French implored readers to just “give tolerance a chance.”

    Once Williamson’s meaning proved truly undeniable, leading to his firing, right-wing media outlets raced to reframe the conversation -- ignoring the substance of his remarks to instead cry wolf about perceived ideological intolerance. For example, The Federalist wrote that Williamson “was fired for his opinions on abortion” after “the usual suspects freaked out and proceeded to dig up old tweets and audio.” Washington Examiner published not one, but two, pieces arguing that Williamson was a victim in a larger ideological war. In another example, RedState argued that Williamson wasn’t fired because of his “fanciful views about legal consequences connected to abortion,“ but that he was “kicked out for refusing to back down in expressing that abortion is murder and should be viewed as such even in this current climate.” David French even asked where the respect for Williamson’s tolerance was as he is “the son of a teen mom, born shortly before Roe v. Wade, and narrowly escaped being aborted,” who would’ve been forced to share an office at The Atlantic with people who support abortion access.

    What these defenses, and even Goldberg’s original justification for hiring Williamson, ignore is that statements like Williamson’s send a clear message to the one-in-four women who’ve had abortions in the United States: that their lives do not matter, that they are criminal, and that they deserve (even in hypothetical terms) to be brutally executed for seeking constitutionally protected and sometimes life-saving medical care.

    Williamson wasn’t fired because he’s anti-abortion -- he was fired because he advocated for the brutal punishment of those who’ve have abortions. Even if you grant the premise that Williamson was merely expressing what could happen in a future without legal abortion, that he not only carved out an exception to his overall ambivalent stance on the death penalty for those who have abortions, but also advocated for a method that is considered too inhumane by almost all the states that currently employ capital punishment, takes his comments beyond mere speculation.

    As research from Media Matters has previously shown, the people who are often empowered to shape the conversation about abortion are overwhelmingly men. As a result, these conversations reflect not only an incomplete understanding but also treat abortion as some sort of hypothetical thought exercise or as a political bargaining chip, ignoring real impacts that lack of access has on the lives of real people.

    Furthermore, Williamson’s defense of capital punishment for those who’ve had abortions is extreme but not really that hypothetical. Already, policies at the state level punish people for attempting to access abortion care. As Irin Carmon wrote in 2016: “Just ask Purvi Patel, who is appealing a 30-year prison sentence for her conviction for feticide in Indiana,” or Anna Yocca, Rennie Gibbs, Jennie Lynn McCormack, or Jennifer Whalen. She continued that all these cases all demonstrate how “women have been prosecuted under current restrictions on abortion, at times with major felonies.” Just this week in Idaho, Republican lieutenant governor candidate Bob Nonini was forced to walk back comments that the Associated Press characterized as “women who get an abortion should be punished” including that “that the punishment should include the death penalty.” During the presidential election, then-candidate Donald Trump told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (before later backtracking) that he thought there should “be some form of punishment” for people who have abortions. As Robin Marty explained, although the right may claim that punishing people for abortion is merely an “extreme fringe” of the movement, there are already anti-abortion groups and candidates running on platforms incredibly similar to what Williamson advocates. 

    Williamson felt so strongly on this topic that he even confirmed at the time to an anti-abortion publication that he meant exactly what he said. Given that right-wing media outlets have regularly participated in or facilitated anti-abortion harassment, it’s not surprising to see a lack of concern about Williamson’s comments. Conservatives may be desperate to change the conversation, but the fact remains: advocating for the brutal execution of people who’ve had abortions isn’t provocative or tolerant -- it’s cruel.

  • The Atlantic fired Kevin Williamson for his abortion comments. Check out all this other stuff he said.

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    After previously defending the hiring of former National Review writer Kevin Williamson as an exercise in ideological diversity, Atlantic Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg announced on April 5 that the outlet was “parting ways” with Williamson. In particular, Goldberg noted that Williamson’s defense of his belief that those who have had abortion should be hanged “runs contrary to The Atlantic’s tradition of respectful, well-reasoned debate, and to the values of our workplace.”

    Although some chose to write off Williamson’s comments on abortion as offhand statements, in reality, Williamson defended and expanded his belief that those who have abortions should face hanging in a 2014 edition of his podcast, “Mad Dogs & Englishmen.” In the episode, Williamson said that although he was “kind of squishy on capital punishment in general,” he was “absolutely willing to see abortion treated like regular homicide” and in particular had “a soft spot for hanging as a form of capital punishment.”

    Beyond his statements about abortion, Williamson also has a long resume when it comes to problematic articles and commentary, on a variety of topics.

    Before he was fired, Media Matters was reviewing additional episodes of Williamson’s podcast. Here are some previously unreported lowlights from other subjects Williamson discussed on “Mad Dogs & Englishmen”:

    On race

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: But at the end of the day we also have to pay attention to the actual facts of the case. And the unhappy part of that story is that a lot of the complaint is based on fiction. A lot of what we have to say about it is based on fiction. It just simply is not the case that young black men are getting gunned down, unarmed, by police officers in any sort of significant numbers. It’s just not something that really happens.

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: And I don’t think that a lot of people talking about this right now really even quite understand what the basic genesis of these protests were and where they came from. I think [football player Colin] Kaepernick is a fairly unsympathetic character because he seems to be someone who doesn’t actually know very much what he’s talking about and kind of likes to play radical, maybe to make up for the fact that his sports career wasn’t all that promising there at the end.

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: Yeah, so the kid, as I was noting in my piece, he yells at me and calls me a “cracker” and “white devil” and whatnot. And the kid sort of looked to me like Snoop Dogg, the rapper. And, he had -- he was very thin, had that sort of pointy kind of wry face, and had some braids and everything too. So I mention in my piece, I sort of did the math, he was just under 4 feet high it looked like and Snoop Dogg is a bit over 6 feet high, that he looked like a three-fifth-scale Snoop Dogg. So apparently the fraction three-fifths now, according to Jamelle [Bouie], is inherently racist because --

    CHARLES COOKE (CO-HOST): Because of the Constitution?

    WILLIAMSON: Because of the three-fifths compromise over slavery in the Constitution. In which the unit in question, I note, was not three-fifths of a Snoop Dogg.

    On gender and sexual assault

    CHARLES COOKE (CO-HOST) But this notion that we will make it incumbent upon your boss to provide a health plan, then tell him what has to be in it, and then tell him that it’s none of his business is inherently absurd. 

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: Someone just needs to tell these brave feminist warrior princesses fighting the patriarchy that it’s time to stop asking Daddy to buy you stuff.

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: This makes me want to bang my head on the table, because it’s just complete B.S. So, this stat that we’re always treated to, endlessly discredited, that women earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn, is produced this way: Take all the earnings of all the women who have full-time jobs and all the earnings of men who have full-time jobs and compare them. Yes, and you will come up with that. But that doesn’t tell you anything about what sort of jobs they’re in, or how long they’ve been in the workforce or what kind of education they have, or anything else.

    [...]

    Now, that may be that some nefarious, sexist cabal somewhere is shunting all the women over into HR and putting the men in sales jobs, but it could also be other things, like choices that people make. Commission sales is an inherently insecure job; women are more risk-averse than men are.

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: So, people make different decisions about those sorts of things. And we all know this. I mean, you walk into an elementary school and you notice the male teachers because there’s relatively few of them. You go to other sorts of positions and you’ll notice women there because they stand out because there are relatively few women in those jobs.

    CHARLES COOKE (CO-HOST): Construction.

    WILLIAMSON: Construction, bouncers, things like that. Not that you would go into a strip club, but if you did go into a strip club you would notice a very pronounced division of labor between the people collecting the money at the door and the people performing on stage. They're just -- people make different sorts of decisions about things.

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: A lot of the reaction against Trump, and I say this as an up-and-down-the-line anti-Trump guy, isn’t based on his policies, it’s based on the sort of people who are attracted to him and his candidacy. And that’s what was on my mind very much while watching these stupid protests and marches and riots and all of that kind of stuff. I want there to be opposition to Trump, but I want it to be intelligent, mature, patriotic, and authentically liberal opposition to him. Instead, we got a bunch of self-infantilizing people dressed in vagina hats, screaming about tampons and that sort of thing.

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: So, let’s see, if the two candidates -- the two major party candidates were Bugs Bunny characters. … [Hillary Clinton is] a slightly Daffy Duck kind of character, I think in some ways. She’s got an annoying voice, she tends to blow herself up when there’s no particular reason to, things just tend not to go right for her, she’s an egomaniac. She could be sort of a Daffy Duck.

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: This is something I bang on a lot about I know, and forgive me for bringing it up here again but I think it is relevant, that the idea that there is an epidemic of rape on college campuses is, first of all, demonstrably untrue. That there’s an epidemic of rape anywhere in the country is demonstrably untrue. Sexual assault have declined something like 68 percent in the last 20 years.

    On immigration

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: When I’ve -- I’ve talked about using an income criterion as a kind of cut-off for not all of our immigration problems -- programs -- but a lot of immigration programs, and a pretty high way, say $200,000 a year is more or less OK. There’s background check and other stuff, but if you’re coming in at a wage like that, you’re not being hired probably because you’re the cheapest guy for the job. You’re being hired because someone is looking for a specific set of skills. Because I simply don’t think our country is going to made better off by importing a lot of poor people. It sounds callous to say, but I think we probably have enough poor people in the United States to start with. I don’t really look out at the country and see a shortage.

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: One of the other problems with the purely economic libertarian arguments about immigration is that people aren’t capital. They’re just not. They bring other stuff with them. And that stuff has to be taken into consideration, I think, as well. 

    CHARLES COOKE (CO-HOST): Well, and people care about culture.

    WILLIAMSON: Yeah, they do care about culture. And that actually matters and it should be taken into account. And people think this is chauvinistic or racist or Islamophobic or whatnot, but there’s no reason that stuff should not be taken into account because we do care about the composition of our society.

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: And this is where people start to get a little nervous on grounds of things that sound like discrimination to us, and maybe it is discrimination in a way. But I think it’s useful and healthy discrimination that obviously people who are looking to immigrate here from Pakistan or Afghanistan or Iran or Saudi Arabia should obviously, in my view, be subject to a much, much higher level of scrutiny than people who are coming here from Switzerland or Sweden.

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: One of the things I think that we have to be even more forthright about is that we aren’t talking here about a geographic[al] question, we are here talking about a cultural question. We are talking about people who come from Islamic backgrounds. And that’s also going to hold true for many immigrants from the United Kingdom and from other Commonwealth countries that have large immigrant populations of their own from the Middle East. So, I’m thinking that someone who immigrated from Pakistan to the U.K. 20 years ago or 25 years ago, and now the family wants to immigrate to the United States, I would treat them essentially the same way as we would people immigrating from Pakistan. And that gets you into the problem, I guess, where you don’t really get to use the geographic dodge.