On SiriusXM’s Signal Boost, Media Matters' Sharon Kann explains how media can stop spreading abortion misinformation

On the October 9 edition of SiriusXM’s Signal Boost with Zerlina Maxwell and Jess McIntosh, Media Matters’ Sharon Kann talked about a recent study showing that abortion misinformation dominates evening cable news programs, and suggested strategies for improvement.

Kann explained that of the four categories of statements Media Matters coded for misinformation, statements about so-called “extreme” abortion procedures and positions were the most common. This is due in part to Fox News pushing a dangerous lie that Democrats promote “infanticide” in their abortion policies. As Kann stated, once this narrative became “popularized on Fox News,” it got “picked up and magnified” by other networks and outlets:

ZERLINA MAXWELL (CO-HOST): I think that even the science of it is misstated and not fact-checked in real-time on television. I see that a lot coming up in this particular election cycle because [President] Donald Trump has said things like, “Democrats want the baby to be born just so they can rip it out of the mom and then kill it.” That’s one of the things that he says on the stump, and it’s not fact-checked as a ridiculous statement. So, what are some of the things that you notice in terms of the specific mistakes that are frequently made when abortion is discussed, that go beyond your point about even just access?

SHARON KANN: Yeah, I think that your point about fact-checking or the lack of fact-checking that's done in most segments is actually -- I mean, it’s spot on. I do think that is one of the dynamics that really emerged to us throughout the dataset this time.


I think that this year in particular we saw the largest volume of misinformation in that last category [about “extreme” abortion procedures or positions] -- in part because by the nature of some of these conversations I think the stigmatizing and inaccurate talking points, especially when there’s not robust pushback and fact-checking, tend to dominate conversations. And then secondly because there is a pipeline of misinformation between Fox News and right-wing outlets --


KANN: -- to people holding the levers of power. And I think that means that once something becomes popularized on Fox News like we saw with this talking point about “infanticide” --


KANN: -- that we know is sensationalized and inaccurate, it gets picked up and magnified at a level that by the time other networks start talking about it, the misinformation is already ossified and set in the conversation.

In particular, Kann highlighted that CNN and MSNBC “were echoing misinformation” found on Fox News. However, in an example of good coverage, Signal Boost co-host Maxwell pushed back against another guest’s lie during an appearance on MSNBC’s MTP Daily about “partial-birth” abortion, stating correctly that it was a made-up and unscientific talking point:

JESS MCINTOSH (CO-HOST): Whenever I see a media study that says “oh, everybody gets it wrong” -- the good networks, the bad networks -- everyone is falling down and Zerlina and I are part of that structure. ... Does the study show any bright spots in terms of actually being able to influence this dynamic?

KANN: Yeah, I think there’s a couple of -- it actually feels nice to say yes, I do think there is some good news. I do think that one of the dynamics is that, although the topline is that Fox is very dominant in the conversation, and it was more likely than not that CNN and MSNBC were echoing misinformation, there were moments when there were good signs of coverage. And, actually, I know one of the segments that we highlight -- we’ll have additional content coming out on our website highlighting some of these additional narratives -- but I know one of those examples of good coverage that we saw was actually Zerlina pushing back on a talking point about “infanticide” and saying that it was made-up and lies.

Kann also outlined how media outlets can improve abortion-related coverage by “amplifying voices that should be part of” the conservation, “whether it’s people who’ve had abortions” or “people who are experts” in science or medicine:

KANN: I do think that is not just people who are in positions of power within the context of cable news, but have a media platform continuing to highlight and to amplify not just accurate talking points, but amplifying voices that should be part of that discussion. Whether it’s people who’ve had abortions, people who are experts on science, medicine, whatever it may be, continuing to elevate that. I think another thing that is really important is, if you’re not someone who has access to that kind of platform, and this is I think, advice that I give regardless of the study context or not, is that everyone just needs to be a critical consumer of information. And I think especially going into the context of the 2020 election and just being a good media advocate for yourself, just fact-check information and if you hear something, whether it’s someone in your family repeating a Fox News talking point or some of these narratives about abortion that don’t sound accurate, being able to do the sort of leg work to check on that yourself is always something that we would encourage in addition to just providing the context or finding that context as well.

Listen to the full interview here.