Reporter for conservative paper says Pruitt’s EPA put “extreme pressure” on him to “be their lickspittle”
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Right-wing media have consistently praised Trump’s conflation of immigrants with criminals
In the past, right-wing media have praised President Donald Trump’s immigration rhetoric, even as it conflated all undocumented immigrants with gang members. Now, after Trump pivoted from a vague question about MS-13 yesterday to say some undocumented immigrants “aren’t people, these are animals,” right-wing media are attacking mainstream outlets for reporting on the ambiguity of his remark and insisting he was talking exclusively about MS-13 gang members. But those same right-wing media figures, along with Trump, have helped foster an environment in which a mention of the term “MS-13” evokes undocumented immigrants, and this false association is having negative consequences for immigrants across the country.
During a roundtable discussion about California’s so-called sanctuary laws on Wednesday, a local sheriff said to Trump, “There could be an MS-13 member I know about. If they don’t reach a certain threshold, I cannot tell ICE about them.” In response, Trump talked about “people coming into the country” and made no explicit reference to gang members:
“We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — we’re stopping a lot of them. But we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before. And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get them, we release them, we get them again, we bring them out. It’s crazy.”
Many in the media reported accurately that Trump had called “some deported immigrants” or “some unauthorized immigrants” animals, and several journalists noted the ambiguity of his comment. But pro-Trump outlets opportunistically attacked mainstream outlets for their coverage, arguing that they had selectively edited his comment or taken him out of context. Infowars described the coverage as a “shocking level of deceit,” and CNN’s Rick Santorum complained that “this is one of the reasons that a big chunk of the country just turn off the media when they start going after the president.”
Trump’s vague response had made no mention of the gang, and whether he was referring to gang members or undocumented immigrants in general, the dehumanizing effect was the same. As Vox pointed out, Trump’s strategic rhetorical ambiguity allows him to “refer to some specific criminals, call them horrible people and animals, say that their evil justifies his immigration policy, and allow the conflation of all immigrants and all Latinos with criminals and animals to remain subtext.”
Right-wing media have boosted this type of rhetoric by praising Trump for erroneously hyping MS-13’s presence in the U.S. as a product of lax immigration policies, and many have conflated MS-13 and immigrants themselves. On any given day, trivial news about MS-13 -- a brutal gang founded in Los Angeles that has been able to grow in strength due to stringent deportation policies and mass incarceration -- will be broadcast in the conservative media sphere, almost always laced with complaints about lax immigration policies.
The reality is that, while many MS-13 members are undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of undocumented immigrants are not MS-13 members, and the right-wing media campaign to conflate the two is having serious consequences.
Such rhetoric mirrors actual policies being put in place by the Trump administration. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been using dangerously broad criteria to label undocumented immigrants as gang members, giving the agency cover to carry out hundreds of arrests under the auspices of an “anti-gang operation.” Just this week, a federal judge ruled that ICE outright lied to frame one person as “gang-affiliated.” Nonetheless, right-wing outlets dutifully report on the raids, casting ICE agents as heroes and the non-criminal immigrants as animals.
Whether or not Trump was referring to MS-13 by calling people who cross the border “animals,” right-wing media and agencies like ICE benefit from his irresponsible and coded language, and non-criminal immigrants will bear the brunt of the fallout.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has repeatedly used ambiguous criteria to wrongfully accuse undocumented Latino immigrants of being affiliated with gangs -- often the brutal, Los Angeles-founded street gang MS-13 -- as a pretense to arrest them. Right-wing media outlets have responded by hyping the narrative of the prevalence in the U.S. of MS-13 to promote ICE.
There have been a number of reports that ICE uses vague and sometimes overly broad criteria to wrongfully label a person as affiliated with a gang, which allows officers to arrest people without a criminal warrant. The result is unjustified arrests of law-abiding undocumented immigrants and overinflated numbers of how many undocumented immigrants are gang members, which right-wing media broadcast to their audiences without proper context.
But according to a CityLab report, gang databases maintained by states and ICE are often “riddled with error.” The report pointed to California’s CalGang database as an example, which has been shown to include “unfounded entries” and “hundreds of names that should have been purged years ago.” Many juveniles were added to this database without being notified, and some of the information in these databases may be violating individuals’ privacy rights, the report states. The New Yorker reported that “ICE identifies someone as a gangster if he meets at least two criteria from a long list that includes ‘having gang tattoos,’ ‘frequenting an area notorious for gangs,’ and ‘wearing gang apparel.’” And The Intercept wrote that “gang documentation is a unilateral designation by law enforcement and is extremely difficult to challenge in criminal court. … Challenging gang classification by law enforcement is more difficult during deportation proceedings because defendants cannot compel the government to disclose the evidence against them as they can in criminal court.”
As a result of these tactics, ICE has been targeting undocumented immigrants who haven’t been shown to be involved in any criminal activity. Daniel Ramirez Medina, for example, who was supposed to be protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, was placed in ICE custody, supposedly for gang involvement, for more than six weeks before being released. According to The Intercept, “the sum of the evidence is a tattoo on his arm that immigration officials believe is gang related, and statements that he allegedly made in custody” about people he spends time with. Similarly, ICE arrested -- and used excessive force against -- Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez after police erroneously identified him as a gang member. He was left with a fractured shoulder and loss of vision in one eye, and was denied proper medical attention while in custody. The New Yorker reported that because of ICE’s “nebulous indicators,” a teenager in Long Island, NY, was put in deportation proceedings for reasons including that he wore a Brooklyn Nets hat and allegedly performed “a gang handshake.” The third reason was his girlfriend: a 16-year-old U.S. citizen who had been kidnapped by a previous boyfriend after she ended their relationship when she found out he was an MS-13 member. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has argued that the tactic of “using unsubstantiated claims of gang affiliation to illegally detain teenagers” encourages profiling of Latinos, and the organization has filed a lawsuit alleging that federal immigration authorities were “wrongfully arresting Latino teens in New York” based on unfounded gang-related charges.
Right-wing outlets are uninterested in telling such stories.
Appearing on Fox News’ America’s Newsroom last week, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) pointed to Operation Raging Bull -- an anti-gang operation led by ICE in 2016 and 2017 -- to demonstrate the alleged pervasiveness of immigrant gang members in the U.S. When that operation concluded, the right-wing media sphere was set ablaze with headlines trumpeting ICE’s arrest of between 200 and 300 gang members (the final count was 214 arrests in the U.S.). But the right-wing media outcry breezed over the fact that more than half of those swept up in ICE’s “gang crackdown” were arrested not on criminal charges but on immigration violations.
Misinformation about MS-13 is particularly prevalent among right-wing outlets, but mainstream media are also sometimes guilty of dramatizing coverage of the gang. Fordham Law professor John Pfaff once called out The Washington Post for “extrapolat[ing]” facts about MS-13’s presence in Long Island, NY, and Northern Virginia “to the nation as a whole” and warned of “the uncritical acceptance of law enforcement’s narrative.”
The latest anti-Mueller bombshell actually amounts to a typo
President Donald Trump’s overzealous defenders at Fox News spent yesterday using a misinterpretation of a standard order from the judge overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecution of former national security adviser Michael Flynn to speculate that Flynn’s guilty plea is on the verge of being vacated.
Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in December and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election. But Judge Rudolph Contreras, who accepted Flynn’s plea, subsequently recused himself and was replaced by Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who issued an order that month directing Mueller to provide Flynn’s lawyers with any evidence they possess that is favorable to the defendant. The disclosure of this information can be required under the Brady rule, named after the 1963 case Brady v. Maryland.
That’s a huge deal, according to conservative media figures like Fox judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano, who have spent months spuriously attacking Justice Department and FBI officials for their conduct during the Russia investigation. “Why would [Sullivan] want that after Gen. Flynn has already pleaded guilty? That is unheard of,” Napolitano asked on yesterday’s Fox & Friends in a segment featuring the caption, “Will Flynn Reverse His Guilty Plea?” Napolitano then suggested an answer: “He must suspect a defect in the guilty plea. Meaning he must have reason to believe that Gen. Flynn pleaded guilty for some reason other than guilt.”
Other Fox programs picked up Napolitano’s theory over the course of the day. That afternoon, the Fox panel show Outnumbered portrayed the Sullivan order as an indication of “new questions about the circumstances” of Flynn’s guilty plea, with co-host Katie Pavlich falsely claiming that Sullivan’s order had explicitly told Mueller’s probe that “it’s very clear that you withheld some pretty important information.” And that evening, Fox host Martha MacCallum opened her show over the caption “Flynn Could Flip Guilty Plea,” discussing the order, which she described as “raising eyebrows,” in back-to-back interviews with Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, and Napolitano. Turley argued that “it's important not to read too much into this” and suggested it’s unlikely that the order will lead to any changes in Flynn’s plea. Napolitano said Sullivan’s move was very unusual and could indicate improper coercion by the Mueller team but walked back the explicit statement he made on Fox & Friends about Sullivan’s motivation, asking of the judge, “Does he suspect some defect in Michael Flynn's guilty plea? We don't know the answer to that.”
In this latest salvo in Fox’s monthslong campaign to undermine the Mueller probe by any means necessary, the network is picking up on a theory that ping-ponged through the right-wing media over the last week.
National Review’s Andrew McCarthy and The Washington Examiner’s Byron York were the first main proponents of the notion that the Sullivan order represents a “curious” or “unusual” turn in the Flynn case. The Federalist’s Margot Cleveland added a new twist over the weekend, arguing that a revised version of the order Sullivan issued Friday suggested that Flynn was about to withdraw his guilty plea. All three pieces have been widely aggregated by other right-wing outlets, far-right trolls, and fake news websites who are all rushing to declare the Flynn guilty plea is in jeopardy.
Notably, McCarthy and York placed the same sizable caveat in their pieces: In McCarthy’s words, “It could be that this is just Judge Sullivan’s standard order on exculpatory information, filed in every case over which he presides.” But oddly, while such caveats implicitly acknowledge that the story would be much less interesting if Sullivan is among the federal judges who issue standing Brady orders for every one of the criminal cases on their dockets, neither writer seems to have actually bothered to check if that is actually his practice.
I checked, and it is. As he explained in a 2016 law review article calling for the amendment of the rules of federal criminal procedure to incorporate such disclosures, “I now issue a standing Brady Order in each criminal case on my docket, which I update as the law in the area progresses.” Thus, Sullivan’s action was not “unusual” or “curious,” but simply what he does in every single criminal case he oversees.
Napolitano and his ilk seem to have picked up the story York and McCarthy put forth, but stripped off their caveat and instead asserted as fact that Sullivan’s action must be because he suspects some sort of malfeasance from Mueller, or even because, as Napolitano suggested, Flynn was not guilty to begin with.
The Federalist’s Cleveland makes a slightly different argument. On Friday, after the publication of York’s and McCarthy’s pieces, Sullivan issued a second, slightly different order. Cleveland focuses on this second order, which she writes “added one sentence specifying that the government’s obligation to produce evidence material either to the defendant’s guilt or punishment ‘includes producing, during plea negotiations, any exculpatory evidence in the government’s possession.’” According to Cleveland, this is a big deal “because it indicates that, if the government did not provide Flynn material evidence during plea negotiations, Flynn has grounds to withdraw his plea.”
Cleveland concludes that this second order reveals that “a motion by Michael Flynn to withdraw his guilty plea based on government misconduct is likely in the works,” even though Cleveland acknowledged that even in that scenario, “the Supreme Court has never addressed the question of whether a defendant may withdraw a guilty plea if the prosecution withholds exculpatory evidence during plea negotiations.”
It’s theoretically possible Sullivan really has come to suspect some sort of improper behavior by the Mueller team. But the docket in the case provides a far simpler, more banal explanation for what is happening.
As legal blogger and attorney Susan Simpson noted in a tweetstorm about the Sullivan conspiracy theories, Sullivan explained that in December, he had accidentally entered an older version of the Brady order that he issues in every criminal case, rather than the “current version,” and was seeking to remedy that error. It’s not a bombshell, it’s effectively a typo.
The right-wing claims that Flynn’s guilty plea may soon be vacated come amid a broader, furious effort to vindicate him.
Flynn’s fierce defenses of Trump, declaration that Hillary Clinton should be locked up, and willingness to interact directly with right-wing conspiracy theorist trolls like Mike Cernovich made him a hero to the dregs of the “alt-right.” And over the last month, those conspiracy theorists have rallied behind him.
Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone kicked things off on February 5, claiming on Infowars that Flynn’s lawyers were on the verge of filing a motion to dismiss the charges against him on the grounds that “that Assistant FBI Director Andrew McCabe told a teleconference of law enforcement officials, ‘first we fuck Flynn, then we fuck Trump.’” Stone claimed that pro-Trump outlets The Hill and Circa had confirmed that quote from McCabe, a longtime target of Trump supporters, but I found no evidence to support that. The quote does, however, appear in a March 2017 piece from the website True Pundit, which is notorious for publishing fabrications and fake news stories.
“Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec has also been a leading Flynn champion, highlighting many of the reports about the Sullivan orders to buttress the #ClearFlynnNow campaign Posobiec has been promoting all month. According to Posobiec, the campaign is needed because “Flynn was framed.”
That online campaign is part of the “increasingly bold calls for presidential pardons” Trump’s supporters are demanding for those implicated by the Mueller probe, especially Flynn, Politico reported February 19.
Meanwhile, as the pro-Trump media struggle to construct an alternate reality in which the Mueller probe is constantly on the verge of collapse, yesterday also brought the news that lawyer Alex van der Zwaan had pleaded guilty after Mueller charged him with lying to FBI investigators about other aspects of the Russia probe.
van der Zwaan -- who has worked on behalf of indicted former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and whose father-in-law is a Russian oligarch -- joins 18 other people and three companies who have been indicted or have pleaded guilty due to the Mueller investigation.
On February 14, Washington Post health care reporter Paige Winfield Cunningham garnered significant attention for tweeting that it was “super weird how people are blaming their diminished sense of well-being on the Trump administration” when “personal events determine [her] quality of life; not who’s in the [White House].” Beyond this insensitive tweet, Winfield Cunningham also has a history of spreading right-wing misinformation about abortion and reproductive health in her reporting.
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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.
Anti-LGBTQ hate groups are calling on the media to drop their hate designation because they're not "neo-Nazis and the KKK"
Anti-LGBTQ hate groups have been attacking the media and others for citing the hate group designation conferred by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and trying to distance themselves from what they characterize as the “true hate” of well-known hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and neo-Nazi groups.
On September 6, a number of anti-LGBTQ and other hate groups signed onto a letter asking for the media to stop using the “hate group” label when discussing them, saying, “To associate public interest law firms and think tanks with neo-Nazis and the KKK is unconscionable, and represents the height of irresponsible journalism. All reputable news organizations should immediately stop using the SPLC’s descriptions of individuals and organizations based on its obvious political prejudices.”
But the line for what makes a hate group does not begin at violence, Nazism, or white supremacy; anti-LGBTQ hate groups and others are designated as such for spreading dangerous lies and hateful rhetoric about the queer community that do real harm. The designation is also conferred for attempting to criminalize the existence of LGBTQ people both in the United States and internationally by pushing legislation like anti-sodomy laws. These anti-LGBTQ groups have a pervasive history of attacking and slandering queer people and pushing for policies that negatively impact their mental and physical well-being -- and that’s enough to label them with the word “hate.”
Anti-LGBTQ hate groups such as the Family Research Council (FRC), Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), and Liberty Counsel have launched a coordinated, ongoing campaign against media outlets for accurately citing their hate group designation in reports. Each of those groups signed a September 6 letter -- along with the conservative Media Research Center and numerous hate groups from other extremist ideologies such as the anti-Muslim Center for Security Policy and the anti-immigrant Immigration Reform Law Institute -- asking media not to use the label and lamenting that their groups were associated “with neo-Nazis and the KKK.” These groups and their allies in right-wing media have previously made a concerted effort to raise the bar for what should be counted as a hate group, often relying on that same argument that they should not be lumped in with neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and the KKK.
Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver recently posted a video on YouTube criticizing his group’s SPLC-conferred hate designation, noting that the SPLC also “lists some organizations like the KKK and other real, violent organizations as hate groups, and certainly they are hate groups.” Staver also noted that organizations including Liberty Counsel were lumped “right in with violent organizations,” citing that fact as a reason to discredit the designation. In a June post, ADF wrote that “true hate is animosity toward others, and it often takes the form of violence” and called its own efforts to limit transgender people’s access to restrooms “really just a disagreement.” Additionally, ADF’s Casey Mattox wrote in a September 5 op-ed that “a list of KKK, Neo-Nazi, and other violent groups could be a non-partisan service to the public.” But he attacked SPLC’s inclusion of other types of hate groups, writing, “The Southern Poverty Law Center has no problem lumping Nazis together with ordinary pro-family Christian policy and legal organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom.”
Since it was named a hate group in 2010, FRC has criticized the SPLC for “lumping us together with neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan” and attempted to set itself apart from what it calls “genuine” hate groups like the KKK. Hate group American Family Association (AFA) published a post in August decrying the fact that groups that believe “that homosexual practice is sinful or that gays can change or that Bruce Jenner is not a woman” are considered anti-LGBTQ and that such groups appear on SPLC’s “hate list side by side with the KKK, neo-Nazis,” and others.
Anti-LGBTQ hate groups’ allies in the media have also pushed this line. Mark Kellner of the “conservative-leaning ‘Get Religion’ website” asserted, “One may or may not like the legal advocacy of the Alliance Defending Freedom, but they’re not a bunch of hooded-sheet Klanners burning crosses,” according to The Washington Post. While interviewing an ADF representative, Fox News’ Martha MacCallum said there was a “pretty broad understanding of” the SPLC’s inclusion of groups like the KKK and Westboro Baptist Church in its hate group list before casting doubt on the inclusion of ADF. She called SPLC “a group well-known for their partisan designation of so-called hate groups” and said that though SPLC “sort of had a credible background” in the past, “they have swayed and gotten a lot of negative attention in the recent years.” Right-wing newspaper The Washington Examiner and anti-abortion outlet LifeSite also echoed the talking point.
Unsurprisingly, white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups also engage in anti-LGBTQ extremism and spread the same kind of myths and hateful rhetoric that the anti-LGBTQ groups do, including that gay people can be “cured” or that they are more likely to molest children. Though neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups are often violent, SPLC does not consider violence the only measure of a hate group. According to SPLC, its hate group designation applies to white supremacist groups that “range from those that use racial slurs and issue calls for violence to others that present themselves as serious, non-violent organizations and employ the language of academia.”
SPLC has said that its designation of anti-LGBTQ groups is “based on their propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling.” These myths have real consequences for LGBTQ people, who are often at increased risk for violence, sexual assault, and mental illness.
SPLC designated ADF a hate group because its leaders and allied lawyers have “regularly demonized LGBT people, falsely linking them to pedophilia, calling them ‘evil’ and a threat to children and society, and blaming them for the ‘persecution of devout Christians.’” Former ADF President Alan Sears called pedophilia and “homosexual behavior … often intrinsically linked.” Similarly, FRC’s Tony Perkins has pushed the myth that gay men are linked to pedophilia, and another FRC representative similarly accused gay youth of joining the Boy Scouts of America “for predatory purposes.” Liberty Counsel’s Staver called LGBTQ History Month a "sexual assault on our children" and has also compared LGBTQ people to pedophiles, once saying that allowing gay youth and adults in the Boy Scouts will cause “all kinds of sexual molestation” and create a “playground for pedophiles to go and have all these boys as objects of their lust.”
The myth that LGBTQ people are linked to pedophilia has been repeatedly debunked, and according to SPLC, “depicting gay men as a threat to children may be the single most potent weapon for stoking public fears about homosexuality.” The American Psychological Association found that “fears about children of lesbian or gay parents being sexually abused by adults … have received no scientific support.” SPLC also called the myth “probably the leading defamatory charge leveled against gay people.”
Anti-LGBTQ groups’ extreme rhetoric expands well beyond pushing the dangerous myth that gay men are pedophiles. Liberty Counsel’s Staver has said that same-sex relationships are “destructive to individuals and … destructive to our very social fabric.” A Liberty Counsel attorney said that LGBTQ peoples’ lives are “controlled by this lust, this passion, that has kind of overwhelmed them, and so you have kind of the essence of a lack of self control.” Former Liberty Counsel attorney Matt Barber said that LGBTQ people “know intuitively that what they are doing is immoral, unnatural, and self-destructive,” adding that they have “tied their whole identity up in this sexual perversion.” Barber has also said that homosexuality is “always and forever, objectively and demonstrably wrong. It is never good, natural, right or praiseworthy.”
FRC’s Perkins said that it’s “disgusting” to tell queer youth that their lives will get better. Though Perkins criticizes the SPLC for using “hate group” label for his organization, he has used similar language against LGBTQ activists, calling them “hateful, vile, … spiteful” and saying that they are the “height of hatred” and engaged in “an agenda that will destroy them and our nation.” When talking about the “homosexual agenda,” ADF’s then-President Sears once said, “There is no room for compromise with those who would call evil ‘good.’” One ADF allied-attorney said that same-sex marriage is a sign of the “degradation of our human dignity” and that it has “led to a deification of deviant sexual practices.” And ADF’s senior counsel said in 2014 that “the endgame of the homosexual legal agenda is unfettered sexual liberty and the silencing of all dissent.”
Anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that demonizes LGBTQ people by, for example, comparing them to pedophiles, poses a danger to an already at-risk community. An August report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that anti-LGBTQ “hate-violence-related homicides” have increased from 2016, including a sharp increase in trans women of color being murdered in America. Suicide rates for lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are four times higher than that of their straight peers, and 40 percent of transgender adults “reported having made a suicide attempt.” The Trevor Project noted that “each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.” Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that “compared with other students, negative attitudes toward LGB persons may put these youth at increased risk for experiences with violence,” also noting the “greater risk for depression, suicide, [and] substance use.” The CDC added:
“For youth to thrive in schools and communities, they need to feel socially, emotionally, and physically safe and supported. A positive school climate has been associated with decreased depression, suicidal feelings, substance use, and unexcused school absences among LGB students.”
Despite the CDC calling for safe and supportive spaces to address the mental health crisis among LGBTQ people, Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at FRC, asserted that "the most effective way of reducing teen suicide attempts [among LGBTQ youth] is not to create a positive social environment for the affirmation of homosexuality. Instead, it would be to discourage teens from self-identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual." Liberty Counsel’s Barber has called “disease, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide … consequences” of being gay.
Anti-LGBTQ hate groups have advocated for anti-sodomy laws, which effectively criminalize homosexuality, both in the United States and abroad. Many of these groups filed briefs in support of anti-sodomy laws as part of the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas case before the Supreme Court, which declared it unconstitutional to outlaw sodomy. The groups also condemned the court’s decision after it was announced. ADF formally supported the criminalization of sodomy in the U.S. when it filed its amicus brief in Lawrence, which called “same-sex sodomy … a distinct public health problem.” Liberty Counsel and FRC also filed briefs in support of anti-sodomy laws. In a 2010 appearance on MSNBC, an FRC representative agreed that the United States should “outlaw gay behavior” and said, “The Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned the sodomy laws in this country, was wrongly decided. I think there would be a place for criminal sanctions against homosexual behavior.” Many states still have anti-sodomy laws on the books, and gay men have been arrested as recently as 2015 for “crimes against nature.”
After they failed in their attempts to criminalize homosexuality in the United States, many anti-LGBTQ organizations turned to working to criminalize gay sex abroad. ADF called the Lawrence ruling “devastating” and has used the decision to raise money for its work abroad. In 2012, ADF officials spoke at a conference in Jamaica in support of its anti-sodomy law, which is still in effect and can punish LGBTQ people with “10 years of hard labor.” ADF has also provided “advice, legal assistance and strategy” to efforts to defend a law in Belize that criminalizes gay sex and has applauded a 2011 decision in India that restored a criminalization statute that could punish gay sex with up to 10 years in prison. There is still a pending court challenge to that case.
Liberty Counsel has also defended the criminalization of homosexuality abroad. In 2012, Liberty Counsel signed on to defend American anti-LGBTQ extremist Scott Lively, who “allegedly played an instrumental part in the Ugandan parliament’s adoption of a draconian anti-LGBT bill that originally included the death penalty in some instances.” Lively was being sued for his “involvement in anti-LGBT efforts in Uganda, which included his active participation in the development of anti-LGBT policies aimed at revoking rights of LGBT people, [and which] constituted persecution." The lawsuit against Lively was dismissed, but the judge in the case noted that “Lively proposed 20-year prison sentences for gay couples in Uganda ‘who simply lead open, law-abiding lives.’” LGBTQ rights activists in Uganda called the bill “essentially his creation.” In 2011, FRC, too, showed its support for criminalizing homosexuality abroad when it called for its supporters to pray for countries that had laws criminalizing sodomy and were being pressured by the U.S. to remove them. FRC suggested that homosexuality “has had a devastating impact upon Africans” and cited the AIDS crisis as an example.
ADF has pushed for other harmful anti-LGBTQ policies that have been ruled human rights violations abroad. In 2015, ADF International filed an intervention (like an amicus brief) in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) regarding a case against “mandatory sterilization” for transgender people who are trying to change their names or gender on government IDs. According to SPLC, ADF attorneys “argued that European member states should have the right to determine what sorts of medical treatments and diagnoses they require of transgender citizens seeking new documentation, including sterilization.” ECtHR ruled in favor of the transgender plaintiffs and against sterilization requirements after activists “argued for years that the sterilization requirement was an institutionalized violation of human rights,” according to The New York Times.
Anti-LGBTQ hate groups frequently push the myth that LGBTQ people can “change” and advocate for harmful “reparative therapy,” which the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) calls “a range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.” HRC noted that though those practices “have been rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization for decades,” the practice is legal and being used in many places across the United States. HRC compiled the positions of more than a dozen medical and counseling organizations against “reparative therapy.” For instance, the American Academy of Pediatrics said that the practice “can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation.” Similarly, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) said that the so-called therapy’s potential risks “include depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.”
Despite this universal condemnation, hate groups have explicitly endorsed “reparative therapy” and have even defended it in court. ADF represented a licensed psychotherapist who claimed he could help LGBTQ people get rid of “unwanted same-sex attractions” in Maryland, according to The Baltimore Sun. The therapist hired ADF to determine whether he could file a defamation case against a Maryland lawmaker who “introduced a bill … that would have banned licensed clinicians from providing [reparative] therapy to minors.” An ADF-allied attorney also represented a plaintiff in New Jersey who was challenging the state’s ban on ex-gay therapy. An FRC “Washington Update” post said that “gay-conversion therapy … has been hugely successful at steering young people toward their natural expression of sexuality.” FRC’s Sprigg has written a number of posts in support of reparative therapy on FRC’s website, and he has even accused medical groups like the APA of not being “immune to political and ideological bias, particularly on the issue of homosexuality.” Similarly, Liberty Counsel has also showed support for reparative therapy, with Staver submitting a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court and testifying before Congress on what he called “the attacks on religious freedom of licensed mental health professionals, minors, and their parents.” Liberty Counsel also launched a “Change is Possible Campaign” in 2006, which encouraged students “to start Gay to Straight Clubs, and ask that the ex-gay viewpoint be included in all diversity day presentations that discuss homosexuality.”
The bar for what is considered hatred cannot be so high that only the KKK and neo-Nazis are considered hate groups, despite repeated attempts by anti-LGBTQ hate groups to set the standard there. These groups’ attempts to criminalize homosexuality in the U.S. and abroad and to demonize and slander LGBTQ people have had real, harmful effects on the community. Hatred has many forms and should be denounced on all levels, whether it is physical violence from neo-Nazis or attempts by anti-LGBTQ groups to criminalize the very existence of queer and transgender people.
Marks’ latest deception shows why outlets should avoid publishing him
The Omaha World-Herald and Washington Examiner recently added belated disclosures acknowledging that pro-pipeline writer James “Spider” Marks has financial ties to that industry. Marks has repeatedly used media outlets to push industry talking points without disclosing his conflicts of interest.
The Examiner published an August 23 op-ed by Marks with the headline “Ecoterrorists target oil infrastructure, endanger the public.” The piece criticized “uncompromising radicals” who “don't want any traditional energy development in the United States” and defended the development of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.
As Media Matters previously documented, the Examiner also published a November 18 piece by Marks headlined “The Army Corps of Engineers deserves thanks, not attacks, for Dakota Access Pipeline work” and a July 1 piece headlined “Qatar blockade underscores America's world opportunity in natural gas.” The Omaha World-Herald published a piece by Marks last November defending the Dakota Access Pipeline against a “smear campaign.”
None of those pieces initially disclosed that Marks is the advisory board chair for the security firm TigerSwan, which was hired by Energy Transfer Partners to provide security for the Dakota Access Pipeline.
A spokesperson for Energy Transfer Partners told Media Matters in an email last month that “TigerSwan is one of our security advisors.” The energy company added that its specific work with TigerSwan in North Dakota has ended and declined to comment beyond that on the “details of our security efforts.”
Media Matters contacted the Examiner on August 23 about its lack of disclosure. The Examiner later added an editor’s note and a disclosure about Marks’ work for TigerSwan to the November and August pieces. The World-Herald added the following text in late August: “He is chairman of the advisory board for TigerSwan LLC, which was hired to provide security for the pipeline.”
Media Matters and outlets such as The Intercept and DeSmogBlog have written about how Marks, a retired general and current CNN analyst, has used media outlets to push pro-pipeline propaganda. Marks’ deception about his ties to TigerSwan has led at least one publication, PennLive, to ban him from writing in its pages in the future.
Cate Folsom, Omaha World-Herald editorial page editor, told Media Matters in an email that the paper added the disclosure “recently after the affiliation was brought to our attention” and that she hadn’t “made a commitment” about whether Marks’ writing would be allowed in the publication again. The Examiner did not respond to a question about whether it would publish Marks in the future.
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Numerous opinion pieces running in publications like The Hill and Washington Examiner share two things in common: praise for Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposed rollback of net neutrality rules, and millions in undisclosed funding from the telecommunications industry for the writers’ organizations.
Pai announced in an April 26 speech that he wants to roll back net neutrality rules that President Barack Obama’s administration put in place in 2015. Those open internet rules mean that internet service providers (ISPs) “should provide us with open networks — and shouldn’t block or discriminate against any applications or content that ride over those networks.”
Advocates for open internet like the nonprofit group Free Press heavily criticized Pai and President Donald Trump for attempting “to erase one of the most important public interest victories ever at the agency” and “leave people everywhere at the mercy of the phone and cable companies.”
Proponents of Pai’s open internet rollback are supporting the chairman in the op-ed pages of publications like The Hill and Washington Examiner. But their pro-telecom pieces don’t disclose that they have received heavy funding from the telecommunications industry, which has been aggressively lobbying to overturn the 2015 rules.
Leading organizations that have lobbied to overturn the rules include NCTA – The Internet & Television Association and CTIA, a group that represents “the U.S. wireless communications industry.” They have both contributed heavily to groups which are now praising Pai’s rollback of open internet rules.
Here are six examples where outlets published anti-net neutrality pieces without noting that the writers’ organizations have received telecom funding. (Searches were conducted via The Center for Public Integrity’s Nonprofit Network tool of available IRS filings.)
Media Matters previously documented that media outlets have been promoting the anti-net neutrality Free State Foundation without noting it has received heavily financial backing from the telecommunications industry.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and media outlets have been citing the work of The Free State Foundation (FSF) to argue against current net neutrality rules. But media have failed to note that the foundation is heavily backed by the telecommunications industry, which has lobbied against the 2015 open internet rules put in place by former President Barack Obama’s administration.
Net neutrality, as explained by the nonprofit group Free Press, is “the basic principle that prohibits internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down or blocking any content, applications or websites you want to use.”
Corporations and Republicans like Pai have been trying to dismantle those rules since President Donald Trump’s election. Pai delivered an April 26 speech detailing his desire to do that and tried to justify his plans by saying of the Communications Act title related to net neutrality: “According to one estimate by the nonprofit Free State Foundation, Title II has already cost our country $5.1 billion in broadband capital investment.”
Gizmodo staff writer Libby Watson, who previously wrote for the Sunlight Foundation and Media Matters, noted that Pai’s cost argument is bogus, writing that a Free Press analysis found that internet service providers' "capital expenditure increased more after net neutrality was passed than in the two years before it." She added that “ISPs themselves happily boast of investments when they’re not whining to regulators.”
FSF has been pushing pro-telecom research while receiving nearly half a million dollars from telecommunications trade associations in recent years.
CTIA, a group that represents “the U.S. wireless communications industry” and counts AT&T, T-Mobile USA, and Verizon Wireless as members, issued a statement praising Pai’s recent remarks. The group’s IRS 990 forms state that it gave FSF $63,750 in 2014 (the most recent year available), $58,750 in 2013, and $75,000 in 2012.
NCTA - The Internet Television Association, whose members include Charter Communications, Comcast Corp., and Cox Communications, gave the FSF $105,000 in 2014, $100,000 in 2013, and $85,000 in 2012. The group also praised Pai’s remarks.
A statement on the FSF website acknowledges that it receives contributions from “a wide variety of companies in the communications, information services, entertainment, and high-tech marketplaces, among others, as well as from foundations and many individuals.” In an email to Media Matters, a foundation spokesperson said, “All of our support is general support with none earmarked for net neutrality or any other designated project or issue.”
This has become a familiar pattern since Trump’s election. Outlets such as USA Today (repeatedly), The Hill, and Bloomberg have quoted May praising Trump’s plans to curtail net neutrality. And The Washington Times and The Hill have published opinion pieces by FSF employees arguing against regulation on the telecom industry without disclosing the group’s funding sources.
Pai, who formerly worked as a lawyer at Verizon, will speak at FSF’s Ninth Annual Telecom Policy Conference on May 31. Other speakers include executives from AT&T, Comcast, and CTIA. Pai also spoke at the group’s 10th anniversary luncheon last December and praised the group for being “a key voice fighting against the FCC’s regulatory overreach in areas such as net neutrality.”
The telecom industry and anti-net neutrality companies like AT&T have given funding to numerous organizations that criticize regulations and net neutrality in the media (often without disclosure). With the debate over net neutrality reignited, media outlets will have a lot of opportunities to correctly note the funding sources of media-friendly groups that are opposing consumer-friendly rules.
President Donald Trump, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, and former Fox Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes all have at least one thing in common: Multiple women have accused each of them of sexual harassment in the context of the workplace. In addition, they have defended each other over those allegations, with O’Reilly dismissing the accusations against Trump, and Trump reciprocating by defending the alleged harassers at Fox News.
During an interview with The New York Times on Wednesday, Trump took time to single “out Fox News and the host Bill O’Reilly for praise” and to defend the host in light of the recent Times reporting that the network settled five lawsuits with women claiming he engaged in sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior. Trump said of O’Reilly, “I think he’s a person I know well — he is a good person,” and weighed in on the allegations by adding, “I think he shouldn’t have settled; personally I think he shouldn’t have settled. Because you should have taken it all the way. I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”
The president’s defense seemed to come in reciprocation for O’Reilly’s support last fall, when he excused and minimized Trump’s comments about grabbing women by their genitalia. O’Reilly dismissed Trump’s comments as “guy talk” and attacked The Washington Post, the outlet that broke the story.
The Times interview wasn’t the first time Trump has defended an alleged sexual harasser at Fox News. Amid the 2016 scandal in which former Fox host Gretchen Carlson sued Ailes for sexual harassment and several other women came forward with similar complaints, Trump dismissed the serious allegations as “unfounded” during an interview with the Washington Examiner. He told the Examiner, "Totally unfounded, based on what I read." O’Reilly also publicly stood “behind Roger 100 percent,” paying back Ailes for years of protection from public scrutiny.
Despite mounting evidence that Fox News continues to be a “cesspool of sexual harassment,” its white-glove treatment of the Trump administration has clearly guaranteed the network a powerful ally, one whose own history with sexual harassment accusations seems to indicate he cares as little as Fox does about respecting women.
Image by Sarah Wasko
A September 2016 report by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) found that immigrants pay more in taxes than they use in benefits over time, but right-wing media cherry-picked and distorted the findings to claim that immigrants “drain the government,” a claim that President Donald Trump repeated in his February 28 speech to Congress.
Before and since the election, media outlets have repeatedly failed to write headlines that adequately contextualize President Donald Trump’s lies. Simply echoing his statements normalizes his behavior and can spread disinformation, particularly given the high proportion of people who read only headlines. Below is an ongoing list documenting the media’s failure to contextualize Trump’s actions in headlines and sometimes on social media. Some of the initial versions were subsequently altered (and these are marked with an asterisk), but many of the updates still failed to adequately contextualize Trump’s remarks.