Sebastian Gorka says the Trump-Kim summit failed because "clearly, Kim and his coterie didn't read the president's book The Art of the Deal"
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The Charlotte Lozier Institute is one such group, trying to push its anti-abortion activism as impartial research
Anti-abortion groups will gather in Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life protest on January 18 under this year’s theme, “Unique from Day One: Pro-Life is Pro-Science,” which claims that “medical and technological advancements continue to reaffirm the science behind the pro-life cause.” This framing is an attempt by the anti-abortion movement to allege that scientific consensus supports anti-choice policies -- an effort shepherded in large part by the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI), the research arm of the anti-choice group Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List). Although CLI and SBA List attempt to portray the organization’s members as impartial scientific experts, media outlets should be wary when citing them given the explicit mission of both organizations to oppose abortion.
For years, the anti-abortion movement and its allies in right-wing media have erroneously and frequently claimed that anti-choice arguments are supported by science. In fact, CLI was created as part of one such effort to frame anti-abortion research as impartial. Though other anti-choice groups often portray CLI as an independent nonprofit similar to the Guttmacher Institute (which was founded as an official arm of Planned Parenthood before becoming entirely independent), CLI is actually still operated as part of SBA List. CLI filed its federal 990 tax forms as the “Susan B Anthony List Education Fund” and even ran Facebook ads for SBA List during the 2018 midterm elections. CLI reported that its anti-abortion work involves putting “expert testimony before legislatures across the U.S.” by dispatching its associate scholars, as well as helping anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers with research to maximize the “outreach and effectiveness” of these fake health clinics.
Most recently, SBA List and CLI attempted to push their anti-science agenda during a congressional oversight committee hearing on fetal tissue research. Although both of the witnesses called by Republicans were CLI representatives, only one of these affiliations was disclosed during the hearing. As the communications director for the committee’s ranking Democrat told ThinkProgress, "While not untoward, it is unusual and telling for one hearing to have two expert witnesses affiliated with the same research tank," and Politico called the move “irregular … as lawmakers usually try to demonstrate broad support for a policy.”
Despite being branded as the “research arm” of the anti-abortion movement, CLI “has so far produced little in the way of original research and data-gathering and has instead published more commentaries and analyses of others’ research that support its agenda on abortion and end-of-life issues," Rewire.News wrote in 2014. Little has changed since then. In 2018, CLI’s vice president published a study challenging the methodology of previous research showing recent increases in Texas’ maternal mortality rate. Another 2018 study by CLI’s vice president claimed that “Planned Parenthood has had a long-term and accelerating inflationary effect on the incidence and prevalence of abortion in the US.” SBA List summarized the research in a press release claiming that Planned Parenthood was “responsible for 3 Million+ ‘extra’ abortions” because Planned Parenthood’s rate of abortions hasn’t followed the same trend as other abortion providers. The rate CLI and SBA List identified likely has more to do with the rapid closure of independent abortion clinics than with Planned Parenthood performing “extra” abortions. Additionally, right-wing media outlets often publish pieces in which CLI associate scholars who lack backgrounds in scientific research claim to offer scientific analyses of reproductive rights issues.
Despite CLI's obvious bias, mainstream media coverage in the past has presented the organization as a legitimate research institution. Before the 2018 March for Life, The Atlantic published a piece downplaying the group’s involvement with SBA List, describing CLI as “a relatively new D.C. think tank ... which employs a number of doctors and scholars on its staff” and merely “shares an office with Susan B. Anthony List, a prominent pro-life advocacy organization.” As a result of this whitewashing of CLI, Rewire.News listed the Atlantic article in its 2018 “Hall of Shame” for reporting on reproductive rights because it was “aiding in the deception” of the anti-abortion movement’s attempts to gain legitimacy. Other outlets have cited CLI without disclosing its role as an anti-abortion group -- a CNN story about the recent committee hearing offered no description of the organization, while The Birmingham News merely described it as “a Washington DC health think-tank.”
Other recent media coverage has also given CLI a platform to present scientifically unsupported views on various abortion-related issues. For example, as part of the debate over the Trump administration’s push to end fetal tissue research, outlets such as ABC News, The Hill, and NPR each quoted CLI officials who claimed that fetal tissue research is obsolete or unnecessary when, in fact, such a view is unsupported by the larger scientific community. In another example, The Washington Post allowed CLI President Chuck Donovan to claim that the rate of abortions performed in the United States is declining in part because “pro-life views are more prevalent.” Donovan’s claim is unsupported by the actual research cited in the story.
Groups like CLI and SBA List often point to media coverage like this as a way of validating their anti-choice viewpoints, further perpetuating the ruse that CLI members are impartial scientific experts worthy of citation. With the anti-abortion movement using this year’s March for Life to allege that “science” supports various anti-choice policies, media outlets have a responsibility to interrogate the qualifications and associations of their sources.
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.
Major media outlets gave Hurricane Harvey plenty of attention when it hit Houston and surrounding areas just over a year ago, but too little of that coverage mentioned that climate change can make hurricanes more destructive and dangerous.
A 2017 Media Matters study found that neither ABC nor NBC aired a single segment on their morning, evening, or Sunday news shows from August 23 to September 7 that mentioned the link between climate change and hurricanes like Harvey. An analysis by Public Citizen echoed that point, finding that many major newspapers and TV networks did not give the climate change connection appropriate coverage during their reporting on Harvey. Coverage of Hurricane Irma also fell short on incorporating climate science, and the media did a terrible job of covering Hurricane Maria at all, let alone how climate change might have affected the storm.
Four months after Harvey hit, two groups of scientists published studies that connected the hurricane's record-breaking rainfall to climate change. Harvey had stalled out over the Houston region and dumped more than 60 inches of rain in some areas. One of the studies estimated that climate change made Harvey’s rainfall 15 percent heavier than it otherwise would have been, while the second offered a best estimate of nearly 38 percent. A third study published in May also connected the hurricane to global warming, concluding that "Harvey could not have produced so much rain without human-induced climate change."
Scientists are now warning that Hurricane Florence could be affected by climate change in some of the same ways Harvey was, leading to massive amounts of rain over North Carolina and adjacent states.
Will mainstream media do a better job of explaining the links between climate change and hurricanes this time around?
There are some encouraging signs. A number of outlets have published or aired good pieces this week that explained the climate science around hurricanes, and some have also taken the Trump administration to task for rolling back climate protections while we are in peak hurricane season.
NPR's Morning Edition on September 11 included a good segment by science reporter Rebecca Hersher reviewing some of the relevant research:
Slow-moving storms like Harvey are getting more common. A study published earlier this year by [atmospheric scientist James] Kossin found that tropical cyclones around the world have slowed down 10 percent in the past 70 years.
Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., says global warming also affects the size and intensity of storms like Florence.
Axios science editor Andrew Freedman wrote a strong piece on September 11 that explained, "There are several characteristics of the changing climate that are helping to increase the risks of damage from Hurricane Florence, even though global warming is not directly causing such a storm to spin up." His article included a quote from Texas Tech climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe:
Hurricanes are absolutely being affected by our changing climate, in many ways. As the world warms, the rainfall associated with hurricanes is becoming more intense; they are getting stronger, on average; they are intensifying faster; they are moving more slowly; and, as sea level rises, the storm surge from these events can be more damaging.
The Baltimore Sun published a hard-hitting editorial on September 11 that noted the influence of climate change on hurricanes and called out the Trump administration for undoing policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions:
While one can’t say Hurricane Florence is entirely a product of climate change (severe weather existed long before people started burning fossil fuels), it is safe to say that climate change is a major reason why Florence may be bigger and stronger and why there are likely to be more such monster storms in our future. Meanwhile, it’s also quite safe to say that President Donald Trump and his current set of minions, anonymous or on the record, are exceedingly disinterested in lifting a finger to do something about global warming.
Already this year, the Trump EPA has rolled back limits on emissions on vehicles and coal-fired power plants, two major sources of greenhouse gases. [Weakening methane rules] completes the administration’s trifecta of climate ignorance. And doing so as the Southeast faces such an ominous threat rises above chutzpah into something Nero-like in its lack of caring for the possible suffering of Americans.
The Washington Post also published a forceful editorial on September 11 titled "Another hurricane is about to batter our coast. Trump is complicit." It cited scientific research about climate change exacerbating hurricanes, and it criticized the Trump administration for its policies that will make climate change worse:
With depressingly ironic timing, the Trump administration announced Tuesday a plan to roll back federal rules on methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is the main component in natural gas. Drillers and transporters of the fuel were supposed to be more careful about letting it waft into the atmosphere, which is nothing more than rank resource waste that also harms the environment. The Trump administration has now attacked all three pillars of President Barack Obama’s climate-change plan.
As we watch how Hurricane Florence develops, we'll be looking for other outlets -- including ABC and NBC -- to put the storm in its proper context, reporting on climate science and the Trump team's efforts to undo climate protections.
NPR’s Morning Edition gave a gift to white supremacists, in the manner in which the show paired an interview with the white supremacist organizer of the Unite the Right rally alongside an interview with a Black Lives Matter activist.
On its August 10 edition, NPR’s Morning Edition interviewed Jason Kessler, the white supremacist organizer of the upcoming second edition of the Unite the Right rally -- the gathering of racists that, on its first edition last year in Charlottesville, VA, resulted in the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer after a white supremacist drove a car into a crowd. While NPR’s Noel King effectively highlighted the bigotry of Kessler’s views and pushed back on his baseless claims of censorship and underrepresentation, the show adopted Kessler’s absurd frame as it immediately followed up his interview by bringing on Hawk Newsome, the president of Black Lives Matter New York, to comment on the rally.
The bizarre juxtaposition is particularly evident from NPR's segment titles:
During his appearance on NPR, Kessler -- who has secured permits from the National Park Service for the rally in Washington, D.C., this Sunday -- asserted he was “not a white supremacist” and that he was a “human and civil rights advocate focusing on the underrepresented Caucasian demographic.” For the past year, Kessler and other white supremacists have been entangled in a debate about the best way to present their bigoted views, focusing on whitewashing their racism by asserting themselves as a “positive, mainstream movement” which “primarily focus[es] on whites, who are uniquely denied the right to guard their survival and advocate their interests.” Kessler pushed this narrative on the show, seeking legitimacy by claiming white people aren’t “allowed to organize into political organizations” to push their interests and then drew a false equivalence of Unite the Right to Black Lives Matter or the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, and what he seeks to accomplish by organizing his rally.
JASON KESSLER: I’m not a white supremacist, I’m not even a white nationalist. I consider myself a civil and human rights advocate focusing on the underrepresented Caucasian demographic.
NOEL KING (HOST): The underrepresented Caucasian demographic. In what ways are white people in America underrepresented?
KESSLER: Well, because they’re the only group that is not allowed to organize into political organizations and lobbies and talk explicitly about what interests are important to them as a people. You have Blacks, who are able to organize with Black Lives Matter or the NAACP, you have Jews who have the ADL, Muslims have CAIR.
Immediately after airing Kessler’s interview, NPR brought on Hawk Newsome of Black Lives Matter, and asked him why he declined Kessler’s invitation to speak at the racist rally. Newsome condemned Kessler and underscored his refusal to be tokenized by white supremacists.
NPR played into the white supremacist tactics of false equivalence by featuring Newsome’s interview right after Kessler’s. While it’s crucial to include voices of color, seek the perspectives of those affected directly by white supremacy, and provide coverage to the activists protesting the Unite the Right rally, NPR failed to offer forceful pushback to Kessler’s absurd claim that white supremacists are equivalent to groups legitimately fighting for equality, seemingly delegating that responsibility to Newsome. It’s also debatable whether audiences benefited from listening to Kessler citing Charles Murray’s debunked writings as scientific evidence of some races being superior to others, or whether white supremacists deserve a mainstream platform in the first place.
What’s undeniable is that NPR committed “journalistic malpractice” by presenting Black Lives Matter as the “other side” of white supremacy.
Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine have steered clear of reporting on Paul Manafort’s legal exposure, but they spent significant time on a judge’s strong words for the special counsel's team
On June 14, a federal judge revoked Manafort's bail for allegedly tampering with witnesses, landing him in federal prison until his trial.
President Donald Trump’s favorite Fox News shows are all but ignoring the cascade of damning reports regarding former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his legal troubles. Since May 2017, special counsel Robert Mueller has been scrutinizing various relationships between the Trump campaign and Russian nationals closely tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin, appearing to focus closely on Manafort’s business history and associates. As the legal pressure ramps up against Manafort, the president’s propagandists at Fox News have sought to distance Manafort from Trump and, through selective reporting on Manafort’s legal troubles, discredit the probe against Trump’s former campaign manager.
Since the beginning of 2018, Manafort’s legal exposure has grabbed mainstream media attention, but the topic has not managed to break through on Trump’s favorite Fox News programs. Media Matters reviewed transcripts and video of the first editions of Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine after significant reports surfaced about new developments regarding the investigations into Manafort this year. We found little to no coverage of notable turns in the multiple high-profile legal cases against Trump’s former campaign manager. But we did find extensive coverage of the strong words a judge had for the special counsel’s team.
Manafort sues Department of Justice, alleging special counsel exceeded mandate
On January 3, NPR reported that Manafort was suing the Department of Justice, alleging that “Mueller's team has ‘diverged’ from its stated focus on potential collusion with the Russians who attacked the 2016 election and instead zeroed in on Manafort for ‘unrelated, decade-old business dealings’ in Ukraine.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the development.
Company tied to former Manafort business associate and Russian oligarch sues Manafort and business partner
On January 10, according to NBC News, “a company controlled and funded by” Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, a crony of Russian President Vladimir Putin and one-time business associate of Manafort’s, sued Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates for allegedly “bilk[ing] his company by taking $1.1 million in capital and paying it to themselves.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the lawsuit.
Special counsel tells judge investigation has revealed “additional criminal conduct” by Manafort
On February 16, according to Politico, the special counsel’s office submitted a court filing informing a federal judge of “additional criminal conduct that [the office has] learned since the Court’s initial bail determination” on Manafort’s federal case that “includes a series of bank frauds and bank fraud conspiracies.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the court filing specifically. Though a guest on Fox & Friends, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, briefly mentioned general “charges” against Paul Manafort, he downplayed them as “unrelated to the campaign.”
Former Trump aide Richard Gates will “plead guilty” and has agreed to “testify against Manafort”
On February 18, the Los Angeles Times reported that Gates, who is also a former Trump campaign aide, would “plead guilty to fraud-related charges within days” and that he “made clear to prosecutors that he would testify against Paul Manafort.” While the Times report was unverified by other media outlets at the time, according to a Media Matters review, Hannity and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the report. Fox & Friends briefly mentioned it but added that Catherine Herridge, Fox News’ chief intelligence correspondent, “says, as of now, no deal, and Gates is not cooperating.” Five days later, The New York Times confirmed that Gates would plead guilty “to financial fraud and lying to investigators” and “has agreed to cooperate with the special counsel inquiry.” According to a Media Matters review, Hannity and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the development. Fox & Friends all but ignored the report other than airing a 15-second teaser from co-host Brian Kilmeade (who did not identify how Gates is tied to the Trump campaign) and a softball question from co-host Steve Doocy during an interview with former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. Priebus also attempted to downplay the significance of the report, claiming Gates’ and Manafort’s conduct was “independent of the Trump campaign.”
Dutch lawyer tied to Manafort business partner sentenced to 30 days in federal prison for pleading guilty to lying to federal investigators
On April 3, according to CNN, Alex van der Zwaan, a “Dutch lawyer tied to former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates,” was “sentenced … to spend 30 days in prison and pay a $20,000 fine after he admitted to lying to” the special counsel regarding his “communications with Gates and a person with Russian intelligence ties.” According to a Media Matters review, Hannity briefly mentioned the sentencing, downplaying it as having “nothing to do with Russia collusion,” and saying, “In reality, it looks like a giant waste of your money.” Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the sentencing, which was the first in the special counsel’s investigation. Fox & Friends twice mentioned the development in passing while attempting to downplay its significance, once saying the sentencing is “unrelated” to Trump and Russia.
Special counsel obtains seven new search warrants against Manafort
On April 5, CBS News reported that prosecutors on the special counsel’s team “revealed in court filings ... that they had obtained on March 9 seven new search warrants against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort” for “various properties” including “a storage unit, bank accounts, email addresses and devices.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the report.
Federal judge rejects attempt to get Manafort case dismissed
On May 15, according to Politico, a federal judge “rejected an attempt by Paul Manafort … to get an indictment against him dismissed by claiming that special counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment was flawed.” The judge wrote that “given the combination of his prominence within the campaign and his ties to Ukrainian officials supported by and operating out of Russia, as well as to Russian oligarchs, Manafort was an obvious person of interest” for U.S. law enforcement. According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the judge’s decision.
Manafort’s former son-in-law cuts plea deal, will testify against Manafort
On May 17, Reuters reported that Manafort’s former son-in-law and “business partner” Jeffrey Yohai “cut a plea deal with the Justice Department” requiring him “to cooperate” with the special counsel’s prosecutors. According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the report.
Special counsel accuses Manafort of attempting to tamper with witnesses
On June 4, according to The New York Times, “federal prosecutors ... accused President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, of attempting to tamper with witnesses in his federal tax and money laundering case,” with one witness telling the FBI “that Mr. Manafort was trying to ‘suborn perjury.’” Yet again, according to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the court filing, even though the charges leveled against Trump’s former campaign manager can mean up to 20 years in federal prison if he is found guilty.
Special counsel unseals additional charges against Manafort, Russian business associate
On June 8, according to NPR, the special counsel’s office “unsealed more charges” against Manafort, alleging “that a Russian partner of Manafort's, Konstantin Kilimnik, helped him try to persuade witnesses to lie to the jury when Manafort's case comes to trial in Washington, D.C., this autumn.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the additional round of charges against the president’s former campaign manager.
On May 4, according to The Washington Post, “a federal judge in Virginia ... sharply questioned the motivations of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s fraud prosecution of President Trump’s former campaign manager.” According to the report, Judge T.S. Ellis III told prosecutors on Mueller’s team, “You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud. … You really care about getting information Mr. Manafort can give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump and lead to his prosecution or impeachment.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine all covered the judge’s rebuke of the Mueller team extensively.
On the May 4 edition of Hannity, host Sean Hannity spent a total of 14 minutes and 46 seconds discussing Judge Ellis’ comments, calling his remarks the “single biggest beatdown I have ever seen in my life by a judge.” The nearly 15 minutes Hannity devoted to Ellis’ comments were significantly more than the time he spent covering any development in the various cases against Manafort in 2018 combined, which totaled about 1 minute and 57 seconds.
On the May 5 edition of Justice with Judge Jeanine, host Jeanine Pirro spent a total of 15 minutes and 27 seconds discussing Judge Ellis’ remarks. In contrast, Pirro did not mention any of the other stories regarding Manafort's legal troubles in 2018.
On the May 7 edition of Fox & Friends, the hosts devoted 11 minutes and 5 seconds to Judge Ellis’ comments over three hours of airtime. Fox & Friends spent a total of 2 minutes and 43 seconds on the other turns in the various cases against Manafort, and during those reports the hosts usually downplayed the events as “unrelated” to Russia or “independent from the Trump campaign.”
Given Manafort’s past and the people he has been willing to associate with professionally, it is no wonder Fox News’ chief Trump propagandists have attempted to distance the president from him. According to The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer, Manafort’s career was built on lobbying on behalf of “dictatorial governments in Nigeria, Kenya, Zaire, Equatorial Guinea, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia, among others.” Manafort’s experience representing repressive regimes eventually landed him a job in Ukraine, assisting the “former gangsters,” as Foer wrote, in the Party of Regions in improving their image domestically, eventually guiding pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych to presidential victory in 2010.
Fox News’ efforts to bury Manafort’s legal exposure seem to be having an impact. According to a recent survey conducted by Navigator Research, 59 percent of Americans are not aware that the special counsel’s investigation has uncovered any crimes, even though Mueller has amassed five guilty pleas and numerous indictments. Should the special counsel’s investigation turn up evidence that supports allegations of a criminal conspiracy between members of the Trump campaign and foreign actors, Manafort would surely be implicated as a key player.
Suppressing reports regarding (arguably) the most corrupt member of Trump’s campaign team -- and following Fox’s usual playbook of downplaying and ignoring other consequential reporting on the special counsel’s investigation -- appears to be part of the network’s larger strategy to pre-emptively downplay any possible findings that could implicate the president and his campaign.
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After The Atlantic hired former National Review writer Kevin Williamson, Media Matters and a number of others called out Williamsons’ history of problematic commentary -- including his belief that “the law should treat abortion like any other homicide” and, as Rewire.News characterized it, that “women who have had abortions should face capital punishment, namely hanging.”
It turns out there are plenty of other reasons that The Atlantic should feel bad about the new hire and his self-proclaimed commitment to “raising a brand new kind of hell.”
After writing an article attacking transgender advocate and actress Laverne Cox, Williamson reiterated his anti-trans claims on his podcast, saying that she is “not a woman” and that his belief shouldn’t be “controversial” because she is “a man masquerading as a woman.”
During the same podcast, Williamson said that “sex reassignment surgery” is “brutal and lamentable” because it is “surgical mutilation basically for cosmetic purposes.”
Williamson also said that some transgender people do not give “the impression of being super emotionally stable” because they are “self-dramatizing” and “theatrical.” He claimed this characterization is “unfortunately stereotypical” but nevertheless called it “an accurate description.”
Williamson continued that transgender people are probably “living in adolescence” because “if you’re 40, and you’re still getting massive hormone treatments from a hormone that belongs to a sex that isn’t you, then, I guess, you should maybe be able to expect that this is going to be some sort of continued adolescence.”
During a 2011 appearance on Lou Dobbs Tonight, Williamson not only called Mexican immigrants, “peasants” but also claimed that they “aren’t really contributing a great deal.” When pressed on this statement, Williamson said that the border between Texas and Mexico “looks like Afghanistan.”
In a 2011 appearance on Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight, Williamson called for a continuation of waterboarding, saying: “We’re probably waterboarding people somewhere. I certainly hope so.”
In 2012, Williamson used another appearance on Lou Dobbs Tonight to attack former first lady Michelle Obama, saying he was “offended” that Michelle Obama “gripes about having to pay back her student loans” because “when someone loans you money to do something that you want to do, that’s a favor.”
During a 2010 appearance on CNN, Williamson argued that hunting rifles are more dangerous than “so-called assault weapons,” which are “not actually very dangerous guns.” Williamson also said that it wasn’t “an entirely irrational or paranoid belief” to think that the government would someday seize people’s guns.
Then, last month on his own National Review podcast, “Mad Dogs & Englishmen,” Williamson attacked the high school students who survived a mass shooting at their Parkland, FL, school for advocating for stronger gun laws. Williamson compared the situation to asking people who had been in New York City during the 9/11 attacks for advice on the Middle East, saying, “We’re glad you made it through it OK. But you still don’t know anything.”
Shortly after poet Maya Angelou’s passing in 2014, Williamson discussed her legacy on his podcast -- arguing that she was merely “a kind of cultural mascot” or “literary character that we tend to attach to older, African-American women” whose purpose is to “teach white liberals the meaning of life.”
During a 2011 segment on NPR’s Tell Me More, Williamson attacked Malcolm X as “the sort of figure” who “is destructive in a lot of ways” because he engaged “in some of the most destructive and counterproductive politics the 20th century had to offer.” [NPR, Tell Me More, 4/8/11]
In 2012, on the same NPR program, Williamson said that the idea that “racial diversity is an inherent fundamental part of higher education’s mission” is “intellectually indefensible.”[NPR, Tell Me More, 2/24/12]
In 2018, on Fox News Radio’s The One w/ Greg Gutfeld, Williamson claimed that “if white supremacy” could be pointed to as an explanation for both chattel slavery as well as “the fact that there are nice restaurants in Brooklyn now in neighborhoods that didn’t have them,” then it “doesn’t explain anything.”
Williamson made a similar statement in 2014 on his podcast, describing white supremacy as “an imaginary substance” created out of “intellectual crudity.”
In a 2011 appearance on NPR’s Tell Me More, Williamson said that American students were the “most illiterate, bad reading level kids on the Earth.” [NPR, Tell Me More, 1/7/11]
In 2013, Williamson said on Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight that the government shutdown “put a few thousand parasites out of work in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.” When pressed on his comment by a fellow panelist, Williamson responded: “Well if they’re not parasites let’s put their wages to a market test and see if they are actually worth what they’re paid. But they know they are not worth what they’re paid which is why they resist putting their wages to a market test.”
In 2012, Williamson appeared on Dobbs’ program and referred to union members as “grotesque parasitic union goons.”
After Planned Parenthood announced support for Barack Obama during the 2012 election, Williamson called the organization a “grisly, bloodthirsty enterprise.”
How media outlets promoted problematic narratives and anti-abortion misinformation
On January 19, the annual March for Life was held in Washington D.C. In covering both the anti-abortion protest and the lead-up to it, some media outlets promoted problematic narratives and anti-abortion misinformation.
After reports surfaced that Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore sexually assaulted and harassed several teenagers when he was in his 30s, right-wing media outlets rushed to characterize Moore’s Democratic opponent Doug Jones as supporting “partial-birth” abortions, abortions up to the moment of birth, or so-called “late-term” abortions. Other outlets have adopted the right-wing media spin, claiming Jones is too “extreme” for Alabama voters.
Pro-gun-safety candidates swept Virginia’s three statewide offices in the 2017 elections, showing that it is prudent to run against the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) agenda and to make gun safety a centerpiece issue of campaigns. These candidates' victories help debunk a myth propogated by the media that gun violence prevention is a losing issue at the polls.
Victorious candidates in Virginia elections last night included Ralph Northam, who won the governor’s seat by nearly nine points, Justin Fairfax, who won the lieutenant governor’s race (both of whom have received “F” ratings from the NRA because of their positions on gun policy), and Mark Herring, who was re-elected attorney general. In 2013, Herring made gun safety a prominent issue of his campaign, and his actions as attorney general led the NRA to label him “one of the most anti-gun lawmakers in Virginia history.”
According to election night exit polls, Northam and Republican candidate Ed Gillespie tied among voters whose primary issue was gun policy:
Buried in exit poll: Northam, F-rated by the NRA, TIED with voters whose #1 issue was guns. pic.twitter.com/0hIxGwctr0
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) November 8, 2017
Another candidate who is often linked to gun violence prevention is Chris Hurst, who won a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. In 2015, Hurst’s girlfriend, television news reporter Alison Parker, was fatally shot during a live broadcast. Hurst, who beat NRA-endorsed Joseph Yost, ran on a platform focused on reducing gun violence specifically for people of color and women who have escaped abusive relationships.
But the NRA media myth about gun violence prevention being a losing issue at polls still persists.
During a November 8 segment on NPR’s Morning Edition about the NRA’s influence, commentator Cokie Roberts said of the group, “I have to hand it to the NRA. They participate, they organize, they contribute, they vote. That’s the way you influence legislation. And if the other side wants to get gun control done, they can’t just tell awful stories. They have to organize and contribute in the same degree.” The results in Virginia are yet another example disproving this analysis, with the NRA failing to rally its supporters to deliver any of the three statewide officers to its preferred candidate.
Winning despite the NRA’s campaign efforts is not a new trend for Virginia’s pro-gun-safety politicians. In 2013, the NRA spent $500,000 to beat Mark Herring in his bid for attorney general. After he won, his campaign manager said that Herring pulled off the victory by running on a strong record of supporting sensible gun legislation. Similarly, the NRA efforts against Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s statewide races have also repeatedly come up short. Like Northam, McAuliffe bragged about his “F” rating from the NRA during the 2013 gubernatorial race.
The myth that gun safety is a losing issue dates back to the 1994 congressional midterm elections and the 2000 presidential election in which pundits blamed losses on candidates’ support for gun safety measures. Evidence-based research into those elections has long disproved those theories, which the NRA has nevertheless promoted in order to bolster its image.
WAVY News 10’s fact check of Republican Ed Gillespie’s ads in the Virginia gubernatorial race correctly identified one factual inaccuracy but failed to note the anti-immigrant falsehoods the ad pushed as well. The advertisements, which President Donald Trump parroted in his endorsement of Gillespie, have been called out as “racist” and “fear-mongering.”
In an October 5 segment, reporter Andy Fox of Portsmouth, VA’s NBC affiliate WAVY News 10 fact-checked a series of advertisements Gillespie released attacking his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, over his support for sanctuary cities. Fox explained that while “Gillespie is correct that Northam voted for and supports sanctuary cities,” Northam’s nay vote on a bill, which was defeated, to outlaw sanctuary cities in Virginia “was not the deciding vote as stated in Gillespie’s ad.”
The bill Gillespie referenced, House Bill 2000, initially failed in the Virginia state Senate earlier this year thanks to what The Washington Post’s editorial board called an act of “political trickery” in which Senate Leader Tommy Norment voted with Democrats against the bill, thus forcing Northam to cast a tiebreaking vote. Republicans later called for a revote, and Norment switched his vote to support the measure. The bill was defeated nevertheless when the Virginia state House failed to muster the votes to override Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s veto.
While the fact check did correctly note that Northam’s vote “was not the deciding vote as stated in Gillespie’s ad,” Fox missed a few additional opportunities to fact-check Gillespie. Contrary to claims made in the ad, fewer crimes are committed in sanctuary areas compared to nonsanctuary municipalities. This is at least partly because, as NPR explained, witnesses and victims in sanctuary areas are more likely to aid police. Additionally, The Economist wrote that law enforcement found that sanctuary policies “allow [police departments] to fight MS-13,” a criminal gang that Gillespie brought up in his ad, “more effectively.”
Those aren’t the only problems with Gillespie’s ads. As the Post reported, the men meant to portray MS-13 member in the ads “were not MS-13 members and were photographed in a prison in El Salvador.” Additionally, as Washingtonian pointed out, “there technically aren’t any” sanctuary cities in Virginia, although, as ThinkProgress noted, “some areas of the state do have sanctuary city-like policies protecting immigrants from deportation.”
While Gillespie’s ad has been criticized for “fear-mongering” and being “super racist," it does seem to have at least one fan: President Donald Trump. Trump echoed the messages in Gillespie’s ad in an October 5 tweet announcing his support for the Republican, which was tweeted eleven minutes after the ad ran during Fox News programming:
Ralph Northam,who is running for Governor of Virginia,is fighting for the violent MS-13 killer gangs & sanctuary cities. Vote Ed Gillespie!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 6, 2017
Stephen Bannon, former White House chief strategist and restored executive chairman of Breitbart.com, orchestrated and supported many of the worst elements of the campaign and presidency of Donald Trump. Before, during, and after his direct involvement with Trump’s political ambitions, Bannon used his experience -- and his extensive and complicated financial connections to the far-right billionaire Mercer family -- to stoke the flames of nativist anger, encourage Trump’s most racist and misogynistic rhetoric, support far-right political candidates across the globe, and attack all perceived enemies of Trumpism, potentially including Trump himself.