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  • The Black maternal health crisis deserves more media attention

    Black Maternal Health Week spotlights a dire health disparity in the United States

    Blog ››› ››› CHENAY ARBERRY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    During the second annual Black Maternal Health Week, media outlets at the state and national level ought to take notice of the growing racial health disparity in the United States that has gone under-reported for far too long.

    According to an investigation by USA Today, America is the “most dangerous place to give birth in the developed world.” Even worse, as an April 2018 fact sheet from National Partnership for Women & Families noted, “black women are three to four times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death” compared to their white counterparts, regardless of education or wealth. Although media have occasionally highlighted this issue in the context of celebrities’ birth experiences, Black maternal mortality is a serious issue deserving of broader coverage year-round.

    Here's what media needs to know about Black Maternal Health Week and the Black maternal health crisis in the United States:

    What is Black Maternal Health Week and why is it important?

    Black Maternal Health Week (April 11-17) was first launched in 2018 and is led by the Black Mamas Matters Alliance to raise awareness of the status of Black maternal health in the United States. The Black Mamas Matter Alliance was established in 2013 as part of “a partnership project between the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective.”

    These organizations produced and submitted a collaborative report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that focused primarily on Southern Black women’s experiences attempting to access quality maternal health care -- experiences which often resulted in poor maternal health outcomes and persistent racial health disparities. For example, the report noted that between 1990 and 2013, the rate of maternal mortality in the United States more than doubled, and it highlighted that in some parts of the country, “the rate of maternal death for women of color exceeds that of Sub-Saharan Africa.”

    Approximately 4 million women in the U.S. give birth each year, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2017 that the rate of "severe maternal morbidity ... has been steadily increasing in recent years and affected more than 50,000 women in the United States in 2014.” Severe maternal morbidity impacts include enduring dangerous, traumatic, life-threatening complications that can leave people wounded, financially devastated, and for some, without the ability to bear more children. The CDC has estimated that roughly 700 women die each year as a result of pregnancy or childbirth complications, with Black women bearing the brunt of those maternal deaths. To illustrate the impact of this vast racial health disparity, a 2017 ProPublica investigation found that a Black woman “is 22 percent more likely to die from heart disease than a white woman, ... but 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes.”

    How do media typically cover Black maternal health?

    Although the severity of America’s Black maternal health crisis is deserving of far broader coverage, the topic often only breaks through in the context of celebrity birth experiences. For example, in 2018 two high-profile stories involving Serena Williams and Beyoncé exemplified the dire circumstances of the Black maternal health crisis, underscoring that even prominent and traditionally successful Black women are not immune from its impacts.

    Speaking to CNN, Williams brought attention to the racial health disparity by sharing her birth experience, stating that she nearly died in childbirth. Williams highlighted the disparities in access to care for Black women and stressed that, “every mother, everywhere, regardless of race or background deserves to have a healthy pregnancy and birth.” In Vogue's September 2018 issue Beyoncé candidly shared the story of her own dangerous birthing experience. As she explained, “I was 218 pounds the day I gave birth to Rumi and Sir. I was swollen from toxemia and had been on bed rest for over a month. My health and my babies’ health were in danger, so I had an emergency C-section.”

    Williams’ and Beyoncé’s experiences further demonstrated that when it comes to America’s worsening Black maternal mortality crisis, no amount of wealth or status can protect a Black woman from experiencing dangerous and potentially fatal childbirth conditions.

    Why is it important to center Black mothers’ experiences when reporting on Black maternal mortality and health disparities?

    Although celebrity experiences more consistently generate media coverage, there have been instances in which stories about Black women’s birthing experiences or stories surrounding the status of Black maternal health break through. In March 2019, USA Today published an investigation of maternal deaths at Touro Infirmary in New Orleans -- a facility which was branded as one of the most dangerous hospitals for Black women in the area to experience labor. According to USA Today, Touro Infirmary was one of 120 hospitals across the country where mothers suffered severe childbirth complications or death at far higher rates than other U.S. hospitals. In response to the piece, the hospital blamed its area’s “medically vulnerable” population, citing, “Lifestyle diseases, the high cost of healthcare, delaying or non-compliance with medical treatment, limited care coordination, poor health, high rates of poverty and high rates of morbidity are all realities of our State and community.” As USA Today noted, this was a particularly troubling response given that “a majority of women who deliver at Touro are black.” Beyond highlighting dire health conditions -- which are unfortunately representative of many Black women’s childbirth experiences -- USA Today’s report also exemplifies the importance of listening to Black women and allowing them the space to share their personal maternal health experiences.

    In 2018, USA Today highlighted the experience of YoLanda Mention, who tragically died following childbirth as a result of hospital and emergency room staff ignoring numerous “warning signs." After giving birth, she was discharged despite having dangerously high blood pressure that only increased once she returned home. When a severe headache landed Mention in the emergency room 15 hours after she was initially discharged, she was forced to wait for hours and ultimately left unattended until suffering a stroke. As USA Today concluded, this negligence is all too common:

    YoLanda didn’t die from some unforeseen childbirth complication. What killed her didn’t take any expensive, high-tech equipment to detect and treat. Just a blood pressure cuff, IV medication that costs less than $60 a dose and a hospital adhering to best safety practices.

    In a 2018 congressional hearing on maternal mortality, Charles Johnson testified about his wife Kira -- who he said, “just wasn’t in good health, she was in exceptional health” -- and her death due to complications that were ignored after childbirth. Kira Johnson gave birth to their son Langston at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, a hospital well-known for its superior medical care. But her reports of pain in her abdomen post-cesarean delivery were ignored, as were her husband’s repeated requests for a CT scan to assess the problem. Hospital staff reportedly told Johnson that his “wife just isn’t a priority right now” and instead waited “more than 10 hours” after delivery before they finally examined her and found “three and a half liters of blood in her abdomen.” She was ultimately unable to recover from so much internal bleeding. Although tragic, Kira Johnson’s story received local and national attention, highlighting the importance of giving narratives like Johnson’s a platform to bring visibility to those impacted by the Black maternal mortality crisis.

    According to reporting from Austin, TX, television station KXAN, “Black women in Texas are at the greatest risk” of dying as a result of childbirth or related complications, “an alarming rate … on par with developing countries.” The station shared the experience of Cheryl Perkins, who watched as her daughter Cassaundra Perkins became progressively more sick after giving birth to twins via emergency caesarean. As KXAN explained, “An autopsy revealed that doctors left behind pieces of placenta after surgery, causing a deadly infection.” Both state and national news outlets covered Perkins’ case to demonstrate Texas’ Black maternal mortality crisis. After becoming aware of Perkins’ death, Democratic Texas state Rep. Shawn Thierry announced that she would introduce legislation to direct attention to the state’s disparate rates of Black maternal mortality.

    Each of these examples from media outlets amplifies the experiences of Black women who suffer as a result of disparate maternal health care in the United States. Black maternal mortality should be a story year-round, but during Black Maternal Health Week, it is especially important for media to center and highlight the lived experiences of Black women when discussing maternal mortality. With the founding of a new Black Maternal Health Caucus in the House, media have yet another opportunity to cover this topic. Black women are at the forefront of this specific health crisis, and it would be a disservice for the media not to center their voices during Black Maternal Health Week.

  • Trump Fed pick Herman Cain promoted anti-vaxxer and medical conspiracy theories through email list

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Herman Cain, President Donald Trump’s pick for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board, took money to promote the newsletter of an anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist. Cain also sent sponsored emails suggesting that the government is forcing citizens to take “7 deadly drugs” and that former first lady Nancy Reagan's "desperate fight to cure Alzheimer’s disease" may be "over." 

    Cain is a right-wing commentator who previously was the chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and a Republican presidential candidate. He dropped out of the race in December 2011 after several women reported him for sexual misconduct. The Washington Post reported on April 4 that “Sharon Bialek, who said Cain had reached beneath her skirt in 1997 and tried to pull her head toward his crotch, said Thursday that his record of harassment should disqualify him from the Fed post.”

    Cain also recently founded a pro-Trump PAC with Floyd Brown, a right-wing birther who produced the racist Willie Horton ad attacking Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential election. The PAC recently attacked the 12 Republican senators who voted against Trump's emergency border declaration as “traitors.”

    Media Matters has documented that Cain sent scammy financial emails to his mailing list, including ones that touted now-virtually-worthless penny stocks and dubious financial advice like a “weird trick” that supposedly “adds up to $1,000 a month to Social Security checks” and a "moneymaking strategy" that could "turn $1,000 into $800,000."

    Catherine Rampell, who covers economics as a Washington Post opinion columnist, recently noted that "Cain spent the years following his failed presidential campaign spamming his email followers with snake-oil scams, promising 'weird tricks' that would make his followers get rich quick or 'naturally' cure their erectile dysfunction. Of course, such grifting might enhance Cain’s candidacy in Trump’s eyes, but it hardly bodes well for a man seeking to join an institution with consumer protection duties."

    Cain has also pushed sponsored emails with scammy medical information to his email list. Here is a look at three of those dangerous paid promotions.

    Cain sent emails featuring quack Russell Blaylock, an anti-vaxxer and conspiracy theorist

    In 2013 and 2015, Cain sent sponsored emails touting the work of Dr. Russell Blaylock, an anti-vaccination “quack” who has repeatedly appeared on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ program. The emails were part of an advertising campaign for a subscription to The Blaylock Wellness Report, which is published by the conservative website Newsmax.

    Blaylock is a frequent source of misinformation about vaccines through Newsmax, where he is also a columnist. Here are six false and dangerous headlines for Blaylock-written columns on Newsmax about vaccines:

    As the World Health Organization explains, “Vaccines are safe”:

    Vaccines are safe. Any licensed vaccine is rigorously tested across multiple phases of trials before it is approved for use, and regularly reassessed once it is on the market. Scientists are also constantly monitoring information from several sources for any sign that a vaccine may cause an adverse event. Most vaccine reactions are usually minor and temporary, such as a sore arm or mild fever. In the rare event a serious side effect is reported, it is immediately investigated.

    It is far more likely to be seriously injured by a vaccine-preventable disease than by a vaccine. For example, in the case of polio, the disease can cause paralysis, measles can cause encephalitis and blindness, and some vaccine-preventable diseases can even result in death. While any serious injury or death caused by vaccines is one too many, the benefits of vaccination greatly outweigh the risks, and many more illness and deaths would occur without vaccines.

    Blaylock has also repeatedly appeared on discredited conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ program, where he has fearmongered about vaccines and other topics. A sampling of Infowars headlines about his appearances include: “Infowars.com Saves Lives: Dr. Russell Blaylock Exposes Medical Genocide”; “Dr. Russell Blaylock: Obamacare is Mandated Social Engineering”; “Blaylock: Fluoride's Deadly Secret”; “Interview: Dr. Russell Blaylock Exposes Obama's Nazi Healthcare System.”

    Some of the Cain emails had the following disclosure at the end: “Material Connection Disclosure: The sender of this email may receive compensation for the advertising contained in this message. Any products or services offered by sponsors or advertisers have not been evaluated by Herman Cain and as such no warranty or claims are made.”

    Associating with Blaylock has previously been toxic for a Trump-affiliated politician. In 2014, right-wing commentator Scott Brown, a former Massachusetts senator who is now Trump’s ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa, dropped Newsmax as an email advertising partner after he was criticized for sending sponsored advertising from Blaylock to his mailing list.

    "The 7 Deadly Drugs the U.S. Government can't wait for you to swallow”

    Cain sent a sponsored email from the Health Sciences Institute which claimed that "an insider near Washington D.C. has just blown the lid off the 7 Deadly Drugs the U.S. Government can't wait for you to swallow." The email assured readers that it's not a conspiracy theory since the "whistleblower has concrete evidence 'the powers that be' are shoving pure poison down your throat... and laughing all the way to the bank, while you're carted off to the graveyard. ... P.S. You won't believe what innocent little pill rounds out the list at #1. If you're taking it regularly, you're 530% more likely to die TONIGHT."

    Mother Jones’ Tim Murphy wrote a 2015 article about the scammy practices of the Health Sciences Institute, which publishes a subscription newsletter. He reported:

    Last year, a man named Brian Chambers announced a world-changing advance: An international research organization called the Health Sciences Institute had found an incredible cure for cancer hidden in the Book of Matthew. For just $74, you, too, could discover the secret.

    That was the breathless pitch emailed to hundreds of thousands of [former Arkansas Gov. Mike] Huckabee’s followers in January, beneath a “special message” from the Republican presidential candidate trumpeting “important information.” Upon closer inspection, the divine remedy—eating fewer carbs—was never recommended by St. Matthew. Chambers is not a doctor, and the studies on starvation diets he cited make no mention of “cures.”

    The Health Sciences Institute is part of a company called NewMarket Health, which is just one asset of a Baltimore-based publishing empire named Agora Inc. Agora’s subsidiaries and affiliates publish more than 40 newsletters and sell more than 300 books on a range of topics, including biblical health tips, natural-healing supplements, and “insider” investment advice—a mix of ideas the company considers the intellectual equivalent of the marketplace of ancient Athens. To find new readers for its ever-expanding catalog of publications, Agora’s subsidiaries have tapped into a network of conservative heavyweights, including Huckabee, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich, who sell access to their massive email lists to advertise Agora’s products.

    “[Nancy Reagan’s] Desperate Fight to Cure Alzheimer’s disease over?”

    Cain sent a sponsored email from a group called Laissez Faire in 2015 and 2016 which falsely suggested that doctors have found a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. (The advertising campaign, which appears to have been aimed at selling newsletter subscriptions, has been discontinued and the landing page no longer exists.)

    Cain also sent emails in 2015 and 2016 from Laissez Faire with the subject line, “Must see: Alzheimer’s Mystery Finally Solved?”

    Laissez Faire is another Agora-affiliated company that sells a subscription-based newsletter which claims to show readers “how to live a happy, healthy, and wealthy life.” It also publishes a newsletter called Natural Health Solutions, which uses Nancy Reagan (“Nancy’s 90-Day Protocol”) in advertising materials in an attempt to gain subscribers.  

    Correction (4/10/19): This piece originally stated that Scott Brown promoted Russell Blaylock in 2013. In fact, it was in 2014.

  • Report: Sean Hannity worked with Trump and Republicans on health care policy

    This latest example of a Fox host advising the president further proves there is little separation between Fox News and the Trump administration

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    An excerpt from a book on the Trump administration titled “The Hill to Die On” revealed that Fox News host Sean Hannity was a participant in a conference call on health care between President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers.

    The Washington Post reported that in the book, which “chronicles Congress in the age of Trump” and will be released April 9, Hannity “makes several appearances, including on a health-care conference call with Trump and a few Republican lawmakers where, ‘much to everyone’s surprise,’ Hannity is also on the line.”

    Hannity has repeatedly encouraged Republicans to help President Donald Trump repeal Obamacare -- at one point offering former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) both of his shows to promote Republican health care legislation -- and recently he applauded the Trump administration’s decision to try overturning the entire health care law, which would strip access to health care for tens of millions of Americans. In 2013, Hannity aired a special on "Obamacare horror stories." A subsequent investigation found that none of Hannity's guests even attempted to shop on the exchange. Hannity was also one of the biggest proponents of the "Death Panel" lie. And he's pushed numerous other Obamacare lies as well.

    While shocking, it should not be surprising that Hannity was dialed in to the meeting. Fox News has long been intertwined with the Republican Party. The network has served as the GOP’s communications arm. Numerous Fox personalities have helped Republicans by campaigning for them or attending their fundraisers. Fox has even served as a warming bench for Republican presidential aspirants.

    But this relationship has grown much closer since Trump became president. Hannity and Trump talk on the phone regularly. Reports show that Hannity has advised Trump and those close to him on immigration policy, general strategy and messaging, and on the Trump/Russia investigation. A senior Trump economic adviser revealed that the president interrupted an economic briefing to call Fox Business host Lou Dobbs. Both Hannity and Doobs advised Trump on the most recent government shutdown. And Trump invited Hannity and fellow Fox host Jeanine Pirro on stage at one of his rallies to thank them for their support. These examples only scratch the surface of the depth of ties between Fox News and the Trump administration -- which has hired multiple Fox employees.

    The book’s example of the closeness between the conservative network and Trump comes at a crucial time for Fox’s reputation. Fox has attempted to differentiate its “news” and “opinion” sides after the Democratic National Committee rejected the network as a presidential primary debate host. But there is little difference between the two sides of Fox News when it comes to conservative misinformation, just as there is little separation between Fox and the Trump administration.