Right-wing media distort Sen. Schumer’s remarks to erase the very real threat of anti-abortion violence

Right-wing media dishonestly paint abortion rights advocates as dangerous


Citation Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

Following comments from Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) regarding an upcoming Supreme Court decision on abortion rights, right-wing media rushed to paint abortion rights advocates as dangerous while ignoring the very real threat of anti-abortion violence -- and right-wing media’s own role in stoking it.

On March 4, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in June Medical Services v. Russo, a case about a law in Louisiana that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. During an abortion rights rally in front of the Supreme Court in support of overturning the law, Schumer said, “I want to tell you, Gorsuch, I want to tell you, Kavanaugh: You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price. You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”

Schumer’s comments called out President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court appointees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh for potentially rolling back reproductive rights. After right-wing media and conservative figures -- including Chief Justice John Roberts -- condemned Schumer’s remarks as “threats” against the two justices, the Senate minority leader clarified that he was talking about “political consequences” and not referring to acts of violence. Schumer further explained that Republicans were “busy manufacturing outrage over these comments” and didn’t actually believe their claims against him.

Following Schumer’s initial comments, however, some in right-wing media took the opportunity to dishonestly condemn abortion rights advocates as violent, saying Schumer was speaking in front of a “mob” and “sending a dog whistle to crazies out there.” Such reactions served as another attempt by right-wing media to paint Democrats and abortion rights advocates as “extreme” on abortion and ignored their own role in perpetuating anti-abortion violence.

Here are right-wing media’s nonsensical reactions to Schumer’s comments:

  • On Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich said, “Look, he was in front of a crowd. They were fanatically committed to the maximum opportunity to kill children, and they were all revved up, he was revved up, and he got carried away. And what he said was pure demagoguery -- it was totally irresponsible and dangerous."
  • Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano claimed Schumer was trying to show that the justices could be “intimidated by a mob outside of the courthouse” and the senator “might actually be sending a dog whistle to crazies out there.”
  • Kristan Hawkins, president of the anti-abortion Students for Life of America and Fox News guest:
  • Fox & Friends also allowed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) a platform to falsely assert that Schumer’s comments were because he “wants the Supreme Court to uphold unlimited abortion on demand in every circumstance with no limitations whatsoever.” According to Cruz, “Where Senate Democrats are right now, they are so angry that they're willing to try to get what they want through threats and through really naked intimidation.”
  • Washington Examiner contributor Kimberly Ross:
  • Conservative radio host and former National Rifle Association spokesperson Dana Loesch told Fox & Friends that Schumer “focused the rage of the mob” against the two justices. She also said that “this is irresponsible, it’s reckless, it’s dangerous, and I think that they’ve seen the consequences of their rhetoric before,” referencing the 2017 attack on the Republican congressional baseball team.
  • BlazeTV’s Allie Beth Stuckey:
  • On America’s Newsroom, Fox News guest anchor Julie Banderas and contributor Andy McCarthy both called the rally of abortion rights advocates a “mob,” with McCarthy claiming that “the mob is out there, and Schumer is agitating them because it works, that's the reason they do it.”
  • Townhall’s Guy Benson:
  • On Hannity, Fox News’ Gregg Jarrett said Schumer’s comments are “especially dangerous, as the chief justice pointed out, because it's in front of a crowd that's already angry and enraged in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. It could easily and tragically be misinterpreted by some, triggering or provoking or encouraging violence.”
  • The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh:
  • Conservative author and Trump pardon recipient Dinesh D'Souza asserted on Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle that Schumer’s remarks demonstrated “how deranged our politics, particularly around the pro-life issue, have become.” D’Souza dismissed the Louisiana law at issue in June v. Russo, saying it is “a very moderate law,” and “if that causes Schumer to go into such a paroxysm of rage, you can just imagine the craziness that we’re in for as the court begins to shift and as landmark decisions do come into question,” referring to the court’s potential to undermine or overturn Roe v. Wade.

Right-wing media are ignoring the reality of anti-abortion violence -- and their role in perpetuating it

Right-wing media’s reactions to Schumer’s comments ignore the very real and ongoing threat of anti-abortion violence in the United States and right-wing media’s role in stoking it.

Eleven people have died as a result of anti-abortion violence in the U.S. since 1993. Numerous others have been injured, and still more have found themselves and even their families targeted with personalized harassment from abortion opponents. And the trend has intensified in recent years, showing little sign of abating. In May 2019, the National Abortion Federation (NAF) released a report that analyzed violence, intimidation, and harassment of abortion providers from the previous year. According to the report, NAF abortion providers and clinics encountered 21,252 incidents of hate emails and internet harassment, 1,135 incidents of trespassing, and 1,388 harassing calls or hate mail in 2018. Abortion providers also told NAF that they received 57 threats of harm or death threats and were subjected to 15 cases of assault and battery that year.

Some right-wing media outlets have also helped fan the flames of resentment against abortion providers, patients, and clinics. In 2009, an anti-abortion extremist murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller while he was attending church with his family. Before Tiller's assassination, former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly had openly bullied Tiller on his program numerous times. According to Rolling Stone, “O’Reilly had waged an unflagging war against Tiller that did just about everything short of urging his followers to murder him.” O’Reilly repeatedly called the doctor “Tiller the baby killer” and said there was a “special place in hell for this guy.” At one point, O’Reilly said, “And if I could get my hands on Tiller – well, you know. Can't be vigilantes. Can't do that. It's just a figure of speech. But despicable? Oh, my God. Oh, it doesn't get worse. Does it get worse? No." After Tiller’s assassination, O’Reilly claimed he only “reported accurately” on Tiller and wasn’t responsible for the provider’s murder.

In 2015, an anti-abortion extremist who killed three and injured nine at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood reportedly offered the phrase “no more baby parts” as an explanation for his actions. His comment seemingly referred to an oft-repeated right-wing media talking point based on deceptive undercover videos from the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. The New Republic reported on the admitted shooter’s penchant for right-wing media such as Fox News and Infowars, saying it shaped his paranoid and conspiratorial views about abortion and Planned Parenthood and may have influenced his actions.

Right-wing media have also amplified sensationalized anti-abortion rhetoric and misinformation. In 2019, Fox News aggressively pushed the malicious lie that Democratic support for abortion access amounted to “infanticide.” A Media Matters study of how abortion is discussed on prime-time cable news programs explained that the network fueled the right-wing media talking point by relentlessly echoing this inaccurate claim.

Why is this really happening?

Rather than expressing legitimate concerns about pro-choice violence -- itself an “absurd lie,” as abortion clinic escort Lauren Rankin wrote for New York magazine -- right-wing media’s outrage over Schumer’s comments serves only as dishonest political fodder for the 2020 election cycle. Once again, right-wing media have latched onto a non-story to bash Democratic support for abortion as “extreme” and to demonize those that advocate for abortion access. Indeed, right-wing media and abortion opponents already harassed and attempted to stigmatize some of the speakers from the rally on social media. Rather than pointing fingers, right-wing media should examine the power and danger of their own rhetoric on abortion.