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Ever since the first of three women reported sexual misconduct by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, right-wing media’s message to victims of sexual violence has rung painfully clear -- if you come forward and tell your story, you’re putting yourself at risk and the establishment will circle the wagons to protect your abuser.
Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick have faced unending smear campaigns while also being summarily dismissed by those seeking to ram Kavanaugh onto the court. Conservative media have systematically overlooked the fact that Kavanaugh lied and perjured himself during Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, instead propagating outlandish conspiracy theories about his accusers and questioning whether they have political motivations. Their smear campaign coalesces around one simple message of intimidation: If you tell your truth about sexual violence, it won’t disqualify your assailant from moving up in his career; instead, you’ll ruin the reputation of a good man, and a right-wing attack mob will set its sight on ruining yours as well.
Right-wing media’s radical and insulting insistence that a history of sexual assault doesn’t disqualify a man from sitting on the Supreme Court is perhaps the most honest confession in their coverage of allegations made against Brett Kavanaugh. They are telling survivors that coming forward is, as Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) put it, but a “hiccup” on the way to their assailant getting a promotion.
Perhaps the most shameless example of conservatives telling on themselves is an article published in The Federalist titled, “Why Brett Kavanaugh Should Be Confirmed To The Supreme Court Even If He’s Guilty.” An anonymous author argues “the actual impact” of Kavanaugh’s alleged history of sexual violence would likely be irrelevant to his “behavior as a Supreme Court justice.” The article goes on to say that “the stakes” of confirming Kavanaugh “are even higher” now than they were before, noting that if he fails to get on the court, “every Supreme Court nomination henceforth will be derailed by mere allegation.”
For its part, Fox News has also made clear that Ford’s report should not get in the way of Kavanaugh’s promotion. This is not a surprise, considering that the network functions as a mouthpiece for the White House communications team led by disgraced former Fox executive Bill Shine, who was forced out due to his role in the culture of sexual harassment that prevailed under Roger Ailes. Here are some of the most offensive takes from the network’s Kavanaugh coverage:
In the effort to rehabilitate Brett Kavanaugh’s image, right-wing media have characterized the reports as nothing more than smears of a good and innocent man. Some have bizarrely admitted they believe Christine Ford but they don’t believe what she says Kavanaugh did to her. They’ve also deflected from the women’s stories by mentioning that Kavanaugh goes to church and volunteers and coaches his daughters’ basketball team:
According to some right-wing pundits, even listening to victims is a wholesale attack on men. During her daily radio show, Laura Ingraham said she wanted to “focus on men for a moment” because “this could happen to any of you.” Not to be outdone by his peers, Tucker Carlson used the stories of sexual assault survivors to continues his ongoing white nationalist campaign, categorizing allegations against Kavanaugh as an attack on all white people and men and arguing that Democrats’ willingness to listen to Ford demonstrates a sexism that’s similar to racism. He also called Kavanaugh a “folk hero” to the “unfairly maligned.”
When conservative media figures portray a sexual assault report as a politically motivated smear of a decent family man, they are telling victims the damage wrought by the violence they experienced is unimportant and that speaking about it is wrong.
The conservative victim-blaming campaign discourages survivors from speaking up through the direct threat of a never-ending character assassination and harassment campaign. The results of this tactic have been illustrated by the fact that Ford has had to go into hiding, separately from her children, for her family’s safety. Here are some examples of right-wing media attacking Ford’s character:
And while Twitter is a general cesspool of conspiracy theories and smears against sexual assault survivors, no individual has put more into this effort than conservative commentator Erick Erickson, who called the confirmation process “the Left’s PizzaGate” and said that the Democrats were “willing to destroy an innocent man so they can keep killing kids.”
Right-wing media and Republicans in Congress have been working overtime to send a clear message to survivors of sexual violence: It’s better for us if you stay quiet. The campaign against Kavanaugh’s accusers reinforces what women already know -- that sexual violence is about power, and that when backed into a corner, power brokers will regroup and lash out at its challengers.
Millions of people watch Fox News every day. Many of them are undoubtedly survivors of sexual violence themselves. While Fox News personalities get rich smearing victims in an effort to install Kavanaugh into power no matter his past behavior or the fact that he repeatedly lied to Congress, they’re saying to their viewers, “We don’t care about you, we don’t believe you, and you should shut up and keep your experiences to yourself.” Right-wing media outlets are sustained by their commitment to punching down, even if that means launching an attack on half of the world’s population to save the career of one man. Only through the power of testimony and solidarity can survivors overcome the system that seeks to silence us.
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According to Ronan Farrow, the Times didn’t report Ramirez’s story “because she was talking exclusively to the New Yorker”
On the September 25 edition of Fox Business’ Varney & Co., Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano said that Deborah Ramirez, who said Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexual assaulted her in college, has “no credibility” because “The New York Times refused to report her story.”
However, according to Ronan Farrow, one of the journalists who reported Ramirez’s experience, the Times “pursued Ramirez aggressively” for the story, but “she declined to participate because she was talking exclusively to the New Yorker.”
Dean Baquet is a hero of mine and I also respect you immensely, Erik—but it is not accurate to say the Times “declined” to publish Ramirez’s story. Their reporter pursued Ramirez aggressively. She declined to participate because she was talking exclusively to the New Yorker. https://t.co/13r2jSS1Fo
— Ronan Farrow (@RonanFarrow) September 24, 2018
Napolitano’s lazy and uninformed smear dovetails with the broader campaign across conservative media, led by Fox News, to protect Kavanaugh and discredit his accusers at all costs. This effort recently included Fox (of course) airing a highly publicized sham interview of Kavanaugh with host Martha MacCallum -- a defender of Roger Ailes, who was ousted from the network for enabling and participating in longstanding and systemic workplace sexual misconduct.
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Bill O'Reilly scrubbed a mention of Pirro from his website
On July 10, Media Matters reported on Bill O’Reilly’s announcement that Fox News host Jeanine Pirro was going to appear on his digital show to discuss President Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
A Google cache version of the preview for O’Reilly’s show has Pirro’s name:
At some point after publishing, her name was removed from the post.
Pirro never showed up, and O’Reilly instead discussed the matter with former U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman:
Media Matters emailed Fox News and Pirro, asking for comment about whether Pirro and Andrew Napolitano (who had reportedly been slated to be O’Reilly’s guest July 12; as of now, nothing on O’Reilly’s site from this week mentions Napolitano) were pulled from the program. So far, we have not received a response.
In April, O’Reilly announced that he was appearing at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., for “An Evening With Bill O’Reilly.” Patrons who gave contributions of more than $5,000 were slated to be rewarded with an “invitation to behind the scenes tour of Fox & Friends.” After a Media Matters post on the matter, a Fox spokesperson told The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, “We had no knowledge of this and we are not allowing Fox & Friends to be part of any donation package.”
O’Reilly left Fox News in April 2017 after a sustained pressure campaign following revelations of multiple sexual harassment settlements. O’Reilly has since made multiple appearances on Sean Hannity’s radio show and one appearance on Hannity’s Fox News show.
Bobby Lewis contributed research to this post.
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Following the announcement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, media have been speculating about the possibility of a nominee selected by President Donald Trump casting the deciding vote overturning Roe v. Wade.
While some mainstream outlets have rightly warned about the likelihood and negative impacts of overturning, or even further hollowing out, Roe’s protections, many conservative outlets and figures deployed a variety of excuses either to suggest that Roe is not at risk or to downplay any potential negative effects such a move would have. But make no mistake -- the Trump administration and its anti-abortion allies haven’t been shy about their goal: making abortion inaccessible or even illegal in the United States, no matter what the consequences.
In 2016, then-candidate Trump said in response to a debate question about whether he would overturn Roe: “Well, if we put another two or perhaps three justice on, that’s really what’s going to be — that will happen. And that’ll happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court.” Previously, in July 2016, then-vice presidential nominee Mike Pence said that he believed that electing Trump would lead to the overturning of Roe and that he wanted to see the decision “consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs.” In return, anti-abortion groups have also supported the administration -- a fact underscored by Trump’s keynote address at the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List’s (SBA List) gala in May.
Despite the administration’s promise, conservative media and figures are deploying a number of inaccurate excuses to either deny or downplay the severity of the threat to abortion rights with another Trump-appointed justice on the court:
In the aftermath of Kennedy’s announcement, some conservative media argued that abortion rights are not threatened because the sitting justices -- including Chief Justice John Roberts and Trump’s previous nominee Justice Neil Gorsuch -- would be reticent to overturn precedent.
For example, an editorial in The Wall Street Journal argued that because “the Court has upheld [Roe’s] core right so many times, ... the Chief Justice and perhaps even the other conservatives aren’t likely to overrule stare decisis on a 5-4 vote.” Similarly, during a June 27 appearance on Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs Tonight, conservative lawyer Alan Dershowitz claimed that Roe is safe because “true conservatives also follow precedent,” and therefore any conservative appointee would not vote to overturn it. Short-serving former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci said it is unlikely that Roe would be overturned because “the court recognizes that there are certain fundamental principles that are in place and certain presidential precedent-setting principles in place." He concluded, “I know there are conservatives out there that want it to be overturned but I just don't see it happening."
It appears highly unlikely that the new Supreme Court would keep Roe intact. Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern wrote that Kennedy’s retirement “ensured” that Roe will be overturned -- even if it ultimately will “die with a whimper” as the Supreme Court would allow anti-choice lawmakers to foist “extreme regulations on clinics, outlawing abortion after a certain number of weeks, or barring a woman from terminating a pregnancy on the basis of the fetus’ disability or identity.” As Stern concluded, “the constitutional right to abortion access in America is living on borrowed time.” This argument was also echoed by The Daily Beast’s Erin Gloria Ryan who contended that one more Supreme Court vote against abortion would mean that “the conservative minority in this country will have the power to uphold laws designed to force pregnant women into motherhood.” During the June 27 edition of MSNBC’s Deadline: White House, host Nicole Wallace explained that the impact of Kennedy’s retirement means “actually talking about a future generation growing up with abortion being illegal again” and “young women and men taking the kinds of risks that a generation now hasn't had to consider.”
In other instances, conservative media have argued that Roe is "bad" law because the constitution doesn't include a right to abortion. By this logic, they contend, a reversal of precedent is inconsequential because the new nominee would merely be helping correct previous judicial overreach.
In an opinion piece for The Sacramento Bee, The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro argued that Roe v. Wade is a decision that was rendered “without even the most peremptory respect for the text and history of the Constitution,” but that “pleased the Left.” An improved Supreme Court, according to Shapiro, “would leave room for legislatures – Democrats or Republicans – to make laws that don’t conflict with the Constitution.”
In National Review, Rich Lowry similarly said that Roe “is, in short, a travesty that a constitutionalist Supreme Court should excise from its body of work with all due haste.” Lowry concluded that Roe “has no sound constitutional basis” and implied that it should be overturned because it is an embarrassment for the court.
The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway claimed on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier, “Even people who are pro-choice recognize that it was a poorly argued judicial decision.” She also said that Trump does not need to ask the judicial candidates about Roe v. Wade as “so many people regard it as such a poorly reasoned decision.” Fox News contributor Robert Jeffress also said on Fox News’ Hannity that Trump doesn’t need to ask about Roe because “there is no right to abortion.” Jeffress continued that though abortion is “nowhere in the Constitution” there is, however, a constitutionally protected “right to life that has been erased for 50 million children butchered in the womb since 1973.”
But, as legal analyst Bridgette Dunlap wrote for Rewire.News, these claims that Roe is bad law are part of a conservative tactic to invalidate abortion rights more broadly. She explained: “In order to portray abortion rights as illegitimate, conservatives like to argue—inaccurately—that the Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade by inventing a right to privacy that is not grounded in the Constitution’s actual text.” Instead, she noted, Roe is based on the idea that “using the force of law to compel a person to use her body against her will to bring a pregnancy to term is a violation of her physical autonomy and decisional freedom—which the Constitution does not allow.”
In addition, Roe is not just an important acknowledgement of the right to legally access abortion care -- even if states have already chipped away at the accessibility of that care. As Lourdes Rivera of the Center for Reproductive Rights explained in the National Law Journal, overturning Roe would impact the right to privacy and mean “uprooting a half-century of judicial decision-making, with profound consequences for our most cherished rights and essential freedoms.” Lawyer Jill Filipovic similarly wrote for Time magazine that “if Roe is done away with under the theory that privacy rights don’t exist, this could mean that there is no constitutional right to birth control, either.” In addition, she said, “cases that came after Roe, including Lawrence v. Texas, which invalidated a Texas law that criminalized sex between two men, were decided on similar premises — and could be similarly imperiled.”
A common argument by conservative media -- and in some cases, Trump himself -- is that an overturning of Roe would merely return abortion regulations to the states and not completely outlaw the practice.
For instance, according to Fox News guest and constitutional attorney Mark W. Smith, even if Roe were overturned, it wouldn’t “outlaw abortion” in the United States, it would just allow “states and voters [to] decide what to do about abortion.” Fox News commentator Andrew Napolitano also made this claim, saying the “worst case scenario” is that if Roe “were to be repealed or reversed, the effect would be the 50 states would decide” their own abortion regulations. This inaccurate claim was also made during segments on CNN and MSNBC. During a June 27 appearance on CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin, CNN legal commentator and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli argued that “all overturning Roe v. Wade does is” give the regulation power “to the states.” The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol made a similar claim on MSNBC Live with Velshi and Ruhle, when he argued that overturning Roe would merely “kick [abortion regulation] back to the states.”
In reality, sending abortion regulation “back to the states” would functionally outlaw abortion access across large parts of the country. As Reva Siegel, a professor at Yale Law School wrote for The New York Times, returning the issue to the states would be disastrous because already, “27 major cities are 100 miles or more from the nearest abortion provider, and we can expect these ‘abortion deserts’ in the South and the Midwest to spread rapidly” if states are given free reign. New York magazine’s Lisa Ryan similarly reported that currently “there are only 19 states in which the right to abortion would be secure” if Roe is overturned.
This landscape could easily worsen with anti-abortion groups turning their attention more directly to legislation on the state level rather than the federal level. As HuffPost’s Laura Bassett noted, a number of “abortion cases are already worming their way through the lower courts” that could further entrench abortion restrictions in a number of states. In 2016, ThinkProgress explained what a world before Roe looked like: “Wealthy women were able to access safe, though illegal, abortions, but everyone else had to risk their safety and sometimes their lives, and doctors had to risk going to jail.”
Another common reaction among conservative media has been to cast blame back on abortion rights supporters. In this case, right-wing media have attacked supporters of Roe for “overreacting” to the potential loss of abortion rights, and accused others of opposing Trump’s nominee not on facts, but on principle.
For example, during the June 27 edition of Fox Business’ Making Money with Charles Payne, guest and attorney Gayle Trotter argued that abortion rights supporters were just “trying to scare people” in order to “defeat the president’s nominee.” Federalist Society Executive Vice President Leonard Leo also echoed this argument during a June 27 appearance on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier. According to Leo, “The left has been using the Roe v. Wade scare tactic since 1982, when Sandra O’Connor was nominated. And over 30 years later, nothing has happened to Roe v. Wade.”
Similarly, on June 29, Trump supporters and YouTube personalities Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, popularly known as Diamond and Silk, appeared on Fox News’ Fox and Friends to discuss potential replacements for Kennedy. During the segment, Diamond asked why Democrats were “fearmongering” and “going into a frenzy” before knowing the nominee or their position on abortion. After interviewing Trump on Fox Business about his thought process for nominating Kennedy’s replacement, Maria Bartiromo said on the Saturday edition of Fox & Friends Weekend she believed that “all of this hysteria” about a potential overturn of Roe was being "a little overdone” by the left.
Pro-choice advocates are not “overreacting” to potential attacks on the protections afforded by Roe. As journalist Irin Carmon explained on MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, Kennedy’s retirement “is the point that the conservative movement, that the anti-abortion movement, has been preparing for for 40 years” by “taking over state legislatures and passing laws that are engineered to chip away at the abortion right.” Carmon said that even with Kennedy on the bench, “access to abortion, and in many cases contraception, was a reality [only] on paper already.” Now, “it is disportionately Black and brown women who are going to suffer with the regime that is going to come forward.” Attorney Maya Wiley similarly argued on MSNBC’s The Beat that overturning of Roe would mean “essentially barring a huge percentage of women from huge swaths of the country from access” to abortion.
Polling shows a large majority of Americans support the outcome of Roe. But some right-wing media personalities have said that such findings ignore other polling about Americans’ supposed support for restrictions on later abortion.
For example, The Weekly Standard’s John McCormack argued on Fox News’ Outnumbered Overtime that the claims of support for abortion access are inaccurate because there is a “great misunderstanding about Roe v. Wade” and the impact it has on abortion restrictions and that “there is actually pretty popular support for second trimester regulations.” This talking point has been used elsewhere, such as by the Washington Examiner and anti-abortion outlet Life News, in an attempt to discredit perceived support for Roe.
The argument deployed by McCormack has also frequently been used by right-wing outlets in the past -- despite the disregard such an argument shows for the complexities involved in abortion polling. As Tresa Undem, co-founder and partner at the public-opinion research firm PerryUndem, wrote for Vox, most “standard measures” that are used “to report the public’s views on abortion ... don’t capture how people really think” about the issue. In contrast to right-wing media and anti-abortion claims, polling done by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Hart Research Associates shows that support for later abortions goes up when people realize that abortions in later stages of pregnancy are often undertaken out of medical necessity or for particular personal circumstances.
As Trump prepares to announce his selection for the Supreme Court on Monday, July 7, right-wing and conservative media will only offer more of these excuses to downplay that Roe v. Wade is firmly in the crosshairs.
Fox News is laying the groundwork to discredit a Department of Justice (DOJ) inspector general’s report regarding the department’s handling of the 2016 investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
According to a leaked portion of the report, first reported on June 6 by ABC News, the DOJ inspector general “concluded that James Comey defied authority at times during his tenure as FBI director” by “ignoring objections from the Justice Department when he disclosed in a letter to Congress just days before the 2016 presidential election that FBI agents had reopened the Clinton probe.” Political analysts and polls point to Comey’s decision to inform Congress of the reopening of the Clinton email investigation as a critical episode in Trump’s eventual victory.
Early this week, a number of Fox hosts -- including the Fox & Friends hosts, Sean Hannity, and Lou Dobbs, all of whom also act as unofficial Trump advisers -- suggested that the report, which has yet to be fully released, is beset by corruption. On June 5, the president chimed in, saying that he hoped the report wasn’t being “changed and made weaker.” Since Trump’s tweet, Fox News has continued attempting to discredit the review by baselessly asserting that it’s being “scrubbed” by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (who was appointed by Trump himself), even after having hyped the report for months. In fact, Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano (who is known to spread baseless conspiracy theories) repeated Trump’s sentiment regarding the inspector general report when he took to the president’s favorite morning show on June 7 to push an unsubstantiated claim that the DOJ report “might not be a truthful document.”
From the June 7 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:
STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): OK, so the leaks were -- because this is circulating, where people can essentially make a rebuttal and try to get them fix it.
ANDREW NAPOLITANO (FOX NEWS SENIOR JUDICIAL ANALYST): Yes.
DOOCY: Joe diGenova was on our air in the last 24 hours, and he said that he thinks that Rod Rosenstein, who’s the number two guy at the DOJ, might be actually scrubbing this report to try to get all the bad stuff out of it.
NAPOLITANO: If Joe is correct -- and I have great respect for him -- if Joe is correct, this is an outrage and it is a neutering of a very highly respected inspector general who was appointed by George W. Bush and by Barack Obama.
BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): So, judge, here’s the thing: You can do whatever you want to the report. But when you put him, the inspector general, in front of Congress, any committee, he’s going to answer about his conclusions. Not what's been scrubbed, correct?
NAPOLITANO: Well, I don't know, Brian. If he gives -- that's fascinating. Because, if he gives a different version under oath than he gave in writing, then the scrubbing is going to become the issue. Wait a minute, you found this about Jim Comey? You’re telling us about it now but you didn't put it in the report?
DOOCY: Why’d you change it?
NAPOLITANO: Was it in the report and did you take it out? And if you took it out, did somebody tell you to take it out? Now we have another compounded error here.
KILMEADE: Because [DOJ Inspector General Michael] Horowitz is not compromised -- he’s the inspector general.
NAPOLITANO: I don’t know where this is going to go. I'm glad we have these leaks -- some leaks are good leaks -- but I’m glad we have these leaks, because the public needs to know that this might not be a truthful document.
Right-wing media figures were quick to defend and rejoice over President Donald Trump’s decision to pardon conservative author and pundit Dinesh D’Souza for his felony conviction for violating campaign finance law.
On the morning of May 31, Trump tweeted:
Will be giving a Full Pardon to Dinesh D’Souza today. He was treated very unfairly by our government!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2018
D’Souza was indicted in 2014 for violating campaign finance laws, and right-wing media figures also jumped to defend him then, portraying him as a victim of political persecution by the Obama administration, which D’Souza had criticized in a lie-filled book attempting to trace Obama’s liberal policy motivations and later in a lie-filled movie. But D’Souza pleaded guilty to the charges against him five years ago. His more recent missives have included tweets mocking students who survived the February school shooting in Parkland, FL and likening Democrats to Nazis.
Following Trump’s announcement that he will give a full pardon to D’Souza, right-wing media figures celebrated the decision and claimed that D’Souza was indeed treated unfairly:
Fox News host Jeanine Pirro: “Fantastic news @DineshDSouza to be pardoned by @POTUS. Obama’s political prosecution null and void.”
Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano: Trump’s pardon of D’Souza is “a marvelous act of justice. Not mercy, justice.”
Fox News host Laura Ingraham: “It’s about time”; pardon “was long overdue.”
Right-wing troll Mike Flynn Jr.: “WOW! Incredible! @DineshDSouza totally deserves this! CONGRATS!”
— 🇺🇸MFLYNNJR🇺🇸 (@mflynnJR) May 31, 2018
Pro-Trump conspiracy theorist Alex Jones: “Good to see Trump using that power” to correct “a lot of these travesties of justice that are taking place.”
Wash. Examiner’s Byron York and Ingraham agree D’Souza sentencing was a “travesty” and “outrage.”
Radio host Rush Limbaugh: D’Souza was sentenced “so that Obama could flex his muscles and show what a tough guy he was.”
Fox & Friends co-host Pete Hegseth: “I thought that was great.”
Right-wing blogger Jim Hoft: D’Souza’s prosecution was an “Obama political hit job and “an obvious witch hunt.”
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