Sexual Harassment & Sexual Assault | Media Matters for America

Sexual Harassment & Sexual Assault

Issues ››› Sexual Harassment & Sexual Assault
  • Disgraced former Fox News hosts Bill O’Reilly and Eric Bolling reunite on Bolling’s Sinclair program

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Disgraced former Fox News host and serial sexual harasser Bill O’Reilly appeared on the latest episode of Eric Bolling’s show for Sinclair Broadcast Group. The two men have a lot in common: Both Bolling and O’Reilly previously worked at Fox News, and both left their previous hosting gigs after reports that they had sexually harassed multiple colleagues.

    O’Reilly was one of several guests on the May 22 edition of Bolling’s America This Week program, a relatively new weekly political show that streams on Sinclair station websites and occasionally broadcasts on air. In the roughly eight-minute interview, Bolling and O’Reilly discussed disagreements among Democratic presidential candidates about appearing on Fox News, Bolling's and O'Reilly's opinions about The New York Times, and journalists’ use of anonymous sources. The casual interview began and ended with a series of inside jokes about the conservative media world and teasing banter between the host and his “good friend.”

    The episode also featured Sinclair employees (and ex-Fox News employees) Sebastian Gorka and James Rosen, as well as Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and conservative grifter James O’Keefe, among others.

    O’Reilly was fired from Fox News in April 2017 following reports that he and 21st Century Fox had settled multiple sexual harassment lawsuits. Later reporting from The New York Times revealed that Fox and O’Reilly actually paid out a total of about $45 million in six publicly known settlements with women who reported he sexually harassed or verbally abused them -- including one previously unknown $32 million sexual harassment settlement reached shortly before Fox renewed his contract in early 2017. (During the interview, Bolling acknowledged that O’Reilly had a “bone of contention with [the Times] for a very long time,” likely a reference to the paper reporting several major scoops about these settlements.)

    O’Reilly has since been largely relegated to streaming and posting his takes on his eponymous website, though he is now writing a book about President Donald Trump and he interviewed the president on Air Force One earlier this year.

    Bolling left Fox News in 2017 as well, following reports he had sent multiple workers unsolicited pictures of genitalia. Bolling now hosts a regular program on the conservative streaming platform BlazeTV as well as his Sinclair show. He, too, has remained part of Trump’s orbit, working with first lady Melania Trump on opioid misuse issues and interviewing the president for a previous episode of his Sinclair show.

    O’Reilly and Bolling both embodied the worst of Fox News during their tenures at the network, frequently spewing race-baiting, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and misogynistic rhetoric.

  • Tucker Carlson's descent into white supremacy: A timeline

    ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ

    Since the early days of his tenure as a Fox prime-time host, Tucker Carlson’s unabashed championing of white grievances earned him the accolades of neo-Nazis, who praised him as a “one man gas chamber” and complimented the way he “lampshad[ed] Jews on national television.” While Carlson claims to have nothing in common with neo-Nazis and white supremacists, he constantly echoes their talking points on his show and was very reluctant to condemn white supremacists following their deadly 2017 demonstration in Charlottesville, VA. In fact, Carlson’s racist roots can be traced back more than a decade.

    Here’s a timeline of the public devolution of Tucker Carlson’s thinly veiled racism into full-throated white supremacy (this list will be continually updated):

  • Eric Bolling's new show for Sinclair Broadcast Group brings the worst of right-wing media to local news

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL



    Sinclair Broadcast Group’s newest program signals the conservative media giant’s shift toward more openly embracing right-wing propaganda and hiring Fox News castoffs.

    On April 2, Mediaite reported that Sinclair was set to debut America This Week, a new weekly program hosted by Eric Bolling. The first episode would include appearances by several members of the Trump inner circle: former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, and 2020 campaign adviser and the president’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump. Bolling is a newly official Sinclair personality who has been making appearances on its national programming for months, and he also hosts a streaming show with right-wing outlet BlazeTV. He was previously a host and co-host at Fox News -- where he regularly trafficked in conspiracy theories, misogyny, and race-baiting -- but he left in 2017 amid reports that he sent multiple colleagues unsolicited images of genitalia.

    The first two episodes of Eric Bolling’s America This Week program are straight out of Fox News

    In a sign of Sinclair’s increasing willingness to adopt the Fox News model of poisoning viewers against any other news sources, much of the first hour-long program was devoted to decrying so-called media bias against President Donald Trump:

    • The program began with a brief introductory monologue from Bolling in which he told viewers, “This show is all about holding the mainstream media and the powerful accountable.” Bolling then decried “today’s media, where truth and facts give way to biased opinions and a dangerous disregard for fact.”
    • Bolling then led a discussion with former Trump adviser and Sinclair contributor Sebastian Gorka and Democratic strategist and frequent Fox News guest Jonathan Harris, and another with former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Both Gorka and Lewandowski addressed supposed mainstream media bias against the president.
    • Later in the episode, Bolling featured a report about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from James Rosen, another former Fox News employee.
    • He also played a pre-taped interview with presidential daughter-in-law and current Trump campaign adviser Lara Trump, which touched on the idea of media bias against the president.
    • The show also aired an interview at the “Breitbart Embassy” with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon discussing, again, media bias against Trump, the concept of a “deep state,” and Bannon’s thoughts about various public figures including former FBI Director James Comey, progressive philanthropist George Soros, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), the pope, Trump, and himself.

    The second episode had similarly Fox-y elements:

    • Bolling’s monologue was focused on a “crisis at the border.”
    • It was followed by a discussion with Gorka, again, along with Democratic strategist Joel Payne, about immigration and special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
    • Bolling then introduced his interview with Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) about “the Russian collusion illusion.” Nunes spent the last portion of the interview discussing the false talking point that conservatives are being “shadow banned” or otherwise discriminated against by social media platforms and his lawsuit against Twitter.
    • Bolling conducted a long interview with former President Barack Obama adviser Austan Goolsbee (also a frequent Fox News guest), in part to discuss whether a good economy ought to be credited to Obama or Trump.
    • There was another report from Rosen, this time focused on Attorney General Bill Barr’s misleading statements before Congress about “spying” on the Trump presidential campaign in 2016.
    • And there was a discussion about Hitler apologist and far-right personality Candace Owens and “nationalism” between Sinclair chief political commentator Boris Epshteyn and Sinclair commentator Ameshia Cross.

    The episodes attempt to show some balance by including short segments from Sinclair local reporters in different states, and bringing in reporters at national outlets for a segment called “Balls and Strikes” in which Bolling goes over stories of the week (so far, Politico’s Gabby Orr, Time’s Brian Bennett, and The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay have appeared).

    Next week, Bolling said, will feature an interview with the president.

    America This Week premiered mostly online

    The first two full episodes of America This Week were posted on local Sinclair station websites on April 3 and April 10. While initial reporting suggested the show would air on Sinclair news stations across the country weekly, thus far it appears to have been distributed primarily online, with short excerpts aired on TV.

    According to the iQ media database, on April 3 and 4, local stations typically aired one (or both) of two short clips from Bolling’s interview with Bannon and then told audiences to head to the station website to see the entire program. The teasers and interview snippets aired on at least 61 Sinclair stations in 29 states and the District of Columbia. A handful of stations told viewers the full program would be broadcast on Sunday nights at a certain time, but iQ media video showed those stations airing different national programming such as Entertainment Tonight or wrestling matches at those times instead.

    The America This Week snippets that some local news viewers saw on air last week were these two clips:

    Steve Bannon railing against media bias at The New York Times and CNN (as seen here on KEYE in Austin, TX):

    Or Steve Bannon discussing a “deep state” and doing word association about himself (as seen here on KTVL in Medford, OR):

    The following week, the second episode of the program again was featured on Sinclair station websites and promoted on the air with clips from Bolling’s interview with Nunes. As seen on KBAK in Bakersfield, CA:

    The first episode of Bolling's show does not appear to have aired in full on any local news stations -- at least not on any the larger news affiliates that are included in the iQ media database. It is possible the show aired on smaller stations, like CW or MyNetwork affiliates, or on digital-only subchannels, both of which cater to smaller audiences. On April 10, Bolling promoted the show on Twitter, telling users to “check your local listings.” The replies are largely from accounts saying that they couldn’t find the program. The local Washington, D.C., Sinclair station, WJLA, aired Wheel of Fortune during the 7 p.m. hour that night.

    Eric Bolling represents the essence of Fox News

    For months before the premiere of America This Week, Bolling had been hosting ongoing town hall programming for Sinclair focused on opioids, including one in which he interviewed first lady Melania Trump. He was also beginning to make appearances on other Sinclair national programming as a “political anchor,” and he interviewed both President Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on behalf of Sinclair in recent months.

    At Fox, Bolling regularly trafficked in the casual misogyny, race-baiting, anti-Muslim rhetoric, and right-wing conspiracy theories that continue to define the network. In his time at Fox:

    • Bolling was a major voice pushing the racist birther conspiracy theory about Obama. He even examined Obama’s birth certificate on the air, speculating that the certificate’s border showed it may have been photoshopped.
    • He also speculated about the death of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, saying, “There wasn’t a robbery. … This was a hit.”
    • Bolling had to apologize for asking if the first female pilot for the United Arab Emirates, who participated in bombing against Islamic State terrorists, “would … be considered boobs on the ground.”
    • He whined that allowing young girls to play football was part of “the wussification of American men” and criticized a story of a 9-year-old girl playing football, saying, “Let the boys be boys, let the girls be girls.”
    • Bolling told Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) that she should “step away from the crack pipe.”
    • He lectured “rappers,” saying that they should be happy because white people are “financing their lifestyles” by buying their music.
    • Bolling criticized Obama's leadership by claiming the first Black president was "chugging a few 40s" instead of doing his job.
    • When Gabonese President Ali Bongo visited the White House during the Obama administration, Bolling characterized it as "a hoodlum in the hizzouse."
    • He has also argued that “there’s no racial aspect of [police] profiling” and said that racism doesn’t exist anymore.
    • Bolling argued that “every terrorist on American soil has been a Muslim.”
    • Bolling also opposed the proposal to build a Muslim community center near ground zero in New York City, suggesting it could be “a meeting place for some of the scariest minds,” even “some of the biggest terrorist minds.”

    Bolling joins other former Fox News personalities who’ve moved to Sinclair

    Bolling is one of three former Fox News employees to have landed at Sinclair after leaving the network, all of whom appeared in both episodes so far of America This Week.

    Former Fox contributor Sebastian Gorka, an anti-Muslim extremist and Washington, D.C., swamp creature, recently officially became a Sinclair contributor as well. Like Bolling, Gorka had appeared multiple times in Sinclair national news programming beforehand, and he also hosted at least two special programs that aired on Sinclair local news stations. One of these specials, called The Rise of Terrorism: A Clash of Cultures, featured footage labeled as "ISIS propaganda" and shots of terror attacks followed by Gorka asking viewers, "Can the teachings of Islam and western values ever be reconciled? Is it possible for the waves of refugees arriving in the west to assimilate and coexist peacefully?"

    Sinclair investigative reporter James Rosen also joined Sinclair this year; he previously worked as Fox News’ chief Washington correspondent before leaving the network in early 2018 amid reports that he sexually harassed colleagues.

    Sinclair’s future

    Sinclair’s recent decisions to formally hire multiple ex-Fox News figures and to give one of them a weekly online program signal the media giant’s shift to more openly embracing its reputation as a right-wing outlet. For years, Sinclair flew under the radar and was quietly injecting conservative spin into local news programming -- but now that it’s become more of a household name, it seems to be pivoting even further right.

    Before the broadcasting giant began airing Trumpian “must-run” segments warning of media bias last spring, Sinclair stations were already running multiple commentary segments featuring what were clearly right-wing perspectives, producing fearmongering “Terrorism Alert Desk” segments, and broadcasting weekly shows from conservative conspiracy theorist Sharyl Attkisson and right-wing grifter Armstrong Williams. In recent months, Sinclair finally brought a liberal commentator on board to produce “must-runs” from a different point of view, but the company simultaneously invested in Rosen, Gorka, and Bolling.

  • In unearthed audio, Tucker Carlson makes numerous misogynistic and perverted comments

    During interviews on Bubba The Love Sponge, Carlson said he "love[s]" the idea of young girls sexually experimenting, used sexist terms to refer to a number of women, and defended statutory rape 

    ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ

    Between 2006 and 2011, Tucker Carlson spent approximately an hour a week calling in to Bubba the Love Sponge, a popular shock jock radio program where he spoke with the hosts about a variety of cultural and political topics in sometimes-vulgar terms. During those conversations, Carlson diminished the actions of Warren Jeffs, then on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” list for his involvement in arranging illegal marriages between adults and underage girls, talked about sex and young girls, and defended statutory rape.

    Carlson, who was hired by Fox News in 2009, also used sexist language to talk about women, including then-co-workers at NBC and public figures. He referred to Martha Stewart’s daughter Alexis Stewart as “cunty,” called journalist Arianna Huffington a “pig,” and labeled Britney Spears and Paris Hilton “the biggest white whores in America.” He also said that women enjoy being told to “be quiet and kind of do what you’re told” and that they are “extremely primitive.”

  • Media outlets host Alan Dershowitz without asking him about Jeffrey Epstein

    During news appearances, Dershowitz didn’t comment on his role in a settlement prosecutors gave to the billionaire pedophile, which a judge ruled was illegally hidden from victims

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On February 21, the Miami Herald reported that a federal judge has ruled that prosecutors, including current Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, “broke the law” over a decade ago “when they concealed a plea agreement from more than 30 underage victims who had been sexually abused by wealthy New York hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein.” Frequent news show guest Alan Dershowitz was part of Epstein’s defense team that accepted the deal from prosecutors, but three major news shows that have hosted him since the story broke failed to ask him about the case.

    Instead, the hosts gave him a platform to discuss Empire actor Jussie Smollett’s case or special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. (Dershowitz did, however, address the ruling on Twitter.) 

    The same day the Herald reported on the ruling, Fox News host Laura Ingraham invited Dershowitz to appear on her show The Ingraham Angle to discuss Smollett, who is charged with filing a false police report. While giving his legal opinion about the case, Dershowitz referenced biblical laws, saying, “If you are going to follow the Bible, this guy ought to get the same penalty that he falsely accused other people of getting.”

    The following day, Fox host Sean Hannity also hosted Dershowitz on his prime-time show Hannity to discuss the Smollett case. Dershowitz again brought up biblical laws and said the “hard left” wasn’t “prepared to give a presumption of innocence to the nonexistent MAGA hat-wearing assailants” in the Smollett case because “the presumption of innocence, like so many other aspects of our life, is selectively employed by the left against the right and sometimes by the right against the left.”

    On February 24, host George Stephanopoulos invited Dershowitz on his ABC show This Week to talk about the Mueller probe. During the discussion, Dershowitz speculated that Mueller’s report “may just be a road map given to Congress and given to other prosecutors that will continue these investigations till the end of President Trump’s first term.”  

  • Bill O'Reilly is writing a "history book" about Donald Trump -- and Trump gave him exclusive access to help

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Former Fox News host and serial sexual harasser Bill O’Reilly is writing a “history book” about President Donald Trump, and he spent part of his weekend in the West Wing and on Air Force One with exclusive access to the president.

    O’Reilly left Fox News in 2017 after a cascade of reports and legal settlements alleging he had been serially sexually harassing co-workers and guests for more than a decade.

    On February 4, O’Reilly tweeted a photo posing next to Air Force One, cryptically captioned with just an American flag emoji. Later that night, he tweeted that he had “an upcoming book on President Trump.”

    On his subscription-based online platform, O’Reilly told viewers he is writing a new book about Trump (not part of his Killing historical book series) and that he had off-the-record conversations with administration officials in the West Wing before boarding Air Force One over the weekend. On Air Force One, O’Reilly claims he had exclusive access to Trump and asked “some pretty intense questions” that the president compared to torture:

    BILL O’REILLY: OK, let me tell you about the book. So Friday, I go to Washington and it's always a privilege to go to the White House. I'm in the West Wing talking to a bunch people. I'll never tell you what I say because that's off the record, but I know a lot of people in the Trump administration for a long time, and I learned a lot, which is why I can report accurately to you every day.

    So then I go to Andrews Air Force Base, this humongous Air Force One. I had never been on it. It’s the biggest machine I've ever seen. There I am. It's a little chilly but, you know, I can take that. And so I go on a plane and I interview Donald Trump, the president of the United States, on the plane. There I am.

    So the interview is for a book that I am writing on Mr. Trump. It is a history book. I want everybody to know that, not part of the Killing series. It's a history book on Donald Trump. Why he believes what he believes -- fascinating to me. I've known the guy 30, 35 years. Tough to get him to talk about his childhood, his parents, his brothers and sisters. That's what the book's about, and it's about what I've seen, personally, over those 30 years with him.

    Now I'm not his buddy. In fact, he got mad at me during the interview. He goes, “You're torturing me.” I was -- I wasn't torturing. But I was asking some pretty intense questions. I didn’t think it was torture -- I go right up to the torture line. He thought I was doing a CIA number on him. But I got what I had to get to write the book.

    Now I'm not sure when the book's going to be out. I’ve already written the first chapter of the book, but I'm not sure. But we'll keep you posted on that. But I've got to tell you, it was it was such an honor for me to fly on Air Force One, to see all this up close -- how our country is run. And it was really, it's really interesting. And I'll make one pledge: I will tell you the absolute truth in this book. This is a history book. It's not pro-Trump, it's not anti-Trump. It's history.

    In April 2017, The New York Times first broke the news of O’Reilly’s sexual harassment settlements, spurring public pressure until he was fired from Fox News weeks later. Later reporting revealed that Fox and O’Reilly actually paid out a total of about $45 million in six publicly known settlements with women reporting he sexually harassed or verbally abused them -- including one previously unknown $32 million sexual harassment settlement reached shortly before Fox renewed his contract in early 2017.

    Shortly after O’Reilly’s firing, Fox News Co-president Bill Shine also left the network after being repeatedly implicated in Fox News’ toxic culture of sexual harassment and misconduct. Shine was known as former Fox chief Roger Ailes’ right-hand man, and he reportedly retaliated against and attempted to silence those who came forward to report harassment by Ailes. Shine also led Fox as it paid out millions of dollars in settlements to O’Reilly’s numerous accusers.

    Shine now works in the Trump White House overseeing communications strategy, which might include, for example, arranging a meeting between one sexual predator occupying arguably the most powerful office in the world and another who is perhaps hoping to reestablish his own career with an exclusive interview on Air Force One.

  • The social science explaining why Fox News wants you to believe masculinity is under threat

    It’s not just good TV -- it’s also good politics.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Gillette was probably hoping for a little bit of buzz when it released its Super Bowl ad a few weeks early. What it got was wall-to-wall coverage -- at least on Fox News.

    Titled “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be,” Gillette’s video begins with a play on its long-time slogan, asking, “Is this the best a man can get? Is it?” The video then cuts to scenes touching on bullying, the #MeToo movement, and behavior that people often justify by saying “Boys will be boys.” It’s provocative, and deliberately so. The core message is that men should be their best selves and set a good example for future generations because, as the ad concludes, “the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.”

    Fox News, as expected, didn’t take kindly to it, and the network put its outrage machine to work in response.

    During the January 15 edition of The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld said the ad “bashed men, men who fought wars, who built bridges -- they just bashed them.” Fox host Brian Kilmeade appeared on Fox Business’ Varney & Co. to say that, sure, there may be times boys will “show an aggression,” but “that’s just the way men are made up to be.” Even so, he continued, he doesn’t need a razor company telling him how to live his life.

    On that morning’s episode of Fox & Friends, guest Darrin Porcher said the ad represented “an atrocity,” adding, “We should be seen as equal to women, not as beneath.” Overall, the show devoted 12 minutes of discussion time to the Gillette ad while providing just 30 seconds for the House of Representatives’ decision the night before to strip Rep. Steve King (R-IA) of his committee assignments after he made comments in support of white supremacy. That’s 24 times more coverage for the razor ad than for an objectively huge story within the world of politics.

    The next day, The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh appeared on Fox & Friends to denounce the ad as “clearly insulting,” saying, “I didn't learn anything from the #MeToo movement.” The last bit is not so surprising, as he’s already written articles and published videos on why the movement has “overstayed its welcome.”

    But the furor over facial hair is just a small part of it. Fox News frequently puts an odd focus on supposed threats to masculinity.

    While segments about a war on masculinity do appear to have increased in frequency in recent years, at least at first glance, the theme is not exactly new. It’s a catch-all designed to give a sense of urgency and create a personal investment between viewers and issues they otherwise might not feel motivated to act on. And there’s actually a fair amount of social science explaining why this sort of laser-focus on masculinity is a politically savvy move for a politically motivated media outlet.

    “Men have been emasculated, they have been feminized by the left that has pushed us on a culture, and they do see Donald Trump as someone who speaks for them,” said then-Fox host Andrea Tantaros during the December 22, 2015, edition of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor. A year earlier on the same program, she claimed that “young men … have been completely feminized,” leading to educated women “having the government subsidize their sex lives.” Months before that, she warned that the left “would love to feminize” the NFL, adding, “The White House has been weighing in on the NFL on concussions and other issues.”

    In October 2015, when Playboy made the decision to no longer publish nude photos, T.J. McCormack penned for FoxNews.com something of a requiem for the magazine and America’s collective masculinity:

    A Playboy magazine was a last refuge where a man could be a man, read some great political pieces, get some good fitness advice, hear the straight scoop in incisive interviews, and yes, indulge and behold the overwhelming perfection that is woman. Men were certainly men well before Playboy. Hugh Hefner only ushered in an era of enhanced masculinity. Now, as that masculinity is under attack, we’re doomed to become a watered-down gender. A bunch of boobs.

    In response to a May 2017 article in Vox about the U.S. Marine Corps’ inaction over a revenge porn scandal among its ranks, Fox host Todd Starnes took a jab at “the emasculated pajama boys” who “seem to want our Marines to prance into battle wearing high heels and camouflage rompers.”

    More recently, just days before the outrage over the Gillette ad, Fox took aim at a new report from the American Psychological Association (APA) about the destructive potential of “traditional masculinity.”

    The report came as a set of guidelines designed to help psychologists work more effectively with men and boys. Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce appeared on the January 10 edition of Fox & Friends to decry the APA’s findings and recommendations, mounting a defense of masculinity as a force for good:

    If we didn't have men's courage, and aggressiveness, and focus, and determination, we'd still be living -- we would be living in caves right now. So, you have -- the modern world is the result of the male framework of wanting to move forward and create things, and it is, I think, obscene, and everyone should complain that those attributes of men are being determined to be negative and something that is either a sickness, or a mental illness, or wrong, or even artificial. This is the liberal political ideology of arguing about gender fluidity, and we can have that argument, but it's not a zero-sum game. You don't -- in order to liberate men who don't fit within, let's say, a cultural norm, you don't need to obliterate every other man in that process.

    The way Bruce and others on Fox described the guidelines, you’d think the APA had republished Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto and was calling for elimination of the male sex. The guidelines weren’t created to blame men or masculinity, but to help men and boys by giving psychologists the same kind of specialized tools for working with them that APA provided for working with women and girls in 2007. The guidelines aren’t anti-masculinity, either. In fact, just a quick look shows that their aim is to help men embrace their masculine traits in healthy and appropriate ways and develop a deeper understanding of themselves.

    In fact, during the January 3 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson pointed to the male suicide rate in America as a problem that must be specifically addressed. Carlson suggested that the one solution is to promote marriage, while his guest, the Manhattan Institute’s Heather MacDonald, stressed the “need to valorize males,” citing the “uniquely male” characteristics of “valor, courage, chivalry, heroism in war.”

    Male suicide is one of the primary issues the APA’s guidelines aims to address (emphasis added):

    Men commit 90 percent of homicides in the United States and represent 77 percent of homicide victims. They’re the demographic group most at risk of being victimized by violent crime. They are 3.5 times more likely than women to die by suicide, and their life expectancy is 4.9 years shorter than women’s. Boys are far more likely to be diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder than girls, and they face harsher punishments in school—especially boys of color.

    On the January 8 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson and guest Christina Hoff Sommers discussed the APA guidelines, with Carlson lamenting that the report concluded that “the problem with men is their maleness,” adding, “Newly issued guidelines argue that ‘traditional masculinity’ is harmful and that psychologists should somehow undermine it.” It should be noted that this isn’t what the guidelines actually suggest.

    So Fox News is upset that nobody wants to address challenges that disproportionately affect men, but when a professional organization invests 13 years in developing guidelines designed to address those issues, that is also … bad. It’s almost as though commentators like Carlson and Bruce are more interested in using these problems as talking points than in actually finding solutions.

    It’s important to the Fox News narrative that men are regularly reminded that their masculinity is under attack -- and Tucker Carlson is the man to deliver that message.

    Throughout March 2018 -- Women’s History Month -- Carlson used his massive platform at Fox to shine a light on the supposed plight of American men. In many of these shows, he could be found parroting the talking points of YouTube misogynists such as Gavin McInnes, Paul Joseph Watson, and Stefan Molyneux, and playing host to the likes of Jordan Peterson.

    “The patriarchy is gone: Women are winning; men are failing,” he said during a March 28 episode. Two weeks earlier, he had argued that undocumented immigrants cause lower wages, which in turn reduce “the attractiveness of men as potential spouses, thus reducing fertility and especially marriage rates.” A week before that, he delivered a monologue about how “something ominous is happening to men in America. Everyone who pays attention knows that.”

    The theme has carried on to more recent months, as well. During the October 11 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson warned that Democrats were waging war on the very concept of fatherhood:

    To [Democratic] party leaders, fathers in the home are at best irrelevant. At worst, they're an impediment to political power. Married women tend to vote Republican and they know that. When prominent Democrats attack the patriarchy, what they're attacking is fathers. When they wage war on toxic masculinity, what they're trying to suppress is masculinity itself. Everybody knows this. Few are brave enough to say it out loud.

    During the show’s August 23 episode, Carlson defended a video from conservative commentator Allie Stuckey that Facebook had temporarily removed and which stoked fears that “the current trend is to feminize young men in the hopes of achieving some Utopia notion of equality and peace. It's not masculinity that is toxic. It is the lack of it.”

    Whether or not these perceived attacks on masculinity have any basis in reality, these stories make sense from a political and psychological stance.

    Why is Fox News so obsessed with the idea that masculinity is under attack? The concept may have its roots in beliefs about what it means to be a man. There’s a theory in psychology -- the precarious manhood theory -- that our society views men’s status as something to be earned -- and something that can be easily lost. To oversimplify it a bit, it’s the theory that men view their maleness as though a “man card” were a real thing that could be revoked for not meeting social expectations of masculinity. In turn, the fear of losing status prompts men to make public displays of masculinity and rejection of what they perceive as feminine.

    A 2015 study published in the journal Social Psychology explored what happens when men feel their masculinity is under threat.  The article looked at threats to masculinity as political motivators, theorizing that perceived threats would inspire “men's efforts to reestablish their power over women via the promotion of ideologies that implicitly subordinate women.”

    The authors found that “men’s power over women is a key aspect of men’s masculinity” and that threats to masculinity “led to greater public discomfort, anger, and ideological dominance” among those studied. That anger “predicted greater endorsement of ideologies that implicitly promote men’s power over women.”

    Something called social dominance theory offers an explanation for how people justify hierarchies and inequality within a society. For much of history, men held virtually all power in government and business -- a patriarchy. In just the past hundred years or so, women emerged from their position as second-class citizens and demanded equal rights and treatment. While most men likely understand that there’s no good excuse to oppose equality between men and women, social dominance theory gets at how those with the most to lose -- men, in this instance -- might subconsciously try to preserve the status quo while convincing themselves that they treat all people equally.

    Through what are called “legitimizing myths,” people in positions of power can convince themselves that there aren’t any structural barriers to success, that the playing field is already level. For instance, some could justify the dearth of women in positions of power in government and business by saying that maybe women are simply too emotional to lead, that perhaps men just happen to be the ones best suited for a specific position.

    To point out that a playing field isn’t already level or promote institutional change is to threaten the existing hierarchies of society. Some people respond to these threats by gravitating to political ideologies associated with the preservation of existing social norms. In other words: conservatism. Fear and anger are a powerful political motivators, and Fox News knows how to bring those emotions out: by creating the appearance of a threat.

    It’s not a huge stretch to see how the success of women in comparison to men can function as a threat to masculinity in itself. If, for instance, a media outlet wanted to sway voters toward candidates who embody certain identities -- white, male, and Christian, for example -- one of the most obvious things it could do is bombard the public with the idea that those very identities are under attack. If an outlet wanted to sway people from voting for a woman, or for a candidate running on pledges to upend the current system of male social dominance, it would regularly promote stories that evoke a type of existential threat to manhood. This is what Fox News does.

    Candidates themselves might try to adopt a more masculine public image -- Donald Trump did this often, once donning a hard hat to promote his support for coal miners, bragging about the size of his hands (and, indirectly, his penis) during a debate, and making frequent claims that his female opponent simply didn’t have the “stamina” to be president. But it is the news media that shapes the underlying narrative. It’s for exactly this reason that things aimed at helping men and promoting healthy masculinity -- such as the APA guidelines or the Gillette ad -- are twisted into attacks on male identity.

  • How the hoax that the LGBTQ community is embracing pedophiles went viral

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Right-wing groups and figures have worked for years to smear LGBTQ people by associating them with pedophiles, but this summer, a myth that the LGBTQ community is embracing pedophiles went viral on social media with the help of anonymous right-wing message boards, fake news-purveying websites, and the conservative media echo chamber.

    The online forum 4chan has led similar misinformation campaigns since at least 2016, but a July post on The Daily Caller escalated the false narrative that pedophiles were attempting to join the LGBTQ community. This narrative has garnered more than 875,000 Facebook impressions across multiple outlets and via numerous stories in the time since The Daily Caller’s piece was published.

    Far-right anonymous message boards have led misinformation campaigns to associate pedophiles with the LGBTQ community for years

    Each year since 2016, anonymous message board 4chan -- a hotbed of far-right extremism, hoaxes, and harassment campaigns -- has initiated or bolstered misinformation campaigns attempting to connect LGBTQ people to pedophilia. Most notably, users have falsely claimed that the LGBTQ community is adding a “P” for “pedosexual” to become the “LGBTP” community. Fact-checking website Snopes debunked two “LGBTP” misinformation campaigns that originated on 4chan in 2016 and 2017. Both campaigns partly targeted LGBTQ people in a failed attempt to trick them into supporting pedophiles.

    When right-wing hoaxes first start on 4chan, they are generally isolated to a small base of far-right users. Those users then take these myths to more mainstream platforms like Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, and fake news purveyors and other right-wing websites also pick them up, helping to escalate them. For example, the 2016 campaign called on users to begin pushing the narrative on Tumblr, and the 2017 campaign suggested people “push pedo acceptance particularly on the LGBT bandwagon via twitter sockpuppets etc.” A sockpuppet account is “a fictional identity created to bolster some point of view.” These campaigns also typically use images and hashtags to increase engagement, including a fake “LGBTP” poster and hashtags like #GaysForPedoSexuality and #loveisageless. Snopes’ report included an archived Facebook post that shared the fake “LGBTP” poster in December 2017. Additionally, questionable websites published and reposted stories pushing 4chan’s misinformation.

    In yet another rebranding of the fake “LGBTP” campaign, a 2017 Reddit thread -- which appears to also have been inspired by 4chan -- falsely claimed that a new “clovergender” identity was emerging and asserted that such people are “attracted to young children, sexually or romantically,” because “their mind fails to develop past the age of 13” and they “are actually children at heart.” In January 2017, disgraced pharmaceutical executive and criminal Martin Shkreli, who was later suspended from Twitter for harassing a journalist, tweeted about the myth. Snopes also reported that a Facebook page was created to accompany the campaign. The report called the hoax “part of a years-long tradition on the part of 4chan and 8chan to dupe the media and social media with fantastical claims of non-existent trends and events,” and said that its “underlying intent … appeared to be undermining the legitimacy of transgender identity.” Also in January, far-right activist Mark Collett posted a video on YouTube titled “The LGBT Agenda is Helping to Normalise Paedophilia,” which was flagged as “inappropriate” but garnered more than 140,000 views. In July 2017, another video pushing the myth of “pedophile acceptance” and including a fake "LGBTP poster" received more than 676,000 views.

    Right-wing media, spearheaded by The Daily Caller, made the misinformation go viral this year

    The multiyear online effort to associate the LGBTQ community with pedophiles finally had its moment in July, after false stories tempered the “LGBTP” narrative by focusing instead on a small community of pedophiles who refer to themselves as “minor-attracted persons” (MAPs). Those stories falsely asserted that the community had created a MAPs “pride” flag, which was found to be fake, and that the group of pedophiles was attempting to join the LGBTQ community. The fake flag was sourced from random social media posts that appear to be part of yet another anti-LGBTQ misinformation campaign. Though an LGBTQ news outlet fell for the hoax first, right-wing website The Daily Caller launched it into the far-right echo chamber, resulting in more than 875,000 combined Facebook engagements across several posts.

    The first major piece to come out about the topic was a July 7 post on LGBTQ website Gay Star News, which received 3,300 Facebook engagements according to social media analysis tool BuzzSumo. Another LGBTQ website, One True Voice Online, reprinted the story that same day. Gay Star News posted an update three weeks later calling the flag “a hoax” at the very bottom of the post and did not change the headline or content of the piece. A Google reverse image search reveals that the flag image had infrequently circulated online in late June and early July on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and 4chan, as well as in a post on the website for a community-based app called Amino. Gay Star News used several of those posts as evidence to publish its story.

    Despite Gay Star News’ major error, it wasn’t until The Daily Caller wrote up the story in a July 9 post -- which received more than 78,000 Facebook interactions according to CrowdTangle -- that the hoax began to pick up. The post dubiously asserted that pedophiles, rebranded as MAPs, “seek to be a part of the LGBT+ community, even going so far as to make a ‘Pride’ flag for Gay Pride Month” and are following “in the liberal trend of rebranding things by giving them more ‘politically correct’ names.” The post also embedded a tweet from an unverified account with less than 1,000 followers featuring the so-called pedophile pride flag:

    But this flag is not real, and the use of a random Twitter post to source a report raises major editorial red flags. Snopes investigated and found that “the image was created as part of a troll experiment on Tumblr.” Its report noted:

    Pedophiles did not coin the term “minor attracted persons” (or MAPS) to rebrand themselves in 2018 in order to gain entry to the LGBT community. Organizations such as B4UAct have been using the term “minor attracted persons” for years to refer to “adults who experience feelings of preferential sexual attraction to children or adolescents under the age of consent.”

    Snopes also found “no evidence that this flag originated in earnest as a MAPs Pride Flag,” instead reporting that it “appears to have originated” in a June 13 Tumblr post in which the poster admitted to designing the flag. Snopes added that the poster’s profile page has changed from stating “Support NOMAPS,” an acronym for “Non-Offending Minor Attracted Persons,” to stating that “Y’all need a therapist, not a community” and noting that the poster is “not here for a MAP Community.” (It is important to remember that the 2016 4chan thread included several posts encouraging users to spread their disinformation campaign on Tumblr.)

    There is essentially no evidence indicating that groups of pedophiles are actively attempting to join the LGBTQ community, and there are no legitimate LGBTQ organizations or activists working to include pedophiles in the community. LGBTQ news outlet Hornet reviewed the websites of several MAPs groups, noting, “If you look over these groups’ sites, you won’t see any Pride flag, let alone the one pictured above.” The post also observed that “a Pride flag seems to run counter to their entire mission” because the groups “are about helping people deal with pedophilic attraction to control and get rid of it, not embrace it.” Snopes also reached out to a major MAPs community, the “Prevention Project,” which had not heard of the flag.

    Although it was clearly fabricated, The Daily Caller’s story was the beginning of a snowball effect that resulted in close to a million social media engagements. Prominent fake news purveyor YourNewsWire (now NewsPunch.com) wrote up the Daily Caller’s piece and it went viral, garnering 472,000 Facebook engagements according to BuzzSumo. BuzzSumo also found that it was one of YourNewsWire’s top five pieces of content over the past year. Several other websites -- many of which publish fake news -- pushed the story and drew high levels of engagement, including The Free Thought Project (116,900 engagements), Now the End Begins (102,100 engagements), Louder with Crowder (61,000 engagements), and Neon Nettle (6,600 engagements). The majority of these websites quoted extensively from The Daily Caller’s piece, or even copied it entirely.

    Prominent anti-LGBTQ outlet LifeSiteNews also published a story on the topic that said, “‘Gay Liberation’ was always about sexual liberation for all, no matter what age.” Its post cited Gay Star News and garnered 11,300 Facebook engagements. Right-wing propaganda website The Western Journal also relied heavily on The Daily Caller for its post on the topic that received 24,600 engagements. Even the United Kingdom edition of LGBTQ magazine Attitude parroted the The Daily Caller’s story, using the same tweet as a source as well as the same testimonial from a MAPs group. Although he did not adopt The Daily Caller’s exact framing of the story, far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones mentioned the “LGBTP” myth as real at least three times after the misinformation campaign went viral this year. On YouTube, far-right personality Laura Tam, who calls herself “Roaming Millennial,” uploaded a video using the fake MAPs flag and also pushing the hoax. Tam’s video received nearly 200,000 views.

    The Daily Caller’s piece was also shared on far-right anonymous message board Kiwi Farms, which regularly leads harassment campaigns, including one that led to the suicide of a transgender woman. There were nearly 300 posts discussing the piece in Kiwi Farms’ thread. There were also hundreds of comments in a Reddit thread about The Daily Caller’s piece, further demonstrating that these forums can gin up misinformation campaigns and escalate them through right-wing media validators -- and that hoaxes continue to grow in the right-wing echo chamber, including back on the message boards.

    These misinformation campaigns have real-world consequences

    These anti-LGBTQ pedophile hoaxes have not just been limited to the internet; there have been several instances of this narrative causing real-world consequences in the last few years. Even political figures and regulatory agencies have fallen for these hoaxes, publicly sharing them on social media.

    Twice over the summer, someone in Oregon posted fake flyers pushing the pedophile hoax. In late July, a “Pedophiles are people too” sign that included a pride flag appeared near an elementary school in West Linn, a Portland suburb. Conservative actor James Woods, who has more than 1.7 million followers on Twitter, posted an image of the poster on July 31, writing, “And so it begins…” On June 19, hundreds of fake posters advertising a “Central Oregon Gay Pride” sponsored by the National Association of Man-Boy Love (NAMBLA) -- a largely defunct pro-pedophilia organization -- appeared in Bend, OR. The posters used the acronym “LGBTQP” and wrote, “Bring the kids! XOXO.” They also featured “a stolen image of an actual child — Instagram star, vogue dancer, and 8-year-old draganista Desmond is Amazing,” according to LGBTQ outlet them. Desmond’s mother, who runs his social media accounts, issued a statement in response, saying their family was “offended, angry, and yes, hurt.” “The fake posters hurt our family intensely as well as many of his fans,” she told them. “To know that someone would take a photo of a beautiful 8-year-old boy and use it as hate propaganda is shameful and despicable.”

    These misinformation campaigns have not been limited to the U.S. South Africa’s Film & Publication Board, which regulates media in the country by classifying content with age guidelines, tweeted the 2017 “LGBTP” poster from its verified account last December. It retracted the tweet the following day and admitted it had fallen for “a hoax.” In Brazil, the son of fascist President-elect Jair Bolsonaro posted the same fabricated poster days after The Daily Caller published its piece in July. He has not deleted the tweet.

    EU vs Disinfo, a website run by the East StratCom Task Force created by the European Council “to address Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns,” wrote in August about a similar disinformation campaign in Serbia that targeted the European Union. Serbian outlets asserted that pro-LGBTQ legislation was “preparing the ground for legalising paedophilia” there. EU vs Disinfo noted that “equating sexual minorities to paedophilia is one of the frequent techniques of pro-Kremlin disinformation” and linked to a Serbian outlet’s post that featured several of the “LGBTP” memes and images circulated on far-right message boards and other social media in 2016 and 2017.

    Anti-LGBTQ groups and individuals have spent years smearing the LGBTQ community by associating them with pedophiles

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups and individuals have long employed the myth that LGBTQ identities are linked with pedophilia to smear the community and fearmonger about equality. Alan Sars, founder of the influential and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), called pedophilia and “homosexual behavior … often intrinsically linked” and falsely asserted that “there is a definite link as well between child molestation and later homosexual behavior” in his book The Homosexual Agenda. The 2003 book was on the recommended reading list for ADF’s Blackstone Legal Fellowship program as recently as 2015. Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins has called pedophilia a “homosexual problem,” and he falsely claimed that science shows “a correlation between homosexuality and pedophilia” in 2010. After the Boy Scouts lifted its ban on gay leaders in 2015, Liberty Counsel Chairman Mat Staver said the organization would become “a playground for pedophiles” and that there would be “all kinds of sexual molestation.”

    Anti-LGBTQ groups like these have major influence over local, state, and national policy debates as well as public opinion, and their work smearing the LGBTQ community by falsely linking it to pedophilia has certainly been effective over the last decades. But the recent coordinated effort from far-right message boards, right-wing outlets, and fake news purveyors helped bring one of their common narratives to a wider audience and spread the misinformation like wildfire. In today’s fragmented media ecosystem, where anonymous users can organize misinformation campaigns that are heedlessly repeated by websites with no editorial standards, it’s not hard to see how old myths can become new again.

    Additional research by Brianna January.