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  • In drawing equivalencies between white supremacists and antifa, media outlets obscure ideologies -- and impacts

    White supremacists commit murders in pursuit of genocidal policies. Antifa throws punches. They're not the same, and media outlets should make that clear.

    Blog ››› ››› TALIA LAVIN


    Melissa Joskow/Media Matters

    Last weekend marked the sequel to 2017’s violent right-wing rally in Charlottesville, VA, that left one counterprotester dead and many injured. Unite the Right 2, as the anniversary event was dubbed, was poorly attended by a small coterie of white supremacists. The media focused a significant amount of their coverage of the event on a sensationalized version of the threat posed by the  loose, decentralized group of anti-fascist activists collectively known as “antifa.”

    “Antifa clashes with police and journalists in Charlottesville and DC,” Vox declared. The Washington Post told its readers that “antifa protesters” had “harassed the press.” The headline of a piece in that paper’s opinion section asserted that “black-clad antifa again [gave] peaceful protesters a bad name.”

    CNN personalities also weighed in with their disapproval on social media:

    It’s easy to understand why the “black bloc” -- anti-fascist protesters who wear black masks when confronting racist groups -- attracts alarmist headlines, as images of masked ranks are both exotic and easy to otherize. And right-wing media have seized on this trend. As Media Matters’ Grace Bennett noted, Fox & Friends’ coverage of Unite the Right 2 entirely obscured the white supremacist intent of the event, instead sowing fear about an “antifa mob,” while The Daily Caller decried “violent antifa protests.” But according to experts on extremism and those who cover fascist and anti-fascist groups’ clashes on the ground, media fearmongering about antifa protesters obscures both the ideology and the real impacts of anti-fascist groups’ opponents -- the violent racists.

    A look at Washington Post and Vox coverage of antifa at Unite the Right 2 indicated that the most serious reported incident of antifa protesters confronting the press they described was when activists cut a local news reporter’s microphone cord, after expressing a desire not to be recorded.

    “Reporters covering protests should also come aware that most black bloc activists do not want to be photographed, for fear of being doxxed by the far right, or identified by law enforcement,” Kelly Weill, a Daily Beast reporter who covers the far-right and its opponents and was present at the rally, told Media Matters. “[Journalists] should take into account the implications a photograph might have for its subject, and why that subject might object. When anti-fascists come into conflict with journalists, it’s in reaction to being filmed. They aren’t hunting the media, unlike their opponents who regularly dox and threaten journalists in attempt to silence them.”

    Weill said the activists’ fear of being targeted by law enforcement is legitimate. She pointed, as an example, to a case in which the government charged hundreds who participated in a protest rally at Donald Trump’s inauguration with felony and misdemeanor charges after some of them were caught on camera at the protest.

    “I've found people can usually tell whether you're making a good faith effort to listen to them, and they respond accordingly,” Weill said. She said she thought the relations between the journalists and antifa protesters “were fairly smooth” when factoring in “the nature of the event -- more than 1,000 journalists, protesters, and police [were] at an emotionally charged white supremacist rally where police occasionally shoved media and protesters together in densely packed kettles.”

    Even though last year’s Charlottesville rally was violent -- it ended with a white supremacist driving a car into a crowd and killing counterprotester Heather Heyer -- fearmongering headlines about antifa led to a narrative of false equivalency. And that narrative quickly reached the upper echelons of the conservative movement, most notably the president, who felt empowered to place the “blame on both sides.”

    Despite near-universal shock at the president’s equivocation, media outlets have failed to correct their role in pushing that narrative, continuing to sensationalize the threat posed by antifa and thus downplay the inherent violence of white supremacist activity.

    “Antifa is a subject that’s worthy of exploration. It’s not a subject that’s worthy of exaggeration or hyper-sensationalism,” Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Center on Extremism, told Media Matters. “There have been a number of serious incidents where they really assaulted people over the years. … But white supremacists have committed hundreds of murders over the last 10 years -- aggravated assaults, kidnappings, and terrorist attacks. There’s no comparison.”

    Both Weill and Pitcavage pointed out that media outlets have fundamentally misunderstood the nature of antifa -- a decentralized group which, as its name suggests, primarily emerges to oppose organized fascism when it arises, as opposed to operating proactively.

    “I think most media fundamentally misunderstands anti-fascism, in part because the right presents ‘antifa’ as a unified gang or a kind of catch-all bogeyman that describes everyone from anarchists to moderate liberal Sen. Tim Kaine,” Weill said. “A significant chunk of center-left media has adopted this incorrect characterization, either out of lack of fact-checking or this pundit-style drive to present all conflicts as a clash of two equally valid ideologies. Some research would clarify that ‘antifa,’ as it's commonly understood (as a gang or a central organized group) isn't a real thing.” Weill also pointed out that not all anti-fascists endorse engaging in physical brawls with far-right groups; others focus on online activities and rhetorically countering fascism within their towns and cities.

    “White supremacist violence tends to be both worse and more extensive in general,” Pitcavage noted. According to ADL statistics, white supremacist actions are on the rise in the U.S. Incidents of distribution of white supremacist propaganda -- whether in the form of flyers, overpass banners, or posters -- increased sharply between 2017 and 2018. The ADL also identified 18 murders linked to white supremacy in 2017 alone.

    Portland, Oregon has been a particular locus of physical clashes between right-wing protesters and anti-fascist counterprotesters; last weekend, far-right groups Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer demonstrated in the city, sparking clashes between themselves, antifa, and the police. The tense standoff resulted in police turning on counterprotesters, dangerously wounding one anti-fascist activist, which prompted an outcry from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) over use of excessive force by police. The incident, which happened precisely a week before Unite the Right 2, underscored both the legitimate wariness anti-fascists have toward law enforcement and the fundamentally reactive nature of anti-fascist activism. While the Proud Boys arrived in Portland from all over the U.S., with many bused in from Vancouver, WA, the anti-fascists were nearly all local activists, chanting slogans like “Keep Nazis out of Portland.”

    There are many who might sympathize with the protestors’ urge to keep avowed racist groups out of their hometown -- and it’s arguably the potential for newsworthy clashes that draws far-right activists to liberal enclaves in the first place. But media framing often places antifa and white supremacists on equal footing in terms of the danger they pose -- a false equivalence that fundamentally misrepresents the goals and tactics of white supremacists.

    “White supremacists, no matter how they cloak their views, call for genocidal policies, and have committed a rash of attacks and murders. Anti-fascists want them out of their communities,” Weill said. “It's telling that fascists persistently hold rallies in communities where they are not wanted, but that anti-fascists only mobilize in direct opposition to fascist policies. ... The two camps are not comparable, and equivocating them erases all the violence fascists promote and the structural power they hold.”

    Weill pointed out that media outlets often not only equivocate, but also erase the motivations behind anti-fascist activism. Prior to Unite the Right 2, NPR aired a widely criticized interview with white supremacist Jason Kessler, the organizer of both Unite the Right rallies. In contrast, NPR did not conduct any interview with a self-identified member of any anti-fascist movement, as Vox did last year.

    “We're frequently treated to humanizing profiles on neo-Nazis (whose ideologies are widely known before the interviewer starts recording), but few on anti-fascists (whose views are often misunderstood),” Weill noted in an email.

    As white supremacist violence -- and antifa’s mobilization in opposition -- continues to roil the country, media outlets should be meticulous about not drawing false equivalencies between the two sides, whose goals, impacts, and tactics are vastly different. They should also attempt to ascertain the goals of anti-fascist protest and clarify them for audiences. Otherwise, media outlets mislead their readers in service of sensationalized images that obscure necessary truths about white supremacist violence.

  • As hundreds of newspapers plan editorials to denounce Trump’s war on the press, Fox hosts attack the newspapers

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News and Fox Business hosts are slamming hundreds of newspapers as “anti-Trump” and “fake news” for coordinating to publish editorials on August 16 denouncing President Donald Trump’s war on the press.

    Trump and his administration publicly attacked news organizations and specific journalists hundreds of times in just his first year in office. Though he routinely attacked news organizations during his presidential campaign and the transition period between his election and inauguration, Trump’s anti-press rhetoric reached a new low in February 2017, when he began calling news organizations “the enemy of the American people”:

    Trump repeated his comments multiple times, though he eventually added the disclaimer that only “fake news” is “the enemy of the people” -- a bogus claim because he’s spent years labeling a broad range of mainstream news outlets and journalists as “fake news.”

    Many newspapers have decided that they’ve had enough and are pushing back. Led by The Boston Globe, more than 100 newspaper editorial boards around the country are reportedly planning to publish editorials on August 16 “on the dangers of the administration’s assault on the press.” Each newspaper will be writing its own editorial in this coordinated effort.

    Fox, which has both served as a platform for Trump’s attacks on the press and promoted his attacks on its own, is now criticizing the newspapers participating in this effort as anti-Trump and “fake news.” On August 13, five Fox News and Fox Business hosts took offense to the coordinated editorial release protesting Trump’s anti-press rhetoric. Fox & Friends First co-host Rob Schmitt said these newspapers are releasing editorials “attacking the president” and that “there is just kind of a mainstream, somewhat leftist bias coming from a lot of our media companies.” Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy commented that The Boston Globe “said essentially they’re going after the president.” Varney & Co. guest host Ashley Webster and Wall Street Journal editorial board member James Freeman both defended Trump’s rhetoric that the media are “the enemy of the people,” pushing Trump’s ridiculous claim that his critique applies only to “fake news.” Fox Business host Lou Dobbs referred to the planned editorials as “anti-Trump screeds” by “coordinated national left-wing fake news.” And Fox host Laura Ingraham, while criticizing media coverage of antifa actions against reporters, mocked the newspapers’ coordinated effort as “not collusion or anything.”

  • NPR adopted white supremacist Jason Kessler's false equivalence frame

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    NPR’s Morning Edition gave a gift to white supremacists, in the manner in which the show paired an interview with the white supremacist organizer of the Unite the Right rally alongside an interview with a Black Lives Matter activist.

    On its August 10 edition, NPR’s Morning Edition interviewed Jason Kessler, the white supremacist organizer of the upcoming second edition of the Unite the Right rally -- the gathering of racists that, on its first edition last year in Charlottesville, VA, resulted in the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer after a white supremacist drove a car into a crowd. While NPR’s Noel King effectively highlighted the bigotry of Kessler’s views and pushed back on his baseless claims of censorship and underrepresentation, the show adopted Kessler’s absurd frame as it immediately followed up his interview by bringing on Hawk Newsome, the president of Black Lives Matter New York, to comment on the rally.

    The bizarre juxtaposition is particularly evident from NPR's segment titles:

    During his appearance on NPR, Kessler -- who has secured permits from the National Park Service for the rally in Washington, D.C., this Sunday -- asserted he was “not a white supremacist” and that he was a “human and civil rights advocate focusing on the underrepresented Caucasian demographic.” For the past year, Kessler and other white supremacists have been entangled in a debate about the best way to present their bigoted views, focusing on whitewashing their racism by asserting themselves as a “positive, mainstream movement” which “primarily focus[es] on whites, who are uniquely denied the right to guard their survival and advocate their interests.” Kessler pushed this narrative on the show, seeking legitimacy by claiming white people aren’t “allowed to organize into political organizations” to push their interests and then drew a false equivalence of Unite the Right to Black Lives Matter or the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, and what he seeks to accomplish by organizing his rally.

    JASON KESSLER: I’m not a white supremacist, I’m not even a white nationalist. I consider myself a civil and human rights advocate focusing on the underrepresented Caucasian demographic.

    NOEL KING (HOST): The underrepresented Caucasian demographic. In what ways are white people in America underrepresented?

    KESSLER: Well, because they’re the only group that is not allowed to organize into political organizations and lobbies and talk explicitly about what interests are important to them as a people. You have Blacks, who are able to organize with Black Lives Matter or the NAACP, you have Jews who have the ADL, Muslims have CAIR.

    Immediately after airing Kessler’s interview, NPR brought on Hawk Newsome of Black Lives Matter, and asked him why he declined Kessler’s invitation to speak at the racist rally. Newsome condemned Kessler and underscored his refusal to be tokenized by white supremacists.

    NPR played into the white supremacist tactics of false equivalence by featuring Newsome’s interview right after Kessler’s. While it’s crucial to include voices of color, seek the perspectives of those affected directly by white supremacy, and provide coverage to the activists protesting the Unite the Right rally, NPR failed to offer forceful pushback to Kessler’s absurd claim that white supremacists are equivalent to groups legitimately fighting for equality, seemingly delegating that responsibility to Newsome. It’s also debatable whether audiences benefited from listening to Kessler citing Charles Murray’s debunked writings as scientific evidence of some races being superior to others, or whether white supremacists deserve a mainstream platform in the first place.

    What’s undeniable is that NPR committed “journalistic malpractice” by presenting Black Lives Matter as the “other side” of white supremacy.

  • Alex Jones says Infowars platform bans are first step in globalist plot to carry out violent false flag attacks against CNN and MSNBC

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Hours after YouTube banned him, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones repeatedly claimed that globalists and the media will orchestrate mass casualty attacks at CNN and MSNBC which will then be blamed on Jones and President Donald Trump.

    This irresponsible and unfounded claim gives anyone who wants to carry out violence against members of the media a preconceived cover for their actions.

    Over the last two days Jones and his Infowars outlet have been banned from YouTube and Facebook for violating content policies while Apple and Spotify have removed some of Jones’ content from their platforms, citing similar reasons.

    Jones made the “false flag” claims while guest hosting the August 6 edition of Infowars program War Room. At the top of the show, Jones said “false flag” attacks would be staged against CNN and MSNBC in order to cause civil unrest, or even a civil war, and that the motivation behind the Infowars platform bans is that “they don’t want me on air on big viral platforms so that I can respond when they do it”:

    ALEX JONES (HOST): But here’s the big issue: They are coming for you, they are now going to launch their operations, they are going to launch their civil unrest, they are going to launch their calls for civil war, which they’re now doing, they’re going to launch their events. And then they’re going to persecute Infowars, lie about Infowars, build us up as this villain, keep hyping that I’m going to send people to people’s houses to shoot people. I’ve been saying for years, and I never said it, but for years I’ve been saying, “No, don’t go out and self-investigate stuff with firearms,” because they’re going to set you up, they’re going to set somebody else up. But they’re gearing it all up to stage the false flags against MSNBC, CNN, you name it. To stage false flags against universities, to stage false flags against antifa, to make the villains the good guys and they don’t want me on air on big viral platforms so that I can respond when they do it. So they’re strangling us and absolutely banning us 100 percent ahead of staging massive events as we’ve been predicting into the late summer, early fall to create so much civil unrest they can implement the 25th Amendment and stampede enough cowards inside.

    Later in the show, Jones said that “the next step in their censorship plan” would be that “they’re going to stage false flag terror attacks, they’re going to stage events against the media.” Jones said that the media itself would be involved in plotting the attacks, claiming, “They’re going to say that Trump criticizing their lies is going to cause the violence and they’re going to directly, though, pin the probably mass shooting and bombing attacks on Infowars”:

    ALEX JONES (HOST): What’s the next step in their censorship plan? Well, I can tell you. They’re going to stage false flag terror attacks, they’re going to stage events against the media. And we told you this was coming. They’re going to say that Trump criticizing their lies is going to cause the violence and they’re going to directly, though, pin the probably mass shooting and bombing attacks on Infowars. Now, I’d already been getting this chatter. I could see CNN and others hyping it up that I’m going to cause violence, that Trump’s going to cause violence. I could see [CNN’s] Brian Stelter yesterday -- and let’s make sure we have that clip for the next segment where plays the segment off C-SPAN and says, “Oh, everybody’s coming to try to get me,” whole thing sounds staged -- this is all they have left now is to say our speech is bad and that we have to be taken down.

    Jones later compared himself to a victim of the Holocaust, claiming, “They always censor someone like the Jews in the Nazi Germany or the Quakers in Nazi Germany before they absolutely rob them and then kill them.” He went on to say that false flag attacks will target CNN, MSNBC, Google, and Facebook and that the perpetrator -- on orders from their globalist superiors -- will “say they did it for internet freedom and sell the idea that see Trump was wrong, Alex [Jones] was wrong, we do have to censor, it’s their fault.” Jones also sold the false flag attacks as an attempt to cause Trump-backed candidates to lose their 2018 midterm election races:

    ALEX JONES (HOST): That’s what’s critical here is that they always censor someone like the Jews in the Nazi Germany or the Quakers in Nazi Germany before they absolutely rob them and then kill them. So people are pissed; they see what’s happening. And the intel I got was they’re going to build this to build anger at CNN, MSNBC, Google, Facebook, they’re going to pick a campus, or some side group, or some live event and they’re going to have people they’ve wound up they’re protecting attack it. They’re going to then say they did it for internet freedom and sell the idea that see Trump was wrong, Alex [Jones] was wrong, we do have to censor, it’s their fault. And they’ve got their folks then ready to activate as soon as that happens to go shoot up the next congressional baseball game. So it’s happening, they’re moving, they’re not going to let Trump win the midterms.

    On August 5, shortly before his YouTube account was deactivated, Jones posted a video where he claimed that a recent death threat made against CNN’s Brian Stelter and Don Lemon on C-SPAN was a “false flag.”

  • Alex Jones: Phone call with threat to shoot CNN’s Brian Stelter and Don Lemon is a false flag

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones called a death threat against CNN’s Brian Stelter and Don Lemon that was phoned into C-SPAN a “false flag” during a video posted on August 5 to Jones’ YouTube channel. The video was one of the last posts uploaded to Jones' channel before YouTube terminated his account on August 6.

    On August 3, a person identified as “Don from State College, PA,” called into C-SPAN to falsely claim that Stelter and Lemon had called all Trump supporters racist. The man ended his call by saying, “They started the war. If I see ’em, I’m going to shoot ’em. Bye.” Stelter covered the threat on his show Reliable Sources on August 5.

    Jones reacted to Stelter’s coverage by calling the death threat a “false flag” and “phony as a three-dollar bill.” According to Jones, the call “sound[ed] completely fake” and was part of a plot to “hype everything up and get it ready for civil war.” Jones also called Stelter a “little monster hunchback” and “ugly twisted lying filth”:

    Jones has used his YouTube channel to heap abuse upon Stelter in recent months, including posting videos (since removed when his account was terminated) with the titles “Brian Stelter And Michael Wolff Are The True Faces Of Evil,” “Alex Jones Challenges CNN's Brian Stelter To Fight For $1,000,000!,” and “Internet on Fire Comparing Subway Spokesmen Jared Fogle With Brian Stelter.” (Fogle is serving a 15-year prison sentence for possessing child pornography and having sex with minors.) During a January broadcast of The Alex Jones Show, Jones went on a bizarre rant where he claimed Stelter “runs your kids, he runs the schools, he runs the banks” and drinks children's blood. During the rant, Jones addressed Stelter: “You will pay. Yeah, you don’t think I see your face, scum? You don’t think I don’t see you, Stelter? I see you, you understand me?”

    On the evening of August 5, it was reported that Apple had banned Jones from its iTunes platform for violations of its content policies. Facebook followed suit on August 6, removing the four primary pages where Jones shared content. Last month, YouTube deleted four videos Jones posted and banned him from livestreaming for three months because of content violations. On August 6, YouTube removed Jones' channel from its platform.

  • Video: There's a housing discrimination crisis in America -- and coverage of the issue should reflect that

    Blog ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH & MILES LE


    Dayanita Ramesh / Media Matters

    The Fair Housing Act was passed 50 years ago, but housing discrimination is still rampant, and media coverage of the issue is overly focused on President Donald Trump’s history of racism and discrimination in this arena. While his past is notable, it’s important for mainstream outlets to inform viewers about the widespread and complicated nature of housing discrimination by interviewing victims and highlighting fair housing research.

    The Fair Housing Act was supposed to protect the right to fair housing for all people. And yet the act is not fulfilling its goals, with unprecedented attacks from the Trump administration and continued discrimination by banks, lenders, landlords, and/or developers, against Black and Latinx people, the poor, the formerly incarcerated, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and single women who are looking to rent or buy a home. There were 28,181 reported complaints of housing discrimination in 2016, but according to the National Fair Housing Alliance, housing discrimination is seriously underreported. The organization estimates that there are actually over 4 million cases of housing discrimination each year in America.

    Mainstream television coverage of housing discrimination has been overly focused on Trump's personal history with discrimination. Mainstream news outlets are right to warn viewers about his history of racism and discrimination against Black people. However, mainstream outlets such as MSNBC and CNN should follow the lead of PBS and Democracy Now and use these opportunities to inform viewers about the issue, including by interviewing victims of housing discrimination and highlighting important fair housing research.

  • How one host on far-right network OANN is pushing conspiracy theories about Planned Parenthood

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On One America News Network’s Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, host Liz Wheeler’s segments are light on news, but full of outrage -- with Wheeler frequently alleging that liberals are ignoring right-wing anti-abortion conspiracy theories about Planned Parenthood misusing federal funds, promoting abortion for profit, or engaging in the cover-up of sexual abuse of minors.

    OANN premiered in 2013, established, at least in part, to “provide a platform for a broader spectrum of voices on the right than Fox now offers.” During the 2016 presidential election, the network pushed pro-Trump stories and secured interviews with then-candidate Trump. Since the election, the network has also received some preferential treatment from the Trump administration at press events.

    The Washington Post reported in 2017 that, besides giving positive coverage of Trump during his campaign, one of OANN’s owners also “directed his channel to … encourage antiabortion stories,” including those “about Planned Parenthood’s purported promotion of abortion” that the owner saw on other right-wing media sites. The results of this strategy are nowhere more obvious than on the network’s prime-time show The Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler. Often, host Liz Wheeler’s segments on abortion center on her complete disbelief that liberals don’t buy the latest right-wing conspiracy theories about Planned Parenthood.

    Right-wing media, in general, love to attack Planned Parenthood, making a number of false accusations such as that it sells fetal body parts, that the federal money it receives goes to support abortion care, or that it could be easily replaced by other, noncomprehensive health care centers that actually don't provide a full suite of reproductive health care services. Wheeler has frequently contributed to this echo chamber of misinformation about Planned Parenthood, which is facing possible deep cuts to its federal funding pending potential adoption of new Title X rules. For example, even though the Hyde Amendment prohibits taxpayer funding for abortion, Wheeler claimed in a May 18 segment that as a member of the so-called “abortion lobby,” the organization’s “only goal, politically, is to get taxpayer funding for abortion” and that its “profits are blood money.” Wheeler continued that Planned Parenthood’s “agenda is, as it always has been, unlimited, unrestricted abortion for profit” and that it is opposed to the proposed Title X rules because “they will not give up this money because all they want is unrestricted abortion.”

    Wheeler has also repeatedly elevated a recently resurrected anti-abortion conspiracy theory from 2011 alleging that Planned Parenthood covers up sexual abuse suffered by minors who come to its facilities for abortions. On a June 4 episode, Wheeler accused her guest -- a Democratic strategist -- of being “willing to brush aside the cover-up of sexual assault of children” because he was concerned that “abortion would be targeted, that Planned Parenthood would be targeted” by potential funding cuts.

    Wheeler pushed her position in two subsequent interviews with congressional Republicans who had signed on to a letter calling for an investigation into Planned Parenthood as a result of these allegations. In an interview with Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA), Wheeler said, “I don’t know where your Democratic colleagues in the House of Representatives are -- why their signatures are missing from this letter?” and said that she felt “disgusted” by “Democrats in Congress” for not signing on. Wheeler similarly opined before an interview with Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) that “not a single Democrat thinks covering up the abuse of children is worth an investigation. At least not when a Democratic ally like Planned Parenthood is responsible for the cover-up.” According to her, this supposed scandal should “be an issue that would just obliterate party lines.”

    Wheeler also has a knack for tying stories dominating the news cycle to so-called liberal hypocrisy on abortion and Planned Parenthood -- no matter how far-fetched the connection.

    Following the February 14 mass shooting in Parkland, FL, and calls from many for closer scrutiny of the National Rifle Association’s political donations, Wheeler said that not only was it a “hideous lie” that the “NRA buys off politicians in an effort to push a pro-gun agenda that costs the lives of millions of children,” but also that it was “ironic because liberals have no problem with another organization that also donates to politicians and actually does kill millions of children -- Planned Parenthood.”

    Wheeler -- and other right-wing media figures -- also used reactions to the Trump administration’s family separation policy as an opportunity to rail about abortion. Addressing liberals, Wheeler argued, “If you care so much about exploited and abused children, where’s your outrage about the 1 million unborn children who are aborted every single year in our country?” Wheeler then pivoted to the made-up story of Planned Parenthood’s cover-up of sexual abuse to hypothetically ask, “Where is your outrage that Democrats in Congress refuse to call for an investigation into this pattern of Planned Parenthood covering up the sexual abuse of children?”

    In the most bizarre example, Wheeler attempted to downplay the contents of a tape obtained by CNN of a conversation between Trump and his former lawyer Michael Cohen. She tried to draw a parallel between outrage over the tape with what she perceived as a lack of liberal interest in supposed scandals about Planned Parenthood. Wheeler said the tape was “A-OK with the left,” but “secret recordings inside Planned Parenthood exposing law-breaking activity are taboo to the left?” Wheeler was referring to the discredited videos from the Center for Medical Progress falsely purporting to show Planned Parenthood profiting off the sale of fetal body parts.

    Watch this bizarre segment for yourself here:

  • Justice Department’s new “Religious Liberty Task Force” highlights the agency's troubling ties to Alliance Defending Freedom

    Alliance Defending Freedom is one of the most powerful and extreme anti-LGBTQ groups in the country

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of a Department of Justice (DOJ) task force to enforce “religious liberty” rules that make it easier to discriminate against the LGBTQ community and others under the guise of “religious freedom." Such discrimination is a major part of the mission of anti-LGBTQ legal powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), and the announcement was followed by a panel that included a major ADF client and was moderated by an ADF staff alumna. Coupled with ADF's involvement in the announcement, the new task force demonstrates the influence of the group's extreme anti-LGBTQ views on the administration.

    On July 30, Sessions launched a new “Religious Liberty Task Force” that would enforce discriminatory religious exemptions guidance that the DOJ released in October 2017. (Sessions had worked with ADF on the guidance before its release.) Religious exemptions policies, such as those the DOJ released, allow people and businesses to be exempt from nondiscrimination laws and policies by citing a burden on their religious beliefs. People have frequently used the exemptions to discriminate against the LGBTQ community and others.

    ADF was one of the first to break the news of the July 30 “Religious Liberty Summit” in which the task force was announced, noting that the event would feature a panel including the group’s client Jack Phillips, a Christian baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple and who took his case to the Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commision. ADF’s news release, however, did not mention that the panel’s moderator, DOJ media affairs specialist Kerri Kupec, worked at ADF for four years before joining DOJ in January. During his remarks, Sessions said that the DOJ had “been holding listening sessions” with “religious groups across America,” which ADF has acknowledged it has been involved with in the past. Extreme anti-LGBTQ group Liberty Counsel has already praised the announcement of the task force.

    The Trump-Pence administration has shown a coziness with extreme anti-LGBTQ groups and with ADF, in particular. Sessions’ DOJ issued an unusual brief on behalf of Phillips before oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop, and ADF alumni and allies have been hired by various agencies and nominated for federal judgeships. As Media Matters’ recently released research book details, ADF holds dozens of extreme anti-LGBTQ positions on nearly every every aspect of life, including supporting laws that would punish sodomy by imprisonment, writing in favor of Russia’s so-called “gay propaganda” law, and advocating against efforts to protect LGBTQ youth from the harmful and discredited practice of conversion therapy. The group is in many ways the most influential group working to roll back LGBTQ equality in the country, frequently targeting basic protections for transgender students and pushing religious exemptions policies.

    The “Religious Liberty Task Force” is yet another example of a cabinet-level agency devoting significant resources to make it easier to discriminate against LGBTQ people. In January, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a new division to enforce laws protecting “health care workers who express religious objections to performing abortions and certain other procedures,” including providing medical services to transgender and other LGBTQ people. ADF had previously called on HHS to rescind several LGBTQ-inclusive protections it categorized as infringing on the “religious freedom” of religious organizations and other medical providers, and it praised the division’s creation. When groups like ADF have a seat at the table with the upper echelons of our federal government, discriminatory policies such as these come as no surprise.

    To learn more about the anti-LGBTQ positions of ADF, check out Media Matters’ interactive research book, “The extremism of anti-LGBTQ powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom.”