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In covering Trump's rally, CNN, Fox News, Wash. Post, and NY Times all ignored the extremism present within the Trump coalition
Cable news and legacy media outlets flocked to Orlando, FL, on June 18 to cover yet another rally for President Donald Trump but ignored the presence of the far-right, extremist group Proud Boys among Trump’s supporters. By not reporting on the group, media failed to contextualize the violent extremism within Trump’s coalition and the campaign’s silent embrace of it.
While the Orlando rally was no different from the 59 other Trump has held since he became president, media at large fell for his gimmick of rebranding the event as the official launch of his 2020 reelection campaign, showering the president with coverage. And while the presence of Proud Boys got the attention of a few reporters tweeting from the event (some of whom uncritically amplified claims from members of the extremist group), cable news networks CNN and Fox News failed to mention them.
The welcome exception was MSNBC, which had a more in-depth segment that discussed the Proud Boys and Trump’s “appeal to white supremacists” during the June 19 edition of Deadline: White House, and continued to cover the presence of the extremist group at the rally during The Beat and All In with Chris Hayes.
The Proud Boys, a self-proclaimed Western chauvinist group, coalesced outside the arena. Police blocked their path forward.
This phrasing left out the context in which the group members were stopped by police: They were prevented from reaching a gathering of anti-Trump protesters. The group has a record of premeditated violent behavior against anti-Trump protesters and anti-fascist activists.
Members of the white supremacist Proud Boys group have been stopped from reaching anti-Trump protesters. pic.twitter.com/c3wXFhMIcM
— Philip Crowther (@PhilipinDC) June 18, 2019
The New York Times did not mention the presence of Proud Boys at Trump’s rally in any of its six pieces written about the event, nor during the June 19 edition of its podcast The Daily. It’s a puzzling omission considering it was one of the Times’ own correspondents covering 2020 elections who reported on Twitter about the Trump campaign’s silent embrace of the extremist group.
From a disillusioned GOP operative: ‘The Trump campaign is well aware of the organized participation of Proud Boys rallies merging into Trump events. They dont care. Staff are to treat it like a coalition they can’t talk about.’ https://t.co/eexJTBgwxD
— Trip Gabriel (@tripgabriel) June 19, 2019
It is not hyperbolic to call the Proud Boys an extremist gang. There is ample evidence that the group is prone to violence, as its founder Gavin McInnes once explained:
Gavin McInnes brags that Proud Boys is a "gang"and explains the levels of this gang. Says the highest degree is "you get arrested or in a serious violent fight for the cause." pic.twitter.com/hd1vU32qqo
— Angelo Carusone (@GoAngelo) October 16, 2018
McInnes claimed in late 2018 that he was quitting the group, but his graphic misogyny and violent views are also his group’s core ideology. Proud Boys has claimed that women’s primary role in society is to “stay home and make more babies” and its members have been recorded “brutally beating and kicking several individuals.” Violence is, in fact, a requirement to become part of Proud Boys, and McInnes himself has said he “cannot recommend violence enough. It is a really effective way to solve problems.” Even at the Trump rally, the group was heard chanting in defense of Chile’s late far-right murderous dictator Augusto Pinochet, known for throwing political dissidents from helicopters:
— Michael Williams (@michaeldamianw) June 18, 2019
The day of the rally, a HuffPost journalist was doxxed in a Telegram app channel associated with Proud Boys, and there was a veiled call to harass her for her coverage of Gab, a social media site where extremism and white supremacy run rampant.
But most legacy media and cable news seemingly didn’t consider Proud Boys’ presence at the president’s rally newsworthy, nor deemed its past and present extremism worth contextualizing -- even as Trump and his Party have embraced it.
Alex Kaplan provided research for this piece.
The New York Times may be the so-called paper of record. But a series of recent controversies over its political reporting have made the paper itself the story, and not in a good way. The Times has relied on a dual strategy of issuing canned statements and letting individual reporters defend the paper more vigorously on social media. And instead of quieting the criticism, that strategy has highlighted the Times’ biggest self-inflicted wound of all: its decision to eliminate the public editor.
The Times is similar to plenty of large corporations, in that management doesn’t like to be questioned. But unlike its peers in the business world, the Times has an opportunity to turn its missteps into proof of its journalistic courage and integrity. It’s baffling that the paper would eliminate this obvious line of self-defense. And the cost of that decision has never been more obvious.
The Times’ latest dilemma stems from the news that Iuliia Mendel, a Ukrainian freelancer who contributed to dozens of stories about that country's politics for the paper, had been hired as spokesperson for its president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Those sorts of transitions always draw scrutiny, not all of it warranted. But Mendel’s new job was announced shortly after she co-authored a widely criticized May 1 Times story suggesting that then-Vice President Joe Biden had pushed the notoriously corrupt Ukrainian government to dismiss its top prosecutor in part to aid Biden’s son Hunter, who was on the board of an energy company that was under investigation.
The story waited until its 19th paragraph to acknowledge there was “no evidence” Biden “intentionally tried to help his son by pressing for the prosecutor general’s dismissal.” And Bloomberg later reported that the probe into the energy company had been “dormant” for years before Biden interceded to force the prosecutor’s removal. Most damning of all might have been the story’s very frame: though it was positioned as an investigation into Republican attempts to peddle the story to damage Biden, the paper allowed itself to be manipulated into peddling the very disinformation it was trying to cover.
The article’s co-author, Times reporter Ken Vogel, weighed in on Twitter to defend the piece during the ensuing social media firestorm, cherry-picking a few criticisms to address and ignoring others. Meanwhile, the Times issued a bland statement standing by its reporting, and some of Vogel’s colleagues rallied around him.
The Times story drew new criticism after Mendel’s hiring by the Ukrainian government inevitably led some observers to question whether Mendel influenced the story in an attempt to land her latest gig.
In response, the paper issued another flat statement offering as a defense that she did not apply for the job until two days after the story was published, and an assertion that Times “editors are confident” that “her reporting -- including her work on our recent Hunter Biden story -- was fair and accurate.” (Vogel has not mentioned Mendel’s new job on Twitter.)
It’s entirely possible that the Times’ explanation is correct, especially because, as Nina Jankowicz, a foreign policy analyst with expertise in Ukraine, points out, Zelensky’s political standing was actually harmed by the Times article, making it a less-than-ideal audition for Mendel if she was trying to use it to facilitate a career transition.
But the Times would never accept this sort of “we did nothing wrong” assurance from any other powerful institution. The paper’s reporters would insist that their readers needed more than a blanket declaration -- and if they didn’t get it, the resulting story would make clear what that denial was worth.
Like Times reporters on other beats, a Times public editor would play an essential role in getting readers those answers about the Times itself. Before the paper eliminated the position in 2017, its public editor (known as an ombudsman at other outlets) was responsible for reviewing reader criticism about the paper’s reporting, ethics, and standards, reporting out whether there was a basis for those complaints, adjudicating the merits of those critiques, and delivering verdicts in regular columns.
The best public editors both give readers a voice that the newsroom has to heed and explain to the general public the complexities that govern the practice of journalism that might not be obvious to outside observers. Public editors operate independently from the newsroom’s editorial structure. They are typically hired on term contracts, rather than as regular employees, and their limited tenure frees them from concerns about currying the long-term favor of their colleagues. But because they are employed by the paper, they are better equipped than media reporters from other outlets to compel managers to answer questions.
In this case, a Times public editor could review Mendel’s past work, including the Biden story, with a detachment not available to her assigning editors; determine whether her critics are describing those stories accurately and weigh their complaints accordingly; and question her co-author, Ken Vogel, and his editors about the role Mendel played in the story. Critics, the newsroom, or both might not be pleased with the result. But the paper would operate more transparently, which would be good for its readers.
Every major news outlet could use an ombudsman. But that internal check is particularly important at the Times.
“What the Times does really matters, affecting the whole media and political ecosystem,” former Times public editor and current Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote, explaining why the paper receives so much criticism. “When it exerts its muscle, it can change the course of history. And when it errs -- in fact or in judgment -- the consequences can be monumental. And err it does.”
Without a public editor, the public’s recourse is to use social media to complain about stories directly to the reporters who wrote them. Indeed, that was what then-Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger said he wanted when he eliminated the position, arguing that “our followers on social media and our readers across the internet have come together to collectively serve as a modern watchdog, more vigilant and forceful than one person could ever be.”
That’s a lovely sentiment in theory. In practice, it forces every Times reporter to field the questions that might once have gone to the public editor, while giving none of them the authority to question their colleagues or offer definitive judgements about Times stories. The result has been a cacophony of criticism, and little public introspection by the Times, certainly none of it particularly useful.
This cycle keeps repeating. The month of May alone featured not only the debate over the Biden piece, but also a skirmish over an article chronicling the insults Trump has levied at his possible 2020 opponents; criticism of the paper’s reporting around the Mueller report; and an uproar over a piece about Hope Hicks, the former White House communications director who is a focus of congressional investigations into the Trump administration. In each case, the paper’s work drew vigorous criticism followed by an official defense from the Times of its reporting, sometimes bolstered by responses from individual Times journalists.
The harsh reaction to the Hicks article, by political reporter Maggie Haberman, drew a particularly furious backlash from her colleagues. They praised her “indispensable” journalism while publicly condemning the “insane rants” from her critics and ignoring altogether the specific critiques of her story, as if it were impossible that Haberman could simultaneously be a great journalist and write a flawed article.
There’s a critique that Times reporters -- and Haberman in particular -- are unusually thin-skinned. But by making every Times reporter responsible for fielding complaints about every story the paper runs, the Times has made this bunker mentality -- and the reader impatience with it -- inevitable.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
The public editor isn’t a panacea. Having the position did not prevent the paper’s deeply flawed treatment of the 2016 election, and bringing it back won’t break the Times’ political reporting from its adherence to a model of journalism that seems insufficient to the moment. And there is no cure for the cultural phenomenon that encourages people to harangue public figures, including journalists, on social media.
But the paper’s experiment with letting social media take the place of the public editor has obviously failed. It’s not too late to reverse that decision and bring more transparency to a crucial organization. Both New York Times readers and New York Times journalists deserve better than this.
Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups and media are even calling for Buttigieg to stop being gay and undergo conversion therapy
Anti-LGBTQ groups and media are attacking progressive Christians as not "serious Christians" after openly gay and Christian Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg called out Vice President Mike Pence for his anti-LGBTQ policies.
On April 7, remarking on his sexuality, Buttigieg said “that if Pence has ‘a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me -- your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.’" Pence has a long history of opposing LGBTQ rights, and he responded to the comments by accusing Buttigieg of attacking his Christian faith.
Buttigieg is very open about his Christian faith. The New York Times described Buttigieg as “a devoted Episcopalian who fluidly quotes Scripture” and quoted him saying that his relationship with his husband Chasten “has moved me closer to God.” He has also cited his Christian faith as part of the reason he supports progressive policies.
Despite his faith, right-wing evangelicals are attacking Buttigieg as anti-Christian and calling progressive Christianity -- particularly Christians who support LGBTQ equality and reproductive choice -- a “hypocritical farce” and “politicized sham.” Several outlets even said Buttigieg should stop being gay, suggesting that he undergo and support the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy.
In response to Buttigieg’s comments, right-wing media and anti-LGBTQ groups attacked not only Buttigieg’s beliefs but also the entirety of progressive Christianity.
Right-wing anti-LGBTQ commentator Erick Erickson penned a post titled “On Meet the Press, Pete Buttigieg Shows Why Progressive Christianity is a Hypocritical Farce” that suggested that Erickson’s hardline anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion beliefs are the only acceptable form of Christianity. In the piece, Erickson claimed that “Buttigieg keeps trying to play a Christian on television” and cited Buttigieg’s beliefs as a reason why “progressive Christianity is so corrupt and flawed.” He also said that Buttigieg “wants to reject the inconvenient parts of faith he does not like,” pointing to his sexuality and stance on reproductive choice. In an earlier post, Erickson claimed that Buttigieg “is not really Christian so much as he is Episcopalian,” a point that he has repeatedly doubled down on.
In a post on anti-LGBTQ outlet LifeSiteNews, writer Michael Brown said that Buttigieg's comments on President Donald Trump are “the height of hypocrisy” after Buttigieg criticized Trump for being “at odds with at least my understanding of the teachings of the Christian faith.” Brown referred to Buttigieg as “a professing Christian and practicing homosexual” and claimed that it is “utterly absurd” for a “serious Christian” to be “pro-abortion and ‘married’ to his same-sex partner.” Additionally, Brown implied that a “true follower of Jesus” cannot be gay and quoted a Bible verse suggesting that LGBTQ people will go to hell. He concluded by saying that “there is nothing Christian about” a “pro-abortion, practicing homosexual who claims to be a Christian calling out Trump’s alleged ‘hypocrisy.’”
Peter LaBarbera, president of the extreme anti-LGBTQ group Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, released a statement titled “Pete Buttigieg's Fake Christianity: Democrat Mocks God by Using Him to Justify His Homosexuality.” LaBarbera called Buttigieg “a living, walking and breathing example of the politicized sham that is religious-left ‘Christianity’ today.” He continued, “Buttigieg quotes Scripture even as he defies it with his very public, and very fake, ‘marriage’ to another man,” adding, “No faithful Christian proudly identifies by his or her besetting sins, nor seeks to justify them before a holy God.”
In an appearance on anti-LGBTQ media figure Todd Starnes’ Fox Nation show, extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said that Buttigieg “has an issue with the words of Scripture.” Perkins also compared him to “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” claiming that Buttigieg’s progressive agenda is “not in line with the Scripture,” including his support for reproductive choice and same-sex marriage.
Right-wing media and anti-LGBTQ groups doubled down on their attacks of Buttigieg’s identity by going so far as to say that he should stop being gay.
In LaBarbera’s post, he asserted that “it is Buttigieg himself who is defiantly living out his own quarrel with God every time he proudly celebrates his sexual sin and, worse, uses God to justify it.” LaBarbera further called for Buttigieg to stop being gay, saying, “Christians should pray that Pete Buttigieg repents of his proud homosexuality and dedicates himself to serving Christ in Truth—rather than mocking Him for political gain.” He also subtly advocated for conversion therapy, saying that “homosexual behaviors … can be overcome through the grace and power of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6), as testified by countless ex-‘gays’ and former ‘transgenders.’"
In his LifeSiteNews post, Brown claimed that Buttigieg should come out and say he does “not affirm [his same-sex] desires, act on them, or celebrate them.”
And in a blog titled “The Problem with Pete Buttigieg: His Sexual Conduct,” Bryan Fischer of the extreme anti-LGBTQ group American Family Association called for Buttigieg to “exit from the addictive and self-destructive behavior that is endemic in the homosexual community and set his feet on a higher path.” Fischer also suggested Buttigieg undergo conversion therapy, saying, “It’s unfortunate that Buttigieg never developed a relationship with Jesus Christ because Christ came in order to give ordinary human beings victory over exactly the kind of sexual temptation to which Buttigieg surrendered.” Fischer concluded that “the first question Pete Buttigieg needs to be asked: ‘Do you oppose reparative therapy for teens struggling with same-sex attraction, and would you make it a crime? Yes or No?’”
These suggestions, both implicit and explicit, for Buttigieg to undergo conversion therapy and renounce his sexuality are part of the broader trend of extreme anti-LGBTQ groups and figures supporting a discredited practice that causes harm and even death.
Attempts to discredit Buttigieg’s Christian faith reflect right-wing evangelicals’ broader efforts to create a false “God vs. Gay” dichotomy to pit religious people, particularly Christians, against LGBTQ people. However, anti-LGBTQ bigotry is not reflected in mainstream Christian beliefs, and the majority of members in most religious groups in the United States believe that homosexuality should be accepted. In May 2018, research from the Public Religion Research Institute found that “most religious groups now support the legalization of same-sex marriage” and although a majority of white evangelicals and Mormons still do not express majority support, “there is evidence that even these groups are trending toward majority support.”
Right-wing media’s claims that Buttigieg’s marriage and progressive platform go directly against Christian beliefs further contribute to a misleading and destructive narrative that has been ongoing for decades. These assertions are untrue and do not reflect the strengthening support for LGBTQ rights in Christian communities in the U.S.
Twitter accounts of major national newspapers, cable, and broadcast news outlets spread -- without any context -- President Donald Trump's misinformation, outrageous characterizations of, and responses to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his Russia investigation.
Over the course of more than six days since news broke on March 22 that Mueller had delivered his report to Attorney General William Barr, the Twitter accounts of major national print, digital, wire, cable, and broadcast news outlets sent at least 45 tweets which parroted misinformation from Trump, his administration, or his campaign. Many of these tweets included quotes from the president which contained false information about the Mueller report and/or lacked the necessary context to fully inform any news consumers who get their news only via social media posts. And then there were other tweets that didn't contain misinformation, but instead failed to provide context to Trump’s answer to reporters about the Mueller report. Examples of the most glaring failures of these major news organizations are embedded below:
— ABC News (@ABC) March 24, 2019
As Barr explained in a letter he wrote to Congress summarizing Mueller’s findings, the report “does not exonerate” the president on whether he obstructed justice. Nevertheless, Twitter accounts of The Hill, CNN, The Washington Post, Vox, ABC News, ABC’s World News Tonight, ABC’s This Week, ABC Politics, NBC Politics, and Politico all repeated Trump’s false claim that the Mueller report is a “complete and total exoneration” of him.
— The Hill (@thehill) March 27, 2019
Barr’s letter also explained that Mueller’s report left “unresolved whether the president's actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction.” Yet The Hill sent the same tweet three times uncritically repeating Trump’s claim that the Mueller report showed “no obstruction.”
Reporter: Do you think Special Counsel Mueller acted honorably?
President Trump: "Yes, he did. Yes, he did." pic.twitter.com/IMW5lr4XgM
— NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (@NBCNightlyNews) March 25, 2019
Many news outlets embedded a brief snippet of Trump responding affirmatively to a question about whether Mueller “acted honorably,” but failed to give basic context that Trump spent the last year savaging Mueller’s reputation by criticizing him, his actions, and his team. NBC Nightly News, NBC News, ABC’s World News Tonight, ABC News, ABC Politics, ABC’s This Week, MSNBC, NBC Politics, and NPR Politics all did this. The Hill tweeted Trump’s comment five times.
Breaking News: President Trump claimed “a complete and total exoneration” from the Mueller findings. “This was an illegal takedown that failed.” https://t.co/fcnmw9ZYyj
— The New York Times (@nytimes) March 24, 2019
— CNN (@CNN) March 28, 2019
Multiple news organizations also tweeted out Trump’s outrageous characterizations of Mueller’s investigation without any pushback. CBS News, The New York Times, and The Hill repeated Trump’s statement that the Mueller investigation was “an illegal takedown that failed.” CNN (twice), CNN's New Day, CNN Politics and MSNBC’s 11th Hour all repeated Trump’s quote that the Mueller investigation was an “attempted takeover of our government.”
Parroting Trump’s misinformation is an ongoing problem with major news outlets; in the 24 hours after Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address, 13 major news organizations wrote 49 tweets which promoted false or misleading comments from the president. It’s not enough for news organizations to fact-check and explain Trump’s comments in their articles. In this era of unprecedented lies from the president about virtually everything, news organizations must rethink how they draft their headlines and social media posts to make sure they include factual information in them.
It is possible to report on Trump’s misinformation and also provide context in the limited space of headlines and tweets. Here are some examples of tweets in which outlets did just that, thus providing accurate information to their audiences:
After Bill Barr's summary of the Mueller report was released, Trump tweeted: "No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!"
Barr wrote in the summary that the Mueller report does not exonerate him on obstruction. https://t.co/UObtP6awTf
— Axios (@axios) March 24, 2019
President Trump is already claiming that Barr’s letter is a “COMPLETE AND TOTAL EXONERATION” proving there was “no obstruction.”
But it’s important to understand that Mueller didn’t draw that conclusion; Barr and Rosenstein did. https://t.co/qTy7tCnm9I
— Vox (@voxdotcom) March 24, 2019
Trump: "The Mueller report was great, it could not have been better. It said no obstruction, no collusion"
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) March 26, 2019
"Do you think Robert Mueller acted honorably?” ABC News' @jonkarl asks.
"Yes, he did," President Trump responds.
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) March 26, 2019
William Happer argues that CO2 is good for us and climate scientists are like Nazis
President Donald Trump may put climate-denying physicist William Happer at the head of a new Presidential Committee on Climate Security, according to a recent Washington Post article. The proposed panel would evaluate whether climate change poses a national security threat. (It does.) Happer, an emeritus professor at Princeton University and veteran of the George H.W. Bush administration, currently serves as Trump's deputy assistant for emerging technologies on the National Security Council.
It’s not hard to understand why Trump would pick Happer to head his panel: He's a credentialed scientist who denies that carbon dioxide emissions are causing extensive global warming and has testified before Congress about the need for a government-mandated panel to review climate science, which he said is “far from 'settled.'” Though he's a physicist, Happer has never published any peer-reviewed research on climate change.
Happer has multiple connections to the Koch brothers and fossil fuel companies. He served as adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, which was founded by Charles Koch, and has been affiliated with The Heartland Institute, a climate-denial group that has received funding from the Charles G. Koch Foundation. Happer was on the board of directors at the ExxonMobil-funded George Marshall Institute, and he co-founded its successor, the CO2 Coalition. He has also disclosed that Peabody Coal paid him to testify at a hearing of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
A 2015 Greenpeace investigation exposed Happer’s willingness to work even more directly for fossil fuel companies. Corresponding over email with a Greenpeace staffer who was posing as an oil company consultant, Happer agreed to write about the alleged benefits of increased carbon emissions at the behest of a fictional Middle Eastern oil company and to not disclose the company's payment to his group, the CO2 Coalition.
But Happer is no ordinary climate-denying, pay-for-play academic. His outrageous, false claims about climate science often include bizarre and inflammatory analogies. Here are a few of his most egregious comments.
Happer equated climate science with Nazi propaganda. In a 2009 interview with The Daily Princetonian, Happer asserted that climate scientists were spreading dehumanizing propaganda. He told the campus newspaper:
This is George Orwell. This is the "Germans are the master race. The Jews are the scum of the earth." It’s that kind of propaganda.
Happer compared the “demonization of carbon dioxide” to the demonization of Jews during the Holocaust. During a 2014 appearance on CNBC, Happer doubled down when he was asked about his 2009 comments to The Daily Princetonian:
The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler. Carbon dioxide is actually a benefit to the world, and so were the Jews.
He continued to make Nazi analogies, including one as recently as 2017. In an email cited in a Jezebel story, Happer wrote:
Demonization of CO2 and people like me who come to its defense is nothing to be proud of. It really differs little from the Nazi persecution of the Jews, the Soviet extermination of class enemies or ISIL slaughter of infidels.
Happer said climate activism is like mass hysterias that have driven fascism, communism, and Prohibition. During a 2015 interview with Conversations That Matter, a webcast news show, Happer suggested that people concerned about climate change are in the grip of mass hysteria like those who drove the temperance movement in America and fascist and communist movements in Europe:
It’s another one of these sort of mass hysterias that have gripped humanity since it began. In our country, in America, we had a sort of similar case of mass hysteria with Prohibition. There were a few cautious people who said, “Maybe, you know, Prohibition isn’t a good idea. You might increase organized crime, for example." Everything they said was right, and yet, you know, when the amendment for Prohibition was put to the vote, every state except one, Rhode Island, voted for Prohibition and not one of them intended to honor it. It was just what everybody else did. “How could you be in favor of demon rum?” You know, demon CO2. So these things happen. More sinister are these movements in Europe: the fascists, the communists. They were mass hysteria too.
Any movement can be captured by thugs, and that’s what’s happened.
Happer compared climate scientists to the judges who presided over the Salem witch trials. During a 2017 seminar given to chemistry students at UCLA, Happer referenced the Salem witch trials after a student asked him why he held views on climate change that are contrary to majority of the scientific community. According to the Daily Bruin, he said:
At the Salem witch trials, every one of those judges had a Harvard degree. Scientific consensus is often wrong.
Despite Happer's own well-documented financial ties to fossil fuel companies and interests, he has questioned the financial motives of people who are concerned about climate change. During a 2014 interview on Carolina Journal Radio, Happer explained that he thinks carbon began to be demonized as a pollutant because some people thought they could make money by doing so:
I think it began to get legs in the '70s and '80s. There was an Academy of Science report in the '70s by [Jule] Charney, and then it got latched on by green politicians, Al Gore comes to mind, but there are many others. So people saw a way to make a buck in demonizing CO2, and that’s what’s happened.
Happer’s long-espoused belief that increased CO2 in the atmosphere benefits humanity rather than harms it was neatly summarized in a 2012 opinion piece he published in The Wall Street Journal. He wrote:
CO2 is not a pollutant. Life on earth flourished for hundreds of millions of years at much higher CO2 levels than we see today. Increasing CO2 levels will be a net benefit because cultivated plants grow better and are more resistant to drought at higher CO2 levels, and because warming and other supposedly harmful effects of CO2 have been greatly exaggerated.
In a 2017 interview with journalist Andrew Revkin, Happer insisted that there's no reason for "climate hysteria." Revkin asked him if he sees CO2 emissions as "a non-problem" and Happer replied:
Absolutely. Not only a non-problem. I see the CO2 as good, you know. Let me be clear. I don’t think it’s a problem at all, I think it’s a good thing.
Despite what Happer says, the science is clear: Human-caused CO2 emissions are the primary driver of climate change, climate change is already having negative effects in the U.S. and around the world, and its catastrophic impacts will intensify in coming years. This has been confirmed by recent major reports from teams of respected scientists at the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and in the U.S. government.
Happer’s eccentric and incorrect views on climate science should disqualify him from serving on the National Security Council, not to mention a White House panel on climate change. But as long as he provides Trump with cover to engage in climate denial and justify rollbacks of environmental protections, Happer will likely continue to have a loud voice in the Trump administration -- no matter how many ludicrous statements he utters.
On January 22, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Reproductive Health Act that protects abortion in case the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and expands access to this essential form of health care. Despite the clear harm that New York’s previous law imposed on patients, right-wing and anti-abortion media have expressed outrage -- with Fox News leading the charge.
The Reproductive Health Act comprises several provisions, including the removal of abortion from the state’s criminal code. The part of the law that has irked Fox News (and broader right-wing media) the most involves a provision decriminalizing abortions after 24 weeks “when the fetus is not viable or a woman’s health is at risk.” Permitting abortions after this point was necessary because previously, “the law made self-induced abortions a misdemeanor crime, and made providing one a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison.” Although right-wing media frequently scaremonger about later abortions, these procedures in reality are extremely rare and performed due to complicated personal and medical reasons. Before the Reproductive Health Act, New York patients needing medically necessary abortions after 24 weeks were forced to travel out of state, thus suffering both logistical and psychological burdens.
Fox News is no stranger to inaccurate and stigmatizing coverage of abortion and reproductive rights. As Media Matters has previously documented, Fox News not only covers abortion-related issues more frequently than other cable networks but also covers it in a highly inaccurate way. Coverage of the Reproductive Health Act has been no exception. Between January 22 and 29, Fox News’ coverage has used discussions of the law to revive allegations about abortion providers engaging in misconduct, promote anti-choice junk science about abortion procedures, attack Democrats as “extreme,” and employ sensationalized and stigmatizing language to vilify those who have abortions.
Fox News guests attacked the New York law as allowing misconduct by abortion providers, invoking and misleading about the case of former Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell. For example, during the January 25 edition of Fox News’ morning program Fox & Friends, guest and actor Dean Cain not only spread misinformation about Gosnell but also promoted a movie (starring himself) sensationalizing the Gosnell case. Later the same day, Cain appeared on Fox News' The Story with Martha MacCallum, where host MacCallum asked Cain about his movie that she claimed “highlighted the horror of the reality of late-term abortion, and the doctor who carried out so many of them.” Cain responded by not only promoting his movie, but also connecting Gosnell’s actions to the New York law, arguing that his crimes “may very well be legal under this new New York law.”
Gosnell is currently serving “three life terms in jail” for “first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies born alive at his rogue clinic, then stabbed with scissors.” There is no ambiguity about the illegality of Gosnell’s actions. But unlike right-wing and anti-abortion media’s allegations, Gosnell’s practices are in no way representative of abortion providers or abortion procedures in the United States. As MSNBC’s Irin Carmon wrote in 2013, Gosnell’s actions were not evidence of widespread malfeasance by abortion providers because it was his "willingness to break the law" that made many patients seek him out, believing “they had no alternative,” despite warnings from other reputable providers. Similarly, as Robin Marty explained in 2018, while there are a myriad distinctions between Gosnell and a “legitimate, trained abortion provider,” the restrictions imposed in the wake of his actions have very little to do with abortion safety. She wrote:
His clinic was unsanitary and dangerous for patients generally, and he was further known to provide better care and cleaner rooms for his white and higher-income clients than those who were poor, immigrant, or brown or black. He did so apparently under the assumption that his more privileged clients would report him to the health department, whereas those from marginalized communities would either be afraid to do so or — even worse — think that what they were receiving was exactly what they deserved. (Even so, he was reported to authorities, and the governmental agencies that failed to act on the complaints from his patients that would have exposed his crimes far earlier should be held to account for their negligence.)
Even with abortion legal in his state, Gosnell didn’t bother to operate by the rules; there’s little reason or history to believe that women would have been safer had abortion been illegal. Gosnell’s clinic was where patients went primarily when they thought they had no better options, or couldn’t afford a better clinic. They went there because he didn’t enforce the 24 hour wait mandated by the state. They went there because the anti-abortion protesters surrounding the reputable clinics in the city were so aggressive that they were afraid to enter.
As Marty summarized, “unsafe and unsanitary conditions in an exam room in which abortions are performed are not normal, but anti-abortion activists are invested in making the public believe they are.” This was exactly the issue at play during oral arguments in the 2016 Supreme Court case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, in which Texas’ Solicitor General Scott Keller defended an anti-choice law that imposed medically unnecessary and harmful restrictions under the guise of increasing patient safety, referencing the Gosnell case. Although the Supreme Court ultimately ruled against Texas, determining that there must be evidentiary support that a restriction is necessary to protect patient’s health, right-wing media -- and Fox News in particular -- were in lockstep with the state’s inaccurate talking points about Gosnell from the start. And if Fox News’ coverage of the New York law is any indication, little has changed since.
Right-wing media frequently spread misinformation and junk science about alleged abortion procedures -- and Fox News’ coverage of New York’s abortion law was no exception. Fox News and broader right-wing and anti-abortion media outlets have spent years misleading about abortion procedures, in particular focusing on invented procedures like so-called “partial-birth” abortion or invoking the inaccurate idea of “abortion on demand.” In reality, so-called “partial-birth” abortions and Fox News’ various iterations of “abortion on demand” are inaccurate -- but both concepts are strategically deployed to spread misinformation about medically necessary later abortions. In particular, the phrase “partial-birth” abortion was invented by anti-choice advocates as a mechanism to vilify and shame individuals who have later abortions.
But Fox News’ coverage of the Reproductive Health Act frequently used both of these terms to spread misinformation and shame about the law. For example, during the January 24 edition of The Story with Martha MacCallum, Fox News contributor Guy Benson argued that the New York law “permits abortion on demand, up to the seventh month of pregnancy, and really all the way up to the moment of birth, for virtually any reason whatsoever.” During the January 25 Fox & Friends interview with Dean Cain, guest co-host Ed Henry invoked the words of a conservative lawmaker about how “late-term abortion” is “partial-birth abortion” and akin to “infanticide,” implying that New York’s law could be characterized as such. In the same segment, co-host Ainsley Earhardt also claimed the law would legalize “abortion up until birth” -- a claim she repeated on January 28. On January 29, she claimed that the New York law allows her to be “nine months pregnant and [walk] into the hospital” and say, “I don’t want the child anymore.” In a similar segment on January 26, Fox & Friends Weekend guest co-host Katie Pavlich said that the “extreme” law would allow “abortions up until the due date.” Some, like Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy went even further, arguing inaccurately that “the baby can be born alive” under the New York law and a doctor could still “terminate it.”
Given how often Fox News and its various contributors spread misinformation and vitriol about abortion, these segments are unsurprising in both their frequency and content. And as more states propose bills that are similar to New York’s law, Fox News viewers will only see more of the same.
Unsurprisingly, Fox News has also used discussion of the New York law to attack Democrats for being too “extreme” in their positions on abortion. Some Fox News programs went even further by connecting the law to the machinations of a larger Democratic agenda. During the January 28 edition of Fox News’ Hannity, host Sean Hannity claimed the New York law was evidence that “every Democrat who wants to run for president is about to take that hard turn to appease what is now the radical, extreme, socialist Democratic party base.” He continued: “Viable lives can now be destroyed with the seal of New York -- and Andrew Cuomo and the New York legislature putting their seal of approval.”
This isn’t the first time that media have attempted to paint support for basic reproductive rights as “extreme.” In early 2017, The New York Times published an op-ed titled “To Win Again, Democrats Must Stop Being the Abortion Party,” advocating for the dubious idea that Democrats must sacrifice protecting abortion and reproductive rights in order to win voters. During the December 2017 special election of Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, right-wing media frequently alleged that he supported so-called “partial-birth” abortions or abortions up to the moment of birth, in order to prove that he was too “extreme” for Alabama voters. Fox News was particularly active in spreading this inaccurate narrative, with hosts and contributors alike alleging that Jones’ stance on abortion included promoting “abortion on demand,” claiming that he was “a person who supports abortion at every level” and parroting the idea that he wanted abortions to be performed “through all nine months of pregnancy.” This inaccurate framing also influenced coverage outside of the right-wing media sphere -- a trend that has been repeated with coverage of other political fights.
In 2018, media kept rehashing the allegation that support for abortion rights was harmful to the Democratic Party. Polling on abortion-related issues is notoriously complicated, requiring clear questions and language that accurately reflects the realities of abortion access and procedures. However, polling that takes such realities into account has demonstrated a wide degree of support for abortion rights and Roe v. Wade. Already in 2019, with candidates announcing their candidacy for president in 2020, this talking point is gaining steam -- with Fox News sure to be leading the charge.
During numerous Fox News segments about the Reproductive Health Act, the only thing more plentiful than the misinformation about the law was the stigmatizing language various hosts and guests used to describe abortion and those who have one.
Abortion stigma refers to an idea that abortion is inherently wrong or socially unacceptable, and it is reinforced (both intentionally and unintentionally) through media coverage, popular culture, and by a lack of accurate information about the procedure itself. In particular, right-wing media have capitalized on a lack of accurate public knowledge about abortion to demonize abortion providers and patients, as well as spread misinformation about abortion more broadly.
Fox News often uses stigmatizing language about abortions or about those who have them, but the network’s repeated commentary in the wake of the New York law demonstrated the rhetorical impact of this strategy. For example, Fox News host Sean Hannity on multiple occasions described the law as allowing “infanticide.” Other Fox News figures focused their indignation on the people who may need a later abortion, claiming that people are having “recreational” later abortions, or even inaccurately alleging that abortion is never “necessary for reproductive health.” Fox News host Laura Ingraham even went so far as to ask a guest on her program to explain how the law isn’t “Hitlerian” when, in her opinion, it would allow a baby to “be killed” when it “could be born.” In almost every segment about the New York law, a Fox News host or guest oscillated between outrage and disgust -- expressing disbelief and variations of the sentiment that they couldn’t “even believe that this is happening.”
Later abortion procedures are an important part of comprehensive reproductive health care. And if any of these Fox News figures had bothered to talk to, or even read an account from someone who has had a medically necessary later abortion, they might understand the reality of these decisions: Later abortions are usually of wanted pregnancies and are either not viable or pose a direct risk to the life or health of the pregnant person. Rather than spreading rampant misinformation about later abortions, and those who need them, Fox News might want to do some actual reporting and figure out the facts before devoting so much time to sensationalized and stigmatizing coverage.
Grace Bennett and Julie Tulbert contributed research for this piece.
Mainstream media failed to cover the rise of the far right because they're afraid of right-wing media
The original headline for Thursday’s episode of New York Times podcast The Daily inadvertently pointed out something many journalists of color have know for a while: The Times (and other mainstream outlets) dropped the ball in covering the rise of right-wing extremism, and they did so seemingly out of fear of right-wing media and conservatives.
The Daily originally headlined Thursday’s episode “The Rise of Right-Wing Extremism and How We Missed It.” In a lack of self-awareness, the podcast didn’t mean the “we,” as referring to the Times, as the episode was not an exercise of self-exploration to grapple with the paper’s role in failing to alert audiences to the threat from right-wing extremists. It was, instead, a discussion of a piece that Janet Reitman published in The New York Times Magazine on November 3, which detailed the ways in which U.S. law enforcement missed the rising threat.
Following backlash on Twitter -- in which many journalists of color and racial justice activists pointed out that non-white communities certainly did not miss the rise of white supremacist violence -- the Times quietly changed the episode’s headline.
— Ema O'Connor (@o_ema) December 13, 2018
But the paper did miss the rise of right-wing extremism.
Take, for example, the way it covered right-wing extremism during Barack Obama’s presidency -- or rather, the way it didn’t cover it. A 2009 report on the resurgence and radicalization of right-wing extremists that the Department of Homeland Security distributed across government and law enforcement agencies -- which was prominently discussed during The Daily’s latest episode and in Reitman’s piece -- got almost no attention from news side of the Times in 2009.
Right-wing media had responded to the report by fabricating a narrative that the Obama administration was targeting conservatives over political differences, effectively ignoring the insidious threat of white supremacist radicalization. Fox News’ Sean Hannity falsely claimed DHS was defining right-wing extremists as “people that maybe think we're not controlling our borders, people that have pro-life bumper stickers.” Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh asserted that the April 14 publication of the report had been timed to distract from April 15 anti-tax protests taking place around the country, sounding a lot like present-day right-wing media claiming right-wing violence is a “false flag” meant to distract. Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin called the report a “piece of crap” and claimed it was “a sweeping indictment of conservatives.” Then-CNN host Lou Dobbs and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough also joined in to attack the report.
For its part, the Times either didn’t take the contents of the report seriously (evidence of a serious blindspot) or it cowered in fear of the hysterics fueled by right-wing media’s mischaracterization of the report. The paper mentioned the report in only a handful of op-ed columns, by Charles Blow, Paul Krugman, and Frank Rich.
What the paper did cover was then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s apology to veteran groups over the document, which had noted that returning veterans struggling to reintegrate at home could ‘lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone-wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks.’” A 2009 Times blog also focused on reactions to the report and Napolitano’s apology rather than its substance.
When it comes to covering radicalization and terrorism, mainstream media in general have either largely ignored right-wing extremism, or failed to contextualize its systematic threat when it manifests itself violently. But what do get plenty of coverage are attacks committed by Muslim individuals. President Donald Trump has helped fuel that bias, baselessly accusing media of not reporting terrorist attacks carried out by Muslims and putting out a list of attacks that omitted mentions of right-wing terrorism.
Ensuring newsrooms better represent surrounding demographics could help address blind spots in mainstream media on issues including poisoned water, climate change, and right-wing extremism that disproportionately affect non-white communities.
But cowering to right-wing media pressure? Only growing a backbone can fix that.
EPA chief Andrew Wheeler to announce major environmental rollback alongside fossil-fuel-funded front group
The Clean Power Plan, put in place by the Obama administration in 2015, aimed to curb carbon emissions from existing power plants, part of a larger effort to fight climate change. According to Obama's EPA, it also would have improved public health by cutting air pollution. Civil rights leaders, environmental justice groups, and environmental activists successfully pushed the agency to make sure the rule addressed many of the environmental and economic concerns of minority and low-income communities.
But the NBCC opposed the Clean Power Plan while claiming to be speaking on behalf of African-Americans. The group commissioned and promoted a flawed study that falsely claimed the plan would disproportionately harm minorities. The study was swiftly debunked. And yet Alford became a central figure in a disinformation campaign backed by fossil-fuel interests. He placed anti-Clean Power Plan op-eds in at least seven newspapers and saw right-wing outlets echo and amplify his discredited assertions.
NBCC's debunked study found new life in the Trump administration. When the EPA, under Wheeler's leadership, proposed to replace the Clean Power Plan with a weaker substitute, the White House cited the NBCC study in its talking points.
In 2016, the NBCC was part of Consumers for Smart Solar, a utility-backed and Koch-backed astroturf group that campaigned on behalf of a deceptive ballot initiative in Florida. The initiative was designed to appear pro-solar, but it actually would have slowed the growth of rooftop solar while protecting the utilities from competition. Voters ended up rejecting the measure.
After the EPA moved in 2015 to impose limits on ozone, a component of smog, Alford went on a speaking tour to convince minority audiences that the EPA’s rules would harm them economically, echoing a message broadcast by the NBCC’s corporate donors. When confronted with evidence that smog disproportionately hurts minority and low-income communities, Alford said it was a “farce.”
Earlier this year, NBCC joined right-wing organizations supporting an anti-carbon tax resolution proposed by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), a climate denier. Alford signed a letter supporting the resolution, listing his name alongside far-right figures like Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Alford is on the board of the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy, also known as Energy Fairness, a self-described “coalition of working people, business owners, environmentalists, and trade organizations who are fighting for fair, responsible energy policies.” In actuality, the group and a partner organization, Working People for Fair Energy, have been closely aligned with utility companies fighting coal-ash regulation, according to a 2010 investigation by the Institute for Southern Studies.
In October 2016, Alford went on a tour of coal mines in Alabama that was sponsored by the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy. In a blog post about the tour that he published on PACE’s website, Alford wrote, “Coal is essential to our way of living. If some politicians and activists think they can ‘kill coal’ they are terribly mistaken.”
Alford and the NBCC have consistently worked against the interests of minority communities and working families to advance a pro-fossil fuel agenda. Like Wheeler did when he was a lobbyist, Alford has cashed oil, gas, and coal company checks for years. So it is fitting that they will be standing together to announce the Trump administration's latest assault on our environment and climate.
The Ohio House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would ban abortions around six weeks into a pregnancy -- a point at which many people do not even know that they are pregnant. Local and national media outlets have provided important context about how this bill, which is expected to become state law, will be dangerous for abortion rights in Ohio and potentially across the United States if it is adopted or challenged at the federal level.
News stories referencing the caravan drop by more than half post-elections, front-page ones by more than two-thirds
In the weeks leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, The New York Times and The Washington Post filled their news pages with reporting about a caravan of migrants moving through Central America and Mexico toward the United States. The caravan was more than 1,000 miles from the U.S. border -- a journey of several weeks on foot -- and shrinking. But President Donald Trump, in a series of demagogic statements aimed at bolstering GOP chances in the elections, warned that the caravan constituted an “invasion” and a national emergency, and the Times and Post allowed him to set their news agendas.
In the eight days before the election, the Times and Post ran a total of 84 news stories in their print editions mentioning the caravan, putting 25 on the front page. In the eight days since, they ran 39 such stories, only eight of which ran on A1. That’s a decline of roughly 54 percent in news stories and 68 percent in front-page news stories.
I wrote about this coverage the Friday before Election Day, noting that many of the articles were laudable on their merits -- they told the migrants' stories, debunked presidential lies and conspiracy theories, and highlighted facts that undermined Trump’s demagoguery. But taken together, their sheer volume couldn’t help but to fuel his fearmongering and make it impossible for other important pre-midterm stories to break through.
The papers are still producing valuable reporting on the topic -- about the migrants’ journey, the administration’s response of deploying U.S. soldiers on the border and taking executive action to limit asylum, and Trump’s own slackening interest in the caravan, among other angles. But with the elections over and in the absence of regular comments from the president, they are publishing much less of it, and they’re giving the stories they do publish less prominent placement.
Newspaper resources, column inches, and front-page real estate are all limited -- the amount of each that a paper devotes to particular stories reveals its editors’ priorities and signals to the public which issues are important. The Times and Post appear to have given the caravan outsized coverage when Trump was fixated on it, and now that he isn’t, the papers are providing the issue with substantially less attention.
The Post has published a total of 109 articles in its print A section mentioning the caravan since it formed, putting 24 of those articles on the front page. The paper ran 48 such articles, during the eight days before the election, 13 of them on the front page; those numbers dropped to 20 and three in the eight days after the election, a decline of 58 percent and 77 percent, respectively. Before the election, the paper published five or more articles referencing the caravan on 10 different days. Since the election, it has done so twice.
The Times has published a total of 88 articles mentioning the caravan in its print A section, putting 24 of those articles on the front page. During the eight days before the election, the paper ran 36 such articles, putting 12 on the front page; those numbers dropped to 19 and five in the eight days after the election, a decline of 47 percent and 58 percent, respectively. Before the election, the paper published five or more articles referencing the caravan on six different days. Since the election, it has done so once.
The massive print coverage of the caravan story leading up to the election echoed the story’s dominance on cable news.
Fox led the way, providing more than 33 hours of coverage through Election Day, with the network’s hosts spurring and echoing the president with apocalyptic, conspiracy theory-minded rants about the coming “invasion.” But the day after the election featured no discussions whatsoever focused on the caravan, while the network spent four minutes and 57 seconds covering the story the day after that.
After Trump took Fox's advice and tried to turn the caravan into an election issue, CNN and MSNBC also devoted hours and hours of programming to the story. As with the papers, these cable networks produced far more critical coverage of the story, but they nonetheless focused their attention on the subject Trump wanted to discuss. And in the same manner as the Post and the Times, the volume of their reporting has dropped substantially since the election.
As I wrote before the election, the facts about the caravan neither matched Trump’s crisis narrative nor justified the saturated coverage the story received. Since then, the “first wave” of the caravan has reached the U.S. border (most of the migrants are still 1,000 miles away), while the administration has imposed radical new asylum restrictions in response. But while those factors suggest that the caravan has become increasingly newsworthy on its merits, the Post and Times have produced fewer articles mentioning it and put fewer on their front pages.
These results strongly suggest that for these newspapers and cable networks, the newsworthiness of particular issues is strongly tethered to whether Trump is publicly commenting on them. Whatever he’s talking about quickly becomes the most important story in U.S. political journalism. And once he stops commenting on it, the story falls out of the headlines.
Reporters might respond to this criticism by saying that the president’s comments are always newsworthy. But that sentiment is not reflected in actual news coverage -- the closing days of the 2014 and 2016 election cycles were both dominated by Republican attacks on Democrats, not by President Barack Obama’s commentary.
Moreover, under the current president, that argument cedes substantial power over the public debate to a notorious liar and conspiracy theorist. Journalists should carefully consider what that means. By allowing Trump to serve as their assignment editor, decision-makers at newspapers and cable news channels are ignoring critical issues in favor of covering what the president wants to talk about.
This is an ongoing crisis in political journalism, and it won’t end unless journalists heed the lessons of the last few years and learn how to respond when conservative leaders try to manipulate them in bad faith in order to focus the public’s attention where they want it. That will require them to make independent calls on what deserves coverage and how much, rather than following the whims of Trump and his ilk.
Media Matters searched the Nexis database for New York Times and Washington Post articles mentioning the caravan between October 12 and November 14. We included articles from only the print editions of each paper, and we limited the results to articles from the news (A) sections; articles from editorial, opinion, op-ed, business, sports, and other sections were excluded. For the November 7 edition of the Post, which was not available in the Nexis database as of publication, two Media Matters researchers independently reviewed a hard copy of the paper’s A section.
Shelby Jamerson contributed research
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Leading papers produced 115 news stories referencing the caravan, put 25 on A1
President Donald Trump has taken Fox News’ advice and successfully turned the network’s fearmongering about an “invasion” by a caravan of migrants moving through Central America and Mexico with the intent to seek asylum in the United States into a major issue for the upcoming midterm elections. While the caravan is shrinking and remains more than 1,000 miles away from the U.S. border -- a journey of weeks on foot -- Trump has been able to use his bully pulpit to move it to the top of the media agenda.
Notably, The New York Times and The Washington Post have run a total of 115 news stories in their print editions mentioning the caravan over the last three weeks. Each paper has run at least one such story on its front page on nine of the last 10 days.
The caravan formed in Honduras on October 12, but neither paper mentioned it in print until October 17. The previous day, Trump had tweeted a threat to cut aid to Honduras after watching a Fox & Friends segment about the caravan. Each paper covered that threat, the Times on A8 (with a story headlined “Trump Warns Honduras Over Migrant Caravan”) and the Post on A10 (“Migrant caravan moves north, drawing outrage from Trump”).
Since then, both papers have regularly featured the story in their news pages, including on A1. Many of these articles are, on their own merits, laudable. They provide the compelling stories of the migrants themselves, debunk the president’s lies and conspiracy theories, and point to the facts that undermine his demagoguery.
But the sheer volume of the coverage can’t help but fuel Trump’s claims that the caravan’s approach represents a crisis and suck oxygen away from other stories in the lead-up to the midterm elections. This plays into the GOP’s deliberate strategy, developed by Fox commentators and adopted by the White House, of focusing attention on the caravan in order to drive conservative voters to the polls.
The Post has run 65 total news articles mentioning the story in its A section, running at least one on each subsequent day. On nine different days the paper ran four or more pieces, topping out at seven articles on October 30. Thirteen of the articles ran on the paper’s front page, the first one coming October 20.
The Times has run 50 total news articles mentioning the story in its A section, skipping it on only two days since its initial piece ran. The paper ran four or more pieces on eight different days, publishing a maximum of seven articles on October 24 and 30. Twelve of the articles ran on the front page; the story first hit A1 with two October 23 articles.
The increasing print coverage of the caravan mimics the way the story came to dominate cable news. Fox has been flooding the zone with coverage, creating a feedback loop with Trump in which the president and his favorite network are regularly pushing alarmist conspiracy theories about the migrant “invasion.” Meanwhile, CNN and MSNBC responded to the president’s Fox-fueled obsession with the caravan with their own coverage. As with the Times and Post, these cable networks often sought to fact-check the president’s lies and put the story in context, but their coverage nonetheless pulled attention away from other pressing issues and put it squarely on the subject Trump wanted to discuss.
Cable news coverage of the migrants dropped substantially on all three networks last week after a Trump superfan allegedly sent bombs to more than a dozen Democratic politicians and leaders as well as to CNN. But Fox’s coverage rebounded almost immediately, and coverage on the other networks has also ticked upwards over the past few days as Trump has continued to rant against the migrants, ordered U.S. military forces to the border in response, and called for the end of birthright citizenship.
As I wrote earlier this week for HuffPost, the facts simply don’t match the crisis narrative Trump is promoting -- or the level of coverage journalists have given the caravan in response to his demagoguery:
Trump’s Fox-fueled commentary turned the caravan story into a major national news story as reporters sought to explain and contextualize what he was talking about. But the situation does not, on its face, justify the coverage the caravan has received. The migrants are currently in southern Mexico, their numbers are dwindling and, depending on which route the caravan chooses, they face a journey of 1,000 to 2,000 miles to the U.S. border that will take weeks or months. Those who make it to the border have the right to seek asylum, and those whose claims are rejected will be turned away. That’s what happened when a similar caravan ― which also drew vitriol from Fox News and then from Trump ― reached the U.S. border in May. The caravans have been going on for roughly a decade without issue.
But with the caravan dominating the media conversation, immigration has taken on increasing salience among Republican and independent voters, perhaps in a way that could make a difference in key races next week.
Seeking to explain to readers why the Times had devoted so much attention to the caravan, Times deputy editor for International, Greg Winter, wrote on October 26, “It’s not our job to pretend that the caravan and the president’s response are not happening. To the contrary, it’s our mission to explain, with clarity and fairness, what is real, what is not and why it matters.”
But the paper’s resources are limited, and A1 space is precious, so it’s also the Times’ role -- and the Post’s -- to determine how much coverage one story gets and another doesn’t. Those decisions display the papers’ priorities and tell the public which issues are most worthy of debate.
Column inches devoted to the caravan can’t be used to cover other critical issues, like health care policy, or Trump administration corruption, or Republican plans to dismantle the social safety net. And in the weeks leading up to the midterms, time and again, the story that got the most attention was the one the president wanted to get attention.
This is not a new problem for the press. Ironically, one of the Times pieces on the caravan cites data we published in 2014 about the outsized television coverage the Ebola outbreak received in 2014, when Republican leaders were similarly determined to engineer a crisis in order to benefit in upcoming elections. A similar press fixation on then-FBI Director James Comey’s late-October letter about Hillary Clinton’s emails may have played a critical role in the 2016 presidential election.
The only caravan crisis is the one Fox and Trump wanted to create in order to help Republicans triumph in the midterms. But the crisis in political journalism is real and ongoing. It doesn’t seem like editors and producers have learned much from their failures in recent years. They remain stymied by how to respond when political leaders seek to manipulate them in order to focus the public’s attention on the issues of their choice.
Correction: We've replaced earlier charts due to a labeling error on the Y axis. The data has not changed.
Media Matters searched the Nexis database for The New York Times and The Washington Post for articles mentioning the caravan between October 12 and November 2. We included articles from only the print editions of each paper, and we limited the results to articles from the news (A) sections; articles from editorial, opinion, op-ed, business, sports, and other sections were excluded.
Shelby Jamerson contributed research
While MSNBC aired segments featuring six LGBTQ people, Fox News hosted anti-LGBTQ group leader Tony Perkins and two anti-trans gay women
The Trump-Pence administration is “considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth,” which would be “the most drastic move yet in a governmentwide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people,” according to an October 21 New York Times report. When TV news reported on the proposal, only MSNBC hosted LGBTQ guests to condemn it, while Fox hosted primarily anti-trans voices, including two gay women and major anti-LGBTQ group leader Tony Perkins.
The Times reported that the definition would be established under Title IX, which bars “gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance.” Title IX is enforced in part by the “Big Four” federal agencies -- the departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Labor -- most of which currently employ anti-LGBTQ group alumni who would potentially implement the policy. According to the Williams Institute, there are roughly 1.4 million American adults who identify as transgender, all of whom would be impacted by the proposed change. CNN reported that “if adopted, such a definition could exclude transgender people from existing federal civil rights protections in education, employment and access to health care.” The move is part of a greater trend of the Trump-Pence administration going after transgender people, and transgender advocates and their allies have sounded the alarm about the proposal and are fighting back.
Following the Times’ reporting on the Trump-Pence administration’s proposal, broadcast and cable TV news spent a moderate amount of time covering the issue. MSNBC turned to transgender and queer guests to discuss the impacts of the proposal, while Fox News hosted primarily anti-transgender guests, including Perkins. Though generally critical of the proposal, CNN’s segments relied entirely on CNN hosts, commentators, and reporters, none of whom openly identify as LGBTQ.
In discussing the proposal, MSNBC hosted six LGBTQ people, four of whom identify as trans, who were able to explain the personal impact the Trump administration’s proposal would have on the trans community.
On October 23, MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson hosted Laverne Cox, a transgender actress and activist, who outlined the Trump-Pence administration’s history of anti-trans policies, as well as those proposed around the country in state legislatures. Cox said that state legislatures “are continually trying to introduce legislation banning transgender people from public life” but noted that “we have fought those battles, and we have won.” She explained that “over and over again the courts have held that transgender people are covered by Title IX and Title VII.” Cox said, “They want to make us afraid, but we need not be afraid.”
MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson aired an October 22 segment featuring National Center for Transgender Equality's (NCTE) Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, who was the first out transgender person to be appointed to a White House job. Freedman-Gurspan called the proposal “an abomination” and highlighted that the new definition does not align with medical consensus or the lived experiences of trans people. She also noted the many anti-trans actions and rhetoric of the Trump-Pence administration and highlighted activism by the trans community and their allies who are ready to fight the proposal. Freedman-Gurspan ended the segment by saying, “We won’t be erased. We are standing up. … We are going to get through this.”
During other segments, MSNBC also hosted Mara Keisling, a trans woman and president of NCTE; Hannah Simpson, a trans woman and activist; Masha Gessen, an LGBTQ journalist; and Sarah Kate Ellis, a lesbian and president of GLAAD. Additionally, Rachel Maddow, an out lesbian, did a monologue on her October 22 show about the proposal in which she contextualized the history of Republican administrations rolling back LGBTQ rights.
While MSNBC turned to LGBTQ people who were either transgender or trans allies for their insights on the potential impact of the Trump-Pence administration’s proposal, Fox News hosted primarily anti-transgender guests, including two gay women and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council’s (FRC) President Tony Perkins.
In Fox News’ first substantial segment about the proposal, Fox News at Night with Shannon Bream aired a debate between liberal radio host Ethan Bearman and FRC’s Perkins, who was also appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in May. During the segment, Perkins praised the proposal and resorted to fearmongering when presented with historical facts about gender identity. Perkins also pushed the the thoroughly debunked myth that trans-inclusive policies pose a threat to the safety of women and girls. From the segment:
What we’re doing by this policy that was put in place without an act of Congress -- this was the Obama administration -- we’re putting people at risk. We're actually denying people equal protection under the law, because under this, we would force women that are going to battered shelters for abused women, we would force them under government policy to be housed with men, biological men. This makes no sense.
On October 23, Tucker Carlson, who has an anti-transgender track record himself, hosted Tammy Bruce, an anti-trans lesbian and president of the conservative group Independent Women’s Voice. In the past, Bruce has criticized trans-inclusive restrooms and compared being transgender to “a child” thinking they are “a cocker spaniel. She has also defended Jack Phillips, the Christian baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple and who was represented by extreme anti-LGBTQ powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom at the Supreme Court. During the segment, Carlson claimed that the government recognizing the trans community would hurt women, and Bruce leveraged her identity as a lesbian to dismiss the impact of the proposal on trans people.
Additionally, Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum hosted Camille Paglia, also an LGBTQ-identified person who is critical of trans identities. During the segment, Paglia pushed anti-trans narratives about biology and said that trans-inclusive policies are “unfair” in areas like athletics. She also described herself as transgender while criticizing the trans community. Paglia has made similar comments in the past, saying, "Although I describe myself as transgender (I was donning flamboyant male costumes from early childhood on), I am highly skeptical about the current transgender wave." In other reporting, it appears that she identifies as gay and uses female pronouns.
CNN had at least eight separate significant discussions, news reads, or reports covering the proposal but failed to host a single LGBTQ person in its reporting. Though the network’s coverage was generally critical of the proposal, CNN’s shows only used staff commentators and reporters to discuss it.
Broadcast TV news outlets ABC and CBS barely covered the story at all, only airing news reads with no comprehensive segments or reporting, and both networks failed to feature any LGBTQ voices. NBC, however, aired a package on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt that included a clip from NCTE’s Freedman-Gurspan’s appearance on MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson. It also aired a report on Today.
Additionally, PBS aired a segment featuring LGBTQ legal group Lambda Legal’s Sharon McGowan and was the only TV outlet so far to contextualize the anti-LGBTQ track record of Roger Severino, head of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, the department spearheading the proposal.
Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts for cable TV coverage appearing between October 21 and 23 on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- as well as transcripts of broadcast TV coverage on ABC, NBC, and CBS -- for mentions of the words “transgender” or “health and human services” as well as mentions of the words or variations of the words “trans,” “sex,” or “gender” occurring within 10 words of the words or variations of the words “memo,” “policy,” “definition” or “Trump.” Additionally, Media Matters conducted searches on Snapstream for the same time frame for the same terms. “Significant discussion” is defined as two or more speakers in the same segment discussing the proposal with one another.
What The Daily missed in a recent report about Missouri Democrats’ adoption -- and rejection -- of an anti-choice amendment
The New York Times’ podcast The Daily claims to inform listeners about “the biggest stories of our time,” but in a recent two-part series about an anti-choice amendment to the Missouri Democratic Party platform, the coverage emphasized anti-abortion talking points, including misinformation about so-called “partial-birth abortion” and the alleged “extremism” of Democrats' views on abortion. Perhaps most concerningly, The Daily failed to contextualize the precarious nature of abortion rights in Missouri -- which currently has only one operational abortion clinic.
In June 2018, the Missouri Democratic Party adopted language into its platform seeking to “welcome into our ranks all Missourians who may hold differing positions on” abortion. The inclusion of this language was fraught from the start. As Riverfront Times reported, the amendment “was emailed to members one day before a scheduled vote on a new platform — and the vote ended up taking place on a day that many party activists had already committed to being at immigration protests.” In August, the party voted unanimously to remove the language from its platform and instead adopted language supporting “a woman’s right to choose.”
The Daily's two-part series covering this story focused on Joan Barry, a former Democratic Representative for the Missouri House who introduced the controversial language. The episodes were hosted by the Times’ Sabrina Tavernise, who also wrote an article detailing Barry’s attempt to add the language. Tavernise painted Barry as suffering under the weight of a political system deeply divided about abortion at the national level. But in emphasizing national views about abortion, particularly in the political context, Tavernise obscured how hard pro-choice advocates are fighting to maintain abortion rights in Missouri. Instead, the story gave anti-abortion misinformation a high-profile platform and sanitized the consequences of losing access to abortion care in Missouri. Here are five things The Daily got wrong about abortion, and in particular, abortion access in Missouri:
During the two-part series, Tavernise argued that anti-abortion Democrats are fleeing the Democratic Party, both nationally and in Missouri. As evidence of this trend, Tavernise pointed to conversations around an attempt to pass the so-called Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in 1995. Although the bill was vetoed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, it ultimately became law under President George W. Bush in 2003, and was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in 2007 in Gonzales v. Carhart. The language of this law entrenched the false idea of so-called “partial-birth” abortion, despite no such procedure existing -- a linguistic trap that The Daily fell into often when covering the Missouri dispute.
In attempting to explain “partial-birth” abortion, The Daily relied on the description from the 1995 bill: “an abortion in which the person performing the abortion partially vaginally delivers a living fetus before killing the fetus and completing the delivery.” The Daily then talked to Lou Riggs -- who is currently running as a Republican for the Missouri House -- who described “partial-birth” abortion as something “Dr. Mengele on his worst day in the Nazi death camp did not conceive of” performing.
But “partial-birth” abortions are not real. As NPR reported in 2006, “‘partial-birth’ is not a medical term. It’s a political one” that was invented by anti-abortion extremists to incite feelings of disgust and stigma about abortion. As explained by NPR’s Julie Rovner, “partial-birth” abortion is a misleading reference to the previously used later-term abortion procedure known as a “‘dilation and extraction,’ or D&X.” Rovner continued that the term “was first coined” in 1995 “by the National Right to Life Committee,” an anti-choice group that admitted in a magazine interview that it created the term to “foster a growing opposition to abortion.” The term made its way to the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act in 1995, and it is still used by right-wing media to both vilify those who have abortions and to erroneously conflate the nonexistent practice with safe and legal forms of later abortion.
Rather than exploring any of this, The Daily centered its reporting on anti-choice Democrats who adopted a common right-wing talking point pushed for years by anti-abortion extremists. In doing so, The Daily did not explain how this inaccurate understanding of “partial-birth” abortion manufactured tensions in the Democratic Party -- and ignored the consequences of allowing this misconception to be repeated, unchecked to this day.
Throughout the two-part series, Tavernise erroneously painted the national Democratic Party as moving from a moderate position on abortion to one that is more extreme -- ignoring popular support for abortion access. For example, Tavernise explained that after Clinton vetoed the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act in 1996, “Democrats could no longer be pro-life; they had to pick a side. It was impossible to be in the middle.” She lamented that “local politics” had been replaced by “big national issues, like the question of abortion, the question of Roe v. Wade” which “only exacerbated Democrats’ difficulties in places like Missouri. It’s only made things worse.”
Framing the Democratic stance on abortion as “extreme” has long been a popular tactic in right-wing media and even among some more mainstream outlets. In Media Matters’ annual study of evening cable news coverage, Fox News dominated discussions about abortion in prime time with inaccurate statements about the so-called extreme abortion procedures allegedly supported by the left, but CNN and MSNBC also succumbed to this talking point far too often. For example, during Sen. Doug Jones’ (D-AL) run-off race against Roy Moore in Alabama, all three outlets portrayed Jones as “extreme” for opposing a ban on abortion after 20 weeks.
Calling Democrats’ views of abortion “extreme” is a vast mischaracterization of their positions, and misrepresents broader public opinion. As a recent Pew Research poll found, “a 58% majority of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 37% think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. These views are relatively unchanged in the past few years.” Suggestions that Democrats should compromise or tone down their support for abortion are also unsupported by data. As the polling firm PerryUndem found, “Just 8 percent of Democrats would be more likely to vote for a candidate who opposes abortion,” but “31 percent of Republicans would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights.” Tresa Undem, co-founder and partner at PerryUndem, told Vox, “By going after the 8 percent of Democrats who want a candidate who opposes abortion, the party risks losing the 71 percent of Democratic voters who want their candidates to support abortion rights.”
Beyond raw numbers, support for these allegedly “extreme” positions is grounded in the recognition that these types of abortions are done for a variety of personal and medical reasons and that those who need access to this vital form of health care should not be vilified.
The Daily also extensively discussed Barry’s reasons for introducing the anti-choice amendment, including that she “felt the party no longer tolerated views like hers” and that the party had “drifted too far left on abortion” and “developed this hard edge with this activist language” that made her feel “excluded, looked down upon.” Tavernise explained that Barry felt adding the language “would be a real contribution” and “would mean more people would feel welcome” to the party. The Daily framed Barry as a sympathetic character who “took it hard” when the amendment was pulled. Tavernise called her “a good soldier,” for the party, and suggested that in spite of all her hard work she had only ended up with "people wanting her out.” Tavernise also said Barry “felt really misunderstood. Being pro-life didn’t mean she wanted to take choice away. It didn’t mean she wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade.”
Setting aside anti-abortion organizations’ celebrations that Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court spells the end of Roe, The Daily also failed to mention that Barry wanted to include language in the platform expressing support for the criminalization of abortion. As Rewire.News’ Ally Boguhn reported, “During the platform committee’s deliberations, Barry attempted to include anti-choice language regarding ‘life from conception until natural death,’ which ultimately did not make it into the platform.” As Boguhn explained, “Such phrasing uses so-called personhood rhetoric that, if implemented into law, could criminalize abortion and some forms of contraception.”
Boguhn also outlined how Barry supported various anti-choice restrictions during her time in the Missouri House of Representatives. In 2001, “Barry introduced a so-called informed consent bill requiring a 24-hour waiting period and mandating that doctors inform patients of risks associated with abortion,” a mandate that stemmed from an inaccurate anti-abortion talking point. She also “sponsored a ‘partial-birth abortion’ ban” and “co-sponsored another ‘informed consent’ bill to require a waiting period for patients seeking a medication abortion.”
Tavernise shouldn’t have relied on Barry’s assurances that she didn’t really want to end Roe. Instead, The Daily should have looked at Barry’s record of chipping away at abortion access while in the Missouri House and, in particular, her clear intention to criminalize abortion during the platform fight.
While Tavernise focused on Barry and her convictions about the platform language, there was little discussion about why other members of the committee were upset and voted to eliminate the anti-choice provisions. While Tavernise did talk to some pro-choice advocates on the committee, she did not give them much room to explain their position or dispute the harmful premise of Barry’s agenda. Instead, Tavernise framed them as merely “angry” with the decision or having “a furious reaction” because they “were pissed,” while failing to discuss why they were mad. Rather than discuss the misinformation behind Barry’s proposed language, or the tangible harms that the anti-choice amendment would have on Missourians, Part 1 ends on a dramatic cliffhanger with Barry’s daughter warning her mother to “get some mace or something” -- as if Barry would be under physical attack for proposing the language.
The Daily’s invocation of the "violent left" as a plot device plays into a rhetorical strategy commonly used by right-wing media and abortion opponents to suppress valid opposition to their harmful policies. For example, during anti-Kavanaugh protests prior to his confirmation, The Daily Signal called protesters “vicious mobs.” Meanwhile, the anti-abortion organization Priests for Life wrote that the “deeper roots of the rage and hysteria of the anti Kavanaugh protestors” stemmed from “the repressed grief of women who experienced abortion loss” -- another right-wing media myth about abortion.
Aside from the vote about the language being held on a day that many committee members had a prior engagement, The Daily also failed to consider the legitimate reasons many opposed Barry’s extreme additions. After the episodes aired, one of the pro-choice committee members interviewed by Tavernise -- co-founder and co-director of Reproaction Pamela Merritt -- wrote a blog post arguing that while Tavernise’s written article was “solid. … The podcast is slanted, and it seems that they want to cast the prolife Dem as a victim and all the rest of us as unreasonable.”
Merritt also outlined some additional points about why she wanted the language removed:
Access to abortion is not some insignificant wedge issue that politicians can chose whether or not to champion based on how they think their district feels about it. Reproductive healthcare is key to every single progressive issue Democratic claim to champion, so failing to support the full spectrum of services indicates a fundamental lack of understanding how policy works.
There can be no economic justice without reproductive justice. The ability to control whether or not you get pregnant, whether to carry a pregnancy to term, and the spacing between children is a big fucking deal. It means the difference between being able to make ends meet or not, being able to get an advanced degree or attend college/training or not. For some people, it is the difference between life or death. I’m passionate about access because IT FUCKING MATTERS.
You can’t claim to stand with Black women and then dismiss our leadership, ignore our demands, and support policies that promote reproductive oppression.
And you can’t say a platform is pro-choice if it includes language stating that the party will welcome people who do not support abortion access and see their presence as a strength.
In the podcast, Tavernise decried that “local politics” have been replaced by “big national issues, like the question of abortion, the question of Roe v. Wade, the question of [Justice Brett] Kavanaugh.” This framing dangerously ignored how these “big national issues” are very much a part of “local politics,” especially given the precarious state of abortion access in Missouri.
Missouri currently has only one abortion provider in a state with more than 6 million people -- and Gov. Mike Parsons (R) recently signed a state budget blocking Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood. Missouri already has a plethora of abortion restrictions, including a requirement that women receive “state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage her from having an abortion,” and a 72-hour waiting period. Missouri’s legislature has an appetite for even further abortion restrictions -- Republican state Rep. Mike Moon told The Associated Press this year that the “time is right” to pass an anti-abortion amendment to the state constitution.
Although Kavanaugh’s threat as a potential fifth vote to overturn Roe is briefly mentioned in both of The Daily’s episodes, neither one mentions that Missouri currently has both an anti-choice legislature and an anti-choice governor with no protections in place, leaving the state’s abortion rights “at the highest risk of loss if Roe is overturned” according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Missouri is one of seven states classified by the Guttmacher Institute as having “laws that express their intent to restrict the right to legal abortion to the maximum extent permitted by the U.S. Supreme Court in the absence of Roe.” Planned Parenthood described Missouri as one of 20 states “poised to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.” Far from Tavernise’s concern that all politics have become national, there is plenty of abortion-related legislation in Missouri -- and plenty of material consequences for the Missourians who are denied abortion access thanks to anti-choice lawmakers and advocates such as Barry.
As anti-abortion advocates no longer demur about Kavanaugh’s likely role in overturning Roe, The Daily’s coverage of the fight for reproductive justice in Missouri failed to present an accurate picture of what’s at stake. Instead, The Daily presented a sanitized view of an anti-abortion extremist, relied on anti-abortion talking points, and ignored the concerns of pro-choice advocates about the true consequences of losing access to abortion in the state and across the country.