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  • Anti-abortion group that named Trump "Person of the Year” promotes an 8chan conspiracy theorist

    Operation Rescue praised a message board conspiracy theorist for helping "wake up Americans to the barbarity of abortion"

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The extreme anti-abortion group Operation Rescue appears to have adopted a new tactic in its quest to attack Planned Parenthood and undermine abortion access. This time the group is praising an anonymous conspiracy theorist on the 8chan message board for taking the so-called "evidence" of Planned Parenthood's alleged wrongdoing "seriously and bringing it to the attention of an audience that may otherwise never have been exposed to the truth."

    Operation Rescue is an extreme anti-abortion group with a history of spouting violent rhetoric and harassing abortion providers. Headed by longtime extremist Troy Newman, Operation Rescue has been described as an organization dedicated to “shut[ting] down abortion clinics by systematically harassing their employees into quitting” -- a goal that typically involves training anti-choice activists, developing regional spin-off groups, and ultimately assisting with smear campaigns against abortion providers such as the discredited videos created by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. Newman and Operation Rescue have also been Trump supporters; the organization named the president as the “2017 Pro-Life Person of the Year.” 

    Although Operation Rescue has largely stuck to this playbook for its anti-abortion activism, on January 7 the group demonstrated a new tactic: signal-boosting a series of posts from a far-right message board on 8chan that targeted Planned Parenthood.

    8chan is a message board system -- similar to 4chan and Reddit -- that enables users to create and curate discussions anonymously, making them hotbeds of racist commentary and politically motivated harassment campaigns. These forums gained a reputation for being fertile ground for those in the so-called “alt-right” or white nationalist movement. In the past, 8chan has come under scrutiny for its use by certain users involved in the Gamergate movement, which involved the targeted harassment of individuals, including many women, who advocated “for greater inclusion in [video] gaming,” according to The Washington Post.

    Although there has been some discussion of the 8chan sub-forum “politically incorrect” or /pol/, there are many different sub-forums on the platform. The series of posts highlighted by Operation Rescue occurred on a new sub-forum called The Storm. A user who refers to himself as Q and claims to be a “high-level government insider” began posting first on 4chan and then 8chan about a series of "intel drops — which he, for some reason, called ‘crumbs’" in order to "inform the public about POTUS’s master plan to stage a countercoup against members of the deep state.” New York magazine’s Paris Martineau called the forum a "fantasy world" where “all of the far right’s wildest dreams come true”:

    Q promises that Clinton, Obama, Podesta, Abedin, and even McCain are all either arrested and wearing secret police-issued ankle monitors, or just about to be indicted; that the Steele dossier is a total fabrication personally paid for by Clinton and Obama; and that the Las Vegas massacre was most definitely an inside job connected to the Saudi-Clinton cabal. They believe all of this will be coming to a head any day now. That “The Storm” — of arrests, political turmoil, and Republican vindication — is coming.

    On January 7, Q posted on The Storm that followers should “review the Congressional investigation on PP” and “be prepared for what you learn,” ending with the statement, “These people are SICK!”:

    As Operation Rescue explained in its release, the “Congressional Investigation referenced is the results of the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives” -- referring to a politically motivated inquiry into Planned Parenthood by anti-abortion members of the House of Representatives. Although during its 10 months of investigation, the House select panel found no substantiated evidence of wrongdoing, Operation Rescue and other anti-abortion outlets and groups have frequently promoted the panel’s final report.

    Although Operation Rescue acknowledged that Q is a conspiracy theorist, or at least inspires conspiracy theories -- the anti-abortion group still praised him when one of his posts aligned with its agenda, claiming that “#Qanon is now taking on Planned Parenthood in his uniquely enigmatic way.” Most notably, the Operation Rescue report closed with a quote from Newman, seemingly lauding Q:

    “We are grateful to Q and the Trump Administration for taking the evidence against Planned Parenthood seriously and bringing it to the attention of an audience that may otherwise never have been exposed to the truth. We hope the Qanon exposure helps wake up Americans to the barbarity of abortion,” said Newman. “Planned Parenthood is a corrupt enterprise that makes their money off the backs of dead babies and taxpayers. We urge Congress to defund Planned Parenthood immediately, and are praying for their speedy prosecution.”

    While Operation Rescue praised mysterious poster, the post itself inspired a number of responses -- ranging widely in tone and focus. Some users generally celebrated the news and asked for more information about when “Planned Parenthood is going down”:

    Others shared information from the Congressional investigation, and encouraged followers to read the full report:

    Some users even went so far as to suggest wider conspiracies about Planned Parenthood’s “blood sacrifice to Moloch and Lucifer” and the alleged use of fetal tissue in vaccines and food products:

    Operation Rescue has long been extreme in its tactics, but if this latest development is any indication, the organization may be preparing to lurch into the fever swamp of far-right conspiracy theories and harassment peddled on The Storm and similar communities across various message boards. Anti-abortion harassment has already grown worse over the past few years -- and if Operation Rescue is really pivoting to the far-right message board echo chamber, there’s little reason to believe that trend will abate.

  • How New York journalists overcame barriers to prison access and opened the world’s eyes to the horrors of Rikers

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    The media’s access to prisons is replete with roadblocks, which vary from state to state and can be as extreme as blanket denials to journalists. U.S. courts have found that journalists have no more right to access prisons than the general public does, and much of their reporting requires navigating complicated relationships with prison officials. Despite these challenges, dogged reporting from New York journalists covering the Rikers Island jail complex made it impossible for the public and officials to ignore injustices in the prison, which Mayor Bill de Blasio promised in March to shut down.

    Journalists face numerous barriers to prison access, which varies from state to state

    New York journalists' reporting on Rikers exemplified how to overcome many challenges to access

    Reporting on prisons is in the public interest


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Journalists face numerous barriers to prison access, which varies from state to state

    One of the first complexities journalists face in their reporting on prisons is different access policies across states. The Society for Professional Journalists (SPJ) developed a state-by-state media access policy resource after finding that several states “offer few guidelines for granting or denying media requests, simply leaving it up to ‘the discretion’ of whoever is in charge.” The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) even suggests reporters “try personally appealing to the head of the department” when they are unable to navigate the complex and often arbitrary policies. SPJ’s Jessica Pupovac interviewed a Wall Street Journal criminal justice reporter who compared prisons to “a fiefdom” with a “feudal system” in which “the warden is at the top.”

    Pupovac’s toolbox on prison reporting outlined other discrepancies between states. For example, some states permit face-to-face interviews with inmates “but reserve the right to terminate such conversations at any time,” while others may reject nearly all requests. An Alabama Department of Corrections spokesperson even admitted to Pupovac in 2012 that he does not “remember any times” the department has “granted access in the last year and a half.” Other prisons require that “any sources from within the prisons” be “hand-selected by staff.” According to “peer-to-peer educational platform” GenFKD, state-by-state access policies “appear to be arbitrary considering they can be based on previous legislation, administrative regulation, individual cases or a combination thereof,” and that there are only a handful of places with “due process for media to complain if they are denied” access.

    The law, however, generally does not guarantee any sort of journalist access to prisons, though journalists have successfully sued for that access. In a 2013 Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) cover story, Beth Schwartzapfel wrote, “The courts have repeatedly held that journalists do not have any rights of access greater than that of the general public. Of course, they have no fewer rights of access, either.” One Chicago journalist threatened a lawsuit “hom[ing] in on that right to equal access,” as prison officials had granted access to school and church groups, along with the prison watchdog group John Howard Association prior to then-Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn issuing “blanket denials to journalists seeking access to the state’s prisons.” Illinois’ Department of Corrections eventually granted access, and one of the reporter’s lawyers reasoned that it was because the department “knew that to give access to John Howard and not the media raised a significant equal protection claim under the Fourteenth Amendment.”

    But the challenges do not end even when a journalist is granted access. Journalists must “navigate a complicated relationship with correctional administrators whose goals and needs are often at odds with their own,” and, as Pupovac told CJR, “Openness, and transparency are ‘the exception to the rule.’” GenFKD noted that reporters also often “take statements from officials as truth without investigating further,” and “prisoners and guards alike will be dishonest and mislead regularly.”

    Former Los Angeles Times corrections reporter Jenifer Warren told CPJ that when journalists can’t get access through prison officials, they should follow “the paper trail,” noting that “prisons are functions of state governments, and state governments keep all sorts of records.” Warren also noted that though the media may not have access to current inmates, reporters can “interview former inmates,” “talk to people who just got out, people on probation and parole, and their friends and family.” And according to GenFKD, “Though corrections officials can make it hard to talk to inmates, they can’t make it impossible. Inmates are allowed to write letters, and most have access to phone calls if reporters are willing to pay hefty fees.”

    New York journalists’ reporting on Rikers exemplified how to overcome many challenges to access

    Many of these tactics were effectively employed by New York journalists reporting on the Rikers Island jail complex, which Mayor de Blasio has vowed to close, potentially within the next 10 years.

    New York magazine writer Jennifer Gonnerman’s long-form feature about Kalief Browder, who was incarcerated at Rikers, was a Pulitzer award finalist. Browder spent three years awaiting trial for allegedly stealing a backpack when he was 16, nearly two of which were in solitary confinement. He was pressured to plead guilty as his trial was repeatedly delayed, and he was eventually released without a trial because his accuser left the country and the prosecutor was therefore “unable to meet our burden of proof at trial.” Browder took his own life in 2015 after having attempted to do so “several times” during his time in Rikers. Gonnerman’s work brought national attention to Browder’s case, with former President Barack Obama citing his case in a Washington Post op-ed he wrote in 2016, and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy specifically citing Gonnerman’s reporting in a Supreme Court opinion. According to The New York Times, she was also credited with increasing public attention “on the plight of younger teenagers at Rikers” that led to the eventual plan to move 16- and 17-year-olds from Rikers “to a dedicated jail for youths in the Bronx.”

    In her reporting, Gonnerman interviewed Browder, who had already been released, as well as his lawyers and family. She also relied heavily on court filings, transcripts, and a report by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara. These reports were instrumental in corroborating Browder’s story, such as when he recounted officers beating him and telling him that he would be sent to solitary if he went to the medical clinic rather than back to bed. The group of guards had lined Browder and other inmates “up against a wall, trying to figure out who had been responsible for an earlier fight,” and Browder recounted that though “he had nothing to do with the fight,” the guards beat him and the other inmates. Gonnerman reported that “the Department of Correction refused to respond to these allegations, or to answer any questions about Browder’s stay on Rikers.” But she was able to substantiate his story by noting that Bharara’s report “recounts many instances in which officers pressured inmates not to report beatings.”

    The New York Times’ Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz have also covered Rikers extensively. Their 2014 reporting -- in conjunction with court reporter Benjamin Weiser -- that the city had omitted “hundreds of inmate fights … from departmental statistics” was referenced by Bharara when he warned that his office, as the Times reported, “stood ready to file a civil rights lawsuit against” New York City over conditions at Rikers. The Times obtained a confidential report that showed that the data was incorrect in those statistics and that the warden and deputy warden “had ‘abdicated all responsibility’ in reporting the statistics and that both should be demoted.” Bharara’s office eventually joined an existing class-action lawsuit against the city for brutality at the complex. Reflecting on their “high-impact journalism,” Winerip and Schwirtz wrote that it was “remarkable” that they were able “to see the results of our reporting almost immediately.”

    In an earlier landmark report on rampant brutality at Rikers, Winerip and Schwirtz also noted that a “dearth of whistle-blowers, coupled with the reluctance of the city’s Department of Correction to acknowledge the problem and the fact that guards are rarely punished, has kept the full extent of the violence” at the prison “hidden from public view.” Nevertheless, they uncovered “details on scores of assaults” through both interviews and by “reviewing hundreds of pages of legal, investigative and jail records”:

    The Times uncovered details on scores of assaults through interviews with current and former inmates, correction officers and mental health clinicians at the jail, and by reviewing hundreds of pages of legal, investigative and jail records. Among the documents obtained by The Times was a secret internal study completed this year by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which handles medical care at Rikers, on violence by officers. The report helps lay bare the culture of brutality on the island and makes clear that it is inmates with mental illnesses who absorb the overwhelming brunt of the violence.

    The study, which the health department refused to release under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, found that over an 11-month period last year, 129 inmates suffered “serious injuries” — ones beyond the capacity of doctors at the jail’s clinics to treat — in altercations with correction department staff members.

    Rather than simply report on the secret study, which “included no names and had little by way of details about specific cases,” Times reporters obtained “specific information on all 129 cases and used it to take an in-depth look at 24 of the most serious incidents.” In addition to many anonymous interviews with “inmates, correction officers and mental health clinicians at the jail,” Winerip and Schwirtz interviewed officials like Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte and the president of the correction officers’ union, Norman Seabrook. While reflecting on their reporting, they noted that “once we started publishing articles, insiders saw we were serious and came forward to help. Many of them could have lost their jobs if their names were published, but they were able to point us to documents that had been covered up, and to people who were in a position to speak honestly and openly.”

    Winerip and Schwirtz’s reporting also demonstrated the need to not take officials’ words or reports at face value. Schwirtz talked about their reporting in another article, writing that “inmates can be, or be seen as, unreliable, and the correctional bureaucracies are often not forthcoming,” so he and Winerip had “to be creative.” They got help from prisoners’ “wives and girlfriends,” who passed information from their partners to the reporters, to report on brutal interrogations. They also used letters inmates wrote to the Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York, and the group’s lawyers then put the inmates in contact with the Times. Schwirtz and Winerip also spoke to inmates on the phone and were able to visit four of them. The State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision did not provide the “names of correction officers” with whom the reporters could speak and issued “only a short statement suggesting that allegations of abuse were under investigation.” 

    Reporting on prisons is in the public interest

    Reporting on prisons and incarceration is a matter of intense public interest and can expose real injustice, waste, and corruption. SPJ’s Pupovac noted that “what happens behind prison walls affects us all.” Taxpayers must pay for “an annual budget of more than $74 billion” to run U.S. prisons, and incarcerated people eventually re-enter their communities. Yet in CJR, Schwartzapfel noted that “compared to other areas that siphon significant public resources, such as healthcare, prisons get vanishingly little media attention.” Schwartzapfel also noted that “more than 600,000” incarcerated people “eventually go home” each year, and their experience in our prisons “has profound consequences for the society they return to”:

    [I]t is hard to overstate the importance of covering prisons. For starters: 95 percent of prisoners—more than 600,000 people each year—eventually go home. What happened while they were inside—whether they received job training, adequate healthcare, or learned positive life skills, or whether they were embittered, recruited into a gang, or made connections in the criminal underworld—has profound consequences for the society they return to. And the ripples extend far beyond the prisoners themselves: Almost two million children have a parent in prison—to say nothing of inmates’ parents, spouses, and siblings. Half a million correctional officers work behind the walls.

    There are entire organizations dedicated to investigating incarceration in America. The Marshall Project, a Pulitzer-winning nonprofit news organization, uses “award-winning journalism, partnerships with other news outlets and public forums … to educate and enlarge the audience of people who care about the state of criminal justice,” as well as to “create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system.” Organizations like the Marshall Project and reporting by journalists, such as those investigating Rikers, overcame barriers to prison access and shined a light on unacceptable conditions, helping spur positive change.

  • Pundits Defend Trump’s Dangerous Phone Call With Taiwan’s President

    Experts In Asian Pacific Studies And International Relations Warn It “Raises The Risk Of Diplomatic Disaster”

    ››› ››› NINA MAST

    Pundits are defending President-elect Donald Trump’s protocol-shattering phone conversation with Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen as “terrific” and saying it will have “no cost to America,” but experts in Asian Pacific studies and international relations warn that the move “does not bode well for US-China relations” and “raises the risk of diplomatic disaster.”

  • How Breitbart Laid The Groundwork for Trump’s War On Paul Ryan

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s new attacks on House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) have “deeper roots” than Ryan’s pledge to stop supporting Trump, according to new evidence that Trump’s campaign CEO, Steve Bannon, has a long-standing feud with the speaker. Under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart News has spent years laying the groundwork for Trump’s war on Ryan.

  • Reminder To The Media: Trump Is The Worst Possible Messenger On The Clintons’ Marriage

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    Media should report on the immense hypocrisy of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump levying attacks on former President Bill Clinton’s history with women and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s responses to those women.Trump and several of his closest advisers have long histories of engaging in infidelity, workplace sexual harassment, and misogynistic behavior. Trump himself has also called Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky “totally unimportant,” and, The Washington Post reported, he “repeatedly dismissed and at times mocked” the women who have accused Bill Clinton.  

  • Media Take Note: Trump Is The Worst Possible Messenger On The Clintons’ Marriage

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    When media report on Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s latest attacks on former President Bill Clinton’s history with women and Hillary Clinton’s responses to those women, they should also mention the immense hypocrisy of Trump levying those claims. Trump and several of his closest advisers have long histories of infidelity, workplace sexual harassment, and misogyny. And Trump himself previously said both that Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky was “totally unimportant” and that people would have been more “forgiving” if Clinton had a relationship “with a really beautiful woman.”

  • On Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, Media Highlight Plight Of Women Of Color In The Workplace

    ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    According to the most recently available data, African-American women on average are paid only 60 percent of what white men are paid in a year, meaning they would have to work almost nine additional months to catch up. August 23 is an annual day of action, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, focused on that issue, and numerous media outlets have noted the event by highlighting the plight of African-American women in the workforce.

  • Report: Fox Executives Knew, Covered Up Roger Ailes’ Predatory Sexual Harassment For Over 20 Years

    Former Fox Booker Laurie Luhn: Ailes Required “Luring Young Female Fox Employees Into One-On-One Situations”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman reported that a former Fox News booking director claims to have been sexually harassed by Roger Ailes “for more than 20 years,” Fox executives helped cover it up, and a settlement document she signed with the network “precludes her from speaking to government authorities like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the FBI. Not to mention the press.”

    Sherman wrote about the former booking director's experience working for Fox and being “psychologically tortured” by Ailes and the network. Laurie Luhn explained that during her time at Fox as a booking director, she was “required [] to do many things she is now horrified by, including luring young female Fox employees into one-on-one situations with Aies that Luhn knew could result in harassment.” Luhn also recounted her own sexual harassment from Ailes and how the network settled with her on the conditions of an “extensive nondisclosure” agreement which prevented Luhn from taking the network to court: :

    The morning after Fox News chief Roger Ailes resigned, the cable network’s former director of booking placed a call to the New York law firm hired by 21st Century Fox to investigate sexual-harassment allegations against Ailes. Laurie Luhn told the lawyers at Paul, Weiss that she had been harassed by Ailes for more than 20 years, that executives at Fox News had known about it and helped cover it up, and that it had ruined her life. “It was psychological torture,” she later told me.

    […]

    In late 2010 or early 2011, Luhn said, she wrote a letter to Fox lawyer Dianne Brandi saying she had been sexually harassed by Ailes for 20 years. Brandi did not acknowledge receipt of the letter, but, according to a source, she asked Ailes about the sexual-harassment allegations, which he vehemently denied. Ailes, according to the source, told Brandi to work out a settlement. Luhn hired an attorney to negotiate her exit from Fox. Through a spokesperson, Brandi declined to comment.

    On June 15, 2011, Luhn and Brandi signed a $3.15 million settlement agreement with extensive nondisclosure provisions. The settlement document, which Luhn showed me, bars her from going to court against Fox for the rest of her life. It also precludes her from speaking to government authorities like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the FBI. Not to mention the press. Aware that speaking with New York on the record could pose legal risks, Luhn was insistent that she wanted to tell her story. “The truth shall set you free. Nothing else matters,” she told me. Her family friend also said this is what Luhn wanted.

  • Report: Roger Ailes Accuser Tried To Make Her Sexual Harassment Claim Against Him Decades Ago

    One Of Ailes’ Accusers Reportedly Made Claim To LA Weekly In 1990s, Which Received No Clear Denial From Ailes

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Chicago Reader’s Michael Miner reported that one of the women alleging Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes sexually harassed her “tried to tell the world” about her harassment “decades ago” and that Ailes didn’t “clear[ly] den[y]” the allegation at the time.

    On July 6, former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson filed a “sexual harassment/retaliation” lawsuit against Ailes, alleging that he fired her “after she rebuffed Mr. Ailes’ sexual advances and also tried to challenge what she felt was unequal treatment of her in the newsroom by some of her male colleagues.” Since Carlson filed her lawsuit, New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman reported six more women have come forward alleging Ailes harassed them. Ailes’ lawyer called the women’s allegations “all 30 to 50 years old” and “false.” 

    In a July 14 article, Miner wrote that he has personally known one of the women who spoke to New York magazine since childhood, and that she told him "about her encounter with Roger Ailes decades ago and—more to the point—she tried to tell the world too.” Miner claimed that the woman, using the pseudonym “Susan,” tried to tell the newspaper LA Weekly about her incident in 1992, and that according to the editor of the Weekly, Ailes “‘didn't really make any clear denial’” when asked about the charge, but instead “‘was fumbling around in self-pity.’” From Miner’s article:

    New York magazine interviewed some of the women who'd contacted Carlson's lawyer, and last weekend posted "Six More Women Allege That Roger Ailes Sexually Harassed Them." One of these women was "Susan."

    [...]

    So I write here to put something on the record: I've known Susan, not her real name, since we were both children. She did not just come out of the woodwork. She told me about her encounter with Roger Ailes decades ago and—more to the point—she tried to tell the world too.

    In 1988 she saw Ailes rise to national prominence as the media svengali in Bush's come-from-behind victory over Michael Dukakis, the artisan of negativity chiefly responsible for Bush's devastating "revolving door" TV attack ad. Four years later Bush ran for reelection, and Susan expected more of the same from Ailes. (Ultimately, he had no formal role in Bush's 1992 campaign.) Susan typed up an account of the Mike Douglas Show encounter and sent it to the primary alternative newspaper in what was by then her home town, LA Weekly. "Roger, You Made Me a Democrat," she called her story, and went on to say that, pre-Ailes, she'd been a "Goldwater Girl," her mother a Republican committeewoman.

    The story she submitted in 1992 was a more detailed version of the account just published by New York Magazine. Jay Levin, the editor of LA Weekly at the time, remembers it. Levin assigned a staff writer, Ron Curran, to call Ailes. "We had expected the usual 'She’s lying and I will sue you,'" says Levin; "Instead, Curran said he got a kind of mumbling self-pity from Ailes. So I decided I needed to hear him myself."

    Levin got the same. "To the best of my memory," he says, "Ailes repeated something about being in a bad place in his past life. He didn't make any threats and he didn't really make any clear denial. He was fumbling around in self-pity. I said, 'OK, to be clear, are you denying this or not? Are you saying she's a liar? I don't hear a clear denial.' He said, weakly, 'Yes, I'm denying it,' and he wanted to know what we were going to do."

    Levin said he didn't know, and in the end LA Weekly didn't publish Susan's account—for reasons I understand. This was a story requiring strong corroboration, and Levin had no other names. Furthermore, Ailes was in the east, and following up would have meant hiring a reporter there to spend weeks tracking down women who'd worked for him. There was the obvious risk of a lawsuit. And Ailes wasn't then who he is now—one of the most powerful men in American media. "Going after him," says Levin, "would be a misallocation of resources."

    [...]

    When I read about Carlson suing Ailes, I sent Susan an e-mail that said, "Isn't this your guy?" Susan told me she'd already called Carlson's lawyers.

  • CNN Explores Implications Of Carlson Sexual Harassment Suit, Fox Merely Repeats Ailes' Own Defense (Again)

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Cable news giants Fox News and CNN displayed markedly different approaches to the bombshell allegations of sexual harassment brought by former Fox host Gretchen Carlson against Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes. While CNN began investigating the claims made by Carlson and other women previously employed by Fox, the network itself simply reiterated Ailes’ own self-defense before launching a predictable campaign to discredit his accusers.

    On July 6, Carlson announced a “sexual harassment/retaliation lawsuit” against Ailes. Carlson claims that Ailes refused to renew her contract after she rebuffed multiple unwanted sexual advances from him over several years. Ailes is notorious for his sexist behavior and vulgar treatment of women at the network, and six more current and former Fox employees have reportedly contacted Carlson’s law firm alleging they were also sexually harassed by Ailes.

    On July 10, CNN’s Reliable Sources devoted the first half of the hour-long program to discussing the lawsuit and its implications for the future of Ailes and Fox News. Host Brian Stelter interviewed New York magazine correspondent Gabriel Sherman, author of the 2014 Fox exposé The Loudest Voice In The Room, about harassment allegations he uncovered while researching for his book, as well as the veracity of six new allegations against Ailes, which Sherman contended “fit a pattern of behavior” from the Fox News chief. Sherman also predicted that “Fox News’ PR machine” will work to “discredit” Carlson and any other accusers for Ailes, as they have in the past.

    Stelter also hosted NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik to discuss how News Corp executive chairman Rupert Murdoch and his sons, Lachlan and James, are responding to the allegations against Ailes “a little differently” than they have with prior harassment claims against Fox personalities. Folkenflik noted that the Murdochs “have not denied reports that they are hiring outside counsel” to handle the suit, as opposed to past cases involving Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and New York Post editor-in-chief Col Allan, where “they did not appoint an outside counsel” to deal with the complaints. Folkenflik concluded that this move may be tied to “the Murdoch sons' desire for their company to be truly a 21st century company, as opposed to run with the mores of the Don Draper era.”

    Meanwhile, on Fox News’ MediaBuzz, host Howard Kurtz mentioned his former colleague’s lawsuit in a brief, three-minute segment devoted to defending Ailes and attacking Carlson. Kurtz simply read Ailes’ personal statement in response to the lawsuit (as Fox News anchor Shepard Smith already had three days prior), mentioned that Ailes tried to move the suit into internal arbitration, and attacked Gretchen Carlson’s ratings as the real excuse for her termination. Kurtz pointedly refused to cover the story beyond that, dismissing other outlets’ coverage as simply “quoting anonymous sources” in a veiled shot at CNN and New York magazine. 

    Kurtz was the first Fox News reporter to come to Ailes’ defense against the harassment allegations made by Carlson. In the past, Kurtz has attacked Hillary Clinton for acknowledging media treatment that was “petty, sensationalist, often unfair and sometimes mean,” and he defended Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) when the then presidential candidate mocked and shushed CNBC’s Kelly Evans during a critical line of questioning in which he told her to “calm down.” In addition to his long track record of excusing sexist and bullying behavior toward women in the media, Kurtz has his own history of boorish behavior toward women.