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  • Alliance Defending Freedom has lost its latest effort in a decade-long battle to prohibit marriage equality in Romania’s constitution

    The massive anti-LGBTQ organization has been working to push its goals internationally, including in Romania, where same-sex partners already cannot marry

    Blog ››› ››› KAYLA GOGARTY & BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A Romanian referendum that would have amended the country’s constitution to define marriage as “between a man and a woman” failed this past weekend after it did not receive the 30 percent turnout required to be valid. Influential and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) worked extensively in favor of the referendum and has been actively working against marriage equality in Romania for more than a decade.

    Though the referendum failed to draw more than roughly 20 percent of voters, the BBC reported that polls taken before the vote “indicated support for the change was as high as 90%.” Romanian LGBTQ advocates successfully urged their supporters to boycott the polls to invalidate the vote, even though the government took the “unusual step” of extending the referendum to two days at a cost of $46 million.

    This was not the first campaign against marriage equality in Romania. The Los Angeles Times reported that Peter Costea of Coalition for Family, the Romanian organization “leading the charge on the referendum,” first pushed to change the country’s constitution 13 years ago by working with “local Christian groups.” The Times continued, “This time, he’s backed by far more firepower. Costea turned to the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based association that has emerged as an influential legal force for the American religious right — part of a larger pattern of conservative evangelical and other Christian groups finding fertile new ground for pressing an agenda against marriage between same-sex partners.”

    But Costea has actually worked with ADF for more than a decade. He is listed as one of its 3,200 allied attorneys, and Costea and ADF “provided instrumental legal counsel to Romanian Parliament” regarding a civil code enacted in 2009 that defined marriage as between “man and woman.” It does appear, however, that Trump’s election was a catalyst for their latest push, as the Times wrote:

    Within days of Trump’s election victory, the Coalition for Families was “contacted by higher-ups in the Romanian government to say that things had changed in Romania because things had changed in the White House,” Costea said. They promised to help jump-start the referendum campaign, he said.

    To that end, the Alliance Defending Freedom has held conferences and run an informational campaign backing the Coalition of Families to promote the Romanian measure. Along with Liberty Counsel, it also submitted friend-of-the-court memos to Romania’s Constitutional Court.

    Alliance Defending Freedom has worked on anti-LGBTQ measures in Romania for more than a decade

    Over the last two years, ADF worked extensively to boost Romania’s anti-LGBTQ referendum from its initial petition to the final vote. In July 2016, ADF International filed a friend-of-the-court brief at the Romanian Constitutional Court in support of the referendum, and ADF co-hosted a conference with the Coalition for Family at the Romanian Parliament in Bucharest in 2017. ADF continued advocating for the constitutional amendment through social media posts, news releases, videos, official reports, and analysis. In a related event, ADF also submitted an intervention in 2017 to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) against a gay Romanian and American married couple who were fighting for their right to live together in Romania. The ECJ ultimately backed the legal residency for same-sex couples under the definition of “spouse,” which was the language the 2018 referendum attempted to amend. According to the Los Angeles Times, U.S. groups including ADF have aligned with Eastern European conservatives because their ideology “meshes perfectly with the goals of Christian conservatives in the U.S.”

    Additionally, a 2012 book by Duquesne University political science professor Clifford Bob detailed work by ADF and Costea in Romania a decade ago that has striking similarities to their most recent work together, demonstrating that the alliance between ADF and Eastern European conservatives is not new. According to the book, ADF became involved in the Romanian marriage debate a decade ago after Costea contacted the extreme anti-LGBTQ group for legal help with his first campaign to amend Romania’s constitution to define marriage as “between a man and a woman.” Bob wrote that Romanian religious groups “had gathered the necessary signatures for validation by the Romanian Constitutional Court” by December 2006, and Costea “engineered the filing of amicus curiae briefs, a tactic unprecedented in Romanian jurisprudence,” to bolster the petition. According to the book, ADF “reviewed Costea’s brief and filed its own.”

    After the petition “failed to meet the Constitution's geographic distribution requirement for citizen initiatives” and thus did not make it to a referendum, Costea set up a formal organization, the Alliance of Romania’s Families (ARF), which he said was “absolutely” modeled on anti-LGBTQ groups “Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, [and] ADF.” ADF helped launch ARF, and former ADF chief counsel Benjamin Bull said ADF worked to “shape and define the organization.” ADF also sponsored Costea’s attendance “at one of its multiday, all-expenses-paid National Litigation Academies.”

    According to Bob’s book, ADF offered “to assist any government in defending its marriage laws” when ARF began its first campaign, in 2008, to amend Romania’s family code “with a defense of marriage provision similar to those in the United States.” That year, ADF provided legal arguments defending the amendment, and its ally the World Congress of Families (WCF) sent a petition signed by anti-LGBTQ leaders from across the world, including ADF’s Glen Lavy, to the Romanian Parliament. In 2009, “ARF worked with ADF and Romanian legislators to draft defense of marriage language even broader than the recent amendment,” resulting in a bill that prohibited same-sex adoption and refused to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other countries. When the bill passed, ADF hailed Parliament’s decision and noted that it had provided “legal counsel to several prominent Romanian parliamentarians” who introduced and helped pass the policies.

    Other anti-LGBTQ groups in the U.S. have worked against marriage equality in Romania

    Other U.S.-based extreme anti-LGBTQ groups also assisted with Romania’s referendum, including Liberty Counsel and the World Congress of Families (WCF). Liberty Counsel lawyer Harry Mihet and client Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who made national headlines after refusing to sign same-sex marriage licenses, traveled around Romania for nine days to support the referendum. They held conferences in Romania’s largest cities; met with archbishops of the Romanian Orthodox Church and members of Parliament; and appeared together in TV and radio interviews. The day before the 2018 vote, Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver discussed the impact the trip had on the referendum in a podcast. Prior to the group’s campaigning trip, Liberty Counsel also provided legal support in an amicus brief to the Romanian Constitutional Court.

    WCF, which sent the 2008 petition against marriage equality in Romania, invited a member of the Coalition for Family to speak about the importance of the referendum at its 2017 conference in Budapest. WCF also used social media to encourage Romanians to vote in support of the referendum, with WCF President Brian Brown actively posting his support on Twitter. Additionally, CitizenGo, a campaign linked to WCF, posted a video in April in support of amending the Romanian constitution.

    Though anti-LGBTQ groups failed in their latest effort to further marginalize LGBTQ Romanians, the country’s LGBTQ residents still do not have the right to marry, while LGBTQ people across Eastern Europe are regularly detained, prevented from peacefully organizing, tortured, and even killed. Yet anti-LGBTQ groups in American ignore these human rights atrocities and continue to target the community, helping contribute to the culture of fear that LGBTQ Eastern Europeans face every day.

  • Voter suppression stories aren't just about which party wins or loses in November -- they're about racist disenfranchisement in the long term

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Recent reporting has revealed indisputable voter suppression efforts in North Dakota and Georgia that appear to specifically target Native and Black communities. While these racist disenfranchisement efforts are obviously notable in the lead-up to next month’s midterm elections, media fail the public when they simply focus on the impact in the short-term and turn the story into another horse-race conversation. The real story here is the long-term, conservative-led effort to systematically dismantle voting rights for people of color -- and it won’t go away after November.

    On October 9, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to suspend a lower federal court ruling that requires North Dakota voters to show identification with a residential address in order to vote. This requirement effectively disenfranchises Native American tribal residents, as many do not have the acceptable identification or don’t list residential addresses on their IDs. As the plaintiffs in the original court case explained, the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t deliver to residences in rural tribal communities so residents instead list P.O. boxes on tribal IDs. In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that “the risk of disfranchisement is large” in clearing the way for the state to enforce this voter ID requirement after it had previously been blocked during primary voting.

    On the same day, The Associated Press reported that Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (who is also currently running for governor on the Republican ticket) has actively purged “over 1.4 million voter registrations since 2012,” and currently has “over 53,000 registrations sitting on hold.” AP’s analysis revealed that nearly 70 percent of the 53,000 “on hold” registrations were those of Black voters, an astonishing statistic when the state population is only 32 percent Black. The reasons for holding a registration vary, and can include simple errors in entry or “a dropped hyphen in a last name, for example.”

    Both of these efforts began well before the current election cycle. Mother Jones reports that North Dakota Republicans began tightening state voter ID laws after Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp was first elected in 2012. Kemp was first elected secretary of state in 2010, but his office began its purge as early as 2012 as well. It’s not even the only move Kemp has made to suppress votes in Georgia in recent months. Both fit into the broader systemic dismantling of voting rights in America, signaled by the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder case, and subsequent rulings granting states greater freedom to dictate their own election maps and voting requirements -- tools that some states have used to create stricter barriers to voting access for communities of color.

    Right-wing media have been cheering on the conservative voter suppression campaign for as long as it has been underway, helpfully propping up bogus claims of widespread voter fraud to justify this clear and targeted racist disenfranchisement.

    Media silence about the systemic dismantling of voting rights -- as was the case for coverage of the 2016 races -- should not be an option. Instead, media’s responsibility is to present the full context and actively counter the decades-long trend in voter suppression perpetrated by the right-wing political and media ecosystem.

    Coverage ought to focus on conveying the message that instances of voter suppression are both far from isolated, and far from random in the communities they affect. And even summing up in-depth reports that do provide this context with narrow midterms-focused headlines, like these, is itself a disservice:

    [Salon, 10/10/18]

    [New York, 10/10/18]

    [GQ, 10/10/18]

    [Alternet, 10/9/18]

    [Mic, 10/10/18]

    It’s just one step above a headline that tells readers nothing at all.

    Framing the latest voter purges from Georgia and North Dakota as purely horse-race developments effectively erases the opportunity to address the racist erosion of voting rights. This is not simply about a red or blue wave, or about polling numbers, or campaign strategy. This is not a matter of being bad for Democrats or good for Republicans. And this will not go away after next month.

    Black and Native people are being robbed of their voices at the polls in service of a conservative structure that will only work to systematically reinforce and further these voter suppression efforts in the future. Racism is a feature of this system, not a bug.

    Every time we see a headline about one specific and seemingly isolated disenfranchisement effort, we are deprived of the chance to make larger connections; to understand the rot at the core of our electoral system; and to fight it.

  • PragerU posts a video about Christopher Columbus that features a racist depiction of indigenous people

    It's that time of year.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    PragerU put out a video featuring CRTV’s Steven Crowder explaining that Columbus Day is “not about paying homage to America’s original inhabitants” and showing a racist depiction of indigenous people as cannibals wielding salt-and-pepper shakers.

    PragerU is an online hub for right-wing propaganda that has made a name for itself by producing short explainer videos that get quickly propelled by YouTube’s virality algorithm. It has an incredibly strong following that leads to its videos raking in millions of views on YouTube and Facebook. On this occasion, PragerU gave its powerful platform to bigoted Crowder -- who recently referred to Christine Blasey Ford as a “lying whore” on his CRTV show -- to characterize initiatives against the erasure of original populations as a “charade” that is an “exercise in hating Western civilization.”

    On 4chan, a hub for far-right extremism, users have latched onto right-wing media’s culture war outrage and historical revisionism surrounding Christopher Columbus. 4chan users framed the issue in white supremacist terms by celebrating Columbus because of his role in the genocide of people of color:

    This outrage has become an annual tradition. Every year on this date, right-wing media figures rant against calls to celebrate indigenous people rather than Columbus’ bloody legacy, by lashing out with racist depictions of original populations. In 2017, Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire published a cartoon showing Native Americans as cannibalistic savages who should be grateful for colonization, a take so racist even Shapiro had to apologize following the backlash.

    Similarly, Mike Huckabee published a wildly racist educational video about Columbus and indigenous people in 2011.

    And speaking about Columbus Day in 2005, Lou Dobbs said that he resented “those kinds of holidays” that have “nothing to do with celebrating America.” In the same context, Rush Limbaugh in 2010 linked disease rates among indigenous populations to evolution.

    White supremacist darling Tucker Carlson has repeatedly bemoaned celebrations of indigenous people, characterizing them as an “attack on civilization” and claiming Europeans coming to America led to “far less human sacrifice and cannibalism.”

    Talia Lavin contributed research to this piece.

  • Following Trump's attack, conservatives call Ford a liar deserving of prison

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Conservative media personalities are attacking Christine Blasey Ford following President Donald Trump’s attack on her at a political rally. Ford testified last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her.

    Trump inspired a second wave of attacks from conservatives by mocking her public account of high school sexual assault at his October 2 political rally in Mississippi, as The Washington Post reported:

    President Trump mocked the account of a woman who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh of assault and told a Mississippi crowd that the #MeToo movement was unfairly hurting men.

    Trump, in a riff that has been dreaded by White House and Senate aides, attacked the story of Christine Blasey Ford at length — drawing laughs from the crowd. The remarks were his strongest attacks yet of her testimony.

    “ ‘I don’t know. I don’t know.’ ‘Upstairs? Downstairs? Where was it?’ ‘I don’t know. But I had one beer. That’s the only thing I remember,’ ” Trump said of Ford, as he impersonated her on stage.

    “I don’t remember,” he said repeatedly, apparently mocking her testimony.

    While three Republican senators criticized Trump’s denigration of Ford, other conservatives responded by defending Trump’s attack on her and doubling down with their own.

    Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft: “BOOM! President Trump Mocks Christine Ford's Flimsy Accusations at Mississippi Rally - CROWD ROARS!”

    MSNBC contributor Hugh Hewitt: Ford’s “story is crumbling, and the president just broke the glass last night. He was not mocking her. He was attacking the credibility of her testimony.”

    Other right-wing media figures accused Ford of repeatedly lying in her testimony, drawing on a letter from an ex-boyfriend that said, among other things, that she helped a friend prepare for a polygraph test -- a claim that was soon countered by the friend in question.

    Hoft: “SHE’S A FRAUD: Dr. Ford Lied About Flying, Tight Spaces, Closed Quarters, Polygraph Tests.”

    Conservative talk radio host Erick Erickson: “Dr. Ford lied. Kavanaugh’s reputation died. All intentional to ruin a good man.”

    Fox News contributor Lisa Boothe: “You look at ... what looks like blatant lies” Ford “has told people about flying. … There’s been so many inconsistencies, so many lies.”

    And Hoft, along with others, have stated that Ford should be criminally investigated or even locked in prison.

    Fox News guest Joe diGenova: Ford “should be investigated and if necessary charged with the crime of submitting a false statement to the Senate.”

    Turning Point USA’s Candace Owens: “I would like to be among the first to say that I want Christine Blasey Ford to serve time in PRISON.”

    Hoft, citing Owens: “Is It About Time to Lock Up Christine Ford in a Prison Cell With Two Front Doors?”

  • White nationalist writer Peter Gemma resigns from Sarasota GOP executive committee after Media Matters and Herald-Tribune reports

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Peter Gemma, a white nationalist writer who has been involved in the Holocaust denial movement, has resigned from the Sarasota County Republican Party’s executive committee in Florida.

    Political Editor Zac Anderson of the Herald-Tribune in Sarasota reported on October 1 that “Gemma has grudgingly resigned from the Sarasota GOP’s executive committee after the party moved to expel him following revelations he is linked to individuals and groups that have come under scrutiny for alleged racism and other extreme views.”

    Media Matters reported on August 23 that Gemma held an event for Tommy Gregory, a Republican who is running for a Florida state House seat. Gemma has a long history of extremism; for instance:

    • The Washington Post reported in April 2005 that Gemma helped organize an event for David Irving, “a well-known Holocaust denier who has claimed that Jews were not killed in gas chambers at Auschwitz.”
    • The Anti-Defamation League wrote that in 2004, “Gemma introduced notorious Holocaust denier Mark Weber at a meeting of the Institute for Historical Review (IHR), once the leading Holocaust denial organization in the United States.” The IHR stated on its website that Weber, who is the group's director, spoke about the Iraq War and characterized it as “a war to further the interests of Israel and organized Jewry.”
    • Gemma has been involved with leading white nationalist organizations and publications, including the Council of Conservative Citizens, The National Policy Institute, VDare, and The Occidental Quarterly.
    • Gemma edited a book lionizing the late white nationalist writer Sam Francis and has appeared on the white nationalist radio The Political Cesspool.

    Anderson reported on September 9 that Gemma “joined the Sarasota County Republican Party Executive Committee this year and hosted meet-and-greet events at his house for two GOP candidates.” The Herald-Tribune political editor added:

    But Gemma’s increasing immersion in the local political scene became controversial after the left-wing group Media Matters for America published an article highlighting his background.

    Now some Sarasota GOP leaders -- though not all -- are distancing themselves from Gemma.

    Party Chairman Joe Gruters says he will ask Gemma to resign from the executive committee, even as Gemma denies “any of the crazy stuff they say about me” and one prominent Hispanic Republican is coming to his defense.

    Gemma has denied that he’s racist, reportedly “expressed regret about the event with David Irving,” and claimed he doesn’t agree with Holocaust denial.

    Media Matters also noted that Kansas Secretary of State and Republican gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach cited a made-up anti-immigrant statistic from Gemma for a 2016 Breitbart column, which was also posted on Kobach’s campaign website.

  • Why is this man on my TV?

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Left or right, political media bubbles are, at best, unproductive; at worst, they can be gateways into alternate realities. Since the 2016 presidential election, there’s been a significant push for people to exit their respective echo chambers and start really listening to one another. For example, BuzzFeed introduced its “Outside Your Bubble” experiment in February 2017, offering readers a range of views from around the internet and across the political spectrum on a single topic. The following month, Amanda Hess at The New York Times gave a rundown of this movement, noting that it is geared less toward trying to convince hardcore Trump supporters to open their minds to the political left, and much more toward convincing liberals to entertain more perspectives from the right.

    But just exposing news consumers to wildly different opinions doesn’t do much to bridge the polarization gap -- in fact, it might make people even more entrenched in their partisan views. Earlier this year, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found that being presented with different worldviews could actually trigger motivated reasoning and other defense mechanisms among consumers. While the study’s authors cautioned against making too much of its conclusions, it may be worth pumping the brakes a bit on assumptions that we may have about bubble-busting. Perhaps, a place to start would be to seek out milder points of view -- ideologically challenging but not overly partisan -- to add to an idea mix. In other words, a mainstream Democrat might benefit more from reading a relatively thoughtful conservative pundit like David Brooks than party cheerleaders like Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh.

    One might think that the most obvious place to look for less partisan but still right-leaning figures would be among “Never Trump” Republicans. After all, who better to help bridge the left and the right than people who would have ordinarily voted for the GOP candidate but made the decision not to support Donald Trump?

    One person who’s benefited from the push to pop ideological bubbles is conservative commentator Erick Erickson. Erickson, who edits the website The Resurgent, has also had stints as a contributor at both CNN and Fox News in recent years. Like many other “Never Trump” conservatives, such as New York Times opinion columnist Bret Stephens or The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro, Erickson’s profile has arguably risen in the wake of Trump’s election. If you were to base your opinions of him entirely on his appearances in mainstream news outlets, you might even find him reasonable (if perhaps still a little out of your comfort zone).

    But “Never Trump” should not be conflated with “moderate” — and that’s the problem here.

    Perhaps you’ve seen Erickson on Meet the Press, tsk tsk'ing incivility or sharing relatively harmless theories about who could be the author of the mysterious, anonymous White House op-ed. Or maybe you recognize him from sharing a few laughs with Brooke Baldwin on CNN Newsroom, or saying that The Atlantic’s firing of Kevin Williamson was “bad form” on CNN’s Reliable Sources (on The Resurgent, he called The Atlantic’s move “liberal fascism”). Or it could be that you saw him on Real Time with Bill Maher, or read his extremely sensible-sounding New York Times op-ed “How to Find Common Ground.”

    But Erickson isn’t moderate. He has argued that gay men should expect to be assaulted in bars if their appearance makes others uncomfortable, defended Roy Moore voters for sticking with their candidate despite “damning” evidence that suggested he preyed on teenage girls, uncritically spread a conspiracy theory about Parkland survivor David Hogg, and later labeled Hogg a “high school bully.”

    Erickson’s output following reports of sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has been illuminating.

    Since September 17, Erickson has written dozens of stories at The Resurgent about the reports by Christine Blasey Ford and others that Kavanaugh engaged in sexual misconduct. Those blog posts included a number of falsehoods -- such as the debunked claim that The New York Times refused to run one Kavanaugh accuser’s story -- as well as an abundance of hyperbolic claims (“Christine Blasey Ford Demands a Soviet Style Show Trial” reads one headline).

    On Twitter, he’s shared conspiracy theories that began as pranks on 4chan (“rumors are flying Michael Avenatti, the creepy porn lawyer, locked his Twitter account because his supposed Kavanaugh victim is a prankster off 4Chan that successfully trolled him,” he wrote, boosting a debunked theory that another Kavanaugh accuser and Avenatti client, Julie Swetnick, didn’t exist). He also helped spread the false rumor that Kavanaugh’s mother foreclosed on Ford’s childhood home (first by saying “a growing body of blogs are posting” the rumor and later by tweeting about it as a fact). He went all-in on conservative commentator Ed Whelan’s elaborate theory that Ford must have confused Kavanaugh with a look-alike (first by couching it in language that simply called the theory a “credible and coherent explanation,” but later by posting a number of tweets presenting the doppelgänger theory as a factual, proven truth). Add to that the fact that he claimed Democrats were “willing to destroy an innocent man so they can keep killing kids” and called the confirmation process “the Left’s PizzaGate,” with MSNBC as “the Left’s Alex Jones.”

    Not only are Erickson’s views far from moderate, but his penchant for signal-boosting rumors and conspiracy theories has done much more to confuse the public than to inform it. This isn’t meant as a criticism of his political views, his personal life, or even his bombastic approach to media; it’s a criticism of the sanitized way he’s presented by mainstream outlets that provide him with a platform.

    The tendency to hedge on criticism of far-right figures only reinforces the myth of moderation.

    Following Erickson’s attack on Hogg, The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan published a column titled “The sliming of Parkland students shows the spreading stain of media polarization.” The post was critical of Erickson’s “bully” blog post and criticized him for suggesting that Hogg wasn’t at Parkland on the day of the shooting. But even in writing about these vicious and irresponsible actions, Sullivan seemed to hedge.

    “Erickson’s actions matter because he’s seen as moderate — someone who gets to offer platitudes about ‘healing’ in the New York Times and whose comments get picked up — not as if they were the ravings of an Alex Jones, but as a legitimate conservative opinion maker,” the column originally read.

    On Twitter, I criticized the soft language, to which Sullivan replied, “He’s seen as relatively moderate compared to the likes of Alex Jones or Hannity. He’s apparently seen as relatively moderate by, say, The Hill, which saw fit to write up his post without challenging anything in it. And credible enough to write for NYT.”

    The current iteration of Sullivan’s column on the Washington Post website now includes the words “despite his often extreme views” following “Erickson’s action’s matter” and qualifies “relatively” before “moderate.”

    Sullivan’s reply suggested that whether someone is a moderate or an extremist is a matter of relativity and the editorial decisions of mainstream news outlets. This idea is as fascinating as it is frustrating -- but I believe it’s correct. The long-term effect of the constant recalibration of what constitutes a moderate position can change perception not only in media, but in politics itself. Sure, what’s moderate in 2018 -- for instance, support for marriage equality -- would have likely be considered extreme in the 1950s. Recalibrations happen over time, but usually as the result of more organic forces, not ratings. This is the Overton window in action, being shifted not by a changing landscape of political views, but by the editorial decisions involved in boosting them. That should worry us.

    All of this raises the question: What role do CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post play in establishing and upholding the Erickson-as-moderate mythology? I asked Sullivan.

    In an email, she writes, “Although Erickson may be seen by some as moderate or may actually be relatively moderate compared to someone like Alex Jones, he’s not moderate in any real sense. And whenever we refer to him, we should be a lot clearer about that than I was in my column. We owe it to our readers not to reinforce a false idea.”

    I agree, and I believe that there’s a responsibility among media outlets to ensure that they’re reflecting public opinion and the realities of modern political discourse rather than putting their thumbs on the scale to create a false balance. Whether it’s in the form of a moderate makeover for someone like Erickson or Shapiro, or ubiquitous “both sides” horse race coverage, it’s time for decision-makers at media organizations to really take into consideration the lasting effects that their work and their choices will have beyond the industry for years to come. It’s for that reason that “left, right, and center” can’t be replaced by “left, Never Trump, and pro-Trump.”

  • GOP candidate Diane Harkey touts endorsement from group that pushes bigoted attacks and Parkland conspiracy theories

    Harkey recently removed an endorsement on her website from a separate group that promoted white nationalist propaganda

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Republican congressional candidate Diane Harkey is touting an endorsement from San Diego Patriots (SDP), a group that has trafficked in bigotry against Latinos and Muslims and said that the Parkland mass shooting “just reeks of a false flag” attack.

    Harkey previously promoted an endorsement from San Diegans for Secure Borders, which shares white nationalist propaganda and attacks Latino and Muslim immigrants as foreign invaders. The endorsement was removed shortly after Media Matters reported on it.

    San Diego Patriots is a fringe group that's led by conservative activist Amy Sutton and claims that its mission is to “secure our nation and our communities from foreign and criminal threats, and to protect our Constitutional Rights, Liberties, and Freedoms.”

    SDP has organized recent events with San Diegans for Secure Borders and its leader, anti-immigrant writer and former San Diego Minutemen head Jeff Schwilk. In 2009, a jury ordered Schwilk to pay $135,000 for defaming an Asian-American immigration activist with racist and derogatory remarks.

    On its Facebook page, San Diego Patriots has trafficked in conspiratorial and bigoted rhetoric that echoes fringe right-wing media. The group has cast doubt on the legitimacy of the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL; attacked political candidates because they’re Muslim; and portrayed Latino and Muslim immigrants as hostile invaders.

    On March 18, SDP wrote that the Parkland shooting “just reeks of a false flag.” As The Guardian wrote, a false flag attack refers to “the idea that powerful forces routinely arrange massacres or terrorist atrocities, and make it appear as if some other individual or group did them, in order to achieve their sinister political goals”; Alex Jones is a frequent promoter of "false flag" conspiracy theories, including about the Florida shooting.In February, SDP shared viral but fake information to assert that shooter Nikolas Cruz was a registered Democrat. Prior to being shared by SDP, the false claim was pushed by the disreputable conservative site The Gateway Pundit  

    SDP has also picked up the fringe conspiracy theory -- promoted in conservative media -- that Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg wasn’t actually a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The group wrote on April 1: “David Hogg involved with an incident in California last year! Is he really from here? What’s the truth about this guy?”

    On April 4, one day after a shooting at YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, CA, SDP posted the following image of Hogg and another Parkland survivor, Emma Gonzalez. Both Hogg and Gonzalez have been smeared with conspiracy theories.

    The Harkey-endorsing group has also trafficked in bigotry against Latinos and Muslims.

    On August 24, SDP told followers to “please read” an American Thinker piece criticizing the existence of Muslim political candidates. The American Thinker commentary piece concluded that “enough questions and doubts exist to compel close scrutiny of all Muslim candidates who are seeking to break through as American political ‘firsts.’ Without a close examination, our political process and systems could be infiltrated with increasing numbers of Muslim candidates of questionable background and motivation who will follow the insidious civilizational jihad according to plan and at a dizzying pace.”

    On April 24, 2017, SDP responded to an NBC News profile of Democratic congressional candidate Ammar Campa-Najjar -- headlined “A Young Latino Arab American Throws His Hat in Congressional Ring” -- by writing: “Watch out for this snake running for Congress in the 50th District against Duncan Hunter. He's a left wing, open border Arab/Latino. Worked directly for Obama.” The group added: “He's half Palestinian (and lived there) and half Mexican, but he converted from Islam to Christianity (or so he says) after 9/11. But he's against vetting unknown Muslim refugees and potential terrorists, like the San Bernardino shooter. Hmmmm. He's also 100% open borders, of course.”

    On May 6, 2017, SDP encouraged people to listen to a radio interview with San Diegans for Secure Borders founder Jeff Schwilk “about the invasion in San Diego of unvetted Muslim refugees and of course foreign criminals (aka illegal aliens) from Mexico.” The group also shared a post from San Diegans against Islamic Sharia Law which stated: “Best news in years! Muslim refugee arrivals down 96% in San Diego County in FY18! Sanity is returning to our immigration system under Pres. Trump. AMERICA FIRST!”

    On April 4, SDP shared a post from the Facebook group SoCal Patriots which called California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) a “Mexican enemy insurgent within our state government. … #LockHimUp.” SoCal Patriots linked to a Freedom Outpost piece claiming that Becerra “is working to destroy the United States and turn the Southwestern states into a Mexican nation. … We, as citizens, and not the illegal criminal aliens, should never accept what people like Xavier Becerra layout before us because they do not have the United States in their heart or blood.”

    On March 16, 2013, SDP wrote that the “La Raza rebels are on the rise again. They want their amnesty and ‘rights’ for millions of illegal Mexican citizens occupying the U.S., or as they call it ‘Aztlan’ (Mexican territory). Shocking video exposes what ‘illegal immigration’ is really about -- the overthrow of the United States by our hostile neighbor to the south.”