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  • Anti-LGBTQ attacks against high-profile queer Americans should be a wake-up call to everyone

    The community has been struggling with increasing violence for years, and two recent attacks show that none of us is safe

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Editor’s note (2/21): Following the publication of this post, Smollett was arrested on February 21 by Chicago police “on suspicion of filing a false report about” the alleged assault.

    The threat of violence and harassment is nothing new for those in the LGBTQ community, particularly those who are trans or people of color. We know that our safety is at risk when we hold hands in public; queer sex workers know they risk their lives just by going to work; trans women of color know that they could be killed at any time just for existing in public. The list goes on. But after two reports of high-profile queer people being beaten or harassed for their identities in the past week, it seems like everyone else might finally be waking up to the reality that their LGBTQ friends and family are simply not safe.

    In the early hours of January 29, two people reportedly physically attacked Empire actor Jussie Smollett -- a gay Black man -- while “yelling out racial and homophobic slurs towards him,” according to police. And on January 30, anti-trans so-called “feminists” barged into a meeting and recorded themselves repeatedly harassing and misgendering high-profile trans activist and author Sarah McBride, the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

    Smollett’s attack has been significantly covered in news media, and rightly so. But there is also Candice Elease Pinky, the Black trans woman who was shot in a Texas gas station parking lot on January 24, and Dana Martin, the first reported trans woman to be killed in the United States in 2019. According to HRC, there were “at least 26 transgender people fatally shot or killed by other violent means” in 2018. And in 2017, there were “a total of 52 reported anti-LGBTQ homicides,” according to a report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP); that number reflected a staggering 86 percent increase in single-incident reports from the previous year. This violence is most frequently targeted toward trans women of color, but even homicides of queer cisgender men went up from four to 20 between 2016 and 2017 -- a fivefold increase.

    But many Americans who are LGBTQ allies had no idea. In 2018, Media Matters published a yearlong study of TV news coverage of those 52 homicides in 2017, and what we found shows why Smollett’s attack may have been such a wake-up call for so many: The media was barely touching these stories. Throughout a year of coverage, seven networks discussed anti-LGBTQ violence for less than 40 minutes total -- and a quarter of that discussion came from Fox News, which regularly traffics in anti-LGBTQ animus.

    And it’s not just physical violence that we should be talking about. The majority of LGBTQ Americans, like McBride, “have experienced some form of harassment or discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.” A 2017 Harvard study put numbers to it:

    Regarding individual forms of discrimination, a majority of all LGBTQ people have experienced slurs (57%) and insensitive or offensive comments (53%) about their sexual orientation or gender identity. A majority of LGBTQ people say that they or an LGBTQ friend or family member have been threatened or non-sexually harassed (57%), been sexually harassed (51%), or experienced violence (51%) because of their sexuality or gender identity.

    During Smollett’s attack, the assailants reportedly yelled, “This is MAGA country.” This sentiment should not be a surprise; it has come straight from the top. President Donald Trump has regularly used his office as a platform to bully and demean others, and his followers have become emboldened. Bullying is increasing; right-wing extremists are circulating liberals’ private information “to encourage harassment or violence”; and right-wing terrorism remains the biggest national security threat. All this while, as trans advocate Brynn Tannehill explained, right-wing media have been inciting violence against transgender people by demonizing them as a threat to women and children as well as U.S. national security, even sometimes hinting that violence is "an appropriate response to encountering transgender people in public."

    But there is another group of people who claim to be liberal and feminist yet also pose a direct threat to the LGBTQ community. “Trans-exclusionary radical feminists,” also known as TERFs, are anti-trans activists who claim that transgender people threaten the safety of cis women, and they are behind the targeted harassment and misgendering of Sarah McBride.

    TERFs have worked for years to dehumanize transgender people and to exclude trans women from female spaces and the broader movement for women’s equality, and they have increasingly cozied up to the right to do so. On January 28, just days before two TERFs harassed McBride on video, the right-wing Heritage Foundation hosted a panel of anti-trans activists “from the Left” to argue against a bill that aims to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in current nondiscrimination laws. Introducing the panel, vehemently anti-trans researcher Ryan T. Anderson made it clear that combating trans equality is a value the right shares with TERFs, and they are willing to work together despite their differences on other issues. Heron Greenesmith, researcher at the think tank Political Research Associates, described the alliance between the right and TERFs to NBC News:

    “They are capitalizing on a scarcity mindset rhetoric … saying there aren’t enough rights to go around, and therefore we must prioritize cis women over everyone else,” Greenesmith said, referring to nontransgender women. “That’s right out of the right’s playbook, when they say, ‘Let’s prioritize citizens over noncitizens, let’s prioritize white people over people of color.’”

    Anti-trans harassment is another piece of the right-wing playbook that TERFs have capitalized on. The two TERFs who interrupted McBride during a private meeting -- Posie Parker and Julia Long, who identifies as a lesbian -- repeatedly misgendered her on video, describing her as “male,” and pushed myths about trans-inclusive facilities being a safety risk for cisgender women. According to PinkNews’ report, Parker had also been at the Heritage Foundation just days before its panel, though she denied involvement with the January 28 event.

    The attacks on Smollett and McBride should serve as a wake-up call for the rest of the country. Black queer folk, transgender people, queer immigrants, and those at the intersections of these identities have been living with this fear and pain for years, and it has shown no sign of getting better. The right has been emboldened to enact violence and harassment against the LGBTQ community, and it is actively trying to fracture our community by teaming up with TERFs. In fact, this alliance has given this strategy a name: “divide and conquer.” One anti-trans activist said, “If you separate the T from the alphabet soup, we’ll have more success.”

    But we will not be fooled, and we will not be divided. Queer equality and liberation are nothing if they are not intersectional. As the last week has shown, if one of the community’s most beloved actors can’t walk home without experiencing racist and homophobic violence, and one of our most effective advocates can’t go to work without being targeted for harassment, then none of us is safe.

  • Fox & Friends downplays bombshell report that Donald Trump instructed his lawyer to lie to Congress about business dealings in Moscow

    Blog ››› ››› COURTNEY HAGLE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A January 17 BuzzFeed News report revealed bombshell allegations that “President Donald Trump directed his former longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.” Trump’s favorite morning show, Fox & Friends, downplayed the report despite the serious and potentially impeachable nature of these allegations.

    Two federal law enforcement officials familiar with the matter told BuzzFeed News that Trump supported a plan for him to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to negotiate the Moscow tower deal during the 2016 presidential campaign. The sources also said that Cohen has told special counsel Robert Mueller that Trump personally instructed him after the elections to lie about the timeline of the negotiations “in order to obscure Trump’s involvement.” Since 2016, Trump has repeatedly asserted to the public that he had no knowledge of any business dealings with Russia. But, according to BuzzFeed News, “Trump and his children Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they put in charge of the project.” In November, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the details of the Moscow deal.

    Despite these serious allegations, Fox & Friends barely covered the report, dedicating just three headlines, which together totaled 73 seconds, and one interview segment to the report. The brief headline reports were centered on Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s current lawyer, denying the allegations. During the interview segment, Fox contributor Newt Gingrich vehemently pushed back on the allegations, calling the report “an absurdity” and “a hypothetical.” Gingrich also tried to discredit BuzzFeed News, saying that BuzzFeed is “the equivalent of those tabloids you buy at the grocery stores … that introduce you to Martians” and that “to take BuzzFeed seriously is a sign of how desperate we are for news.” Gingrich also said Cohen was “wildly delusional” and that he was “trying to please the investigators [because] he was desperately trying to avoid jail.”

    This is not the first time Fox & Friends has ignored or downplayed reports that are negative for Trump. In addition to downplaying the BuzzFeed News report, the show has also almost entirely ignored Giuliani’s bombshell CNN interview on January 16 in which he refused to say whether or not there had been collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

  • Tucker Carlson says studies don’t exist showing undocumented immigrants commit less crime - he’s wrong

    Carlson: “We do this topic a lot and we’re pretty conversant with the social science on it. I’ve never seen that study”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In an interview with former Border Patrol chief Mark Morgan, Fox News host Tucker Carlson claimed he’s “never seen” a study that shows immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native born citizens.

    During the segment, Carlson said, “We do this topic a lot and we’re pretty conversant with the social science on it. I’ve never seen that study.” Perhaps Carlson should become more conversant with search engines, as a Google search returns numerous studies and articles published on this subject.

    A 2018 Cato Institute study shows that “there were 50 percent fewer criminal convictions of illegal immigrants than of native-born Americans in Texas in 2015.” A Washington Post write-up of the study included this chart visualizing Cato’s data:

    In August 2017, Politifact looked into a claim made by Antonio Villaraigosa that “undocumented immigrants commit less crimes than the native born,” a claim rated “mostly true.” In its ruling, Politifact quoted assistant professor and director of the Criminology and Criminal Justice Program at the University of Massachusetts in Boston as saying “the rhetoric of the ‘criminal immigrant’ does not align with the bulk of empirical research.”

    Furthermore, a study completed by research scientists from four universities shows that while immigrant populations have increased in size during the last few decades, the crime rate has gone down in those same communities. According to The New York Times’ review, “In general, the study’s data suggests either that immigration has the effect of reducing average crime, or that there is simply no relationship between the two.”

    Tucker Carlson’s refusal to acknowledge the reality of the academic literature on this subject is no accident. He has a well-documented history of embracing white supremacy and demonizing immigrants on his show, and white supremacists love him back. Tucker Carlson’s extremist views and fact-free demonization of immigrants has been one factor contributing to the loss of at least 24 advertisers in the last month.

  • Fox & Friends barely covers Michael Flynn’s first sentencing hearing

    Flynn’s admission that he was not entrapped by FBI investigators annihilated a popular right-wing talking point

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters
     

    U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan tore into President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn in a Washington, D.C., courtroom on December 18 and all but destroyed nearly a week’s worth of right-wing talking points in the process, but viewers wouldn’t know it from watching Fox & Friends. According to a Media Matters review of the December 19 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox News’ flagship morning program only briefly mentioned Flynn’s sentencing hearing to attack the judge in the case during three hours of programming.

    A popular right-wing talking point pushed extensively on Fox News has argued that Flynn was entrapped by the FBI when they questioned him in January 2017, and that the actions for which he was in legal trouble were minor and overblown. But according to a CNN report on the sentencing hearing, “the judge threw a series of questions at him that highlighted how unusual Flynn's case is and how consequential his actions may be.” Later in the hearing, according to ABC News, Sullivan asked “if Flynn believed he had been entrapped by the FBI,” but “his attorneys replied ‘no your honor.’” Though Sullivan eventually decided to postpone the sentencing hearing, he did so only after shredding Flynn’s defense and mulling the prospect of ignoring the prosecution’s sentencing suggestion that Flynn receive no jail time as a result of his cooperation.

    A Media Matters review found Fox & Friends covered Flynn’s devastating first sentencing hearing, which thoroughly debunked their main talking point, for less than five minutes in its three hour program. Aside from a brief mention of the sentencing hearing during an interview with counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s favorite morning propaganda program only discussed Flynn in one segment with Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich; in each discussion, which lasted a combined 4 minutes and 35 seconds, the hosts and guests used their platform to downplay the severity of Flynn’s guilty pleas and to attack Sullivan -- the same judge that Trump’s propagandists praised just days earlier. Most of the discussion focused on attacking the judge, saying Sullivan went “off the deep end” and accusing him of “winging it.”

    Fox & Friends has dutifully played its public relations role for the Trump White House for nearly two years, and it continues fighting that losing battle even in the face of Flynn’s sentencing hearing -- just like it has with nearly every other damning report about the conduct of the Trump campaign, transition, and administration.