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  • ICE is wrongly designating immigrants as gang members to deport them -- and conservatives are thrilled

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    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.

    Last week, hosts and guests on Fox News mentioned gangs in the context of immigration on at least five different occasions. The Washington Examiner and Drudge Report also hopped on the bandwagon.

    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.”

  • Fox Favorite And "Trump Loyalist" Sheriff David Clarke Appointed To DHS Role

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President Donald Trump's administration has chosen former right-wing talk radio host and Fox News favorite Sheriff David Clarke to serve as the acting assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security for partnership and engagement. Not only is Clarke’s record as Sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin questionable, he has repeatedly appeared on Fox News to spout racially-charged rhetoric, including comparing Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance to the Ku Klux Klan and calling Black Lives Matter a “subversive movement.”

  • How Cable TV Inadvertently Shined A Light On The Obstacles Women Of Color Face In The Workplace

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    The intersectional discrimination women of color often face while doing their jobs was put on full display this past week when Fox host Bill O’Reilly and White House press secretary Sean Spicer attacked Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and veteran journalist April Ryan on their appearance and body language, respectively. The incidences, which both occurred in unusually public settings, inadvertently shined a light on the discrimination women of color too often face in their workplaces, while the subsequent reactions from right-wing media underscored the problems that hold women of color back.

    This week, cable TV viewers watched as O’Reilly mocked Waters’ hair, saying, “I didn’t hear a word she said. I was looking at the James Brown wig.” That same day, Spicer lashed out at Ryan -- who had previously been at the receiving end of President Donald Trump’s overtly racist remarks -- interrupting their back-and-forth to comment, “Please stop shaking your head again.” The same week, The New York Times reported that two female African-American Fox News employees were suing the network over “top-down racial harassment” that was “reminiscent of the Jim Crow era.”

    The pile-on of attacks revealed a unique obstacle women of color confront in their daily lives: the compounding effects of gender and racial discrimination. Researchers acknowledge that there is a dearth of research examining the intersection between sexist and racist attacks in the workplace. A number of studies, however, have revealed concerning statistics about barriers to success that women of color face. CNN reported on a University of California Hastings College of the Law study, writing, “While 66% of the women scientists [professor Joan] Williams studied (including white women) reported having to provide more evidence of competence than men, 77% of black women said they experienced that.” There have been multiple studies that highlight “unconscious bias” against women, and others that reveal more overt discrimination -- both of which have serious consequences in the long run.

    Additionally, research shows that sexual harassment is more prevalent for women of color than it is for white women. Researchers at Fordham University School of Law attributed this phenomenon to “racialized sex stereotypes that pervade sexual harassment.”

    Studies and anecdotes continue to reaffirm the double hurdle women of color must clear in order to get hired, get promoted, and earn equal pay.

    The problems surrounding equal pay exemplify the issues unique to women of color. Recent research on the gender pay gap by the American Association of University Women found that “progress” to close income disparities between genders “has stalled in recent years” and that the pay gaps between genders and between racial/ethnic groups “cannot be explained by factors known to affect earnings and is likely due, at least in part, to discrimination.” The Center for American Progress recently found that while women overall earn 79 cents for every dollar a man earns, that gap widens by 19 cents for black women compared to white men. This “translates into an average lifetime earnings gap of $877,480 for each African-American woman versus her white male counterparts.” Latina women appear to fare even worse than other minorities; Pew Research Center estimated that in 2015, Latinas earned 58 cents for every dollar a man earned compared to the 82 cents per dollar that white women earn.

    Furthermore, conservative media outlets often obfuscate the issue of gender and racial discrimination in the workplace, which creates an obstacle in addressing the root of the problem. Right-wing media have repeatedly justified -- or denied the existence of -- the gender pay gap and have attempted to undermine progress in closing the gap.

    And while many people rallied in support of Waters and Ryan, many conservative figures ignored, defended, or even cheered on the assailants. USA Today pointed out that “Breitbart, the news site with ties to Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon, didn't appear to mention O'Reilly's comment, but published a post called ‘Maxine Waters: Something is “wrong” with Trump “He doesn't deserve to be president.”'” One conservative pundit covered up for O’Reilly’s sexist and racist commentary, falsely equating his attack on Waters to liberals calling Trump “orange.” Spicer received a similar wave of support from conservative outlets for his attacks on Ryan.

    Experts say that the discrimination that women of color face while doing their jobs is difficult to prove. But this past week, cable TV viewers witnessed them firsthand. Impunity for O'Reilly and Spicer after their attacks on Waters and Ryan could make it even more difficult for women of color to eliminate barriers to their success.

    Illustration by Dayanita Ramesh.

  • Right-Wing Media Are Using The Term “Fake News” To Attack Credible News Sources

    Blog ››› ››› LIS POWER

    Some right-wing media figures and outlets are attempting to twist and confuse the term “fake news” -- a specific phenomenon in which information is clearly and demonstrably fabricated, then packaged and distributed to appear as a legitimate source of news -- to attack outlets they disagree with. By redefining fake news in their own terms and claiming that reporting by outlets such as The New York Times and CNN constitute fake news, right-wing media figures are bolstering President-elect Donald Trump’s continued efforts to delegitimize mainstream news sources and their reporting, and muddling real concerns about fake news used as a weapon of active disinformation.

    As public discussions about fake news reach critical mass, right-wing media figures and outlets have attempted to redefine “fake news” completely, downplaying the problem it poses. Rush Limbaugh claimed that fake news is largely “satire and parody that liberals don’t understand because they don’t have a sense of humor.” The Washington Free Beacon’s Bill McMorris described fake news as “whatever people living in the liberal bubble determine to be believed by the right.”

    Other conservatives are even using fake news to describe reporting from credible news outlets with which they disagree. Fringe right-wing conspiracy site Infowars.com declared that “The mainstream media is the primary source of the most harmful, most inaccurate news ever,” and included outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, ABC News, CBS News, and Politico (and Media Matters, for good measure) on their “full list of fake news outlets.” Fox contributor Newt Gingrich lamented the Times’ reporting on the fake news phenomenon, arguing,“The idea of The New York Times being worried about fake news is really weird. The New York Times is fake news.” Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham -- a contender for Trump’s press secretary -- lashed out at CNN while appearing on Fox News’ Hannity, stating “the folks over at CNN” and “the kind of little games they’re playing are so transparent … they’re the fake news organizations.”

    While there isn’t an official, universally accepted definition of fake news, a variety of outlets and experts across the ideological spectrum have identified common themes. BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman, one of the first to report frequently and extensively on the fake news phenomenon, defines fake news as “false … stories from hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs.” The New York Times’ Sabrina Tavernese wrote that, “Narrowly defined, ‘fake news’ means a made-up story with an intention to deceive, often geared toward getting clicks." David Mikkelson, the founder of the fact-checking website Snopes.com, describes fake news as “completely fabricated information that has little or no intersection with real-world events.” Mikkelson goes on to explain, “not all bad news reporting is ‘fake,’ and that distinction should be kept clear.” Slate senior technology writer Will Oremus argues fake news is “fabricated,” “sensational stories” that imitate “the style and appearance of real news articles.” Fox media analyst Howard Kurtz defines fake news as “made-up-stuff being merchandized for clicks and profits,” clarifying that he doesn’t “mean the major media stories that some ... find unfair or exaggerated.” And CNN and Conservative Review’s Amanda Carpenter wrote that “fake news is malicious, false information that somehow becomes credible” often “printed on what appears to be a professional looking website.” Carpenter also distinguished fake news from “commentary that never purported to be straight news in the first place” or “political speech someone doesn’t happen to agree with.”

    None of these definitions are even remotely similar to how right-wing media figures are trying to redefine fake news.

    Right-wing media’s attempt to conflate fake news with reporting from legitimate journalistic institutions feeds into a larger conservative effort, led by President-elect Trump, to delegitimize mainstream media outlets. Trump, who has long waged a war on the press, has consistently expressed his contempt for journalists and news organizations and violated the norms of any president or president-elect when it comes to his relations with the media. During the month of November, Trump repeatedly attacked media outlets, calling The New York Times “dishonest,” decrying the “the crooked media” for investigating his unprecedented business conflicts of interest, and suggesting that CNN has gotten “worse” since the election. In a December 7 interview on NBC’s Today, Trump admitted he uses Twitter to bypass the media and “dishonest reporters.”

    Some experts have suggested Trump’s attacks on the media are part of a concerted effort to discredit journalists and outlets and thereby “inoculate” himself from reporting that could be damaging. On CNN’s Reliable Sources, former Time Inc. Editor-in-Chief John Huey argued that Trump used “demagogic techniques” that “smack of authoritarianism” during the campaign because “the media poses a real threat to him.”

    Attacking mainstream outlets as “fake” is the latest step in a conservative-media-fueled campaign to delegitimize credible news sources -- a dangerous path in a media landscape where people are already too willing to accept actual fake news, but are hard-pressed to believe real reporting. 

  • Wash. Free Beacon Shocked That Hillary Clinton Says The Same Thing Privately About Obamacare That She Says Publicly

    Blog ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    The Washington Free Beacon attempted to scandalize remarks made by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in a recently published hacked audio recording of a closed door fundraiser in September 2015, falsely claiming that she “took a shot” at the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and made new calls for “fixes” to the law. In reality, Clinton has openly advocated for improvements to the Affordable Care Act throughout her campaign (as has President Obama).

    In a October 3 post, The Washington Free Beacon falsely claimed that “Hillary Clinton took a shot at President Obama’s landmark health care program in private remarks to donors even as she pledged to defend the law.” According to the conservative news site, "The remarks were captured in an audio recording sent by campaign volunteer Ian Mellul to Nick Merrill, Clinton’s traveling press secretary. The email containing the recording was one of thousands released by hackers believed to have ties to the Russian government."

    The article framed Clinton’s remarks as “provid[ing] additional insight into her private conversations with top supporters and how those conversations compare to her public remarks on the campaign trail,” claiming that while “Clinton’s campaign website reiterates her commitment to defending the law,” it “makes no mention of its supposed defects or proposals to fix them.”

    Despite Free Beacon’s assertion that Clinton’s website offers no “proposals to fix” the Affordable Care Act, Clinton’s health care fact sheet explicitly states that despite the progress made by President Obama, “Hillary believes that we have more work to do ... to provide universal, quality, affordable health care to everyone in America. This starts by strengthening, improving and building on the Affordable Care Act.” 

    The New York Times noted Clinton’s stance on the ACA in September 2015, writing, “Mrs. Clinton has also consistently said that the health care act … is flawed and that if elected she would work out the kinks.” Her comments in the leaked audio recording reflect a broader theme in her campaign that focuses on improving the Affordable Care Act to help “address the challenges it faces.”

    While the Free Beacon article frames her private comments as a contrast “to her public remarks,” in reality, the audio recording reconfirms Clinton’s stated commitment to improving and building on the health care law.

    Advocating for improvements to the Affordable Care Act is hardly a controversial position, as even President Obama supports making reforms to the landmark law. In an article published by The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on July 11, President Obama noted that there is still work to be done on health care reform, including the need for a “Medicare-like public plan” that could compete with private insurance. Obama has previously reached out to insurance companies asking them to help him fix the ACA, and he has continued to push for “a series of fixes” aimed at improving the law, recognizing that while the law has made incredible progress, there is work yet to be done.