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  • Six fights on reproductive rights that the media should be prepared to report on in 2018

    ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE

    President Donald Trump’s first year in office was particularly damaging for abortion rights and reproductive health. Beyond the Trump administration’s multiple moves to curtail abortion access, anti-choice advocates were also successful on the state level, organizing large-scale protests in North Carolina and Kentucky and implementing a litany of anti-choice policies. Yet with the upcoming Supreme Court case on crisis pregnancy centers, the continuing controversy over abortion access for undocumented minors, a wave of state-level attacks, and Trump’s anti-choice judicial confirmations, 2018 may be an even more dangerous year. 

  • Here’s how a 4chan hoax galvanizes, spreads, and creates chaos: Operation Swedistan edition

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    UPDATE: Avaaz has removed the petition from their website, telling BBC Trending: "This small petition is one of thousands started by individuals on the Avaaz platform. ...We've polled our members on it, and the overwhelming majority voted to take it down, so it's now been removed from our site."

    On Monday, November 13, a user on 4chan’s “politically incorrect” (/pol/) message board started a campaign to mock Swedish multiculturalism by ironically referencing a petition hosted by Avaaz, a U.S.-based global activism group that has not endorsed the online effort, to change the cross on the Swedish flag to an Islamic crescent. While the petitioner's motives are unclear, the 4chan post launched a corresponding campaign, which it called “Operation Swedistan,” encouraging users to “create significant traction” for the petition because it would “create the opportunity” to persuade an international audience that multiculturalism is a problem in Sweden, which the post called “the most Cucked nation on earth.” The campaign was a stunt, but it had a real, clear strategy: divide the left, outrage the right, and continue the drumbeat of xenophobic content targeting Swedish society.

    The campaign continued on Tuesday, when a poster on the message board gave additional instructions for users to spread the stunt on Twitter by showing their support for the petition and using the hashtag “#ForBetterSweden.” The objective, according to the message on the thread, was for “a movement [to] organically form defending the Christian flag of Sweden.”

    Twitter users dutifully obliged, tweeting the hashtag alongside memes created to give the movement an appearance of legitimacy.

    By Tuesday afternoon, the campaign had reached prominent conspiracy theory website Infowars and pro-Trump Reddit forum “/r/The_Donald.” Infowars author Kit Daniels acknowledged the petition might be fake, writing, “Some have alleged the campaign is a troll job by 4Chan, but Sweden is so cucked that the country might actually go along with it anyway.” Daniels basically admitted what we already know: The truth is of little importance. The dissemination of outrage is all that matters.

    The petition gained over 3,700 signatures in a little over three days. Twitter trolls promoted it and some, again taking cues from 4chan, even uploaded images of fake articles presented to look like they had been published by BuzzFeed and Slate, left-leaning outlets, in support of the campaign.

    On Wednesday, the campaign became even more complex when a new 4chan thread claimed that at least two foreign news outlets had picked up the story. The poster put up an image of an article from a Swedish outlet that said that 4chan users were behind a fake petition to change Sweden's flag. The thread also provided further instructions: “Any press claiming they have exposed the 'Alt Right Hoax' should be informed that 'the alt-right hijacked the movement to give it less credibility' and that the petition/ majority of the movement is real.” The comment was a clear attempt to abdicate responsibility for the campaign, sow confusion, and promote skepticism of mainstream media: right out of the pro-Trump media playbook

    The #ForBetterSweden campaign has not been promoted by prominent pro-Trump trolls and far-right websites (other than Infowars), but that could change. Moreover, while this particular xenophobic 4chan campaign is a stunt orchestrated primarily to elicit reactions, it’s worth noting that 4chan has previously launched sincere, anti-immigrant campaigns designed to harm real people. In January, users on the “/pol/” message board encouraged others to trick Twitter users who are undocumented immigrants in the U.S. into publicly outing themselves so they could be reported to the federal government for deportation.

    The 4chan message board is a notorious outrage machine on the front lines of the online culture wars. Users create politically relevant, emotionally salient troll campaigns with the intention of dividing progressive communities and distracting from real social issues. In this case, the issue is a real, growing anti-Muslim backlash to recent upticks of violence in Sweden, including an increase in hate crimes against Sweden’s Muslims and even those perceived to be Muslims.

    Sweden is a popular target of pro-Trump media, fake news websites, and even Fox News, and the country’s historic embrace of multiculturalism has been a source of meme-based bigoted mockery since at least 2012. Operation Swedistan is just one example of the ways various internet trolls and xenophobic ideologues converge to achieve their goal: in this case, by attacking Swedish progressives’ appreciation of diversity in an effort to promote white European ethnocentrism. As the American alt-right movement attempts to expand its reach into Europe, particularly in Sweden, a country with a small but well-connected and decades-old nativist movement, these campaigns, however disingenuous, become all the more dangerous.

    This post has been updated to include a statement from Avaaz on the petition and to clarify that the Swedish article calling the 4chan campaign fake was, in fact, published by the outlet. 

  • Fox News Omits Key Facts Regarding Unprecedented Arkansas Death Penalty Cases

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    During its reporting on the state of Arkansas’ unprecedented plan to execute eight inmates in 11 days, Fox News repeatedly omitted important details about the legal challenges to the plan, downplayed the extent of criticism to the plan, and misled its viewers on the reasons the executions have not yet been carried out.

    On the April 18 edition of Fox News’ Happening Now, host Jon Scott opened a panel discussion by asking, “The reasoning for this holdup has nothing to do with the lethal injection drugs that are currently in question, right?” In fact, one of the orders blocking the executions was issued for that exact reason. The Arkansas circuit judge temporarily blocked the state from using one of its drugs, vecuronium bromide, a paralytic used in prisons for lethal injections (and for other purposes elsewhere).This ruling came after McKesson, a distributor of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, filed a complaint alleging that the Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) “intentionally sought to circumvent McKesson’s policies by claiming that the drug would only be used for medical reasons in a health facility.” The ADC has to date declined to answer questions about how it obtained the restricted drugs or whether it planned to return them.

    An hour before Scott’s show aired, correspondent Casey Stegall noted on Fox’s America’s Newsroom that “states have had a difficult time getting new supplies of this drug [midazolam] because many critics say it should not be used to kill people.” He was referring to another drug that Arkansas has in its possession but which will expire on April 30. Stegall, however, failed to mention that these “critics” include the drug makers themselves. West-Ward Pharmaceuticals, the company that makes midazolam, and Fresenius Kabi USA, manufacturer of potassium chloride, another drug used in executions, have also expressed opposition to the use of their drugs for lethal injection. In an amicus brief they filed with the district court, the companies wrote that using their medicines in executions “runs counter to the manufacturers’ mission to save and enhance patients’ lives.” Spokespersons for Fresenius Kabi and West-Ward told The Washington Post that they had “recently learned” that their medicines “might be used in Arkansas lethal injections.” The reporting on these drugs shows that all three drugs used in Arkansas’ lethal injection cocktail are implicated in legal battles. Thus for Fox to imply that the planned executions are opposed merely by “critics” is a gross understatement of the legal challenges ADC is facing.

    During his reporting, Stegall also failed to provide context for the shortage of the drugs in the first place. Since 2011, many European drug companies, in an alignment with the European Union’s objection to death penalty, have decided to cease shipment of their drugs to U.S. prisons that carry out executions via lethal injections. This has created a shortage that has led U.S. prisons to turn to dangerous experimentation, as was in the case in 2014, when Dennis McGuire, an Ohio inmate on death row, was injected with a never-before-used drug cocktail. McGuire’s execution lasted 25 minutes, the longest in Ohio’s history, and witnesses said he “gasped several times throughout” before dying.

    After criminal defense attorney Yodit Tewolde explained that “for Arkansas to try to rush executions for the sake of a drug expiring at the end of the month is disrespectful to the intent of justice in this case,” Scott ignored her point and flippantly remarked that it “seems odd” to characterize the response to a crime that happened in 1992 as a “rush to judgment.” His comment and Casey Stegall’s claim that the “expedited timeline” was initiated because “the state is up against this deadline” of expiring drugs ignores the legal implications of their expiration. Arkansas’ “rush” to use drugs before their expiration for purposes which are opposed by the companies that sell them is a potentially illegal contract violation, and given the state’s reported admission that it violated contracts with drug makers in an earlier case, this context is especially important.

    Arkansas hasn’t carried out any executions since 2005. The state’s aggressive and potentially unconstitutional plan to execute eight inmates in 11 days is unprecedented, hugely consequential, and has drawn national scrutiny at a time when Americans’ support for the death penalty is on the decline. Leaving out important details when reporting on such a high profile case is an inexcusable journalistic failure, especially given the American public’s lack of knowledge about capital punishment in the nation’s prisons.

    Image by Sarah Wasko.

  • How NY Times Fueled A Right-Wing Lie About So-Called "Sex-Selective" Abortions

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    The New York Times omitted critical context in reporting on a recently enacted Arkansas law that requires doctors to determine whether a person is choosing an abortion based on sex preference -- an approach based on the false premise that the practice is widespread.

    On March 30, Arkansas enacted a law requiring medical providers to ask a patient seeking an abortion whether she knows the sex of the fetus. If she does, she must be informed that sex-selective abortions are prohibited, and the doctor must also have access to her complete pregnancy history. In describing this legislation, the Times failed to include critical context about so-called “sex-selective” abortions -- a term used by anti-choice legislators as justification to restrict abortion even though there is little scientific evidence supporting the necessity of a ban on the practice. The Times also failed to mention that “sex-selective” abortion bans could have discriminatory effects on Asian Americans because of assumptions about their preferences based on stereotypes, which could effectively deny them access to abortion.

    Instead, the Times wrote only that Arkansas is the eighth state to enact a “sex-selective” abortion ban, explaining that such abortions "occur most frequently where there is a strong gender bias that manifests in a preference for sons." The lack of clarification helps perpetuate a harmful anti-abortion myth that has been frequently parroted in right-wing media.

    In the United States, anti-choice legislators often rely on the myth that "sex-selective" abortions are a common practice to justify further restricting access to abortion. In reality, “sex-selective” abortions are rare in the United States. Despite right-wing and anti-choice allegations that protections are needed against so-called “sex-selective” abortions, these bans have no basis in scientific research or the medical practices of abortion providers. In a study conducted in Illinois and Pennsylvania following the enactment of “sex-selective” abortion bans in those states, researchers found that “the bans were not associated with changes in sex ratios at birth.”

    Nevertheless, anti-choice lawmakers -- and in particular, those behind the Arkansas bill -- allege that such bans are necessary to protect against sex discrimination and prevent an imbalance of the gender ratio. Setting aside the fact that Arkansas’ population in 2015 was 50.9 percent female, as Vice News explained, “sex-selection abortions aren’t necessarily responsible for distorted gender ratios. Because there are multiple ways to ensure a fetus is a certain gender — for instance, parents are legally able to choose a fetus’s sex during in-vitro fertilization — it’s impossible to pinpoint why there might be more male babies born than female.”

    The Arkansas law itself is titled “An Act to Create the Sex Discrimination By Abortion Prohibition Act” -- suggesting that lawmakers are banning a form of sex discrimination. As Slate explained, however, anti-abortion groups have long employed this “kinda-sorta feminist” framing to justify their support for banning “sex-selective” abortions when in reality, “sex-selective abortion in the United States appears to be — you guessed it! — extremely, extremely rare.” Romper called the law “a deceptive masterpiece of legislative word-smithing” in its co-option of gender discrimination as a justification for its anti-choice purpose. For example, the Arkansas law states that “victims of sex-selection abortion are overwhelming female,” yet it offers no data or statistics on “sex-selective” abortions supposedly occurring in the United States.

    Beyond failing to clarify the fraudulent basis of “sex-selective” abortion bans, the Times also gave a platform to the Arkansas bill’s sponsor -- Republican Rep. Charlie Collins -- to promote racist stereotypes about non-white childbearers. Collins told the Times that the one-child policy in China prompted him to sponsor the bill, even though he had no evidence of sex-selective abortions occurring in Arkansas, or even in the United States. In fact, as a 2016 report from the Guttmacher Institute explained “in the United States, there is limited and inconclusive evidence that immigrants from [East and South Asia] -- or anywhere else -- are obtaining sex-selective abortions in this country.”

    As Rewire noted, the Arkansas bill and others like it effectively turn Asian Americans seeking abortions into “suspects” -- particularly because the law imposes harsh penalties on any medical provider who is found in violation. Rewire further explained that Arkansas’ bill is an example of state legislators using “false stereotypes and misleading language to deny Asian American women the same access to safe, confidential, and comprehensive reproductive care as anyone else.”

    By omitting critical context about the lack of evidence behind “sex-selective” abortion bans, as well as their racist underpinnings, The New York Times perpetuated and normalized harmful anti-choice misinformation that has little basis in reality.

  • News Reports Uncritically Portray Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson As Climate Change Advocate

    ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER & ANDREW SEIFTER

    Several media outlets reporting on President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state have uncritically described Tillerson as accepting of climate change and supportive of a carbon tax. But these reports ignored scientifically inaccurate claims Tillerson has made about climate change, Exxon’s continued financial support of groups that deny climate science, inconsistencies by both Tillerson and Exxon on whether they truly support a carbon tax, and fierce opposition to Tillerson’s nomination from leading environmental groups -- not to mention the fact that Exxon is under investigation in several states for possibly violating state laws by deceiving shareholders and the public about climate change.

  • A Comprehensive Guide To The Select Panel’s Reliance On Anti-Choice Media

    How A Discredited Anti-Choice Group Became A Primary Source Of Misinformation For A Congressional Witch Hunt Against Abortion Patients, Providers, And Clinics

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    Since its inception in October 2015, the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives has used numerous documents taken from the discredited organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) and other anti-choice groups to allege wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. Scores of media outlets have confirmed that the footage shows no illegal behavior by, or on behalf of, Planned Parenthood, while 14 investigations to date have cleared the organization of all wrongdoing. 

  • Media Shouldn’t Fall For Trump’s Spin That He Can Fix Tax Laws

    Trump’s Damage Control After NY Times Tax Bombshell At Odds With His Own Tax Plan That Favors His Own Businesses 

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Following The New York Times’ report that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump may have been able to avoid federal income taxes for 18 years after declaring a $916 million loss in 1995 as his businesses collapsed, some pundits are adopting the Trump campaign’s spin that the story proves that Trump “knows the tax code far better than anyone … and he is the only one that knows how to fix it.” In fact, Trump’s tax plan “doesn’t just preserve those breaks, it piles on new ones for real estate developers like Mr. Trump himself,” according to The Washington Post. The proposal would deliver a massive tax cut to Trump’s own businesses while providing a multi-trillion dollar tax cut to the wealthiest Americans. 

  • Myths & Facts: A Debate Guide To Donald Trump’s Most Common Lies About The Economy

    ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s penchant for promoting right-wing media myths and other misleading claims presents a unique challenge heading into the first presidential debate of the general election. If the September 26 debate is anything like the opening debates of 2008 and 2012, it will focus heavily on issues relating to the American economy, and both moderator and audience should be prepared for a torrent of misinformation from the GOP standard-bearer.

  • Media Response To Latest Analysis Of Trump’s Tax Plan: It “Screws The Middle Class”

    ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump updated his tax reform plan in a September 15 speech, just over a month after his initial August 9 revision of the plan. The conservative-leaning Tax Foundation has now scored Trump’s latest tax plan and found it would still cost trillions of dollars in lost tax revenue and would overwhelmingly benefit higher-income earners. Mainstream media are using these findings to push back on Trump’s claims that he supports the middle class and to shine a spotlight on the contradicting statements about the economy his campaign has made.

  • Wrong Again, Steve: Trump Adviser's Paranoia About New York Sick Leave Ordinance "Proven Unfounded"

    Researchers Found New York’s Enactment Of Paid Sick Leave Was “No Big Deal” Despite Right-Wing Media Fear Mongering Around “Very Dangerous” Law

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) released a report on the economic impact of New York City’s requirement that employers provide workers with paid sick leave, finding that right-wing media concerns that such ordinances would create a prohibitive cost burden were “proven unfounded.” The ordinance was a particular target of the thoroughly discredited pundit Stephen Moore, who now counts himself among Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s senior economic advisers despite a consistent track record of being dead wrong on the economy.

    According to a September 6 report from CEPR, fears that New York’s paid sick leave mandate would be “a major cost burden on employers” that could “invite widespread abuse by employees” have “proven unfounded.” The report surveyed 352 randomly selected businesses from October 2015 to March 2016 and found 97 percent of businesses had not reduced worker hours, 94 percent had not raised prices, and 91 percent had not reduced hiring activity as a result of the city’s paid sick leave mandate. The report also found that 96 percent of businesses reported no changes in customer service, and 94 percent reported no changes in productivity as a result of the law, which CEPR described as “a ‘non-event’ for most employers” despite the fact that the measure extended paid sick days to 1.4 million workers. The CEPR report on the successful implementation of paid sick leave in New York comes just two weeks after researchers with the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) found that paid sick leave laws like New York’s may prevent the spread of illnesses such as the flu and significantly improve public health.

    Slate reported on CEPR's findings on September 7, mocking conservative critics of the law who worried it would create, as Slate put it, “a labor force of hypochondriac slackers” and drive businesses out of the city. Slate noted that paid sick leave laws had been passed in five states, Washington, D.C., and 26 cities since San Francisco enacted a paid leave mandate in 2007, calling the development “one of American progressives’ greatest policy triumphs.” Slate also noted that New York should be a good testing ground for how paid sick leave can affect economic growth, due to the city’s large size and the similar results found elsewhere by the U.S. Department of Labor. From Slate:

    Did a labor force of hypochondriac slackers cause businesses to relocate to Nassau and Westchester Counties? It doesn’t look like it: New York City’s share of metropolitan employment has actually increased, slightly, in the two years since the revised law took effect.

    [...]

    That jibes with findings from other cities published by the U.S. Department of Labor in October. San Francisco has outperformed surrounding counties in job growth since the passage of its policy in 2007. Likewise, analyses of Seattle and Washington, D.C. found negligible impacts on hiring and business location. A ton of research has also shown that flexible leave policies have a positive effect on worker productivity, happiness, and health.

    These findings -- and the report that New York has seen the best job creation in a half-century during Mayor Bill De Blasio’s first two years in office -- offer a stark rebuke to critics of paid leave mandates like Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore. During a January 17, 2014, appearance on Fox News, Moore, who was then a Wall Street Journal editorial board member, blasted New York’s paid sick leave mandate, falsely claiming it would be “very dangerous for cities” if more such laws were enacted.

    Moore’s empty criticism echoed other right-wing pundits, who had attacked paid leave as an unwarranted “entitlement” and hyped the supposed costs to businesses while ignoring the benefits for workers. Right-wing media repeatedly push such myths and routinely dismiss the need for such laws as nothing more than part of a “giant welfare giveaway utopia.” The complete failure of this particular right-wing media myth in the face of actual evidence bolsters Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman’s claim that Moore “has a troubled relationship with the facts.” Krugman speculated that in the conservative economic policy climate where Moore has made his career, perhaps his “incompetence is actually desirable” -- after all, a “smart hack might turn honest.”

  • An Extensive Guide To The Fact Checks, Debunks, And Criticisms Of Trump’s Various Problematic Policy Proposals

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Over the course of the 2016 presidential primary, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has laid forth a series of problematic policy proposals and statements -- ranging from his plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States to his suggestion that the United States default on debt -- that media have warned to be “dangerous,” “fact-free,” “unconstitutional,” “contradictory,” “racist,” and “xenophobic.” Media Matters compiled an extensive list of Trump’s widely panned policy plans thus far along with the debunks and criticism from media figures, experts and fact-checkers that go along with them.

  • Trumponomics: Media, Experts Criticize Trump’s Proposal To “Print The Money” To Pay Down Debt

    Follow-Up Questions Catch Presumptive Republican Nominee Backpedaling On Debt Reduction Plans

    ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Donald Trump called in to CNBC and outlined a plan to partially default on the United States’ outstanding sovereign debt obligations in hopes of eventually negotiating lower rates of repayment -- an action that would likely lead to a global financial crisis. Four days later, Trump claimed in a phone interview on CNN that the media had “misrepresented” his statement and that the United States would never default because the government could “print the money” needed to pay down the national debt. Printing away sovereign debt is theoretically possible, but members of the media have been quick to point out this supposed solution would also harm the economy and may even cause runaway inflation.