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Sharon Kann

Author ››› Sharon Kann
  • Thanks to anti-abortion media, the latest congressional "tech censorship" hearing was particularly absurd

    Senate hearing about alleged censorship of anti-abortion movie Unplanned was another exercise in right-wing outrage-baiting

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    During an April 10 Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing about the so-called “censorship” of conservative content by social media platforms, senators continually (and inaccurately) claimed Twitter's temporary suspension of an account associated with the anti-abortion movie Unplanned was evidence of wider bias. Although allegations of widespread conservative censorship by social media companies are inaccurate, the accusation itself is familiar among anti-abortion extremists, who have long deployed it as a tactic to rally supporters and raise funds.

    Soon after Unplanned’s release in March, a Twitter account associated with the movie was temporarily suspended and reactivated. The Hollywood Reporter explained that the movie’s account “was not suspended on purpose, but rather was linked to another account that had violated Twitter's rules.” Because of this, the Unplanned account was soon reactivated and its followers restored -- but not before right-wing media expressed outrage and alleged that the film had been “shadow banned” (a common and completely false conservative claim). Although Twitter’s FAQ clearly explains that follower and tweet counts “will be fully restored within 24 hours of reactivation,” right-wing and anti-abortion media continued to treat the incident as yet another example of censorship by tech companies.

    This is far from the first time that anti-abortion groups or outlets have alleged censorship to rile up supporters or solicit funds. Lila Rose, founder of the anti-abortion group Live Action, told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson in 2017 that Twitter was censoring her organization’s ads. In reality, the content remained on the platform -- Live Action simply wasn’t allowed to promote the ads as such because they violated several of Twitter’s content policies. In other instances, this tactic has been deployed by anti-abortion groups to lambast Google’s page rankings or allege widespread media bias against right-wing or anti-abortion views.

    Beyond riling up their supporters, this tactic is often deployed by anti-abortion groups to fundraise in the name of fighting back against alleged social media censorship. The anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List has leveraged similar allegations to sway voters and raise funds for specific campaigns. During the 2018 midterm elections, SBA List accused Facebook of removing its ads urging people to “vote pro-life.” Although Facebook actually disallowed the ads because the platform doesn’t “allow ads that depict medical procedures or conditions,” SBA List framed the move as another example of censorship and urged supporters to “RUSH a contribution … to help us fight back and get this ad in front of voters in key swing-states DESPITE the ongoing censorship of pro-life voices by the abortion lobby.”

    This Senate hearing is only the latest example of Republican lawmakers’ willingness to entertain inaccurate talking points claiming censorship of conservative views. In 2017, then-Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) deployed this tactic to generate attention and garner support after announcing her run for retiring Sen. Bob Corker's (R-TN) seat, which she ultimately won. Blackburn referred to this incident during the April 10 hearing as well -- even receiving an apology from Twitter’s representative.

    Early in the hearing, while questioning witnesses from Facebook and Twitter, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) demanded to know why a 2017 tweet from SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser had allegedly been censored. Although the tweet was never actually removed from Twitter (and in fact remains up today), The Washington Post noted that the tweet had originally been rejected from paid promotion for violating that platform’s “health and pharmaceutical products and services policy.” During the hearing, Twitter’s witness affirmed that SBA List was generally “in good standing” for the purposes of advertising on the platform. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) also questioned why several of SBA List’s Facebook ads depicting premature babies in a medical setting were removed. Although the ads were ultimately allowed to run on the platform, Lee implied that they were initially flagged due to rampant liberal bias at Facebook -- an allegation the witness denied.

    During the hearing’s second session, Unplanned and SBA List were both given a platform to repeat talking points about the alleged censorship of anti-abortion content online. In his opening testimony, Unplanned co-director Chuck Konzelman claimed that the temporary suspension of the film’s Twitter account was “suspect” and credited right-wing media personalities such as Fox News host Shannon Bream and National Rifle Association spokesperson Dana Loesch for raising awareness of the incident. SBA List’s Vice President of Government Affairs Marilyn Musgrave testified that her organization had “been fighting censorship of our content for more than two years” alongside other anti-abortion organizations that she claimed had experienced similar difficulties.

    When conservatives have previously attempted to hold hearings investigating the so-called bias of tech platforms, the results have featured laughable conspiracy theories about liberals censoring conservative content. As this latest hearing demonstrated, anti-abortion and right-wing media will continue to falsely cry censorship to signal-boost their deceptive content, rile up supporters, and raise funds. Given this track record, perhaps the only thing more predictable than right-wing and anti-abortion media’s invocation of censorship to market Unplanned was Senate Republicans’ willingness to give a platform to such a transparent ploy in the first place.

  • Right-wing media’s meltdown about Beto O’Rourke's abortion comment is as opportunistic as it is obvious

    Conservatives are relying on anti-abortion fearmongering for the 2020 elections. Right-wing media aren’t being subtle about helping that effort.

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Right-wing media haven’t been subtle about manufacturing controversy over inaccurate characterizations of abortions undertaken later in pregnancy. But the messaging strategy fueling this latest meltdown -- over comments Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke made about abortion -- is as opportunistic as it is obvious. President Donald Trump has centered anti-abortion fearmongering in his 2020 election messaging, and as this latest outrage demonstrates, right-wing media will continue to be in lockstep.

    During a March 18 event, O’Rourke was asked by a staffer from the far-right conspiracy outlet Infowars (which is currently banned from YouTube and other platforms) whether he supports later abortion access. In particular, the staffer asked O’Rourke if he would “protect the lives of third-trimester babies because there’s really not a medical necessity for abortion,” echoing inaccurate right-wing talking points about the necessity of abortions later in pregnancy. O’Rourke responded that he supported abortion access broadly and that it “should be a decision that the woman makes,” adding that he trusted people to make their own decisions. Although innocuous, O’Rourke’s comments sparked an outcry from right-wing and anti-abortion media outlets, which pointed to the moment as the latest example of so-called Democratic extremism on abortion.

    National Review accused O’Rourke of refusing to address “the morality of third-trimester abortion” and argued that his answer was “reflective of the Democratic presidential field, which comprises lawmakers who maintain a blanket opposition to abortion restrictions regardless of gestational age.” Townhall argued that O’Rourke’s support for abortion “past the point of fetal viability” is unpopular and that he was “not the only one in his party defending abortion up until birth.” On social media, right-wing and anti-abortion figures similarly attacked O’Rourke and other Democrats as “despicable,” “ghoulish,” and extreme. Although many criticisms focused on casting Democrats as “the party of late-term abortion in 2020,” some anti-abortion groups like the Susan B. Anthony List took this rhetoric further, alleging that O’Rourke and other Democrats support “abortion up until birth.”

    Cries of Democratic “extremism” have been building in the right-wing echo chamber since earlier this year, when abortion rights measures in New York and Virginia sparked widespread conservative outrage. Fox News, and right-wing media more broadly, spent weeks whipping audiences into a frenzy over various inaccurate depictions of later abortion -- alleging that Democrats supporting these measures were endorsing “infanticide” or so-called abortions “up to birth.” In reality, neither of these characterizations accurately reflects abortion procedures or the specific circumstances faced by those patients needing an abortion later in pregnancy. Similarly, although right-wing media often claim that supporting abortion rights is harmful for Democrats electorally and that polling supports this allegation, clear and accurately phrased polling actually demonstrates the opposite. In particular, support for abortions later in pregnancy increases when people are given context about the medical or logistical circumstances necessitating later abortions.

    Nevertheless, Trump and the Republican Party have already adopted right-wing media talking points about abortion as a core part of their 2020 messaging strategy. Anti-abortion misinformation and allegations of Democratic extremism have transitioned from Fox News fodder, to Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address, to various speeches at the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference, and statements from White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.

    Right-wing media and conservative politicians aren’t being subtle about using anti-abortion misinformation as a cudgel to stoke outrage -- because they don’t have to be. Especially when other media outlets have already demonstrated that they will uncritically parrot inaccurate framing and talking points borne of the right-wing outrage machine. Anti-abortion fearmongering isn’t going anywhere as coverage around the 2020 election ramps up. Already, conservative media are trying to spark a secondary round of coverage over O’Rourke’s comments. It’s only a matter of time before right-wing media gin up another candidate-based controversy to attack abortion access and those who support it, no matter what the consequences may be.

  • There’s no difference between Fox’s so-called “news” and “opinion” sides on anti-abortion misinformation

    Fox’s “straight news” anchors repeat the same anti-choice talking points as the network's opinion hosts

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    There are many reasons that Fox News’ false dichotomy between the network’s so-called “news” and “opinion” divisions is laughable, but there is perhaps no clearer indication than the sheer amount of anti-abortion misinformation spread by both "opinion" and “straight news” personalities alike.

    After the Democratic National Committee announced that Fox News would not be hosting any of this year’s Democratic presidential primary debates, backlash from Fox’s senior leadership was swift, with officials imploring the DNC to “reconsider its decision” on account of the “ultimate journalistic integrity and professionalism” reportedly shown by some of the network’s hosts. As Variety previously reported, the network had already rolled out a messaging campaign to reassure wary advertisers about the outlet’s legitimacy, extolling the virtues of the network’s news hosts. This messaging campaign is merely a repackaging of the same inaccurate story Fox has been telling for years: Viewers and critics shouldn’t hold the blatant xenophobia, sexism, racism, and lies of the opinion side against the allegedly objective news team. But this recycled talking point further falls apart when it comes to anti-abortion misinformation spread by the network’s hosts.

    In January, abortion rights measures in New York and Virginia sent Fox News and broader conservative media into a frenzy. Although both measures were attempts to protect abortion access should the Supreme Court overturn or weaken Roe v. Wade, Fox News hosts across the network’s news and opinion programs seized on the opportunity to spread sensationalized misinformation and attack Democrats for allegedly supporting “infanticide” or so-called abortions “up until birth.” Despite these inaccurate characterizations, Fox News devoted over six and half hours of coverage before the 2019 State of the Union address to falsely claiming that these state measures allowed “infanticide” -- a talking point that ultimately appeared in President Donald Trump’s remarks. In fact, Trump and Republican lawmakers are reportedly banking on using anti-abortion extremism to rally voters for the 2020 elections -- a strategy that was on full display during the most recent Conservative Political Action Conference.

    It’s no secret that Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity -- each a part of Fox’s volatile and increasingly bad-for-business prime-time lineup -- are all frequent anti-abortion misinformers. Although Fox has attempted to distinguish the work of Bret Baier, Martha MacCallum, Shannon Bream, and Chris Wallace from their colleagues, these "news"-side hosts have all pushed their share of lies, distortions, and misinformation about abortion and reproductive rights.

    Bret Baier

    Although Fox clearly has a profit motive in portraying Baier as a straight news host, there is little to distinguish him from his colleagues on the opinion side when it comes to his abortion-related reporting. In Media Matters’ annual study of abortion-related coverage on evening prime-time cable news programs, Baier and his program Special Report have consistently been dominated by anti-choice talking points and inaccurate statements about abortion and reproductive rights.

    Notably, Baier hosted a 2016 town hall with Democratic presidential candidates and used the platform to recycle misleading right-wing anti-abortion talking points. On his program, in the same year, Baier inaccurately described a common abortion procedure as “dismemberment abortion” and misled viewers that a Supreme Court case involving access to contraceptives was actually about abortion rights. Baier previously invoked a longstanding right-wing media talking point comparing legally operating abortion providers to convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell. In 2009, Baier even went so far as to falsely assert that the Obama administration would allow doctors to be jailed for refusing to perform abortions. 

    Martha MacCallum

    Beyond frequently hosting anti-choice guests such as Live Action founder Lila Rose and Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins, MacCallum seemingly makes little secret of her personal views on abortion and will often use sensationalized rhetoric when discussing the topic.

    Even before MacCallum became a staple of Fox’s evening lineup, she was already a serial anti-abortion misinformer. In 2015, MacCallum attacked Planned Parenthood for allegedly using taxpayer money to support abortion care (the organization does not, as the Hyde Amendment bars the use of federal funds for abortion services). Like Baier, MacCallum also used a 2016 presidential primary forum as an opportunity to spread anti-abortion misinformation sourced from the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress’ (CMP) deceptive videos attacking Planned Parenthood. Since MacCallum began hosting her own program, she has consistently promoted anti-abortion talking points about later abortion and Planned Parenthood. In 2017, MacCallum pushed several myths about the existence of so-called “sex-selective” abortion practices, even demanding a guest on her program explain whether it was acceptable “for someone to decide because they don’t like the sex of their baby to abort it at eight months.”

    Shannon Bream

    Whether appearing as a correspondent on Special Report or hosting her own program, Fox News @ Night, Bream has been a frequent source of anti-abortion misinformation on Fox. Despite representing the network’s so-called “straight news” contingent, Bream’s promotion to host her own program was celebrated by anti-abortion leaders.

    Bream was a frequent promoter of CMP’s deceptive videos, even hosting the Fox News “special” promoting the group’s claims in 2015. In 2016, Bream touted “exclusively obtained” copies of letters from a House investigation based on CMP’s allegations -- letters received a full day before they were publicly released or shared with Democratic members of the investigative panel, in direct violation of congressional rules. Since then, Bream has repeatedly signal-boosted anti-abortion talking points and myths by spreading misinformation about abortion safety, letting guests make inaccurate allegations about Planned Parenthood without pushback, and citing polls commissioned by anti-abortion groups without necessary context to suggest a lack of public support for abortion. If there’s a talking point circulating around anti-abortion media and personalities online, it’s more likely than not that it will eventually surface on Bream’s program.

    Chris Wallace

    Although Chris Wallace does not discuss abortion as frequently as some of his Fox colleagues, his invocation of so-called “partial-birth” abortion during the final debate of the 2016 presidential election is more than enough to disqualify the anchor from consideration as a fair and balanced voice on abortion-related issues. Wallace’s inaccurate and sensationalized question was then picked up by other right-wing media outlets and has since re-emerged in Trump’s current talking points about abortion. Wallace has also shown a propensity for repeating right-wing smears against Planned Parenthood, citing anti-choice videos attacking the organization well before CMP’s campaign of deception began.

    It doesn’t matter whether viewers watch so-called "news" or "opinion" programming: Both are likely to contain sensationalism, outright lies, and harmful characterizations about abortion patients, providers, and procedures -- seemingly no matter the potential consequences.

  • Fox News won’t run an anti-Nazi ad, but will let Laura Ingraham compare Planned Parenthood to Hitler

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News: Where a historical documentary can’t run an ad warning about the dangers of fascism because it contains “disgraceful Nazi imagery,” but host Laura Ingraham can show graphics comparing Planned Parenthood to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler with impunity.

    During the February 26 edition of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, Ingraham spent several segments delivering a sensationalized and inaccurate rant against abortion, particularly those performed later in pregnancy. In addition to alleging that Democrats support “the wanton extermination of children already born” -- a false talking point that has been circulating among right-wing media, anti-abortion groups, and other conservative figures -- Ingraham also compared Planned Parenthood to Nazi Germany, claiming that “Hitler, just like Planned Parenthood, practiced and defended mass extermination.” To drive her point home, Ingraham showed the following graphic on the screen:

    Fox News viewers -- particularly those who watch the prime-time lineup of Tucker Carlson, Ingraham, and Sean Hannity -- are no strangers to xenophobic or sexist content, racist dog whistles, and even talking points borrowed from white nationalists. And this isn’t the first time that Ingraham or other Fox News figures have asserted inaccurate and harmful comparisons between Planned Parenthood and Nazis. However, Ingraham’s choice of talking points and on-screen imagery raises some questions in light of Fox News’ recent decision to reject an advertisement warning about the dangers of fascism and Nazi ideology.

    On February 13, The Hollywood Reporter wrote that Fox News executives had “rejected a national advertising buy” promoting A Night at the Garden, an Oscar-nominated documentary short warning “viewers about the potential dangers of American fascism.” Although the ad was intended to warn “Sean Hannity's largely conservative viewers about the potential dangers of President Donald Trump's brand of populism,” ad sales representatives for the network rejected it, citing concerns from Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott who reportedly said that it was “not appropriate.” The network clarified the alleged “inappropriate” nature of the anti-facism ad in a subsequent comment to The Week, with Fox’s President of Ad Sales Marianne Gambelli stating that “regardless of the film’s message,” the ad was rejected for being “full of disgraceful Nazi imagery” which “did not meet our guidelines.”

    Fox News has found itself under a great deal of pressure going into the upcoming advertising sales season -- thanks in large part to an increasing awareness by many companies that associating their products with Fox News is bad for business. Dozens of advertisers have abandoned Ingraham’s show alone in the past year. As Variety reported in January, the network is currently in the process of trying to rebrand itself to advertisers after “sponsors have pulled their advertising” from a number of prime-time shows. The report continued:

    Keeping the ad dollars flowing at Fox News is critical – not only for the network, but for its parent company, 21st Century Fox. At some point in the next few months, Fox is slated to sell the bulk of its cable and studio assets to Walt Disney Co. The remaining company, known as Fox Corporation will rely on not only Fox News and Fox Business Network, but Fox Sports and Fox Broadcasting. The Fox News unit has contributed around 20% of the overall company’s operating profit. In a pared-down structure, it might be more. And while many analysts focus on the revenue Fox News derives from affiliates, its ad dollars will also be important after the sale.

    There are consequences to allowing this kind of extreme rhetoric to continue unchecked that extend beyond the negative impact on advertisers for having their products associated with vitriol like Ingraham’s. Anti-abortion violence and harassment have been on the rise in recent years -- a trend fueled in part by the extreme rhetoric of right-wing media figures, whose anti-choice talkings points are echoed by the president.

    When Fox News pitches upfronts this May, advertisers should remember: Fox News was unwilling to show an advertisement denouncing the dangers of Nazism, but the network seemingly has no problem invoking or showing Nazi imagery to attack abortion providers and patients.

  • CNN’s new political editor has a history of spreading anti-abortion misinformation

    Trump will reportedly spotlight anti-abortion extremism in 2020, and now CNN can get its anti-choice lies from in-house

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    It’s no secret that CNN employs and repeatedly hosts political commentators with ties to President Donald Trump’s administration. But with the announced hire of Sarah Isgur as a political editor, the network seems set on making its intended “facts first” approach a sisyphean labor -- particularly when it comes to abortion-related coverage.

    Already, conservative media dominate cable news conversations about abortion with inaccurate information. And as a career Republican strategist, Isgur not only lacks formal journalism experience -- a seeming necessity for anyone in an editorial role -- but has also spent years promoting anti-abortion misinformation.

    Isgur’s installation at CNN comes at a tenuous time for abortion rights. The Supreme Court appears increasingly likely to overturn or weaken Roe v. Wade, and Trump -- after weeks of sensationalized and inaccurate Fox News coverage -- is reportedly committed to spotlighting abortion misinformation in his 2020 campaign. Anti-abortion groups and the Republican Party have similarly seized on allegations of Democratic extremism on abortion rights to rally a perceived base of support ahead of next year’s elections. Already in 2019, right-wing media have inundated audiences with a plethora of inaccurate and stigmatizing coverage about abortions and the people who have them. And some outlets outside of this echo chamber have also demonstrated an alarming proclivity for uncritically repeating Trump’s anti-abortion misinformation. If anything, Isgur’s hiring means that CNN doesn’t need to parrot Trump to spread anti-abortion misinformation anymore -- the lies can come from in-house.   

    Here’s a sample of the anti-abortion talking points Sarah Isgur has promoted.

    Isgur attacked Democrats as “extreme” for supporting abortion rights

    Right-wing media have frequently alleged that the Democratic Party holds “extreme” views on abortion rights. Although there is little truth to this claim, Isgur has repeated the allegation on a number of occasions:

    Isgur promoted deceptive videos from an anti-abortion group

    In 2015, the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress released a series of deceptive videos alleging wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. Notably, then-Republican presidential candidate (and Isgur’s former boss) Carly Fiorina was among those sharing the videos and claiming they showed wrongdoing -- a position Isgur promoted:

    Isgur unfairly maligned Planned Parenthood

    Isgur equated deaths from gun violence with abortion and attacked liberals for their alleged “hypocrisy” on the two issues

    In a 2016 piece for Townhall, Isgur equated advocacy for gun regulation with efforts to ban abortions after 20 weeks. She concluded by attacking “the Left” for allegedly “demonizing conservatives who want to preserve their Second Amendment rights while refusing to even consider restrictions on killing tens of thousands of babies that could live outside the womb”:

    As it happens, I’m also pro-life. And I’ll admit that I’m simply stunned that people on the Left can argue with a straight face that a mother has a right to kill a baby that can live outside the womb. But, this week in particular, I’m even more stunned at the Left’s hypocrisy on gun control—demonizing conservatives who want to preserve their Second Amendment rights while refusing to even consider restrictions on killing tens of thousands of babies that could live outside the womb. This is why it continues to be hard for conservatives to take liberal’s arguments at face value when it comes to guns. Their ideology trumps logic and facts too often.

    Isgur lambasted CNN’s abortion-related coverage as biased

     

  • Fox News almost single-handedly manufactured anti-abortion outrage before Trump’s State of the Union

    Before the State of the Union, Fox News devoted over 6 and a half hours to inaccurately saying state abortion measures allow “infanticide”

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & ROB SAVILLO


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox News has responded to the recent state measures protecting abortion access in the only way the network knows how: with a barrage of inaccurate, bizarre, and sensationalized coverage. The network's coverage has driven misinformation about the realities of legal and medically necessary abortions later in pregnancy straight into President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, and Fox has continued this harmful narrative about abortion care beyond the speech.

    On January 22, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the Reproductive Health Act, changing a pre-Roe v. Wade state law criminalizing abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy to now allow abortions with the consent of a doctor “when the fetus is not viable or a woman’s health is at risk.” This law sparked a meltdown at Fox News, with hosts and guests decrying its allegedly “Hitlerian” nature. When a Virginia lawmaker’s comment about a pro-choice bill went viral, the Fox News spin machine went into overdrive, manufacturing a scandal about Democratic lawmakers pushing legislation that supposedly allows “infanticide.”

    Between January 22 and February 5 (before Trump's State of the Union speech):

    • Fox News discussed abortion in the context of the New York and Virginia measures for over six and a half hours.
    • CNN, in comparison, covered these topics for only about eight and a half minutes, while MSNBC’s coverage clocked in around four minutes.

    Between February 5 (after Trump's State of the Union speech) and February 6:

    • Fox News still led coverage on these issues, discussing abortion for around 13 minutes.
    • CNN and MSNBC covered it for approximately five and a half minutes and nine minutes, respectively.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Given Trump’s reliance on Fox News for his talking points and policy proposals, it’s unsurprising that he would soon take cues from the network’s breathless coverage. Indeed, both before and during the State of the Union address, Trump repeated several inaccurate right-wing media talking points.

    The consequences of allowing Fox News to rile up viewers -- including the president -- into adopting inaccurate and extreme rhetoric about abortion cannot be overstated. Trump is already calling for legislation based on right-wing lies about abortion and reportedly planning to center abortion-related fearmongering in his 2020 election messaging. Beyond this, incidents of anti-abortion violence and harassment have been on the rise, driven in part by right-wing hyperbole about abortion providers and patients.

    Media have a responsibility to correct Trump’s -- and by extension, Fox News’ -- inaccurate and sensationalized arguments about abortion. If the current response to this manufactured Fox News misinformation cycle is any indication, other outlets have some work to do.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the SnapStream video database for any mentions of “abortion” in close proximity of “New York” or “Virginia” on Fox News Channel, CNN, and MSNBC between 4 a.m. and midnight starting January 22 and ending February 6. (We included special post-State of the Union address coverage on February 5 and 6 that fell outside of this time range.)

    We timed segments, which we defined as instances in which either the New York or Virginia legislation or Trump’s comments about either legislation initiated a discussion about abortion. These included instances when abortion was the stated topic of discussion. We also timed as segments “substantive discussion,” which we defined as instances where two speakers discussed abortion with one another. For substantive discussion, we only timed the relevant speech. Segments included host monologues, news reports or packages, interviews, and guest panels. We did not include teasers for upcoming segments or passing mentions of abortion in segments about other topics. We did not include rebroadcasts.

  • The anti-abortion lies media must correct from Trump's 2019 State of the Union

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News spent the better part of last week lying about abortion, so it was only a matter of time before those talking points found their way into President Donald Trump’s hands. Now, during his 2019 State of the Union address, Trump gave that right-wing misinformation about abortion an even bigger platform -- and media have a responsibility to correct these lies.

    Right-wing media have manufactured a scandal about Democrats supporting bills that supposedly allow “infanticide” or abortions “up to moment of birth.” In reality, state lawmakers in New York and Virginia (and to a lesser extent Rhode Island) raised right-wing and anti-abortion media ire by advocating laws that either remove unnecessary restrictions on abortion access or codify abortion protections in case the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. With the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, that threat looks increasingly credible by the day.

    It’s no secret that Trump takes his cues from Fox News for everything from talking points to policy proposals and personnel. The Trump administration has enjoyed a similarly close relationship with anti-abortion groups and leaders. Thus it doesn’t take much work to identify both the source of, and audience for, the anti-abortion misinformation in Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address.

    Trump’s reference to New York’s and Virginia’s abortion measures was steeped in right-wing misinformation and sensationalized rhetoric. In addition, Trump repeated his inaccurate allegation that such measures "would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth." Although many outlets will be fact-checking the State of the Union address, fact-checkers are not always equipped to handle anti-abortion misinformation -- whether it comes from anti-choice groups or the president of the United States. Rather than uncritically repeat the misinformation Trump recycled from Fox News, media and fact-checkers should use this information to set the record straight:

    FACT: Pro-choice politicians aren’t advocating for “infanticide” or abortion at “the moment of birth.”

    Prior to the State of the Union, Trump tweeted about so-called “‘super’ late term abortion.” This phrase is intentionally sensationalized and does not reflect any medical reality, much like right-wing media’s claims that pro-choice politicians are promoting “infanticide” or abortion “at the moment of birth.” The truth is pro-choice politicians want to remove medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion care and codify state protections because of the possibility that Roe v. Wade could be overturned.

    FACT: Bans on abortion at 20 weeks, based on right-wing misinformation about fetal pain, are scientifically inaccurate and harmful.

    During his State of the Union address, Trump demanded legislation that would "prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb." Right-wing media and anti-choice politicians have repeatedly pushed for such a ban at 20 weeks. Despite claims by anti-abortion lawmakers and media, abortion restrictions based on the idea that a fetus can feel pain by 20 weeks into a pregnancy are not supported by science. According to testimony from people who have had abortions after 20 weeks, these measures, such as the oft-introduced “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” often do more harm than good. 

    FACT: There’s no such thing as “late-term” abortions (a term used by anti-choice activists). People have abortions later in pregnancy for a variety of complex and urgent reasons.

    “Late-term abortion” is a medically inaccurate and intentionally vague phrase used by anti-choice activists to mislead about a variety of medical procedures, and it is not used by high-risk obstetricians. These bills refer to abortions that happen after 20 weeks, which can occur for many reasons, including serious threats to a person’s health (such as high blood pressure or bleeding), diagnosis of grave fetal conditions, and barriers to abortion access put in place by anti-abortion politicians that unnecessarily delay the procedure. Abortions that take place later in pregnancy are extremely rare; just over 1 percent of abortion procedures are provided after 21 weeks.

    People who have abortions -- including abortions later in pregnancy -- are making a personal health care decision that's between them, a doctor, and their families. The accounts of people who decided to have an abortion later in pregnancy show the complexity and necessity of being able to access the full range of treatment options to get the best care, including abortion. In addition, people seeking later abortions are often ending wanted pregnancies. Instead of uncritically repeating right-wing media misinformation and attacks on these individuals, media should recognize that pregnant people need access to timely, high-quality care -- and obstacles to access can jeopardize their health.

  • Donald Trump used a Daily Caller interview to recycle abortion misinformation and stoke right-wing outrage

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


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After a flurry of Fox News-driven outrage over recent state measures protecting or expanding abortion access, President Donald Trump used an interview with The Daily Caller as an opportunity to recycle anti-choice misinformation and further stoke right-wing frenzy about abortion.

    On January 22, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law protecting abortion access in the state should the Supreme Court weaken or overturn Roe v. Wade. Right-wing media initially seized on a provision of the law decriminalizing abortions “after 24 weeks when the fetus is not viable or a woman’s health is at risk.” Virginia lawmakers also recently introduced a measure that would remove some restrictions to abortion care, though it has since been tabled. After a video of a lawmaker discussing the bill went viral, the right-wing and anti-abortion media outrage machine pointed to both measures as evidence that Democratic lawmakers support abortions being performed “all the way to the day of birth.”

    On January 30, Trump spoke with The Daily Caller about the Virginia measure and related comments from Gov. Ralph Northam. Predictably, Trump used the interview to repeat right-wing media talking points -- including many from Fox News -- about so-called “partial-birth” abortion and alleged support for anti-choice policies. Given Trump’s utter dependence on Fox for both talking points and policy proposals, it’s unsurprising he would take cues from the network’s rampant misinformation and sensationalized rhetoric about these abortion measures.

    This isn’t the first time Trump has repeated right-wing media lies about abortion. During the 2016 presidential election, then-candidate Trump invoked the myth of “partial-birth” abortion to falsely allege that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton supported abortion procedures that “rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month" of pregnancy. Trump returned to this talking point during his conversation with The Daily Caller, saying: “Do you remember when I said Hillary Clinton was willing to rip the baby out of the womb? That’s what it is, that’s what they’re doing, it’s terrible” -- echoing language that had been a prominent part of Fox News’ coverage of the Virginia bill. Trump also inaccurately alleged the Virginia measure would “lift up” the popularity of the anti-abortion movement, which he claimed was “a very 50-50 issue” -- recycling an inaccurate talking point about a supposed lack of public support for abortion access.

    Trump’s talking point about so-called “partial-birth" abortion or “abortion in the ninth month” is based on a lie:

    • So-called “partial-birth" abortion (often used by right-wing and anti-choice media to describe later abortions) is not a medical term, but one invented by anti-abortion extremists to shame and villainize people having abortions later in pregnancy.
    • The procedure that the term “partial-birth" abortion supposedly references was outlawed in 2003.
    • Later abortions happen because of medical necessity, risks to the life and health of the pregnant person, or because of a nonviable fetus. The decision to have one should be between a patient and their doctor.

    Trump also falsely claimed that there isn’t broad support for abortion rights in the United States:

    • Right-wing media love to mislead about polling on abortion to claim that people don’t support abortion access. This inaccurate framing has also influenced coverage outside of the right-wing media sphere -- a trend that has been repeated during coverage of other political fights.
    • Polling on abortion is notoriously difficult, but polling that uses clear language and real-life scenarios indicates that most people want abortion access to remain legal.
    • Support for later abortions goes up when people are presented with realistic scenarios about the procedure and why someone would need to have one.

    The anti-abortion movement has enjoyed a close relationship with Trump and his administration, with Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, having previously led Trump’s “Pro-Life Coalition.” Given the escalating rhetoric from anti-abortion groups and Trump’s steadfast allies on Fox News, it was only a matter of time before the president seized the opportunity to spread misinformation and stigma about abortion, throwing fuel on the fire of manufactured right-wing media outrage.

  • Fox & Friends goes all in on misinformation and shame about state efforts to expand abortion rights

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

    New York recently passed a law protecting and expanding abortion rights in the state, and a similar bill was just introduced in Virginia. Fox News has led the charge of right-wing media outlets that have responded by pushing a steady stream of anti-choice misinformation. And the January 30 edition of Fox & Friends exemplified exactly how not to cover abortion rights by airing segments with a number of absurd and baseless allegations that not only misinformed viewers but also shamed those who need access to later abortions as a necessary part of health care.

    On January 22, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Reproductive Health Act, changing a pre-Roe v. Wade state law that criminalized abortions after 24-weeks of pregnancy to now allow abortions “when the fetus is not viable or a woman’s health is at risk” with the consent of a doctor. Right-wing media responded by framing the law as a “barbaric” action by Cuomo and the New York legislature.

    Legislators in Virginia also introduced a bill in January that would protect abortion rights by eliminating some restrictions on abortion care, including one currently requiring three doctors to consent for a patient’s third-trimester abortion. On January 29, a video of the bill’s Democratic sponsor discussing the legislation went viral, with right-wing media and anti-abortion figures falsely claiming it as evidence that both Virginia and New York were promoting abortions up until the moment of birth.

    On January 30, Fox & Friends put on a masterclass in misinformation, airing multiple segments with inaccurate and stigmatizing claims about both the legislation in New York and Virginia, and about later abortions more broadly.

    Falsely claimed New York’s law and a newer Virginia bill allow abortions “up to the moment of birth”

    During Fox & Friends’ January 30 coverage of the Reproductive Health Act and the bill introduced in Virginia, the hosts repeatedly alleged that such measures allow abortions “right up to the moment of birth.”

    For example, in one segment, co-host Ainsley Earhardt argued that both New York’s law and the Virginia bill would let someone “carry a child all the way to the day of birth and then decide not to have that baby.” In a second segment, Earhardt repeated this claim, saying each would allow an abortion to happen “all the way up until the very day you are supposed to deliver.” In each segment, co-host Steve Doocy agreed with Earhardt’s inaccurate claims, saying that he believed each measure would allow abortions to be performed “up until the moment of birth.” Doocy also added his own misinformation, claiming that these procedures could happen “as you are dilating, right there at the time of birth,” or when someone was “on the table, … you could abort the baby right then.”

    Abortions at “the moment of birth” are not a thing that happens, no matter how much Fox News repeats this false claim as if it were fact. As Forbes’ Tara Haelle explained in 2016, “Those who seek late-term abortions are seeking them before a pregnancy reaches full term but often and unfortunately after they have discovered in the second or third trimester some problem with the fetus or danger to the mother.” Later abortions, although often medically necessary, are extremely rare, with slightly more than 1 percent of procedures performed past the 21-week mark. In other words, later abortions are not entered into lightly or often, and are almost certainly not occurring with the frivolity and carelessness that Fox & Friends’ coverage suggests.

    Used or accepted stigmatizing language characterizing later abortions as “murders”

    Beyond spreading misinformation, Fox & Friends’ January 30 coverage also used extreme language to stigmatize people for having later abortions.

    In a segment focused on responses to viewer questions, all three co-hosts read and agreed with viewer messages containing stigmatizing and inaccurate language. For example, co-host Brian Kilmeade read a comment claiming these measures were “out of control” and that it should be considered “murder at this point in the pregnancy” to have an abortion. These sentiments were echoed in comments read by Earhardt and Doocy, who in turn shared and supported viewer messages calling it “mortifying” to “terminate a child who is able to cry” and lamenting that “these folks have no heart. It’s a disgrace.” In a second segment, Kilmeade read a viewer comment alleging that the Virginia bill “makes all parties involved no better than criminals on the streets that murder.” Earhardt turned her attention from the lawmakers to specifically shaming people who have later abortions, saying, “It blows my mind how a mom can do that. And it’s heartbreaking.”

    Far from these depictions promoted by Fox & Friends, later abortions are performed for complicated personal and medical reasons. The people that Fox News figures and their viewers’ comments compare to murderers often have to make the difficult decision to end a wanted pregnancy because of a nonviable fetus or due to the great medical risk to the pregnant person. If Fox News really wanted to understand “how a mom can do that,” they could read accounts of those who actually had to make the choice of having a later abortion rather than demonizing those individuals and feeding a larger right-wing media frenzy.

    Lied about the measures “eliminating doctors” from the decision to have a later abortion

    Although most of the right-wing ire about the New York law and similar measures has focused on permitting later abortions (even though Virginia already allows them), Fox & Friends’ January 30 coverage also promoted misinformation about a provision in the Virginia bill concerning doctors’ involvement with such procedures. The Virginia bill would eliminate an unnecessary roadblock to abortion access that requires three doctors to agree before a patient can have a medically necessary later abortion. Instead, only one doctor would be needed.

    Fox & Friends lied about this provision, with Earhardt inaccurately claiming that the Virginia bill would “eliminate the doctors” from the process of approving an abortion so that “anyone can do it, doesn’t matter if the doctors approve or not.” In reality, the proposed bill removes the burdensome requirement to have three separate doctors approve a later abortion procedure.

    Fearmongered about a Virginia bill (that is unlikely to pass) to suggest extreme bills were “spreading” to other states

    Fox News already sensationalized its coverage of New York’s Reproductive Health Act in a number of segments across the network, but the January 30 edition of Fox & Friends focused on the new Virginia bill as a harbinger of extremism “spreading” from New York to other states.

    Most of Fox & Friends’ January 30 segments linked the New York law to broader discussions of the Virginia bill. In one segment, Earhardt made the connection between the network’s coverage of the two measures explicitly, saying that the provisions of the New York law that “blew many people’s minds” were “also spreading in our country.” In other segments, Earhardt made the connection more subtle, merely suggesting that “in Virginia, they’re talking about something similar,” or claiming that lawmakers were now “talking about it in the state of Virginia.” In each example, Earhardt and her co-hosts used outrage about the New York law -- largely stoked by Fox News and other right-wing media outlets -- to manufacture urgency and paranoia about the Virginia bill and the likelihood that other states may attempt to protect and expand abortion rights.

    Instead of characterizing New York’s law as an outrage that is “spreading” to other states, Fox & Friends should recognize the legitimate risk that the Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade, particularly after the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. As a result, lawmakers have felt the need to protect or expand abortion rights. While the Virginia bill that Fox & Friends spent a significant amount of time fearmongering about isn’t even likely to pass, the Supreme Court could deliver a significant blow to Roe as soon as this week when it considers whether to stop a Louisiana law that would close the state’s final abortion clinic.