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  • Despite Trump’s multiple cover-ups, major media outlets and reporters uncritically repeat his claim that he doesn’t “do cover-ups”

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump said in an unannounced speech at the White House today that “I don’t do cover-ups,” despite ample examples to the contrary. Trump’s comments came after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters that House Democrats “believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up.” Some national news outlets and political reporters uncritically repeated Trump’s false claim on Twitter as they reported his remarks.

    Twitter accounts from major national news outlets, including The Hill, Reuters, CNN, and ABC News, and some political journalists such as CNN’s Manu Raju, The New York Times’ Peter Baker, and PBS’ Judy Woodruff repeated Trump’s claim without informing their audiences that it is false.

    The outlets and journalists could have easily included the proper context in their tweets as The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker did:

    There are numerous examples of Trump covering up actions that might paint him in an unflattering light or put him in legal jeopardy, and the news outlets mentioned above have reported on them in the past. Just two such examples are special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings of multiple cases in which Trump attempted to obstruct his investigation, and Trump’s involvement in the false narrative that Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting at the Trump Tower with several Russians was about adopting children, when it was actually about seeking “dirt” on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The Hill, Reuters, CNN, and ABC News have reported on these issues.

    Uncritically repeating Trump’s lies, falsehoods, and outright propaganda on social media is an ongoing problem for major news outlets. News organizations and journalists must include the context of the president’s lies when reporting on social media about what Trump and officials in his administration are saying, because failing to do so is irresponsible.

  • Right-wing media and abortion opponents celebrate and defend Alabama law banning abortion

    The law will likely be challenged before it takes effect

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On May 15, Alabama’s Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed a law banning nearly all abortions in the state with no exceptions for rape and incest. While the law will likely be challenged before it takes effect, right-wing media and abortion opponents defended the lack of exceptions and celebrated it as a sign of Roe v. Wade’s end.

    The Alabama law prohibits abortion with only limited exceptions for “serious health risk” to the life of the pregnant person or because of a “lethal” fetal anomaly. As CNN noted, before the law’s signing, Democrats in the state legislature had “re-introduced an amendment to exempt rape and incest victims, but the motion failed on an 11-21 vote.” In addition to allowing for few exceptions, the law would also it a felony “punishable by up to 99 years in prison for doctors” to perform an abortion. Given patients’ concerns about the immediate accessibility of abortion care, it is important to note that abortion is still legal in Alabama. As Vox’s Anna North noted, the law has been signed by the governor but “does not take effect for six months,” and there are already plans underway to challenge it in court.

    As Republicans and right-wing media have repeatedly fearmongered about Democrats advocating for expanded abortion access and the codification of Roe’s protections at the state level, anti-choice politicians have pushed increasingly extreme anti-abortion bills -- likely as an attempt to capitalize on the opportunity for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe with conservative Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch both now confirmed.

    Here are some of the extreme reactions and celebrations of right-wing and anti-abortion media to the Alabama law

    • Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, celebrated the law as a “landmark victory for the people of Alabama who, like most Americans, overwhelmingly reject the extreme status quo of abortion on demand imposed nationwide by Roe v. Wade.” She added that she believed that “the time is coming for the Supreme Court to let that debate” on the legality of abortion “go forward.”
    • Fox News’ Tucker Carlson responded to outrage over the law’s passage by characterizing it as being indicative of "the modern Democratic orthodoxy: If you love women, you will encourage them to kill their own offspring.”
    • Anti-abortion group American Life League responded to an article saying the law bans “nearly all abortions” by arguing that the law didn’t go far enough. The group tweeted: “All of them should be banned.”
    • Former Turning Point USA Communications Director Candace Owens repeated the myth that Planned Parenthood and pro-choice advocates are promoting “genocide for black America” in a tweet about the Alabama law.
    • Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano claimed on Fox & Friends that abortion opponents believe that “the time is now” to dismantle Roe and therefore return regulation of abortion to the states. Napolitano repeated the false claim that states like “New Jersey or New York” allow “infanticide.”
    • Turning Point USA’s Benny Johnson:

    Caption

    • The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh repeatedly defended the law’s lack of a rape exception, claiming on his podcast that “abortion helps rapists cover up their crimes.” Walsh also said on Twitter that “abortion restrictions protect rape victims” and argued (inaccurately) that Planned Parenthood uses abortion to “assist an abuser in covering up abuse.” As an example, Walsh tweeted a hypothetical scenario alleging that denying an abortion to a “12 year old” who was “raped by her father” meant that there was a better chance that “his crime will be discovered.”
    • The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro also defended the law’s lack of exceptions, saying on his podcast that those “concessions with regard to rape and incest” are only “a sop to public opinion rather than a principled stand about the value of human life.”
    • On Fox & Friends, co-host Ainsley Earhardt speculated about whether abortion laws like Alabama’s are a potential solution to address the declining U.S. birth rate, asking, “Will we see the numbers go up because more people won't be able to have access to abortions?”
    • LifeNews.com’s Steven Ertelt tweeted, “Democrats are so determined to make sure babies conceived in rape are killed in abortions. If only they were as concerned with putting the rapist in prison.” Ertelt’s outlet LifeNews.com responded to outrage over the draconian Alabama law with a tweet saying, “Funny how everyone complaining about Alabama banning abortions has already been born.”
    • National Review also praised the law:

    • On Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum, Kristan Hawkins, president of the anti-abortion group Students for Life of America, celebrated the law as a sign that Roe was on the way to becoming “a historical footnote in our country.” Hawkins also tweeted that “abortion is a war on preborn women and men” and offered an inexplicable take on why people were “freaking out” about Alabama’s law:

    • Hawkins’ organization celebrated the Alabama law as “a great step for abolishing abortion and protecting the civil rights of all people, born and preborn!”
    • The Daily Caller’s Peter Hasson tweeted in defense of the law’s lack of exception, writing: “Btw the reasoning behind no exceptions for rape/incest in abortion bans is that an unborn child shouldn't lose their right to life on account of the circumstances that produced them.”
    • One America News Network’s Liz Wheeler asked, “Two questions to ask about the Alabama abortion bill. 1) When does life begin? Science says human life begins at conception. 2) If life begins at conception, what right to do we have to end that life? We don't, therefore abortion cannot be legal.”
    • On Fox News’ Fox News @ Night, conservative writer Eric Metaxas celebrated the Alabama law and other state abortion restrictions. He said these bans are “exactly what's supposed to happen. That's why Roe v. Wade is an abomination. It is not itself constitutional.”
    • Lila Rose, founder of the anti-abortion group Live Action, lauded Alabama and other states pushing anti-abortion bills and wrote, “We will make our states a safer home for mothers & children.” Rose went on to defend the Alabama law’s lack of exceptions, saying, “It’s disgusting to use the horrific trauma of child rape as pretext for the barbaric 1M legal abortions.” Rose’s organization also claimed that the law does not “go too far” even without the exceptions.
    • Religious media outlet Eternal World Television Network tweeted:

    • Michael Brown, a senior contributor to right-wing Christian site The Stream, wrote about the Alabama law in the context of a literal “civil war” that he alleged was “coming to America” and would be fought over abortion rights. Brown said that although “I hope with all my heart that it will not be a physically violent war,” he expressed concern about “violent attacks by pro-abortion extremists leading to retaliation by those being attacked. (By definition, if you are pro-life, you will not seek to take the life of an innocent person.)”
    • Kimberly Ross, a Washington Examiner contributor, tweeted that supporting rape exceptions “is not pro-life” because “You do not ‘unrape’ a woman by taking an innocent life. This confers worth on another based on feelings, not facts. What’s next?”
    • On Anderson Cooper 360, CNN senior political commentator Rick Santorum said that “it does make sense” for abortion providers to get more jail time for performing an abortion than a rapist under Alabama’s law.

    What right-wing media and abortion opponents ignore or attempt to downplay is that the impact of a post-Roe Alabama will be felt mostly by marginalized communities, including poor people and people of color, who may lack the resources to access abortion care by leaving the state. As Rolling Stone’s Alex Morris explained, this new ban -- and the disparities it would exacerbate -- adds to a health care landscape in Alabama where “over a quarter of mothers don’t receive adequate prenatal care and less than half the counties have a delivery room.” In addition, he noted that “not once but twice in the past five years,” Alabama “has ranked 50th in the country in infant mortality.”

    Despite the celebrations of so-called "pro-life" figures, these terrible outcomes are likely to be more common if Alabama's law is allowed to take effect.

  • CNN and MSNBC downplay a call at Trump's rally to shoot migrants, likening it to HBO's Veep

    Blog ››› ››› COURTNEY HAGLE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After President Donald Trump laughed at a suggestion made at his campaign rally that migrants crossing the border should be shot, CNN and MSNBC both aired a clip from HBO’s political satire Veep that appeared to trivialize the dangers of the president’s words that could potentially incite violence.

    At a May 8 campaign rally in Panama City Beach, FL, Trump noted that Border Patrol agents are not allowed to use weapons to stop migrants and asked the rowdy crowd, “How do you stop these people?”

    “Shoot them!” an attendee yelled, and the crowd laughed and cheered.

    Trump also laughed before saying, "That's only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement.”

    While the president stopped short of explicitly supporting the suggestion to open fire on migrants at the border, The Washington Post noted, “His joking response raised concerns that he was tacitly encouraging extrajudicial killings and brutality against asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants.” The May 8 rally comes less than a month after a border militia group calling itself the United Constitutional Patriots drew national attention for reportedly detaining “hundreds” of migrants, including several children, at gunpoint on the U.S.-Mexico border. The group’s leader was later arrested by the FBI on charges of being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition. He had previously claimed that the group was training to assassinate prominent Democratic leaders. According to a police report obtained by The Young Turks, one militia member asked why the group was “just apprehending” migrants against their will “and not lining them up and shooting them,” adding, “We have to go back to Hitler days and put them all in a gas chamber.” The police report was filed by a fellow militia member who felt he had witnessed “terroristic threats” among the group.

    But some media coverage of the president's rally ignored this serious potential for violence against migrants. On CNN’s New Day, co-anchors John Berman and Alisyn Camerota aired the footage from Trump’s rally, immediately followed by a scene from HBO’s Veep, an American political satire that has drawn attention for its chaotic plotline that appears to be strikingly similar to the politics of today. In the clip, a presidential candidate is giving a speech when an attendee suggests that people should shoot immigrants, to which he seemingly agrees. When the clip finished, Berman laughed at the comparison, saying, “Veep was shot months ago and there’s almost no discernible difference between the events.” 

    From the May 9 edition of CNN’s New Day:

    On MSNBC’s The Beat with Ari Melber, host Ari Melber began his segment by quoting poet Oscar Wilde that, “life imitates art far more than art imitates life,” adding that this is “clearly the case on HBO’s hit political series Veep.” Melber then aired the same Veep clip and hosted the shows creators to discuss their method behind writing Veep. The 10-minute segment focused far more on Veep’s similarities to contemporary politics than on the harmful impact of Trump’s words.

    From the May 9 edition of MSNBC’s The Beat with Ari Melber:

  • ABC, NBC, and MSNBC prime-time shows ignored landmark UN report on biodiversity

    Only three of 26 prime-time news programs on major networks covered the report

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The major broadcast and cable news networks largely neglected to cover a landmark United Nations report on a devastating decline in biodiversity. On the day the report was released, three of the networks -- ABC, NBC, and MSNBC -- aired no prime-time coverage of it, while the other three networks each aired one prime-time segment. Out of 26 total prime-time news programs on the networks, only three reported on the U.N. assessment.  

    Major U.N. report warns of extinction crisis that will have major impacts on humanity

    A summary report released by the U.N. on May 6 finds that about 1 million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction due to expansive human development. The current extinction rate is “at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years.” The global assessment, compiled by hundreds of experts with data drawn from thousands of studies, is the most comprehensive look yet at the rapid decline in planetary biodiversity. The report points to a number of human activities that are affecting biodiversity, including overfishing, poaching, farming, mining, logging, and polluting. Climate change is also playing a large role in fueling the biodiversity crisis. And the loss of biodiversity in turn threatens humans by endangering water and food supplies and heightening the risks from floods and hurricanes.

    The full report is set to be published later in 2019. But even with this summary, the authors show that the biodiversity and climate crises are directly intertwined, ultimately painting a grim picture about the state of our natural world.

    Only one of three broadcast nightly news shows covered the U.N. biodiversity assessment

    Media Matters analyzed the major broadcast networks' nightly news programs on May 6, as well as cable news coverage from 4 p.m. to midnight.

    On the broadcast networks, neither ABC's World News Tonight nor NBC Nightly News mentioned the U.N. biodiversity assessment. Significant segments on these networks instead focused on a Russian airplane fire, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen reporting to prison, and the birth of a royal baby in Britain. CBS Evening News was the only broadcast nightly news program to air a segment on the biodiversity report.

    It should come as no surprise that ABC's flagship news program failed to cover the report; the network's news shows consistently lag behind their broadcast competitors in covering climate change. In 2018, ABC aired less than 11 minutes of climate coverage on its nightly and Sunday morning news programs, far less than its counterparts. In fact, ABC has spent less time on climate coverage than CBS and NBC every year since 2013.

    On cable, MSNBC failed to mention the biodiversity report in its prime-time coverage

    None of the prime-time news shows on MSNBC on May 6 mentioned the U.N. biodiversity assessment. Much of the news coverage on the network that night focused on the Mueller report.

    The only prime-time cable shows to mention the global assessment were CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper and Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier. Coverage on The Lead was straightforward, while Special Report's coverage was riddled with skepticism. Baier, who is billed as one of Fox's “news”-side reporters, began the segment by saying, “Many environmentalists are in a panic tonight over a new report,” but “as in all such cases, some humans say the report and the response are exaggerations.” The segment included commentary from industry-funded climate denier Marc Morano, who has no background in science. Morano downplayed the report and accused the U.N. of being a “self-interested lobbying organization.” (The Morano footage had run previously on another of Fox's “news”-side programs, Shepard Smith Reporting.)

    Overall, out of a total of 26 prime-time news shows aired on the major broadcast and cable networks on May 6, only three included coverage of the global assessment.

    By neglecting a major report about threats to life on Earth, TV networks are failing their viewers

    The extinction of threatened species will have serious human consequences. One takeaway from the U.N. assessment is the need to promote a better understanding of the fact that nature is the foundation for human development and all life on Earth. The media have a responsibility to help build an informed citizenry that understands the world it inhabits. By giving this report far too little attention, top TV networks have failed their audiences.

    Methodology

    Media Matters analyzed coverage on May 6 on the major broadcast networks' nightly news programs (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News) and on shows airing from 4 p.m. to midnight on the major cable news networks (CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC). We identified segments on the U.N. biodiversity assessment by searching IQ Media and Nexis for the terms (nature OR biodiversity OR extinction OR extinct OR climate OR species OR planet) AND (report OR study).

  • Cable news cover UNCC mass shooting for less than 45 minutes

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

     Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A deadly rampage at University of North Carolina at Charlotte that left two dead and four injured got less than 43 minutes of cable news coverage from April 30, the day of the shooting, till May 3.

    On Tuesday, a 22-year-old former UNCC student opened fire on campus with a legally purchased handgun, killing two students and wounding four more. One of the victims, Riley Howell, charged the gunman after he had shot five people and pinned him to the ground until police arrived. During a press conference, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said, “Absolutely, Mr. Howell saved lives. … Unfortunately, he gave his life in the process. But his sacrifice saved lives.”

    The night the shooting occured, Fox News was the only cable network to mention it, covering the incident for just over one minute (the general lack of breaking news coverage was no doubt linked to emerging news about special counsel Robert Mueller’s letter to Attorney General William Barr).

    In the days following the shooting, from May 1 to May 3, MSNBC covered the shooting for just under five minutes, CNN devoted nearly 24 minutes, and Fox News covered it for a little over 14 minutes -- amounting to just under 43 minutes total.

    Chart by Melissa Joskow.

    On broadcast channels, during ABC News’ coverage of the shooting on May 1, World News Tonight with David Muir aired footage of a reporter attempting to question the handcuffed gunman about what happened as he was being lead away by police. This type of unnecessary focus on the gunman has been linked to a “contagion effect” in which mass shooters “model their attacks on previous incidents, and often appear to desire recognition.”

    The Sunday news shows -- CNN’s State of the Union, ABC’s This Week, NBC’s Meet the Press, Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday, and CBS’ Face the Nation -- all ignored the UNCC shooting.

    According to Gun Violence Archive, the shooting at UNCC is the 104th mass shooting this year in the U.S., and according to an NBC News tracker, it is the third school shooting, in 2019.

    Methodology:

    Media Matters searched SnapStream for shot, shoot, gunman, kill, murder, charged, UNCC, UNC, university, Charlotte, North Carolina, Howell, Parlier, or Terrell from 5 a.m. till midnight between April 29 and May 3 and on Sunday, May 5. Media Matters searched those same terms during the May 5 Sunday news shows. All mentions of the shooting, including teasers, headlines, and full segments, were timed.

  • Without a dedicated climate debate, moderators are likely to let Democratic candidates off the hook

    In the 2016 primary debates, only 1.5% of questions addressed climate change. In 2020, we need to do better.

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER

    Climate activists and some presidential candidates are calling on the Democratic National Committee to make climate change the sole focus of at least one of its 12 planned presidential primary debates. They argue that a climate-centric debate would help voters learn where the candidates stand on potential solutions, motivate candidates to articulate clear climate action plans, and ensure that debate moderators don't give climate short shrift as they have done in years past.

    Activists and voters are pushing to hear from candidates about climate change 

    Environmental and progressive groups including CREDO Action, 350 Action, Greenpeace USA, Sunrise, the U.S. Youth Climate Strike, and Daily Kos are circulating three petitions demanding a climate-focused debate. Together they have garnered more than 155,000 signatures so far.

    At least three Democratic presidential candidates have also called for a debate dedicated to climate change. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was the first, and he launched his own petition. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro have also come out in support of the idea.

    Recent polling data bolsters these entreaties for a climate-focused debate. A CNN poll in late April found that Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters ranked climate change as their top issue: 96% said it was very or somewhat important for a president to support "aggressive action to slow the effects of climate change." A March Des Moines Register/CNN poll found that 80% of likely Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa would like candidates to spend a lot of time talking about climate change, ranking it alongside health care at the top of issues they want to hear about. And a February poll sponsored by CAP Action Fund, Environmental Defense Action Fund, and the League of Conservation Voters also found that climate change is a top-tier concern for Democratic primary voters and caucus-goers in early voting states, with 84% wanting Democratic presidential candidates to act on the climate crisis and move the country completely to clean energy.

    Activists contend that voters' concerns about climate change won't be adequately addressed in the traditional debate format. A debate dedicated to climate change would drive candidates to clarify their climate platforms as well as explain how they will approach specific issues like environmental justice and a Just Transition.

    The CREDO petition argues that without a climate-focused debate, "news networks and other debate host organizations won't ask more than one or two token debate questions on climate change." The U.S. Youth Climate Strike petition makes a similar point: "With the magnitude of the oncoming climate crisis it's no longer sufficient to have a single token environmental question that 2020 candidates get to brush off with a soundbite. We need an entire debate on environmental policies."

    Activists' concerns about debate moderators neglecting climate change are borne out by Media Matters’ research.

    In 2016 debates, moderators rarely asked questions about climate change, let alone explored the issue in depth

    Moderators and panelists at past presidential debates have largely ignored climate change. Media Matters analyzed 20 presidential primary debates held during the 2016 election cycle and found that only 1.5% of the questions were about climate change -- a mere 22 questions out of 1,477. And during the three general election debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, moderators didn't pose a single climate question.

    The few questions that moderators and panelists did ask about climate change during primary debates tended to be shallow ones with no follow-up, resulting in uninformative exchanges. An example of this dynamic came during the November 2015 Democratic primary debate. After extensive discussion of ISIS and terrorism, CBS' John Dickerson asked Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), "In the previous debate you said the greatest threat to national security was climate change. Do you still believe that?" Sanders responded, "Absolutely," and explained that climate change can exacerbate terrorism. But voters learned nothing new about Sanders' positions or proposals, and the whole setup of the question suggested a false choice between addressing terrorism or the climate crisis. Dickerson and his co-moderators didn't ask any other climate questions at that debate.

    In 2019, CNN candidate town halls have demonstrated the public’s interest in climate change

    The recent slate of CNN town halls with 2020 presidential contenders has shown the public’s desire for the candidates to discuss climate change and given a glimpse of what viewers could gain from a substantive debate focused on the topic. In 18 of the 20 candidate town halls CNN has held this year, an audience member asked a question about climate change. The moderators asked a follow-up question in only six of these instances.

    On the occasions when moderators did push for more specifics, it demonstrated the clarifying role that they can play in helping viewers better understand a candidate's position. For example, after fielding an audience question about the Green New Deal during her CNN town hall on February 18, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) responded, “We may not have agreements on exactly how it will work and when we can get it done,” before discussing climate policies she supports such as reentering the Paris accord and restoring Obama-era vehicle mileage standards. Moderator Don Lemon then asked Klobuchar a series of follow-up questions that pushed her to explain why she believes the goals of the Green New Deal are "aspirations" and why "compromises" will be needed.

    Former Rep. John Delaney’s (D-MD) March 10 CNN town hall offered another example of how moderators can help voters get a clearer sense of a candidate’s climate stances. An audience member asked Delaney what he and his family have done to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Delaney talked about his family’s use of renewables and energy-efficient systems and then discussed his support for a carbon tax and negative-emissions technologies. In a follow-up question, moderator Jake Tapper noted that Delaney had previously disparaged the Green New Deal and asked him to address people who support the resolution, which prompted Delaney to explain that he would instead pursue "realistic" and "bipartisan" solutions and not tie climate action to other policies like universal health care.

    Instances like this -- in which a moderator asks specific, substantive follow-up questions about climate change policy -- have been extremely rare in past years. This year, voters need to hear much more in-depth discussion of climate solutions.

    The science of climate change was clear during the 2016 election season, but now the threat is even more immediate and urgent, especially as the last year has brought us record extreme weather events, alarming climate reports from both the United Nations and the U.S. government, continued rollbacks of climate protections from the Trump administration, and a burgeoning youth movement demanding action. Moderators should ask about climate policy at every debate and follow up to make sure candidates don't skate by with superficial answers. On top of that, hosting a climate-focused debate would give voters the best opportunity to hear a substantive discussion of how candidates plan to lead on the existential crisis of our time.

  • Stephen Moore defended slave owner Robert E. Lee, wrongly claiming that “Lee hated slavery"

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Shortly after the deadly August 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, Stephen Moore went on CNN and defended the honor of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, claiming that he “hated slavery. He abhorred slavery, but he fought for his section of the country.” After his remarks resurfaced today, historians and reporters criticized Moore for his historical revisionism.

    President Donald Trump recently picked Moore for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board. Moore is a right-wing commentator who has objectionable views on women and the economy.

    Moore previously worked as a commentator for CNN and appeared on the August 17, 2017, edition of CNN Newsroom, shortly after the violent Unite the Right rally in which white supremacists claimed to march against the removal of Lee’s statue in Charlottesville, VA. On August 12, 2017, neo-Nazi James A. Fields Jr. killed anti-racism activist Heather Heyer with his car during the protest.

    During that CNN appearance, Moore defended the legacy and reputation of the Confederate leader, stating that “Robert E. Lee hated slavery. He abhorred slavery, but he fought for his section of the country.” He added that “the Civil War was about the South having its own rights,” and slavery “was a big part of it, but it wasn't only that.”

    CNN anchor John Berman told Moore during the exchange: “I can't let it slide. Robert E. Lee held slaves. He ordered the beating of slaves. He ordered the return of fugitive slaves and he fought for the dissolution of the Union to maintain slavery.”

    After his comments were resurfaced by Media Matters, reporters and academics criticized Moore’s historical revisionism.

    Princeton University historian Kevin M. Kruse tweeted, “Robert E. Lee owned slaves and brutalized them. Lee led an armed revolt against the United States to preserve and expand slavery. And during that armed revolt, Lee's army captured free blacks in the North and enslaved them.”

    Washington Post reporter Michael Scherer wrote: “Gen. Lee wrote that he believed ‘the relation of master and slave, controlled by humane laws and influenced by Christianity and an enlightened public sentiment [was] the best that can exist between the white and black races…’”

    Economist Washington correspondent Jon Fasman wrote: “Moore's assertion is a) manifestly untrue, and b) no excuse for treason.”

    Cornell University historian Lawrence Glickman wrote: “Stephen Moore proves that he's just as good a historian as he is as an economist.”

    Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery tweeted about the exchange, writing that Moore mischaracterized what the Post reporter said during a previous segment that also discussed Charlottesville. Lowery wrote that Moore claimed he had argued that “Robert E. Lee and all confederate soldiers were terrorists,” while what he actually argued was that “Lee fought for a treasonous cause and committed acts of brutal racial violence - not someone who should be honored w/public monuments.” He also tweeted: “The historical record is clear, though, Robert E. Lee was a traitor and brutal slave owner.”

  • Stuck on how to refer to trans people in the past? The answer is actually really simple.

    The overwhelming majority of the time, it's completely unnecessary to draw attention to former names or pronouns

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    It’s been more than five years since Chelsea Manning came out as transgender, but news organizations continue to struggle when it comes to reporting on her past. With her name in the news once again as a result of the April 11 arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, some reporters and commentators repeatedly referred to her by the incorrect name and pronouns.

    NBC News reporter Ken Dilanian referred to Manning as “he” and “him” during multiple MSNBC segments. Fox News reporter Greg Palkot emphasized Manning’s former first name, “Bradley,” during two Thursday Fox & Friends clips and again the following day on America’s Newsroom. On CNN, correspondent Nick Paton Walsh stumbled over both names and pronouns during a Friday report on New Day. Whether or not the names and pronouns were being deployed in any sort of deliberate manner, these reports are evidence of a lingering uncertainty when it comes to talking about trans people.

    The best way to refer to a trans person -- even when discussing their past -- is to use whatever name and pronouns that individual currently uses.

    In Manning’s specific case, she came out as trans in a written statement on August 22, 2013. In it, she wrote, “I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun.” While this request would appear simple enough to follow, journalists have been twisting themselves into knots about it ever since.

    I reached out to a number of LGBTQ advocacy groups to ask when it’s appropriate to reference a trans person’s prior name and pronouns in news coverage, and why misgendering and deadnaming (using a trans person’s former name) should be avoided. Here’s what they had to say:

    Sarah McBride, national press secretary at the Human Rights Campaign: “The misgendering of transgender people in the media can send a dangerous message to the public.”

    The misgendering of transgender people in the media can send a dangerous message to the public, reinforcing the very prejudice at the heart of the discrimination and violence transgender people face.

    Transgender people are their names and gender identities even before they come out publicly, and that fact should be reflected in coverage of transgender people in the news. While there has been significant progress in media coverage of transgender people, too often we see competent and respectful coverage fall away when the news revolves around transgender people who have been incarcerated. Every transgender person deserves to have their gender identity affirmed and it shouldn't be conditional.

    Nick Adams, director of transgender representation at GLAAD: “After the person's new name becomes common knowledge, it is unnecessary and disrespectful to continue referring to their old name.”

    Media outlets should always use the current and accurate pronoun to refer to a transgender person, and should never reveal a trans person's birth name without their explicit permission. When a public figure transitions, there may be a brief period of time where journalists refer to their birth name in order to report on the transition. However, after the person's new name becomes common knowledge, it is unnecessary and disrespectful to continue referring to their old name.

    Gillian Branstetter, media relations manager at the National Center for Transgender Equality: “Rarely is someone’s prior name relevant to your story, and including it only draws more attention to the individual’s status as a transgender person.”

    I strongly encourage reporters to use a subject’s current name and only their current name unless otherwise permitted by the person themselves. Rarely is someone’s prior name relevant to your story, and including it only draws more attention to the individual’s status as a transgender person when, as was the case in Manning’s story, it’s not relevant to the main narrative of the article. I would encourage reporters to ask themselves if they would do the same for someone who had changed their name after, say, a marriage or a divorce.

    There are transgender people who may be fine with someone noting or mentioning their prior name, and doing so in an article is fine with that expressed permission. But to ensure the privacy of all parties are protected, I encourage reporters to hedge on the side of courtesy and respect by using a person’s current name only.

    To add on to one of Branstetter’s points, you wouldn’t go out of your way to refer to a woman who changed her name from “Smith” to “Jones” after exiting a marriage as “Mrs. Smith” just because you happen to be describing an event that occurred when that was the name she went by. In fact, doing so would come off as rude. The same goes for referring to trans people’s pasts.

    The Associated Press and The New York Times both spell out these guidelines in their in-house style guides.

    For individuals who have changed their names, the AP Stylebook instructs journalists to “use the name by which a person currently lives or is widely known. Include a previous name or names only if relevant to story.”

    In the case of Manning’s most recent mentions in the news, her former name was almost certainly not relevant to the story. Barring the need to quote from a specific document using her former name, it’s unnecessary to note that she was known by something else at the time.

    In its entry for “gender,” the AP is unambiguous about which name journalists should use: “Use the name by which a transgender person now lives. … Refer to a previous name only if relevant to the story.” The guide even includes an example for how to refer to a trans person in the event that it is relevant to include a former name: “Caitlyn Jenner, who won a 1976 Olympic gold medal in decathlon as Bruce Jenner.”

    In Jenner’s case, a reference to her former name in a story about her Olympic victory might make sense, as the story becomes confusing if you somehow aren’t aware that she’s transgender. In Manning’s situation, unless a story is about legal battles undertaken to access hormone replacement therapy or her fight to legally update her name in April 2014, references to her trans status, former name, or former pronouns are unnecessary, as her gender was not central to the story.

    The 2015 edition of The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage guides journalists to “cite a person’s transgender status only when it is pertinent and its pertinence is clear to the reader.” Additionally, it reads: “Unless a former name is newsworthy or pertinent, use the name and pronouns (he, his, she, her, hers) preferred by the transgender person. If no preference is known, use the pronouns consistent with the way the subject lives publicly.”

    Resistance to accurately referring to trans people by the names and pronouns requested sends a clear message about whose identities are considered legitimate and whose aren’t.

    When Chelsea Manning first came out as trans, CNN justified its decision to refer to her by masculine pronouns because she had “not yet taken any steps toward gender transition through surgery or hormone replacement therapy.” Of course, this was complicated by the fact that Manning wasn’t in a position where she could take those steps, having just been sentenced to 35 years in prison. Additionally, CNN’s stated policy at the time was to refer to Manning by her former name since she had not yet legally changed it. This would have made sense if the policy was consistently applied across the board, but it wasn’t. Some people, such as Stefani Germanotta (Lady Gaga), go by stage names. Others, such as Sens. Willard Romney and Rafael Cruz (Mitt and Ted), go by middle names or nicknames. CNN had no issue with referring to individuals by their chosen names in those cases. Refusing to honor Manning’s wish to be referred to by her chosen name was more than a simple matter of policy -- it was a passive-aggressive decision to delegitimize trans identities.

    Years after coming out as trans, Chelsea Manning and all trans people continue to be delegitimized, medicalized, and stigmatized by the media through gratuitous reminders of news subjects’ trans status. Accurate and unbiased reporting means journalists need to consistently afford trans people the same level of respect they’d offer anybody else.