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  • After Elizabeth Warren published DNA test results, right-wing media move the goal posts

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    After years of accusing Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) of misrepresenting her heritage, right-wing media are digging in their heels now that she has publicly released DNA test results that revealed “strong evidence” that she has Native American ancestry. Reporting surrounding the release also noted that Harvard Law School, where she has taught, did not consider her claim of Native American ancestry in deciding to hire her. But the “strong evidence” for her heritage is only causing right-wing media to move the goal posts.

    Since 2012, conservative media have been strangely obsessed with Warren and her family heritage. Originally popularized by Boston talk radio personality/columnist Howie Carr and the Scott Brown for Senate campaign in 2012, the attacks against Warren’s ancestry reached national audiences during the 2016 campaign. Then-candidate Donald Trump picked up the assertion that Warren had misrepresented her heritage, making it a regular theme at his campaign rallies. The fixation on her heritage eventually reached Fox News, with the hosts of Fox & Friends Weekends pushing a challenge for Warren to take a DNA test to “prove, once and for all, her Native American ancestry.”

    On October 15, The Boston Globe reported that Warren had taken a DNA test “that provides ‘strong evidence’ she had a Native American in her family tree dating back 6 to 10 generations.” More importantly, even though Warren marked “Native American” on her Harvard University employment application -- which has been central to the absurd and racist claims about her family that have dogged her since her 2012 Senate campaign -- the Globe noted that there was “clear evidence, in documents and interviews, that her claim to Native American ethnicity was never considered by the Harvard Law faculty, which voted resoundingly to hire her, or by those who hired her to four prior positions at other law schools.”

    But now, the problem for conservative media is not that Warren may have misrepresented her heritage or that it played a role in her hiring, it is that she doesn’t have enough Native American ancestry.

    Now that every angle of their stupid argument has been debunked, right-wing media are simply digging in their heels. The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro ditched any argument about Warren’s employment at Harvard or the veracity of the DNA results and simply referred to those who trust Warren’s word about her family and the Globe’s “exhaustive review” as the “real bitter clingers.” The immensely credible and not-racist Daily Caller tweeted that Warren is “Like between .09 and 3 percent cherokinda.” And CRTV’s Michelle Malkin posted an incomprehensible tweet calling Warren “#Fauxcahontas.”

  • The party of personal responsibility is now the party of “the libs made me do it”

    More than just a hit song by Taylor Swift, Look what you made me do has become the go-to excuse for unsavory actions among conservatives.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    You’d be surprised how many conservatives were this close to casting a ballot for Democrats next month only to be thrust back into their Republican ways by how liberal protesters and Democratic senators handled themselves during Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. No, I don’t have data to back this up. What I do have, however, are anecdotes -- lots and lots of anecdotes from conservative media figures who are sharing them, ever so kindly and not at all suspiciously, because they just want to help Democrats win some elections.

    “From a conservative who has been disgusted by the Trumpified GOP: ‘I didn’t think I could drag myself to the polls. But after the Left’s performance in the Kavanaugh affair, I would crawl across broken glass.’ I believe this sentiment is common,” wrote National Review’s Jay Nordlinger on Twitter.

    In his most recent Washington Post column, Hugh Hewitt stressed the importance of not rewarding the “outburst of the new McCarthyism” that was the opposition to Kavanaugh’s spot on the court. This lesson, of course, is for the Democratic Party’s own good -- and it’s one that can be taught only by increasing Republican majorities in the House and Senate. For Republicans who find themselves disapproving of President Donald Trump’s “hyperbole and occasional cruelty,” voting a straight-GOP ballot is a courageous sacrifice worthy of applause. Democrats can rest easy knowing that Hugh Hewitt, longtime friend of the left, has their best interests at heart. Or … something like that.

    “I’ve heard from several of my center-right friends today who are turned off by the Left’s attacks on Kavanaugh & Cruz. As a result, they have started solidly supporting them both,” wrote Daily Beast columnist and CNN commentator Matt Lewis on Twitter, sharing an “admittedly anecdotal” bit of info with his followers.

    Each of these stories could be thusly summed up: I didn’t want to vote for Trump or his congressional enablers … but look what you made me do. In other words, it’s your fault that we’re here.

    It’s a convenient defense to sidestep responsibility for actions or positions one knows to be ethically murky. For many conservatives, that includes supporting Trump and his oft-cruel agenda.

    One variation on this trope is the rejoinder, “This is how you got Trump.” Again on Twitter, Lewis reminds readers that though he’s spent years “lamenting the rise of what came to be called ‘Trumpism’ on the Right,” we should remember at least two of the real causes behind the phenomenon: “liberal media bias” and “the radicalization of the Left.”

    The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro has blamed the rise of Trump on a litany of factors: former President Barack Obama’s lectures; Hillary Clinton’s decision to participate in a sketch during the 2018 Grammy Awards (14 months after Trump’s election); a joke about salads; a tweet from MSNBC’s Chris Hayes about the cancellation of Roseanne; an admittedly bizarre HuffPost article titled “Why I Put A Dragonfruit Up My Butt…”; the response to a CNN segment in which Fox Sports Radio host Clay Travis said the only two things he believed in were “the First Amendment and boobs”; and, in the most meta example possible, the phrase “this is why Trump won.”

    Surely some of those were meant as jokes, but they illustrate something important within modern politics: No one can ever be to blame for their own actions. “How you got Trump” is that Republicans voted for him during the party’s 2016 primary and then went on to cast their ballots for him in the general election. Yes, of course there were other factors, such as Obama voters who crossed over to Trump, Democrats and independents who sat the election out, voter suppression and disenfranchisement efforts, and so on. None of them, however, were tweets, salads, or sketches during awards shows. Voters -- Trump voters -- gave us Trump. At least that would seem apparent.

    Sometimes, this tactic is deployed as a response, as it was during the Kavanaugh confirmation. Other times, it’s a warning against future action.

    Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s win during the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th Congressional District left some on the right flustered. A young, affable, progressive candidate who rose from obscurity to defeat a powerful incumbent could pose a threat to the conservative monopoly on power -- if more candidates like her were to emerge and succeed. Right-leaning commentators have since deployed a series of editorials urging Democrats, for their own sake, not to venture too far to the left.

    “Democrats need to choose: Are they the party of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or the party of Michael Bloomberg?” asked a June Business Insider article by Daniella Greenbaum. At The Atlantic, Reihan Salam wrote about Ocasio-Cortez as a sign that the Democratic Party may be in for an unwise shift to the left. Former George H.W. Bush staffer Lloyd Green warned at The Hill that “wealthy swing voters will not buy what Ocasio-Cortez is selling.”

    The promise, though sometimes unspoken, is that if the Democrats were to simply be a little more conservative, they would be able to cash in on the many disillusioned Trump voters. At The New York Times, David Brooks urged Democrats to make less of a fuss about right-wing attacks on abortion rights. Doing this, he surmises, would help them defeat the threat that Trumpism poses to the country and the world. Often, these articles are a request for just one little concession here or there -- maybe it’s to ease up on abortion; or maybe it’s to sit out the conservative battle against LGBTQ rights; or maybe it’s to adopt a more market-driven approach to health insurance. The message bombarding readers is that people on the left are forcing those on the right to march toward authoritarianism simply by being on the left. The underlying argument is that to be successful at the polls, Democrats need to abandon many of the things that differentiate them from Republicans -- which, in Greenbaum’s argument, involves becoming “the party of” a former Republican mayor -- or else conservatives will have no choice but to continue their rightward march.

    But if Trump is the type of existential threat to conservatism and country that National Review made him out to be in its “Against Trump” issue or that Shapiro sugested in a piece for The Daily Wire, then the “party of personal responsibility” needs to take it upon itself to reshape from within. Instead, right-wing media figures are rattling off reasons that it’s actually the fault of Democrats that Republicans became the party of Trump -- not because of their own choices, actions, and divisions.

    Trump himself uses this tactic in his own political battles. Take his immigration policy, for example.

    “It is now time for Congress to act!” Trump said in a 2017 statement announcing the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

    The meticulously crafted statement suggested that his hands were tied. As much as he wanted to keep the program in place, he had little choice but to send the issue back to Congress with hope that it would pass legislation to protect the undocumented immigrants here under the 2012 program. This, of course, was a farce. Trump had every right to leave the program in place while encouraging Congress to make it permanent. Instead, he turned the lives of nearly 700,000 people into a political bargaining chip attached to a ticking time bomb.

    “We want to see something happen with DACA,” Trump said in January. “It’s been spoken of for years, and children are now adults in many cases.” But did he actually want to have a DACA bill on his desk to sign? A number of Democrats (including California Sen. Dianne Feinstein) called on Republican leaders in Congress to vote on a clean bill to completely resolve the issue. In fact, at the same time Trump announced the plan to wind down DACA, the DREAM Act of 2017 had been languishing in the Senate for more than a month. He chose not to put pressure on Republican members of Congress (the bill did have Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Cory Gardner (R-CO) as co-sponsors) to pass the existing bill. Instead, he railed against inaction, making repeated claims that Democrats were the ones choosing not to protect DACA recipients, tweeting that Democrats were “nowhere to be found” on the issue, didn’t care, and were ultimately responsible for the fact that “DACA is dead” (DACA is actually still active as it faces challenges in courts).

    Not only were Democrats willing to act, but many crossed the aisle to provide a bipartisan solution which included an offer to fund his border wall. In response, Trump threatened to veto the bill were it to pass Congress. He went on to repeat this exact same strategy to defend his administration’s family separation policy, falsely blaming it on a “horrible law” that simply did not and does not exist.

    Just as some conservatives in the media can justify their support of Trump’s cruelest policies by blaming just about anything apart from their own decision-making (did you know that Saturday Night Live can lead the most disillusioned former Republican back into the party’s warm embrace?), Trump justifies his own policies by blaming his political opponents. Everyone is happy to take credit for making the right call when something is good -- there’s no shortage of positive coverage among conservatives when it comes to the “Trump economy” -- but blame gets spread far and fast when something has a negative outcome.

    One of the latest examples of this trend involves Trump’s own op-ed in USA Today. While there are a number of outright lies in the piece, there’s one that’s especially galling.

    “As a candidate, I promised that we would protect coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions and create new health care insurance options that would lower premiums,” reads the editorial. “I have kept that promise, and we are now seeing health insurance premiums coming down.”

    Trump has not kept his promise to people with pre-existing conditions, of course, instead painting Democrats as the party that wants to take away people’s access to health care. In fact, the administration is actively trying to gut protections for people with pre-existing conditions in court. On Wednesday, the Republican Senate voted down a measure to prevent a new rule put forward by the administration that would allow insurance companies to offer plans that exclude these crucial and popular protections.

    If and when those defenses erode, there’s little doubt that he will look to Democrats as he did during the DACA debate and shrug as if to say, “I really wanted to help. Really, I did. But look what you made me do.” His defenders are sure to join in. It’s the job of a responsible media to hold him to account.

  • PragerU posts a video about Christopher Columbus that features a racist depiction of indigenous people

    It's that time of year.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    PragerU put out a video featuring CRTV’s Steven Crowder explaining that Columbus Day is “not about paying homage to America’s original inhabitants” and showing a racist depiction of indigenous people as cannibals wielding salt-and-pepper shakers.

    PragerU is an online hub for right-wing propaganda that has made a name for itself by producing short explainer videos that get quickly propelled by YouTube’s virality algorithm. It has an incredibly strong following that leads to its videos raking in millions of views on YouTube and Facebook. On this occasion, PragerU gave its powerful platform to bigoted Crowder -- who recently referred to Christine Blasey Ford as a “lying whore” on his CRTV show -- to characterize initiatives against the erasure of original populations as a “charade” that is an “exercise in hating Western civilization.”

    On 4chan, a hub for far-right extremism, users have latched onto right-wing media’s culture war outrage and historical revisionism surrounding Christopher Columbus. 4chan users framed the issue in white supremacist terms by celebrating Columbus because of his role in the genocide of people of color:

    This outrage has become an annual tradition. Every year on this date, right-wing media figures rant against calls to celebrate indigenous people rather than Columbus’ bloody legacy, by lashing out with racist depictions of original populations. In 2017, Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire published a cartoon showing Native Americans as cannibalistic savages who should be grateful for colonization, a take so racist even Shapiro had to apologize following the backlash.

    Similarly, Mike Huckabee published a wildly racist educational video about Columbus and indigenous people in 2011.

    And speaking about Columbus Day in 2005, Lou Dobbs said that he resented “those kinds of holidays” that have “nothing to do with celebrating America.” In the same context, Rush Limbaugh in 2010 linked disease rates among indigenous populations to evolution.

    White supremacist darling Tucker Carlson has repeatedly bemoaned celebrations of indigenous people, characterizing them as an “attack on civilization” and claiming Europeans coming to America led to “far less human sacrifice and cannibalism.”

    Talia Lavin contributed research to this piece.

  • Conservative media freak out in response to senators calling for an FBI investigation of Kavanaugh

    What are they afraid of?

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Conservative media personalities are attacking calls by a bipartisan group of senators for the FBI to investigate allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh following Thursday’s hearing with the nominee and Christine Blasey Ford, who testified that Kavanaugh attempted to rape her in the 1980s.

    A day after Thursday’s hearing, where Ford’s testimony was widely acknowledged as “credible” and Kavanaugh misled the senators in his own testimony, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to send Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Senate floor for a final vote. Following some last-minute drama,Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) announced he was voting to send Kavanaugh's nomination to the full Senate for a vote under the condition that the FBI spend up to a week investigating current allegations against the judge. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also voiced support for Flake’s call for a delay on the floor vote so that the FBI can investigate.

    Conservative media personalities, a couple of whom had smeared or discounted the women who reported sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh, quickly attacked the calls for the FBI investigation and called for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to ignore the request and quickly hold a vote to confirm Kavanaugh:

    Fox News host Sean Hannity: "Now we need one more week, why so another 15 people can be brought up by Democratic operatives?"

    Conservative author Ann Coulter: Investigation "surrenders advice & consent to corrupt FBI."

    NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch: “Because the seventh FBI background check will definitely do the trick.”

    FoxNews.com’s Stephen Miller: “If you think Dems are going to hold on a one week FBI investigation deadline you're absolutely bananas.”

    Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich: “Mitch McConnell better veto this delay. Hold the vote.”

    Conservative talk show host Erick Erickson: “Get ready -- the Democrats are going to flood the zone. Kavanaugh will be a suspected serial killer by Friday.”

    Fox News contributor Lisa Boothe: “This just means the Democrats and their friends in the media have more time to find and exploit unverified and unsubstantiated allegations against #JudgeKavanaugh.”

    Conservative talk radio host Buck Sexton: “There is nothing for the FBI to investigate. … This is just rewarding the worst political behavior of my lifetime.”

    The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro: “This will satisfy no one, next week will be a complete tornado of crap, and we’ll see you here next Friday!”

    Conservative author David Limbaugh: “This is not about due diligence but another delay designed to defeat Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation.”

    Media Research Center’s Dan Gainor: “Liberals: We will keep investigating you until you are found guilty.”

    Daily Caller’s Benny Johnson: “Why give the monster a cookie in the first place?”

    MSNBC contributor Hugh Hewitt: This is a “sham of a process.”

    Hannity radio guest Jonathon Gilliam: "We do still have a realistic expectation that the deep state is part of the FBI"

  • How YouTube facilitates right-wing radicalization

    From "gurus" to extremist "influencers," the video site is a potent tool for ideologues

    Blog ››› ››› TALIA LAVIN


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

    For the casual YouTube viewer -- someone who logs on once in a while to access cute kitten videos or recipe demonstrations -- it can be difficult to imagine that the video site is also a teeming cesspit of hate speech and a prime means of its transmission.

    But a new study from think tank Data & Society and the earlier work of ex-YouTube engineer Guillaume Chaslot reveal the technical and social mechanisms underlying an inescapable truth: Thanks to an algorithm that prioritizes engagement -- as measured by the interactions users have with content on the platform -- and “influencer” marketing, YouTube has become a source of right-wing radicalization for young viewers.

    An algorithm that incentivizes extreme content

    YouTube’s recommendation algorithm dictates which videos rise to the top in response to search queries, and, after a video finishes playing, it populates the video player window with thumbnails recommending further content. According to a Wall Street Journal analysis, YouTube’s algorithm “recommends more than 200 million different videos in 80 languages each day.” These recommendations take into account what the viewer has already watched, but it’s all in the service of engagement, or, as the Journal’s Jack Nicas put it, “stickiness” -- what keeps the viewer on the site, watching. The longer viewers watch, the more ads they see.

    But this has unintended consequences.

    “They assume if you maximize the watch time, the results are neutral,” Guillaume Chaslot, a former Google engineer and creator of the YouTube algorithm analysis tool Algo Transparency, told Media Matters. “But it’s not neutral ... because it’s better for extremists. Extremists are better for watch time, because more extreme content is more engaging.”

    In a way, it’s common sense -- videos that make inflammatory claims or show explosive images tend to grab viewers’ attention. And attention-grabbing videos -- those that cause viewers to watch more and longer -- rise up in the recommendation algorithm, leading more new viewers to see them in their list of recommended videos.

    As the Journal’s analysis showed, viewers who began by viewing content from mainstream news sources were frequently directed to conspiracy theory-oriented content that expressed politically extreme views. A search for “9/11” quickly led Journal reporters to conspiracy theories alleging the U.S. government carried out the attacks. When I searched the word “vaccine” on YouTube using incognito mode on Google Chrome, three of the top five results were anti-vaccine conspiracy videos, including a video titled “The Irrefutable Argument Against Vaccine Safety,” a series titled “The Truth About Vaccines” with more than 1 million views, and a lecture pushing the debunked pseudo-scientific claim that vaccines are linked to autism.

    Because YouTube’s algorithm is heavily guided by what has already been watched, “once you see extremist content, the algorithm will recommend it to you again,” Chaslot said.

    The result is a tailor-made tool for radicalization. After all, once users have started exploring the “truth” about vaccines -- or 9/11, or Jews -- the site will continue feeding them similar content. The videos that auto-played after “The Truth About Vaccines” were, in order: “My Vaxxed child versus my unvaccinated child”; “Worst Nightmare for Mother of 6 Unvaxxed Children” (description: “The mother of 6 unvaccinated children visits the emergency room with her eldest daughter. Her worst nightmare becomes reality when her child is vaccinated without her consent”); and “Fully Recovered From Autism,” each with more than 160,000 views.

    “By emphasizing solely watch time, the indirect consequence that YouTube doesn’t want to acknowledge is that it’s promoting extremism,” Chaslot said.

    Chaslot emphasized that YouTube’s own hate speech policy in its Community Guidelines was unlikely to meaningfully curb the flourishing of extremist content. The primary issue: The algorithm, which controls recommendations, is utterly separate from the company’s content-moderation operation. The result is a fundamentally self-contradictory model; engagement alone controls the rise of a video or channel, independent from concerns about substance.

    There’s also what Chaslot called “gurus” -- users who post videos that cause viewers to engage for hours at a time. As a result, even if their audiences begin as relatively small, the videos will rise up in the recommendation algorithm. The examples he provided were PragerU, a right-wing propaganda channel whose brief explainer videos have garnered some 1 billion views, and Canadian pop-antifeminist Jordan Peterson’s channel.

    But the guru effect has the power to amplify far more troubling content, and, according to new research, far-right extremists have adapted to a world of recommendation algorithms, influencer marketing, and branding with ease and efficiency.

    The sociopath network

    YouTube isn’t just a sea of mindless entertainment; it’s also a rather ruthless market of individuals selling their skills, ideas, and, above all, themselves as a brand. YouTube’s Partner Program provides financial incentives in the form of shares of advertising revenue to “creators” who have racked up 4,000 hours of audience attention and at least 1,000 subscribers. For those who become authentic micro-celebrities on the platform, the viral-marketing possibilities of becoming a social-media “influencer” allow them to advertise goods and products -- or ideologies.

    Becca Lewis’ groundbreaking new study from Data & Society catalogues the ways that ideological extremists have cannily adapted the same techniques that allow makeup vloggers and self-help commentators to flourish on the video site. The study, titled “Alternative Influence: Broadcasting the Reactionary Right on YouTube,” is an unprecedented deep dive into 81 channels that spread right-wing ideas on the site. Crucially, it also maps the intricate interconnections between channels, breaking down how high-profile YouTube figures use their clout to cross-promote other ideologues in the network. (Media Matters’ own study of YouTube extremists found that extremist content -- including openly anti-Semitic, white supremacist, and anti-LGBTQ content -- was thriving on the platform.)

    Lewis’ study explores and explains how these extremists rack up hundreds of thousands or even millions of views, with the aid of a strong network of interconnected users and the know-how to stand out within a crowded field of competing would-be influencers.

    The study provides a concrete look at the blurring of lines between popular, right-wing YouTube content creators often hosted on conservative media outlets like Fox News like Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, and Candace Owens, and openly white supremacist content creators with smaller platforms. In many cases, Lewis found that these channels had invited the same guests to speak from other channels in the network, leading to the creation of “radicalization pathways.” Rubin, whose channel has 750,000 subscribers, was cited as an example for hosting the Canadian racist commentator Stefan Molyneux. “Molyneux openly promotes scientific racism, advocates for the men’s rights movement, critiques initiatives devoted to gender equity, and promotes white supremacist conspiracy theories focused on ‘White Genocide,’” Lewis writes. During his appearance on Rubin’s channel, the host failed to meaningfully challenge Molyneux’s ideas -- lending credibility to Molyneux’s more extreme worldview.

    Rubin vehemently denied charges of his association with white supremacy on Twitter, but failed to refute the specifics of Lewis’ findings:

     

    Despite Rubin’s assertion, Lewis’ study does not mention the word “evil.” What the study does make clear, however, are the ways in which web-savvy networks of association and influence have become crucial to the spread of extremist ideologies on the internet. The issue of racist, sexist, and anti-LGBTQ content is not limited to obscure internet fever swamps like 4chan and Gab -- but it is also happening in a public and highly lucrative way on the web’s most popular video platform.

    Conservative provocateur Ben Shapiro, named as an influencer in the network, also sought to discredit the study.

    But Shapiro was only separated by one degree, not six, from Richard Spencer: He has been interviewed by a right-wing YouTuber, Roaming Millenial, who had invited Richard Spencer to share his views on her channel two months earlier.

    “There is an undercurrent to this report that is worth making explicit: in many ways, YouTube is built to incentivize the behavior of these political influencers,” Lewis writes. “The platform, and its parent company, have allowed racist, misogynist, and harassing content to remain online – and in many cases, to generate advertising revenue – as long as it does not explicitly include slurs.”

    Just last week, extremist hate channel Red Ice TV uploaded a screed titled “Forced Diversity Is Not Our Strength,” promoting segregated societies. Hosted by gregarious racist Lana Lotkeff, who has become a micro-celebrity in the world of white supremacists, the video asserts that “minorities and trans people” have had a negative impact on “white creativity.”

    Red Ice TV has more than 200,000 subscribers. At press time, the “Forced Diversity” video had more than 28,000 views. Upon completion of Lotkeff’s anti-diversity rant, YouTube’s auto-play suggested more Red Ice TV content -- this time a video fearmongering about immigrants -- thus continuing the automated cycle of hate.

  • Ben Shapiro's Fox News elections show doesn't cover elections

    The Ben Shapiro Election Special is long on culture war, short on campaign coverage

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    To kick off the first episode of his limited-run weekly series on Fox News, Ben Shapiro observed that “we are in the midst of the one of the most important election cycles of our lifetime.” This is true insofar that every federal election cycle is important and the current election cycle is indeed happening while we are alive. But this election cycle is so important that Fox News created a special show for Ben Shapiro to talk about the upcoming elections: a show it calls The Ben Shapiro Election Special.

    Some of you might have questions, like: “Why is Ben Shapiro hosting a show about elections?” and “What the hell does Ben Shapiro know about elections?” and “What can I possibly learn about elections from a guy who ‘doesn’t seem to care very much about facts’?”

    These are all reasonable questions. They’re also completely moot, given that The Ben Shapiro Election Special neither covers nor cares about the election cycle that supposedly justifies its existence. As I wrote when the show was first announced, it’s all just a flimsy pretense cooked up by Fox to audition Shapiro as a replacement Sean Hannity. The network wants to capitalize on Shapiro’s hilariously inapt reputation as (in the words of The New York Times) “the cool kid’s philosopher.” The end product is functionally indistinct from the rest of Fox News’ prime-time programming -- hyperbolic attacks on liberals, factual errors, rigid ideological conformity -- with just enough lip service paid to its gimmicky “elections” premise to emphasize how absurd it is.

    Six minutes and fourteen seconds: That is the total amount of time Shapiro’s first hour-long program devoted to what could be generously described as election-specific coverage. Those six minutes and fourteen seconds were divided between two segments: a one-on-one interview with pollster Scott Rasmussen that was devoted to an inch-deep discussion of the national generic ballot and Democrats’ chances to take over Congress, and a two-minute panel discussion featuring sports journalist Jason Whitlock, crime novelist (and podcaster for Shapiro’s website The Daily Wire) Andrew Klavan, and “conservative millennial” pundit Allie Stuckey.

    Again, you’re probably asking yourself what electoral insights could have been gleaned from this panel. Whitlock provided the answer when Shapiro solicited his 2018 election predictions, and he demurred because he -- like everyone else involved -- is not an elections analyst.

    The vast bulk of the first episode of The Ben Shapiro Election Special was instead devoted to stuff that falls more into Shapiro’s comfort zone: attacking liberals. The first half of the show was just an extended monologue lashing out at “the left” for the handling of reports that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh committed sexual assault; accusing Democrats of dirty tricks; and attacking the credibility of professor Christine Blasey Ford, who reported that Kavanaugh assaulted her.

    “Ford’s lawyers are now demanding that for her to testify, Republicans should make Kavanaugh testify before she does,” Shapiro said. “That’s insane. It’s obviously a poison pill. There is no legal proceeding in America or any other civilized country where the defendant testifies before the plaintiff.” That’s a sound rejoinder but for the facts that a Senate hearing is not a legal proceeding, Kavanaugh and Ford are neither defendant nor plaintiff, and back in 1991, Clarence Thomas testified before Anita Hill.

    “The real agenda here obviously has nothing to do with whether Brett Kavanaugh actually attempted to sexually assault a girl 36 years ago,” Shapiro said of the Democrats’ handling of the Kavanaugh allegations. “It has everything to do with painting a picture, a picture of evil Republican sexists who don’t care about women who are sexually abused.” Amusingly, a couple of minutes later Shapiro stepped on his own point by noting that President Donald Trump “didn’t help things” by attacking Ford’s credibility, which “makes Republicans look insensitive.”

    From there, The Ben Shapiro Election Special veered off into a harangue about the evils of “social justice” and one-sided relitigations of the Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork nominations. Shapiro deployed some harsh broadsides against columnist Ana Marie Cox, comedian Chelsea Handler, former Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid, and several other people whose shared characteristic is that they are not running for any elected office in 2018.

    The panel discussion featured more of the same, with Shapiro and his guests giving their takes on Google’s alleged bias against conservatives and mocking a transgender woman who, per Vice, “has undergone extreme body modification to become a dragon.” Zero insight -- electoral or otherwise -- was gleaned from the discussion, though Whitlock’s joke that he self-identifies as Denzel Washington did elicit some fantastic awkwardness from Shapiro:

    I could go into more detail, but there isn’t actually any point. If you’ve seen anything Fox News has aired in prime time over the last 20 years, then you’ve already seen The Ben Shapiro Election Special.

  • Fox News auditions Ben Shapiro as an elections expert

    With a short run and lame gimmick, Shapiro gets his shot at a cable sinecure

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Earlier today, Fox News announced that it will be launching a weekly show hosted by right-wing pundit Ben Shapiro that will have a limited, four-week run ahead of the midterm elections. “Ben is a rising star in conservative political commentary and we are excited to add his signature style and well thought out viewpoint to our pre-election weekend lineup,” Fox News says in the statement, which came hot on the heels of news that Shapiro was a conduit for pro-Russian propaganda cooked up by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

    This is clearly Fox giving a test-run to Shapiro, who the network likely sees as capable of expanding its audience beyond its senior-citizen core. For Shapiro, a part-time Fox News hosting gig is the next step in the life cycle of right-wing punditry: He’s already a columnist and radio host, and he has side hustles hawking gold, dodgy supplements, and doomsday prepper foods, so the obvious next step is “cable news sinecure.”

    What’s weird and funny about Shapiro’s Fox News audition is its transparently phony gimmick. The show is called “The Ben Shapiro Election Special,” and apparently will tap into Shapiro’s supposed expertise in elections analysis. “I am honored to partner with Fox News where we can provide in-depth analysis on the voting trends that will be leading the polls this November,” Shapiro says in the Fox News statement.

    So Ben Shapiro is a hard-right Nate Silver now, I guess. It’s a strange framing to force upon a pundit whose oeuvre is mainly culture-war howling and sensationalized confrontation with ideological adversaries. Shapiro’s chief talent is getting booked for speeches at liberal arts colleges to provoke protests from left-wing student groups and then venerating himself as a warrior for free speech. The meat of his commentary encompasses fairly standard right-wing themes -- rote American exceptionalism, downplaying racial bias in American society, etc. -- dressed up with over-the-top aggressive attacks on “The Left.”

    Shapiro's most significant contribution to our understanding of electoral politics is to offer some variation of “this is why Trump won” whenever a Democrat or media figure does something that annoys him. And, speaking just for myself, I don’t know that I’m quite prepared to trust the electoral analysis of someone who tries to goad candidates for federal office into debating him with bad-faith offers of campaign and/or charitable donations.

    But that’s what Fox News is giving us because … well, I guess they needed something, and the election is coming up, and so sure, why not, let’s have Ben Shapiro be an elections guy now. Whatever.

    It doesn’t actually matter because this is all just a pretext to test out Shapiro as a replacement Sean Hannity for a younger demographic: someone who can theoretically appeal to the youth while giving Fox News’ existing audience the angry, ideologically acceptable opinions it craves.

  • After Rep. Ron DeSantis said Andrew Gillum would “monkey” up Florida, conservative media trotted out their playbook to spin away racist comments

    ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Conservative media resorted to their tired playbook of spinning and obfuscating right-wing figures’ clearly racist remarks after Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), the Republican Party nominee for governor in Florida, said that his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, would “monkey” up the state. While a spokesperson for DeSantis said it was a term the congressman “frequently” uses, there is no evidence for that claim. Right-wing media figures frequently run defense for high-profile conservatives caught making racist comments.

  • Taking the debate bait

    Conservatives keep using dumb stunts to get attention, and news outlets keep falling for it

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In 2012, conservative radio host Mark Levin challenged the sitting president to a debate, but you probably don’t remember hearing about it.

    "I will give $50,000 to Obama's Super PAC if he will debate me for one hour,” Levin said. “Now he’s flying all over the country in exchange for meals and handshakes and photos. People are giving a lot less than that. Just one hour, a debate. It doesn’t even have to be televised. In fact, we’ll do it right here on this program. Be very professional, be very fair, equal time, just a debate."

    The amount he offered didn’t really matter. He could have offered $500,000 or $5 million, but Barack Obama would never have made his way to Levin’s studio, nor should he have — and deep down, Levin must have known that, as well. The offer was a bluff, part of a larger grift to put his name on the same level as Obama’s, to get a bit of free publicity for making an offer he knew he’d never have to pay out. It’s a tried and true approach to attention seeking that we’ve mostly come to understand for what it is: a sad ploy.

    But then seven months later, the political press forgot that lesson, giving way to a new era of bluff challenges.

    A year removed from his racist birther campaign, Donald Trump challenged Obama to release his college and passport “applications and records” in exchange for a $5 million donation to the charity of the president’s choice. Now, from what we now know about Trump’s charitable giving, there was little chance he would have actually followed through on the boast, but he knew he’d never have to. All he wanted was to be back in the news, and with this baseless new challenge, he got his wish. Trump was interviewed by Fox News and Forbes, and his offer was written up by The Washington Post, Politico, Reuters, and others.

    Fast-forward six years, and Donald Trump is now the president and conservative media personalities regularly use his 2012 tactic to boost their own popularity. Case in point: Last week, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro challenged Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to a debate, offering $10,000 to her campaign or a charity of her choice.

    At first, Ocasio-Cortez’s refusal to respond to Shapiro was treated as news (at least at Shapiro’s Daily Wire). Then, after Ocasio-Cortez explained why she ignored the offer, it became news again as Shapiro wrongly accused her ofslanderinghim. “Just like catcalling, I don’t owe a response to unsolicited requests from men with bad intentions. And also like catcalling, for some reason they feel entitled to one,” she tweeted. Shapiro and others on the right were quick to misread Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet as her literally accusing Shapiro of catcalling, which suggests that she was right to brush off his offer as coming from a place of bad intentions. That, and the fact that both Daily Wire articles featured cherry-picked, unflattering images of her, might lead one to think this was less about having a good-faith discussion of ideas and more just a setup.

    The goal, just as it was in Trump’s case, in Levin’s case, and in other examples of a public figure making a big show of offering a large sum of money to someone in exchange for a debate or to complete an unnecessary task like releasing college applications (who even keeps those?), was simple: to get attention.

    It worked, and honestly, you have to at least admire Shapiro’s ability to market himself. The Hill wrote about it. Fox News covered it. Business Insider, HuffPost, and several others took the bait.

    One thing missing from a lot of the coverage was the fact that debating random pundits is not something candidates are generally expected to do. When a number of conservative outlets argued that Ocasio-Cortez was being hypocritical in turning down Shapiro’s offer given that she had once called out her primary opponent, Rep. Joe Crowley, for his refusal to debate her, they seemed loath to acknowledge that it’s absolutely normal to expect one’s own campaign opponent to engage in debate so that their future constituents can make an educated decision when it comes to casting a ballot. That is a completely different thing from taking on anybody with a podcast.

    If Ocasio-Cortez’s actual Republican opponent in November’s general election, Anthony Pappas, challenges her to a debate and she turns it down, then it would be fair to call out hypocrisy. But the only lesson to come out of this kerfuffle is that the debate challenge grift still works, which is why in the immediate wake of Shapiro’s challenge, we’ve already seen people including National Diversity Coalition for Trump ambassador and former member of the Pussycat Dolls Kaya Jones, “The Conservative Millennial” Allie Beth Stuckey (who recently made headlines of her own for her “satire” interview with Ocasio-Cortez), and Turning Point USA’s Candace Owens challenge Ocasio-Cortez to debates, with Owens even making an “offer” of $100,000 to charity for the opportunity. “I really don’t care if Ocasio-Cortez debates me,” Stuckey acknowledged on Fox News. “The point was to kind of call her out.” It’s a way to get attention, and you can’t really fault any of the people throwing themselves into the discussion for trying to make the most of it.

    But it’s not newsworthy, and it’s not a good look for mainstream political media to fall back into the same trap that helped elevate Trump to the national political stage — not for his ideas, but for his stunts. There’s no shortage of content for the national news media to focus on without rewarding and encouraging the WWE-ification of our democracy.

    Parker Molloy is a Chicago-based writer with an interest in media, technology, politics, and culture. Her work has appeared in outlets including The New York Times, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, and Upworthy.

  • “The Empire strikes back”: Right-wing media defend Alex Jones after Infowars is banned from several major platforms

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS & ZACHARY PLEAT

    After Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, and iTunes all removed conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and Infowars pages from their platforms, several right-wing media figures leapt to the extremist’s defense. Jones’ defenders responded by criticizing and threatening “the entire rotten tech machine” and invoking a wide range of comparisons to support him, including Star Wars, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, reality TV star Kylie Jenner, and the Holocaust.

  • Right-wing media attack Michael Cohen after he claimed Trump approved of Trump Tower meeting with Russian lawyer

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Right-wing media figures attacked the president’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen after he claimed that then-candidate Trump knew in advance of the June 2016 meeting between his son Donald Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer at Trump Tower.

    CNN reported last night that Cohen claimed to have been in the room when Trump Jr. informed his father of his plans to meet with the lawyer who allegedly had dirt on then-candidate Hillary Clinton. Whether or not Trump had known of the meeting beforehand has been a central question in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Previously, Trump Jr. had denied informing his father of the meeting. He later testified to Senate investigators that he could not recall whether or not he notified Trump prior to the meeting.

    Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade questioned Cohen’s credibility and hinted that Cohen may have committed perjury. Fox contributor Geraldo Rivera also hyped Cohen’s “sleaziness.” The Drudge Report referred to Cohen as “the rat.” The Daily Caller published multiple pieces that expressed excitement over Trump’s scathing response to the Cohen story, hyped his denial, and piled on to the Drudge-inspired nickname for Cohen.

    Many right-wing media personalities took to Twitter to attack Cohen.

    Newsmax’s John Cardillo:

    Townhall opinion writer Kurt Schlichter

    CNN commentator Ben Ferguson

    New York Post opinion editor Seth Mandel

    The Daily Wire's Ben Shapiro:

    This post has been edited for clarity, to reflect that not all of the conservative media figures mentioned are allies of Donald Trump.

  • The Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade. Don’t buy these right-wing excuses that it’s not a big deal.

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    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:

    1. Claiming that abortion rights are safe because Roe is precedent, and none of the current justices will vote to overturn it.

    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.”

    2. Arguing that Roe is “bad” law, and therefore a Trump nominee would only be correcting judicial overreach.

    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.”

    3. Claiming that abortion would not be completely outlawed because regulatory power would merely be “returned to the states.”

    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.”

    4. Casting blame on abortion rights supporters for “overreacting” or trying to “attack” any Trump nominee on principle.

    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.

    5. Claiming that there’s no public support for Roe or abortion access.

    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.

  • Everything right-wing media tried to blame for the Trump administration’s family separation policy

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    As President Donald Trump’s administration implemented a new “zero tolerance” prosecution policy at the border that led to unprecedented and systematic separation of immigrant families and locking kids in cages, right-wing media flailed around trying to blame the administration’s policy on anybody or anything except Trump.

    The president’s media enablers blamed Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, “the law on the book,” Democrats in Congress, the media, the families themselves, and even “the Illuminati of K Street” for the Trump administration’s policy:  

    Blaming the families themselves

    • Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt claimed that families “are choosing to be separated” by coming to the United States in the first place. Co-host Steve Doocy agreed, saying “the part that is troubling ... is the conscious decisions the parents are making” in trying to bring their children to America.

    • Recently pardoned felon Dinesh D’Souza rhetorically questioned whether the “deported aliens” were “the ones choosing to separate their families.”

    • Fox’s David Bossie said that if parents “don’t become criminals, they’re not separated” from their children.

    • Fox’s Tomi Lahren said, “If you do not want to be separated, do not cross the border illegally. Follow our laws, follow the process. That's the best way to ensure that your family stays together.”

    Blaming former presidents

    • Radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that family separation at the border "is an entirely manufactured crisis. It’s entirely manufactured. This has been going on for years. It happened during the Obama administration."

    • American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp declared, “Obama and Trump have [the] same child protection policy.”

    • Turning Point USA Communications Director Candace Owens falsely claimed that “these policies were in place” during the Obama administration.

    • Turning Point USA President Charlie Kirk falsely stated, “All of this happened for 8 years under Obama.”

    • CNN commentator Ben Ferguson shared an image on Facebook that claimed that policies of separating children from “illegal parents” had been in effect since 2009.

    • Breitbart claimed Trump’s “new ‘zero tolerance’ policy worked during the presidency of George W. Bush,” referring to an initiative that began in 2005 and has not worked.

    • Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs stated that “previous presidents, including Bush and Obama, long ignored” family separation at the border until Trump “mov[ed] to stop” the practice.

    • Fox’s Sean Hannity claimed, “This is nothing new and took place in previous administrations as well.”

    • Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones said that family separation has been “standard procedure for decades” when you “pick up a group of a hundred people and you have no idea who the hell they are.”

    Blaming a nonexistent law

    Blaming media, claiming they were using family separation as a distraction

    • Fox’s Brian Kilmeade said that Trump’s media detractors “had to reach for something else” after Trump “put a lot of the skeptics to bed … and they found it with the so-called separation of kids and parents.”

    • Rush Limbaugh claimed that media is inundating Americans with “manufactured crises” like family separation to distract from the Department of Justice inspector general report and strong economy.

    • Fox’s Tucker Carlson, host of one of the most racist hours on television, said that reporting on family separation is just the media pursuing their goal “to change your country, forever.”

    • NRATV commentator Dan Bongino claimed that media reporting on family separation is “propaganda, nothing more.”

    • Hannity accused the media of harboring an “obsession” with “the so-called policy” of separating children from their parents in order to mislead Americans.

    • Twitter troll Bill Mitchell predicted, “Every Sunday news show will be about Trump's #FakeNews ‘concentration camps’ and NOTHING about the OIG.”

    • Sinclair Broadcast Group’s propagandist Boris Epshteyn devoted his “must-run” segment on family separation to attacking the media for their “politically driven” attempts “to make it seem as if those who are tough on immigration are somehow monsters.”

    Blaming Democrats, claiming they were using family separation for political ends

    • According to The Gateway Pundit, Democrats “would rather the problem persist so they can continue to wring their hands over another manufactured crisis to distract from the damning IG report and robust economy.”

    • Fox Business’ Stuart Varney complained that Democrats “hijacked” a hearing on the IG report “within seconds of it beginning,” and “poured out [their] scorn for President Trump” instead.

    • Fox’s Trish Regan commented that Democrats “would much rather cry on television like [Rep.] Elijah Cummings [D-MD] did” than stop family separation, because “it plays to any hatred they can gin up, as we go into ‘18, for Donald Trump.”

    • National Review’s David French wrote, “I have a feeling that for some partisans, it’s fascism to impose the policy and fascism to try to end it -- at least so long as the GOP is in charge of the process.”