Ben Domenech | Media Matters for America

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  • Right-wing media can't stop mis-citing a 2013 abortion study -- and other outlets are repeating the error

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    As part of the escalating rhetoric surrounding abortions later in pregnancy, right-wing media and anti-abortion media have consistently -- and erroneously -- pointed to a 2013 study from Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health as a piece of “gotcha” evidence allegedly disproving arguments about the dangers of restricting later abortion access. The study doesn't support the purported argument about the frequency of later abortions; that hasn't stopped anti-abortion groups (which repeatedly argue that being "pro-life is pro-science") from touting it -- nor has it stopped other outlets from uncritically allowing or repeating these assertions.

    In 2013, Diana Greene Foster and Katrina Kimport authored a study published in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health (though it is sometimes inaccurately cited as a study by the Guttmacher Institute, a disclaimer at the bottom clarifies that “the views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of the Guttmacher Institute”). This study examined the potential impact of legislation banning abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy and attempted to assess the reasons why someone would choose to have an abortion around that time period.

    This January, as state legislatures in New York and Virginia began considering measures to protect abortion access or to remove unnecessary anti-choice barriers, right-wing media continually cited this 2013 study out of context to allege that Democrats had an extreme position on later abortion access. In particular, anti-abortion and right-wing media have cherry-picked language from the introduction of the 2013 study as proof that third-trimester abortions are not performed due to fetal abnormalities or dangers to the life of the pregnant person. In reality, that is not the time period analyzed by the study and those reasons for seeking an abortion were explicitly excluded from its scope.

    The crux of this disingenuous allegation relies on a misinterpretation of a sentence in the study’s introduction stating that “data suggest that most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.” Right-wing and anti-abortion media have taken this sentence as evidence that few, if any, people seek abortion care in the third trimester due to fetal abnormalities or dangers to the life of the pregnant person. There are several issues with this interpretation.

    First, as the study’s co-author Foster confirmed on Twitter, the study “was about abortions at 20 weeks up to the end of the second trimester [around 27 weeks]. It has no relevance to third trimester abortions.” She continued, “My article was intended to increase understanding of the circumstances of women who have abortions after 20 weeks and within the second trimester,” however, “that doesn’t mean that women seeking abortions in the third trimester are just like those in the second trimester.” In addition to focusing on abortions in the second trimester, the 2013 study also explicitly excluded people who had abortions for reasons of fetal abnormality or dangers to the pregnant person’s life from the analysis altogether. As the authors wrote: “Our study has several important limitations. Our data are limited by the exclusion of women who sought later abortions on grounds of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.”

    Despite this, abortion opponents have alleged the study’s findings about common reasons why people seek abortion care -- “they were raising children alone, were depressed or using illicit substances, were in conflict with a male partner or experiencing domestic violence, had trouble deciding and then had access problems, or were young and nulliparous” -- were all evidence that pro-choice advocates’ claims about the medical necessity of access to third-trimester abortion care were inaccurate. In reality, there are many personal and medical reasons people choose to have abortions in the second and third trimester. As Foster further clarified to Rewire.News after a 2018 congressional report inaccurately referenced the study, “I wouldn’t state that fetal anomaly and life endangerment are a small minority of later abortions because nobody has statistics on this.”

    While right-wing media and anti-choice advocates have erroneously cited this study before, faux outrage spun up in reaction to state abortion measures spurred an uptick in the mischaracterizations and misuse of this study -- mischaracterizations that are now spurring inaccurate coverage from other outlets.

    After New York and Virginia’s abortion measures, anti-abortion and right-wing media cited the 2013 study to counter arguments about the necessity of later abortion access

    • Anti-abortion advocate Abby Johnson wrote in Townhall that the 2013 study showed “the most common reasons why women chose abortion late-term” and claimed that it refuted pro-choice claims that people need to be “able to terminate so late in their pregnancies because of fetal abnormalities.”
    • In February, Hillary Clinton tweeted that abortions later in pregnancy occur “almost always” because a pregnant person’s “health or life is at risk, or the pregnancy is no longer viable.” Townhall’s Lauretta Brown disagreed, claiming that “the Guttmacher Institute cited a study from 2013 that found ‘most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.’”
    • In a series of posts, National Review writers cited the 2013 study to question the necessity of Virginia’s abortion measure. The most explicit example came from senior writer David French, who opined:

    So, why do these babies die? The Guttmacher Institute has looked at the reasons for late-term abortion, and the reasons are chilling. First, the top-line finding is clear: “[D]ata suggest that most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.”

    Interestingly, even in some of the anecdotes chosen by Guttmacher, the women describe their decision to have a late-term abortion as “easy” or “very easy.” They didn’t find out they were pregnant until later in the pregnancy, didn’t want the child, and aborted it. Their only challenge was raising the money or finding the clinic. The thought that they were killing a viable infant — a person who would could be raised in a loving home if the mother didn’t want her child — apparently doesn’t factor into their decision-making. It’s treated as casually as an early-term abortion.

    This is the reality of late-term abortion in America.

    • The New York Times’ columnist Ross Douthat cited the 2013 study on Twitter to claim “most third-trimester abortions are not performed for reasons of fetal or maternal health.”
    • The Federalist’s David Harsanyi:

    • The Federalist also published several articles incorrectly citing the 2013 study. Ben Domenech wrote that those “seeking 3rd trimester abortions” are not doing so “because of the non-viability of the fetus or fetal abnormalities.” Instead, he claimed, “A 2013 Guttmacher study – no friend of anti-abortion activists – found this was not the case at all.” In another article, Kenny Xu wrote that the 2013 study allegedly “revealed that out of 272 women surveyed who had received an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, none of them received it for any kind of clinical endangerment to the health of the mother.”
    • The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh incorrectly cited the study and then tweeted about how it was further evidence that so-called “pro-aborts” are “damned dishonest” and “everything they say is a lie”:

    • Breitbart published two articles using the study to allege that “research does not support the common pro-abortion-rights narrative that late-term abortions are performed primarily in cases of ‘severe deformities’ or when the unborn baby is determined ‘non-viable,’” and to claim that it “found that ‘most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.’”
    • Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, tweeted that the “pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute” refuted pro-choice advocates’ “claims about ‘tragic’ circumstances of most/all late abortions” involving fetal abnormalities or the health of the pregnant person, again citing the 2013 study.
    • Micaiah Bilger of the anti-abortion media outlet LifeNews.com:

    • Bilger repeated this claim in an article for LifeNews.com, writing, “The truth is that many late-term abortions are elective.” The assertion was repeated in another LifeNews.com article and on the outlet’s Twitter account:

    • Anti-abortion group Live Action published a piece citing the study as evidence that pro-choice advocates were misrepresenting why people have abortions later in pregnancy:

    Abortion supporters will claim, “No one’s going to abort so late in pregnancy unless there’s something wrong with her or the ‘fetus’!” They’re wrong about that. A Guttmacher study points out the reasons why women seek “later” abortions — to use their terminology — and it’s not for the reasons they publicly claim. Instead researchers found that most “were raising children alone, were depressed or using illicit substances, were in conflict with a male partner or experiencing domestic violence, had trouble deciding and then had access problems, or were young and nulliparous.”

    No mention of the mother’s life or health being at risk, or of a fetal anomaly.

    • The Washington Examiner published a “fact check” of a CNN article about abortions later in pregnancy. However, the Examiner’s so-called “fact check” cited the 2013 study to allege that most people do not seek later abortions due to fetal abnormality or risks to the health of the pregnant person. An additional Examiner article said that the 2013 study actually showed “most late abortions are elective, and done for socio-economic reasons.”
    • Americans United For Life’s Catherine Glenn Foster used the 2013 study incorrectly in a thread on Twitter:

    A major anti-abortion movement “research” organization often uses this study erroneously to support inaccurate conclusions

    The Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) is the research arm of the anti-choice group Susan B. Anthony List, and attempts to brand its members as impartial scientific experts, when in reality the organization has an explicit mission to oppose abortion access. Unfortunately, while right-wing media and anti-abortion groups often cite CLI to support inaccurate claims about abortion, other outlets sometimes rely on them without sufficient context or disclosure about the organization’s ideological purpose. CLI has adopted an inaccurate reading of the 2013 study to support anti-abortion positions, using it in both a “report” and “fact sheet” on their website. Although in each instance, CLI included a note that the 2013 study does have “significant” limitations, such as excluding those participants seeking an abortion for health risks or fetal abnormalities, both documents still inaccurately conclude that the study is an effective bludgeon for refuting arguments about the reasons people have abortions later in pregnancy.

    However, CLI’s Twitter account did not mention the potential “limitations” of the 2013 study, and instead repeatedly promoted it to further the popular misinterpretations of the findings:

    Other outlets have allowed anti-abortion advocates to erroneously cite this study

    As the hyperbolic “controversy” over the measures in New York and Virginia unfolded, The Atlantic and The Washington Post both gave right-wing misinformation about the 2013 study an uncritical platform in each outlet’s opinion section.

    The Atlantic published a piece by National Review’s Alexandra DeSanctis in which she wrote, “Research from the pro-abortion-rights Guttmacher Institute contradicts the claims that abortions after 20 weeks are most often necessary in heart-wrenching medical emergencies. One study summarized the available data as suggesting that ‘most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.’” A note on the piece stated that it was “updated to clarify that the claim quoted from the Guttmacher Institute study came from its survey of existing research, and was not a finding made by the study itself,” but failed to address DeSanctis’ inaccurate primary claim that she had mockingly pushed on Twitter as well:

    Similarly, The Washington Post published an opinion piece by Bethany Mandel, where she said that “according to research from the Planned Parenthood-affiliated Guttmacher Institute, ‘data suggest that most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.’” Mandel also continued promoting this claim on Twitter:

    Right-wing and anti-abortion media will continue to erroneously cite this 2013 study, and it will likely be rehashed by anti-abortion lawmakers in any number of reports or hearings. Other outlets have a responsibility not to repeat this inaccurate characterization of the study -- or else they're helping abortion opponents spread further misinformation with potentially dire consequences.

  • Two anti-LGBTQ websites dropped a writer for being too homophobic. She's right to be surprised.

    What she tweeted would have looked perfectly at home on their sites

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Two right-wing websites won minor praise over the weekend when they parted ways with a freelancer after she went on a homophobic tirade against a gay journalist.

    On Saturday night, journalist Yashar Ali replied to a nearly day-old tweet by conservative writer Denise McAllister. Her tweet read, “Trying to talk to my husband while Carolina is playing. He looks at me and says, ‘Woman, you know better than this. The game is on.’ He’s right. I slipped. Commercial comes on. I fetch him a beer. He grabs me. Deep kisses. Patience and timing, ladies. That’s the lesson.”

    While there was no shortage of people making jokes about the tweet’s retrograde views on gender, Ali’s comment was one of genuine concern.

    “It made me genuinely sad,” Ali tells me, explaining that he was disappointed and frustrated by some of the jokes people were making at McAllister’s expense. “At that moment I thought to myself, ‘This makes me so sad that she thinks she slipped simply because she spoke,’ and I actually felt terrible that she was living in that kind of marriage. No one should be treated that way.”

    Likely interpreting Ali’s tweet as sarcasm or scorn, McAllister unloaded on him in a series of now-deleted tweets, writing, “A gay man commenting on a heterosexual relationship is just. Sad. Pathetic really,” “I think [Ali] has a crush on me. Maybe I’m making him doubt his love of penis,” and “Oh so sad. [Ali] is lost. He doesn’t know his purpose as a man. He doesn’t know his purpose as a human being. He doesn’t know his purpose as an Individual. So he wallows and tries to find himself in another man’s asshole. Sad.”

    Within hours, The Federalist and The Daily Wire cut ties with McAllister, who had previously written for both outlets. Federalist co-founder and publisher Ben Domenech tweeted that McAllister “will not be writing for us at The Federalist any more.” The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro confirmed to The Washington Post that he’d asked McAllister to take the reference to the site out of her Twitter profile, calling her tweets “gross” and “self-explanatorily beyond the boundaries of decency.”

    In all fairness to McAllister, it’s not exactly clear how her tweets were any more incendiary than what gets published on both of those sites regularly.

    When it comes to LGBTQ issues, both Domenech and Shapiro have abysmal track records.

    Early in his journalism career, following a plagiarism scandal that cost him a job writing for The Washington Post, Domenech made waves when he called Elena Kagan “openly gay” (she isn’t) in a blog post. Three years later, he launched The Federalist, and it quickly became a hub for anti-LGBTQ screeds in favor of discrimination and against marriage equality.

    Today, The Federalist is rife with articles arguing against allowing gay couples to adopt, some of which frame the issue as akin to child abuse. Articles such as “Dear Gay Community: Your Kids Are Hurting,” “What It’s Like To Face The LGBT Inquisition,” “Same-Sex Marriage Won’t Bring Us Peace,” and “The Kids Are Not Alright: A Lesbian’s Daughter Speaks Out” warn that “if people cease to take thinking seriously, the LGBT lobby wins,” that it’s “not natural” to grow up living with two women, and that “redefining marriage undermines freedom of speech and conscience, parent rights, and good home lives for children.”

    The Federalist is also home to a host of articles eager to blame gay people for the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church, with articles bemoaning that the church isn’t putting a focus on “the link between sexual abuse and homosexuality among the clergy.” Similarly, Federalist writers have argued repeatedly that “Christianity that endorses sexual license isn’t Christianity” and that “there have been a disturbing number of people who claim the name of Christ who would like us to believe that God and the Bible are totally cool with homosexuality. They are not.” It also hosts op-eds extolling the virtues of “the traditional Christian teaching on sex and marriage” while denouncing “homosexual practice” and “sex-changes as an answer to gender dysphoria.”

    Most of all, The Federalist is regularly, virulently transphobic in a way that makes McAllister’s tweets seem downright polite by comparison.

    “Transgender identity is a symptom of mental illness,” writes Jon Del Arroz, an opinion shared by other writers at The Federalist who’ve warned of “the contagion of mass delusion” that is the acceptance of trans people and asserted that “transgenderism is a legal fiction.” Authors have compared being transgender to having anorexia on more than one occasion and labeled it “a war against reality.” They have advocated for pulling children out of school to avoid “trans indoctrination,” something they believe is rampant within the public school system. The end goal, one writer surmises, is “to groom children towards gender change.” Perhaps trans people are simply raging narcissists, one writer wonders. Another thinks that it’s perfectly fine to bully trans people because he’s pretty sure that there’s no link between the trans suicide attempt rate and discrimination (there is).

    Conservative commentator Bethany Mandel has tried to blackmail the broader LGBTQ community into turning its back on trans people by threatening to withdraw whatever support she was supposedly willing to offer. In one piece for the The Federalist, “How The Transgender Crusade Made Me Rethink My Support For Gay Marriage,” Mandel calls trans people’s fight for basic human rights and legal recognition “totalitarian,” writing:

    With every tweet aimed at publicizing and shaming my position on transgenderism, the progressive Left is solidifying my decision to call Bruce Jenner by his given name instead of the name he has chosen because of a condition that mental health professionals once took seriously. Playing along with delusions isn’t a kindness to those suffering from other psychological conditions, and it isn’t a kindness for those with gender dysphoria either.

    In another, “Man-splaining Is No Excuse For Invading Girls’ Locker Rooms,” she defends the bullying of a trans student, writing:

    While I’ve been told I should use a pronoun of one’s choosing out of respect and kindness, I decline to do so because I refuse to play along with the delusion. We don’t play along with the delusions of schizophrenics, and I won’t play along with the notion that someone with a penis is somehow a woman.

    Mandel remains in the good graces of both conservative and mainstream media (The New York Times published an op-ed she wrote as recently as March 2018), even though she once tweeted that trans people have “a mental illness and pair it with genital mutilation.”

    The Daily Wire is also chock-full of rampant homophobic and transphobic sentiments. Headlines serve as jabs of their own, with titles such as “CDC Finally Acknowledges: Homosexual Behavior Can Lead To More STDs. Duh,” “Homosexual Christians Doing Just What Jesus Wants By Waiting to Have Homosexual Sex Until After Homosexual Marriage,” “Trans Woman Demands TSA Ignore Biological Sex” (neither the headline nor the story accurately depicts what happened in that situation), and “FDA: Screw The Public, Let Gay Men Donate Blood.”

    Like The Federalist, The Daily Wire is also very concerned about “LGBT school indoctrination,” the potential negative effects of letting same-sex couples adopt children (even going so far as to claim that adoption agencies have a “right to deny children to homosexual couples”), and the rise in acceptance of “activity typically gauged as immoral” such as being gay. Columnists are quick to remind you that if you don’t accept that “the homosexual act is a grave sin and abortion is an abomination,” you are not a “real Christian.”

    You’ll also find a number of articles bemoaning the support of “same-sex ‘marriage’” from people “pushing homosexuality, ‘transgenderism’ and other pernicious perversions down everyone’s throat.” Right-wing commentator Erick Erickson has written a number of inflammatory anti-LGBTQ articles with lines such as “homosexuality is a perversion and sin” and California is “hellbent on forcing children into the latest religious craze: transgenderism.” Other Daily Wire writers warn that the United Nations is trying to “push homosexuality” on the rest of the world, that Pope Francis is wrong for saying that being gay isn’t a choice, and that people who disagreed with the intensely anti-LGBTQ “Nashville Statement” are basically heretics.

    Shapiro’s own writing is broadly anti-LGBTQ, but he is extremely hostile when it comes to trans people (a group he’s mocked relentlessly on Twitter). Shapiro has warned that “the gay marriage caucus” was “utilizing the law as a baton to club wrong-thinking religious people into acceptance of homosexuality,” calling for state-level resistance. He claimed that legal protections for gay and trans people would be “discrimination” as they would “override religious objections to homosexuality and business objection to hiring the mentally ill” (by which he means trans people), calling them “downright fascistic.”

    Based on what these outlets publish, McAllister was understandably surprised that she lost her freelance gigs.

    Anti-LGBTQ rhetoric is the norm in articles published at both The Federalist and The Daily Wire, but when McAllister tweeted the same venom at a relatively high-profile, respected journalist, she was cut loose.

    “I was fired when I criticized a gay man who mocked my heterosexual relationship,” she tweeted. “Yet no one defended me when I stood for masculinity and God’s design for sexuality despite outlets saying they represent Judeo-Christian values about sexuality, identity and purpose. What is truth?”

    She’s got a point: This all seems extremely hypocritical. Maybe Domenech and Shapiro now realize how bad their anti-LGBTQ rhetoric sounds once it reaches an audience outside of the conservative media bubble. Maybe this will inspire real change. But more likely, Shapiro saw the negative attention coming and dropped McAllister at the first sign of trouble. Domenech was probably just looking for a reason to cut McAllister loose after she insulted his wife, Meghan McCain, last week (McCain’s response to that insult, “You were at my wedding, Denise,” became a meme).

    They should not get kudos for doing the bare minimum under the glare of the public spotlight while also regularly publishing content that is just as reprehensible. She wrote for your sites, Bens.

  • How right-wing media tried to spin Michael Cohen’s testimony 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On February 27, longtime Trump lawyer and confidant Michael Cohen delivered damning testimony about President Donald Trump to the House oversight committee. Cohen alleged that Trump was aware of WikiLeaks’ plan to release hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee, that Trump lied during the campaign about his plans to build a Trump tower in Moscow, and that Trump directed Cohen to repeatedly pay off women to keep quiet about their sexual relationships with him. Cohen also called the president a “racist” and a “con man.” Despite the serious criminal allegations, right-wing media were quick to dismiss and reject Cohen’s testimony.

    Here are the ways they tried to spin the hearing:

    Cohen’s testimony wasn’t newsworthy

    Right-wing media figures argued that Cohen’s allegations weren’t newsworthy and aren’t worth discussing.

    • Fox’s Sean Hannity asserted that the hearing was “a Democratic party [and] a hyperventilating, hysterical media putting politics over country with a political charade designed to just embarrass and trash the president.”

    • Fox contributor Dan Bongino claimed that Cohen’s presentation of the reimbursement check he says he received from Trump for paying off adult film actor Stormy Daniels is irrelevant. “I don’t think it’s damaging at all,” he said. “This has all been baked into the cake. There’s no news here.”

    • After the Cohen testimony was over, Fox’s Greg Gutfeld asked, “Why did we endure this spectacle?” He claimed, “People here are acting like this is news. We need to believe that it's news because we are forced to cover this. I don't feel like this is news. I can't find the news.”

    • Right-wing radio host Mark Levin said on Twitter, “The Democrats are a farce. Their media handlers are as well. What was the legislative purpose of the Cohen hearing? There was none.”

    Cohen's testimony was a distraction, especially from Trump's North Korea summit

    Others in right-wing media branded the hearing a distraction, especially from Trump’s summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Some figures also argued that the Democrats shouldn’t have held the Cohen hearing while Trump was in negotiations with Kim.

    • Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk: “Democrats holding a hearing with convicted liar Michael Cohen while [Trump] is in Vietnam negotiating peace with North Korea tells you everything you need to know about the left. They would rather see America fail than see Donald Trump succeed.”

    • The Federalist’s Ben Domenech: “The Cohen circus is a perfect encapsulation of the 2016 Forever era: A bunch of salacious noise from which we learn very little, even as much greater concern should be focused on *what's actually happening* as a matter of policy.”

    • National Rifle Association spokesperson and radio host Dana Loesch said that Trump is de-escalating hostility with North Korea, “India and Pakistan are on the brink of war, but this Cohen guy tho that already undermined himself.”

    • Fox’s Ainsley Earhardt complained, “You’ve got this major news story that’s happening on the other side of the world, and then in D.C., they’re trying to put this guy who already lied to that very committee, ... and they’re putting him on the stand the very day that our president’s talking to Kim Jong Un.”

    • Fox’s Jason Chaffetz said, “This Cohen situation is such a distraction from what is going on that is actually going to matter in the world.”

    • Fox’s Andrew Napolitano argued, “The Democrats should be ashamed of themselves for doing this today. Politics is supposed to stop at the water's edge and whatever they have on the president, they ought to cut him a break and let him freely and without worrying about what’s going on in Washington, D.C., be in a position to negotiate with Kim Jong Un.”

    • Fox’s Geraldo Rivera: “I think it was pathetic, the timing. … They easily could have postponed it 48 hours, 72 hours to let the world focus on this profoundly significant event.”

    • Fox’s Sean Hannity complained that at the “very same moment” of a “historic summit with the president of the United States,” Democrats “purposely scheduled and hauled in Michael Cohen … just to embarrass the president.”

    • The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro questioned why Cohen was even testifying if he couldn’t provide “direct evidence” that Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia. He concluded, “Democrats want headlines so they can distract from their own incompetence and garbage legislation, and Cohen shifts the headlines.”

    • Fox’s Tucker Carlson claimed Cohen’s testimony “doesn't have anything to do with anything and that is the exactly the point of it,” and said, “This is a distraction, and we are falling for it.”

    Cohen’s allegations don’t hurt the president

    Some right-wing media figures claimed that Cohen’s testimony -- which included allegations that the president committed multiple felonies -- doesn’t hurt Trump, especially not legally.

    • Right-wing radio host Mark Simone claimed, “Michael Cohen’s testimony will be the 2019 version of the Michael Wolf gossip book. They’ll call it a ‘bombshell’ and two weeks later it’ll be forgotten about.”

    • Prior to Cohen’s testimony but after his opening statement was published by The New York Times, Fox’s Geraldo Rivera argued that the statement suggested that the “Cohen testimony will be dramatic, entertaining, embarrassing, nothing new & will not advance Collusion narrative.”

    • The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro said on Twitter: “Cohen's testimony falls into three buckets for Trump: (1) illegality; (2) embarrassing for Trump; (3) stupid hilarity. There's not much in bucket (1), there's a lot in bucket (2), and there's a fair amount in bucket (3).”

    • Shapiro also wrote: “So is Cohen's testimony damaging to Trump? In terms of public relations, sure. In terms of impeachment, meh. In terms of legal liability, not really.”

    • Fox’s Dan Bongino insisted that, even if it is true, “there's no there there" on Michael Cohen's claim Trump knew about WikiLeaks' plan to publish hacked DNC emails, saying, “None of this is great politically. The question is, is it criminally damaging? And the answer is no.”

    The testimony actually helps Trump’s legal case

    Other right-wing media figures suggested that far from hurting the president, Cohen’s testimony to Congress actually helps him.

    • The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh: “Remarkably Cohen's testimony exonerates Trump. He says Trump never directly told him to lie, he has no evidence of collusion, and Trump only worked on the Moscow project because he thought he wouldn't win, which means he wasn't trying to leverage the presidency for financial gain.”

    • Breitbart’s Joel Pollak: “Michael Cohen’s not saying anything new legally. His testimony exonerates Trump from telling him to lie to Congress. There’s nothing new about collusion. And his recollection of things Trump said is unclear by his own admission.”

    • Frequent Fox guest John Solomon claimed the hearing was “a good day for the president,” and “a good day for his legal defense.”

    Former Clinton lawyer Lanny Davis orchestrated the hearing

    Some right-wing media figures unsurprisingly tried to tie the Cohen’s testimony to the Clintons by noting that his lawyer has previously worked with them.

    • Fox’s Katie Pavlich: “Everything you need to know about Cohen’s testimony is sitting behind him: Lanny Davis. This is about revenge for Clinton’s 2016 loss in 2020.”

    • Breitbart’s Joel Pollak said that Cohen’s testimony was partly “Lanny Davis talking thru Cohen’s mouth.”

    • Fox’s Lisa Boothe: “How is this not ridiculously sketchy to everyone? Lanny Davis, a Clinton loyalist, is working for Michael Cohen for free. I wonder what is in it for Davis.”

    • Boothe: “Doesn’t Lanny Davis representing Michael Cohen and sitting behind him today tell you everything you need to know? Democrats still can’t get over the fact that Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump in 2016.”

    • Fox’s Sean Hannity said that the hearing was “highly orchestrated by, yes, the biggest Clinton supporter on the entire Earth, Lanny Davis, who is apparently representing Michael Cohen for free.”

  • Sunday shows barely mentioned the 2018 Women’s March

    The longest mention was a meager 20 seconds on NBC’s Meet The Press. Other shows were worse.

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Mobilus in Mobili / Creative Commons License via Flickr

    The day after the start of the second annual series of Women’s Marches all over the world, the major Sunday political talk shows were nearly silent on the historic protests, only briefly mentioning the topic across all five shows.

    On January 20 and 21, one year after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, hundreds of thousands of protesters turned out in hundreds of marches and other events in the U.S. and worldwide to unite to support women’s rights. The protests emphasized encouraging women to engage in the political process and expressing shared disdain for the oppressive policies of the Trump administration. According to Politico, there were an estimated 600,000 attendees at the Los Angeles march alone. One of the March’s main events, called #PowerToThePolls, took place in Las Vegas, NV, on January 21 and aimed to register one million voters.The Women’s March described the effort as targeting “swing states to register new voters, engage impacted communities, harness our collective energy to advocate for policies and candidates that reflect our values, and collaborate with our partners to elect more women and progressives candidates to office.”

    Despite the worldwide impact of the marches, the major Sunday political talk shows  -- which include CNN’s State of the Union, ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday -- were nearly silent on the topic. These shows often set the tone and priorities for media coverage for the rest of the week.

    On ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanopoulos briefly acknowledged the “Women’s Marches in hundreds of cities all across the country” in his opening monologue, and later in the show, panelist Karen Finney mentioned “all the people who were marching in the streets yesterday.” No one responded directly to her comments about the marches. On CBS’ Face The Nation, conservative outlet The Federalist’s publisher Ben Domenech noted the “pro-life March For Life that happens every year, followed by the Women’s March on the other side” while discussing Trump’s first year in office.

    The only significant discussion, defined as a back-and-forth exchange between two or more people, of the weekend’s marches was on NBC’s Meet the Press, where panelists remarked on the event in a meager 20-second exchange. Host Chuck Todd also mentioned the “hundreds of thousands of women march[ing] across the country protesting the president, many with an eye towards more women winning office this November” in his opening monologue.

    In 2017, CNN and MSNBC extensively covered the first annual Women’s March, while Fox News’ minimal coverage was criticized. That march was one of the largest protests in US. history.

  • Pundits overlook John Kelly's extreme record, instead speculate that he could save Trump

    ››› ››› NINA MAST

    Media figures and political strategists flocked to the Sunday shows to speculate that Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly will promote “discipline” and reduce “chaos” as White House chief of staff, and that Trump will listen to him because he “respects” military officers. What their analyses left out is Kelly’s extreme policy position on immigration and his defense of Trump’s chaotic Muslim travel ban implementation.

  • Here Are The Big Players In The Inevitable Smear Campaign Against Judge Merrick Garland

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    As President Obama reportedly prepares to announce Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, media should be prepared to hear from several right-wing groups dedicated to opposing the nominee, no matter who it is. These advocacy groups and right-wing media outlets have a history of pushing misleading information and alarmist rhetoric to launch smear campaigns against Obama's highly qualified Supreme Court nominees, using tactics including, but not limited to, spreading offensive rumors about a nominee's personal life, deploying bogus legal arguments or conspiracy theories, and launching wild distortions of every aspect of a nominee's legal career.

  • INFOGRAPHIC: The Conservative Civil War Over Donald Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Conservative pundits are bickering over Donald Trump's campaign, especially after National Review's "Against Trump" issue and the backlash it engendered. On one side are pundits who want to stop Trump's candidacy in its tracks. On the other are conservatives who are lauding Trump's candidacy, even if they have not officially endorsed him. Media Matters breaks down exactly who is on which side (click for the full-sized image):

    Civil War over Donald Trump

    Graphic by Sarah Wasko, Research by Eric Hananoki
     
  • Introducing The Federalist, A New Web Magazine For Anti-LGBT Conservatives

    Blog ››› ››› LUKE BRINKER

    As the online news and commentary landscape continues to expand, the nascent conservative web magazine The Federalist has quickly carved out a role as a brash, anti-establishment site. It has also become an outlet for often-rabid anti-LGBT talking points.

    Launched in September 2013 as a "web magazine on politics, policy, and culture," The Federalist is helmed by publisher Ben Domenech, a co-founder of the right-wing blog RedState.com and senior fellow at the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank known for its opposition to climate science and funding from industry sources like the Koch brothers. Co-founder Sean Davis came to conservative journalism after a career in GOP politics, having worked for Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). Senior editors David Harsanyi and Mollie Hemingway and senior writer Robert Tracinski round out The Federalist's leadership.

    In its short existence, The Federalist has won plaudits from conservative organizations and activists, not least those best known for their anti-LGBT advocacy. A look at the website's track record on LGBT issues leaves little doubt as to why The Federalist counts some of the most notorious anti-LGBT groups among its most ardent fans.

    Touted by Domenech as a publication "that rejects the assumptions of the media establishment," The Federalist regularly frames its opposition to LGBT equality as brave defiance of elite conventions. This posture leads The Federalist to inveigh against even the most basic protections for LGBT people.

    Arguments Against Marriage Equality

    Take writer Rachel Lu's opposition to anti-bullying legislation. In a March 18 piece, Lu condemned such legislation as an attempt to "normalize homosexuality and transgendered behavior." (Being transgender isn't a "behavior.") Lu situated anti-bullying policies in a larger context in which progressives seek to enforce an "Orwellian vision" of LGBT equality.

    Lamenting that LGBT acceptance has become "thoroughly conventional," Lu argued that young voters' support for marriage equality is the result of "unreflective ignorance" about "what marriage is." Lu defended an exclusively heterosexual conception of marriage by noting that the vast majority of "cultural and historical and literary references to marriage" concern heterosexual relationships. "Enjoying sexual difference," Lu concluded, "is critical to almost all of these romances, and while homosexuals do have Plato's Symposium and the poetry of Sappho, their stock of cultural associations is much, much thinner."

    Other Federalist writers couch their opposition to marriage equality in decidedly less literary terms. Hemingway, who refers to straight marriage as "natural marriage," explained in a February piece that "the penis and vagina parts are actually key to this entire shebang. See: human history."

    Contributor Hunter Baker echoed Hemingway's argument in a post arguing that opponents of marriage equality are just being "commonsensical." In what apparently passes for robust argument at The Federalist, Baker used the example of his children's confusion when they learned of the existence of same-sex relationships. They couldn't "understand why a man would want to share romantic love with another man" - definitive evidence to Baker that homosexuality is unnatural. He then compared his children's aversion to homosexuality to what he called children's reflexive "tilts away" from racism. (In reality, studies of how young children respond to dolls show that they respond more favorably to white dolls than to black ones.)

    And then there's Jesus, whom writer Andrew Walker assured readers would not support marriage equality. But fear not, Walker counseled pro-equality Christians, "no sin is wider than Christ's mercy if one will only repent and believe."

  • Right-wing media rehash tired attacks on CMS pick Berwick

    ››› ››› JUSTIN BERRIER

    The right-wing media responded to news that President Obama intends to use a recess appointment to install Donald Berwick as head of the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The attacks rely on distortions of Berwick's past statements about the U.S. and U.K. health care systems and on manufactured outrage about recess appointments, which are a common practice.

  • Rumors

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    As yesterday's speculation about whether Elena Kagan is gay reached a fever pitch, it was striking how little interest those who were most enthusiastically pushing the story seemed to have in the fact that the White House has already answered the question.

    Last month, conservative blogger/plagiarist Ben Domenech wrote in a column that appeared on CBSNews.com that Kagan is gay. In response, the White House indicated that she is not. As the Huffington Post's Sam Stein reported "The White House reacted strongly to the assertion, relaying that Kagan is, in fact, straight." The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz added:

    An administration official, who asked not to be identified discussing personal matters, said Kagan is not a lesbian....A White House spokesman, Ben LaBolt, said he complained to CBS because the column "made false charges."

    So, that's pretty unambiguous. As Solicitor General, Elena Kagan was then, as now, a senior Obama administration official, so the White House aides who explicitly said Kagan is not gay were presumably speaking with her sanction. Absent any convincing evidence to the contrary -- and no, rumors and rumors about rumors don't count as convincing evidence -- the unambiguous statements of White House officials should put the speculation to rest.

    But some people really enjoy speculating.

    The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan, for example, headlined a post yesterday "So Is She Gay?" and complained "no one will ask directly if this is true and no one in the administration will tell us definitively." Sullivan must have forgotten that the White House actually did tell "us" definitively just last month. Oddly, Slate's Jack Shafer endorsed Sullivan's post, writing that it gets to "the heart of the matter" -- the unwillingness of the White House to "speak definitively about Kagan's orientation."

    Mediaite managing editor Colby Hall wrote several hundred words about Kagan, touching on her relationship with Goldman Sachs, her service in the Clinton administration, and her past statements about reproductive rights, judicial activism, the death penalty, and Don't Ask, Don't Tell. But Hall's real interest was clearly Kagan's personal life:

  • Domenech attempts further spin for "rumor" controversy: "no one should care if a nominee to any position is gay"

    Blog ››› ››› KARL FRISCH

    Yesterday, Ben Domenech took to Huffington Post to try and further spin the "opinion" article he wrote that was subsequently reprinted on a CBS News blog which pushed unsubstantiated, un-sourced gossip about Solicitor General Elena Kagan's personal life in relation to the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy.

    In his Huffington Post mea culpa, Domenech makes this odd claim (emphasis his):

    Look, it's 2010 -- no one should care if a nominee to any position is gay. The fact that conservative Senators John Cornyn and Jeff Sessions have recently expressed openness to confirming an openly gay nominee to the Court is a good thing. Senators should look at things that actually matter -- evaluating a nominee's decisions, approach to the law, their judgment and ability -- to see whether there are actually good and relevant reasons to oppose the nomination. That's all.

    Funny, because based on Domenech's history, I'm inclined to think that he ran with the unsubstantiated, un-sourced "rumor" precisely because it centered on a sexual orientation different from his own.

    I agree with him that "it's 2010 - no one should care if a nominee to any position is gay," I'm just not sure he believes his own words. After all, Domenech once wrote that conservative, openly gay, blogger Andrew Sullivan, "needs a woman to give him some stability."

    Well, after being forced to resign by the Washington Post in 2006 for repeated plagiarism and getting schooled by media critics far and wide for running with these rumors, it seems Domenech could use a refresher course in journalistic basics. You know, to "give him some stability" in his chosen profession.

    Related:

  • A Washington Post/Ben Domenech Flashback

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz writes up the controversy over CBS' publication of a column by bigoted right-wing plagiarist Ben Domenech. To my surprise, Kurtz actually mentioned the Post's own unfortunate decision to hire Domenech a few years ago:

    The Post's Web site briefly hired Domenech as a conservative blogger in 2006. He resigned three days after his debut after a flurry of plagiarism allegations that were trumpeted by liberal Web sites. The sites found signs of plagiarism in a movie review he wrote for National Review Online and, earlier, in his writing for the College of William & Mary's student newspaper.

    Domenech maintained that he did not knowingly use other people's writing without attribution but said the "firestorm" had "reached the point where there's nothing I can really do to defend myself."

    It is worth noting, however, that Kurtz downplayed the extent of Domenech's plagiarism. There weren't just "signs of plagiarism" -- in one case, Domenech signed his name to a column that appeared to have been lifted entirely from a P.J. O'Rourke book. That's pretty hard to do un-"knowingly."

    Downplaying the case against Domenech is nothing new for Howard Kurtz. The Post media critic -- who claims he's as aggressive towards the Post as he would be if he didn't work there -- spent the brief, controversial period between the Post's hiring of Domenech and his "resignation" dismissing complaints about Domenech's lack of credentials and downplaying evidence of plagiarism.

    Incredibly, after Domenech left the Post, Kurtz suggested that the decision to hire the bigoted Republican activist demonstrated that the hiring practices of newspapers like the Post "tilt toward people of the liberal persuasion."

    Finally, something to keep in mind about the Washington Post and Domenech: The Post didn't get rid of him for calling Coretta Scott King a "communist," echoing the slur used against the Kings by generations of racists. The Post didn't get rid of him for comparing "the Judiciary" unfavorably to the KKK. Or for posting without comment an article* stating that "killing black babies has the happy result of reducing crime." Or for writing that a gay male journalist "needs a woman to give him some stability."

    No, Ben Domenech's overt bigotry didn't cost him his job at the Post, which only dumped him when his plagiarism was revealed.

    * This sentence originally indicated that Domenech wrote the line in question himself. I regret the error.