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  • Facebook’s fact-checking operation partnering with division of Tucker Carlson’s toxic Daily Caller website

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Check Your Fact, a division of Tucker Carlson’s far-right and falsehood-laden Daily Caller website, is the newest member of Facebook’s fact-checking consortium.

    Facebook’s fact-checking program has struggled in its efforts to control the spread of misinformation on its platform. And the program’s new inclusion of Check Your Fact, a subsidiary of an odious right-wing platform with dubious funding sources, will do little to boost confidence. (Disclosure: In March 2018, Check Your Fact fact-checked a claim that I made about the National Rifle Association, rating the claim “true.”)

    The news about Check Your Fact possibly becoming a part of Facebook’s fact-checking project started circulating last year. In order to participate in Facebook’s program, fact-checking groups must become members of journalism school Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), and Check Your Fact was accredited by IFCN in 2017. According to The Wall Street Journal, in the summer of 2018, Facebook executive and former George W. Bush administration official Joel Kaplan started pushing for it to be included in Facebook’s fact-checking project. But other executives at Facebook were opposed to its inclusion because of falsehoods promoted by The Daily Caller, and debate over the matter ended after Check Your Fact lost its IFCN accreditation in November 2018:

    This summer, Mr. Kaplan pushed to partner with right-wing news site The Daily Caller’s fact-checking division after conservatives accused Facebook of working only with mainstream publishers, people familiar with the discussions said. Conservative critics argued those publications had a built-in liberal bias.

    Mr. Kaplan argued that The Daily Caller was accredited by the Poynter Institute, a St. Petersburg, Fla.-based journalism nonprofit that oversees a network of fact-checkers. Other executives, including some in the Washington, D.C. office, argued that the publication printed misinformation. The contentious discussion involved Mr. Zuckerberg, who appeared to side with Mr. Kaplan, and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. The debate ended in November when The Daily Caller’s fact-checking operation lost its accreditation.

    Indeed, according to public assessments of Check Your Fact published by IFCN, the operation has not always been in full compliance with requirements about public disclosure of funding. In Check Your Fact’s most recent application, which led to its new accreditation, the operation discloses that it is funded via Daily Caller's general operating budget, the website's ad revenue, and a $100,000 grant from The Daily Caller News Foundation (DCNF) that was provided by the Searle Freedom Trust.

    Searle Freedom Trust is a right-wing foundation that has funded a plethora of conservative groups -- including the American Legislative Exchange Council, Americans for Prosperity, and the American Enterprise Institute -- and has backed efforts to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act. The foundation has also given money to DonorsTrust, a pass-through organization affiliated with the Koch brothers that is used to anonymously fund right-wing causes.

    The DCNF, which was also founded by Tucker Carlson, presents itself as a charity, but questions have been raised about whether its purpose is actually to increase profits at the Daily Caller. As an investigation published by the Center for Media and Democracy explained, DCNF’s primary purpose appears to be to generate content that is then used by the for-profit Daily Caller website:

    The Daily Caller claimed in its 501(c)(3) application to the IRS and on its website that the foundation deserves its charity status because it “is a consumer research educational organization” whose goal is to provide “consumer news and research” to “mainstream consumers,” and because it licenses its content to other news outlets free of charge and has a mission “to train up-and-coming reporters and editors.”

    But CMD’s analysis indicates that one of the Daily Caller News Foundation’s primary activities is to provide The Daily Caller Inc. with a steady stream of content for its for-profit news website.

    The Daily Caller Inc. acknowledges this activity in its promotional materials for advertisers. In its 2016 advertising deck, The Daily Caller Inc. touts the nonprofit’s influence, stating, “The Daily Caller News Foundation has an advantage that most new media outlets do not: access to millions of views. Reporting created by The Foundation is automatically sent for consideration to the for-profit Daily Caller.”

    While Check Your Fact claims to have editorial independence from the Daily Caller, both entities are divisions of Daily Caller Inc. The Daily Caller is a fount of right-wing misinformation. According to an analysis conducted by data journalism professor Jonathan Albright, the Daily Caller is one of the leading online traffic drivers of misinformation alongside Breitbart News and YouTube.

    In particular, the Daily Caller has published false information about climate change for years. In a 2011 incident that reportedly embarrassed some employees of the outlet, the Daily Caller published a false report claiming the Environmental Protection Agency wanted taxpayers to fund the hiring of 230,000 new workers to implement climate regulations at a cost of $21 billion. The claim was made on a misreading of legal documents, but the Daily Caller refused to issue a correction to its clearly incorrect report. More recently, the Daily Caller has distorted academic research on climate change, falsely claimed that an increase in population of two penguin species disproves global warming, and pushed false information about the connection between climate change and extreme weather events.

    The Daily Caller is also home to right-wing extremism. Among some recent lowlights, the website has repeatedly published white nationalists and anti-Semites, hired a writer who pushed the Pizzagate child trafficking conspiracy theory and conspiracy theories about murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, promoted a Holocaust denier, and published and then deleted an anti-Semitic video that targeted a New York Times reporter.

    Alex Kaplan contributed research to this post.

  • The New Yorker highlights the NRA’s “desperate” financial situation amid reports of infighting over NRATV

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    A new article in The New Yorker gives an extraordinary glimpse into the NRA’s increasingly dire financial situation and an internal rift over the production of its media outlet, NRATV.

    The article comes on the heels of news that the NRA is suing Oklahoma-based Ackerman McQueen, the group’s ad agency that also produces NRATV, for allegedly ignoring the NRA’s request for “access to records underlying its bills.” NRA President Oliver North also has a contract with Ackerman McQueen to host an NRATV show, and while the NRA says it must disclose and approve its top officials pay, the lawsuit alleges neither North nor Ackerman McQueen will share the details of their contract.   

    The lengthy April 17 article, written by Mike Spies of The Trace and published in partnership with The New Yorker, exposed more than a decade of financial problems at the NRA, reporting that “in recent years, it has run annual deficits of as much as forty million dollars.” The article points out the NRA spends less than 10% of its budget on firearms education, safety, and training, and instead focuses on “messaging,” using Ackerman McQueen to shape its “public identity” by “promoting a life style built around loving guns and hating anyone who might take them away.”

    Several NRA figures, including North and NRA national spokesperson and NRATV host Dana Loesch, also have contracts with the ad agency, making it “difficult to tell” of the NRA and Ackerman McQueen “where one ends and the other begins.” According to the New Yorker piece, Ackerman McQueen is also responsible for turning NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre into a “ferocious critic of the political left” and creating “the Wayne cult of personality” around his appearances at NRA annual meetings and other conservative gatherings.

    Tax documents obtained by Spies reportedly show “a small group of N.R.A. executives, contractors, and venders” received “hundreds of millions of dollars from the nonprofit’s budget, through gratuitous payments, sweetheart deals, and opaque financial arrangements.” One senior NRA employee went as far as to “describe a workplace distinguished by secrecy, self-dealing, and greed.” Meanwhile, the NRA, “in desperate need of funds, raised its dues for the second time in two years” and cut costs by eliminating “free coffee and water coolers at its headquarters” and freezing employees’ pension plans.

    This reporting on the organization’s desperate financial state and the rift among its employees comes less than six months after layoffs hit the network and a little over a month after former NRA president and current board member Marion Hammer went on record to The New York Times that she and other board members "have questioned the value" of NRATV.

    The NRA’s media platform has been a cesspool of bigotry and extremist talking points for over a decade. Those characteristics were on full display when Loesch shared an image on her NRATV program of the trains from the children’s TV show Thomas & Friends wearing Ku Klux Klan hoods to protest the show’s focus on diversity. The move reportedly left LaPierre “livid and embarrassed,” according to The Times.   

    This post has been updated for clarity.

  • Fox correspondent channeled network’s opinion side at Barr’s press conference

    Catherine Herridge asked Attorney General Barr what Hannity and Fox & Friends have been demanding: When will he investigate the investigators?

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In yet another blow to the supposed separation between Fox’s “news” side and its opinion hosts and contributors, correspondent Catherine Herridge wasted her question at Attorney General William Barr’s press conference by echoing the demands of Fox & Friends just hours earlier and Hannity the night before: When will he investigate the origins of the probe into the Trump campaign?

    Herridge chose to channel the narrative from Fox’s opinion shows at Barr’s press conference by asking, “Is there anything you can share today about your review of the genesis of the Russia investigation and whether assets have been provided to investigate?”

    This same question was repeatedly raised on Fox News earlier this morning. As the nation awaited the release of Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade asked, “How soon do we pivot to how this whole thing started?” Before the press conference began, Fox News contributor Andrew McCarthy said that Barr should talk about “an inquiry into the origins of the investigation.” Fox & Friends guest and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, misrepresenting what actually took place, said: “We need to hold the people who did that spying accountable.” Fox contributor David Bossie followed that up by saying, “I hope that during this morning's press conference that the attorney general is going to tell the American people that he has impaneled a grand jury to investigate the investigators.” And Fox contributor Jason Chaffetz expressed a desire for Barr to skip past any investigation and go straight to prosecutions.

    All of that was just from this morning’s Fox & Friends. And it was just a continuation of similar absurdity from last night’s Hannity. During his monologue, Sean Hannity said:

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): The investigations taking place right now in the DOJ, in Congress, are the only thing standing in the way of this country becoming a banana republic. If we don't investigate investigators, lock up the bad actors, this country will be over as we know it. All must be held to account, including those who rigged Hillary's probe, persecuted Trump, spied on a political campaign, tried to rig a presidential election, attempted a deep-state coup on a duly elected president of the United States. If justice is not served, say goodbye to our democratic republic, say goodbye to your freedoms. You can say goodbye to your precious rights endowed by our Constitution and creator, God.

    We must protect also the 99.9% of good people in the FBI, in the intelligence community, that protect the innocent people here and around the globe, premier agencies around the world. It's only 1% that did wrong. We either get equal justice that we deserve, or we’ll have no country.

    Hannity later said, “I want to know what [former President Barack] Obama knew, and [former national security adviser Susan] Rice knew, and [former Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper knew, and [former CIA Director John] Brennan knew.”

    His guests followed suit. Republican lawyer Joe diGenova expressed confidence that Barr “will start a process which is going to lead to a series of federal grand juries to hold accountable all the people you are talking about.” GOP attorney Victoria Toensing said “justice will be served” for Trump’s investigators, and Hannity contributor Sara Carter asserted:

    There are a number of indictments that are on the way. There's going to be a very serious investigation into what had happened and what had transpired since the Hillary Clinton investigation by the FBI, all the way through the origins at the very beginning of the investigation into then-candidate Trump and those within his campaign. And this is going to be significant because they are going to look for these origins, and I think -- I agree completely with Joe and with Victoria that it's going to lead all the way back to the White House. And that is what I'm hearing and I'm talking about the Obama administration.

    This narrative has been a fixation among Fox’s opinion hosts -- particularly Hannity, a close Trump adviser -- for months. That it would become the single focus of the Fox correspondent asking a question of the attorney general shows there is no division between Fox’s “news” and its opinion side -- the network is a pro-Trump propaganda outlet, plain and simple.

  • Media trumpeted William Barr's spin on the Mueller report (again) -- will they ever learn?

    Context-free tweets continue to spread administration propaganda

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On Thursday morning, Attorney General William Barr held a press conference to discuss the then-impending release of special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report. The press conference -- like Barr's March letter about Mueller's report -- was a transparent attempt to spin Mueller's conclusions in advance of their public release. While many observers noted the absurdity of Barr holding a press conference to field questions about an as-yet-unreleased report, numerous media figures nonetheless trumpeted Barr's spin.

    In particular, reporters and outlets quoted this odd statement:

    Nonetheless, the White House fully cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely, and asserting no privilege claims.

    Given what we know about President Donald Trump’s public behavior during the investigation, this claim is laughable (and was made more so once the report was released).

    While his lawyers submitted written answers to Mueller, the president was famously reluctant to actually sit for an interview. In November, Trump said that “we've wasted enough time on this witch hunt” when asked about agreeing to in-person questioning. During a December appearance on Fox News Sunday, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani was asked about whether Trump would agree to an interview, and he responded, “Over my dead body.” For months, Giuliani and Trump had expressed worry that an interview with Mueller would be a “perjury trap” and made clear it was to be avoided.

    In addition to Trump’s refusal to sit for an interview, the Mueller report itself makes clear the president took a series of actions to undermine the probe, many of which either happened in public or were reported on over the past two years. From the report:

    The President launched public attacks on the investigation and individuals involved in it who could possess evidence adverse to the President, while in private, the President engaged in a series of targeted efforts to control the investigation. For instance, the President attempted to remove the Special Counsel; he sought to have Attorney General Sessions unrecuse himself and limit the investigation; he sought to prevent public disclosure of information about the June 9, 2016 meeting between Russians and campaign officials; and he used public forums to attack potential witnesses who might offer adverse information and to praise witnesses who declined to cooperate with the government.  

    It’s simply bizarre and false to call this “unfettered access” to the administration and campaign.

    Yet as the Republican National Committee and Trump campaign latched onto Barr's claim, many journalists did the same.

    Tweets from the RNC and the Trump campaign called special attention to this line, seemingly as a defense against obstruction accusations. Right-wing media figures such as Katie Pavlich, The Daily Caller’s Amber Athey, Breitbart’s Joel Pollak, The Daily Wire’s Ryan Saavedra, Fox Business’ Trish Regan, and Fox News’ Howard Kurtz followed suit.

    But numerous less-partisan outlets and other journalists also shared Barr's quote on Twitter without providing necessary context. 

    Naturally, as soon as the redacted report was released, the claim that the Trump administration “fully cooperated” was further demolished. “The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,” reads one part of the report. Another notes that Trump “engaged in a second phase of conduct, involving public attacks on the investigation, non-public efforts to control it, and efforts in both public and private to encourage witnesses not to cooperate with the investigation.” And in yet another, explaining why Trump didn’t sit for an interview, Mueller acknowledges that investigators were forced to weigh whether it was worth issuing a subpoena given that “the President would not be interviewed voluntarily.”

    By now, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody that this administration isn’t particularly honest and cannot simply be given the benefit of the doubt in these situations. In fact, just last month, news organizations around the country took Barr’s word at face value only to look foolish for days to come.

    Why do journalists keep falling for this, and what will it take to convince them to stop?

    That’s a question that’s come up repeatedly since the 2016 election. It seems that there are many journalists unwilling to recognize that this presidency is unique in how untruthful it is. Yes, all politicians lie to some extent, but none have ever been so blatant as this administration. It’s not enough to simply echo someone’s words without clarifying the context in which they are said (or noting if they are blatant lies). At its core, journalism must be about holding the powerful accountable, not helping the powerful disseminate lies. There are many lessons that need to be learned going into the 2020 election, but few are as simple or as important as contextualizing the words of politicians.

  • Anti-LGBTQ group Heritage Foundation has hosted four anti-trans panels so far in 2019

    Panelists included “trans-exclusionary radical feminists” and anti-trans medical professionals who pushed flawed research and advocated for conversion therapy

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has railed against LGBTQ equality for decades, hosted its fourth anti-transgender panel of the year on April 8. Each of the four panels focused on a different aspect of trans equality, such as comprehensive nondiscrimination measures, affirming medical care for transgender youth, trans inclusion in international policy, and trans participation in athletics. The panels also featured biased anti-trans figures -- whom Heritage characterized as subject experts -- who pushed right-wing narratives about transgender people.

    Heritage’s surge in anti-transgender events and its increased attempts to shape public discourse about trans rights come at a strategic time as Congress considers expanding federal civil rights laws to include critical protections for trans folks. The Equality Act, introduced on March 13, would add “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to existing nondiscrimination protections in “employment, housing, public accomodations,” and other areas. The measure was quickly met with opposition and fearmongering from extreme anti-LGBTQ groups and right-wing media. Heritage’s panels echoed many of the anti-trans talking points pushed by these groups and outlets.

    Heritage hosted a panel of TERFs to advocate against the Equality Act

    On January 28, the vehemently anti-LGBTQ activist Ryan T. Anderson hosted so-called "trans-exclusionary radical feminists" (TERFs) and self-proclaimed liberals in a panel focused on railing against the inclusion of gender identity in the Equality Act. TERFs refer to themselves as “gender-critical” or “radical feminists”; they generally do not associate themselves with the term TERFs, but they are anti-trans activists who have historically opposed trans-inclusive measures and denied trans identities.

    One of the panelists, adjunct lecturer at the University of California, San Francisco Hacsi Horvath, says he formerly identified as transgender. During the panel, he encouraged the audience to misgender trans folks -- an act that is considered harassment and that can stigmatize trans people, lower their self-esteem, and erase and invalidate their identities.

    Another panelist, Julia Beck, appeared on Fox’s Tucker Carlson Tonight after participating in the Heritage panel and pushed the same anti-trans points about the Equality Act. Beck was removed from Baltimore’s LGBTQ Commission in 2018 after other members became aware of her anti-trans animus.

    The two other panelists, Kara Dansky and Jennifer Chavez, are board members of the TERF organization Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF), which has supported the clients of extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom in an ongoing court case that seeks to dismantle a trans-inclusive policy at a Pennsylvania high school.

    Heritage hosted a side event at the UN Commission on the Status of Women against including “gender identity” in international resolutions

    On March 20, Heritage co-hosted another anti-trans panel: a “side event” with the Permanent Observer Mission to the Holy See at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The U.N. CSW is “the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.” During the panel, participants claimed that “gender ideology” -- a “theory drummed up by hard-right religious activists, who present it as a gay- and feminist-led movement out to upend the traditional family and the natural order of society” -- is a threat to women’s rights around the world.

    One panelist, Dr. Monique Robles, who brought a veneer of credibility to the panel as a medical doctor who focuses on pediatric care, pushed the unvalidated hypothesis of rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD). The theory posits that trans teens are coming out as such due to “social contagion,” and a study promoting the concept was reevaluated and corrected following complaints about its research and methodology. The correction noted that the study only “serves to develop hypotheses” and that the concept has not been validated. Robles also seemingly praised the discredited and harmful practice of conversion therapy, remarking:

    A better treatment option would be to address the underlying mental health issues and concerns that are likely leading to these children in adolescence to identify as transgender or gender diverse. There are therapists who are taking on the role as compassionate companions and are spending time with their patients and their parents working through histories, experiences, and addressing the whole of the individual. In this form of therapy, the body, mind, and soul can be brought together in a unified manner in which they were created.

    Panelist Emilie Kao, director of Heritage's Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion & Civil Society, argued that including “gender identity” in international policy and in U.N. resolutions is a threat to the progress of women’s equality. She said, “If the word ‘woman’ can be redefined to mean everyone, then it will change or even erase the true meaning of woman in international human rights law, in economic development efforts, and in efforts to increase access to social protection systems.” Framing transgender rights as at odds with women’s rights is a tactic conservatives have increasingly employed that also mirrors talking points from TERFs.

    Heritage’s Anderson continued that trend, also claiming trans rights are detriments to women's equality, safety, and privacy. Another panelist, Mary Rice Hasson, a fellow at the Catholic Women’s Forum, echoed these sentiments and claimed that affirming trans identities has a “dehumanizing effect on women, where women are no longer acknowledged as persons” and that “the result is that real women are being displaced.”

    Heritage hosted a panel advocating against affirming the gender identities of transgender youth

    On March 28, Anderson hosted a third anti-trans panel, titled "The Medical Harms of Hormonal and Surgical Interventions for Gender Dysphoric Children,” featuring medical professionals who used flawed research to fearmonger about and attack trans-affirming medical care. These claims are in direct opposition to the positions of leading medical associations such as the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association, which "agree that gender-affirming care are the most effective treatment for gender dysphoria,” according to CNN.

    During the panel, “ex-trans” activist Walt Heyer, a darling of anti-LGBTQ groups and right-wing media, railed against affirming trans identities, calling it “child abuse,” “destructive,” and “damaging.” He also encouraged the use of conversion therapy for transgender people.

    Other panelists included Dr. Michael K. Laidlaw, a vocal anti-trans advocate who has also been featured in right-wing outlets, and a mother of a trans child who wished to remain anonymous, who they called “Elaine.” Elaine is also a member of a new anti-trans advocacy group for parents of trans children called The Kelsey Coalition. During the panel, Elaine criticized laws that protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, and Laidlaw advocated against the use of puberty blockers, calling them “a chemical conversion therapy.” Puberty blockers “are medicines that prevent puberty from happening” in order to help transgender youths’ bodies “better reflect who [they] are.” Studies have shown that they are effective and safe and recommend their use on transgender youth who decide to use them with the help of medical providers.

    Heritage hosted a panel advocating against including transgender athletes in gender-segregated sports

    For its fourth anti-trans panel in 2019, Heritage co-hosted an event on April 8 with anti-LGBTQ group Concerned Women For America, which seeks to “bring Biblical principles into all levels of public policy.” The panel advocated against allowing trans athletes to compete in gender-segregated sports that align with their gender identity. Heritage’s Kao hosted the panel, opening by reciting a quote that the Equality Act would be “the end of women’s sports.”

    The panel began with a video featuring panelist Bianca Stanescu’s daughter, a student athlete who lost a track meet that made headlines when two trans athletes earned top prizes. Right-wing media, including Fox News’ Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, have touted this story as a reason to not allow transgender athletes to compete in gender-segregated sports. Media Matters’ Parker Molloy previously wrote about how figures like Carlson regularly seize on local stories like this to fuel the identity politics-driven culture war, and Heritage has similarly focused on this rare incident (transgender athletes are not dominating sports on a wide scale) to justify widespread discrimination.

    Another panelist, National Review’s Madeleine Kearns, repeatedly misgendered trans athletes and showed pictures of trans athletes before and after affirming medical care to fearmonger about their physical abilities. There is ongoing debate on the standards for trans inclusion in athletics, much of which is led by the International Olympic Committee. In 2016, the IOC updated guidelines on transgender athletes, leaving “no restriction for a trans man … to compete against men” and removing “the need for women to undergo gender-reassignment surgery to compete.” IOC has several restrictions for transgender women to compete in the Olympics, including demonstrating a certain level of testosterone for at least one year, and it is continuing to fund research into this area. As Outsports noted, “Despite the guidelines, no publicly out trans athlete has competed in the Olympics. Ever.” This stands in contrast to right-wing claims that trans athletes are dominating their field due to competitive advantages.

    A third panelist, Jennifer S. Bryson, is the founder of a sports advocacy organization called Let All Play that argues against pride jerseys celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month on sports teams. Bryson criticized the pride jerseys issued by the U.S. Soccer Federation and said requiring players to wear the jerseys was “a form of coerced speech requiring players to wear a political symbol.” She went on to call transgender people “a threat to soccer itself for girls and women,” adding that “the U.S. Soccer Federation should not require players to wear a symbol of a movement that is trying to harm soccer.”

    Additionally, Concerned Women for America’s Doreen Denny announced during the panel that the organization has partnered with TERF group WoLF to lobby against the Equality Act even though they “disagree on many things.” Denny also misgendered trans athletes during the panel and at one point corrected herself to intentionally misgender a female athlete after using the correct pronoun the first time, saying, “She has taken -- he, excuse me.”

    The four 2019 panels represent an alarming spike in Heritage’s anti-trans advocacy

    Heritage’s panels are just one aspect of its work against trans equality. Heritage’s Anderson organized an anti-trans conference reportedly attended by 250 attendees at the Franciscan University of Steubenville from April 4 to 5. The conference was called “Transgender Moment: A Natural Law Response to Gender Ideology,” and it focused on so-called “corruption and flawed science driving an increase in gender ‘transitioning’ and ‘reassignments’” and compared transgender equality to the dystopian novel 1984.

    Additionally, Heritage’s Monica Burke penned an April 10 anti-trans op-ed for the Chicago Tribune, and the group’s work this year has been consistently picked up and parroted by several right-wing and evangelical media outlets. And though mainstream and queer outlets have written about Heritage’s January 28 TERF panel, the right-wing has dominated coverage of the rest of the anti-trans panels.

    Despite its record, Heritage somehow enjoys some mainstream credibility. Earlier this month, Google disbanded its Artificial Intelligence ethics board after “little over a week” because it selected Heritage President Kay Coles James as one of its board members. Google employees and others protested her inclusion because of her and Heritage’s positions against trans equality.

    Though the Heritage Foundation’s practice of hosting anti-trans advocates and pushing anti-trans narratives is not new, the frequency and breadth of its events this year are alarming. Heritage’s attempt to shape public discourse on the Equality Act and the transgender community is another example of the right’s attempt to position trans rights as counter to those of women and to fracture the LGBTQ movement by excluding trans folks from it. Such groups deploy a similar "divide and conquer" strategy to create a false dichotomy between people of faith and LGBTQ rights, despite the fact that most faith groups support LGBTQ inclusion.

  • Stuck on how to refer to trans people in the past? The answer is actually really simple.

    The overwhelming majority of the time, it's completely unnecessary to draw attention to former names or pronouns

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    It’s been more than five years since Chelsea Manning came out as transgender, but news organizations continue to struggle when it comes to reporting on her past. With her name in the news once again as a result of the April 11 arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, some reporters and commentators repeatedly referred to her by the incorrect name and pronouns.

    NBC News reporter Ken Dilanian referred to Manning as “he” and “him” during multiple MSNBC segments. Fox News reporter Greg Palkot emphasized Manning’s former first name, “Bradley,” during two Thursday Fox & Friends clips and again the following day on America’s Newsroom. On CNN, correspondent Nick Paton Walsh stumbled over both names and pronouns during a Friday report on New Day. Whether or not the names and pronouns were being deployed in any sort of deliberate manner, these reports are evidence of a lingering uncertainty when it comes to talking about trans people.

    The best way to refer to a trans person -- even when discussing their past -- is to use whatever name and pronouns that individual currently uses.

    In Manning’s specific case, she came out as trans in a written statement on August 22, 2013. In it, she wrote, “I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun.” While this request would appear simple enough to follow, journalists have been twisting themselves into knots about it ever since.

    I reached out to a number of LGBTQ advocacy groups to ask when it’s appropriate to reference a trans person’s prior name and pronouns in news coverage, and why misgendering and deadnaming (using a trans person’s former name) should be avoided. Here’s what they had to say:

    Sarah McBride, national press secretary at the Human Rights Campaign: “The misgendering of transgender people in the media can send a dangerous message to the public.”

    The misgendering of transgender people in the media can send a dangerous message to the public, reinforcing the very prejudice at the heart of the discrimination and violence transgender people face.

    Transgender people are their names and gender identities even before they come out publicly, and that fact should be reflected in coverage of transgender people in the news. While there has been significant progress in media coverage of transgender people, too often we see competent and respectful coverage fall away when the news revolves around transgender people who have been incarcerated. Every transgender person deserves to have their gender identity affirmed and it shouldn't be conditional.

    Nick Adams, director of transgender representation at GLAAD: “After the person's new name becomes common knowledge, it is unnecessary and disrespectful to continue referring to their old name.”

    Media outlets should always use the current and accurate pronoun to refer to a transgender person, and should never reveal a trans person's birth name without their explicit permission. When a public figure transitions, there may be a brief period of time where journalists refer to their birth name in order to report on the transition. However, after the person's new name becomes common knowledge, it is unnecessary and disrespectful to continue referring to their old name.

    Gillian Branstetter, media relations manager at the National Center for Transgender Equality: “Rarely is someone’s prior name relevant to your story, and including it only draws more attention to the individual’s status as a transgender person.”

    I strongly encourage reporters to use a subject’s current name and only their current name unless otherwise permitted by the person themselves. Rarely is someone’s prior name relevant to your story, and including it only draws more attention to the individual’s status as a transgender person when, as was the case in Manning’s story, it’s not relevant to the main narrative of the article. I would encourage reporters to ask themselves if they would do the same for someone who had changed their name after, say, a marriage or a divorce.

    There are transgender people who may be fine with someone noting or mentioning their prior name, and doing so in an article is fine with that expressed permission. But to ensure the privacy of all parties are protected, I encourage reporters to hedge on the side of courtesy and respect by using a person’s current name only.

    To add on to one of Branstetter’s points, you wouldn’t go out of your way to refer to a woman who changed her name from “Smith” to “Jones” after exiting a marriage as “Mrs. Smith” just because you happen to be describing an event that occurred when that was the name she went by. In fact, doing so would come off as rude. The same goes for referring to trans people’s pasts.

    The Associated Press and The New York Times both spell out these guidelines in their in-house style guides.

    For individuals who have changed their names, the AP Stylebook instructs journalists to “use the name by which a person currently lives or is widely known. Include a previous name or names only if relevant to story.”

    In the case of Manning’s most recent mentions in the news, her former name was almost certainly not relevant to the story. Barring the need to quote from a specific document using her former name, it’s unnecessary to note that she was known by something else at the time.

    In its entry for “gender,” the AP is unambiguous about which name journalists should use: “Use the name by which a transgender person now lives. … Refer to a previous name only if relevant to the story.” The guide even includes an example for how to refer to a trans person in the event that it is relevant to include a former name: “Caitlyn Jenner, who won a 1976 Olympic gold medal in decathlon as Bruce Jenner.”

    In Jenner’s case, a reference to her former name in a story about her Olympic victory might make sense, as the story becomes confusing if you somehow aren’t aware that she’s transgender. In Manning’s situation, unless a story is about legal battles undertaken to access hormone replacement therapy or her fight to legally update her name in April 2014, references to her trans status, former name, or former pronouns are unnecessary, as her gender was not central to the story.

    The 2015 edition of The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage guides journalists to “cite a person’s transgender status only when it is pertinent and its pertinence is clear to the reader.” Additionally, it reads: “Unless a former name is newsworthy or pertinent, use the name and pronouns (he, his, she, her, hers) preferred by the transgender person. If no preference is known, use the pronouns consistent with the way the subject lives publicly.”

    Resistance to accurately referring to trans people by the names and pronouns requested sends a clear message about whose identities are considered legitimate and whose aren’t.

    When Chelsea Manning first came out as trans, CNN justified its decision to refer to her by masculine pronouns because she had “not yet taken any steps toward gender transition through surgery or hormone replacement therapy.” Of course, this was complicated by the fact that Manning wasn’t in a position where she could take those steps, having just been sentenced to 35 years in prison. Additionally, CNN’s stated policy at the time was to refer to Manning by her former name since she had not yet legally changed it. This would have made sense if the policy was consistently applied across the board, but it wasn’t. Some people, such as Stefani Germanotta (Lady Gaga), go by stage names. Others, such as Sens. Willard Romney and Rafael Cruz (Mitt and Ted), go by middle names or nicknames. CNN had no issue with referring to individuals by their chosen names in those cases. Refusing to honor Manning’s wish to be referred to by her chosen name was more than a simple matter of policy -- it was a passive-aggressive decision to delegitimize trans identities.

    Years after coming out as trans, Chelsea Manning and all trans people continue to be delegitimized, medicalized, and stigmatized by the media through gratuitous reminders of news subjects’ trans status. Accurate and unbiased reporting means journalists need to consistently afford trans people the same level of respect they’d offer anybody else.

  • NRATV has hosted a contributor to a white nationalist publication 32 times

    Eight of the appearances were on NRA national spokesperson Dana Loesch’s show

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    The National Rifle Association’s media operation NRATV has hosted anti-immigration activist Michael Cutler 32 times dating back to March 2018. Cutler, who worked as an agent for the now-defunct U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, has contributed a large number of articles to a white nationalist journal and has ties to other white nationalist-affiliated groups.

    The NRA has long used immigrants as a boogeyman to rile up its supporters, and Cutler has become the organization’s go-to commentator for its inflammatory media operation NRATV. Since March 2018, Cutler has made 24 appearances on NRATV program Stinchfield, a news of the day program, and eight appearances on Relentless, which is hosted by NRA national spokesperson Dana Loesch. Cutler’s most recent NRATV appearance was on April 15.

    In addition to being a frequent NRATV guest, Cutler is a contributor to white nationalist journal The Social Contract. The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that the publication “routinely publishes race-baiting articles penned by white nationalists” and that the group, The Social Contract Press, that publishes the journal was founded “by John Tanton, the racist founder and principal ideologue of the modern nativist movement.” According to SPLC, The Social Contract Press “puts an academic veneer of legitimacy over what are essentially racist arguments about the inferiority of today's immigrants.” A search of the journal’s website returns 20 articles Cutler authored, including six articles published since 2017. In 2018, Cutler wrote an anti-immigration booklet for The Social Contract, the foreword of which was authored by Social Contract Editor Wayne Lutton. Lutton is “a stalwart on the racist speaking circuit” who has ties to white nationalists and Holocaust deniers, according to SPLC.

    Cutler is also listed as a former fellow on the Center for Immigration Studies website. Like The Social Contract, CIS is a project of Tanton’s that has promoted white nationalism. Additionally, Cutler has written extensively for Californians for Population Stabilization, a group that employed a neo-Nazi and received funding from the now defunct pro-eugenics Pioneer Fund.

    During Cutler’s April 15 NRATV appearance, he and NRATV host Grant Stinchfield fearmongered about the prospect of terrorism being carried out by undocumented immigrants. The appearance was typical of NRATV’s false characterization of undocumented immigrants as a public safety threat. Here are a few more examples from some of Cutler’s other NRATV appearances:

    • During a January 3 appearance on Relentless, Loesch and Cutler discussed their false claim that nearly 8 million undocumented immigrants attempted to buy firearms at gun stores in 2018. The claim appears to have come from a since-corrected Washington Examiner column written by NRA shill Paul Bedard that grossly misinterpreted government data. During his appearance, Cutler also suggested giving driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants would spur vehicle terror attacks in the U.S.
    • While introducing Cutler during a May 17 appearance on NRATV, Stinchfield said, “I’ve gone from one crime scene to the next over and over again. I’ve seen people with their throats slit. I’ve seen people raped and murdered and tortured. I’ve seen child and children molested by illegals -- yes Americans too. They’re all animals.” Cutler responded by saying, “Thank you for having me and thank you for telling the truth to your audience.” Later in the appearance, Cutler speculated that “Iranian sleeper cells” and other terrorists could take advantage of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that protects undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children from deportation.
    • During an October 25 broadcast that featured Cutler, Stinchfield described caravans of immigrants from Central America as “giant mobs of migrants” that are attempting an “invasion” of the U.S. and claimed “very, very dangerous” migrants are being brought to the U.S. so that they can vote for Democrats. For his part, Cutler suggested Hezbollah and Hamas could be behind the migrant caravans.

    Beyond hosting Cutler, NRATV has relentlessly demonized undocumented immigrants. According to a Media Matters analysis, Stinchfield broadcast 54 segments that fearmongered about undocumented immigrants during the 2018-2019 government shutdown, which was a result of President Donald Trump’s demand that Congress fund a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

    NRATV also repeatedly promoted the conspiracy theory that claimed George Soros was funding migrant caravans. In October 2018, a gunman inspired by a similar conspiracy theory carried out a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. NRATV continued to promote the Soros conspiracy theory following the shooting. White nationalist talking points about immigration have also been broadcast on NRATV, including the claim that liberals are attempting to “import a new populace” from “the Third World” to replace U.S. voters.

    The extremism broadcast on NRATV, which is produced by PR firm Ackerman McQueen for the NRA, may be causing a problem at the gun organization. The Wall Street Journal reported on April 15 that the NRA is suing Ackerman McQueen for allegedly failing to turn over information about NRATV metrics and other matters. As The New York Times reported, the lawsuit appears to be connected to concerns by some members of NRA leadership about NRATV’s inflammatory broadcasts:

    Since Ackerman created NRATV in 2016, it has often been “perceived by the public as the voice of the N.R.A.,” according to the rifle association’s complaint. It has also taken on an apocalyptic tone, warning of race wars, calling for a march on the Federal Bureau of Investigation and portraying the talking trains in the children’s show “Thomas & Friends” in Ku Klux Klan hoods.

    The New York Times reported this year that two prominent N.R.A. board members were among those voicing alarm inside the association that NRATV was often straying beyond gun rights. The Times article also revealed that Ackerman had a previously undisclosed financial relationship with [NRA President Oliver North].

  • Fox “news” side anchor Shannon Bream hosted anti-abortion filmmakers to spread misinformation

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    Fox News @ Night host Shannon Bream brought on the producers and writers of the anti-abortion movie Gosnell -- days after the White House screened the movie -- to advance an inaccurate and sensationalized right-wing media narrative about abortion providers engaging in so-called “infanticide.”

    Fox News promotes Bream and her program as part of its “straight news” division in an effort to reassure wary advertisers to stay the course, despite the frequent xenophobia, sexism, racism, and lies of Fox’s “opinion” side, helmed by Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity. But like her colleague Martha MacCallum -- another host the network inaccurately points to as a supposed counterpoint to the “opinion” side -- Bream has long been a source of anti-abortion misinformation and cannot be used to prop up a facade of objectivity.

    During the April 15 edition of Fox News @ Night, Bream facilitated a discussion about abortions conducted later in pregnancy that was dominated by the same sensationalized lies that have defined Fox’s opinion and news coverage since the beginning of the year.

    The White House screening of Gosnell on April 12 was another example of Republicans’ and President Donald Trump’s strategy to stoke outrage over Democratic efforts to protect and secure access to abortion later in pregnancy. In recent months, right-wing media, and Fox News in particular, have gone all-in on promoting outrageous and inaccurate talking points claiming state efforts to protect abortion access were akin to legalizing abortion “up to birth” or even supporting “infanticide.”

    Bream’s segment was an unsurprising continuation of this strategy. She allowed the filmmakers to conflate the illegal actions of former abortion provider Kermit Gosnell -- who is currently serving “three life terms in jail” for “first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies born alive at his rogue clinic, then stabbed with scissors” -- with the actions of legitimate abortion providers. During the segment, co-writer Phelim McAleer alleged that "there wasn't that much difference" between what Gosnell did from what a "legal" abortion provider does. As co-writer Ann McElhinney claimed, “The reason we made this film in the first place” was because legal abortion, in her opinion, allows an abortion provider to “neglect a baby to death.”

    In reality, Gosnell’s practices are in no way representative of abortion providers or abortion procedures in the United States. As New York magazine’s Irin Carmon wrote in 2013, Gosnell’s actions were not evidence of widespread malfeasance by abortion providers, some of whom attempted to warn about his actions and the condition of his clinics beforehand; rather, it was his "willingness to break the law" that made many patients seek him out, believing “they had no alternative.”

    During the segment, Bream pointed to an NBC News article by Robin Marty about the film to allow the filmmakers to explain away “criticisms.” Marty’s article, however, accurately lays out the issues with the film, noting, among other things, that the movie makes an absurd comparison between Gosnell and assassinated legal abortion provider Dr. George Tiller:

    To compare an experienced doctor who legally performed third trimester abortions, usually for women victimized by sexual assault or who learned that their child had fatal fetal anomalies, to a man who stabbed live babies in the neck to sever their spinal chords isn’t just disingenuous, it’s disrespectful (and potentially slanderous).

    Bream allowed her guests to equate Gosnell’s actions with those of legitimate abortion providers -- and the segment played into right-wing and anti-abortion media's manufactured villainization of abortion providers and those who have abortions.

  • Study: As Notre Dame burned, anti-Muslim content thrived online

    On 4chan and 8chan, the number of posts with mentions of Muslims and anti-Muslim slurs spiked on April 15, and on Facebook, the top-performing post was from an anti-Muslim bigot.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Anti-Muslim content surged online as the tragic news broke on Monday of a fire engulfing Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, with far-right figures weaponizing news of the seemingly accidental fire to link it to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and to scapegoat Muslims and Islam. A Media Matters analysis found that anti-Muslim sentiment spiked on 4chan and 8chan on April 15, while the story containing the words “Muslim” or “Islam” that got the most engagements on Facebook was from an anti-Muslim bigot and claimed, “Jihadis reveled in the fire engulfing the Notre Dame Cathedral.”

    On anonymous message boards 4chan and 8chan, posts containing mentions of either “Muslim” or “Islam,” references to 9/11, or offensive anti-Muslim slurs skyrocketed on April 15 well beyond the average in the days before Notre Dame burned. On 4chan’s “politically incorrect” board, “/pol/,” the thread with the most posts containing those search terms was an April 15 discussion about the fire at Notre Dame. From April 9 to April 14, we looked at spikes in mentions of these words and found 10 high spots. The average number of mentions from those spikes was 209. But on April 15, 897 posts contained those words -- over four times the average.

    Media Matters also analyzed Spike data for Facebook posts containing the search terms “Muslim” or “Islam,” which showed that the post that earned the most interactions on April 15 came from anti-Muslim bigot Pamela Geller, who linked to a story on her site accusing Muslims of laughing at the sight of Notre Dame burning. (The story was based on a far-right hoax that baselessly claimed people who reacted with laughing emojis to a Facebook livestream of Notre Dame burning were Muslim). The post earned almost 38,000 interactions -- well over twice the 16,506 interactions of the next highest search result, a HuffPost story unrelated to the burning cathedral. Geller’s Facebook post overperformed her usual content by 15.71 times, a metric which Spike calculates “by comparing a story or post’s performance to the publisher’s historical average.”

    French prosecutors have reportedly ruled out arson as a cause for the tragic fire. This is not the first time news cycle events have triggered waves of bigotry on anonymous message boards: A study by the Anti-Defamation League found that there was a spike in posts containing racist terms on 4chan following President Donald Trump’s election.  

    Natalie Martinez provided research for this piece.

  • The far-right is using the tragic Notre Dame Cathedral fire to push conspiracy theories and bigotry

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN & CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    As a fire consumed the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, far-right figures took to social media platforms and message boards to spread misinformation and baseless claims, such as speculating that the fire was connected to terrorism or suggesting that Muslims and ISIS were linked to the tragedy.

    As reported by The New York Times, a spokesperson for the cathedral said the fire’s cause is not yet known, and prosecutors have since ruled out arson. And yet far-right narratives and speculation have already influenced automated suggestions on social media platforms like YouTube, which scrambled as the news was breaking to contain auto-generated text linking content about the cathedral fire to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

    Here are some examples of the far-right using the Notre Dame fire to spread bigotry, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and other baseless claims on tech platforms and elsewhere:

    A popular conspiracy theorist known as Partisangirl speculated that French President Emmanuel Macron had “probably set fire to Notre Dame” as a way to deal with recent protests:

    Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson spread a claim based on a since-deleted tweet that cited a Notre Dame Cathedral worker saying “the blaze was deliberately set":

    White nationalist Faith Goldy appeared to suggest that the fire was possible retaliation for the mosque shootings in New Zealand last month in which 50 Muslims were murdered:

    Jim Hoft’s The Gateway Pundit published a “flashback” to ISIS claims that the 2015 terrorist attack in a Paris concert house was “just the beginning”:

    A thread in Reddit’s pro-Trump forum “r/The_Donald” suggested Islam was to blame for the tragedy:

    Anti-Muslim extremist group leader Frank Gaffney baselessly suggested that the fire was part of a “Sharia-supremacist assault on Christianity.”

    Anti-Muslim blog Jihad Watch originally wrongly implied a Muslim woman arrested for an attempted car bombing was related to the attack (it later noted it was a separate story); the baseless suggestion was picked up by The Gateway Pundit and anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer.

    Fox guest host Mark Steyn mentioned terrorist attacks by Muslims while discussing the fire and suggested it showed the decline of Christianity in Europe.

    Loomer, fellow anti-Muslim bigot Pamela Geller, and others on social media suggested a connection between the fire and two men smiling near it, with Geller writing, “Muslims laugh as blaze destroys Notre Dame.”

    Far-right conspiracy theorists Mike Cernovich, Stefan Molyneux, and James Woods claimed the fire meant “the West has fallen,” that it showed the “general decline in IQ throughout the West,” or that it showed “the great and glorious history of Christianity … being eradicated from the face of the ‘new’ Europe.”

    TheBlaze host Glenn Beck said that if the fire “was started by Islamists, I don't think you'll find out about it.”

    Major Twitter accounts pushing the QAnon conspiracy theory also suggested the fire was set deliberately, including Educating Liberals (run by Dylan Wheeler), an account the president's son Donald Trump Jr. follows.

    Anonymous users on far-right message boards on 4chan and 8chan blamed Muslims, suggested it was a false flag, and claimed it was retaliation from “the deep state.”