Sharon Kann

Author ››› Sharon Kann
  • Betsy DeVos just perpetuated years of right-wing attacks on rape survivors

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Many have questioned the incomprehensible logic of President Donald Trump’s proposal to collaborate with Russia on cybersecurity policy, but Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appears to be deploying a similar strategy: collaborating with rape deniers on policy regarding campus sexual assault. This comes after right-wing media spent years questioning the severity of sexual assault and attacking the credibility of survivors.

    First reported by Politico, DeVos planned a July 13 meeting with “advocates for survivors of campus sexual assault, as well as with groups representing students who say they were wrongfully accused.”

    Politico identified several invitees as representatives from the men’s rights groups Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE), Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE), and National Coalition for Men -- all of which have dedicated themselves to combating what they believe is rampant false reporting of sexual assault, and the lack of attention paid to the “true victims”: those who are accused.

    As The Daily Beast’s Robert Silverman noted, the Southern Poverty Law Center classified SAVE as an organization that is “promoting misogyny” and "lobbying to roll back services for victims of domestic abuse and penalties for their tormentors.” Jaclyn Friedman, an expert on campus sexual violence, told Silverman that groups like SAVE not only “actively publicize the names of rape survivors in order to intimidate them,” but also “blame women for ‘instigating’ men's violence against them” and believe that “victims' sexual histories should be fair game in rape cases.” According to ThinkProgress and BuzzFeed, organizations like FACE, National Coalition for Men, and the like are no better in their advocacy, nor less extreme in their beliefs.

    Despite posturing from these groups, false rape reports are actually a statistical minority -- representing between 2 and 8 percent of all reported cases. Meanwhile, according to research by the Rape, Abuse, & Incest Network (RAINN), 66 percent of rapes go unreported to law enforcement. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center found that “one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives,” while the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey revealed that “nearly half” of survey respondents “were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.” Survivors already face rampant challenges when reporting sexual assault, and it is unlikely the Department of Education’s invitation to these men’s rights groups will improve these conditions.

    A July 12 press release explained that DeVos would meet with the various groups in a series of “listening sessions” meant to “discuss the impact of the Department’s Title IX sexual assault guidance on students, families and institutions.” In 2011, the Obama administration provided schools with guidance on how to “review and enforce Title IX complaints,” emphasizing the role assault and harassment play in the creation of “a hostile educational environment in violation of Title IX.” Many have speculated that DeVos’ openness to including men’s rights organizations in the meetings is just the latest signal that the department will revoke these protections.

    In April, ProPublica implied that DeVos’ selection of Candice Jackson to head the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) was a sign of bad things to come for Title IX and anti-sexual violence protections, noting that Jackson had previously “arranged for several of Bill Clinton’s accusers to attend a presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton” and that she called women who accused Trump of sexual assault “fake victims.” In June, ProPublica published a memo from Jackson that directed OCR staff to make changes to investigative procedures that “advocates fear will mean less consistent findings of systemic discrimination at colleges.” As ThinkProgress previously reported, DeVos herself has “long donated to organizations that frequently side with students accused of rape and sexual abuse.”

    The men’s rights groups DeVos plans to meet with aren’t alone in waging war on sexual violence protections and survivors. Some of Trump’s favorite right-wing media figures and staunchest cable news supporters have put on a masterclass in how to not report on sexual assault. After an uncovered 2005 audio showed Trump bragging about committing sexual assault, many Fox News employees seemingly made it their jobs to either downplay the severity of his comments or attack the many women who came forward with specific allegations against him.

    Even before Trump, right-wing media were especially adamant in their campaign of misrepresenting the severity of sexual assault and harassment. Beyond disputing the veracity of campus sexual assault statistics, right-wing media figures have called reporting on statutory rape “whiny,” claimed sexual assault victims have a “coveted status,” blamed feminism for encouraging sexual assault, and said attempts to curb sexual assault harm men and constitute “a war happening on boys.” Although she has since fled the network in an attempt to rehab her image at NBC, former Fox News star Megyn Kelly was a chief proponent of the “war on boys” talking point -- which was just part of her long history of criticizing sexual assault prevention measures and minimizing the credibility of survivors.

    Fox itself has spent the better part of the past year -- when not providing the ultimate safe space for Trump and his administration -- embroiled in a series of sexual assault allegations after years of harassment at the network. Such allegations ultimately led to the ouster of both the late Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and longtime host (now aspiring podcast provocateur) Bill O’Reilly, as well as the recent suspension of Fox Business host Charles Payne.

    Although right-wing media have engaged in some of the most overt attacks on survivors, many other outlets are far from magnanimous in their coverage of sexual assault. As coverage around former Stanford student Brock Turner showed, media have a bad habit of sympathetically highlighting the past accomplishments of the accused, or bemoaning the costs to their lives and careers.

    The New York Times fell into this very trap in a July 12 article about the meetings. The Times began its report by highlighting the “heartfelt missives from college students, mostly men, who had been accused of rape or sexual assault” before going on to describe the consequences they faced, ranging from “lost scholarships” to expulsion. In one case, as the Times noted, a man had tried to “take his own life” but “maintained he was innocent” and “had hoped to become a doctor.” In another example, the Times highlighted the comments of the father of an accused student who complained that his son’s “entire world [was] turned upside down” and that, as the paper put it, he had been “forced to abandon his dream of becoming a college wrestling coach.” Reporting like this -- although seemingly benign -- not only perpetuates victim blaming, but also downplays the severity of allegations by treating offenders as the real victims.

    Slate’s Christina Cauterucci described DeVos’ planned meetings as “a classic case of false balance, because the two sides here do not have equal merit.” She noted that one side includes “advocates for sexual-assault victims” while the other is made up of “trolls who have made it their lives’ work to defend domestic violence.” She concluded that however unfortunate the decision to invite these men’s rights groups to meet, it was unsurprising. After all: “As a representative of an administration run by a man with an interest in protecting sexual harrassers, DeVos has every reason to side with the latter.”

    Undeterred, survivors aren’t letting DeVos off the hook that easily. While she meets with men's rights groups that have systematically tried to silence and shame survivors, organizations that advocate for them will be outside the Department of Education making their voices heard.

  • How anti-abortion extremists are using Tucker Carlson's show to cultivate the far right

    Tucker Carlson is readily providing anti-choice extremists with a platform and a message that appeals to his radical base 

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    When he’s not busy harassing Teen Vogue columnists, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson has made a habit of hosting anti-abortion activists and packaging their misinformation and lies in a way that appeals to his base of “alt-right” extremists and Reddit trolls. 

    Since the white nationalists’ golden boy scored a prime-time spot in the Fox News lineup, he has gained a reputation for bullying and insulting his guests, deceptively editing segments, and even booking actors to represent highly curated versions of “opposing viewpoints” to his own. His most recent trick, however, appears to be hosting anti-abortion extremists and giving them a platform to cry “censorship” while simultaneously spreading misinformation about abortion.

    Although Carlson is no stranger to hosting anti-abortion guests -- a Media Matters study found that he did so frequently over the span of a year -- his more recent segments have heavily relied on the false proposition that anti-abortion groups or individuals are somehow being censored.

    Alleging censorship is a common tactic among anti-abortion activists to rally support and rile up sympathetic right-wing media audiences. And for his part, Carlson appears more than willing to amplify such voices and give them an even larger platform from which they can spread their misinformation to millions. 

    For example, on June 26, Carlson hosted anti-choice activist Lila Rose for a segment about Twitter’s alleged censorship of ads by her organization, Live Action. During the segment, Rose argued that Twitter was secretly “blocking the advertisement of pro-life speech” by not allowing Live Action to buy ads on the platform. Rose frequently referenced what she called the “hate and sensitive” policy as the reason for the ads being rejected.

    In reality, the so-called “hate and sensitive” policy is Twitter’s “sensitive advertising content policy” -- guidelines that are publicly available and a far cry from being a means of censorship. Despite this, Carlson ramped up his incredulity and further sensationalized Rose’s claims, calling Twitter’s decision “an atrocity” and alleged that Twitter was treating Live Action’s tweets like “hate speech.”

    Previously, Rose appeared on the May 31 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight to promote deceptive footage from the discredited anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP). Before her appearance, federal Judge William Orrick had barred the release of the footage, and ultimately required all copies of the illicitly spread footage be removed from the internet. Ignoring the substance of these orders, Carlson and Rose alleged the videos had been censored, and attacked Orrick for being biased. At one point, Carlson suggested that the footage should be shared in spite of the court order because “if there was ever a time for civil disobedience, it seems like some might think this would be the time.” 

    On June 9, Carlson hosted CMP founder David Daleiden on his program to continue this line of attack on Orrick and advance the narrative that anti-abortion misinformation was being censored. During the segment, Daleiden alleged he was a victim of “viewpoint discrimination” and detailed evidence of Orrick’s supposed “pre-existing personal bias and prejudice” against anti-abortion groups that should “disqualify” him from the case.

    Just as with Rose’s appearances, Carlson acted as an instigator for Daleiden -- amplifying outrage, crying censorship, and fanning the already over-inflated persecution complex of his anti-choice guest. Carlson called Orrick’s order to bar the footage from release “a clear violation of free expression” and complained that it was “totally un-American” as well as “completely authoritarian and insane.”

    One would think that sustaining this level of outrage over exaggerated censorship claims would be exhausting, but it appears Carlson’s ability to conjure expressions of faux incredulity and take offense from phantom injury knows no bounds. And regardless of the veracity of these censorship claims, the frequency with which Carlson fuels and spreads them is a dangerous tactic meant to specifically appeal to the radicalized base of his show’s viewers.

    Media Matters has consistently documented Carlson’s history of noxious commentary about any number of topics. Notably, it’s his very commitment to attacking women, people of color, and the most vulnerable -- while positioning proponents of those attacks as victims of persecution or censorship -- that has appealed to Carlson’s “alt-right” base the most. In fact, it's become common for "alt-right" and white supremacist trolls to harass guests on the program if they don't agree with Carlson's extreme views. 

    As Rewire’s Amy Littlefield explained, the tactic of attacking so-called media bias has also been largely embraced by the anti-choice movement. Reporting on the most recent National Right to Life Conference, Littlefield noted that there had been a “general tenor of anti-journalism throughout the conference, as speaker after speaker condemned and mocked outlets from the New York Times to the Washington Post to CNN.” In one particularly revealing moment, Littlefield noted that Daleiden refused to speak with her claiming that Rewire was not only “American Pravda,” but also “very fake news.”

    Being wrong about abortion and reproductive rights is nothing new to Carlson. What’s different, though, and potentially more dangerous, is Carlson’s latest trick: manufacturing, amplifying, and ultimately over-inflating claims of censorship made by anti-abortion extremists in order to convince his radical base that it would be “un-American” not to rally behind their cause.

  • Anti-abortion extremist group resurfaces to promote anti-choice misinformation in Wash. Times

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    After disbanding earlier this year, the anti-choice extremists behind Protest ABQ are back and operating under a new name -- and thanks to The Washington Times, they’re getting a bigger platform than ever to spread misinformation about late-term abortion and demonize abortion providers.

    In a June 20 article, The Washington Times gave an uncritical platform to a newly re-formed New Mexico anti-abortion group, Abortion Free New Mexico (AFNM). This group is the latest venture of longtime anti-choice extremists Bud and Tara Shaver. The Shavers are acolytes of Troy Newman, the head of the extreme anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, which has for years pushed violent rhetoric against, and harassment of, abortion providers. Prior to forming AFNM, the Shavers headed a similar campaign in New Mexico, called Protest ABQ. Protest ABQ operated from 2014 to March 2017 and not only targeted individual abortion providers and clinics, but also deceptively recorded comments made by clinic staff in order to allege wrongdoing. Before concluding the Protest ABQ campaign, the Shavers leaked their baseless information to a congressional panel investigating disproven claims against Planned Parenthood.

    According to the Times, AFNM and the anti-abortion group Priests for Life “have released a series of undercover audio recordings of abortion clinic workers” engaged in behavior they consider unlawful. Although there has been no external confirmation of these claims -- or validation of the recordings themselves -- the Times drew a comparison between AFNM’s recordings and a set of deceptively edited videos from the discredited anti-abortion organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP). The Times excluded the information that multiple investigations have disproved CMP’s claims of wrongdoing. Instead, the article credited AFNM for attempting to “to raise awareness about the prevalence of late-term abortion, especially in New Mexico,” via similar tactics.

    The Shavers launched AFNM in April, using a model touted by Newman in his book Abortion Free that centers on surveilling and harassing abortion providers. AFNM then began what it calls the #NewMexicoTrue project, a “6 Part Series exposing the [New Mexico] Abortion Cartel.” As part of this effort, AFNM began posting audio it claims represents illicit practices by abortion providers at clinics across the state. As of late June, AFNM had posted four videos that it alleges demonstrate discriminatory and dangerous practices by abortion providers. For example, in the most recent installment, AFNM claims that its “undercover recording … reveals just how arbitrary the standard is for determining which baby lives or dies” in New Mexico. Despite having no external corroboration, the Times not only promoted AFNM’s recordings, but also thus legitimized the tactic of deceptively filming and releasing video of abortion providers.

    Unfortunately, this is only the latest example of right-wing media giving a platform to an anti-abortion group that is attempting to manufacture outrage through deceptive “undercover” recordings. In May, when CMP released footage that identified abortion providers in violation of a court order, right-wing and anti-choice media did much of the legwork of spreading the organization’s disproven and malicious claims. 

    There is an even longer history of right-wing media figures assisting anti-choice groups by amplifying their attacks on individual abortion providers. For example, former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly spent years openly bullying abortion providers like Dr. George Tiller, who was assassinated in 2009. O’Reilly often referred to the doctor as “Tiller the baby killer” and insisted there was “a special place in hell for this guy.” Indeed, Newman praised O’Reilly in Abortion Free for how he “spoke passionately against Tiller’s late-term abortion business” and “often used television as a bully pulpit to denounce” Tiller. O’Reilly also actively collaborated with Newman to more effectively target Tiller, as Newman explained, helping “locate Tiller gassing his armored Jeep at a QuikTrip near his abortion clinic” so Fox News’ Jesse Watters could be filmed “surprising Tiller with questions about his late-term abortion business.”

    This type of targeted harassment and monitoring of abortion providers breeds conditions for anti-choice violence. According to a recent report from the National Abortion Federation, in 2016, there was “an increase in 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.”  

    Late-term abortion is an essential and legal medical service in the United States -- and neither patients nor providers should be demonized for receiving or performing the procedure. Nearly 99 percent of abortions performed in this country take place “before 21 weeks” of pregnancy, according to Planned Parenthood. After the 20th week, the Supreme Court has explicitly protected a woman’s right to an abortion if it is “necessary to preserve [her] life or health.” By promoting the work of anti-abortion groups like AFNM, the Times and other right-wing media are not only encouraging such groups to use deceptive tactics, but also enabling the type of targeted harassment that endangers abortion providers, patients, and clinics.

  • What Iowa media can teach others about covering the consequences of defunding Planned Parenthood

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In the wake of one-third of the Planned Parenthood clinics closing in the state, Iowa newspapers have rejected right-wing media talking points in favor of fact-based analyses about the limited capacity of so-called alternatives to the shuttered facilities. Iowa’s print media outlets are not only emphasizing the dire consequences of losing Planned Parenthood in many communities, but they are also modeling how other local media should handle politically motivated attacks on essential reproductive health care. 

    On May 12, then-Gov. Terry Branstad (R-IA) signed a budget rejecting at least $3 million in federal Medicaid family planning funds in order to exclude Planned Parenthood from the state’s reproductive health program. Days later, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland announced that as a result of the measure, the organization would close four of its 12 clinics -- upending the primary health care system in the state.

    Anti-choice lawmakers, and the coalition of anti-abortion groups behind them, have celebrated these closures by repeating several anti-abortion myths. They’ve particularly highlighted the supposed existence of plentiful alternatives to Planned Parenthood and the defeat of the right-wing-media-fueled fever dream of “taxpayer-funded abortion.”

    A Media Matters analysis of three of the state’s largest circulation papers (The Des Moines Register, The Gazette, and Quad-City Times) found that Iowa print media are refusing to buy the myths right-wing media have been selling and thus providing a model for other media outlets in states whose essential reproductive health care will come under attack in the coming months. Already, Planned Parenthood has been forced to announce anticipated clinic closures in California, New Mexico, and Wyoming.

    Outside of Iowa, anti-choice lawmakers and right-wing media have argued that Planned Parenthood should be defunded in order to prevent taxpayer money from subsidizing abortion services. In reality, because of the Hyde Amendment, federal funds are expressly forbidden from supporting abortion care -- much to the detriment of low-income patients and those from marginalized communities. Although some anti-abortion advocates argue that the “fungibility” of money means any funds given to Planned Parenthood contribute to abortion, this logic is deeply flawed. As Slate’s Amanda Marcotte explained, “Since medical services are billed and funded individually, that's not actually how this works.”

    Instead, Planned Parenthood has long received reimbursements via Medicaid for non-abortion services provided to low-income patients. Nevertheless, anti-choice lawmakers have demanded that funds be shifted to “community health centers” (CHC), which they argue can absorb patient demand.

    Experts argue this is “a gross misrepresentation of what even the best community health centers in the country would be able to do.” In a May 17 report, Kinsey Hasstedt of the Guttmacher Institute explained that although CHCs and other “federally qualified health centers” (FQHC) play “an important part” in providing contraceptives and other essential care, “they cannot be expected to deliver contraceptive care to the large numbers of women who currently rely on Planned Parenthood” and “to suggest otherwise willfully oversimplifies the considerable challenges FQHCs would face in doing so.”

    As Planned Parenthood comes under attack across the country, here’s what other media outlets can learn from The Des Moines Register, The Gazette, and the Quad-City Times.

    1. Demand specifics about clinics that can supposedly replace Planned Parenthood’s facilities

    Iowa papers have dismantled claims by anti-choice lawmakers about the availability of care without Planned Parenthood’s clinics and lambasted them for failing to provide a list of even potentially feasible alternatives in a transparent way.

    On May 26, the Quad-City Times editorial board mocked the lack of a publicly available list of alternatives, writing that while “Iowa’s GOP-run Legislature achieved its ultimate goal,” it “didn’t even try to fake it by rolling out some half-baked list of alleged alternatives.” The Times continued:

    The timing was especially astounding, as the lawmakers spent this year's session hacking and slashing to plug budgetary holes. Defunding Planned Parenthood will cost Iowa $3 million in federal funds this year. Another $3.3 million will be spent creating a state-run program to, feasibly, make up for the self-inflicted shortfall of women's health care providers.

    It's that yet-to-be drafted list that's at the heart of the matter. Four clinics across the state are closing. Many states that have tried similar attacks on a woman's access to health care at least attempted to compile other options. Not in Iowa. Lawmakers just did it blind and directed the state Health Department to force reality into their partisan narrative somewhere down the line.

    In January, the editorial board of Iowa’s Des Moines Register responded to the proposed defunding of Planned Parenthood with a warning that lawmakers should answer specific questions about alternative providers and the particular services they were equipped to deliver before eliminating support for the organization. 

    This is sound advice, and in fact, exemplifies the kind of reporting local outlets should be doing in response to threats to defund essential health care in their communities. Unsurprisingly, given this earlier push for accountability, the Register followed up with an investigation of so-called replacement clinics. In a May 27 piece, the Register’s editorial board modeled how local news outlets can easily debunk the myth that other clinics can fill in for the loss of Planned Parenthood’s clinics:

    Republicans said more than 200 clinics statewide could fill any void left if Planned Parenthood clinics closed. This number was apparently derived from information provided by the Iowa Department of Human Services.

    The Register editorial board obtained the list of 219 clinics from the agency on Monday.

    One "behavioral health center" in Leon filled 11 spots on the spreadsheet. We took the liberty of assuming that entity would not be offering cervical cancer screenings, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, contraception and other medical services provided by Planned Parenthood. So we eliminated that one.

    Then we decided to call three of the remaining 208, selecting providers in areas where Planned Parenthood clinics are closing.

    First up was Wayne Mercy Medical Clinic, which the list identified as being located in Sioux City. The woman who answered the phone said the clinic changed its name years ago, was not affiliated with Mercy and was not even located in Iowa; it's in Nebraska and about an hour’s drive from Sioux City.

    Next we called Mediapolis Clinic in West Burlington. It does not provide long-acting, reversible contraception, including birth control implants and IUDs, which are the method of choice for nearly 12 percent of contraceptive users nationally. Sutherland Mercy Medical Clinic in Sioux City said it did not provide those either.

    In fact, none of Mercy Health Network’s 108 family practice clinics across the state, including those on the list provided by DHS, will provide any type of long-acting birth control.

    [...]

    So now that four clinics that served nearly 15,000 patients over the last three years are closing, the Republicans who insisted there would be "more access" to family planning services should compile and distribute a reliable, accurate list of where women can go for those services.

    Building on this momentum, other local media did similar reporting, such as the Des Moines CBS affiliate, KCCI 8, which ran a story in which reporter Todd Magel tried to contact many of the so-called “other clinics” pointed to by state lawmakers. Magel found that few of the clinics referenced in the list of FQHCs provided “reproductive medical care and screenings” like Planned Parenthood does and that the lawmaker’s alternatives included a school “nurse’s office,” “a dentist’s office,” and “a homeless shelter.”

    2. Include statistics about the loss of coverage and highlight the disproportionate impact closures have on low-income communities

    Beyond emphasizing the lack of transparency from lawmakers, Iowa papers also relied on ample statistics to highlight exactly who was hurt by the closure of Planned Parenthood’s clinics in the state.

    For example, Chelsea Keenan of The Gazette began a May 19 article with the information that “more than 14,600 people” would be impacted once Planned Parenthood closed “one-third of its Iowa clinics.” She also wrote about the specific number and types of services people would lose without the essential health care provider:

    The budget discontinues a federal Medicaid waiver that, since its creation in 2006, has helped more than 80,000 Iowa women receive Pap smears, birth control and cancer screenings through the Iowa Family Planning Network, including more than 12,000 last year. The waiver helps extend reproductive health services to men and women who due to income often fall in the gap between private insurance and Medicaid eligibility.

    [...]

    Planned Parenthood — which said loss of funding through the Family Planning Network amounted to about $2 million — administered services to more than 30,000 Iowans last year, with nearly 50 percent of its patients at or below the federal poverty level.

    The Quad-City Times also lamented that “per usual, it is impoverished women who will pay more than their share of the bill.” The editorial board continued:

    Medicaid, mind you, provides health care for the poorest Iowans. It's already foundering in Iowa since last year's privatization. President Donald Trump has targeted Medicaid for deep cuts in his draft budget.

    [...]

    Yet, it's these patients to whom Planned Parenthood brought otherwise out-of-reach gynecological care. They're a population with an abnormally high risk for sexually transmitted diseases. They're less likely to receive regular gynecological exams. They're at substantially greater risk for unwanted pregnancy.

    Women across the socio-economic strata relied on Planned Parenthood. But, suddenly, those in the lower tiers are destined to have fewer options.

    To these women, Iowa just said, "Tough."

    3. Use empirical case studies about the consequences of losing Planned Parenthood

    Finally, several Iowa papers drew on empirical case studies from what happened in other states when anti-choice lawmakers sacrificed their constituents’ health in order to engage in political attacks on Planned Parenthood.

    As the Register’s William Petroski noted, Texas’ exclusion of Planned Parenthood from its reproductive health safety net “resulted in a significant increase in births among low-income women who lost access to birth control, according to a 2016 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine." 

    The Gazette’s Keenan also reported on the similarities between Texas’ ill-fated plan to replace Planned Parenthood and the beginning stages of the same situation in Iowa. She wrote:

    Starting in 2011, Texas took steps to bar abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood from participating in a program aimed at giving low-income women family planning services. It’s a move that, in the years following, research has shown hurt the state’s family planning safety net.

    The funding changes forced dozens of Planned Parenthood clinics there to close in 2012, according to researchers at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, which studies the effects of family planning funding cuts and restrictions.

    Those that have remained open have reduced their hours, patient loads and available services.

    Research by the Guttmacher Institute shows that Texas’ family planning program in 2013 served less than one-quarter of the women it helped in 2011. And that care became more expensive when you take knowledgeable providers out of the network — the cost to the state to provide family planning care jumped from $206 per client to $240.

    The Gazette’s Lynda Waddington explained the negative effects of a similar decision in Indiana when then-Gov. Mike Pence eliminated funding for the provider:

    Former Indiana Gov. and current Vice President Mike Pence declared a 2015 public emergency in his state due to HIV outbreaks. The county at the epicenter of the problem had been without a testing center since 2013, when the local Planned Parenthood clinic closed.

    Just like three out of the four Iowa clinics now caught in the GOP’s defunding snare, the Indiana facility did not offer abortion services — none of the five Indiana clinics forced to close offered abortions, but they all provided HIV testing. Instead of being able to rely on ongoing prevention efforts provided by those local clinics, Indiana taxpayers took on the added cost burden of erecting pop-up clinics. Worst of all, Indiana residents needlessly suffered.

    As attacks on Planned Parenthood continue, media can look to Iowa’s local media as an example of how to interrogate lawmaker’s claims about so-called alternatives and make clear the consequences when communities lose access to essential health care.

  • Tucker Carlson ignores court order, hypes video that stokes harassment of abortion providers

    Carlson: “Some might think” that “if there was ever a time for civil disobedience,” sharing this footage “would be the time”

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    During the May 31 edition of Tonight with Tucker Carlson, host Tucker Carlson and his guest, anti-choice extremist Lila Rose, promoted yet another smear video from the discredited Center for Medical Progress (CMP) -- despite a federal judge’s order that the footage be removed from the internet out of concern for abortion providers’ safety.

    On May 25, anti-choice and right-wing media circulated an unlisted YouTube link to a smear video from CMP. Although CMP was ultimately forced to remove the video -- which violated a court order -- right-wing media outlets and personalities quickly re-posted it in full and urged followers to watch.

    In February, federal Judge William Orrick extended a preliminary injunction for the duration of ongoing legal proceedings against CMP, barring the release of any footage depicting National Abortion Federation (NAF) members or meetings. In the decision, Orrick explained that this injunction was necessary, writing, “It is not speculative to expect that harassment, threats, and violent acts will continue to rise if defendants were to release NAF materials.”

    Ignoring the substance of the order and the serious threat of anti-choice violence, Carlson and Rose attacked Orrick and called for the barred footage to be spread.

    Rose noted that by asking for a protective order, NAF had merely demonstrated that it was “very afraid of what is on these tapes” -- rather than afraid for the lives of its members. Rose also argued that actions like Orrick’s’ were having “a chilling effect right now on journalism.” Carlson claimed that Orrick was biased and had “ordered that the video be suppressed, saying, in effect, the First Amendment doesn’t exist.” He asked, “How in the world, and in what country, could a judge unilaterally decide that you’re not allowed to show them?”

    In reality, media experts have agreed that CMP’s work is not journalism -- despite right-wing media claims to the contrary. In fact, in Orrick’s February ruling, he detailed why CMP’s efforts “thus far have not been pieces of journalistic integrity,” noting that CMP founder David Daleiden did not “-- as Daleiden repeatedly asserts -- use widely accepted investigatory journalism techniques” (emphasis added):

    The context of how defendants came into possession of the NAF materials cannot be ignored and directly supports preliminarily preventing the disclosure of these materials. Defendants engaged in repeated instances of fraud, including the manufacture of fake documents, the creation and registration with the state of California of a fake company, and repeated false statements to ... numerous NAF representatives and NAF members in order to infiltrate NAF and implement their Human Capital Project. The products of that Project – achieved in large part from the infiltration – thus far have not been pieces of journalistic integrity, but misleadingly edited videos and unfounded assertions (at least with respect to the NAF materials) of criminal misconduct. Defendants did not – as Daleiden repeatedly asserts – use widely accepted investigatory journalism techniques. Defendants provide no evidence to support that assertion and no cases on point.

    During Carlson and Rose’s discussion, Carlson failed to mention anti-choice violence -- an omission that is not uncommon among prime-time cable news hosts. A recent Media Matters study found that during 12 months of coverage about abortion and reproductive rights, only four segments out of a total 354 on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN even mentioned the topic.

    Even before this latest example, Fox News has readily given a platform to CMP’s claims and ignored or downplayed the threat of anti-choice violence.

    Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly (ousted earlier this year after public reports that he sexually harassed multiple colleagues) spent years spreading misinformation about reproductive rights and openly bullying abortion providers. A frequent target of O’Reilly’s invective was Dr. George Tiller, who was assassinated in 2009 by anti-choice extremist Scott Roeder. O’Reilly often referred to the doctor as “Tiller the baby killer” and insisted there was “a special place in hell for this guy.” May 31 marked the eighth anniversary of Tiller’s murder.

    In April, Fox’s The Five co-host Greg Gutfeld -- who moved to prime time after O’Reilly’s departure -- encouraged anti-choice advocates to engage in violence to protect their views, saying, “If you are pro-life and you believe it is murder, you should be willing to fight” and “start a war” over the issue.

    During the May 31 segment on Tonight with Tucker Carlson, Carlson claimed he was “proud” to elevate the barred footage and said people have the right to “say what you think is true.” Although he hedged on the issue somewhat, saying that he was not “advocating for this,” he strongly implied that the footage should be shared in spite of the court order because “if there was ever a time for civil disobedience, it seems like some might think this would be the time.”

    Meanwhile, incidents of targeted harassment of abortion providers, patients, and clinics continue to rise. According to a recent report from NAF, in 2016, there was “an increase in 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” as well as “an escalation in hate speech and internet harassment, which intensified following the election in November.”

    There is a real risk to circulating this footage. In 2015, Robert Lewis Dear opened fire inside a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic, killing three people and injuring nine more. After his arrest, Dear used the statement “no more baby parts” -- a phrase that Fox News and Fox Business had used more than any other network between the release of CMP’s first video and the Colorado attack. Furthermore, as the New Republic noted, “The narratives [Dear] 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.”

    Although Carlson, Rose, and many anti-choice outlets are protesting the removal of CMP’s latest video as “censorship,” Orrick has already refuted claims about the supposed public value of these videos and demonstrated why such a protective order was necessary in the first place. By not only elevating the barred footage, but also encouraging viewers to actively spread it themselves, Fox News is engaging in dangerous and irresponsible behavior.

  • Anti-choice media continue circulating smear video after court orders footage removed

    Life News reposted video “without the consent or knowledge of the Center for Medical Progress”

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Graphic by Sarah Wasko

    On May 25, the discredited anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) circulated an unlisted link to a smear video on YouTube that was quickly picked up by anti-choice media. CMP was forced to remove the video from YouTube after a judge ruled that the footage violated an order barring its release, originally issued to protect abortion providers from threats and harassment. In response, anti-abortion media outlets that had previously promoted the footage re-posted the video and doubled down on spreading it -- in spite of the court order -- claiming YouTube had engaged in "censorship" and urging followers to watch it.

    CMP founder David Daleiden is the subject of multiple legal actions for his role in producing deceptively edited smear videos attacking Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation (NAF). After CMP began releasing videos in 2015, the FBI issued an intelligence assessment that warned of an uptick in violence against abortion providers and clinics -- a warning that was tragically borne out in November 2015 when Robert Dear allegedly killed three people and injured several more at a Colorado Planned Parenthood center.

    As a result of these risks, federal Judge William Orrick issued a preliminary injunction against the release of any footage depicting NAF members or meetings, writing, “It is not speculative to expect that harassment, threats, and violent acts will continue to rise if defendants [CMP] were to release NAF materials.” 

    Typically, CMP videos have been posted on the organization’s YouTube page and announced with a press release on its website. On May 25, however, neither Daleiden nor CMP acknowledged that there was a new video on YouTube. Instead, anti-choice media outlets and organizations circulated a link to an unlisted YouTube video and promoted it widely. By later that evening, The Associated Press had reported that Orrick was considering holding Daleiden in contempt for releasing the unlisted video and an unlisted playlist of other footage involving NAF members; he ultimately ordered that both be removed from YouTube.  

    Nevertheless, by the morning of May 26, anti-choice media began drawing attention to the video’s removal and, in some instances, reposting it in full.

    For example, the Susan B. Anthony List’s (SBA List) communication director, Mallory Quigley appeared on the Eternal World Television News’ radio program Morning Glory to discuss the removed video and direct listeners to where they could still view the footage on SBA List’s Facebook page. Shortly after, SBA List retweeted several messages from Morning Glory co-host Gloria Purvis declaring that anti-choice advocates “won’t be quiet” about the video and posted a link to view the full footage.

    The link posted by SBA List was then shared by the anti-abortion organization Students for Life of America -- along with a message that accused Planned Parenthood and NAF of trying to hide “illegal activity” by getting the YouTube video removed.

    LifeSite News published an article explaining that it had “saved a copy of the video” and was posting it on its website “without the consent or knowledge of the Center for Medical Progress, David Daleiden, or his attorneys.”

    Anti-choice violence is a serious issue, the consequences of which are often left out of cable news conversations about abortion or reproductive rights. In 2017, NAF released a report noting a disturbing trend of escalating threats and harassment against abortion providers the previous year. According to NAF, in 2016, there was “an increase in 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” as well as “an escalation in hate speech and internet harassment, which intensified following the election in November.”

    Although anti-abortion groups complained about the “censorship” of removing the unlisted CMP video, their efforts to initially spread and continually promote it -- in spite of a court order -- demonstrate the dangers of the anti-choice media ecosystem: It is a self-actualizing echochamber for misinformation and targeted harassment of abortion providers.

  • How a discredited anti-abortion group used the anti-choice media ecosystem to do its dirty work

    CMP seemingly tried to avoid an injunction by circulating video footage to anti-choice and right-wing media outlets, rather than publishing it

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    On May 25, the discredited anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) circulated an unlisted YouTube link to a new smear video against the National Abortion Federation (NAF) and Planned Parenthood. This footage was removed that evening because a district judge had “barred it from release.” Given this injunction, it seems notable that CMP didn’t publicly release or promote the video, and instead relied on anti-choice and right-wing media outlets to spread its claim.

  • Meet The Anti-Abortion Group The NY Times Can’t Seem To Quit

    Human Coalition’s Founder Calls It “One Of The Larger” Anti-Abortion Groups That “No One Has Ever Heard Of”

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    Since January, The New York Times has published two op-eds by the anti-choice organization Human Coalition denouncing abortion access and care. Using big data and internet marketing strategies, Human Coalition targets “abortion-determined women” and tries to redirect them to crisis pregnancy centers. Here's what media need to know about Human Coalition, an organization designed to mislead people online. Given the organization's objectives and history, media should think twice before giving the group an uncritical platform. 

  • Charmaine Yoest Has A Long History Of Misinforming About Abortion, Science, And LGBTQ Rights

    Trump’s Pick For HHS Appointment Has Long Espoused Anti-LGBTQ, Anti-Science, And Anti-Choice Views

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    On April 28, President Donald Trump appointed Charmaine Yoest -- the former vice president of a hate group -- as the assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Following her appointment, Yoest has been deleting posts from her joint blog with her husband that detail anti-LGBTQ ideology and push rape apologism. Outlets should note Yoest’s history of extreme views against abortion, LGBTQ rights, and basic facts of science, particularly now that she is the communications head of the government agency in charge of the health and safety of all Americans.

  • Wash. Post Relies On Anti-Choice Groups To Frame Coverage About Planned Parenthood

    In Story About “Defunding” Planned Parenthood, Wash. Post Favors Comments, Talking Points From Anti-Abortion Figures And Legislators

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    After the House Republicans passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA) -- a bill that would eliminate Medicaid reimbursements for essential services provided by Planned Parenthood -- The Washington Post’s new health care reporter, Paige Winfield Cunningham, framed her story around reactions of, and misinformation from, anti-abortion organizations and politicians.

    On May 4, House GOP members voted to strip health care from an estimated 24 million people by 2026, “including 14 million by next year,” CNN reported, as well as eliminate Medicaid reimbursements for Planned Parenthood. In Winfield Cunningham’s first story about the vote and its effect on Planned Parenthood, she framed the conversation around the “victory” the bill represented “for conservatives who have long sought to undercut the country’s largest abortion provider” and pushed anti-choice misinformation behind such claims.

    The only Planned Parenthood representation came in a line summarizing an organization statement as saying “Congress is unfairly singling it out.” In comparison, Winfield Cunningham included quotes from three anti-abortion advocates: Vice President Mike Pence, Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). In particular, Winfield Cunningham used statements from McCarthy and Dannenfelser to advance a lopsided narrative heavily favoring the anti-choice talking points that the bill stops “taxpayer funding for abortions” and that community health centers (CHCs) can easily replace Planned Parenthood.

    Planned Parenthood is not government-funded, but instead receives Medicaid reimbursements for providing care to low-income patients -- funds that are already prohibited by the Hyde Amendment from supporting abortion care. Although Winfield Cunningham acknowledged this reality -- and mentioned that losing the reimbursements “would be a heavy blow to the group” -- she undercut the point by writing that “conservatives say no abortion provider should get Medicaid reimbursements, even for health services such as cancer screenings and birth control,” because “money is all fungible.”

    Right-wing media and anti-choice organizations have long relied on the misleading claim that money is fungible to demand Planned Parenthood be defunded. However, as the Guttmacher Institute explained, this logic is deeply flawed: “Fungibility is an inherent possibility when involving the private sector in any government-subsidized activity, and the only way to avoid it would be for government agencies to exclusively provide any and all such services.” Slate’s Amanda Marcotte also previously debunked the fungibility myth in a 2015 article, noting:

    Republicans who tout the “money is fungible” line want you to imagine that Planned Parenthood draws on one big pot of government money for all its services. But since medical services are billed and funded individually, that's not actually how this works.

    Winfield Cunningham included a comment from Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) that AHCA would “gut Planned Parenthood, … affecting women across the country” but again undercut his argument by immediately adding (with a supporting quote from Dannenfelser) that “Republicans contend that community health centers have the capacity to care for Medicaid patients” and that these centers allegedly “provide a broader range of services than Planned Parenthood.”

    Although anti-choice lawmakers and right-wing media say that CHCs can and should replace Planned Parenthood clinics, experts have heavily disputed this claim. For example, Sara Rosenbaum, a professor at the George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, wrote:

    I have worked with community health centers for nearly 40 years, and no one believes more strongly than I do in their ability to transform the primary health care landscape in medically underserved low-income communities. But a claim that community health centers readily can absorb the loss of Planned Parenthood clinics amounts to a gross misrepresentation of what even the best community health centers in the country would be able to do were Planned Parenthood to lose over 40 percent of its operating revenues overnight as the result of a ban on federal funding.

    [...]

    What’s more, federal law requires that community health centers be located in communities where there are few other providers. As a result, the notion that there are plenty of community health centers available in those communities to compensate for the loss of Planned Parenthood clinics simply is untrue.

    Furthermore, while all Planned Parenthood clinics offer preventive and basic care services, other clinics can be classified as “community health clinics” even if they provide more limited care -- making direct comparisons between the overall numbers a misleading measure of actual health care provision capacity.

    Winfield Cunningham appears to be the anchor of the Post’s health care coverage, with the two stories published about Planned Parenthood since the May 4 vote listing her as author or co-author. Planned Parenthood is an essential care provider for millions of Americans -- 60 percent of them low-income patients covered through programs including Medicaid. If Winfield Cunningham is going to be leading the Post’s coverage on health care, she owes readers more than lopsided “both sides” reporting that vastly overrepresents anti-choice misinformation that can -- and already has -- resulted in decreased access to essential health care.

    *Graphic by Dayanita Ramesh and research support provided by Julie Tulbert