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  • Conservative media downplay the Trump administration's unprecedented stonewalling of congressional oversight

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    As legal experts, historians, and Democratic lawmakers have sounded the alarm over President Donald Trump’s blanket obstruction of congressional oversight of his presidency -- suggesting we have reached or are approaching a constitutional crisis -- Trump’s conservative media allies are brazenly misrepresenting the arguments and suggesting everything boils down to a fight over the Mueller report, claiming Trump’s obstruction is normal, and ridiculing Democrats for speaking out.

  • Anti-LGBTQ group Heritage Foundation has hosted four anti-trans panels so far in 2019

    Panelists included “trans-exclusionary radical feminists” and anti-trans medical professionals who pushed flawed research and advocated for conversion therapy

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has railed against LGBTQ equality for decades, hosted its fourth anti-transgender panel of the year on April 8. Each of the four panels focused on a different aspect of trans equality, such as comprehensive nondiscrimination measures, affirming medical care for transgender youth, trans inclusion in international policy, and trans participation in athletics. The panels also featured biased anti-trans figures -- whom Heritage characterized as subject experts -- who pushed right-wing narratives about transgender people.

    Heritage’s surge in anti-transgender events and its increased attempts to shape public discourse about trans rights come at a strategic time as Congress considers expanding federal civil rights laws to include critical protections for trans folks. The Equality Act, introduced on March 13, would add “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to existing nondiscrimination protections in “employment, housing, public accomodations,” and other areas. The measure was quickly met with opposition and fearmongering from extreme anti-LGBTQ groups and right-wing media. Heritage’s panels echoed many of the anti-trans talking points pushed by these groups and outlets.

    Heritage hosted a panel of TERFs to advocate against the Equality Act

    On January 28, the vehemently anti-LGBTQ activist Ryan T. Anderson hosted so-called "trans-exclusionary radical feminists" (TERFs) and self-proclaimed liberals in a panel focused on railing against the inclusion of gender identity in the Equality Act. TERFs refer to themselves as “gender-critical” or “radical feminists”; they generally do not associate themselves with the term TERFs, but they are anti-trans activists who have historically opposed trans-inclusive measures and denied trans identities.

    One of the panelists, adjunct lecturer at the University of California, San Francisco Hacsi Horvath, says he formerly identified as transgender. During the panel, he encouraged the audience to misgender trans folks -- an act that is considered harassment and that can stigmatize trans people, lower their self-esteem, and erase and invalidate their identities.

    Another panelist, Julia Beck, appeared on Fox’s Tucker Carlson Tonight after participating in the Heritage panel and pushed the same anti-trans points about the Equality Act. Beck was removed from Baltimore’s LGBTQ Commission in 2018 after other members became aware of her anti-trans animus.

    The two other panelists, Kara Dansky and Jennifer Chavez, are board members of the TERF organization Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF), which has supported the clients of extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom in an ongoing court case that seeks to dismantle a trans-inclusive policy at a Pennsylvania high school.

    Heritage hosted a side event at the UN Commission on the Status of Women against including “gender identity” in international resolutions

    On March 20, Heritage co-hosted another anti-trans panel: a “side event” with the Permanent Observer Mission to the Holy See at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The U.N. CSW is “the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.” During the panel, participants claimed that “gender ideology” -- a “theory drummed up by hard-right religious activists, who present it as a gay- and feminist-led movement out to upend the traditional family and the natural order of society” -- is a threat to women’s rights around the world.

    One panelist, Dr. Monique Robles, who brought a veneer of credibility to the panel as a medical doctor who focuses on pediatric care, pushed the unvalidated hypothesis of rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD). The theory posits that trans teens are coming out as such due to “social contagion,” and a study promoting the concept was reevaluated and corrected following complaints about its research and methodology. The correction noted that the study only “serves to develop hypotheses” and that the concept has not been validated. Robles also seemingly praised the discredited and harmful practice of conversion therapy, remarking:

    A better treatment option would be to address the underlying mental health issues and concerns that are likely leading to these children in adolescence to identify as transgender or gender diverse. There are therapists who are taking on the role as compassionate companions and are spending time with their patients and their parents working through histories, experiences, and addressing the whole of the individual. In this form of therapy, the body, mind, and soul can be brought together in a unified manner in which they were created.

    Panelist Emilie Kao, director of Heritage's Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion & Civil Society, argued that including “gender identity” in international policy and in U.N. resolutions is a threat to the progress of women’s equality. She said, “If the word ‘woman’ can be redefined to mean everyone, then it will change or even erase the true meaning of woman in international human rights law, in economic development efforts, and in efforts to increase access to social protection systems.” Framing transgender rights as at odds with women’s rights is a tactic conservatives have increasingly employed that also mirrors talking points from TERFs.

    Heritage’s Anderson continued that trend, also claiming trans rights are detriments to women's equality, safety, and privacy. Another panelist, Mary Rice Hasson, a fellow at the Catholic Women’s Forum, echoed these sentiments and claimed that affirming trans identities has a “dehumanizing effect on women, where women are no longer acknowledged as persons” and that “the result is that real women are being displaced.”

    Heritage hosted a panel advocating against affirming the gender identities of transgender youth

    On March 28, Anderson hosted a third anti-trans panel, titled "The Medical Harms of Hormonal and Surgical Interventions for Gender Dysphoric Children,” featuring medical professionals who used flawed research to fearmonger about and attack trans-affirming medical care. These claims are in direct opposition to the positions of leading medical associations such as the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association, which "agree that gender-affirming care are the most effective treatment for gender dysphoria,” according to CNN.

    During the panel, “ex-trans” activist Walt Heyer, a darling of anti-LGBTQ groups and right-wing media, railed against affirming trans identities, calling it “child abuse,” “destructive,” and “damaging.” He also encouraged the use of conversion therapy for transgender people.

    Other panelists included Dr. Michael K. Laidlaw, a vocal anti-trans advocate who has also been featured in right-wing outlets, and a mother of a trans child who wished to remain anonymous, who they called “Elaine.” Elaine is also a member of a new anti-trans advocacy group for parents of trans children called The Kelsey Coalition. During the panel, Elaine criticized laws that protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, and Laidlaw advocated against the use of puberty blockers, calling them “a chemical conversion therapy.” Puberty blockers “are medicines that prevent puberty from happening” in order to help transgender youths’ bodies “better reflect who [they] are.” Studies have shown that they are effective and safe and recommend their use on transgender youth who decide to use them with the help of medical providers.

    Heritage hosted a panel advocating against including transgender athletes in gender-segregated sports

    For its fourth anti-trans panel in 2019, Heritage co-hosted an event on April 8 with anti-LGBTQ group Concerned Women For America, which seeks to “bring Biblical principles into all levels of public policy.” The panel advocated against allowing trans athletes to compete in gender-segregated sports that align with their gender identity. Heritage’s Kao hosted the panel, opening by reciting a quote that the Equality Act would be “the end of women’s sports.”

    The panel began with a video featuring panelist Bianca Stanescu’s daughter, a student athlete who lost a track meet that made headlines when two trans athletes earned top prizes. Right-wing media, including Fox News’ Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, have touted this story as a reason to not allow transgender athletes to compete in gender-segregated sports. Media Matters’ Parker Molloy previously wrote about how figures like Carlson regularly seize on local stories like this to fuel the identity politics-driven culture war, and Heritage has similarly focused on this rare incident (transgender athletes are not dominating sports on a wide scale) to justify widespread discrimination.

    Another panelist, National Review’s Madeleine Kearns, repeatedly misgendered trans athletes and showed pictures of trans athletes before and after affirming medical care to fearmonger about their physical abilities. There is ongoing debate on the standards for trans inclusion in athletics, much of which is led by the International Olympic Committee. In 2016, the IOC updated guidelines on transgender athletes, leaving “no restriction for a trans man … to compete against men” and removing “the need for women to undergo gender-reassignment surgery to compete.” IOC has several restrictions for transgender women to compete in the Olympics, including demonstrating a certain level of testosterone for at least one year, and it is continuing to fund research into this area. As Outsports noted, “Despite the guidelines, no publicly out trans athlete has competed in the Olympics. Ever.” This stands in contrast to right-wing claims that trans athletes are dominating their field due to competitive advantages.

    A third panelist, Jennifer S. Bryson, is the founder of a sports advocacy organization called Let All Play that argues against pride jerseys celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month on sports teams. Bryson criticized the pride jerseys issued by the U.S. Soccer Federation and said requiring players to wear the jerseys was “a form of coerced speech requiring players to wear a political symbol.” She went on to call transgender people “a threat to soccer itself for girls and women,” adding that “the U.S. Soccer Federation should not require players to wear a symbol of a movement that is trying to harm soccer.”

    Additionally, Concerned Women for America’s Doreen Denny announced during the panel that the organization has partnered with TERF group WoLF to lobby against the Equality Act even though they “disagree on many things.” Denny also misgendered trans athletes during the panel and at one point corrected herself to intentionally misgender a female athlete after using the correct pronoun the first time, saying, “She has taken -- he, excuse me.”

    The four 2019 panels represent an alarming spike in Heritage’s anti-trans advocacy

    Heritage’s panels are just one aspect of its work against trans equality. Heritage’s Anderson organized an anti-trans conference reportedly attended by 250 attendees at the Franciscan University of Steubenville from April 4 to 5. The conference was called “Transgender Moment: A Natural Law Response to Gender Ideology,” and it focused on so-called “corruption and flawed science driving an increase in gender ‘transitioning’ and ‘reassignments’” and compared transgender equality to the dystopian novel 1984.

    Additionally, Heritage’s Monica Burke penned an April 10 anti-trans op-ed for the Chicago Tribune, and the group’s work this year has been consistently picked up and parroted by several right-wing and evangelical media outlets. And though mainstream and queer outlets have written about Heritage’s January 28 TERF panel, the right-wing has dominated coverage of the rest of the anti-trans panels.

    Despite its record, Heritage somehow enjoys some mainstream credibility. Earlier this month, Google disbanded its Artificial Intelligence ethics board after “little over a week” because it selected Heritage President Kay Coles James as one of its board members. Google employees and others protested her inclusion because of her and Heritage’s positions against trans equality.

    Though the Heritage Foundation’s practice of hosting anti-trans advocates and pushing anti-trans narratives is not new, the frequency and breadth of its events this year are alarming. Heritage’s attempt to shape public discourse on the Equality Act and the transgender community is another example of the right’s attempt to position trans rights as counter to those of women and to fracture the LGBTQ movement by excluding trans folks from it. Such groups deploy a similar "divide and conquer" strategy to create a false dichotomy between people of faith and LGBTQ rights, despite the fact that most faith groups support LGBTQ inclusion.

  • Right-wing media and think tanks are aligning with fake feminists who dehumanize trans people

    TERFs use feminist vocabulary but are aligned with national anti-LGBTQ groups

    Blog ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Tucker Carlson recently hosted Julia Beck, a “trans-exclusionary radical feminist,” or “TERF,” in a segment promoting the illusion that there is an important divide over the importance of transgender rights within the LGBTQ community.

    Beck and other TERFs claim to be feminists, but they hold vehemently anti-trans views and are widely rejected by LGBTQ advocates and organizations. In fact, TERF groups and activists have joined with right-wing, anti-LGBTQ organizations around the country in lawsuits against trans rights.

    Beck's appearance on Fox was just the latest example of right-wing figures and groups promoting TERFs, who use feminist vocabulary to disguise their anti-trans bigotry.

    TERFs have appeared on right-wing media and at right-wing events

    Beck appeared on the February 12 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight to discuss her recent removal from Baltimore’s LGBTQ commission for her anti-trans views. During the segment, Beck, who is a lesbian, said, “Women have been speaking out about this for decades, but we have been effectively silenced. Many women like myself have been pushed out … simply because we acknowledge biological reality.” She also claimed that transgender identities are “opposed to biological reality,” said she doesn’t “think it’s fair to lump us all into the same acronym,” and pushed the thoroughly debunked myth that trans-inclusive policies threaten the safety of women and girls.

    Beck has also appeared at the anti-LGBTQ Heritage Foundation as part of a panel of people labeled as being “from the Left” who oppose the Equality Act, a bill that would add “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to existing nondiscrimination laws. The January event was moderated by Ryan T. Anderson, an anti-LGBTQ activist who has previously hosted other TERF activists at the Heritage Foundation to attack trans-inclusive legislation.

    On the panel, Beck said, “There are only three sexualities -- homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual; all the hip new identities in the alphabet soup like nonbinary, gender-fluid, [and] pansexual are not actually sexualities. Neither is transgender.” She added that the “T” in LGBTQ is “diametrically opposed to the first three letters” and claimed that transgender identities “undermine and erase homosexuals.” She also said the definition of a woman is limited to an “adult human female,” echoing a rallying cry of the U.K.-based TERF movement.

    Beck spoke on the panel alongside Kara Dansky, a leader of the TERF group Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF) who has also appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight. During her 2017 interview, Dansky said, “We're called transphobic bigots because we ask questions about gender identity. We're asking questions and we're standing up for women and girls.”

    Another TERF activist has recently leveraged her anti-trans beliefs into a flood of sympathetic coverage from right-wing outlets.

    Meghan Murphy, who founded the pro-TERF blog Feminist Current, is suing Twitter after she was banned from the platform for intentionally misgendering and deadnaming a transgender person. Deadnaming is the act of calling a transgender person by the name given to them at birth that they no longer use and that does not align with their gender identity, and it is a violation of Twitter’s new hateful conduct policy. Right-wing media rushed to cover Murphy’s lawsuit after she posted a YouTube video about the ban, leading to favorable coverage from Quillette, The Federalist, National Review, The Daily Wire, Townhall, The Spectator, LifeSiteNews, the Washington Examiner, and The Daily Caller.

    Right-wing media suggest TERFs are liberals; in fact, they’re aligned with extreme right groups

    Right-wing outlets seized on Murphy’s self-identification as a “feminist” as evidence that anti-trans reactionaries do not solely come from the far-right. On his Fox show, Carlson similarly identified Beck as a feminist and claimed that WoLF leader Dansky is a “radical feminist” and “not on the right at all.” And during their appearance together on the Heritage Foundation panel, which was titled “The Inequality of the Equality Act: Concerns from the Left,” Beck expressed her surprise at participating in an event hosted by a conservative think tank.

    TERFs’ embrace of supposedly feminist aesthetics and rhetoric can make it more difficult for media consumers to identify what they really stand for, and right-wing media take advantage of this confusion to push the illusion that activists “on the Left” share their anti-trans agenda. But TERFs are distinctly on the side of right-wing groups, and they have even allied with the efforts of national anti-LGBTQ groups to oppose trans rights in the judicial system.

    In 2016, WoLF sued the Obama administration after it issued guidance to public schools regarding transgender students’ access to bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. In the suit, WoLF alleged that these accommodations would lead to “indecent exposure” and “voyeurism” -- a claim that has been repeatedly and thoroughly debunked. In reality, transgender people are more likely to be victims of harassment, assault, and discrimination in bathrooms than to be perpetrators of such crimes.

    In G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board, WoLF submitted an amicus brief filed jointly with the Family Policy Alliance, a national anti-LGBTQ group with an alliance of state groups that work to deny LGBTQ people their civil rights. The brief argued against extending Title IX protections -- which “protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance” -- to include gender identity. WoLF’s brief was submitted in support of a school district that refused to accommodate the needs of a transgender student.

    WoLF also filed a brief in the Doe v. Boyertown Area School District case in support of a client of the extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom, who sued his school district for allowing transgender boys to use the same restrooms and locker rooms as him.

    Another coalition, called Hands Across the Aisle, which includes TERFs as well as conservative Christians, has also been actively supporting anti-LGBTQ groups in their legal actions against transgender civil rights. Like WoLF, the group filed an amicus brief in the Boyertown case supporting ADF’s efforts to roll back protections for transgender students.

    Hands Across the Aisle also wrote a 2017 letter to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson urging him to rescind protections implemented by the Obama administration in 2016 for transgender people seeking assistance in homeless shelters. The letter was signed by dozens of leaders of various anti-LGBTQ groups such as the Family Policy Alliance, Concerned Women for America, and the Texas Eagle Forum. (A prominent member of Hands Across the Aisle, Meg Kilgannon, was recently interviewed on Fox’s The Ingraham Angle about the group’s opposition to transgender athletes.)

    One prominent TERF has also connected with extremist movements overseas to support reactionary movements seemingly unrelated to her anti-trans agenda. Kellie-Jay Minshull, who goes by Posie Parker, recently traveled to Norway for a conference where she posed with far-right Hungarian politician, Holocaust denier, and Islamophobe Hans Lysglimt Johansen.

    Additionally, Parker has repeatedly expressed support for far-right anti-Muslim activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, also known as Tommy Robinson. Robinson, another former Tucker Carlson Tonight guest, has also expressed anti-trans views in a video for far-right media outlet The Rebel.

    Right-wing media misleadingly suggest TERFs demonstrate a division within the LGBTQ community

    The idea that TERFs are liberal feminists -- bolstered by right-wing media -- helps create the illusion of a growing division within the LGBTQ community over transgender civil rights. In reality, mainstream LGBTQ rights organizations support and campaign for transgender civil rights, and lesbian institutions such as the Dyke March explicitly champion issues impacting transgender and gender-nonconforming people while also preserving pride events as a form of radical protest. Civil liberties advocates have also taken on the Trump administration’s anti-trans agenda and sued on behalf of transgender people for their right to access public accommodations. There is no such “divide” among mainstream feminists and LGBTQ advocates regarding the inclusion of transgender people in the queer community, as TERFs would like us to believe.

    In a piece about U.S. TERFs for Bitch Media,Tina Vasquez wrote that the debate over transgender rights “is not just feminist-theory inside baseball. Though outspoken, politically active trans-exclusionary radical feminists are relatively few in number, their influence on legislation and mainstream perceptions of transgender people is powerful and real.”

    Right-wing media figures like Carlson -- who has time and again demonstrated his intimate familiarity with extremist movements and a willingness to champion their causes -- are pushing a larger agenda that is anti-transgender, which includes denying trans people health care, expelling them from the military, and legally undermining their existence. And along the way, they’ll undoubtedly continue to uplift TERFs’ viewpoints under the guise of progressive feminism. But other media outlets and media consumers should be aware that nothing could be further from the truth; without transgender people leading the way, LGBTQ liberation cannot take place.

  • Right-wing media claim Cory Booker “wants to impose his meat rationing on us” after article quotes him saying the opposite

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In response to a question about food policy during an interview with vegetarian and vegan news site VegNews, 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) argued that “this planet simply can’t sustain” the “massive increase in consumption of meat” that has been occurring. Conservative media are predictably misrepresenting Booker’s remarks to falsely claim that he’s launching a “war on meat.”

    In the interview, Booker noted the public health, environmental, and animal cruelty impacts of industrial farming and explained that he wanted to empower small farmers legislatively and that “corporate power shouldn’t be snuffing out competition.” He clarified, “This is the United States of America, and I, for one, believe in our freedom to choose. So, I don’t want to preach to anybody about their diets; that’s just not how I live.” Booker also explicitly stated that “this doesn’t mean, in any way, getting rid of animal farming, but in many ways, it means lifting up the voices of small farmers again.”

    Nowhere in his comments did Booker say he is going to seek to ban any American from eating meat. However, truth did not stop conservative media from spinning the interview to claim “soy boy” Booker said he was declaring a “war against meat.”

    Fox News’ The Five claimed Booker “is going to war against meat” and “wants to impose his meat rationing on the rest of us.” Co-host Morgan Ortagus introduced a segment about Booker's comment, saying, “Sen. Cory Booker is going to war against meat.” In the segment, co-host Jesse Watters celebrated the fact that Trump is “the McDonalds president, and he’s running against a vegan.” Watters also said Trump will claim that Booker “wants to take away your hot dog on the Fourth of July.” Later in the segment, Fox Business host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery also falsely claimed that Booker “wants to impose his meat rationing on the rest of us,” which Booker specifically denied in the interview, saying:

    “None of us want our government or elected officials preaching to us and telling us what we can or can’t eat. This is the United States of America, and I, for one, believe in our freedom to choose. So, I don’t want to preach to anybody about their diets; that’s just not how I live.”

    The Daily Caller ran a threatening headline saying, “Vegan Cory Booker says meat eaters’ days are numbered.” The article also misleadingly claimed that Booker’s critique was about the planet’s inability to “keep providing enough beef and pork to satisfy meat cravings” and not about the environmental damage wrought by industrial-scale animal farming.

    Conservative commentator Erick Erickson connected Booker’s comments to the supposed big-government tyranny of Pope Francis. A write-up on Erickson’s website The Resurgent contained the bizarre, and unsourced, claim: “The pope wants to use the power of government to coerce farmers into abandoning animal populations in favor of vegetarian farming. Booker is doubling down on that.”

    National Review misleadingly claimed that “Cory Booker wants only the rich to eat meat.” The article, referencing Booker’s point in the interview that it’s unsustainable to “see the planet earth moving towards what is the Standard American Diet,” misleadingly characterized Booker’s argument as saying “the destitute and poor of the world ... can’t possibly be allowed to attain the benefits of prosperity that the West has achieved.” The article also suggested he’s part of “the brewing war against our meat industries.”

    Trump troll website The Gateway Pundit: “Vegan soy boy Cory Booker is now attacking meat eaters — because that’s a winning strategy when you’re running to be president of a country full of bacon lovers.” The website called Booker’s food tastes “gross” and slammed veganism as “the latest Marxist, new age rubbish the Democrats and Hollywood elites are pushing onto Americans.”

    RedState: Booker “dropped some (non)science recently” in his pro-veganism interview. The RedState post mocked Booker’s interview, calling his comments “really idiotic” and “(non)science,” and bizarrely claimed that the relatively recent invention of industrial-scale animal farming is part of Earth’s “natural system of carnivorism.” The article ended with a reference to Booker’s conduct during Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, suggesting the senator should now be called “Farticus” for “leading the brigade against those Nazi air biscuits” and for “eating so much fruit.”

    The Federalist: “Booker fuels his life with fake cheese. … Cory Booker is the vegan cheese of politicians.” A Federalist article about Booker’s comments claimed that “perhaps it’s appropriate that a man like Booker fuels his life with fake cheese. He fueled his career with fake friends.” It also suggested that if Booker won the Democratic nomination, he would lose Wisconsin to Trump, “who serves cheeseburgers en masse to champion college athletes.”

  • The Green New Deal drives conservatives nuts, so right-wing media is going on the attack

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Green New Deal has surged into the American political discourse over the last two months on a wave of activism and high-profile Democratic endorsements. According to its leading proponents at the activist group Sunrise Movement, the plan aims to “transform our economy and society at the scale needed to stop the climate crisis.” It seeks to decarbonize the economy, create millions of green jobs, and rectify racial and economic inequality, though a specific policy agenda has yet to be worked out. The Green New Deal, whose backers include Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), has polled very favorably with registered voters -- even though most Americans have heard nothing about it. The Sunrise Movement intends to spend 2019 building momentum and support for the plan so that it becomes a top issue for the 2020 presidential election. From there, the goal is to enact sweeping climate legislation in 2021.

    Despite the fact that this plan is not yet fully defined and has no chance of passing through Congress for at least two years, right-wing media have wasted no time in attacking it. Outlets from Fox News to Breitbart News to the Las Vegas Review-Journal have spread inaccurate claims about the Green New Deal to stoke fears that it would destroy the U.S. economy and political system. The Heartland Institute, a right-wing think tank known for its climate denial, is one of the most active opponents of the Green New Deal, and it is using right-wing media outlets to amplify its attacks.

    Here are some of the bogus arguments being employed by right-wing groups and media outlets as they attempt to discredit the plan.

    Right-wing media claim the Green New Deal is using climate change as a ploy to implement a radical socialist agenda

    The Heartland Institute's main argument against the Green New Deal is that it's socialism in disguise. It recently launched a website, StoppingSocialism.com, that criticizes the Green New Deal as “energy socialism.” Justin Haskins, an executive editor and research fellow for Heartland and author of the book Socialism Is Evil, is the group's main spokesperson for its claim that the Green New Deal has a hidden socialist agenda. He has made two appearances on Fox News in January and written several op-eds for conservative outlets to push that line of attack.

    On the January 8 episode of Fox's Tucker Carlson Tonight, Haskins called the Green New Deal “the most radical, dangerous policy proposal offered in modern history.” He claimed it would “do nothing to reduce global CO2 emissions,” concluding, “This is all about socialism, not saving polar bears.”

    On the January 11 episode of Fox & Friends, Haskins again dismissed the idea that the Green New Deal has anything to do with climate change, saying, “This is actually not about green energy. … This is really about socialism. This is nothing more than a socialist Trojan horse.”

    Haskins made the same argument in an op-ed that ran in The Detroit News on January 8 under the headline “Ocasio-Cortez’s ‘Green New Deal’ is not about global warming.” In the following days, the right-wing websites Breitbart, Townhall, and the Heritage Foundation's The Daily Signal reprinted the piece. From the op-ed:

    Many supporters of the Green New Deal know it will do absolutely nothing to reduce global temperature or prevent future temperature rise—the primary purpose of the proposal, according to Ocasio-Cortez. The real goal of the Green New Deal is to impose a series of radical, socialistic programs—policies that would dramatically increase the size and power of the federal government, cause immense harm to the U.S. economy, and run up the national debt by trillions of dollars.

    In a December 31 op-ed published on the Fox News website, Haskins wrote that the Green New Deal would "move the United States closer than ever to socialism. If we don’t stop it, it will destroy our economy for a whole generation of Americans.” In a January 3 Washington Examiner op-ed, Haskins claimed, “This is one of the most dangerous and extreme proposals offered in modern U.S. history. It’s the sort of thing you’d see in the Soviet Union, not the United States.” In another  Fox News opinion on January 12, Haskins referred to the Green New Deal as “socialized energy,” and falsely claimed that renewable energy sources are “expensive and unreliable.” And writing for Fox News again on January 19, Haskins claimed that the Green New Deal is not really new or visionary, but rather a “recycled version of a failed, three-year-old socialist proposal from Canada.”

    Heartland’s attacks on the Green New Deal should come as no surprise -- the organization has a long history of promoting climate denialism, and it has received funding from both Koch-backed groups and fossil fuel companies. None of its fossil fuel funding was disclosed in any of Haskins’ recent Fox appearances or op-eds attacking the Green New Deal.

    Other conservative outlets have followed Heartland’s example by scaremongering about socialism to attack the Green New Deal. For instance, the editorial board of the conservative Las Vegas Review-Journal, which is owned by Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, wrote on January 2:

    Some conservatives have been criticized for arguing that fears of global warming are being intentionally exaggerated by those seeking to use the issue to advance collectivism and radical socialism. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal” doesn’t even try to hide it.

    A few more examples:

    • Appearing on Fox & Friends on January 3, notorious climate denier Marc Morano stated that the Green New Deal has “nothing to do with climate” and is really about "government control" and “central planning.”
    • Breitbart’s Joel Pollak wrote on January 3: “But the 'Green New Deal' is not really concerned about the kinds of incremental improvements that might be possible. It aims at centralized planning for the entire economy, implementing socialist economics using the pretext of environmental crisis. As Breitbart News has noted, this is not a new idea: it dates to Barack Obama, and really to Karl Marx.”
    • In an opinion piece in The Daily Caller on January 11, Kenneth Stein, policy director for the Koch-connected Institute for Energy Research, wrote: “Ultimately this 'Green New Deal' is not about saving the environment. The greenwashing is about creating a sense of urgency and moral panic, the better to entrench government ever deeper into the lives of American citizens. Americans resisted socialism in the Cold War; now it’s time to resist socialism in the Green War.”

    Right-wing media claim that the Green New Deal will lead to authoritarianism and destroy the American way of life

    Several right-wing attacks on the Green New Deal have invoked the horrors of authoritarianism and warned that the plan would destroy the liberties that Americans currently enjoy.

    • Writing for Grabien on January 2, Tom Elliott argued that the plan amounts to a “radical grant of power to Washington over Americans’ lives, homes, businesses, travel, banking, and more.”
    • On January 4, Jarrett Stepman of The Daily Signal wrote that the plan “would upend our way of life and destroy the liberty and prosperity” that we enjoy.
    • On January 9, National Review columnist Jim Geraghty wrote that “enacting these changes would probably require a dictatorship or other authoritarian regime.”
    • In The Patriot Post on January 11, Brian Mark Weber called the plan “ecofascist.”
    • During an appearance on Fox & Friends on January 17, Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce compared the plan to “economic enslavement.”

    Right-wing media downplay the threat of climate change when discussing the Green New Deal

    Some right-wing commentators have minimized the seriousness of climate change or resorted to climate denial when attacking the Green New Deal.

    • In a piece published in The New American on January 6, James Murphy maligned the U.N.'s main climate science body and warned that it too has a socialist agenda: “Ocasio-Cortez’s plan is apparently an answer to United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s absurd report released in October of 2018, which warned that the world had a dozen years to completely transform all of society or face certain environmental disaster. Ocasio-Cortez is not the only one who believes that climate-change politics is the key to a socialist reformation of world society. No less than UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres has recently said that 'climate action' offers a 'compelling path to transform our world.'”
    • Writing for the New York Post on January 7, National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote, “The case for the Green Energy Plan is based on the alleged climate crisis being so dire that it must overwhelm all cost-benefit analysis.”
    • In a post for Liberty Headlines on January 14, Michael Barnes also bashed the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: “The IPCC is the bedrock entity for political climate change advocacy. It offers politically-driven climate model predictions that fit hand-in-glove with calls from the liberal global order to consolidate political and economic power with their ranks.”

    Several of the opinion pieces that the Heartland Institute’s Haskins has written about the Green New Deal don't even mention climate change at all, including two he wrote for Fox News and one for the Washington Examiner.

    Expect to see many more right-wing media assaults on the Green New Deal in coming months

    The Green New Deal is the most ambitious climate-action plan ever to get mainstream attention, and it directly challenges the power structures of right-wing groups and their backers in the fossil fuel industry. Even though it's just a broad outline at this point with no prospects for being enacted anytime soon, it's making conservative commentators very nervous -- so much so that they can't stop chattering about it. The right-wing media’s general obsession with Ocasio-Cortez also feeds their compulsion to cover the Green New Deal.

    Right-wing outlets appear to be giving the plan more attention than their mainstream media counterparts. A recent Public Citizen analysis found that Fox News made more mentions of the Green New Deal in November and December than other cable or broadcast networks -- even as half of the top 50 newspapers in the U.S. failed to mention the plan at all during the same time period. Fox's fixation has only intensified since the start of the new year.

    As we head into the 2020 election cycle and see some Democratic presidential contenders embrace the ideas behind the Green New Deal, we can expect right-wing media attacks on it to continue -- and to become even more absurd and overblown.

  • Sore winners and the sidelining of a shared reality

    Right-wing media’s selective empathy can create disastrous long-term effects on the political climate.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Even though their party has control over the presidency, both chambers of Congress, and a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court for the foreseeable future, conservative media paint a perpetually dire picture of their movement. Viewers and listeners are bombarded with messages signifying conservatives’ role as scrappy underdogs whose successes come in spite of a system rigged against them.

    Looking to a recent example, conservative commentators Diamond & Silk (Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson) have spent the better part of 2018 claiming that Facebook has discriminated against them for their political leanings. What actually happened was that Facebook had briefly marked the duo’s page as violating the company’s then-new monetization policy. Though their page was quickly restored, the narrative had already taken hold: Facebook hated conservatives. In the coming months, the two testified before a House committee about their experience of being persecuted for their political beliefs by a tech company out of control and were given plenty of airtime by Fox News.

    Did it matter that there wasn’t an ounce of truth to their claim? Apparently not. It worked, marking the second time since 2016 that Facebook caved under easily debunked claims of anti-conservative bias.This time around, Facebook created a task force headed by then-former Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl (he would later return to the Senate to serve out the remainder of John McCain’s term) to study the issue, inviting zero left-of-center groups or individuals.

    Yes, publishers saw a pretty massive drop in referral traffic coming from Facebook as a result of changes to its algorithm -- overall, traffic is down nearly 50 percent in the past two years -- but that’s been an across-the-board change, not a targeted decline on the basis of political ideology. In fact, data show that conservative sites are still performing quite well. In September, Fox News ranked as the largest U.S.-based publisher on Facebook (based on likes, shares, comments, and reactions to stories). CNN, The New York Times, and HuffPost took the next three spots, followed by The Daily Wire, The Washington Post, and Breitbart News.

    If the story isn't true, then why push it so hard? Because without that underdog status, the anger that fuels conservative media wouldn't exist.

    There’s a reason why stories of anti-conservative bias, whether real or not, get played up a whole lot across conservative media. By reinforcing the audience’s idea that they are part of an oppressed minority on the precipice of being wiped out of existence, media can sidestep questions about how effective their party’s actual policies are at improving their lives. A great example of this has been the nonstop hype around a caravan of migrants making its way through Central America and Mexico. There’s no policy, just fear -- which is exactly what the Fox News midterm strategy happens to be.

    On Monday, the Twitter account for Fox News’ Fox & Friends First shared the story of a Twitter user going by the name @RealFrankFromFL:

    First politicians, now Americans! A man is now claiming that he was denied service at a restaurant just for wearing a Trump t-shirt. Do you think Americans are tired of the Left’s mob mentality & tactics like this?

    Frank’s story, in which he claims he and his family were denied service at a Ruby Tuesday restaurant in Roanoke Rapids, NC, because he was wearing a Trump T-shirt, had been picked up by conservative blogs The Gateway Pundit, Conservative Tribune, and BizPac Review. There’s no way to know how much of the story is accurate, but it served the purpose of reinforcing the idea that Trump supporters are a persecuted minority.

    You can see this play out on repeat with the way Fox News covers stories about conservatives, members of the Trump administration, Trump supporters, police officers, or members of the military being denied service somewhere.

    In October 2017, Fox gave a sympathetic interview to the co-owners of Cup It Up American Grill in Tucson, AZ, after the restaurant closed following backlash to a Facebook post in which they praised Trump and slammed “political correctness.” After three Republican interns were allegedly booted from an Uber for wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, the trio was invited to tell their story on The Ingraham Angle. In December, after a group of MAGA hat-wearing Fordham University students were told to leave their campus coffee shop for intimidating other students, Fox gave their story a little boost, as well. These stories are absolutely fair to report on; it’s in the contrast to how media outlets tend to cover events that paint progressives in a sympathetic light that it becomes clear that the same standards of what is considered newsworthy are not being applied.

    And good luck finding conservative sites that provide similarly in-depth, sympathetic coverage to stories about the viral video showing two black women being racially profiled at an Applebee’s (Fox did not cover the story on air); or the gay couple denied service at a Washington flower shop (Fox has actually covered this extensively dating back to 2015, but its framing has been, as it so often is in anti-LGBTQ discrimination cases, that it’s the shop owner who was the wronged party); or the man denied service at a restaurant for wearing an anti-Trump T-shirt. And in the instances in which discrimination against marginalized groups is covered in detail, conservative media outlets tend to side with the people doing the discrimination -- such as in the case of Aaron and Melissa Klein and their fight for the right to discriminate against gay couples at their bakery.

    Hyping the idea that the world is rife with discrimination against core conservative constituencies, while simultaneously ignoring the challenges other groups face (often at the hands of members of those core conservative constituencies), helps them build on their “No Country for Old, White, Christian Men” brand -- all the while complaining that people on the left are the ones actually indulging in victimhood culture. I jokingly refer to this tactic as doping at the Oppression Olympics.

    When viewers do hear about stories of actual oppression, there's little incentive to care.

    In fact, they might even cheer it on. Maybe this is just giving the left “a taste of its own medicine,” or the people being targeted have been so ignored or vilified that they’re not even registering as human beings worthy of rights anymore. I fear that we will soon see just how numb the country and the world, collectively, have become to the plight of others.

    On October 21, The New York Times reported on a leaked Trump administration memo proposing a radical redefinition of the terms “sex” and “gender” as they apply to federal nondiscrimination law. The goal, it would seem, would be to eliminate these protections for transgender individuals. According to the Times, the memo would define “sex” as “a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.” One’s legal sex would be based on someone’s original birth certificate “unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”

    This is big news with even bigger implications for trans people like myself. For the past several decades, the definition of what’s covered under the federal ban on sex discrimination in employment, housing, education, and public accommodations -- and whether that would include protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity -- has been a hotly debated topic, finding its way to federal court dozens of times with varying outcomes. In recent years, especially, things seemed to be swinging in favor of LGBTQ people being protected under existing law. Should the administration implement this memo as a new rule under the Department of Health and Human Services (the agency where it has been circulating), it would almost certainly invite a quick legal challenge that would likely end up in front of an increasingly Trump-friendly Supreme Court. At stake is trans people’s ability to access health care without being turned away on the basis of their gender identity. If the definition were to spread to other agencies, as it likely would, it could result in trans people no longer being able to access identity documents that match our gender, effectively legalize discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations, and obliterate any expectation of privacy in public.

    Conservative media has a time-tested, two-pronged approach to tackling marginalized groups: Ignore and then attack.

    After Trump confirmed that the administration was “looking at [defining gender] very seriously,” on October 22, Fox News began covering it on shows like Shepard Smith Reporting, Special Report with Bret Baier, and Fox News @ Night With Shannon Bream. The next day, Camille Paglia appeared on The Story with Martha McCallum for a segment on the move. Paglia has been a critic of what she calls the “transgender wave” and the quest for legal protections. In a 2017 interview with The Weekly Standard, she said, “No one deserves special rights, protections, or privileges on the basis of their eccentricity,” referring to gender identity. Tucker Carlson invited Tammy Bruce to come on his October 23 show. In 2015, Bruce compared being transgender to self-identifying as a dog. Neither Hannity nor The Ingraham Angle mentioned the report, though the hosts of both shows have offered some less-than-enlightened commentary on the topic in the past. While slightly antagonistic, Fox’s coverage of the memo was pretty tame, despite playing host to anti-trans critics.

    It was in the realm of conservative websites that the memo received the type of hero’s welcome one may have expected.

    Science Wins Trump Administration Proposes Transgender Policy Based on Biology,” blared a headline from The Daily Caller. Another article by the outlet, about trans actress Alexandra Billings, seemed to go out of its way to call the Transparent star by masculine pronouns as many times as possible.

    In National Review, David French wrongly suggested that the memo would simply be a rollback of an Obama administration overreach (it would actually be much more than that) and praised the policy as “standing athwart a lawless redefinition of biological reality and quite appropriately yelling stop,” while Ben Shapiro said the administration “restored some sense of sanity” to Title IX interpretations.

    Meanwhile, Breitbart News reveled in the fear and sadness trans people and our allies expressed in the wake of the news with assertions like “The policy would protect Americans’ civil rights from the transgender ideology” and headlines like “Hollywood Unhinged Over Report Trump Admin May Eliminate Gender Ideology.”

    The former story included the bizarre claim that “[transgender] ideology has been loudly supported — and heavily funded — by a small number of men who demand the government force Americans to say they are women, amid criticism that those ‘transgender’ men are heterosexual men who desire to mimic women.” Another author at the site wrote that this “is not the first time that the Trump administration has angered the increasingly powerful transgender lobby.” The first portion of the statement makes sense, as Trump has taken a number of anti-trans steps during his time in office, but if there’s a “powerful transgender lobby,” that’s news to me.

    We live in worlds split from reality, with context washed away in the name of a politically agreeable narrative.

    It’s hard to build empathy when you’re shielded from the people you’re supposed to be empathizing with. That may actually be part of the strategy. An October 2017 NPR poll found that 55 percent of white American believe that there is anti-white discrimination in the country. Just two months earlier, a Public Religion Research Institute poll reported that while 48 percent of Republicans believe that Christians face  “a lot” of discrimination, and 43 percent said that about white people, just 27 percent believe black Americans do. For comparison, for Democrat, those percents were 21, 19, and 82, respectively.

    The political divide has become a reality chasm. Consumers of conservative media are shown stories of people being told that there is a 20-minute wait for a table at a local Ruby Tuesday as a grave injustice that proves the world is out to get them. They’re told that anyone wishing them “Happy Holidays” is attacking their religion. They are made to feel that jabs by late-night comedians or awards show hosts are an “all-out attack” on their belief system.

    But what of the black child shot and killed for playing with a toy gun? Well, maybe that was his parents’ fault, they might think. Or trans people denied medically necessary treatment on the basis of their gender? Well, that’s for their own good, readers could reasonably conclude. Or stories of Muslims racially profiled, placed on a watch list, or just treated with general suspicion wherever they go? They might have seen a video saying that the majority of Muslims are extremists, so hey, can’t be too careful now.

    Political media have, without a doubt, played a huge role in leading ideological factions to their respective places in the world. There’s certainly a sense that along the way, we lost our grip on a shared, objective truth. If there’s hope of undoing the damage, it’s time media make the spread of fair, contextualized news a major part of their mission.

  • The party of personal responsibility is now the party of “the libs made me do it”

    More than just a hit song by Taylor Swift, Look what you made me do has become the go-to excuse for unsavory actions among conservatives.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    You’d be surprised how many conservatives were this close to casting a ballot for Democrats next month only to be thrust back into their Republican ways by how liberal protesters and Democratic senators handled themselves during Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. No, I don’t have data to back this up. What I do have, however, are anecdotes -- lots and lots of anecdotes from conservative media figures who are sharing them, ever so kindly and not at all suspiciously, because they just want to help Democrats win some elections.

    “From a conservative who has been disgusted by the Trumpified GOP: ‘I didn’t think I could drag myself to the polls. But after the Left’s performance in the Kavanaugh affair, I would crawl across broken glass.’ I believe this sentiment is common,” wrote National Review’s Jay Nordlinger on Twitter.

    In his most recent Washington Post column, Hugh Hewitt stressed the importance of not rewarding the “outburst of the new McCarthyism” that was the opposition to Kavanaugh’s spot on the court. This lesson, of course, is for the Democratic Party’s own good -- and it’s one that can be taught only by increasing Republican majorities in the House and Senate. For Republicans who find themselves disapproving of President Donald Trump’s “hyperbole and occasional cruelty,” voting a straight-GOP ballot is a courageous sacrifice worthy of applause. Democrats can rest easy knowing that Hugh Hewitt, longtime friend of the left, has their best interests at heart. Or … something like that.

    “I’ve heard from several of my center-right friends today who are turned off by the Left’s attacks on Kavanaugh & Cruz. As a result, they have started solidly supporting them both,” wrote Daily Beast columnist and CNN commentator Matt Lewis on Twitter, sharing an “admittedly anecdotal” bit of info with his followers.

    Each of these stories could be thusly summed up: I didn’t want to vote for Trump or his congressional enablers … but look what you made me do. In other words, it’s your fault that we’re here.

    It’s a convenient defense to sidestep responsibility for actions or positions one knows to be ethically murky. For many conservatives, that includes supporting Trump and his oft-cruel agenda.

    One variation on this trope is the rejoinder, “This is how you got Trump.” Again on Twitter, Lewis reminds readers that though he’s spent years “lamenting the rise of what came to be called ‘Trumpism’ on the Right,” we should remember at least two of the real causes behind the phenomenon: “liberal media bias” and “the radicalization of the Left.”

    The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro has blamed the rise of Trump on a litany of factors: former President Barack Obama’s lectures; Hillary Clinton’s decision to participate in a sketch during the 2018 Grammy Awards (14 months after Trump’s election); a joke about salads; a tweet from MSNBC’s Chris Hayes about the cancellation of Roseanne; an admittedly bizarre HuffPost article titled “Why I Put A Dragonfruit Up My Butt…”; the response to a CNN segment in which Fox Sports Radio host Clay Travis said the only two things he believed in were “the First Amendment and boobs”; and, in the most meta example possible, the phrase “this is why Trump won.”

    Surely some of those were meant as jokes, but they illustrate something important within modern politics: No one can ever be to blame for their own actions. “How you got Trump” is that Republicans voted for him during the party’s 2016 primary and then went on to cast their ballots for him in the general election. Yes, of course there were other factors, such as Obama voters who crossed over to Trump, Democrats and independents who sat the election out, voter suppression and disenfranchisement efforts, and so on. None of them, however, were tweets, salads, or sketches during awards shows. Voters -- Trump voters -- gave us Trump. At least that would seem apparent.

    Sometimes, this tactic is deployed as a response, as it was during the Kavanaugh confirmation. Other times, it’s a warning against future action.

    Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s win during the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th Congressional District left some on the right flustered. A young, affable, progressive candidate who rose from obscurity to defeat a powerful incumbent could pose a threat to the conservative monopoly on power -- if more candidates like her were to emerge and succeed. Right-leaning commentators have since deployed a series of editorials urging Democrats, for their own sake, not to venture too far to the left.

    “Democrats need to choose: Are they the party of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or the party of Michael Bloomberg?” asked a June Business Insider article by Daniella Greenbaum. At The Atlantic, Reihan Salam wrote about Ocasio-Cortez as a sign that the Democratic Party may be in for an unwise shift to the left. Former George H.W. Bush staffer Lloyd Green warned at The Hill that “wealthy swing voters will not buy what Ocasio-Cortez is selling.”

    The promise, though sometimes unspoken, is that if the Democrats were to simply be a little more conservative, they would be able to cash in on the many disillusioned Trump voters. At The New York Times, David Brooks urged Democrats to make less of a fuss about right-wing attacks on abortion rights. Doing this, he surmises, would help them defeat the threat that Trumpism poses to the country and the world. Often, these articles are a request for just one little concession here or there -- maybe it’s to ease up on abortion; or maybe it’s to sit out the conservative battle against LGBTQ rights; or maybe it’s to adopt a more market-driven approach to health insurance. The message bombarding readers is that people on the left are forcing those on the right to march toward authoritarianism simply by being on the left. The underlying argument is that to be successful at the polls, Democrats need to abandon many of the things that differentiate them from Republicans -- which, in Greenbaum’s argument, involves becoming “the party of” a former Republican mayor -- or else conservatives will have no choice but to continue their rightward march.

    But if Trump is the type of existential threat to conservatism and country that National Review made him out to be in its “Against Trump” issue or that Shapiro sugested in a piece for The Daily Wire, then the “party of personal responsibility” needs to take it upon itself to reshape from within. Instead, right-wing media figures are rattling off reasons that it’s actually the fault of Democrats that Republicans became the party of Trump -- not because of their own choices, actions, and divisions.

    Trump himself uses this tactic in his own political battles. Take his immigration policy, for example.

    “It is now time for Congress to act!” Trump said in a 2017 statement announcing the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

    The meticulously crafted statement suggested that his hands were tied. As much as he wanted to keep the program in place, he had little choice but to send the issue back to Congress with hope that it would pass legislation to protect the undocumented immigrants here under the 2012 program. This, of course, was a farce. Trump had every right to leave the program in place while encouraging Congress to make it permanent. Instead, he turned the lives of nearly 700,000 people into a political bargaining chip attached to a ticking time bomb.

    “We want to see something happen with DACA,” Trump said in January. “It’s been spoken of for years, and children are now adults in many cases.” But did he actually want to have a DACA bill on his desk to sign? A number of Democrats (including California Sen. Dianne Feinstein) called on Republican leaders in Congress to vote on a clean bill to completely resolve the issue. In fact, at the same time Trump announced the plan to wind down DACA, the DREAM Act of 2017 had been languishing in the Senate for more than a month. He chose not to put pressure on Republican members of Congress (the bill did have Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Cory Gardner (R-CO) as co-sponsors) to pass the existing bill. Instead, he railed against inaction, making repeated claims that Democrats were the ones choosing not to protect DACA recipients, tweeting that Democrats were “nowhere to be found” on the issue, didn’t care, and were ultimately responsible for the fact that “DACA is dead” (DACA is actually still active as it faces challenges in courts).

    Not only were Democrats willing to act, but many crossed the aisle to provide a bipartisan solution which included an offer to fund his border wall. In response, Trump threatened to veto the bill were it to pass Congress. He went on to repeat this exact same strategy to defend his administration’s family separation policy, falsely blaming it on a “horrible law” that simply did not and does not exist.

    Just as some conservatives in the media can justify their support of Trump’s cruelest policies by blaming just about anything apart from their own decision-making (did you know that Saturday Night Live can lead the most disillusioned former Republican back into the party’s warm embrace?), Trump justifies his own policies by blaming his political opponents. Everyone is happy to take credit for making the right call when something is good -- there’s no shortage of positive coverage among conservatives when it comes to the “Trump economy” -- but blame gets spread far and fast when something has a negative outcome.

    One of the latest examples of this trend involves Trump’s own op-ed in USA Today. While there are a number of outright lies in the piece, there’s one that’s especially galling.

    “As a candidate, I promised that we would protect coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions and create new health care insurance options that would lower premiums,” reads the editorial. “I have kept that promise, and we are now seeing health insurance premiums coming down.”

    Trump has not kept his promise to people with pre-existing conditions, of course, instead painting Democrats as the party that wants to take away people’s access to health care. In fact, the administration is actively trying to gut protections for people with pre-existing conditions in court. On Wednesday, the Republican Senate voted down a measure to prevent a new rule put forward by the administration that would allow insurance companies to offer plans that exclude these crucial and popular protections.

    If and when those defenses erode, there’s little doubt that he will look to Democrats as he did during the DACA debate and shrug as if to say, “I really wanted to help. Really, I did. But look what you made me do.” His defenders are sure to join in. It’s the job of a responsible media to hold him to account.

  • Pro-Kavanaugh shills claim nominee is the victim of a "lynching." Have they ever seen a lynching?

    Lynchings were a cornerstone of a hundred-year campaign of racial terrorism in defense of white supremacy, but conservatives see parallels with a powerful, wealthy white man facing consequences

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Warning: This piece contains graphic images and descriptions. 

    An emerging right-wing media narrative that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is the victim of a “lynching” betrays not only conservative media’s desperation to salvage the nomination after he was credibly accused of sexual assault and likely perjured himself, but also their selfishness and superficiality when it comes to race relations in America. 

    On September 27, professor Christine Blasey Ford testified that Kavanaugh attempted to rape her at a high school party in the early 1980s. Right-wing media had already been building up a campaign against Ford since news of her allegations broke earlier in the month. But after her testimony, they dialed up their campaign to discredit Ford, with some of them eventually landing on the idea that the opposition to Kavanaugh is nothing but a “lynching.” 

    Attacking a sexual assault survivor with a reductive take on racial terrorism is, unfortunately, very on-brand for American conservatism in 2018. Fox’s Sean Hannity led the charge out of the gate; on September 17, the day after Ford went public, Hannity compared her allegations to the “vicious and horrible and nasty and unjust” hearings about Anita Hill’s sexual harassment reports against Justice Clarence Thomas and aired a clip of Thomas’ infamous “high-tech lynching” line. The Thomas quote was favorably recalled by several right-wing media figures, but they didn’t stop there: Several conservative and right-wing media figures took it upon themselves to make the comparison directly.

    On September 22, Fox’s Jeanine Pirro accused a guest of “setting this man up for his own lynching.” Similarly, the Family Research Council’s William Boykin told Newsbusters that he “thought lynching was made illegal and that the burden of proof rested upon the accuser, not the accused.” And Townhall published a piece (from a Black author) that audaciously began, “History is an easy and convenient thing to forget,” before comparing Kavanaugh to Emmett Till, a Black 14 year-old lynched in 1955 because of a white woman’s false groping allegation


    Mamie and Louis Till overlooking their son Emmett's corpse. (Time magazine)

    Perhaps the most depraved take came from National Review Editor-in-Chief Rich Lowry, who seems to compare Kavanaugh to the falsely accused in To Kill a Mockingbird, who is threatened with lynching. Lowry claims that a book famous for its themes of racial injustice “stands firmly for the proposition that an accusation can be false.” Lowry’s column completely ignores race -- the word doesn’t make a single appearance -- so it’s easy for him to twist Mockingbird into pablum about a man’s false accuser being “destroy[ed]” by an attorney who “doesn’t care about her feelings, only the facts.” In the original story, that same attorney also faces down a racist lynch mob outside the jail, but Lowry’s revisionist history inverts a hundred years of racial terror into a narrative that somehow vindicates Kavanaugh at the expense of his alleged victims. This take has spread throughout the right-wing Facebook echo chamber via a popular meme.

    In case conservative media have forgotten, lynchings are a uniquely reprehensible (and ongoing) part of American history. From 1882 to 1968, 4,743 people were lynched -- 72.7 percent of them Black -- for the express purpose of enforcing white supremacy. The victims were murdered in unspeakably horrific ways. Emmett Till, whom the Townhall piece compared to Kavanaugh, was found in a river, weighted down with a piece of a cotton gin. His face was so mangled by his attackers that he was unrecognizable. A sign marking where Till was murdered is regularly shot up by anonymous vandals. There’s also Mary Turner, a pregnant woman whose unborn child was cut from her womb and stomped to death (Turner was also set on fire and shot hundreds of times); Jesse Washington, who was doused in coal oil and hanged to death over burning crates, then carved into souvenirs and paraded around town; and Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie, who were dragged out of jail, beaten, hanged, then turned into postcards. Kavanaugh, in contrast, is facing extreme public scrutiny as he interviews for a job at the highest court in land. And if he doesn't get it, he'll simply go back to his old cushy life as a federal judge. 


    A postcard made from an image of Clayton, Jackson, and McGhie's lynching, also known as the Duluth lynching. (Wikimedia Commons)

    Right-wing media’s increasingly racialized Kavanaugh coverage is especially rich considering their routine denunciations of “the race card.” When conservative media say Kavanaugh is being lynched, they are playing "the race card" with blinders on; their arguments invoking an era of racial terrorism are completely devoid of any meaningful racial analysis. They’re defending a credibly accused sexual predator by first inventing, then weaponizing, an alternative history in which one of the most infamous acts of racial violence isn’t racial at all -- it’s simply about attacking people.

    It’s no coincidence that right-wing media deployed a racially charged accusation of “lynching” at the same time the conservative movement has embraced Dinesh D’Souza’s laughable, brazenly dishonest version of American history in which the Democrats are “the real racists” and the well-documented party realignment around civil rights simply “did not take place.” The right’s attempts to put an accused sexual abuser on the Supreme Court -- after electing another one to the presidency -- only serve to highlight the profound moral and intellectual rot at the heart of American conservatism.

  • Following New Yorker’s piece on latest sexual assault report against Brett Kavanaugh, conservatives attack the wrong Deborah Ramirez

    A false attack quickly moved from Quin Hillyer to John Fund to Bret Baier

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    John Fund, a columnist for the conservative National Review known for his false claims about the prevalence of voter fraud, attacked New Yorker’s reporting on a sexual assault report made against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh by claiming that the outlet “leaves out [a] tie to George Soros.”

    Citing conservaitve columnist Quin Hillyer, Fund wrote that Deborah Ramirez, who says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her and put his penis on her face when they were both students at Yale University, “got [a] 2003 Soros Justice Fellowship to strengthen understanding between law enforcement and Arab, Muslim, and Sikh communities.”

    The recipient who received the fellowship is Deborah A. Ramirez, a professor at Northeastern University, not the woman who says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her. Fund later issued a “correction” with “sincere apologies” for misidentifying Ramirez. Hillyer apologized on Twitter, writing, "I am told it might be a different Deborah Ramirez. If so, I apologize."

    Conservative media figures amplified Fund’s false claim, including Fox News chief political anchor Bret Baier who retweeted Fund's tweet:

    Baier later quietly unretweeted Fund’s claim, without acknowledging that he promoted false information.

    Tom Fitton, the president of conservative group Judicial Watch, also promoted the falsehood:

    The sloppy attack on Ramirez and The New Yorker echoes attacks made against Christine Blasey Ford, who said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school. Among the numerous smears spread about Ford, one posited that she was not credible because of negative reviews left at RateMyProfessors.com for a different Christine Ford.

  • Right-wing media attacked Obama for showing openness to talks with Iran. Trump just did exactly that.

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS & DINA RADTKE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On July 30, President Donald Trump said that he would be willing to meet with Iranian leadership with “no preconditions.” Right-wing outlets were largely silent about Trump’s remarks, but had harshly criticized former President Barack Obama for saying the same thing.

    While running for president and during his presidency, Obama made clear that his vision for America’s foreign policy involved meeting with Iran. In 2009, Obama said that he was willing to talk to Iran “without preconditions” to reach a deal that would end the country’s nuclear weapon program. Obama again said in 2013 that he would sit down with Iranian leadership but only if the regime signaled that it was serious about giving up its nuclear weapons. In response, conservative media pundits branded the former president as “weak” and roundly disapproved of his supposed leniency toward Iran.

    But now right-wing outlets are generally silent about Trump’s remarks. Notably, Fox host Sean Hannity, who was an outspoken critic of Obama’s plans to meet with Iran, has not mentioned Trump’s announcement, and many others have followed his lead.

    Here’s how right-wing media reacted to Obama previously:

    • Hannity also griped repeatedly about the possibility of Obama meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani or Russian President Vladimir Putin while supposedly sidelining Republicans.
    • Trump’s current lawyer Rudy Giuliani said on Hannity in 2012: “I have a message to the President. Mr. President, they [Iran] don't want to negotiate with you. They want to build an atomic weapon. Wake up!” (via Nexis)
    • Hannity stated in 2012 that Obama “said he would negotiate with Iran without preconditions. I can think of a few preconditions -- recognizing Israel's right to exist, stop threatening to annihilate them and wipe them off the map, recognizing the truth that the Holocaust occurred, and also stopping your nuclear weapons program.” (via Nexis)
    • Hannity also said in 2010, “Do you think we can negotiate with Hitler Jr., [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, without preconditions?” (via Nexis)
    • Hannity said in 2008: “Iran is a tiny country and not a serious threat. Those are Barack Obama's words. He said would you meet in your first year with people like Hugo Chavez and Ahmadinejad without preconditions? Yes, his answer was. He hasn't been held accountable, really, for a lot of these statements.”
    • Advisor to President George W. Bush Karl Rove complained to Hannity in 2011 that it is “frankly inexplicable” that Obama would continue to meet with American enemies despite “having been in office now for two-and-a-half years.” (via Nexis)
    • Anti-Muslim activist Brigitte Gabriel stated on Hannity in 2013, “The only time in the Islamic world you come to the negotiating table is to negotiate the terms of your surrender! Right now, President Obama has delivered America to Iran as weak.” (via Nexis)
    • National Review’s William J. Bennett and Seth Leibsohn wrote, “Barack Obama’s position on negotiating with U.S. enemies betrays a profound misreading of history.” The authors added that if Obama were to meet with Iranian officials, “he will lower the prestige of the office of the president.”
    • Fox’s Steve Doocy hosted Fox legal analyst Peter Johnson Jr. who complained that Obama would rather negotiate with “a murderous anti-Semite,” referring to Rouhani, than with Republicans. Johnson also said, “Let’s be as eager to speak with the Republicans as we are to speak with the Iranians and malefactors in this world.”
    • Then-New York Post columnist Charles Hurt criticized Obama for “promis[ing] face time” to Ahmadinejad. According to Hurt, “We'd still be fighting the Japanese if Harry Truman - a Democrat unafraid to fight - subscribed to this fuzzy fringe foreign policy.”
  • Trump’s pick for National Economic Council is a CNBC host who gives bad financial advice

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS & MADELINE PELTZ

    President Donald Trump has told people he has chosen CNBC's Larry Kudlow to replace Gary Cohn as the director of the National Economic Council. Kudlow has no formal training in economics, and he has a history of making poor financial predictions, pushing conservative economic talking points, and making outrageous and offensive comments.

  • Scott Pruitt appeared on Fox more than twice as often as other major TV networks combined in his first year at EPA

    Fox News, meanwhile, largely ignored controversies about Pruitt’s extravagant travel

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In his first year as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as he did on the other major cable and broadcast networks combined. During the same period, Fox News devoted significantly less coverage to controversies about Pruitt’s costly travel than the other major cable news outlets, CNN and MSNBC.

    Pruitt’s preference for appearing on Fox News is part of a wider trend that extends across the Trump administration, with Fox News serving as the go-to network for administration officials. Fox News’ habit of ignoring unflattering news about Pruitt is also in line with the network’s tendency to ignore negative stories about President Donald Trump and his administration.

    In first year as EPA head, Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as on the other major networks combined

    Scott Pruitt appeared on Fox News 16 times in his first year at EPA. A previous Media Matters study examining Pruitt’s first six months after taking office on February 17, 2017, found that he appeared on Fox News twice as often as he did on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and NBC combined. He continued that trend in his second six months in office, making four more appearances on Fox and only one additional appearance on a non-Fox outlet, CBS. In total, during his first year, he appeared 16 times on Fox and only seven times on the other networks combined.

    Pruitt rarely faced tough questioning during his appearances on Fox, with the exception of two interviews by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. During most of Pruitt's Fox appearances, he advocated for and defended the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, though he also went on the network to defend his rollbacks of other Obama-era environmental protections.

    The Fox program he appeared on most often was Fox & Friends, a show that wields agenda-setting influence with the president. Here are all of Pruitt's Fox News appearances from his first year at the EPA:

    *The segment on Your World with Neil Cavuto on October 17 used footage from an interview Pruitt did earlier on the same day on the Fox Business Network program Cavuto: Coast to Coast.

    Pruitt made just seven appearances on the other major cable and broadcast TV networks combined. In his first year leading the EPA, Pruitt made only seven appearances total on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and MSNBC. In the majority of these, he defended U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, as he did during his Fox appearances. In other cases, he broadly discussed his agenda and priorities and defended rollbacks of environmental regulations.

    Here are Pruitt’s appearances on the major broadcast TV networks, CNN, and MSNBC during his first year:  

    • Two on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos on March 26 and June 4.
    • One on CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer on February 28.
    • One on CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper on June 1.
    • One on NBC’s Meet the Press on June 4.
    • One on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on June 6.
    • One on CBS Evening News on January 17.

    Fox News devoted significantly less coverage to Pruitt’s controversial use of taxpayer money than CNN and MSNBC

    On September 27, The Washington Post published an article about Pruitt taking “at least four noncommercial and military flights since mid-February, costing taxpayers more than $58,000.”

    The story received extensive mainstream media coverage, including on other cable news networks. During the week after the story broke, from September 27 to October 3, CNN and MSNBC aired 32 and 31 segments on the controversy, respectively, often mentioning other cabinet members' high travel expenses as well. But Fox News aired just seven segments about Pruitt’s costly charter and military flights. In one Fox segment, on the September 29 episode of Your World with Neil Cavuto, correspondent John Roberts stated, “Scott Pruitt took four, maybe five charter flights. Those were all approved by the EPA Office of Ethics, and he has come up with a full explanation for those. … It's my belief that the other departments, Interior, Treasury, EPA, whatever, are allowed to do those private flights, as long as they have pre-approval for that.”

    On February 11, 2018, The Washington Post again detailed Pruitt’s exorbitant spending in an article headlined “First-class travel distinguishes Scott Pruitt’s EPA tenure.” The Post reported that Pruitt racked up $90,000 in taxpayer-funded travel costs during one stretch in early June, and that figure did not include the additional travel costs for Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail. CBS News reported two days later that Pruitt broke with a government policy that officials fly on U.S. airlines by traveling on the luxury Emirates airline on a return trip from Milan, Italy. The story gained further traction after the EPA changed its tune about whether Pruitt had a blanket waiver to travel first class and clarified what security threats justified Pruitt’s use of first-class travel.

    Yet in the week following the Post’s article, from February 11 to February 17, Fox News did not mention the renewed controversy over Pruitt's travel costs even once.* CNN and MSNBC, by contrast, aired four and eight segments on his travel, respectively.

    *Fox News did air two segments on the latest Pruitt travel controversy on the February 19 episode of Shepard Smith Reporting and the February 28 episode of Special Report with Bret Baier, but these segments were aired more than a week after the Post story and fell outside the one-year time frame of our study.  

    On business news networks, Pruitt appeared on Fox Business four times as often as on CNBC

    Pruitt’s preference for Fox extended to the Fox Business Network. On the cable business news channels, Pruitt again demonstrated a predilection for Fox, making eight appearances on Fox Business, while appearing only twice on competitor CNBC. Fox Business Network has exhibited strong pro-Trump leanings, as outlets including USA Today and Business Insider have reported.

    Here are Pruitt's appearances on Fox Business shows:

    Fox Business defended Pruitt by attacking a CNN report. After Pruitt gave numerous interviews to Fox Business, the network did Pruitt a favor. In October, it aggressively and baselessly attacked a CNN investigation into moves Pruitt made to help a proposed mine in Alaska right after meeting with the CEO of the mining company pushing the project. The network aired four segments in two days that criticized CNN's story and defended the mine. On all four segments, the hosts and interviewees did not dispute any of the specific facts reported by CNN, but they used highly charged language to try to discredit the story, calling CNN's investigation a "smear," a "hit piece," and "dishonest reporting." (In January, Pruitt reversed his decision and reinstated restrictions on the mine project. Fox News did not report on this reversal.)

    Pruitt gave numerous interviews to right-wing radio programs and a variety of print outlets

    Pruitt frequently appeared on radio shows hosted by climate change deniers like Brian Kilmeade and Michael Savage. Media Matters' previous study on Pruitt's first six months in office found that he made half a dozen appearances on popular right-wing talk radio programs hosted by people who deny climate science. He continued that pattern in his second six months, making appearances on programs including The Rush Limbaugh Show (where he was interviewed by guest host and climate denier Mark Steyn), The Hugh Hewitt Show, The Savage Nation, The Brian Kilmeade Show, The David Webb Show, and Breitbart News Daily.

    Pruitt's print and online interviews included some mainstream outlets. While Pruitt leaned heavily on right-wing outlets when doing TV and radio, he granted interviews to a wider variety of newspapers, magazines, wire services, and online publications. Some of those interviews were with conservative outlets, including National Review, The Daily Caller, and The Daily Signal. Some were with the business press, like The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. And some were with prominent mainstream outlets, including The Washington Post, TIME, USA Today, Reuters, and The New York Times podcast The Daily.  

    Still, overall, Pruitt heavily favors conservative media when trying to push out his talking points. As Mother Jones recently reported in an in-depth profile of Pruitt, the EPA under his direction "has mostly focused on spreading its message through the right-wing media, talking frequently to Fox News and conservative radio hosts while dismissing less favorable coverage as fake."

    Pruitt's preference for right-wing media is continuing into his second year at the EPA. In the 16 days since his one-year anniversary, he has given interviews to the Christian Broadcasting Network, The Daily Signal, and Fox News.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the following terms in Nexis and iQ Media to find Scott Pruitt's on-air TV appearances from the date of his swearing in as EPA administrator on February 17, 2017, to February 17, 2018: “Pruitt,” “Pruett,” "EPA administrator," "E.P.A. administrator," "EPA chief," "E.P.A. chief," "EPA head," "E.P.A. head," "head of the EPA," "head of the E.P.A.," "head of the Environmental Protection Agency," "Environmental Protection Agency Administrator," or "Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency." We did not count instances of networks airing Pruitt’s appearance at the White House’s June 2 press briefing.

    We also used the same terms to search cable news networks’ coverage of Pruitt’s travel controversies from September 27 to October 3 and from February 11, 2018, to February 17, 2018. We did not count instances of networks airing White House briefings that discussed these controversies.

  • 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.

  • Right-wing media figures have led Trump's purge of Department of Justice officials they perceive as threatening

    Here’s who they have left

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS & GRACE BENNETT

    Right-wing media have consistently lined up behind Donald Trump to defend him against any and all allegations regarding Russian interference in the presidential election. Led primarily by Fox News and primetime host Sean Hannity, right-wing media figures have denounced, undermined, or maligned Department of Justice and FBI officials involved in the broader Russia investigation since it began.