In the aftermath of the second impeachment of President Donald Trump for his role in the January 6 insurrection — and with America still reeling as COVID-19 deaths continue to rise — Fox News is pushing a fake spin on minor points of language used by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in her floor speech, in the perennial right-wing media search for a “gotcha” moment.
In this case, Fox News personalities on both the “opinion” and “news” sides are alleging that Pelosi somehow broke her own House rules by referring to herself as “a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a daughter” in a speech about saving democracy from Trump’s coup attempt.
The root of this attack comes from the House’s organizing rules for this new term, replacing gendered language and titles with more accurate and inclusive gender-neutral terms. (For example, the title of “chairman” is now simply “chair,” and references in the rules to members’ familial relationships become “parent,” “child,” “sibling,” etc.)
This change has since become the subject of scare campaigns by right-wing media. Snopes explained, however: “The introduction of gender-neutral language proposed by [Massachusetts Rep. Jim] McGovern and Pelosi would only change the text of the House rules. Its consequences were limited to that document alone, and would have no bearing on the continued ability of House members to use gender-specific language in drafting legislation and resolutions, making speeches, or conducting a debate.”
Furthermore, states across the country have for years been revising their statute books in order to replace gendered language, in places ranging from Democratic-controlled states like Minnesota and Washington to Republican-led ones like Florida.
During her speech, Pelosi implored her House colleagues: “I stand before you today as an officer of the Constitution, a speaker of the House of Representatives. I stand before you as a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a daughter. … And I stand here before you today as a noblest of things — a citizen of the United States of America. With my voice and my vote, with a plea to all of you, Democrats and Republicans, I ask you to search your souls and answer these questions. Is the president’s war on democracy in keeping with the Constitution?”
But instead of addressing Pelosi’s points in any serious manner, the most outlandish commentary from the Fox News empire came in a segment on Fox Business’ Varney & Co., in which Fox News contributor Rachel Campos-Duffy mockingly told the host: “She is not the ‘Madam Speaker’ — she’s ‘it,’ I guess, that's as neutral as we can get — ‘It Speaker.’”
Campos-Duffy also pushed a common right-wing smear that the Black Lives Matter movement seeks the destruction of the nuclear family. “BLM in their mission statement said that they wanted to eliminate the nuclear family. They wanted to destroy it. This is a Marxist plot to do this, it is not just silly campus stuff,” she said. “The primacy of the family is the foundation of Western civilization. And what you're seeing here is that those on the left do not want the family to be the center and the foundation and the primary unit of society. They want the state to be that.” (As Media Matters has previously documented, this smear is based on language from the national BLM organization’s web site, which in fact discusses making itself “family-friendly” and enabling parents to fully participate — while also affirming the diversity of family structures in practice and the support for extended families.)
In an earlier discussion with Fox Nation host Tammy Bruce on Thursday morning’s edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy acknowledged that “apparently these changes only apply to rules — the rules document — and do not prevent the House members from using gendered language, which she clearly did yesterday.”
In response, Bruce alleged that this all represented a grand conspiracy, because such a mindset “filters into legislation, it filters into the nature of what’s written. She repeatedly used an outdated term “transsexual,” of which the Trans Journalists Association explains in its style guide: “Once the dominant word to describe someone who wants or seeks treatment for gender dysphoria, this is now a more niche and intra-community term. Some consider it outdated or offensive. The term should only be used when an individual or group of people use it for themselves.”
This level of trolling also carried over into Fox’s “news” side, with anchor Trace Gallagher bringing on headlines reporter Carley Shimkus to comment on the supposed story.
“I get that this was meant only for, you know, the resolution, for documentation,” Gallagher seemingly acknowledged, before then immediately making a number of false statements. “But the idea that you can't write down, or you can't write down ‘mother, father, brother,’ but you can say it out loud? I mean, does anybody believe these people are genuine?”
“Nancy Pelosi in her Twitter bio says that she is a ‘mother, grandmother, and dark chocolate connoisseur’ — good for her there,” Shimkus later said, as the screen switched over to a graphic of highlighted language in Pelosi’s Twitter profile. “So it’s hard to really know what is allowed and is not allowed anymore. And you know, I personally feel, if you want to go gender-neutral in your own life that's fine. But if I want to be called a ‘mother’ and a ‘wife’ and a ‘daughter,’ then that should be equally acceptable.”
“Yeah, common sense in short supply,” Gallagher replied, even though the House rules provide for exactly that kind of broad acceptance of individual choice.
And on The Daily Briefing, Fox News contributor and Republican strategist Karl Rove delivered a mocking remark about what Democrats need to do in order to prevent the loss of certain voter demographics: “I’ll tell you one thing, don’t pass rules in which in which you can't say, ‘mother, father, sister, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, he, she,’ on the floor of the House of Representatives.”
News anchor Dana Perino agreed to that false statement: “Yeah, for starters, indeed.”
At the end of the day, there isn’t any real difference between Fox’s purported “news” side, with personalities like Gallagher, Shimkus, and Perino, versus the “opinion” commentators like Bruce, Campos-Duffy, or Rove.