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  • Here are the extreme reactions of abortion opponents to reports of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez reported that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted them, and Julie Swetnick attested that he was present during her own assault, numerous abortion opponents vitriolically attacked the three women and those supporting them.

    On September 16, professor Ford told The Washington Post that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when the two were in high school. This report was followed by an article in The New Yorker in which Ramirez said she was sexual assaulted by Kavanaugh when they were both at Yale. On September 26, Swetnick detailed her own experiences of attending parties with Kavanaugh at which she both witnessed and experienced sexual assault.

    Prior to these reports, leaders in the anti-abortion movement tried conflicting tactics to gin up support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation, as he will likely be a fifth vote on the court to overturn or curtail the protections for abortion access in Roe v. Wade. Before his confirmation hearing, abortion opponents and right-wing media downplayed Kavanaugh’s views on abortion by saying he wouldn’t overturn Roe, and, if he did, it would be inconsequential for abortion access (which is wrong). After the hearing, anti-abortion movement leaders celebrated Kavanaugh’s comments on abortion rights and attacked pro-choice Democrats and activists who opposed Kavanaugh based on his likely view on Roe.

    As reports about Kavanaugh emerged, anti-abortion advocates attempted to discredit the women and attack Democrats who supported them. Some also continued to blame opposition to Kavanaugh on Democrats’ view that he would threaten abortion rights. Here are some examples:

    Abortion opponents had some extreme reactions to reports from several women that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted them

    • Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue tweeted a link to a bizarre website that claimed Ford’s account was politically motivated because of the potential impact Kavanaugh’s confirmation would have on the production of a so-called abortion pill. This is a false claim attempting to conflate her research for a pharmaceutical company that develops mifepristone “to control hyperglycemia associated with Cushing's syndrome” with pills used in medication abortions:

    • Anti-abortion blogger The Activist Mommy attacked high school students who participated in the #BelieveSurvivors walkout (as well as Ford and Ramirez), saying, “People lie, ya know? Especially the rabid vagina-hat-type of chicks! You little boys are such an embarrassment to America. Get back in class & actually read your government textbook for a few seconds.” On September 26, she posted a video in which she repeated the smear that Ford works for the company that manufactures a so-called abortion pill and said that Democratic opposition to Kavanaugh is “about abortion, not assault.”
    • Bud and Tara Shaver, who run the anti-abortion group Abortion Free New Mexico (formerly known as Protest ABQ), tweeted that “any more delay” in the Senate’s vote on Kavanaugh “is anarchy/mob-rule.”
    • On September 19, The New York Times’ Ross Douthat argued that supporting Kavanaugh could hurt the anti-abortion movement. Susan B. Anthony List’s Marjorie Dannenfelser disputed this characterization, defending anti-abortion groups’ support for Kavanaugh, and tweeted in response:

    • The Federalist’s Margot Cleveland tweeted that “the Democrats MUST not be rewarded for their outrageous behavior or there will be no end to this...but there may be an end to our country.” Following reports from Swetnick about Kavanaugh’s possible presence when she was sexually assaulted (as well as her account of witnessing instances of Kavanaugh engaged in wider sexual misconduct), Cleveland tweeted, “This is the Left’s #PizzaGate." This is a reference to a conspiracy theory that prominent political figures used a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant to engage in human trafficking:

    • CRTV’s Allie Beth Stuckey tweeted that “they want to embarrass Kavanaugh, drag him, shame him in front of his wife and kids, his daughter’s basketball team, his colleagues and friends. They want him to be ostracized personally and professionally.”
    • Ryan Bomberger of the anti-abortion group Radiance Foundation attacked Ford by co-opting a graphic from the A Day Without a Woman strike, asking people to “imagine a day without a liberal activist falsely crying #metoo.”
    • Bomberger’s Radiance Foundation account similarly tweeted:

    • Micaiah Bilger, who writes for anti-abortion outlet LifeNews, tweeted at the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, “If allegations are enough to disqualify someone from something, shouldn't all the allegations against you, Planned Parenthood, disqualify you from getting half a billion of our tax dollars every year? #DefundPP.”
    • Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America (a conservative group that organized a “Women for Kavanaugh” bus tour) tweeted:

    • Operation Rescue’s Cheryl Sullenger (who has served time for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic) tweeted, “Even tho she says she saw women gang raped by others, she still kept going to rape parties. Please. Totally not believable!” She then tweeted:

    Some abortion opponents continued to fearmonger about abortion to distract from reports that Kavanaugh committed sexual assault

    Media Matters previously noted that right-wing media and anti-abortion advocates have attempted to distract from Ford’s report by claiming that Democrats are only supporting Ford because they fear Kavanaugh would overturn Roe. This trend has continued:

    • On Fox & Friends, Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera said the motivation behind Ford’s report was “all about abortion” and that “Kavanaugh is a pro-life guy and this is what it's all about.”
    • Right-wing site RedState argued, “The whole reason Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is in the crosshairs of a sexual assault allegation, and a media circus is ensuing, is because the left is 100 percent focused on making sure their ability to abort children and profit from it goes uninterrupted.”
    • LifeNews claimed that Planned Parenthood was being hypocritical for supporting Ford because there is a “growing pile of evidence that Planned Parenthood itself covers up sexual abuse,” referring to allegations from an old anti-abortion conspiracy theory that keeps being shared among anti-abortion advocates.
    • Religious news site The Stream wrote that “the anti-Kavanaughs — i.e. the Left, the Democrats — could not care less whether he’s innocent or guilty.” Rather, “this is about abortion. It’s about the larger sexual ideology as well, but abortion first and foremost,” because for these groups, “abortion is both sacrament and god.”
    • From Washington Examiner:

    • On The Howie Carr Show, Ann Coulter told Carr, “I'm kind of surprised that the pussy hat-wearing brigade didn't just get together, conspire to create some lie about Kavanaugh. They’re so obsessed with abortion. It really is going to be a great thing when Roe v. Wade is finally overturned -- just to show these idiots it's really not going to make that much of a difference.”
  • The right wing's conspiracy theory network is now going after high school kids

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Erick Erickson wanted his Twitter followers to know that the article he was circulating -- which suggested the Parkland survivor-turned gun violence prevention activist David Hogg hadn’t been present during February’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School -- was no conspiracy theory. “David Hogg contradicts himself in two separate interviews about whether he was at school during the shooting. And no, this isn’t a fake news Gateway Pundit bs story,” Erickson tweeted last night, referencing the pro-Trump website notorious for propelling hoaxes. The decision by Erickson, the right-wing commentator once deemed “the most powerful conservative in America,” to publicly stand behind the credibility of the Redstate article in question backfired rather spectacularly as it became clear that it was, in fact, a “bs story.”

    Contributor Sarah Rumpf's article originally argued that “Hogg’s statements in a new CBS documentary about the shooting is casting doubt on Hogg’s original story that he was at school on the day of the shooting” and that the impetus was on the student to “explain himself, and quickly.” But Rumpf subsequently struck the entire original story, stating in updates that video showed Hogg on the scene and blaming CBS for airing “a very confusing quote without context.” After being slammed on Twitter, Erickson deleted his tweet and has this morning been throwing a tantrum about the incident (meanwhile, Rumpf spent the night quote-tweeting people praising her response).

    Rumpf’s original post cited no source for her theory, but it echoed the conspiracy theories that far-right social media accounts and websites circulated earlier that day. Larger conspiracy sites like Alex Jones’ Infowars and, yes, Gateway Pundit picked up the story later in the evening.

    The right’s conspiracy theory conveyor belt famously targeted Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election. Hoaxes about her health originated with wannabe sleuths on Twitter and Internet message boards, then moved to hyperpartisan Facebook-centered websites and larger right-wing blogs like Gateway Pundit that served as conspiracy clearinghouses. Finally, they entered the mainstream political debate via major conservative pundits and Fox News hosts. Now we’re seeing the same pattern play out, but this time the apparatus has fixated on high school students pushing for action to combat gun violence.

    Clinton had been the target of insane conspiracy theories for decades, and there’s a certain expectation that politicians seeking election should be able to respond to any criticism, however ludicrous. But, conservatives’ arguments that the Stoneman Douglas students have entered the public debate and thus are “fair game for critics” aside, you’d think we’d all be able to agree that the kids have been through enough and shouldn’t be targeted by a swarm of trolls and hacks.

    And yet, here we are. As the Stoneman Douglas activists have taken a central role in the current debate about guns, they’ve turned into the current hate object of the modern right. And so the tools and methods previously brought to bear against powerful Democratic politicians have now been turned on them.

    Almost immediately after the mass shooting, posters on far-right online message boards began warning that the surviving students who were giving interviews to television reporters were actually “crisis actors.” An organized campaign by those trolls turned that hoax into the top video on YouTube’s trending page, while other far-right websites, such as The Gateway Pundit and TruthFeed, subsequently attacked the students by suggesting they were coached.

    As student survivors of the shooting have spoken out about and campaigned for changes to gun laws, they have drawn increasing scrutiny from all parts of the right-wing media, including the message board conspiracy theorists and the websites that regularly draw from their musings.

    Over the weekend, far-right trolls apparently created and circulated a fake image and GIF of survivor Emma González tearing up the Constitution. Meanwhile, major conservative sites like Breitbart.com and Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire decided that they could produce good content by aggregating tweets from people who claimed that Hogg had offered a “Nazi salute” by raising a fist after his speech at Saturday’s March for Our Lives event in Washington, D.C.

    The good news so far is that while Fox News played a key role in pushing the Clinton health conspiracy theories into the mainstream, its hosts and commentators don’t seem to have done the same with the Stoneman Douglas ones. Instead, the network’s conservative pundits have focused on delegitimizing the activists as young, ignorant, and overly emotional.

    That keeps the conspiracy theories festering in the fever swamps but largely out of sight of the rest of the public. But as the targets of both the Internet mob attack known as Gamergate and the Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists would doubtless agree, those less-public campaigns can nonetheless do lots of damage to regular people who are just trying to go about their lives. In any case, the right-wing conspiracy network is here to stay, and it’s happy to go after anyone its members perceive as an enemy.

  • Right-wing media have profited for years from AR-15 giveaways and instructions on how to build the weapon “off the books”

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Numerous right-wing media outlets have for years sent their followers sponsored messages touting giveaways of AR-15s and instructions on how to make the rifle “completely ‘off the books.'” The AR-15 has been used in numerous mass shootings, including Wednesday’s deadly school shooting in Parkland, FL.

    Police say that a 19-year-old using an AR-15-style rifle killed at least 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, on February 14. Law enforcement officials reportedly said that the suspect “legally purchased the assault weapon used in the attack.”

    Los Angeles Times national reporter Matt Pearce explained that “the latest, most serious shootings all seem to have one new thing in common: the AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle. … in all of the latest incidents -- Newtown, Conn., in 2012; San Bernardino, Calif., in 2015; Orlando, Fla., in 2016; Las Vegas, 2017; Sutherland Springs, Texas, 2017 -- the attackers primarily used AR-15 semiautomatic rifles.”

    Right-wing media outlets over the years have taken money to help glamorize AR-15 rifles with free giveaways and instructions on how to make the deadly weapon “off the books.”

    In summer 2017, the Media Research CenterNewsmaxRedStateTheBlaze, and Townhall sent sponsored emails from The Concealed Network touting giveaways of “3 Saint 5.56 AR-15’s.” The email stated that the AR-15 is “a lethal firing machine” that “fires ammunition at lightning pace, and it’s pinpoint accurate.”

    The Media Research CenterNewsmax, RedState, and​ Townhall also ran ads from the National Association for Gun Rights in 2013-2014 “giving away the top quality Colt 6920 AR-15 rifle.”

    HermanCain.com, NewsmaxTheBlaze, and WND also sent emails in 2014 and 2015 touting how to build AR-15s “completely ‘off the books.’”

    The advertisement takes readers to a page for the “Underground Assault Rifle System,” which claims to “reveal an amazing secret to free you from the tyrannical gun grabbers in Washington! You'll discover a legal (yet almost completely unkown [sic]) way for any American Citizen to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights by owning an AR-15 that's not registered or recorded anywhere — it's completely ‘off the books’!” Purchasing the system gets buyers access to, among other things, "step-by-step instructions" on how to make the AR-15. 

    Mother Jones’ Bryan Schatz reported in 2015 that it is “perfectly legal to build your own unregistered and untraceable semi-automatic firearm” but such weapons have been “turning up at crime scenes.”

    The Daily Caller has frequently given away gunsincluding the Colt AR15A4 in 2014 through its Guns and Gear section.

    Republican politicians have given away AR-15s over the years as part of their fundraising and publicity efforts.

    The New York Times’ Jeremy Peters wrote in April 2014 of the NRA’s own gun giveaway efforts:

    The National Rifle Association, which has been doing Publishers Clearinghouse-style gun sweepstakes since the 1980s, figured out the allure of free guns years ago. Back then, it used direct mail. Now, it employs a range of online campaigns, including Facebook-based contests that provide the organization not just with people’s names, but also with their information-rich public profiles and lists of their friends. Millions of people have entered these contests, the group said.

  • Following a bombshell report, Fox News is desperately clinging to their alternate reality about the Russia investigation

    While a NYT report reveals the real impetus of the Russia investigation, Fox is running with the unfounded conjecture of fake news, pro-Trump trolls, and Republican congressmen

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    In a continuation of the network’s pattern of sycophantic defenses of the president, Fox News hosts dismissed reporting from The New York Times that provided new details about what sparked the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, muddying the waters by pushing baseless conjecture espoused by pro-Trump internet trolls and fake news websites alike.

    A December 30, 2017 report by The New York Times explained that a conversation between Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos and an Australian diplomat at a bar prompted FBI officials in June 2016 to investigate the connection between Russia and the Trump campaign. The report disrupted a well-established far-right and right-wing media claim that the investigation was prompted solely on information provided in a partially unverified opposition research dossier produced by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, noting:

    The information that Mr. Papadopoulos gave to the Australians answers one of the lingering mysteries of the past year: What so alarmed American officials to provoke the F.B.I. to open a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign months before the presidential election?

    It was not, as Mr. Trump and other politicians have alleged, a dossier compiled by a former British spy hired by a rival campaign. Instead, it was firsthand information from one of America’s closest intelligence allies.

    In a January 2 New York Times op-ed three days after the December 30 report, Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, founders of Fusion GPS, the research firm that funded the dossier, echoed the Times’ earlier reporting, writing that rather than the Steele dossier being the major impetus for the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling, their sources told them “the dossier was taken so seriously because it corroborated reports the bureau had [already] received from other sources, including one inside the Trump camp.”

    But in a segment responding to the the op-ed today, the panel of Fox News’ Outnumbered didn’t even mention Papadopoulos’ name. Instead the panel members deflected from the revelations by launching baseless claims, including the notion that Fusion GPS exerted influence on the FBI and that the “fake report” (which has in fact been at least partially verified) was used to obtain a FISA warrant to spy on Trump, itself a fallacy promoted by Breitbart. From the January 3 edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered:

    MELISSA FRANCIS (CO-HOST): Fox News has reported that Fusion GPS was being paid by a Kremlin-linked law firm at the same time that it was digging for dirt on then-candidate Trump. And human rights activists have accused Fusion GPS of secretly working for the Russians. Congressman Jason Chaffetz is here.

    JASON CHAFFETZ: I did I read that op-ed from Fusion GPS. First of all, if they want to maximize openness and transparency, there is nothing, nothing that holds back Fusion GPS from releasing all the documents and all the financial transactions.You have the House intelligence committee having to issues subpoenas in order to get that information.

    SANDRA SMITH (CO-HOST): That's a great point.

    CHAFFETZ: But today they could release all of that information if they want. So, don't blame the House intelligence committee. It is against the law to go out and hire a foreign national to engage in these activities during the campaign. So, they potentially broke the law there. You have Marc Elias who was general counsel for the DNC. Hillary Clinton is involved in this. You’ve got the Podesta group involved in this. There is some really nefarious things, and you have a top official at the FBI whose wife works at Fusion GPS at the same time that they're doing an investigation, so don't call it a fake investigation. Let's get all the truth out there. That's what [South Carolina Republican Congressman Trey] Gowdy and [California Republican Congressman Devin] Nunes and everybody is after.

    [...]

    KATIE PAVLICH (CO-HOST): They have a responsibility on their end to the American people now because they are so involved and because they did have influence in the FBI based on the dossier. And again we have people connect to the dossier also connected to the Department of Justice under President Obama. And those are questions that are unanswered and that deserve answers to the American people.

    [...]

    FRANCIS: I think what people in the audience should remember and probably what you care about a lot is this idea that when originally we gave the government special powers to collect data, to listen in on your phone calls, it was a time when we were all frightened and still are about terror, about national security. The warning at the time was that in the end, this FISA warrant, this whole idea could be used to listen in on political opponents and become a political weapon. In this case, it looks like that's very much what happened, that a fake report was used to get a FISA warrant to spy on a political opponent. That's a very dangerous thing in this country. And that's what I think we should be chasing down and focused on.

    Pro-Trump media outlets have long attempted to discredit the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s relationship with the Russian government, and Trump’s defenders on Fox have spent months baselessly claiming that the FBI used the dossier as sole evidence to get a FISA warrant to surveil and investigate Trump and members of his presidential campaign. Fox’s Jeanine Pirro even suggested that FBI and the Department of Justice officials should be jailed for their implication in this alleged conspiracy.

    Following The New York Times’ December 30 report, right-wing media figures attempted to discredit the story by downplaying Papadopoulos’ influence, attacking the article’s anonymous sourcing, and castigating the reporting as distraction from the Mueller investigation that the network has deemed a “witch hunt.” Other right-wing outlets like Red State, the National Review, as well as other pro-Trump media outlets, fake news websites, and internet trolls have levied similar attacks in attempts to discredit the story.

  • 4 ways right-wing media are shilling for tax reform (and why they're wrong)

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Right-wing media have been relying on debunked myths and partisan spin in order to defend the Republican tax overhaul efforts, which have passed in the House of Representatives and advanced in the Senate. Conservative media figures are pushing falsehoods about the corporate tax rate and the impact the proposals would have on the wealthiest Americans while downplaying the negative impacts of repealing the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.

  • Sad, ineffectual white men unite behind their shared rage that a woman spoke her mind, again, because they are scared babies

    What if Helen Rosner’s tweets about being an ally to women somehow destroy their centuries of privilege?

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Writer Helen Rosner posted a list of suggestions for how men can support the women in their lives, “beyond just literally ceasing to sexually harass us,” on Twitter and Medium yesterday. Her suggestions included such theoretically uncontroversial arguments as: Trans women are women, supporting reproductive rights is good, and men ought to “cultivate genuine, intimate, nonsexual friendships with women.” For these sins -- for writing that men who want to be allies of women ought to adapt principles of basic human decency and learn about others’ experiences -- Rosner has drawn rebuke from a ragtag group of the internet’s finest aggrieved white men and their allies, who are now revealing their constant low-level rage and fear of somehow losing the privilege they’ve enjoyed throughout history.

    To be sure, there are some valid and constructive criticisms of Rosner’s work -- it focuses mostly on strict gender categories of women and men, likely because the cultural conversation we’re having now about sexual violence is so inextricably rooted in misogyny. But this is not the criticism popping up in Rosner’s mentions. Instead, after making the humble argument that men who are asking specifically how they can do better can do the basic work of listening, learning, being kind, and asking more from their male friends, Rosner has been admonished by representatives of several uniquely grotesque anti-feminist subcultural groups. The sources of the criticism range  from traditional right-wing bloggers to anonymous #MAGA and men’s rights trolls to straight-up white supremacists like David Duke.

    That’s because the deeper, more enduring story stretches well beyond Rosner, her words, or even her specific, unfortunately typical, and hopefully fleeting online criticism. It reveals a disturbing pattern in which misogyny serves as a brutal, unifying force that spurs communities from across the spectrum of the right-wing internet to slam individuals they feel represent their enemies in a cultural war, in an attempt to silence them.

    In different circumstances, the David Dukes and the Erick Ericksons across the right-wing internet might performatively disavow one another. But here on the online battlefield, their true motivation -- preservation of so-called traditional culture (read: specifically the white, heteropatriarchal nuclear family)  -- is far too compelling to do anything but quite literally unite the right.

    In traditional corners of the right-wing blogosphere, exemplified by pundits like Erick Erickson and blogs like RedState.com or TownHall.com, the reactionary defense of white heteropatriarchy looks like this: references to “family” values and religious freedom, flippant anti-gay and anti-trans statements, illogical economic arguments in favor of policies that happen to hurt the working poor, and generalized fearmongering about college campuses and immigration.

    In the increasingly violent men’s rights movement, the strategy transforms into much more overt “antifeminist” views and the promotion of toxic hypermasculinity. And in the openly white nationalist online spaces -- where there is a significant and telling overlap with the men’s rights community -- the focus lies in fighting the decline of a superior “Western” culture, defending and promoting subservient, white womanhood, and securing a “future for white children.”

    Online trolls seem to borrow indiscriminately from any and all of these related schools of thought, and then throw some truly incomprehensible messages and sometimes harassment into the mix for good measure.

    Members of all these communities seemed to show up online to tell Rosner why her arguments were bad. Here are some other reactions she garnered on Twitter from this repulsive band of brothers and the women who support them in their warped crusade in the name of sweet, sweet heteropatriarchy. And these are just the verified users’ responses; click through Rosner’s mentions for more such commentary.

    The motivation to preserve a total monopoly on centuries-old power that’s not even being truly threatened is essentially a watered-down, unspoken (except for when it is actually spoken) version of the white supremacist 14 words: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” To say that anything less extreme may be at play -- or that their rage is much more simply focused on a specific Medium post or Twitter thread or person (coincidentally, a woman) who dares to voice an opinion -- is to help trolls erase their real motives.

    This war against difference and acceptance -- with the enemy labeled on any given day as feminists, libs, snowflakes, the radical left, paid protestors, PC bullies -- will continue to dictate internet rage so long as it remains a convenient unifying force for the right.

    Hatred is timeless, and left unchecked it will drown out everything else from public conversation.

  • A hate group's anti-LGBTQ law just went into effect in Mississippi. Here's what you need to know.

    The Human Rights Campaign called Mississippi’s so-called “religious freedom” bill “the nation’s worst anti-LGBTQ state law”

    Blog ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A sweeping, so-called “religious freedom” bill went into effect in Mississippi on October 10, and advocates are calling it the “worst anti-LGBTQ state law in the U.S.” Mississippi’s “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” claims to protect “sincerely held religious beliefs” but would in fact give religious organizations, businesses, and individuals broad license to legally discriminate against LGBTQ people. The law is a legislative embodiment of the right-wing media myth that LGBTQ equality has led to the persecution of Christians, and it was heavily influenced and crafted in part by anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom, a powerful legal organization that has been involved in pushing similar legislation across the country.

    Mississippi’s extreme anti-LGBTQ law HB 1523 went into effect on October 10

    Mississippi’s anti-LGBTQ “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” (HB 1523), which Mother Jones called “one of the nation’s most sweeping religious exemption laws,” went into effect on October 10. The law permits “widespread discrimination based on ‘sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.’” Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed the bill into law in April 2016, but its implementation stalled after a court challenge led to a district judge issuing an injunction that blocked the bill. On June 22, a federal appeals court lifted the district court’s injunction. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the law allows “discrimination by individuals, businesses, religiously-affiliated organizations — including hospitals, schools, shelters and others — against LGBT people, single mothers, and vulnerable young people in Mississippi” based on religious beliefs. After the law took effect on October 10, Lambda Legal and the Mississippi Center For Justice filed an appeal asking that the U.S. Supreme Court strike it down.

    Five things the media need to know about Mississippi’s HB 1523, “the nation’s worst anti-LGBTQ state law”:

    1. The bill codifies 3 “sincerely held religious beliefs,” including opposition to both marriage equality and sex outside of marriage

    According to the ACLU, HB 1523 is unique in that it makes Mississippi “the first state to codify discrimination based on a religious belief or moral conviction that members of the LGBTQ community do not matter.” Indeed, the bill purports to be designed to protect people with three specific “sincerely held religious religious beliefs”: that “marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman,” that “sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage,” and that “male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.” The law gives individuals, private associations, and religiously affiliated organizations license to legally make discriminatory actions against LGBTQ people and others under the guise of holding those three positions.

    2. HB 1523 is the “broadest" anti-LGBTQ law enacted since same-sex marriage was legalized

    According to The Associated Press, HB 1523 is “considered the broadest religious-objections state law enacted since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015.” The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has also spoken out against the law, calling it “the “worst anti-LGBTQ state law in the U.S.” and “probably the worst religious freedom bill to date.”

    HRC wrote that “under this law, almost any individual or organization could justify discrimination againist LGBTQ people, single mothers, unwed couples, and others.” The organization outlined examples of potential areas of discrimination, noting that “taxpayer funded faith-based organizations could: refuse to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples for provision of critical services including emergency shelter; deny children in need of loving homes placement with LGBTQ families including the child’s own family member; and refuse to sell or rent a for-profit home to an LGBTQ person.” It could also allow foster families to force LGBTQ children into dangerous “conversion therapy,” a harmful practice that attempts to change sexual orientation or gender identity and that has been discredited by every mainstream medical group. The law also allows religious organizations to terminate or discipline an employee “for being gay, trans, or pro-gay, even if they have roles that have nothing to do with religion or education,” according to The Daily Beast.

    The law’s text notes that the government cannot act against individuals who decline to treat, counsel, perform gender affirmation surgery, provide psychological services, or provide fertility services to LGBTQ individuals, single mothers, and others based on codified religious beliefs. According to The Daily Beast, HB 1523 would also give schools, businesses, and other organizations license to discriminate against transgender people, as this law could be used to force transgender individuals to use bathrooms that do not align with their gender identity or “to dress as their biological sex at birth.” The law explicitly allows employers and schools to establish "sex-specific standards or policies concerning employee or student dress or grooming.”

    Under HB 1523, even government employees are given legal protections to discriminate against LGBTQ people. The Daily Beast wrote that state employees can “proselytize, condemn homosexuals as sinners, argue that gay people should be killed, or put up posters condemning homosexuality as a sin” at their jobs without fear of discipline. The law explicitly allows state employees and judges to recuse themselves "from authorizing or licensing lawful marriages.” That means that county clerks, judges, and magistrates could refuse to authorize same-sex marriages without consequence.

    3. HB 1523 is the legislative embodiment of the right-wing media myth that LGBTQ equality has led to the persecution of Christians

    For years, right-wing media have peddled the myth that Christians are being persecuted by LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws, particularly focusing on anti-gay small-business owners who refuse to provide services for same-sex couples. Fox News has long touted stories of business owners -- including a photographer, baker, and florist -- who refused to provide services to same-sex couples and were then sued for violating nondiscrimination ordinances, and Fox News employees Todd Starnes and Erick Erickson have written books devoted to the anti-LGBTQ Christian persecution myth.

    Other right-wing media outlets have adopted a similar myth that LGBTQ-inclusive protections will lead to the persecution of Christians. For example, Jonathon Van Maren of Life Site News claimed that there has been a “rapid rise of rainbow fascism” leading to the destruction of businesses owned by Christians. Van Maren continued, “Christian business owners saw the wages they needed to feed their families dry up because they were targeted by gay activists and labeled hateful, homophobic bigots simply for declining to assist in celebrating a gay union.” A post in The Daily Caller listed examples of “LGBT anti-Christian bullying,” arguing that “the fight for respect and equal rights for gays and lesbians has ... occasionally been co-opted by anti-Christian bigots who target individuals’ businesses and threaten them with violence.” Some right-wing websites, like RedState, have used the pejorative term “gay mafia” to describe activists fighting business discrimination against LGBTQ people. A post using the term in its headline asserted that LGBTQ activists’ “primary objective is the complete and utter destruction of morality and Christianity in America–and in the end, the Constitutional rights of every American.”

    4. Anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom helped write, promote, and justify the law and fought for it in court

    According to The Washington Post, anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) was heavily involved in the creation of HB 1523, starting its work on the bill before the United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015. The Post reported that ADF lawyer Austin R. Nimocks first emailed a lawyer in Gov. Bryant’s office on June 24, 2015, and in one of his emails attached what he called a “model executive order that would prevent state governments from discriminating against their citizens because of their views or actions concerning marriage.” Mississippi’s bill “adopted many of the identical passages,” according to a brief by an attorney leading challenges against the bill. In March 2016, ADF attorney Kellie Fiedorek sent Bryant two drafts of a signing statement, which is “the final step in the legislative process,” saying, “We looked through a number of Gov. Bryant’s signing statements and tried to use his voice. Please feel free to pull from either one that is most helpful to you and your boss ... we’re here to serve.”

    ADF has also provided legal support to Bryant and other Mississippi officials. The group represented Bryant and John Davis, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, after a federal judge blocked the entire bill from taking effect on June 30, 2016. When the case reached the U.S Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, ADF attorneys joined Bryant in issuing a brief in favor of the law and were a part of his legal team.

    5. ADF has been involved in writing, promoting, and defending RFRAs in other states

    ADF has been directly involved in the drafting of other state “religious freedom” or “religious freedom restoration acts” (RFRAs), including working quietly with a state senator in Iowa earlier this year. There, ADF worked on legislation modeled after Indiana’s 2015 RFRA, signed by now-Vice President Mike Pence. The ACLU of Iowa successfully worked with partner groups and businesses to block its introduction. In 2014, ADF helped write Arizona’s SB 1062 -- a vetoed bill that would have expanded legal protections for businesses refusing service to gay customers -- and in 2015, ADF “had a hand in” writing Georgia's tabled RFRA.

    ADF lawyers have also testified on behalf of or directly promote so-called “religious freedom” bills; in fact, ADF’s vice president of media communications, Greg Scott, characterized enacting RFRAs as “a legislator’s most important duty.” In 2013, ADF senior counsel Joel Oster testified in favor of Kansas' RFRA, which was signed into law that year, and in 2015, ADF senior counsel Michael J. Norton testified in defense of Colorado’s failed "Freedom of Conscience Protection Act.” The organization also promoted a RFRA in Arkansas and helped advise Indiana lawmakers during the debate over the state’s RFRA. In 2016, ADF attorney Matt Sharp testified before the South Dakota legislature in support of a law promising to “ensure government nondiscrimination in matters of religious beliefs and moral convictions,” and ADF counsel Kellie Fiedorek spoke about the so-called “benefits” of a RFRA proposed in West Virginia.

    In addition, ADF's reach extends beyond its own representatives’ support for enacting RFRAs to state legislatures where ADF alumni and “allied attorneys” introduce and sponsor similar legislation. North Carolina state Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer (R) sponsored a failed 2015 RFRA in her state after having proudly boasted of her continued “involvement in promoting religious freedom and other family values as an Allied Attorney" with ADF on her now-defunct campaign website. Similarly, in Louisiana, House Rep. Mike Johnson (R), who previously worked as an attorney for ADF, sponsored another anti-LGBTQ RFRA in 2015.

    ADF’s involvement in drafting and promoting state RFRAs should not come as a surprise, as the organization's president, Michael Farris, co-chaired a committee that lobbied Congress to pass a federal RFRA in 1993. More recently, ADF consulted Attorney General Jeff Sessions on his sweeping religious freedom guidance, released October 6, which makes “it easier for businesses to discriminate against LGBT people and women” and “legal for nearly any business to fire someone or deny a person services based on religious objections.”

  • Conservative media launch partisan attack against Houston Democrats over evacuation orders

    Right-wing criticisms ignore reality that a prior evacuation led to massive gridlock and the death of more than 100 evacuees 

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Right-wing outlets are seizing on Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s decision not to issue an evacuation order for the city ahead of Hurricane Harvey to launch partisan attacks against Democrats. But these attacks ignore the numerous journalists and experts who have supported Turner’s decision, citing a storm evacuation order in 2005 that led to more than 100 deaths.

    As Hurricane Harvey approached Houston on Friday, Turner urged residents to stay in their homes. But during a Friday press conference, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott delivered a conflicting message, saying: “Even if an evacuation order hasn’t been issued by your local official, if you’re in an area between Corpus Christi and Houston, you need to strongly consider evacuating.”

    As CNN reported, the contradictory messages from Turner and the governor confused Houston residents. In a subsequent interview, Abbott deferred and insisted that residents listen to their local leaders.

    But that didn’t stop right-wing media from launching partisan attacks against Houston Democrats -- and Mayor Turner in particular -- for not issuing an evacuation order. Nevermind that Harris County Judge Edward Emmett, who is responsible for overseeing emergency operations and who echoed Turner’s decision not to evacuate, is a Republican.

    During an interview with Secretary of Energy Rick Perry on the August 28 episode of Fox & Friends, host Ainsley Earhardt posed the following question:

    Mr. Secretary, I hate to politicize this, but many people are questioning was it a political move when you have the governor, who is a Republican, he was telling everyone to evacuate on Friday. Was it mandatory because maybe it’s not his place to do that. But he looked to the local government; they started essentially making funny of him on Twitter, saying, “Evacuate? Are you kidding? This is not going to be that big a deal. Don't evacuate.” A lot of people frustrated now because the mayor who -- a bunch of Democrats were basically laughing at the governor and now look at this situation. So was it a political move? Why didn't the mayor ask for a mandatory evacuation, knowing this storm was as big as it was?

    During a Fox Business interview that was also promoted on The Daily Caller, conservative columnist and frequent Fox News commentator Kristin Tate said that Turner “completely failed the city” by not calling for an evacuation. And Fox contributor Alexander Muse tweeted, “Why did local Democrats in Houston tell citizens not to evacuate after the governor begged them to?”

    A number of other conservative outlets also adopted this line of attack. RedState claimed, “There is no nice way of putting this. Houston in a Democrat stronghold and the urge to make Greg Abbott look like an idiot was just too big of a temptation to resist.” And an article by the fake news purveyor TruthFeed featured an image of Turner with “IRRESPONSIBLE” written in bold on the top, and asked, “Why did Houston’s Democrat mayor encourage citizens NOT to evacuate?”

    Yet, as of Wednesday last week, the hurricane’s path was still unpredictable, and the storm suddenly intensified before it made landfall. On the August 29 episode of The New York TimesThe Daily podcast, Times correspondent Alan Blinder explained, “Officials [in Houston] have argued there wasn’t enough time ... to evacuate people, so many people on such short notice. This is a storm that really only revived itself in the Gulf last Wednesday. It made landfall in Texas on Friday as a Category 4 storm, and that was even stronger than anticipated.”

    More importantly, what the right-wing media attacking Turner have missed in their reporting is that the city learned a valuable lesson during Hurricane Rita in 2005. At the time, a sizeable number of those who died from the storm were evacuees -- something numerous journalists and publications have pointed out. As Jia Tolentino of The New Yorker wrote:

    People have criticized Houston residents for not evacuating. Plenty did, and with more understanding of the context, you might excuse many of those who didn’t. Evacuating a city like Houston, on these interlocked freeways—where a one-way commute might take two hours on a normal day—can very easily turn into a secondary disaster. The majority of Hurricane Rita deaths in Houston occurred in the evacuation, and two-thirds of flood fatalities happen in cars. Without financial resources, evacuation is a uniquely difficult experience, and 22.5 per cent of the population in increasingly unequal Houston lives under the poverty line.

    Indeed, as an August 25 article in the Houston Chronicle pointed out, in 2005, “the muddled flight from [Houston] killed almost as many people as Rita did. An estimated 2.5 million people hit the road ahead of the storm’s arrival, creating some of the most insane gridlock in U.S. history. More than 100 evacuees died in the exodus. Drivers waited in traffic for 20-plus hours, and heat stroke impaired or killed dozens. Fights broke out on the highway. A bus carrying nursing home evacuees caught fire, and 24 died.”

    And former Houston Chronicle columnist Bill King, who served “on a governor’s commission that studied what went wrong in the evacuation” during Hurricane Rita, wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times that evacuating Houston would have been an “a logistical impossibility. There is simply not enough roadway, gasoline in inventory or facilities in nearby cities to transport and house 2.3 million evacuees.” He added, “I can tell you from that experience, any attempt to evacuate Houston ahead of Tropical Storm Harvey would have made the situation much worse and almost certainly resulted in more deaths.”

    Christopher Lewis contriubed research to this post. 

  • Right-Wing Media Misinterpret North Carolina Post-Election Audit To Fearmonger About Voter Fraud

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Right-wing media are citing a North Carolina statewide audit of votes cast in the 2016 election to stir fears of widespread voter fraud. The audit itself, however, found that ineligible votes “represented a small fraction of the 4.8 million ballots cast” and found no evidence of rampant voter fraud in North Carolina, conclusions that align with other studies that have also found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

  • Right-Wing Outlets Fabricate A Ben Carson Story

    Conservative Media And Fake News Purveyors Credit Carson With HUD Audit Actually Ordered Under Obama By The Inspector General

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Fringe outlets, forums, fake news purveyors, and right-wing media outlets incorrectly credited House and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson for an audit that found errors in financial statements at the agency. Carson had nothing to do with the audit, which was actually conducted during former President Barack Obama’s administration by the Office of the Inspector General.

  • Warning To European Facebook Fact-Checkers: Here's How Conservatives Will Try To Discredit You

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    With Facebook’s recent announcements that it is partnering with fact-checking news organizations in the United States and Germany to fight fake news on its website, conservative media are trying to discredit those organizations by claiming their fact checks -- and fact-checking in general -- are too subjective, suggesting bias due to staffers’ backgrounds or the organizations’ funding sources, launching personal attacks, and making claims of censorship. As Facebook expands its partnerships in France, future fact-checkers in Europe will likely face similar lines of attack.

  • Conservative Media Run With Wall Street Journal's Nothingburger Of A Clinton Pseudo-Scandal

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Right-wing media are hyping a Wall Street Journal article that attempts to scandalize the FBI’s investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s email use by tying political donations made by Clinton ally and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to a 2015 state senate candidate whose husband later became involved in the FBI investigation. Journalists mocked and poked holes in the “embarrassing” story that has “literally nothing” to it. 

  • Right-Wing Media Scandalize Purpose Of “Limited Immunity” To Create New Clinton Email Conspiracy

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    House Republicans are selectively pushing new information that long-time Clinton aide Cheryl Mills was granted a limited form of immunity in the now-closed FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state. Right-wing media have seized on these efforts to falsely claim the immunity was broad and stands as proof of criminal wrongdoing, while ignoring the reasons for why the limited immunity was recommended by both the FBI and Mills’ attorney.

  • Right-Wing Media Sideline Security Concerns To Compare Obama’s Louisiana Flooding Response To Hurricane Katrina

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Right-wing media figures have compared President Obama’s response to the historic flooding in Louisiana to the federal response to Hurricane Katrina under President George W. Bush, while ignoring the governor of Louisiana’s concerns that a presidential visit in the midst of a massive disaster response could hinder authorities’ efforts to save lives.