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  • A study about so-called abortion reversal just got pulled because of ethical concerns

    BuzzFeed news reported that a study about the scientifically unproven method to stop an abortion -- championed by anti-choice activists -- lacked "formal ethical approval"

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On July 17, BuzzFeed News reported that a published study about the practice of so-called abortion reversal had been pulled from a scientific journal due to ethical concerns, further proving that one of right-wing and anti-abortion media's favorite talking points is nothing more than harmful junk science.

    BuzzFeed News’ Azeen Ghorayshi wrote that the study by well-known anti-choice personality George Delgado had “been temporarily withdrawn from” the April edition of the Issues in Law & Medicine journal “because [the study] falsely claimed to have received formal ethical approval.” The study hinges on Delgado’s belief that people seeking medication abortions can reverse the procedure by taking only the first pill required in the two-pill regime. The person would then be injected with “a large dose of progesterone to—in theory—reverse the effects of mifepristone” in the first pill. To prove this theory, Delgado set up a hotline in 2012 for people who were seeking abortion reversals and published a limited study about the procedure that same year.

    Delgado’s theory caught fire in right-wing and anti-abortion media, with outlets including The Daily Wire and Live Action publishing accounts from people who had supposedly successfully reversed their abortions. When pro-choice organizations warned that abortion reversal was both scientifically unproven and potentially dangerous, outlets including The Federalist attacked these organizations as “anti-science” and said they were ignoring “the scientific reality of abortion pill reversal for a more ideological reason.” Anti-abortion site Life News inaccurately claimed that opposition to abortion reversal stemmed from a financial incentive for providers to continue performing abortions. Meanwhile, The Weekly Standard alleged that pro-choice advocates didn’t “really want women to choose to change their minds.”

    Then, in April 2018, Delgado and several co-authors published another study alleging the efficacy of the practice in the Issues in Law & Medicine journal. As Ghorayshi reported after publication, “the University of San Diego — which employs two of Delgado’s coauthors — launched an investigation into the study’s ethical approval.” The university then “asked for the paper to be withdrawn, spokesperson Pamela Payton told BuzzFeed News, because it had ‘ambiguous’ wording regarding the university’s ethics board, ‘leading many readers to incorrectly conclude that the [school] reviewed and approved the entire study.’”

    According to Delgado, the issue was “just a technical problem,” and that his team would “redo” the ethics review (although, as BuzzFeed noted, it’s not entirely clear how such a “redo” would work.) However, there is ample reason to believe that even if Delgado could “redo” the ethics review, the outcome would be largely the same because of his ideological viewpoint and the proven structural flaws of his studies.

    As Diane J. Horvath-Cosper, a reproductive health advocacy fellow at Physicians for Reproductive Health, explained to Marie Claire, Delgado appears to have done his work “backwards, with a desired result in mind—one that would support an ideological agenda.” Marie Claire noted that Delgado has previously labeled abortion "a scourge and a plague on our society” and told a caller on a radio show during a 2013 guest appearance that even though the caller had AIDS, “it wasn’t acceptable to use condoms ever.”

    Delgado’s studies in 2012 and 2018 also suffered from several technical flaws. According to The Guardian, the 2012 study was “not done with the oversight of an ethical review committee.” Jezebel similarly reported that it also relied on an extremely small sample size of seven cases -- and Delgado considered only four of these cases successful. Although the April 2018 study had a larger sample size, it still relied on limited case studies, which HuffPost said are “the weakest form of scientific evidence because they lack control groups.” Newsweek further reported that the study “used a wide variety of injected progesterone protocols, ranging from one to more than 10 injections of unknown doses” and did not assess previous levels of progesterone in the subjects’ blood -- further skewing the reliability of the results.

    In general, anti-choice extremists like Delgado are making claims about “abortion reversal” as a tactic to promote the myth that abortion is pathologically linked to regret. In reality, this idea of abortion regret or, as some anti-abortion activists call it, “post-abortion syndrome,” has been widely discredited. To debunk claims that abortion reversal procedures are widely sought by patients who regret their decision, Rewire.News’ Sofia Resnick spoke to abortion provider Gabrielle Goodrick, who estimated “that she has seen six patients out of about 10,000 who did not want to continue their medication abortions after initiating the process” in the 16 years she has been a provider.

    Medical organizations have also weighed in to say that the science doesn’t back claims about reversal. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) submitted a report in August 2017 about alleged abortion reversal procedures, stating, “Claims regarding abortion ‘reversal’ treatment are not based on science and do not meet clinical standards.” The report concluded that ACOG “does not support prescribing progesterone to stop a medical abortion.” Dr. Daniel Grossman, director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, told Refinery29, if a person simply decided not to take the second pill for a medication abortion, “there’s a good chance that the pregnancy would continue,” but “there’s no evidence” that injections of progesterone would work to “reverse” an abortion.

    Despite these issues, the junk science of abortion reversal has made its way into state laws in Idaho, Arkansas, South Dakota, Utah, and Arizona, where abortion providers are required to inform patients seeking an abortion that there is an option to reverse it.

    Right-wing media, anti-abortion activists, and some lawmakers may continue to spread misinformation about the dubious efficacy of so-called abortion reversal procedures, but as BuzzFeed’s report demonstrates, the facts are piling up: This practice is based on junk science that is more likely to hurt than help.

  • Trump pushes false anti-abortion talking point claiming there's a lack of public support for Roe​

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    In a recent interview, President Donald Trump repeated a right-wing, anti-abortion talking point alleging that Americans’ support for abortion is evenly divided. This talking point -- and Trump’s comment -- has emerged as part of the push to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and to paint any warnings about his likelihood of overturning of Roe v. Wade as overblown.

  • Expert debunks conservative attacks on John Kerry and the Logan Act regarding the Iran deal

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Conservative media were quick to claim former Secretary of State John Kerry is violating the Logan Act following a Boston Globe report that he is working to save the Iran nuclear deal by meeting with top officials from Iran, Germany, and France. But according to a legal expert, the Logan Act, which prohibits private citizens from engaging in unauthorized intervention in U.S./foreign disputes to "defeat the measures of the United States," wouldn't apply in part because the deal is still current U.S. policy.

    The May 4 Globe story reported that Kerry has met twice with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and French President Emmanuel Macron, has met German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and has talked on the phone with a top European Union official as he seeks to preserve the nuclear deal. America’s European allies are also urging Trump not to end the pact, as he has threatened to do. Brookings Institution foreign policy expert Michael O’Hanlon told the Globe that “former secretaries of state often remain quite engaged with foreign leaders, as they should,” but that “it’s rarely so issue-specific.” According to the Globe’s report, Kerry is working with both former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, who along with Kerry helped negotiate the nuclear deal, and a group called Diplomacy Works. They are also lobbying Congress to support the deal and arguing the case in media outlets.

    President Donald Trump’s allies in conservative media were quick to attack Kerry over this report. Alan Dershowitz, a retired Harvard Law School professor who has tirelessly defended Trump on the Russia investigation, said on the May 5 edition of Fox & Friends that if the Logan Act were enforced, “my friend John Kerry would be violating” it. On May 7, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy said, “Some have suggested, isn’t he breaking the Logan Act.” Right-wing website The Federalist claimed that Kerry’s actions are “treasonous and likely in violation of the Logan Act.” Many Trump supporters on Twitter accused Kerry of being in violation of the Logan Act. And Trump himself recently wrote on Twitter that Kerry’s actions were “possibly illegal.”

    But according to University of Texas School of Law professor Steve Vladeck, who explained the history of the Logan Act to The Atlantic in early 2017, the Logan Act wouldn’t apply to anything Kerry is doing, in part because the Iran nuclear deal is still official government policy. From the Globe’s report:

    “The act only applies to conduct that is designed to ‘defeat the measures of the United States’ or influence the conduct of foreign governments,” Vladeck said. “If all Kerry is doing is working to keep in place something that’s still technically a ‘measure of the United States,’ I don’t see how the statute would apply even if someone was crazy enough to try it.”

  • Right-wing media use Parkland school shooting to rail against abortion

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Update: This piece has been updated to include additional examples.

    On February 14, after a school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, left 17 dead, right-wing and anti-abortion media made outlandish comparisons between gun regulation and abortion restrictions, as well as comparing the National Rifle Association (NRA) to Planned Parenthood.

    • Peggy Noonan, a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, compared the debate around gun violence prevention policies following the Parkland shooting to calls from the anti-abortion movement to restrict access to abortions after 20 weeks. Noonan claimed, “On gun law, Republicans oppose banning assault weapons such as the AR-15, the one the Parkland shooter used, because of the numbers, power and contributions of gun owners and the NRA. Democrats oppose banning late-term abortion because of the numbers, power and contributions of the rising left, feminists and Planned Parenthood.” Noonan argued that lawmakers should “trade banning assault weapons for banning late-term abortion. Make illegal a killing machine and a killing procedure. In both cases the lives of children would be saved.”
    • After Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) said that gun regulation is needed because Americans cannot stand by while “our babies are being slaughtered,” The Western Journal -- which is known to peddle fake news -- highlighted conservatives on Twitter who “were quick to point out the glaring hypocrisy in her statements, suggesting that one cannot decry the deaths of babies while being such a strong advocate for the practice of abortion,” including actor James Woods’ tweet:

    • The Daily Caller’s Benny Johnson similarly attacked Harris with an article titled “Pro-Abortion Senator Horrified About ‘Slaughter of Babies.’”

    • RedState’s Josh Kimbrell wrote, “It is a contradiction in political philosophy to promote Planned Parenthood while accusing gun rights advocates of being against life.” Kimbrell claimed that while Planned Parenthood “is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths every single year,” the NRA “does not advocate gun violence or promote a culture of death.” Instead, Kimbrell argued, the NRA “provides excellent gun safety training resources to all ages.”
    • During a February 22 appearance on Fox News @ Night, Townhall's Guy Benson talked about the supposed media bias of outlets reporting on the NRA’s political donations but not covering donations from Planned Parenthood’s political arm. He was referring to a Senate vote against a ban on abortions at 20 weeks:

    GUY BENSON: CNN, one of our rival networks, tweeted out a list of the Republicans who had voted no, with a list of their ratings from the NRA, and people were highlighting how much money they had taken from the NRA. And that type of coverage simply did not exist with the Democrats and Planned Parenthood and the abortion lobby when they voted for a life-and-death issue against the strong wishes of the American people. And, to me, that dichotomy is striking and unavoidable.

    • On the February 21 edition of One America News Network’s Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, host Liz Wheeler also compared donations from the NRA and Planned Parenthood. Wheeler said that not only was it a “hideous lie” that the “NRA buys off politicians in an effort to push a pro-gun agenda that costs the lives of millions of children,” but also that it was “ironic because liberals have no problem with another organization that also donates to politicians and actually does kill millions of children -- Planned Parenthood.”
    • Writing for Townhall, conservative blogger Erick Erickson also compared Planned Parenthood to the NRA, saying that “elite opinion makers in America champion Planned Parenthood, which actually does kill thousands of children each year, while savaging the National Rifle Association, which has never killed a child and whose members have actually saved others' lives.”
    • Christian Schneider, an opinion columnist at USA Today, wrote that the “double standard” of media coverage could be summed up as: “When Democrats work on behalf of a special interest that aborts millions of children, they are doing so from a place of conscience and ideological purity. When Republicans argue in favor of Second Amendment rights, it is because they have been bought off by a disfavored lobbying group looking to profit from carnage.” Schneider explained that this “double standard” is a “cynical ploy that only devalues Congress in the voters’ eyes. And it is especially destructive when applied only to one party.”
    • Fox News’ Laura Ingraham used the high schools students who survived the Parkland shooting and have been calling for gun safety policies to make a comparison to media coverage of the anti-abortion March for Life. On the February 20 edition of her Fox News show, The Ingraham Angle, Ingraham said that “the media has a little double standard problem here” because of what she deemed under-coverage of the March for Life. She claimed that “18- to 34-year-olds were the second most likely age group to oppose” abortions after 20 weeks -- a statistic the media should think more critically about before reporting -- and said the media should “give those kids some mention as well and maybe a little empathy, or at least a little fair coverage. That would be nice. The kids count? Well, that means all of their views.”
    • Tucker Carlson made a similar comparison to the March for Life on the February 21 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight. Carlson said that “thousands of other children come to Washington for the March [for] Life,” and that “like the kids from Parkland, they’re against killing.” Carlson also questioned the media response to the March for Life in comparison to coverage of the Parkland shooting, asking, “Do the media hold these kids up as the last word on the subject? Do they attack anyone who questions them? Please. A lot of news outlets don't even bother to cover that march at all.”

    Other outlets promoted similar talking points comparing abortion restrictions and gun regulation

    • On the February 20 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Time magazine’s Michael Duffy and MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell praised Peggy Noonan’s Wall Street Journal column in which she called for a “trade” between banning assault weapons and restricting abortion after 20 weeks:

    MICHAEL DUFFY: Science is chasing politics in both those cases. And Peggy Noonan wrote a really interesting column on Saturday, I think, where she said --

    ANDREA MITCHELL: It’s a wonderful column.

    DUFFY: -- where she said -- she had a proposal at the end that was shocking at first when you read it that basically said the right should give on late-term abortion -- I'm sorry, the left --

    MITCHELL: The left, exactly.

    DUFFY: -- should give on late-term abortion and the right should give on some of these gun restrictions, particularly with respect to assault weapons. And that that’s a vote, she said, for life in general. And she cited young people as a changed political factor.

    MITCHELL: I'm glad you mentioned that, Mike. Because she is ahead of the curve in all of these cultural issues, I think, Peggy has a unique sensibility. And --

    DUFFY: It was an interesting trade up.

    • In a column for the Chicago Tribune, John Kass made an argument similar to Noonan’s. He argued that Republicans can call for “gun-violence restraining orders” and Democrats can agree to support a ban on abortion after 20-weeks as both "common sense" compromises.

    The comparison also spread to social media and message boards

    • On Reddit, the “r/The_Donald” forum featured several threads touting right-wing media’s comparisons between Planned Parenthood and NRA or abortion with guns. The titles of these threads included “If You Want To Take My Guns, I Want To Take Your Abortions That Kill 300,000 Children A Year” and “2017 killing statistics. Planned Parenthood: 328,348. NRA members: 0." Some of these threads drew significant engagement from users:

    UPDATE: Right-wing media continued using the Parkland shooting to attack Planned Parenthood and abortion rights

    • Radio host Michael Graham wrote for The Federalist that politicians who claim to be personally opposed to abortion, but vote for pro-choice policies are “too timid to vote” for abortion restrictions “because Planned Parenthood is the NRA of the Democratic Party. Only worse.” Planned Parenthood is worse, Graham said, because although some Republicans support gun regulation, no Democrat supports abortion restrictions “because Planned Parenthood and its allies wouldn’t let it happen.” Graham further argued that “Planned Parenthood and the abortion lobby are proof that you don’t need a gun to be a bully.”
    • National Review’s Alexandra DeSanctis compared outrage over politicians taking donations from the NRA to what she perceived as a media silence about politicians taking donations from Planned Parenthood, noting that “mainstream outlets” never “point to the campaign contributions that Democratic politicians accept from Planned Parenthood and its close cousin NARAL.” DeSanctis stated, “If the Left and its friends in the media truly cared about the influence of ‘dark money,’ they would bother to report this information about Planned Parenthood.”
    • On the March 1 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson asked Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI), “What would drive a 19-year-old to want to murder strangers?” In response, Duffy partly blamed abortion, saying, “We dehumanize life in those video games, in those movies, and with abortion.”
    • Duffy returned to Fox News during the March 2 edition of The Ingraham Angle, where Duffy and host Laura Ingraham repeatedly claimed that calling out Planned Parenthood instead of the NRA made more sense to them. Ingraham stated, “If we're going to judge people based on an organization’s blood spilled, well, I hope Planned Parenthood is going to lose all of its partnerships or affiliations, given the fact that we have about 57 million babies who never got to see the light of day.” Duffy agreed, saying, “If you want to save kids' lives, I would look to the Democrat (sic) Party and Planned Parenthood and the left-wing media. And Planned Parenthood killed 300 of the most defenseless, voiceless, little babies last year alone.” After Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) wondered how the conversation moved to abortion and attempted to bring it back to gun regulation, Ingraham stated, “I thought it was pretty clear, but I'll explain it again if you’re confused. We're talking about the blood of children, innocent children who were gunned down in that school, and we're talking about the blood of the most innocent who are defenseless in the womb.”
    • On March 2, NRA TV contributor Dan Bongino claimed on Tucker Carlson Tonight that it is “so beyond stupid” to debate with liberals on gun regulations because, he said, liberals don’t support putting “any abortion laws on the books” as “they’ll all be ignored” anyway, but believe “gun laws, those will really work.” Host Tucker Carlson agreed with Bongino’s argument, saying that for liberals, “abortion, which is not mentioned in the Constitution is the beating heart of our constitutional rights.”
    • Fox contributor David Bossie argued on the March 2 edition of Fox News’ The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino that “it's interesting that people want to protect Planned Parenthood by killing babies on one hand and, on the other hand, they want to take guns away.”
    • During the March 4 edition of Fox and Friends Weekend, conservative radio host Kathy Barnette said, “Tragically Nikolas Cruz killed 17 little souls on that day, but Planned Parenthood kills over 800 babies on a daily basis, and where is the moral outrage on that?” Host Rachel Campos-Duffy replied, “Absolutely.”
  • Misinterpreting a judge’s order, right-wing media have convinced themselves that Michael Flynn is about to reverse his guilty plea

    The latest anti-Mueller bombshell actually amounts to a typo

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump’s overzealous defenders at Fox News spent yesterday using a misinterpretation of a standard order from the judge overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecution of former national security adviser Michael Flynn to speculate that Flynn’s guilty plea is on the verge of being vacated.

    Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in December and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election. But Judge Rudolph Contreras, who accepted Flynn’s plea, subsequently recused himself and was replaced by Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who issued an order that month directing Mueller to provide Flynn’s lawyers with any evidence they possess that is favorable to the defendant. The disclosure of this information can be required under the Brady rule, named after the 1963 case Brady v. Maryland.

    That’s a huge deal, according to conservative media figures like Fox judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano, who have spent months spuriously attacking Justice Department and FBI officials for their conduct during the Russia investigation. “Why would [Sullivan] want that after Gen. Flynn has already pleaded guilty? That is unheard of,” Napolitano asked on yesterday’s Fox & Friends in a segment featuring the caption, “Will Flynn Reverse His Guilty Plea?” Napolitano then suggested an answer: “He must suspect a defect in the guilty plea. Meaning he must have reason to believe that Gen. Flynn pleaded guilty for some reason other than guilt.”

    Other Fox programs picked up Napolitano’s theory over the course of the day. That afternoon, the Fox panel show Outnumbered portrayed the Sullivan order as an indication of “new questions about the circumstances” of Flynn’s guilty plea, with co-host Katie Pavlich falsely claiming that Sullivan’s order had explicitly told Mueller’s probe that “it’s very clear that you withheld some pretty important information.” And that evening, Fox host Martha MacCallum opened her show over the caption “Flynn Could Flip Guilty Plea,” discussing the order, which she described as “raising eyebrows,” in back-to-back interviews with Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, and Napolitano. Turley argued that “it's important not to read too much into this” and suggested it’s unlikely that the order will lead to any changes in Flynn’s plea. Napolitano said Sullivan’s move was very unusual and could indicate improper coercion by the Mueller team but walked back the explicit statement he made on Fox & Friends about Sullivan’s motivation, asking of the judge, “Does he suspect some defect in Michael Flynn's guilty plea? We don't know the answer to that.”

    In this latest salvo in Fox’s monthslong campaign to undermine the Mueller probe by any means necessary, the network is picking up on a theory that ping-ponged through the right-wing media over the last week.

    National Review’s Andrew McCarthy and The Washington Examiner’s Byron York were the first main proponents of the notion that the Sullivan order represents a “curious” or “unusual” turn in the Flynn case. The Federalist’s Margot Cleveland added a new twist over the weekend, arguing that a revised version of the order Sullivan issued Friday suggested that Flynn was about to withdraw his guilty plea. All three pieces have been widely aggregated by other right-wing outlets, far-right trolls, and fake news websites who are all rushing to declare the Flynn guilty plea is in jeopardy.

    Notably, McCarthy and York placed the same sizable caveat in their pieces: In McCarthy’s words, “It could be that this is just Judge Sullivan’s standard order on exculpatory information, filed in every case over which he presides.” But oddly, while such caveats implicitly acknowledge that the story would be much less interesting if Sullivan is among the federal judges who issue standing Brady orders for every one of the criminal cases on their dockets, neither writer seems to have actually bothered to check if that is actually his practice.

    I checked, and it is. As he explained in a 2016 law review article calling for the amendment of the rules of federal criminal procedure to incorporate such disclosures, “I now issue a standing Brady Order in each criminal case on my docket, which I update as the law in the area progresses.” Thus, Sullivan’s action was not “unusual” or “curious,” but simply what he does in every single criminal case he oversees.

    Napolitano and his ilk seem to have picked up the story York and McCarthy put forth, but stripped off their caveat and instead asserted as fact that Sullivan’s action must be because he suspects some sort of malfeasance from Mueller, or even because, as Napolitano suggested, Flynn was not guilty to begin with.

    The Federalist’s Cleveland makes a slightly different argument. On Friday, after the publication of York’s and McCarthy’s pieces, Sullivan issued a second, slightly different order. Cleveland focuses on this second order, which she writes “added one sentence specifying that the government’s obligation to produce evidence material either to the defendant’s guilt or punishment ‘includes producing, during plea negotiations, any exculpatory evidence in the government’s possession.’” According to Cleveland, this is a big deal “because it indicates that, if the government did not provide Flynn material evidence during plea negotiations, Flynn has grounds to withdraw his plea.”

    Cleveland concludes that this second order reveals that “a motion by Michael Flynn to withdraw his guilty plea based on government misconduct is likely in the works,” even though Cleveland acknowledged that even in that scenario, “the Supreme Court has never addressed the question of whether a defendant may withdraw a guilty plea if the prosecution withholds exculpatory evidence during plea negotiations.”

    It’s theoretically possible Sullivan really has come to suspect some sort of improper behavior by the Mueller team. But the docket in the case provides a far simpler, more banal explanation for what is happening.

    As legal blogger and attorney Susan Simpson noted in a tweetstorm about the Sullivan conspiracy theories, Sullivan explained that in December, he had accidentally entered an older version of the Brady order that he issues in every criminal case, rather than the “current version,” and was seeking to remedy that error. It’s not a bombshell, it’s effectively a typo.

    The right-wing claims that Flynn’s guilty plea may soon be vacated come amid a broader, furious effort to vindicate him.

    Flynn’s fierce defenses of Trump, declaration that Hillary Clinton should be locked up, and willingness to interact directly with right-wing conspiracy theorist trolls like Mike Cernovich made him a hero to the dregs of the “alt-right.” And over the last month, those conspiracy theorists have rallied behind him.

    Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone kicked things off on February 5, claiming on Infowars that Flynn’s lawyers were on the verge of filing a motion to dismiss the charges against him on the grounds that “that Assistant FBI Director Andrew McCabe told a teleconference of law enforcement officials, ‘first we fuck Flynn, then we fuck Trump.’” Stone claimed that pro-Trump outlets The Hill and Circa had confirmed that quote from McCabe, a longtime target of Trump supporters, but I found no evidence to support that. The quote does, however, appear in a March 2017 piece from the website True Pundit, which is notorious for publishing fabrications and fake news stories.

    “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec has also been a leading Flynn champion, highlighting many of the reports about the Sullivan orders to buttress the #ClearFlynnNow campaign Posobiec has been promoting all month. According to Posobiec, the campaign is needed because “Flynn was framed.”

    That online campaign is part of the “increasingly bold calls for presidential pardons” Trump’s supporters are demanding for those implicated by the Mueller probe, especially Flynn, Politico reported February 19.

    Meanwhile, as the pro-Trump media struggle to construct an alternate reality in which the Mueller probe is constantly on the verge of collapse, yesterday also brought the news that lawyer Alex van der Zwaan had pleaded guilty after Mueller charged him with lying to FBI investigators about other aspects of the Russia probe.

    van der Zwaan -- who has worked on behalf of indicted former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and whose father-in-law is a Russian oligarch -- joins 18 other people and three companies who have been indicted or have pleaded guilty due to the Mueller investigation.

  • The most extreme right-wing reactions to Cecile Richards' departure from Planned Parenthood

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On January 24, BuzzFeed reported that Cecile Richards plans to step down as president of Planned Parenthood. Richards confirmed the news on January 26, saying she is departing the organization some time this year. Immediately, anti-abortion and right-wing media and groups took the opportunity to smear Richards and Planned Parenthood in a number of outlandish ways.

    • The Federalist inaccurately claimed that Richards was leaving “amid an ongoing federal investigation.” The story pointed as evidence to the Department of Justice’s procedural request to the Senate judiciary committee in December 2017 for documents related to the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress’ (CMP) discredited videos, which purport to show Planned Parenthood engaged in illicit practices.
    • Anti-abortion outlet LifeSiteNews published a piece that quoted CMP’s founder David Daleiden who alleged that Richards was leaving because “the secret is out that Planned Parenthood is a taxpayer-sponsored crime syndicate of industrial-scale child killing."
    • On One America News’ Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, host Liz Wheeler said that although some might refer to her as "a conspiracy theorist,” her previous segment “about the legacy of Cecile Richards” was “666 words exactly.” She made the same point on Twitter.
    • Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue’s Senior Vice President Cheryl Sullenger -- who served two years in prison for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic -- posted on social media a series of photoshopped images of Richards wearing an orange jumpsuit in a prison cell and used a variety of hashtags, such as #ReleaseTheMemo and #Qanon. Sullenger’s use of the hashtags was likely an attempt to connect Richards’ departure to the right-wing campaign against special counsel Robert Mueller and the conspiracy theory thread on 8chan message board, respectively.

    • The Stream, an outlet founded by televangelist James Robison, posted a story titled “Can Cecile Richards Live With All the Ghosts?”

    • The Daily Wire called Richards “Planned Parenthood’s chief maniacal ghoul” and stated that “we can only hope Cecile Richards returns swiftly to the obscurity of whichever cavern of Hell spawned her.” The image accompanying the article -- titled “3.5 Million People Are Dead Today Because Of Cecile Richards” -- depicted Richards with devil horns and tail, photoshopped on an ultrasound image of a fetus with a halo.

    • Fake news purveyor Conservative Tribune responded to news of Richards’ departure, commenting, “It takes a special kind of evil to go to sleep at night knowing babies are being killed under your watch.”
    • Catholic newspaper National Catholic Register published a blog post that asked, “Does Richards sleep well at night, or are sleeping pills required to stop the nightmares of babies’ souls that come to visit?”
    • After Hillary Clinton tweeted at Richards thanking her for her work, far-right blog The Gateway Pundit published a piece titled, “Hillary Clinton Thanks Planned Parenthood Pres Cecile Richards For Overseeing the Murder of Millions of Babies - Twitter Responds.”

  • Sunday shows barely mentioned the 2018 Women’s March

    The longest mention was a meager 20 seconds on NBC’s Meet The Press. Other shows were worse.

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Mobilus in Mobili / Creative Commons License via Flickr

    The day after the start of the second annual series of Women’s Marches all over the world, the major Sunday political talk shows were nearly silent on the historic protests, only briefly mentioning the topic across all five shows.

    On January 20 and 21, one year after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, hundreds of thousands of protesters turned out in hundreds of marches and other events in the U.S. and worldwide to unite to support women’s rights. The protests emphasized encouraging women to engage in the political process and expressing shared disdain for the oppressive policies of the Trump administration. According to Politico, there were an estimated 600,000 attendees at the Los Angeles march alone. One of the March’s main events, called #PowerToThePolls, took place in Las Vegas, NV, on January 21 and aimed to register one million voters.The Women’s March described the effort as targeting “swing states to register new voters, engage impacted communities, harness our collective energy to advocate for policies and candidates that reflect our values, and collaborate with our partners to elect more women and progressives candidates to office.”

    Despite the worldwide impact of the marches, the major Sunday political talk shows  -- which include CNN’s State of the Union, ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday -- were nearly silent on the topic. These shows often set the tone and priorities for media coverage for the rest of the week.

    On ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanopoulos briefly acknowledged the “Women’s Marches in hundreds of cities all across the country” in his opening monologue, and later in the show, panelist Karen Finney mentioned “all the people who were marching in the streets yesterday.” No one responded directly to her comments about the marches. On CBS’ Face The Nation, conservative outlet The Federalist’s publisher Ben Domenech noted the “pro-life March For Life that happens every year, followed by the Women’s March on the other side” while discussing Trump’s first year in office.

    The only significant discussion, defined as a back-and-forth exchange between two or more people, of the weekend’s marches was on NBC’s Meet the Press, where panelists remarked on the event in a meager 20-second exchange. Host Chuck Todd also mentioned the “hundreds of thousands of women march[ing] across the country protesting the president, many with an eye towards more women winning office this November” in his opening monologue.

    In 2017, CNN and MSNBC extensively covered the first annual Women’s March, while Fox News’ minimal coverage was criticized. That march was one of the largest protests in US. history.

  • Stop blaming "the media" for Roy Moore

    Right-wing pundits sidestep their own movement’s toxic pathologies to blame the press for Moore’s potential win

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A recurring feature of conservative punditry in the age of Trump is the idea that Republican voters generally -- and the conservative movement specifically -- cannot be held to account for their excesses, moral failings, and political disasters. Each time Republicans and their voters act in ways that right-wing pundits acknowledge are deleterious to civic health and deeply immoral, there’s a mad rush to recast those behaviors as the fault of liberal failures. We’re seeing this dynamic play out as Alabama voters seem poised to elect Republican Roy Moore to the U.S. Senate and right-wing pundits attempt to deflect blame for this potential outcome onto “the media.”

    Former George W. Bush speechwriter William McGurn wrote a column for The Wall Street Journal arguing that if Moore does win despite reports of child molestation and sexual assault, a large chunk of the blame will belong to “the liberals who are enabling him,” a group that includes “the national press corps.” Matt Latimer, another former Bush speechwriter, wrote a Politico op-ed arguing that “the real reason” Moore remains politically viable is “that the media has totally lost its connection with a large portion of the nation, almost all of them conservatives.” Over at The Federalist, Bethany Mandel argues that “it’s media’s fault” that a large majority of Alabama Republican voters don’t believe the Washington Post’s stories on Moore’s reported misconduct.

    This argument isn’t especially surprising given that one of the pillars of modern conservatism is reflexive animosity toward “the liberal media.” The popularity of outlets like Fox News and Breitbart.com stems directly from a concerted, decades-long effort across the entire conservative movement to render “mainstream” sources of news suspicious and inherently untrustworthy. But claiming that “the media” are to blame for Republicans backing Moore is a deflection that accomplishes little beyond confirming the biases of the writers while backhandedly affirming Moore’s claims that he’s under persecution by the press.  

    Writers like McGurn, Latimer, and Mandel are in a difficult spot because while they clearly believe the Post’s reporting and think it stands up (none make any attempt to rebut it or suggest that the case against Moore isn’t a solid one) their party’s voters are flatly disregarding those reports and are poised to elect Moore to the Senate (71 percent of likely Republicans voters in Alabama say the claims about him are false). They try to square that uncomfortable circle by cherry-picking other unrelated media failures -- like ABC News reporter Brian Ross’ botched story on former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s plea deal with federal prosecutors -- to exculpate conservative voters who refuse to believe the Post.

    “In their quest to tarnish the reputation of President Trump and try to remove him from office, the media has become particularly adept at getting more than a few things wrong,” Mandel writes. “They [Alabama Republican voters] may well be wrong about Mr. Moore and his accusers,” McGurn observes, “but is their skepticism really that difficult to understand?”

    Well, no, actually, but not for the reasons Mandel and McGurn offer. They’re attacking the media for not being credible enough to people who’ve been told for decades on end that the media aren’t credible. So it’s not surprising that Alabama voters distrust the media. But the fact that they refuse to see the truth that’s staring them in the face is less an indictment of the media than the toxicity of a conservative political culture that teaches voters to disbelieve all news they don’t want to hear and seek information only from outlets that reaffirm their existing viewpoints.

    Conservative media outlets Republican voters prefer over the “mainstream media” have embarked on a dishonest campaign of distraction and obfuscation to discredit the Post’s reporting and bolster Moore. Breitbart.com sent reporters down to Birmingham to (unsuccessfully) undermine the Post, but their failed efforts still resulted in splash-page “EXCLUSIVE” articles suggesting that Roy Moore had been the victim of a smear. Some Fox News figures lined up behind Moore and against the Post as they dutifully parroted the Moore campaign’s absurd attempts at discrediting the candidate’s accusers. Just hours after the Post's first Moore article was published, Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett told Hannity viewers, "I am suspicious of this because of the source, The Washington Post, which has a dog in this fight having endorsed his opponent."

    This isn’t merely a question of conservative voters thinking “the media” in general are untrustworthy -- they’re being specifically told by right-wing media that the Post’s story is false and that Moore is being unjustly attacked. So even in a situation where a media outlet meets the standard of accuracy and trustworthiness conservative pundits claim has been irretrievably lost, it still comes under assault from the right-wing press in a flagrantly dishonest attempt to discredit it.

    That feels like a significant part of the explanation for why Alabama Republicans are gearing up to make Roy Moore their next senator, and why they’re apparently more comfortable electing a reported sex criminal than a Democrat. But conservative pundits glide right past it so they can disingenuously argue, as McGurn does, that Moore’s election “may be as much the fault of those who opposed him as those who supported him.”

  • Right-wing media react in disgust after openly transgender candidates win historic elections

    ››› ››› ALEX MORASH & BRENNAN SUEN

    Right-wing media reacted in disgust to the historic November 7 win by Danica Roem -- one of a number of openly transgender candidates, including Andrea Jenkins in Minnesota, to take races that day. Anti-LGBTQ websites The Federalist and LifeSite News joined a handful of white nationalists in attacking Roem, a transgender woman who is set to be the first openly transgender candidate elected and seated in a state legislature in U.S. history, after her win in Virginia. Right-wing figures called her "transgendered" and a man, compared her to a Nazi, and said her “claim to fame is transgenderism.”

  • Trump and Sessions issue anti-LGBTQ religious exemptions guidance, fulfilling promise to hate group Alliance Defending Freedom

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters
     

    The Trump administration released new guidance on October 6 making it easier for people or businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of “religious freedom.” In July, Attorney General Jeff Sessions promised anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) -- which has been instrumental in passing similar laws across the country -- that the Justice Department would release such guidance.

    According to BuzzFeed, the new guidance “says the government cannot unduly burden people or certain businesses from practicing their faith, noting, ‘The free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one’s religious beliefs.’” The guidance includes “twenty principles” of religious liberty, including one that allows religious employers to “employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employers’ religious precepts.” In other words, it gives license for religious employers to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals, single mothers, divorced persons, and other groups. It also says that protections for so-called “religious liberty” would apply to individuals “providing or receiving social services, education, or healthcare; … seeking to earn or earning a living; … employing others to do the same; … receiving government grants or contracts; or … otherwise interacting with federal, state, or local governments.” A separate principle in the guidance says it applies “not just to individuals, but also to organizations, associations, and at least some for-profit corporations,” and yet another says the government cannot “second-guess the reasonableness of a religious belief.” In sum, the broad memo “could give people of faith -- including government works and contractors -- a loophole to ignore federal bans on discrimination against women and LGBT people,” according to BuzzFeed.

    Sessions promised guidance along those lines in July when he addressed ADF in a closed-door speech that was eventually leaked to the right-wing, rabidly anti-LGBTQ website The Federalist. NBC News reported that during the speech, Sessions said President Donald Trump “has also directed me to issue guidance on how to apply federal religious liberty protections. The department is finalizing this guidance, and I will soon issue it.” Sessions continued, “The guidance will also help agencies follow the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Congress enacted RFRA so that, if the federal government imposes a burden on somebody’s religious practice, it had better have a compelling reason." NBC News spoke with numerous LGBTQ advocates who “suggested Sessions was more interested in protecting the right to discriminate than the freedom of religion.” BuzzFeed also reported that the Justice Department “consulted with religious and political groups with a history of opposing protections for LGBT people,” including ADF. The report noted that ADF has championed and embraced a strategy of “ambiguity in religious policies in the past, believing the scope can be litigated in court.”

    ADF is the largest anti-LGBTQ hate group in the nation and has played an instrumental role in enacting other discriminatory anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom restoration” acts in states across the country, including Mississippi’s law, which is expected to go into effect Tuesday. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has called the Mississippi law “by far the most sweeping and devastating state law to be enacted against LGBTQ people in the country,” adding that “under this law, almost any individual or organization could justify discrimination against LGBTQ people, single mothers, unwed couples, and others.” The Washington Post reported in July 2016 that ADF “played a key role in helping Mississippi’s legislature and governor write, promote and legally justify” the bill. The Post noted that ADF’s involvement was “notable … because state officials did not disclose aid from the organization” and that a lawyer challenging the bill said it “adopted many of the identical passages” in ADF’s “model executive order.” A lawsuit against the law stalled it from going into effect until this month. ADF attorneys “are part of the legal team representing Gov. Phil Bryant in the lawsuits,” according to ADF.

    In Iowa, ADF worked with a state senator on legislation modeled after Indiana’s 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed by now-Vice President Mike Pence. The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa successfully worked with partner groups and businesses to block its introduction. ADF has also fought for and helped enact numerous other such acts in states across the country: It helped write Arizona’s SB 1062, which was ultimately vetoed; one of its lawyers testified in favor of Kansas’ religious freedom act, which passed in 2013; another one of its lawyers testified in defense of a failed religious freedom restoration act in Colorado; it “had a hand in” writing a proposed religious freedom restoration act in Georgia; it promoted a religious freedom restoration act in Arkansas; and it helped “advise” Indiana lawmakers during the state’s debate over its own act. ADF’s Kellie Fiedorek stood behind then-Gov. Pence when he signed the bill into law.

    ADF has supported a number of other extreme anti-LGBTQ positions, including criminalizing homosexuality. ADF (then called the Alliance Defense Fund) formally supported the criminalization of sodomy in the U.S. in 2003 when it filed an amicus brief in Lawrence v. Texas defending state sodomy laws in which it called “same-sex sodomy … a distinct public health problem.” When the court struck down anti-sodomy laws, ADF called the ruling “devastating.”

    The group is also leading the national campaign for “bathroom bills” targeting transgender youth and is representing plaintiff Jack Phillips in the upcoming Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission Supreme Court case. The case may similarly determine whether businesses serving the public have the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of “religious” or “artistic freedom.” On October 6, in what was seen by some as an “unusual move,” the Justice Department filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court siding with ADF and its client in that case. ADF has demonstrated time and time again a commitment to chipping away at LGBTQ equality and turning members of the community into second class citizens, and Friday’s guidance by the Justice Department shows the group has powerful, like-minded allies in the Trump administration.

    Rebecca Damante contributed research to this report. Headline changed for clarity.

  • “Free Democrat ad”: Right-wing media assail Jimmy Kimmel for criticizing Bill Cassidy’s lies about Obamacare repeal 

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Right-wing media figures attacked Jimmy Kimmel, host of ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live!, after Kimmel sharply criticized Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) as having  “lied right to my face” about health care in May. Kimmel pointed out that the Affordable Care Act repeal package Cassidy is co-sponsoring does not protect all children with pre-existing conditions, even though Cassidy told Kimmel he would support only those bills that passed that test. 

  • Taking A Cue From Conservative Media, Trump Consistently Misuses The Term "Fake News"

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    Conservative media and President Donald Trump have repeatedly misappropriated the term “fake news” to attack journalists and news organizations that publish stories Trump views to be unfavorable to him and his administration. Despite the accusations leveled against these news outlets, they are not putting out “fake news,” which involves an intent to deceive for political or profit-driven purposes.

    Last month, CNN reported that Trump and his staff were briefed on a dossier that alleged Russia had “compromising personal and financial information” that could be used to blackmail him and his confidants. In response, Trump declared the report to be “fake news.” Later that week at a press conference, Trump attacked CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta when he tried to ask a question. Trump told Acosta that he would not take his question because his “organization is terrible” and because he was “fake news.”

    In another instance from early February, after public opinion polls found that a majority of Americans opposed the Trump administration’s travel ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, Trump tweeted that “any negative polls are fake news.”

    Most recently, Trump shared a link to an article by right-wing website The Federalist that listed “16 Fake News Stories Reporters Have Run Since Trump Won,” which falsely equated reporting errors and misinformation with fake news.

    Trump’s use of the phrase "fake news" to criticize journalists and outlets builds upon conservative media attempts to delegitimize the term and use it to attack credible news outlets. And that has the effect of downplaying the unique threat that fake news actually poses to the public information ecosystem. By repurposing fake news in his own terms and claiming that reporting from The New York Times and CNN, for example, constitutes fake news, Trump continues conservatives’ efforts to delegitimize responsible news sources and their reporting, opening a space for disinformation and propaganda to thrive.

    Media Matters has defined “fake news” as involving a specific phenomenon in which fabricated information is packaged as news items and distributed among the public with intent to deceive its audience -- often for political or monetary gain. None of the examples Trump labeled “fake news” adhere to this practical definition.

    In a telling exchange reported by CNN’s KFile, Trump deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka told conservative radio host Michael Medved that the Trump administration will continue to use the term “fake news” regarding critical news outlets “until the media understands how wrong that attitude" of attacking the president "is, and how it hurts their credibility.”

    As Gorka confirmed, Trump's use of the term “fake news” to delegitimize and attack outlets he disagrees with is the newest weapon in his concerted effort to attack and shame any news outlet that criticizes him or his administration.

  • Voter Fraud Myths Pushed By Trump Have Long Been Propagated By Right-Wing Media

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & CAT DUFFY

    Throughout his campaign, and continuing now as President, Donald Trump has made a series of baseless claims alleging mass voter fraud in order to either preemptively cast doubt on the election results, or to dispute the fact he didn’t win the popular vote. Trump’s allegations, which ranged from “people are going to walk in” and “vote ten times,” to claiming “he would have won the popular vote had it not been for millions of illegal votes,” and most recently his decision to ask for “a major investigation into voter fraud” are based on a series of myths that right-wing media have pushed for years -- including the arguments that strict voter ID laws are needed to prevent voter fraud, that dead people are voting, and that there is widespread noncitizen voting.