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The National Rifle Association’s media operation NRATV aired a tweet sent by an obviously fake Bernie Sanders account, with NRATV host Grant Stinchfield falsely claiming that Sanders asked on Twitter, “Who cares about a few terrorists?”
The April 25 broadcast of NRATV show Stinchfield had a segment on Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) position that all people in prison should be allowed to vote, regardless of the crime they were convicted for. Stinchfield mentioned that entertainer Cher had criticized Sanders' proposal on Twitter and creduously quoted a fake Sanders account that had responded to Cher's tweet. The account using the name “President Bernie Sanders” and the handle “@Ryan35186771” had written: “Why are you playing into this? Who cares about a few terrorists?”
Stinchfield represented that Sanders actually sent the tweet, saying, “It may be one of Bernie Sanders’ responses to Cher that is the most offensive. ‘Who cares about a few terrorists,’ he writes.” The NRATV host went on to say: “We care, Bernie Sanders and your supporters. We care about terrorists not voting from behind bars. The 5 1/2 million members of the NRA care because we love this country”:
GRANT STINCHFIELD (HOST): The fact is it may be one of Bernie Sanders’ responses to Cher that is the most offensive. “Who cares about a few terrorists,” he writes. Who cares about a few terrorists? I would argue the family members of hundreds of victims of the Boston bombings, that’s who, all of us who lived through 9/11, who knew people who died there and felt it first hand, what jihad means and what it is: Death to America. We care, Bernie Sanders and your supporters. We care about terrorists not voting from behind bars. The 5 1/2 million members of the NRA care because we love this country.
Stinchfield often broadcasts patently false information on his NRATV show. On Election Day 2016, Stinchfield read from and discussed an article in an NRA magazine about the supposed horrors a Hillary Clinton presidency would bring while urging people not to vote for her. The article -- which raised the prospect of Syrian refugees establishing an “Islamic State in the United States” culminating in a nuclear attack on U.S. soil -- was labeled “fiction” by the NRA magazine.
Melissa Joskow / Media Matters
After a far-right militia received national notoriety over its detention of a large group of asylum seekers at gunpoint on the U.S.-Mexico border, Fox News segments on the incident credulously allowed the group to argue the legitimacy of its actions. Fox also mentioned a new way the group is fundraising after some payment processors said they would not work with the group.
The militia, United Constitutional Patriots (UCP), received widespread attention last week after it posted a video to its Facebook page showing group members armed with firearms detaining almost 300 migrants on the U.S. side of the southern border. The militiamen forced the migrants to halt their movement, a fact the American Civil Liberties Union says constitutes illegal kidnapping. It is not illegal to enter the U.S. to seek asylum -- in fact, U.S. law requires claims to be made from within U.S. borders or at a port of entry. In the video, at least one militia member also falsely identified himself as a member of U.S. Border Patrol, echoing a common tactic of the group in which members seek to give migrants they encounter the impression they are law enforcement officers.
On April 20, the FBI arrested UCP leader Larry Mitchell Hopkins on charges of possessing firearms and ammunition as a felon. Hopkins’ lengthy criminal record includes a conviction for impersonating a police officer. In charging documents, the FBI also noted that it received a tip in 2017 that the group was plotting to assassinate former President Barack Obama, former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and philanthropist George Soros.
Despite the group's criminal history, Fox News has treated its legitimacy as an open question. During an April 22 segment of Your World with Neil Cavuto discussing UCP, Fox News contributor and Fox Business host Charles Payne said, “Citizens that are taking up arms, trying to assist. … It's apparent to the world that we've got a crisis down there and they're trying to help out.”
My god. A right-wing militia group was kidnapping migrants and a Fox host summarized that as them just "trying to help out"
Payne: Citizens there taking up arms, trying to assist ... it's apparent to the world that we've got a crisis down there and they're trying to help out." pic.twitter.com/FwSCoEDVqg
— Lis Power (@LisPower1) April 23, 2019
Other segments on Fox News credulously promoted the group’s claims of legitimacy, with a Fox News correspondent noting UCP members “see themselves, as their group name suggests, as patriots, not vigilantes,” and Fox News’ Melissa Francis highlighting UCP’s claim that it has come under law enforcement scrutiny for “stopping illegals” due to “political pressure.”
An anchor on a Fox 'news side' show described the kidnappings as "stopping illegals after they cross the border" and highlighted the spox of the right-wing militia group claiming the arrest was simply due to "political pressure" pic.twitter.com/II6SLIbnHS
— Lis Power (@LisPower1) April 23, 2019
Other segments on Fox News have mentioned a new way the group is attempting to raise money after the notoriety of the viral migrant detention video caused the group to be kicked off of PayPal and GoFundMe.
Fox News has long shown sympathy to far-right armed groups. In 2014, Fox News personalities took the side of Cliven Bundy and his supporters, who were threatening violence against the government during an armed standoff sparked by a dispute over unpaid cattle grazing fees. Fox Business host Lou Dobbs was also a vocal supporter of the since-disbanded anti-immigrant vigilante Minuteman Project despite the obvious extremism of the group and its members. One of the founders of that group was later sentenced to death for murdering a 9-year-old girl and her father, while another group leader was later convicted of child molestation.
One of the film’s funders is also one of Fox News’ most loyal advertisers
Fox News and the anti-abortion film Unplanned have more in common than elevating anti-choice misinformation: They’ve both been heavily subsidized by MyPillow founder Mike Lindell. Despite Fox’s aggressive advertiser losses in the past year, Lindell has remained one of the network’s most loyal supporters -- and the network appears to be rewarding his loyalty, providing over a million dollars in free promotion to Unplanned since the beginning of 2019.
Between January 1 and April 12 of this year, Fox News has aired 33 segments about or including discussion of Unplanned -- equal to roughly $1 million in promotional value. Given that Unplanned reportedly cost $6 million to produce, Fox provided free promotion equivalent to at least one-sixth of the film’s total budget. During Unplanned’s opening week alone, Fox provided the film with approximately $470,310 in free promotion based on Media Matters analysis of the network’s advertising value from March 29 to April 5.
MyPillow has remained one of Fox News’ most consistent advertisers, even as others have fled the network after increasing awareness by many companies that being associated with Fox is bad for business. MyPillow is not only the biggest sponsor of Tucker Carlson Tonight, but the company was also recently cited by Fox News host Laura Ingraham as evidence that advertising with the network is still lucrative. Beyond continuing to advertise on Fox, Lindell also invested $1 million in the film Unplanned, an anti-abortion movie rife with inaccurate information about abortion clinics and procedures. Notably, Lindell makes an appearance in the film as a construction worker "'bulldozing a Planned Parenthood site to make way for the headquarters of an anti-abortion group.'"
Fox has gone above and beyond in promoting the film. The network not only aired clips from the movie and urged viewers to see it, but also granted five interviews to the film’s lead actress, Ashley Bratcher, three with its directors, and one interview with the musician behind the film’s title track, complete with a live musical performance. Unplanned’s marketing has also relied heavily on alleging that the film has been censored, a technique for generating outrage and attention perfected by right-wing and anti-abortion media. Fox News has helped amplify this the inaccurate narrative, repeating the completely unfounded claim that the movie’s Twitter account and wider social media roll-out plan were censored.
It is in Fox’s best interest to keep their advertisers happy, especially as pressure mounts for companies to reconsider associating their products with the network’s reliably toxic content. Just this past weekend, Lindell was granted an episode-long interview on Fox News’ Life, Liberty & Levin -- a rare privilege for an advertiser. By promoting Unplanned, Fox News was able to accomplish two goals at once: spreading anti-abortion misinformation and rewarding one of the network’s most loyal advertisers.
Media Matters searched the SnapStream video database for mentions of “abortion” in close proximity to either “unplanned” or “pro-life” on Fox News Channel between 4 a.m. and midnight starting January 1, 2019 and ending April 12, 2019.
We timed segments, which we defined as instances in which speakers mentioned the movie Unplanned, or alleged “censorship” of the movie’s social media accounts. Segments that were about abortion but did not mention Unplanned or it’s social media accounts were not included. Teasers for upcoming segments were not included. For discussions of the movie in segments generally about abortion, we only timed the relevant speech. Segments included host monologues, news reports or packages, interviews, movie clips, and guest panels. We did not include rebroadcasts.
After determining the amount of time in each segment spent talking about Unplanned, we utilized the media monitoring service iQ media to calculate the amount of advertising value each segment was worth.
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Catherine Herridge asked Attorney General Barr what Hannity and Fox & Friends have been demanding: When will he investigate the investigators?
In yet another blow to the supposed separation between Fox’s “news” side and its opinion hosts and contributors, correspondent Catherine Herridge wasted her question at Attorney General William Barr’s press conference by echoing the demands of Fox & Friends just hours earlier and Hannity the night before: When will he investigate the origins of the probe into the Trump campaign?
Herridge chose to channel the narrative from Fox’s opinion shows at Barr’s press conference by asking, “Is there anything you can share today about your review of the genesis of the Russia investigation and whether assets have been provided to investigate?”
This same question was repeatedly raised on Fox News earlier this morning. As the nation awaited the release of Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade asked, “How soon do we pivot to how this whole thing started?” Before the press conference began, Fox News contributor Andrew McCarthy said that Barr should talk about “an inquiry into the origins of the investigation.” Fox & Friends guest and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, misrepresenting what actually took place, said: “We need to hold the people who did that spying accountable.” Fox contributor David Bossie followed that up by saying, “I hope that during this morning's press conference that the attorney general is going to tell the American people that he has impaneled a grand jury to investigate the investigators.” And Fox contributor Jason Chaffetz expressed a desire for Barr to skip past any investigation and go straight to prosecutions.
All of that was just from this morning’s Fox & Friends. And it was just a continuation of similar absurdity from last night’s Hannity. During his monologue, Sean Hannity said:
SEAN HANNITY (HOST): The investigations taking place right now in the DOJ, in Congress, are the only thing standing in the way of this country becoming a banana republic. If we don't investigate investigators, lock up the bad actors, this country will be over as we know it. All must be held to account, including those who rigged Hillary's probe, persecuted Trump, spied on a political campaign, tried to rig a presidential election, attempted a deep-state coup on a duly elected president of the United States. If justice is not served, say goodbye to our democratic republic, say goodbye to your freedoms. You can say goodbye to your precious rights endowed by our Constitution and creator, God.
We must protect also the 99.9% of good people in the FBI, in the intelligence community, that protect the innocent people here and around the globe, premier agencies around the world. It's only 1% that did wrong. We either get equal justice that we deserve, or we’ll have no country.
Hannity later said, “I want to know what [former President Barack] Obama knew, and [former national security adviser Susan] Rice knew, and [former Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper knew, and [former CIA Director John] Brennan knew.”
His guests followed suit. Republican lawyer Joe diGenova expressed confidence that Barr “will start a process which is going to lead to a series of federal grand juries to hold accountable all the people you are talking about.” GOP attorney Victoria Toensing said “justice will be served” for Trump’s investigators, and Hannity contributor Sara Carter asserted:
There are a number of indictments that are on the way. There's going to be a very serious investigation into what had happened and what had transpired since the Hillary Clinton investigation by the FBI, all the way through the origins at the very beginning of the investigation into then-candidate Trump and those within his campaign. And this is going to be significant because they are going to look for these origins, and I think -- I agree completely with Joe and with Victoria that it's going to lead all the way back to the White House. And that is what I'm hearing and I'm talking about the Obama administration.
This narrative has been a fixation among Fox’s opinion hosts -- particularly Hannity, a close Trump adviser -- for months. That it would become the single focus of the Fox correspondent asking a question of the attorney general shows there is no division between Fox’s “news” and its opinion side -- the network is a pro-Trump propaganda outlet, plain and simple.
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Eight of the appearances were on NRA national spokesperson Dana Loesch’s show
The National Rifle Association’s media operation NRATV has hosted anti-immigration activist Michael Cutler 32 times dating back to March 2018. Cutler, who worked as an agent for the now-defunct U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, has contributed a large number of articles to a white nationalist journal and has ties to other white nationalist-affiliated groups.
The NRA has long used immigrants as a boogeyman to rile up its supporters, and Cutler has become the organization’s go-to commentator for its inflammatory media operation NRATV. Since March 2018, Cutler has made 24 appearances on NRATV program Stinchfield, a news of the day program, and eight appearances on Relentless, which is hosted by NRA national spokesperson Dana Loesch. Cutler’s most recent NRATV appearance was on April 15.
In addition to being a frequent NRATV guest, Cutler is a contributor to white nationalist journal The Social Contract. The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that the publication “routinely publishes race-baiting articles penned by white nationalists” and that the group, The Social Contract Press, that publishes the journal was founded “by John Tanton, the racist founder and principal ideologue of the modern nativist movement.” According to SPLC, The Social Contract Press “puts an academic veneer of legitimacy over what are essentially racist arguments about the inferiority of today's immigrants.” A search of the journal’s website returns 20 articles Cutler authored, including six articles published since 2017. In 2018, Cutler wrote an anti-immigration booklet for The Social Contract, the foreword of which was authored by Social Contract Editor Wayne Lutton. Lutton is “a stalwart on the racist speaking circuit” who has ties to white nationalists and Holocaust deniers, according to SPLC.
Cutler is also listed as a former fellow on the Center for Immigration Studies website. Like The Social Contract, CIS is a project of Tanton’s that has promoted white nationalism. Additionally, Cutler has written extensively for Californians for Population Stabilization, a group that employed a neo-Nazi and received funding from the now defunct pro-eugenics Pioneer Fund.
During Cutler’s April 15 NRATV appearance, he and NRATV host Grant Stinchfield fearmongered about the prospect of terrorism being carried out by undocumented immigrants. The appearance was typical of NRATV’s false characterization of undocumented immigrants as a public safety threat. Here are a few more examples from some of Cutler’s other NRATV appearances:
Beyond hosting Cutler, NRATV has relentlessly demonized undocumented immigrants. According to a Media Matters analysis, Stinchfield broadcast 54 segments that fearmongered about undocumented immigrants during the 2018-2019 government shutdown, which was a result of President Donald Trump’s demand that Congress fund a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
NRATV also repeatedly promoted the conspiracy theory that claimed George Soros was funding migrant caravans. In October 2018, a gunman inspired by a similar conspiracy theory carried out a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. NRATV continued to promote the Soros conspiracy theory following the shooting. White nationalist talking points about immigration have also been broadcast on NRATV, including the claim that liberals are attempting to “import a new populace” from “the Third World” to replace U.S. voters.
The extremism broadcast on NRATV, which is produced by PR firm Ackerman McQueen for the NRA, may be causing a problem at the gun organization. The Wall Street Journal reported on April 15 that the NRA is suing Ackerman McQueen for allegedly failing to turn over information about NRATV metrics and other matters. As The New York Times reported, the lawsuit appears to be connected to concerns by some members of NRA leadership about NRATV’s inflammatory broadcasts:
Since Ackerman created NRATV in 2016, it has often been “perceived by the public as the voice of the N.R.A.,” according to the rifle association’s complaint. It has also taken on an apocalyptic tone, warning of race wars, calling for a march on the Federal Bureau of Investigation and portraying the talking trains in the children’s show “Thomas & Friends” in Ku Klux Klan hoods.
The New York Times reported this year that two prominent N.R.A. board members were among those voicing alarm inside the association that NRATV was often straying beyond gun rights. The Times article also revealed that Ackerman had a previously undisclosed financial relationship with [NRA President Oliver North].
As abortion clinic director Calla Hales highlighted the numerous potential legal inconsistencies of an anti-abortion bill making its way through the North Carolina legislature, National Review writer Alexandra DeSanctis selectively pulled a tweet from Hales’ Twitter thread to wrongly claim the clinic director didn’t believe infants were legal persons until 30 days after birth. This willful misrepresentation sparked harassment of Hales by right-wing and anti-abortion media -- once again demonstrating the dangerous consequences of incendiary anti-abortion rhetoric.
Fox News @ Night host Shannon Bream brought on the producers and writers of the anti-abortion movie Gosnell -- days after the White House screened the movie -- to advance an inaccurate and sensationalized right-wing media narrative about abortion providers engaging in so-called “infanticide.”
Fox News promotes Bream and her program as part of its “straight news” division in an effort to reassure wary advertisers to stay the course, despite the frequent xenophobia, sexism, racism, and lies of Fox’s “opinion” side, helmed by Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity. But like her colleague Martha MacCallum -- another host the network inaccurately points to as a supposed counterpoint to the “opinion” side -- Bream has long been a source of anti-abortion misinformation and cannot be used to prop up a facade of objectivity.
During the April 15 edition of Fox News @ Night, Bream facilitated a discussion about abortions conducted later in pregnancy that was dominated by the same sensationalized lies that have defined Fox’s opinion and news coverage since the beginning of the year.
The White House screening of Gosnell on April 12 was another example of Republicans’ and President Donald Trump’s strategy to stoke outrage over Democratic efforts to protect and secure access to abortion later in pregnancy. In recent months, right-wing media, and Fox News in particular, have gone all-in on promoting outrageous and inaccurate talking points claiming state efforts to protect abortion access were akin to legalizing abortion “up to birth” or even supporting “infanticide.”
Bream’s segment was an unsurprising continuation of this strategy. She allowed the filmmakers to conflate the illegal actions of former abortion provider Kermit Gosnell -- who is currently serving “three life terms in jail” for “first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies born alive at his rogue clinic, then stabbed with scissors” -- with the actions of legitimate abortion providers. During the segment, co-writer Phelim McAleer alleged that "there wasn't that much difference" between what Gosnell did from what a "legal" abortion provider does. As co-writer Ann McElhinney claimed, “The reason we made this film in the first place” was because legal abortion, in her opinion, allows an abortion provider to “neglect a baby to death.”
In reality, Gosnell’s practices are in no way representative of abortion providers or abortion procedures in the United States. As New York magazine’s Irin Carmon wrote in 2013, Gosnell’s actions were not evidence of widespread malfeasance by abortion providers, some of whom attempted to warn about his actions and the condition of his clinics beforehand; rather, it was his "willingness to break the law" that made many patients seek him out, believing “they had no alternative.”
During the segment, Bream pointed to an NBC News article by Robin Marty about the film to allow the filmmakers to explain away “criticisms.” Marty’s article, however, accurately lays out the issues with the film, noting, among other things, that the movie makes an absurd comparison between Gosnell and assassinated legal abortion provider Dr. George Tiller:
To compare an experienced doctor who legally performed third trimester abortions, usually for women victimized by sexual assault or who learned that their child had fatal fetal anomalies, to a man who stabbed live babies in the neck to sever their spinal chords isn’t just disingenuous, it’s disrespectful (and potentially slanderous).
Bream allowed her guests to equate Gosnell’s actions with those of legitimate abortion providers -- and the segment played into right-wing and anti-abortion media's manufactured villainization of abortion providers and those who have abortions.
American Descendents of Slavery (ADOS) is an obscure pro-reparations group that has been attacking prominent Black progressives who also support reparations. There is evidence that ADOS is actually advancing a right-wing agenda, and while it calls itself progressive, it pushes anti-immigrant views. Supporters of ADOS have carried out harassment campaigns against political activist, rapper, and reparations supporter Talib Kweli and against progressive radio host Mark Thompson. Thompson is in favor of reparations, but he criticized ADOS on MSNBC and got into an altercation with an ADOS supporter who was harassing him and now ADOS supporters are attempting to get him fired from his job at Sirius XM.
Black Maternal Health Week spotlights a dire health disparity in the United States
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:
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.
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.
Senate hearing about alleged censorship of anti-abortion movie Unplanned was another exercise in right-wing outrage-baiting
During an April 10 Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing about the so-called “censorship” of conservative content by social media platforms, senators continually (and inaccurately) claimed Twitter's temporary suspension of an account associated with the anti-abortion movie Unplanned was evidence of wider bias. Although allegations of widespread conservative censorship by social media companies are inaccurate, the accusation itself is familiar among anti-abortion extremists, who have long deployed it as a tactic to rally supporters and raise funds.
Soon after Unplanned’s release in March, a Twitter account associated with the movie was temporarily suspended and reactivated. The Hollywood Reporter explained that the movie’s account “was not suspended on purpose, but rather was linked to another account that had violated Twitter's rules.” Because of this, the Unplanned account was soon reactivated and its followers restored -- but not before right-wing media expressed outrage and alleged that the film had been “shadow banned” (a common and completely false conservative claim). Although Twitter’s FAQ clearly explains that follower and tweet counts “will be fully restored within 24 hours of reactivation,” right-wing and anti-abortion media continued to treat the incident as yet another example of censorship by tech companies.
This is far from the first time that anti-abortion groups or outlets have alleged censorship to rile up supporters or solicit funds. Lila Rose, founder of the anti-abortion group Live Action, told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson in 2017 that Twitter was censoring her organization’s ads. In reality, the content remained on the platform -- Live Action simply wasn’t allowed to promote the ads as such because they violated several of Twitter’s content policies. In other instances, this tactic has been deployed by anti-abortion groups to lambast Google’s page rankings or allege widespread media bias against right-wing or anti-abortion views.
Beyond riling up their supporters, this tactic is often deployed by anti-abortion groups to fundraise in the name of fighting back against alleged social media censorship. The anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List has leveraged similar allegations to sway voters and raise funds for specific campaigns. During the 2018 midterm elections, SBA List accused Facebook of removing its ads urging people to “vote pro-life.” Although Facebook actually disallowed the ads because the platform doesn’t “allow ads that depict medical procedures or conditions,” SBA List framed the move as another example of censorship and urged supporters to “RUSH a contribution … to help us fight back and get this ad in front of voters in key swing-states DESPITE the ongoing censorship of pro-life voices by the abortion lobby.”
This Senate hearing is only the latest example of Republican lawmakers’ willingness to entertain inaccurate talking points claiming censorship of conservative views. In 2017, then-Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) deployed this tactic to generate attention and garner support after announcing her run for retiring Sen. Bob Corker's (R-TN) seat, which she ultimately won. Blackburn referred to this incident during the April 10 hearing as well -- even receiving an apology from Twitter’s representative.
Early in the hearing, while questioning witnesses from Facebook and Twitter, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) demanded to know why a 2017 tweet from SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser had allegedly been censored. Although the tweet was never actually removed from Twitter (and in fact remains up today), The Washington Post noted that the tweet had originally been rejected from paid promotion for violating that platform’s “health and pharmaceutical products and services policy.” During the hearing, Twitter’s witness affirmed that SBA List was generally “in good standing” for the purposes of advertising on the platform. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) also questioned why several of SBA List’s Facebook ads depicting premature babies in a medical setting were removed. Although the ads were ultimately allowed to run on the platform, Lee implied that they were initially flagged due to rampant liberal bias at Facebook -- an allegation the witness denied.
During the hearing’s second session, Unplanned and SBA List were both given a platform to repeat talking points about the alleged censorship of anti-abortion content online. In his opening testimony, Unplanned co-director Chuck Konzelman claimed that the temporary suspension of the film’s Twitter account was “suspect” and credited right-wing media personalities such as Fox News host Shannon Bream and National Rifle Association spokesperson Dana Loesch for raising awareness of the incident. SBA List’s Vice President of Government Affairs Marilyn Musgrave testified that her organization had “been fighting censorship of our content for more than two years” alongside other anti-abortion organizations that she claimed had experienced similar difficulties.
When conservatives have previously attempted to hold hearings investigating the so-called bias of tech platforms, the results have featured laughable conspiracy theories about liberals censoring conservative content. As this latest hearing demonstrated, anti-abortion and right-wing media will continue to falsely cry censorship to signal-boost their deceptive content, rile up supporters, and raise funds. Given this track record, perhaps the only thing more predictable than right-wing and anti-abortion media’s invocation of censorship to market Unplanned was Senate Republicans’ willingness to give a platform to such a transparent ploy in the first place.
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