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Sexual Harassment & Sexual Assault

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  • 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.

  • Fox Business host’s interview with Betsy DeVos ignores rule changes for campus sexual assault and failures on student debt forgiveness

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos appeared on Fox Business Network for a softball interview during which the host, Maria Bartiromo, failed to ask a single question about either changes DeVos has initiated to rules about campus sexual assault, which would be harmful to survivors, or her failure to implement student debt forgiveness.

    In mid-November, DeVos proposed new rules for colleges and universities regarding campus sexual assault under the Title IX law, which prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded schools. According to The New York Times, the changes “established a narrower definition of sexual harassment, tightened reporting requirements, relieved colleges of the responsibility to investigate off-campus episodes, and outlined steps schools should take to provide support for accusers.” The new rules would also give those accused of sexual harassment and assault the right to cross-examine their accusers, which could retraumatize survivors of these incidents. According to former Department of Justice Civil Rights Division official Anurima Bhargava, DeVos’ new rules “would make schools less safe by narrowing the definition for what counts as sexual misconduct, creating barriers for students to report these incidents and limiting the responsibility of schools to respond.”

    Additionally, DeVos was sued earlier this month for the second time for failing to cancel debts of students defrauded by for-profit colleges. According to NPR, a federal judge ruled in September that her “delay of a key student borrower protection rule was improper and unlawful.” GQ explained earlier this month that DeVos has undermined the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which was “designed to forgive the student debt of people who spend ten years working in public service while making steady payments.” Under DeVos, over 99 percent of applications for debt forgiveness under this program have been rejected.

    Instead of covering these topics, the nearly 10-minute interview focused on attacking public education, criticizing teachers unions, and promoting a Department of Education mobile app for college students to enroll in federal student aid. From the November 27 edition of Fox Business’ Mornings with Maria Bartiromo:

  • Hugh Hewitt and Sen. Tom Cotton go to the fever swamps in Kavanaugh nomination postmortem

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Conservative pundit Hugh Hewitt and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) are pushing a conspiracy theory that professor Christine Blasey Ford’s decision to speak out about then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was actually orchestrated by Democratic leaders in the Senate. The version of events proposed by Hewitt and Cotton is at odds with reports on how Ford decided to come forward, and it serves to undercut Ford’s bravery.

    Cotton was a guest on the October 9 broadcast of Hewitt’s radio show, The Hugh Hewitt Show. Hewitt prompted the conspiracy theory by asking Cotton if he thought “that this was planned long before it was unveiled? And by that, I mean the leak of Dr. Ford’s letter. I don’t know who did it, but I believe it was part of a campaign that was set up to occur exactly when it did. Do you agree with me?”

    Cotton did agree, and he wove an evidence-free conspiracy theory that as early as July, “the Schumer political operation” -- a reference to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) -- and possibly former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara were involved in a plan to leak the contents of a letter Ford had sent to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). In the letter, Ford gave an account of Kavanaugh sexually assaulting her when they were both in high school.
     

    This conspiratorial timeline is at odds with reality. Ford sent a letter dated July 30 to Feinstein and asked that the California senator keep its contents confidential. The Intercept was the first to report on the letter, writing on September 12 that it “describes an incident involving Kavanaugh and a woman while they were in high school” and that Feinstein was refusing to share its contents with other senators, which “created tension on the committee.” According to Politico, “The reporter behind that [Intercept] story later stated that Feinstein’s staff did not leak the letter.”

    Ford came forward publicly in a September 16 Washington Post article. She said later during her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the presence of reporters at her home and workplace made her realize her identity would be revealed in any case, so she decided to speak on the record with a reporter at the Post who she said had gained her trust.

    Hewitt has a history of being dishonest while discussing federal judicial nominations, but political talk shows still treat him as a mainstream conservative commentator when they bring him on to talk about the topic. While previously his falsehoods served to provide cover for the GOP to radically change norms around the nomination process, he has now sunk to pushing a conspiracy theory.

    Cotton, for his part, has his own history of underhanded behavior on executive branch nominations. In 2014, Cotton placed a hold on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Cassandra Butts to serve as ambassador to the Bahamas. More than two years after her nomination was announced, Butts, who Cotton acknowledged was not a controversial nominee, died of leukemia at age 50, with Cotton’s hold still in place. Before she died, Butts told The New York Times that she had visited Cotton to ask about the hold and he said he knew she was friends with Obama and the hold was a way to inflict personal pain on the president.

  • Fox & Friends fearmongers about left-wing violence while ignoring violence and threats from the right 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT

    Today’s edition of Fox & Friends painted a picture of a society terrorized by left-wing violence and threats toward conservatives, completely ignoring very real incidents of violence and intimidation against Democrats and professor Christine Blasey Ford.

    Hosts Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and guest host Ed Henry spoke at length about the supposed violence of the left, and fearmongered about the danger it entails for conservatives. Some of the hosts’ most pressing concerns included people protesting inhumane policies by yelling at politicians dining in restaurants, and peaceful protesters placing cameras in politicians’ faces. While the discussion did highlight some genuinely concerning threats against Republican senators, the hosts did not mention any threats against their Democratic colleagues or their staffs.

    Just three days ago, a Florida supporter of President Donald Trump was arrested after repeatedly posting online about his plans to kill Democratic senators. In one post, he wrote that he was “about to accept an offer on my house just to get more money to fund my plan to kill Democrat office holders and their families.” He also expressed hope that fellow conservatives would break into liberals’ homes and murder them in their sleep. Democratic Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama reported that his female staff members have received violent threats from supporters of newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. And Christine Blasey Ford, who testified under oath that Kavanaugh assaulted her while in high school, has been the target of sustained harassment and death threats for weeks. The threats are so serious and pervasive that she still cannot return to her home, even after Kavanaugh was confirmed and sworn in as a Supreme Court justice.

    Fox & Friends chose to ignore these clear incidents and threats of right-wing violence, and instead focused on fearmongering about an allegedly lawless left. From the October 8 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

  • What we owe Christine Blasey Ford

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Professor Christine Blasey Ford had originally chosen not to publicly share her account of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh because of the onslaught of harassment she would undoubtedly face. “I was ... wondering whether I would just be jumping in front of a train that was headed to where it was headed anyway, and that I would just be personally annihilated,” she explained during her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Why suffer through the annihilation if it’s not going to matter?” she told The Washington Post when she decided to come forward.

    Tomorrow, 20 days after Ford first shared her account publicly in the Post (and just nine since she movingly recounted her story before millions of Americans), 13 days since Deborah Ramirez’s account was published, and 10 days from when Julie Swetnick spoke out, senators will vote to send Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court. He was ushered there by dozens of representative leaders who long ago abdicated their sworn responsibilities both to represent and to lead. The whole farce was cheered on by a pundit class that’s far removed from the brutal realities of American life, and unjustifiably ignorant about interpersonal violence that directly harms another American every 98 seconds.  

    Christine Blasey Ford stepped in front of that moving train, and it kept moving. Her personal trauma is now public text, and her courage and grace will leave an indelible mark on us all. And make no mistake about it: She has shown us a way forward.

    The first thing Ford taught us is that it’s OK to share your story when you don’t remember every detail, because it’s fundamentally your own. You will always remember the most important parts. Indelible in the hippocampus will be what happened to you in that moment. It’s your story to tell, if you choose. And people -- the good ones -- will remember it, and believe you.

    She has also taught us what is broken in our common language, our media ecosystem, our politics and institutions. If you were lucky -- or ignorant -- enough to not have realized this before September 16, you may now know just how far gone we are.

    We do not know, for example, how to talk about the harm we experience at the hands of others. Tragically common forms of interpersonal violence still have no consensus-driven label in the English language. This is how an attempted rape -- a hand over a mouth, a feeling like you are going to die, uproarious laughter as your humanity is diminished -- can so easily vanish into nothing in another person’s eyes.

    And we have a better approximation of the twisted depths to which the conservative political and media ecosystem will go in their attempt to discredit, diminish, and disappear a survivor’s story. They will call you a slut, and question your mental fitness, and speculate about your political motivations, and blame you for ruining your alleged assailant’s career, and simply make things up about you. They will hear you explain that the worst part was the laughter and the humiliation, and then they will mock you for it in front of a laughing audience. Even worse, in its own way: They will say that they do believe you, they just don’t care.

    We have also seen how irreparably broken our public news and information systems have become, even in just the two years since the last presidential election. All manner of false information is encouraged to spread, and private information is subject to the often stupid and sometimes violent whims of the internet.

    And we know now, if we didn’t before, that our institutions will not save us. Instead, they will close ranks. The academy, the court, the presidency, the legislature, the FBI, and the media have always been fundamentally tainted by the same poisonous cornerstone of violent patriarchy. They do not deserve our faith, and the people who work within them do not automatically deserve our respect. Almost none of them have done anything to earn it.

    Christine Blasey Ford showed us once and for all that if we are to be saved, it will be only because of moments when individuals directly challenge these systems, or work to tear them down. It will be in the moments of rage, when we stick our feet in the elevator door.

    Thank you, Christine Blasey Ford. Thank you, Deborah Ramirez. Thank you, Julie Swetnick. Thank you, reporters and activists who tried against all odds to give them a voice. Thank you, protesters gathered outside the Supreme Court and senators’ offices at this moment, and yesterday, and last week, and at all the other times when righteous outrage has countered with equal force a willful injustice.

    Because of you, millions of people will never forget what happened here. And that’s a threat.