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

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


    Dayanita Ramesh / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Watch this bizarre segment for yourself here:

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Fox regular: Democrats are making “ridiculous requests” for records from Supreme Court nominee’s White House work

    Similar records were released for Justices Roberts and Kagan

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox News regular and former Republican New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu appeared on America’s Newsroom to complain that Democrats were making “ridiculous requests,” “looking for something to play smear politics,” and “pushing to the extreme” by requesting past records from Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s previous work, even though Democrats are following the same vetting process used to scrutinize previous Supreme Court nominees.

    Sununu took issue with the fact that Democrats requested documents from Kavanaugh’s time as staff secretary under President George W. Bush, arguing that the volume of documents would take too long to review and that “a great extent of those probably have executive privilege,” so they are not eligible for review. But as Politico noted, “several recent Supreme Court nominees, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Elena Kagan, also had White House stints that led to review and release of large volumes of records prior to their hearings.”

    From the July 30 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom:

    SANDRA SMITH (CO-HOST): What does the path look like to get there?

    JOHN SUNUNU (FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW HAMPSHIRE): Well, the Democrats are trying to make it difficult. They're making ridiculous requests. [Sen. Chuck] Schumer [(D-NY)] is in a bind because he has to cater to the extreme left base, the base that’s even moving further and further to the left all the time. But the problem for Schumer is that the more he does that, the more he makes it easier for folks like [Sen. Joe] Manchin [(D-WV)] and [Sen.] Heidi Heitkamp [(D-ND)] and [Sen.] Joe Donnelly (D-IN)] to break away from the extreme and support Kavanaugh as the nominee. So Schumer’s in a bind. He is burdened, I think, with the reality that the Democrats have made this process extremely political since the [Robert] Bork effort, and now they are beginning to make it so clear to the public that all they want to do is create a political issue and a political problem and not function the way the Constitution was written to function.

    SMITH: Where is the fight for those documents going to go from Judge Brett Kavanaugh's previous work under George Bush?

    SUNUNU: Well I think what they want to do is get their hands on the documents and then distribute them to all the special interest groups that are out there to go through them because there is no way the Senate with its staff would go through a million documents in such a short period of time. The second point is those documents, a great extent of those probably have executive privilege from having been White House documents that Kavanaugh did not create but only passed through to the president. So the Democrats are on very thin ice here, and they’re making their case weaker and weaker by pushing to the extreme.

  • Indiana’s WTHR expertly called out anti-abortion harassment after an extremist group’s protest

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In the midst of a week of protests organized by anti-abortion extremist group Operation Save America (OSA), Indianapolis NBC affiliate WTHR produced a stellar segment calling out OSA’s extreme tactics while also highlighting the history of anti-abortion violence and harassment more broadly.

    OSA has made a habit of organizing protests across the country, targeting abortion providers, patients, and clinics. In 2017, the group organized events in Kentucky and Indiana. Beyond protesting outside of clinics in the states they visit, OSA members have also spent years targeting individual abortion providers at home -- circulating flyers around providers’ neighborhoods with identifying information and inflammatory language. During OSA’s 2017 Indiana event, group members not only shared these flyers but also attempted to protest outside the home of a Planned Parenthood employee -- embarrassingly ending up at the wrong location. Despite the frequency with which OSA deploys such tactics, as well as the extremism of its actions, local media have previously downplayed the severity of these protests.

    But during WTHR’s July 25 segment, reporter David MacAnally and his colleagues Andrea Morehead and John Stehr highlighted the extreme rhetoric OSA used and fact-checked a claim from a spokesperson that these tactics posed no threat to providers. They also provided greater context about the severity of anti-abortion violence. This is not the first or likely the last time that OSA will target Indiana abortion providers -- here are lessons that other media should take from WTHR on how to cover the extremist group and its actions:

    Don’t allow OSA or other anti-abortion extremists to downplay the severity of their actions

    Although OSA claims to be nonviolent -- a sentiment a spokesperson echoed in the WTHR report -- the organization has a long history of engaging in harassment, using violent rhetoric, and even associating with violent anti-abortion extremists. MacAnally’s report focused on but one example of OSA’s tactics: its circulation of threatening flyers in Indiana with the names and home addresses of Planned Parenthood doctors -- a tactic the group has employed many times.

    During his July 25 report, MacAnally highlighted the extreme rhetoric deployed by OSA and fact-checked a claim by a local OSA spokesperson that the tactic posed no threat to providers. With the identifying information obscured, MacAnally noted that OSA’s flyer included claims that the providers “murdered children” and encouraged recipients to join OSA in prayer that the providers “repent to killing preborn children.”

    At one point, MacAnally spoke with Aletheia Church pastor and OSA local partner Derin Stidd, who dismissed fears of violence against providers, stating that he wasn’t “particularly concerned” because the tactic was “done often.” Rather than letting Stidd’s characterization remain unchecked, MaAnally debunked the claim, explaining, “Nationally, though, shooters have tracked abortion doctors to their homes and offices and murdered them.”

    Make clear the severity and frequency of anti-abortion violence and harassment

    After MacAnally contextualized OSA’s attempts to downplay anti-abortion harassment, WTHR anchors Morehead and Stehr provided additional reporting on the long history of violence by anti-abortion activists against abortion providers -- making the stakes of OSA’s actions crystal clear. As Morehead explained, “Adding to the concern over this mailer is the history of violence against doctors, or even clinics, that provide abortion services.” She noted that in 1998, a “sniper killed [abortion provider] Dr. Barnett Slepian in his home,” that an anti-abortion extremist killed Dr. George Tiller in 2009, and that Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood was attacked in 2015, leaving “three people … dead.”

    MacAnally’s and Morehead’s accounts of anti-abortion violence and harassment provide a much-needed rebuttal to common excuses offered by anti-abortion extremists when questioned about their methods. In reality, anti-abortion violence and harassment pose an increasing threat to providers, patients, and clinics, and -- as recent data from the National Abortion Federation (NAF) demonstrates -- this trend shows little sign of abating. Already in 2018, there have been numerous reports of violence or threats against clinics, with incidents reported in Illinois, New Jersey, Utah, Texas, Pennsylvania, California, Washington, Massachusetts, and more.

    While MacAnally did note that OSA participants “signed a nonviolence agreement,” other comments made by the group illustrate its definition of “nonviolence” is likely very narrow. For example, as James Farrar, another pastor at the Aletheia Church, told The Indianapolis Star, the flyers were “intended to let the neighborhood know that someone in their neighborhood makes their living by killing children” in the hopes they “would generate pressure from neighbors like an awareness campaign, so people realize that these people are living right around you.” Although this action in itself is not violent, it's more than clear that OSA’s goal is to harass, demonize, and alienate abortion providers -- regardless of the consequences.

    On August 11 and 12, OSA will be joining like-minded anti-abortion extremists in Spokane, WA, to “liberate America from the blood guiltiness that is savaging our nation.” Media in Spokane, and any future cities where OSA holds protests, would be well-served by following in WHTR’s footsteps when covering the group’s tactics.