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  • America is plagued by right-wing violence. Pundits need to stop calling it a "both sides" issue.

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Following a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, where a gunman inspired by an anti-Semitic right-wing conspiracy theory opened fire on parishioners with an assault weapon, expect to hear claims that “both sides” of the political aisle bear responsibility for the tragedy.

    The same thing happened last week. During an attempted bombing spree that targeted prominent liberals, including former President Barack Obama, mainstream conservative press pushed the line that both the right and the left are at fault for the current detestable political environment and should equally share the blame and engage in self-reflection.

    These arguments have no basis in reality; instead, they are conservatives' self-serving attempts to hide the rot in their own movement, which foments violence even at its highest levels.

    The fact is violence is a feature, not a bug, of the conservative movement in the United States today. In terms of frequency and deadliness, terrorism inspired by right-wing political beliefs far outpaces left-wing violence. So, when conservatives argue that both sides should be blamed for a bombing spree targeting liberals, responsible journalists shouldn’t act as stenographers for those false or deceptive claims. (And the same goes for the widespread conservative messaging effort to baselessly claim that mobs of Democrats stand ready to kill conservatives before the midterm elections.) Instead, when reporting on political violence, journalists should present the full context: Right-wing violence is a documentable pattern incomparable to violence from the left.

    Here are some examples of how conservative media figures engaged in the “both sides-ing” of the pipe bomb spree before the suspect was arrested:

    • Conservative pundit Erick Erickson wrote, “Both sides have unstable elements among their ranks and some of those unstable elements are becoming increasingly radicalized and violent. Perhaps both sides should turn down the heat on their rhetoric a bit.”
    • Fox News host Charles Payne drew an equivalence between the attempted bombings and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) being yelled at by protesters while he was eating dinner at a restaurant.
    • Fox News host Greg Gutfeld claimed on The Five, “If you want to blame rhetoric, if you want to blame violence on rhetoric, everybody is guilty, OK?”
    • Referencing comments made by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), former Attorney General Eric Holder, and Hillary Clinton, Fox News host Brian Kilmeade said, “You can't have civility, so I think it all plays into this.”
    • According to Fox News contributor Mollie Hemingway, “We've heard a lot of calls for incivility. We've seen a lot of mob violence. We've seen a lot of leftist groups taking over the police functions of cities -- of major American cities. So, everyone needs to calm down.”
    • Fox News host Harris Faulkner said, “I wonder if re-litigating how we got here on both sides of the political aisle is something that we need to do right now so that we don't make the same mistakes going forward.”
    • National Review’s David French:

    (While some conservatives pushed the “both sides” talking points, many others went further, terming the bombing spree a “false flag” attack presumably carried out by liberals. Disturbingly, this claim was found not only in the fever swamps of outlets like Infowars, but also on Fox News.)

    The “both sides” rhetoric even crept into nonideological coverage. Introducing a segment on the pipe bomb spree on CNN on October 25, the network’s chief national correspondent, John King, said, “It’s a plain fact: The president has moved the boundaries of that discourse by calling critics evil, the media an enemy of the state. But it is not right or fair to chastise the president, as I believe we should, without making note of the more aggressive language from the left.”

    Blame for violent incidents should not be apportioned equally when there is a wide gulf between right-wing and left-wing violence. The “both sides” argument may be safe and easy political punditry, but it is at odds with documented incidents of violence.

    As Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow for the Anti-Defamation League, told NPR in 2017, “The far left is very active in the United States, but it hasn't been particularly violent for some time.” He noted that “in the past 10 years when you look at murders committed by domestic extremists in the United States of all types, right-wing extremists are responsible for about 74 percent of those murders.” Two percent of murders in that period were carried out by left-wing extremists. According to a writer at the libertarian Cato Institute, “Terrorists inspired by Nationalist and Right Wing ideology have killed about 10 times as many people as Left Wing terrorists since 1992.”

    Indeed, according to a 2017 report from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, “there was a sharp decline in the proportion of terrorist attacks carried out by left-wing, environmentalist extremists during the first seven years of the 2010s (from 64% to 12%). At the same time, there was a sharp increase in the proportion of attacks carried out by right-wing extremists (from 6% to 35%) and religious extremists (from 9% to 53%) in the United States.”

    Right-wing attacks have also caused many more fatalities in recent years, according to the report:

    David Neiwert, an expert on right-wing extremism, laid out the disparities between ideologically motivated violence in a lengthy thread on Twitter:

    Noting that there have been two prominent attacks in recent years motivated by left-wing ideology -- the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) and others in 2017, and a 2012 shooting in the lobby of the conservative Family Research Council that injured a security guard -- Neiwert listed a number of high-profile right-wing attacks, including, but not limited to:

    Organized violence on the right has also been deadlier. While right-wing media frequently shout about antifa -- whose members have caused property damage and engaged in brawls, mostly during fights with far-right extremists -- there is no comparison to the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA, that ended with a neo-Nazi driving his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer and wounding others.

    There are, of course, some instances of people carrying out violence motivated by a left-wing ideology. But to say “both sides” are to blame for political violence broadly is absurd and ahistorical and ignores the way far-right members of the conservative movement have used violence as a tool dating back to the right-wing militia movement of the 1990s.

    The arrest of a suspect in the bombing spree has made it clear that the “both sides” argument is vacuous. The suspect owns a van festooned with pro-Trump and anti-Democrat material, and his social media accounts indicate that he was active in the far-right meme community. And then within days, a man who promoted the conspiracy theory that Jews were behind the migrant caravan on right-wing social media platform Gab killed 11 people in a synagogue. How could Democrats share equal blame for possibly motivating these actions?

  • 5 things NY TimesThe Daily got wrong about abortion and Missouri's fight for reproductive justice

    What The Daily missed in a recent report about Missouri Democrats’ adoption -- and rejection -- of an anti-choice amendment

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The New York Times’ podcast The Daily claims to inform listeners about “the biggest stories of our time,” but in a recent two-part series about an anti-choice amendment to the Missouri Democratic Party platform, the coverage emphasized anti-abortion talking points, including misinformation about so-called “partial-birth abortion” and the alleged “extremism” of Democrats' views on abortion. Perhaps most concerningly, The Daily failed to contextualize the precarious nature of abortion rights in Missouri -- which currently has only one operational abortion clinic.

    In June 2018, the Missouri Democratic Party adopted language into its platform seeking to “welcome into our ranks all Missourians who may hold differing positions on” abortion. The inclusion of this language was fraught from the start. As Riverfront Times reported, the amendment “was emailed to members one day before a scheduled vote on a new platform — and the vote ended up taking place on a day that many party activists had already committed to being at immigration protests.” In August, the party voted unanimously to remove the language from its platform and instead adopted language supporting “a woman’s right to choose.”

    The Daily's two-part series covering this story focused on Joan Barry, a former Democratic Representative for the Missouri House who introduced the controversial language. The episodes were hosted by the Times’ Sabrina Tavernise, who also wrote an article detailing Barry’s attempt to add the language. Tavernise painted Barry as suffering under the weight of a political system deeply divided about abortion at the national level. But in emphasizing national views about abortion, particularly in the political context, Tavernise obscured how hard pro-choice advocates are fighting to maintain abortion rights in Missouri. Instead, the story gave anti-abortion misinformation a high-profile platform and sanitized the consequences of losing access to abortion care in Missouri. Here are five things The Daily got wrong about abortion, and in particular, abortion access in Missouri:

    1. Treating “partial-birth abortion” as a real thing

    During the two-part series, Tavernise argued that anti-abortion Democrats are fleeing the Democratic Party, both nationally and in Missouri. As evidence of this trend, Tavernise pointed to conversations around an attempt to pass the so-called Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in 1995. Although the bill was vetoed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, it ultimately became law under President George W. Bush in 2003, and was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in 2007 in Gonzales v. Carhart. The language of this law entrenched the false idea of so-called “partial-birth” abortion, despite no such procedure existing -- a linguistic trap that The Daily fell into often when covering the Missouri dispute.

    In attempting to explain “partial-birth” abortion, The Daily relied on the description from the 1995 bill: “an abortion in which the person performing the abortion partially vaginally delivers a living fetus before killing the fetus and completing the delivery.” The Daily then talked to Lou Riggs -- who is currently running as a Republican for the Missouri House -- who described “partial-birth” abortion as something “Dr. Mengele on his worst day in the Nazi death camp did not conceive of” performing.

    But “partial-birth” abortions are not real. As NPR reported in 2006, “‘partial-birth’ is not a medical term. It’s a political one” that was invented by anti-abortion extremists to incite feelings of disgust and stigma about abortion. As explained by NPR’s Julie Rovner, “partial-birth” abortion is a misleading reference to the previously used later-term abortion procedure known as a “‘dilation and extraction,’ or D&X.” Rovner continued that the term “was first coined” in 1995 “by the National Right to Life Committee,” an anti-choice group that admitted in a magazine interview that it created the term to “foster a growing opposition to abortion.” The term made its way to the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act in 1995, and it is still used by right-wing media to both vilify those who have abortions and to erroneously conflate the nonexistent practice with safe and legal forms of later abortion.

    Rather than exploring any of this, The Daily centered its reporting on anti-choice Democrats who adopted a common right-wing talking point pushed for years by anti-abortion extremists. In doing so, The Daily did not explain how this inaccurate understanding of “partial-birth” abortion manufactured tensions in the Democratic Party -- and ignored the consequences of allowing this misconception to be repeated, unchecked to this day.

    2. Saying Democrats have become too "extreme" on abortion

    Throughout the two-part series, Tavernise erroneously painted the national Democratic Party as moving from a moderate position on abortion to one that is more extreme -- ignoring popular support for abortion access. For example, Tavernise explained that after Clinton vetoed the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act in 1996, “Democrats could no longer be pro-life; they had to pick a side. It was impossible to be in the middle.” She lamented that “local politics” had been replaced by “big national issues, like the question of abortion, the question of Roe v. Wade” which “only exacerbated Democrats’ difficulties in places like Missouri. It’s only made things worse.”

    Framing the Democratic stance on abortion as “extreme” has long been a popular tactic in right-wing media and even among some more mainstream outlets. In Media Matters’ annual study of evening cable news coverage, Fox News dominated discussions about abortion in prime time with inaccurate statements about the so-called extreme abortion procedures allegedly supported by the left, but CNN and MSNBC also succumbed to this talking point far too often. For example, during Sen. Doug Jones’ (D-AL) run-off race against Roy Moore in Alabama, all three outlets portrayed Jones as “extreme” for opposing a ban on abortion after 20 weeks.

    Calling Democrats’ views of abortion “extreme” is a vast mischaracterization of their positions, and misrepresents broader public opinion. As a recent Pew Research poll found, “a 58% majority of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 37% think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. These views are relatively unchanged in the past few years.” Suggestions that Democrats should compromise or tone down their support for abortion are also unsupported by data. As the polling firm PerryUndem found, “Just 8 percent of Democrats would be more likely to vote for a candidate who opposes abortion,” but “31 percent of Republicans would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights.” Tresa Undem, co-founder and partner at PerryUndem, told Vox, “By going after the 8 percent of Democrats who want a candidate who opposes abortion, the party risks losing the 71 percent of Democratic voters who want their candidates to support abortion rights.”

    Beyond raw numbers, support for these allegedly “extreme” positions is grounded in the recognition that these types of abortions are done for a variety of personal and medical reasons and that those who need access to this vital form of health care should not be vilified.

    3. Portraying the anti-abortion Democrat they talked to as a centrist on abortion

    The Daily also extensively discussed Barry’s reasons for introducing the anti-choice amendment, including that she “felt the party no longer tolerated views like hers” and that the party had “drifted too far left on abortion” and “developed this hard edge with this activist language” that made her feel “excluded, looked down upon.” Tavernise explained that Barry felt adding the language “would be a real contribution” and “would mean more people would feel welcome” to the party. The Daily framed Barry as a sympathetic character who “took it hard” when the amendment was pulled. Tavernise called her “a good soldier,” for the party, and suggested that in spite of all her hard work she had only ended up with "people wanting her out.” Tavernise also said Barry “felt really misunderstood. Being pro-life didn’t mean she wanted to take choice away. It didn’t mean she wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade.”

    Setting aside anti-abortion organizations’ celebrations that Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court spells the end of Roe, The Daily also failed to mention that Barry wanted to include language in the platform expressing support for the criminalization of abortion. As Rewire.News’ Ally Boguhn reported, “During the platform committee’s deliberations, Barry attempted to include anti-choice language regarding ‘life from conception until natural death,’ which ultimately did not make it into the platform.” As Boguhn explained, “Such phrasing uses so-called personhood rhetoric that, if implemented into law, could criminalize abortion and some forms of contraception.”

    Boguhn also outlined how Barry supported various anti-choice restrictions during her time in the Missouri House of Representatives. In 2001, “Barry introduced a so-called informed consent bill requiring a 24-hour waiting period and mandating that doctors inform patients of risks associated with abortion,” a mandate that stemmed from an inaccurate anti-abortion talking point. She also “sponsored a ‘partial-birth abortion’ ban” and “co-sponsored another ‘informed consent’ bill to require a waiting period for patients seeking a medication abortion.”

    Tavernise shouldn’t have relied on Barry’s assurances that she didn’t really want to end Roe. Instead, The Daily should have looked at Barry’s record of chipping away at abortion access while in the Missouri House and, in particular, her clear intention to criminalize abortion during the platform fight.

    4. Omitting the legitimate reasons why pro-choice Democrats wanted the language removed

    While Tavernise focused on Barry and her convictions about the platform language, there was little discussion about why other members of the committee were upset and voted to eliminate the anti-choice provisions. While Tavernise did talk to some pro-choice advocates on the committee, she did not give them much room to explain their position or dispute the harmful premise of Barry’s agenda. Instead, Tavernise framed them as merely “angry” with the decision or having “a furious reaction” because they “were pissed,” while failing to discuss why they were mad. Rather than discuss the misinformation behind Barry’s proposed language, or the tangible harms that the anti-choice amendment would have on Missourians, Part 1 ends on a dramatic cliffhanger with Barry’s daughter warning her mother to “get some mace or something” -- as if Barry would be under physical attack for proposing the language.

    The Daily’s invocation of the "violent left" as a plot device plays into a rhetorical strategy commonly used by right-wing media and abortion opponents to suppress valid opposition to their harmful policies. For example, during anti-Kavanaugh protests prior to his confirmation, The Daily Signal called protesters “vicious mobs.” Meanwhile, the anti-abortion organization Priests for Life wrote that the “deeper roots of the rage and hysteria of the anti Kavanaugh protestors” stemmed from “the repressed grief of women who experienced abortion loss” -- another right-wing media myth about abortion.

    Aside from the vote about the language being held on a day that many committee members had a prior engagement, The Daily also failed to consider the legitimate reasons many opposed Barry’s extreme additions. After the episodes aired, one of the pro-choice committee members interviewed by Tavernise -- co-founder and co-director of Reproaction Pamela Merritt -- wrote a blog post arguing that while Tavernise’s written article was “solid. … The podcast is slanted, and it seems that they want to cast the prolife Dem as a victim and all the rest of us as unreasonable.”

    Merritt also outlined some additional points about why she wanted the language removed:

    Access to abortion is not some insignificant wedge issue that politicians can chose whether or not to champion based on how they think their district feels about it. Reproductive healthcare is key to every single progressive issue Democratic claim to champion, so failing to support the full spectrum of services indicates a fundamental lack of understanding how policy works.

    There can be no economic justice without reproductive justice. The ability to control whether or not you get pregnant, whether to carry a pregnancy to term, and the spacing between children is a big fucking deal. It means the difference between being able to make ends meet or not, being able to get an advanced degree or attend college/training or not. For some people, it is the difference between life or death. I’m passionate about access because IT FUCKING MATTERS.

    ...

    You can’t claim to stand with Black women and then dismiss our leadership, ignore our demands, and support policies that promote reproductive oppression.

    And you can’t say a platform is pro-choice if it includes language stating that the party will welcome people who do not support abortion access and see their presence as a strength.

    5. Failing to contextualize the dire state of abortion access in Missouri and the consequences of losing abortion care

    In the podcast, Tavernise decried that “local politics” have been replaced by “big national issues, like the question of abortion, the question of Roe v. Wade, the question of [Justice Brett] Kavanaugh.” This framing dangerously ignored how these “big national issues” are very much a part of “local politics,” especially given the precarious state of abortion access in Missouri.

    Missouri currently has only one abortion provider in a state with more than 6 million people -- and Gov. Mike Parsons (R) recently signed a state budget blocking Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood. Missouri already has a plethora of abortion restrictions, including a requirement that women receive “state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage her from having an abortion,” and a 72-hour waiting period. Missouri’s legislature has an appetite for even further abortion restrictions -- Republican state Rep. Mike Moon told The Associated Press this year that the “time is right” to pass an anti-abortion amendment to the state constitution.

    Although Kavanaugh’s threat as a potential fifth vote to overturn Roe is briefly mentioned in both of The Daily’s episodes, neither one mentions that Missouri currently has both an anti-choice legislature and an anti-choice governor with no protections in place, leaving the state’s abortion rights “at the highest risk of loss if Roe is overturned” according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Missouri is one of seven states classified by the Guttmacher Institute as having “laws that express their intent to restrict the right to legal abortion to the maximum extent permitted by the U.S. Supreme Court in the absence of Roe.” Planned Parenthood described Missouri as one of 20 states “poised to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.” Far from Tavernise’s concern that all politics have become national, there is plenty of abortion-related legislation in Missouri -- and plenty of material consequences for the Missourians who are denied abortion access thanks to anti-choice lawmakers and advocates such as Barry.

    As anti-abortion advocates no longer demur about Kavanaugh’s likely role in overturning Roe, The Daily’s coverage of the fight for reproductive justice in Missouri failed to present an accurate picture of what’s at stake. Instead, The Daily presented a sanitized view of an anti-abortion extremist, relied on anti-abortion talking points, and ignored the concerns of pro-choice advocates about the true consequences of losing access to abortion in the state and across the country.

  • NRA President Oliver North helped cover up the gun murder of a dissident journalist on U.S. soil

    The sordid affair took place during the 1980s when North was involved in the Iran-Contra conspiracy

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    While working for the Reagan administration in the 1980s, National Rifle Association President Oliver North was part of a group of administration officials who allowed the then-dictatorial Taiwanese government to get away with murdering a dissident journalist living in California. Members of Congress later made an issue out of the murder, leading to democratic reforms in Taiwan.

    North’s role in attempting to cover up the politically motivated murder of a U.S. citizen with a gun is yet another dark irony of his later ascent to the presidency of NRA, which calls itself the country’s oldest civil rights organization and frequently fearmongers about the prospect of criminal gangs running unchecked.

    Henry Liu was shot to death by two men at his home in Daly City, CA, on October 15, 1984. Liu, a naturalized U.S. citizen who worked as a freelance journalist, had been a critic of the Kuomintang party’s rule of Taiwan and was living in the U.S. in part because he hoped to avoid oppression by his home country’s government. It was later revealed that Liu had been murdered by members of a criminal gang on orders of an intelligence official in Taiwan.

    Liu’s murder was revisited in an opinion piece by John Pomfret published this week in The Washington Post. The op-ed drew parallels between that incident and the recent murder of Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi Arabian government.

    Information about Liu’s murder was intercepted by the National Security Agency, but as Pomfret noted, “Both the Reagan White House and Taiwan’s president worried that the investigation could affect U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, which in 1984 had soared to more than $1 billion. The White House also wanted Taiwan to contribute to Oliver North’s campaign to fund the contras fighting the Sandinista-led government in Nicaragua.”

    According to the 2005 book Lee Teng-hui and Taiwan's Quest for Identity, “Among other measures, [then-president of the Republic of China] Chiang Ching-kuo contributed one million U.S. dollars to Oliver North’s Contra secret Swiss account. Thus, in the eyes of Ronald Reagan’s aides, such as Oliver North and Michael Deaver -- the latter reportedly had once been retained on a $5,000 per month basis by Taiwan government -- Chiang Ching-kuo was just another nice, garden-variety dictator who should be left unmolested.”

    North was later criminally prosecuted for his role in the illegal gun-running Iran-Contra scheme.

    Some members of Congress did not share the Reagan administration’s goal of letting the Chinese Nationalist Party get away with murder. Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-NY) launched “congressional hearings to publicize an extensive network of Kuomintang spies in the United States who were monitoring dissidents from Taiwan. Solarz added an amendment to the Arms Export Control Act, banning weapons sales to countries that engage in ‘intimidation and harassment’ of people in America.” These efforts resulted in the criminal prosecution of a Kuomintang government official involved in the murder, and a number of democratic reforms followed in Taiwan.

    Commenting after the murder of her husband, Helen Liu told The Associated Press that “America is his ideal country” and that “He always used it as a standard for China and Taiwan. That’s why he criticized both (countries). He enjoyed the freedom he had here, the spiritual life or the material life we had here.”

  • Meet The Press sanitizes Proud Boys’ involvement in Miami protests

    Host Chuck Todd discusses “angry people left and right” ahead of midterms, doesn’t mention that one party has a violent extremist group on its side 

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    On October 17, protesters organized by the Republican Party of Miami-Dade, FL, gathered outside the campaign headquarters of Democratic congressional candidate Donna Shalala ahead of scheduled appearances by Reps. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA). The chair of the local Republican party was recorded aggressively knocking on the door of the venue as members of the violent extremist group Proud Boys yelled expletives at Pelosi.

    As The Miami Herald reported:

    [Miami-Dade Republican Party chair Nelson] Diaz, who is Cuban-American, was videotaped during the protest repeatedly banging on a locked door used moments earlier by Pelosi to enter Shalala’s campaign offices. He stood by as a member of the so-called Proud Boys, a national organization characterized as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, heckled and hurled expletives at Pelosi as she walked inside.

    “You don’t belong here you f**king communist,” the Proud Boy, Enrique Tarrio, is heard yelling. “Open up, it’s the Proud Boys in here.”

    Diaz later told the Herald that he apologized for his own behavior. He also denied knowing about the group prior to the protest and said he did not invite them.

    In a panel discussion on the October 21 edition of NBC’s Meet The Press, host Chuck Todd addressed “anger on the left and right” ahead of the midterms, and showed part of the video of the protesters and Proud Boys members heckling Pelosi and later banging on the door as it closed. He then noted vaguely, “Dade County Republican Party chairman actually apologized for the treatment of that.”

    Based on this sanitizing statement, viewers might believe that the local GOP chair was admonishing a protest that got out of hand -- not that he himself was knocking angrily on the door alongside members of the Proud Boys. In fact, Todd didn’t mention the group “Proud Boys” at all in the discussion, let alone give any hint of its well-documented white supremacist ties or violent history, including when its members violently beat protesters on the streets of New York City days earlier as they yelled anti-LGBTQ slurs.

    Below is the full panel segment with some selected transcript.

    CHUCK TODD (HOST): We’ve had a couple of mob scenes where leaders of the Democrats and of the Republicans were both publicly harassed. Here’s a scene with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi down in Miami earlier this week.  

    [CLIP]

    TODD: Dade County Republican Party chairman actually apologized for the treatment of that. Meanwhile Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader -- TMZ posted this video from Friday night in a restaurant in Louisville where he is getting harassed. Take a listen.

    [CLIP]

    TODD: You know, [panelist] Peggy Noonan, each party -- and I’ve watched them and it really disgusts me -- they try to weaponize these incidents on the other side, saying “look at what an angry mob” you know saying on the left or, “These angry people on the right.” We have angry people left and right. This isn’t made-up. It’s ugly. It’s bad. And I think leaders of both parties need to accept that.

    To bolster its “both sides” framing, Meet the Press’ evidence of “anger on the left” comprised a clip of protesters interrupting Sen. Mitch McConnell’s dinner at a Kentucky restaurant. And later in the segment, panelist David Brody revived a nonsensical right-wing media smear suggesting former Attorney General Eric Holder wants people to literally kick conservatives.

  • Fox & Friends ignores violent attack by far-right group Proud Boys while fearmongering about supposed left-wing “mob rule”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox & Friends continued to push its pre-midterm election bogus narrative of left-wing “mobs” while willfully ignoring numerous instances of violence carried out by far-right groups, including an incident this weekend of 30 members of the right-wing group the “Proud Boys” beating up protesters in New York. The beatings took place after Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes gave a speech at the Metropolitan Republican Club.

    According to BuzzFeed News, on October 13, “The far-right men’s organization ‘Proud Boys’ violently beat two or three apparent protesters Friday night following a Republican event in Manhattan. About 30 members of the group ... participated in the beating, some screaming threats and slurs at the individuals, according to video and an eyewitness account.” As a result of the attack, Gov. Andrew Cuomo requested an FBI investigation into the violence, and “also assigned a State Police hate crimes unit to assist with the New York Police Department’s investigation of the fighting, which he linked to President Trump.”

    Proud Boys is a self-described “Western chauvinist” men-only fraternal organization with violence at its core. To earn a low-level membership (or “second degree”), prospective members have to subject themselves to continuous punches by other Proud Boys while naming five breakfast cereals. The highest membership level, the fourth degree, is earned only if the member has engaged in violence with anti-fascists. McInnes himself is on the record saying he “cannot recommend violence enough. It is a really effective way to solve problems.”

    But, in Fox News’ alternate reality, “antifa” and liberal protesters are a serious physical threat to average conservatives and Trump supporters, while the far-more common phenomenon of right-wing violence does not receive any attention or is downplayed. From the October 15 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): You think, Stuart, are people sick of this? They don’t want all this violence in the street?

    STUART VARNEY (HOST, FOX BUSINESS): I don't think America likes violence in the street. Political violence has no place in America. We don't like it, and I think it’ll work against the Democrats. I haven't seen a single leading Democrat say, hey, tone this down, stop this mob rule, stop this confrontation. I haven’t seen a single Democrat do that.

    ...

    Yeah, the emotion of the mob, and the nonsense of socialism combined. I think it’s an untenable position.

  • “Free speech” advocates suddenly furious that Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) invited a controversial criminal defense attorney to speak in 2003

    Pro-Trump media figures smear Sinema, a Senate candidate, as “an actual Islamic terrorist”

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    The Republican Party and pro-Trump media figures are smearing Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) as either a terrorist supporter or “an actual Islamic terrorist” over two 2003 events at Arizona State University she promoted that featured controversial criminal defense attorney Lynne Stewart. Stewart, who represented terror group leader Omar Abdel Rahman, known as “the blind sheikh,” was convicted two years after these events for conspiracy to provide material support of terrorism.

    Following publication of an October 10 FoxNews.com article headlined “Senate Dem hopeful Kyrsten Sinema promoted events featuring convicted terror lawyer,” the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) quickly issued a press release smearing Sinema for supposedly having “promoted terrorists.” (The FoxNews.com headline itself is misleading as the article notes that, at the time, Stewart had been charged but not yet convicted.) The NRSC press release inaccurately stated that Sinema was “sympathizing with convicted terrorists.” It also claimed that she “fervently defended the attorney who was convicted of providing material support to a terrorist organization, and promoted her on campus, saying she was ‘emphatically not guilty’ and blamed the ‘hastily enacted PATRIOT Act’ for her conviction.” The quotes are from 2003, before Stewart was convicted. Stewart died in 2017, but her conviction remains controversial in legal circles.

    NRSC communications staffer Calvin Moore leaped beyond this smear in a tweet claiming Sinema has “ties to the mastermind behind the first World Trade Center bombing,” which is patently absurd and false.

    Two far-right media personalities helped push the Republican smear about Sinema. Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft falsely declared in an October 11 blog post that “Democrat Kyrsten Sinema is a terrorist supporter.” Hoft pulled this description from Mike Cernovich, who at first tweeted that Sinema “worked with an actual Islamic terrorist,” then descended further into absurdity by eventually calling Sinema “an actual Islamic terrorist” and saying she’s “an actual terrorist supporter, a literal f-cking terrorist.”

    Hoft is no stranger to inviting people under indictment to speak. Former national security adviser Mike Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, recently spoke and received an award at an event sponsored by Hoft’s Gateway Pundit. His website also has a history of supporting controversial speakers who are invited to college campuses. For his part, Cernovich is accustomed to drawing opposition to his controversial campus appearances, and he has even accompanied a neo-Nazi to a campus rally. Yet they are nevertheless suggesting that by inviting people to a campus event to hear from a defense attorney, Sinema is either supporting terrorists or acting as one herself.

  • Abortion opponents celebrate Kavanaugh’s confirmation as their chance to end Roe v. Wade

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Following the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, anti-abortion advocates stopped downplaying the newest justice’s stance on abortion rights. Instead, once Kavanaugh had secured the necessary votes in the Senate, abortion opponents celebrated his confirmation as an opportunity to end Roe v. Wade once and for all.

    On October 6, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed 50-48 to be an associate justice on the Supreme Court despite multiple credible reports that Kavanaugh committed sexual assault when he was in high school and college. In order to generate support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation, some right-wing media and anti-abortion advocates argued that Kavanaugh would not pose a threat to Roe or abortion rights in general. This was belied by Kavanaugh’s record on abortion access and comments about Roe and contraception before and during his confirmation hearing.

    After his confirmation, abortion opponents dropped this pretense and celebrated Kavanaugh for what he always was: the culmination of years of work by conservative and anti-abortion activists to reverse Roe. Here are some examples:

    Anti-abortion advocates celebrated the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court

    • Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List and frequent White House guest, tweeted in celebration that “Beautiful change is afoot. The wheels are turning.” During the confirmation process, Dannenfelser tweeted in support of Kavanaugh following reports that he had previously committed sexual assault, saying that the anti-abortion movement was not going to “help destroy a man” as part of a “PR image” to appear “pro woman.”
    • Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said in a press release, “For the first time in decades, this nomination -- his nomination -- brought with it the reality of returning to a truly constitutionalist court. Many on the Left couldn’t stand such a thought. And for that, he and his family have paid a tremendous price. … Today was a major step in the journey to restore the Constitution to its rightful and intended role in our Republic.” The idea of “returning to a truly constitutional court” or being a “strict constitutionalist” is often used by anti-abortion advocates to indicate coded support for overturning Roe because they do not believe the Constitution supports the Supreme Court’s decision.
    • Students for Life of America tweeted, “What do you call someone attacked viciously by Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and every other anti-life group in the country? Justice.”
    • National Review’s Alexandra DeSanctis tweeted, “Just got a fundraising email from Planned Parenthood with the subject line ‘we’re heartbroken.’ I’m not usually a huge fan of spiking the football but...that feels pretty good.”
    • The Federalist’s Bre Payton tweeted, “the tears... they taste... delicious” in response to an actor expressing distress over Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
    • In response to a tweet from NARAL Pro-Choice America’s Ilyse Hogue that “it’s okay to feel anything right now” about Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Media Research Center’s Katie Yoder replied, “Even happiness?”

    Some abortion opponents celebrated Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a sign that Roe v. Wade could be weakened or even imminently overturned

    • After Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) tweeted a picture of a baby and said, “Soon, babies like this little angel will be protected in the womb by law.” King recently met with President Donald Trump to discuss his proposed federal heartbeat bill that would effectively ban abortion in the U.S.
    • White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said that by nominating Kavanaugh, Trump was fulfilling his promise to appoint justices who would overturn Roe, and that now “people are going to look at state law and circuit law” to determine the legality of abortion. Since former Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement in June, this talking point has been used frequently by abortion opponents to suggest that overturning Roe wouldn’t outlaw abortion, but would instead return power to regulate reproductive rights to the states. However, this argument ignores both the difficulties of accessing abortion -- particularly for low-income people -- in states that could ban or restrict abortion, as well as abortion rights’ precarious reliance on a handful of pro-choice governors and state legislatures.
    • Priests for Life’s Bryan Kemper celebrated Kavanaugh’s confirmation and outlined what he thought the process would now be for banning abortion nationwide:

    • Operation Rescue’s Troy Newman said in a press release about Kavanaugh’s confirmation that Roe was a "wrongly decided ruling that has cost over 60 million innocent lives. I understand that overturning that horrendous decision will take time, but I believe we are now at last on the final road to accomplishing our goal of ending abortion in America.”
    • Similarly, March for Life President Jeanne Mancini said, “The Supreme Court plays a critical role in pro-life policy and has for decades. We look forward to Justice Kavanaugh’s tenure on the bench and the impact his dedicated public service will have towards creating a country where every human life is valued and protected equally under the law.”
    • The state anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life tweeted, “Texas Right to Life is optimistic that Judge Kavanaugh will prove to be a principled justice who will consistently recognize the Right to Life of all human beings.”
    • On Fox News Channel’s Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Robert Jeffress said that he had “never seen Christians as stirred up about anything” as the Kavanaugh confirmation because “they knew that what really was at issue was the fear by the left that if Justice Kavanaugh got on the court, he might diminish in some way the number of babies being murdered every year through abortion -- that he would chip away at Roe v. Wade.”
    • Students for Life of America (SFLA) President Kristan Hawkins tweeted, “It’s done! Onward to reverse Roe and #abolishabortion!! This is the #prolifegen!”
    • On the day of the Senate confirmation vote, SFLA also posted a video titled “We Can Overturn Roe v. Wade.” The video argued that “the end of Roe v. Wade is in our sights now that Judge Brett Kavanaugh has been confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States” and also outlined how Kavanaugh could be the fifth vote to overturn Roe. In the video, Hawkins also emphasized that allowing states to regulate abortion would be advantageous to the anti-abortion movement because SFLA has chapters in every state that would work to outlaw abortion entirely. Here are some screenshots from the video:

    Other abortion opponents used Kavanaugh’s confirmation to mock or attack those opposed to Kavanaugh

    • Eric Barber, a councilman in West Virginia, posted and then deleted a comment in a private Facebook group saying, “Better get you’re (sic) coathangers ready liberals” in response to the news that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) was voting for Kavanaugh.
    • American Life League tweeted:

    • One America News’ Liz Wheeler, who has promoted conspiracy theories about Planned Parenthood, tweeted:

    • CRTV’s Allie Beth Stuckey -- best known for her fake interview with politician Alexandria Ocasio Cortez -- celebrated Kavanaugh’s confirmation and lambasted Democrats for their “debased, depraved tactics” and accused protesters of being “unhinged.”
    • Human Coalition’s Lauren Enriquez tweeted that she was “grateful to those men” in the Senate who voted to confirm Kavanaugh “for not letting tantrums interrupt the democratic process.”
    • In response to a video of an anti-Kavanaugh protester, Human Defense Initiative’s Devin Sena tweeted, “Purely demonic. Satan isn't happy that one day soon God's children will be allowed to be born.” As the Senate appeared likely to confirm Kavanaugh, Sena tweeted in celebration, “Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton are without question the most egregiously unconstitutional decisions of all time. It's past time they are overturned! #ConfirmKavanaugh.”
    • Operation Rescue’s Cheryl Sullenger -- who was sentenced to prison for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic in 1987, and has recently promoted Qanon conspiracy theories -- tweeted in response to a video of anti-Kavanaugh protesters:

  • Conservative media run with flawed FBI investigation and GOP's spin to vindicate Kavanaugh

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT & TIMOTHY JOHNSON


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Conservative media are hyping claims from the White House and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) that the results of an FBI investigation into Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh do not corroborate multiple women’s accounts that he sexually assaulted them while at the same time attacking anyone who pointed out flaws in the investigation. The FBI investigation was extremely limited in scope and time; did not include interviews of Kavanaugh, Christine Blasey Ford, or approximately 40 others who say they tried to talk to the FBI but couldn’t get through; and did not look into the likelihood that Kavanaugh lied in his Senate testimony. Ford, whose report that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school is central to determining Kavanaugh’s fitness for the Supreme Court, offered to speak with the FBI, but was rebuffed.

    Trump and Senate Republicans purposely limited the scope of the FBI investigation

    The FBI was initially authorized by the Trump administration and Senate Republicans to interview just four people. From The New York Times:

    Mr. Trump ordered the one-week F.B.I. investigation on Friday after Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona and a key swing vote, insisted the allegations be examined before he committed to voting to confirm Judge Kavanaugh. But the White House and Senate Republicans gave the F.B.I. a list of only four people to question: Ms. Ramirez and Mark Judge, P.J. Smyth and Leland Keyser, three people Dr. Blasey identified as being at the house where she said Judge Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers. [The New York Times, 10/1/18]

    Trump later reportedly authorized the FBI to interview more witnesses, but still kept it limited by an arbitrary deadline. From The New York Times:

    The White House authorized the F.B.I. to expand its abbreviated investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh by interviewing anyone it deems necessary as long as the review is finished by the end of the week, according to two people briefed on the matter.

    At an event on Monday celebrating a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico, President Trump said he instructed his White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, over the weekend to instruct the F.B.I. to carry out an open investigation, but the president included the caveat that the inquiry should accommodate the desires of Senate Republicans.

    The new directive came after a backlash from Democrats, who criticized the White House for limiting the scope of the bureau’s investigation into Judge Kavanaugh, Mr. Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court. The F.B.I. has already interviewed the four witnesses it was originally asked to question, and on Monday it reached out to others. [The New York Times, 10/1/18]

    In the end, only 10 witnesses were reportedly interviewed. [Twitter, 10/4/18]

    The investigation finished within only a few days. CNN reported that the White House sent the information gleaned from the investigation to the Senate on the morning of October 4, just days after the investigation was set into motion on September 28. [CNN, 10/4/18]

    The FBI reportedly did not investigate whether Kavanaugh lied to the Senate. New York magazine’s The Cut noted that, according to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the FBI did not investigate whether Kavanaugh perjured himself by lying about his high school and college behavior:

    What’s not being investigated is Kavanaugh’s behavior in high school and college, which his classmates say was defined by partying and drinking to excess, at which point the SCOTUS nominee would allegedly become “aggressive” —accounts that drastically differ from those Kavanaugh offered while under oath. Some senators, including Bernie Sanders, have raised concern over the FBI’s apparent disregard for the likelihood that Kavanaugh may have perjured himself.

    “The FBI investigation of Brett Kavanaugh must include a review of his numerous untruthful statements in his previous testimony before Congress,” Sanders tweeted. “Lying to Congress is a federal crime.” He then outlined the numerous examples in which Kavanaugh appears to have lied under oath. [The Cut, 10/3/18]

    Neither Kavanaugh nor Ford were interviewed by the FBI. Kavanaugh repeatedly lied under oath about his behavior in high school and college, but he didn’t have to defend his statements during an FBI interview. Ford sought to speak with the FBI, but was turned down. From Vox:

    Notably, Ford and Kavanaugh are both not yet on the list of people that the FBI has interviewed. A spokesperson for Ford’s attorneys said she had still not been contacted by the FBI as of early Wednesday afternoon.

    “We have received no response from anyone involved in this investigation, and no response to our offer for Dr. Ford to be interviewed,” Ford’s attorneys emphasized in a Tuesday letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray. “This afternoon, we learned of media reports that the FBI does not intend to interview either Dr. Ford or Judge Kavanaugh. We hope that this reporting is inaccurate.”

    There could be a crucial reason for their omission from the investigation. Sources have told Bloomberg that the FBI has not done interviews with Ford or Kavanaugh because the White House hasn’t granted it the authority to conduct them. [Vox, 10/3/18]

    NBC News: “More than 40 people with potential information into the sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh have not been contacted by the FBI.” [NBC News, 10/4/18]

    Legal and criminal experts explain that conditions Trump placed upon the FBI investigation make it a sham

    Chris Kang, former Obama administration deputy counsel: “President Trump and Senate Republicans are turning this much-needed FBI investigation into a sham. … The entire investigation must be made public, so the American people can know which witnesses were interviewed and whether the FBI was able to follow a full range of questioning, including regarding Kavanaugh's candor and credibility.” [The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, 10/3/18]

    Mike Zubrensky, former deputy assistant attorney general at DOJ Office of Legal Counsel: “The investigation of Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual misconduct is far too serious for a rigged process. … Senator Flake and his Senate colleagues must insist that McConnell respect the confirmation process. And they should demand that the FBI take the time it needs to conduct a thorough and meaningful investigation.” [The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, 10/3/18]

    Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence: “Existing background investigation protocols between the White House and the FBI regarding presidential appointees are flawed and need to be reexamined. ... When the White House can prevent the nation’s premier investigative agency from fully determining the suitability of a Supreme Court nominee we have a problem.” [The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, 10/3/18]

    Kristine Lucius, former top legal and policy advisor to Sen. Patrick Leahy: “During my over 14 years on the committee, I can’t remember any supplemental investigation in which the FBI did not interview the person who brought forth the allegations, and the nominee himself. … That has been – and must remain – a minimum base line for credibility. No senator should even consider agreeing to proceed with this nomination unless and until the FBI investigation is determined to be thorough and unfettered.” [The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, 10/3/18]

    Former FBI officials said past background checks were not limited by politics. From The New York Times:

    Several former F.B.I. officials said that they could think of no previous instance when the White House restricted the bureau’s ability to interview potential witnesses during a background check. Chuck Rosenberg, a former F.B.I. chief of staff, said background investigations were frequently reopened, but the bureau decided how to pursue new allegations.

    “The White House normally tells the F.B.I. what issue to examine, but would not tell the F.B.I. how to examine it, or with whom they should speak,” he said. “It’s highly unusual — in fact, as far I know, uniquely so — for the F.B.I. to be directed to speak only to a limited number of designated people.” [The New York Times, 10/1/18]

    Leah Litman, UC Irvine assistant law professor: Restricted FBI investigation makes it “a joke.” From The New Yorker:

    Leah Litman, an assistant professor of law at the University of California, Irvine, said the severe restrictions on the scope of the investigation made it “a joke.” She asked, “What kind of an investigation into an assault that happened under the influence of alcohol doesn’t include investigating the accused’s use of alcohol?” She said, “Usually, the F.B.I. investigators aren’t told who to call and who not to.” She said that Rasor should be interviewed, given her past relationship with Judge. “If Mark Judge is on the ‘approved’ list of witnesses, and they are interviewing him, there is no reason not to interview Rasor, who has testimony that is very relevant to his credibility, and the testimony that he would offer,” she said. [The New Yorker, 9/30/18]

    John Mindermann, former FBI special agent: The restrictions on the probe means it’s not a “real, authentic FBI investigation.” From an October 4 MSNBC interview:

    JOHN MINDERMANN (FORMER FBI SUPERVISORY SPECIAL AGENT): What will be laid out within the limits of the scope and the time that the FBI had to do the investigation will be a portrait of the individual who is being investigated. That's in any background check. The key to a background check is comprehensive running out of all available leads. Apparently in this case, those leads, which were available, were not run out by the FBI because of the limits of time and scope. That is very, very problematic because that limits the overall portrait. It's like taking the brush out of the hand of the painter midway through the portrait session. What will be in there will be, corroborating or not, statements, data, information, times, dates, et cetera, that may or may not corroborate specific allegations that were brought forward.

    HALLIE JACKSON (HOST): We know that the FBI has spoken with nine people that have been interviewed. And we know the names of six of them. We don't know who the other three people are. We know that they originally contacted 10 people. It's not clear to us just yet, based on our sources, why that 10th person was not actually interviewed. You can see who we know and who we don't know there. Dr. Ford's attorney says because she's not on this list -- right, you don't see Christine Blasey Ford on that screen right there -- so her lawyer says this can't be called an investigation. The FBI was not actually seeking the truth. So John, do you agree? Is this a comprehensive investigation or not?

    MINDERMANN: I actually agree that really this does not fall under the definition of a real, authentic FBI investigation. It really is an investigation which is just limited in terms of targeting specific individuals, and for reasons unknown, eliminating a vast majority of people who could have provided corroborating evidence, corroborating information, positive, negative, neutral, whatever. But in an FBI investigation -- and I've done these and I've supervised these -- in these investigations, you encourage your agents to go out, cover all bases, run out all leads, develop that comprehensive look so that whoever is looking at this is well versed and can make that judgment call. This is a judgment call. There's a lot of subjectivity if you don't have factual information. [MSNBC, MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson, 10/4/18]

    Conservative media figures carry water for the sham investigation -- and treat its spin by GOP officials -- as vindication for Kavanaugh

    Fox News’ Sean Hannity:

    Conservative pundit Erick Erickson:

    Erickson:

    Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk:

    Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume:

    Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro: The FBI didn't need to talk to Ford because "there is nothing else to ask her. There is nothing else that they need to do”:

    Fox & Friends applauded the investigation by claiming "the very narrow scope" avoided "tangents":

    CRTV’s Allie Stuckey: