Media Matters weekly newsletter, March 1

Welcome back to Media Matters’ weekly newsletter. In this week’s newsletter:

  • A primer on Donald Trump’s inner circle of advisers.
  • The right-wing response to Alabama’s draconian embryo ruling.
  • The sordid history of conservatives claiming that migrants spread disease.

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Alabama state outline and an embryo against a pink backdrop

Citation Andrea Austria / Media Matters

On February 16, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled in a case brought by IVF patients whose embryos were destroyed by another patient that frozen embryos created during the vitro fertilization process are equivalent to children. The ruling cites the state Constitution and the United States Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs that overturned Roe v. Wade. This decision comes as a result of the anti-abortion movement’s years of advocating that embryos and fetuses should be conferred legal rights starting at conception.

Many right-wing media outlets and organizations celebrated the court’s decision.

Seemingly due to the widespread popularity of IVF, however, some of the most influential conservative voices are avoiding making public comments on the ruling. Fox News largely ignored the story, giving it only 6 minutes of airtime between February 16 and noon on February 23.

It's important to be clear: They are dishonestly trying to confuse people like you. Right-wing media are now providing cover for Republicans as the party struggles to find a clear message on the issue, arguing that Democrats are twisting the truth about Republicans’ positions on reproductive health care. In reality, conservatives have spent decades pushing for “fetal personhood” legislation that would confer legal rights to embryos at the point of conception, a position that stands in direct contrast to some claims to support IVF.

Moreover, contrary to Trump's claims to support IVF, the Heritage Foundation — the think tank closely heading up a wide-ranging policy and staffing initiative for the next GOP administration — has published numerous pieces opposing assisted reproductive technology including in vitro fertilization. The think tank has also expressed support for Alabama’s ruling.

The response in right-wing media shows how much of a wedge issue this is for the 2024 election, and conservatives are witnessing the consequences of pushing their radical agenda on the American public.

Trump's advisors

Citation Molly Butler / Media Matters

A close-knit circle of operatives supporting disgraced former President Donald Trump’s reelection bid and being floated for a variety of Cabinet-level positions in a potential second Trump administration also regularly appear as hosts and guests across the right-wing media. They all share a fierce loyalty to Trump, and many have shown a willingness to subvert the rule of law and the democratic process.

These pro-Trump media figures have also developed a new infrastructure for the MAGA movement — most notably Project 2025, a wide-ranging policy and staffing initiative that aims to prepare for a Trump presidential transition. A central component to Project 2025 is Schedule F, an executive order issued in the final days of the Trump administration only to be rescinded immediately by President Joe Biden. Reimplementation of Schedule F would remove protections for tens of thousands of civil servants, making it easier for the administration to fire them and replace them with Trump loyalists.

This group of loyalists include some names which may be familiar to you, such as War Room host Steve Bannon, former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, racist conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer, Donald Trump Jr., and former Trump administration adviser Stephen Miller. Some other important names, though, may not be as familiar. People such as Mike Davis, Kash Patel, Russ Vought, Jason Miller, Liz Harrington, and others may become household names in a new Trump administration.

Media Matters published this in-depth primer on Trump’s inner circle, including short biographies and notable policy positions from each person. We’ll be updating this piece as the year goes on and hope you’ll find it helpful in understanding the people who may help Trump execute his dark vision for America.

Newsmax: "Woke FBI shows bias against white people"

This week in stupid

  • A Fox News segment decrying “migrant crime” featured a guest previously arrested after getting violent over a grilled cheese sandwich his wife had made that he deemed too cheesy. (His young daughter called the police.)
  • Newsmax’s Greg Kelly complained that Joe Biden has “some sort of weird boyhood fetish thing with ice cream.”
  • Extremist video platform Rumble appears to be lifting up the flat Earth conspiracy theory.

This week in scary

  • Libs of TikTok creator Chaya Raichik endorsed the great replacement conspiracy theory, saying, “Not all cultures are equal.”
  • CPAC's Matt Schlapp said that: “I don’t even know if you call this an election. This is like the 2.0 of the American Revolution.” Rachel Maddow then discussed this on her show.

Excuse me?

  • Mike Davis said people in the next Trump administration need to be competent “and more importantly, loyal.”
  • Fox News’ Newt Gingrich called Michelle Obama too “racially intense” to run for president.
  • At CPAC, Heritage fellow Stephen Moore claimed “climate change is not a science, it’s a religion.”

Citation Andrea Austria / Media Matters

Right-wing media have spent at least the last two decades framing immigrants as carriers of disease. Sometimes these racist attacks arise out of an existing public health emergency; other times, they emerge from an acute and manufactured panic about migration levels. No matter what the cause, there is little evidence that migration is a significant driver of disease.

The roots of this racist trope go back to at least 1891, with an immigration law that prohibited entry of “persons suffering from a loathsome or a dangerous contagious disease.” Later, in 1918, the Ku Klux Klan blamed the Spanish flu pandemic on recent Italian immigrants. By the 21st century, a network of nativist organizations laid out the blueprint for conservative media to use this same trope. Fox News and other right-wing outlets took up the mantle, oozing this vile slander in the ears and eyes of its viewers at an alarming rate.

Just this week, Fox News host Laura Ingraham baselessly blamed migrants for a measles outbreak in Florida. Experts, however, say low vaccination rates are to blame.

Donald Trump and his advisers have promised to wage an unprecedented war against undocumented people in the United States, pledging to use the military and law enforcement to deport as many as 10 million people. In this context, Trump’s recent accusations that migrants are “poisoning the blood of our country,” and that “people are coming in with disease” don’t look like outliers, but rather an escalation of long-running conservative bigotries.

In case you missed it

  • Fox News host Sean Hannity once touted arrested FBI informant Alexander Smirnov’s accusations against Joe Biden. Now, Hannity is running for cover.
  • After Smirnov was arrested, many of the same right-wing media figures who once touted his accusations now say he was never that important.
  • Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull calls Fox News “angertainment”: “It’s doing unbelievable damage to your country”
  • Broadcast TV news and top newspapers have failed to adequately cover Donald Trump’s severe and unpopular mass deportation plan.
  • Leaders and representatives from far-right movements across the globe came to the 2024 Conservative Political Action Conference.
  • Speakers rarely broached the subject of right-wing positions on reproductive freedom at CPAC. In the instances they did bring it up, it was to push extremist positions about abortion and in vitro fertilization.