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  • Media should avoid these traps in covering this year's March for Life

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & MADELYN WEBB


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The annual anti-abortion March for Life will take place on January 18 this year

    Every year in January, anti-abortion groups and individuals gather in Washington, D.C., to participate in the March for Life -- a series of events protesting the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade to legalize abortion in the United States. This year, the January 18 march will celebrate the theme “Unique from Day One: Pro-Life is Pro-Science.” That theme echoes a common argument from anti-abortion groups that “medical and technological advancements continue to reaffirm the science behind the pro-life cause” including “that life begins at fertilization, or day one.”

    Last year, media coverage of the March for Life demonstrated that some outlets were unable to handle the necessary fact-checking or provide the needed context about the extreme history of many anti-abortion groups, the deceptive science behind many of their claims, and the alleged popularity of anti-abortion policies. This year, media can learn from these mistakes before the annual protest kicks off.

    Three lessons media should learn from the coverage of the 2018 March for Life

    #1 Avoid whitewashing the extremism of anti-abortion groups and spokespeople

    During the 2018 March for Life, there were several examples of outlets whitewashing anti-abortion groups and spokespeople by downplaying these organization’s long histories of extreme rhetoric and activism.

    For example, leading up to the 2018 event, NPR highlighted two anti-abortion leaders -- Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America, and Abby Johnson of And Then There Were None. In both reports, NPR failed to provide critical context about these anti-choice activists and the efforts of their organizations to oppose abortion access. In one piece, NPR asked Hawkins to comment on the status of various anti-choice movement priorities but failed to mention her long history of extreme comments about abortion, contraceptives, and more. These comments include her statement that certain forms of birth control should be illegal or are “carcinogenic” or “abortion-inducing,” as well as her claim that being an "abortion abolitionist" is "just like the slavery abolitionists." Similarly, NPR’s profile of Johnson and her organization focused on the group’s effort to “persuade as many [abortion clinic] workers as possible to leave the field.” Although NPR did note that the circumstances of Johnson’s departure from her own job at a clinic have been disputed by Planned Parenthood, the outlet did not substantively explain the details, which suggest there’s more to Johnson’s “conversion” story than meets the eye. NPR also didn’t explore the full spectrum of misinformation that Johnson regularly spreads about her former employer -- including the inaccurate claim that Planned Parenthood performs abortions on people who aren’t pregnant.

    Johnson is scheduled to speak during this year’s March for Life rally -- giving outlets ample opportunity to fact-check her inaccurate claims. In addition to Johnson, outlets must also avoid downplaying the extremism of other right-wing media and anti-abortion figures scheduled to speak during the event. These figures include Fox News commentator Alveda King and The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro, who will be recording an episode of his podcast before speaking at the rally on January 18.

    #2 Prevent anti-abortion groups from promoting junk science and unqualified “experts” to support anti-abortion policies

    During last year’s March for Life, outlets legitimized the false narrative of scientific support for anti-abortion policies by repeating unsubstantiated claims and manipulative terminology and by promoting so-called “scientific experts” without disclosing their ties to anti-choice organizations. For example, The Atlantic published an article the day before the 2018 March for Life quoting several representatives of the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) without noting that the group was founded by the anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) specifically to produce research supporting the anti-choice movement. Perhaps more concerning than CLI’s origins, the group is still operated as part of SBA List -- filing federal 990 tax forms as “The Susan B. Anthony List Education Fund.” The Atlantic’s failure to identify CLI’s ties to the wider anti-abortion movement earned the outlet a place in Rewire.News’ 2018 “Hall of Shame” for inaccurate or deceptive reporting on reproductive rights. Other outlets such as CNN and The Birmingham News have also made the mistake of either downplaying or omitting CLI’s affiliations when citing the anti-abortion group in reporting.

    Beyond failing to identify CLI’s anti-abortion affiliations in reporting, outlets have also continued to reiterate anti-abortion talking points and signal-boost partisan science. In March, The Associated Press published an article that repeated the discredited claim that there is a pathological link between having an abortion and developing “depression, anxiety and sleeping disorders.” In April, The Washington Post reported on a study that purported to show the effectiveness of a junk science anti-abortion procedure referred to as “abortion pill reversal,” but the journal that published the study was later forced to withdraw it after widely reported methodological concerns.

    The consequences of allowing anti-abortion junk science to go unchecked can already be seen in several states’ anti-choice laws. The unscientific concept of fetal pain was influential in passing an anti-abortion bill in Missouri, even though many medical experts have disputed the validity of the studies and claims used to support such laws. In other states like Ohio and Iowa, anti-abortion lawmakers are promoting bans on abortion as early as six weeks (before many people know they’re pregnant), on the grounds that abortion should be illegal if a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat. Already in 2019, Kentucky lawmakers have proposed a similar ban -- despite previous arguments from doctors that such policies actually do more harm than good.

    Given the theme of this year’s march, media have a responsibility to accurately report on reproductive science and not to elevate pseudoscientific talking points from anti-abortion organizations without providing necessary context and pushback. In particular, media should:

    • Avoid using, or letting guests use, the phrase “partial-birth abortion,” which is not a medical term. Anti-abortion groups, in fact, invented the term to inspire shame and stigma. In reality, the term and the nonexistent medical practices to which it refers are a favorite right-wing and anti-choice media talking point when attacking access to later abortions.
    • Be skeptical of claims about so-called “post-abortion syndrome.” Although right-wing media and anti-abortion groups have long claimed that people experience regret or develop depression after having an abortion, the supposed evidence supporting such claims has been consistently refuted.
    • Provide ample context about the lack of evidence supporting so-called “abortion pill reversal,” an anti-choice medical procedure which supposedly allows a patient to reverse an abortion induced via pill. This procedure has been largely discredited as junk science, with one of the major studies supporting it having been pulled from a medical journal after ethical concerns were raised.
    • Identify and disclose the affiliations of Charlotte Lozier Institute’s “associate scholars” and staff. Given the theme of this year’s march, CLI will likely play a prominent role in promoting anti-abortion talking points and misinformation. Media have a responsibility to identify these so-called experts’ affiliation with an organization that has an explicit mission statement to eliminate “the scourges of abortion.” 

    #3 Avoid signal-boosting misinformation about the alleged popularity of anti-abortion policies and positions

    During the 2018 March for Life, several outlets spread misinformation about the American public’s alleged support for anti-abortion policies by sharing polling data without proper context or analysis. For example, in an article about the anti-abortion policies promoted by President Donald Trump’s administration, Politico shared a poll commissioned by the Catholic organization Knights of Columbus to support the anti-choice argument that Americans want greater restrictions on abortion access. However, as MSNBC’s Irin Carmon has previous explained of the Knights of Columbus poll, a simple shift in phrasing or question style could substantially alter the findings:

    You could ask Americans if they want Roe v. Wade overturned, as the Pew Research Center did in 2013, and learn that 63 percent want to see it stand. Or you could ask Americans to choose between two vague statements, like the recent poll the Marist Institute for Public Opinion conducted for the Knights of Columbus, a group that opposes abortion. Asked to pick between “it is possible to have laws which protect both the health and well-being of a woman and the life of the unborn; or two, it is necessary for laws to choose to protect one and not the other,” 77 percent said it was possible to do everything. The policy implications of the first statement are unclear.

    Further examining this phenomenon, Vox’s Sarah Kliff explained that “the public has diverse views on abortion” that cannot neatly be categorized or assessed. In another piece for Vox, Tresa Undem, co-founder and partner at a public-opinion research firm, thoroughly explored how much of “the current polling fails at accurately measuring opinion on this complex issue.” For example, Undem wrote, even those “who said abortion should only be legal in rare cases” when polled about the legality of abortion expressed a higher level of support for abortion access when questioned about their “‘real life’ views on the issue”:

    Among people who said abortion should only be legal in rare cases, 71 percent said they would give support to a close friend or family member who had an abortion, 69 percent said they want the experience of having an abortion to be nonjudgmental, 66 percent said they want the experience to be supportive, 64 percent want the experience to be affordable, and 59 percent want the experience to be without added burdens.

    Additional polling by Undem’s firm, PerryUndem, has also found that most people believe that the decision to have an abortion should be made by a patient and their doctor (and, to a lesser extent, the larger medical community) -- and not by politicians.

    There will be no shortage of claims during this year’s March for Life about the supposed popularity of anti-abortion positions. Given the theme of this year’s march, media should be prepared to provide audiences with the necessary context about polls, organizations, and anti-abortion media personalities included in their reporting about the march. Media must avoid oversimplifying public opinion polling or repeating inaccurate talking points in ways that uplift anti-choice misinformation.

  • Trump officials and right-wing media use Jakelin Caal Maquin's death to rally for Trump's wall

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Update (12/18/18): This piece has been updated with an additional example.

    Following reports of the December 8 death of Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old girl from Guatemala who died after being taken into Border Patrol custody, high-level White House officials and prominent right-wing media personalities exploited her death to advocate for President Donald Trump’s desired border wall while accusing her father of causing the tragedy.

    On December 13, The Washington Post reported that Caal Maquin “died of dehydration and shock after she was taken into Border Patrol custody last week for crossing from Mexico into the United States illegally with her father and a large group of migrants along a remote span of New Mexico desert.” She did not receive medical treatment until an hour and a half after it was requested. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) claimed that Caal Maquin “reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days” before her death -- but this was quickly disputed by her father, Nery Gilberto Caal Cruz. According to a statement from his lawyers, Caal Cruz “made sure she was fed and had sufficient water." The family wants an investigation into Caal Maquin's death.

    The Post first resported Caal Maquin’s death several days after it happened. But once the story broke on December 13, right-wing media personalities and major Trump administration officials immediately began exploiting her death or claiming that her father had caused it:

    Fox News host Sean Hannity: “A wall can prevent these types of heart-breaking stories.”

    White House senior adviser Stephen Miller during a Fox appearance: “If you want to stop the horrors on the northward trek, ... then, for the love of God, fund the border wall.”

    MSNBC contributor and talk radio host Hugh Hewitt: Caal Maquin’s death "is about the most complete argument for building a long, strong" border wall.

    Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen during a Fox appearance: "This family chose to cross illegally."

    Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz: "That should be the message, don't make this journey, it will kill you."

    CNN political commentator and BlazeTV host Ben Ferguson: “This is child abuse in its worst form. … This is sick.”

    Fox News guest and Border Patrol Council Vice President Art Del Cueto: “No one’s pointing the finger at this father, they’re all pointing the finger at the Border Patrol agents, and that’s just disgusting.”

    One America News host Graham Ledger: Caal Maquin was a “seven-year-old illegal” whose parents should be “investigated for probable child abuse.”

    One America News host Liz Wheeler: Caal Maquin’s father “forced her to undergo the dangerous journey to the U.S. border and didn’t feed her or give her water for days and days on end.”

    Fox News host Laura Ingraham: “Now they’re, ‘Oh, it’s Trump’s fault that a seven-year-old girl died after her father dragged her across a desert for seven days.’ That’s Trump’s fault?”

    Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro: "The person responsible for all of this is the father who didn't feed the child."

    Video by Leanne Naramore

  • After Time recognizes Jamal Khashoggi, Ben Shapiro launches old, debunked smears

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro criticized Time magazine’s decision to put murdered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi on its cover as a Person of the Year, claiming he was “pretty radical on politics,” “had a longtime history of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood,” and “was very much in favor of more radical Islam in the Middle East.” Right-wing media began smearing Khashoggi in this vein soon after his murder by Saudi agents.

    While Khashoggi reportedly attended Muslim Brotherhood meetings early in his career, according to those who knew him, “to say that Jamal was some kind of an extremist is all lies.” In an August 28 column in The Washington Post, Khashoggi himself explained his lack of opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was, at its core, based on his support for Arab democracy -- a concept that the Saudi ruling family and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman deeply resent and fear. The Washington Post, where Khashoggi worked as a journalist at the time of his murder, further debunked these smears as they circulated among right-wing media and more extreme Republican midterm election candidates: “While Khashoggi was once sympathetic to Islamist movements, he moved toward a more liberal, secular point of view, according to experts on the Middle East who have tracked his career.” Yet, months later, Shapiro has renewed this smear to attack Time magazine for choosing to honor a journalist murdered for his work.

    From the December 11 edition of DailyWire.com’s The Ben Shapiro Show:

    BEN SHAPIRO (HOST): Jamal Khashoggi was made the Person of the Year on the cover of Time magazine. Now Jamal Khashoggi, you'll recall, was the Saudi citizen who was here on a visa, and then he went to Turkey and went to the Saudi consulate for a marriage document and was promptly murdered by the members of the Saudi consulate, and then chopped up and sent in a bag back to Saudi Arabia. This all went wrong -- it was very bad for the Trump administration, which of course has been very close with the Saudi Arabian government, particularly the new leader of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman. That's the reason that Time magazine selected Jamal Khashoggi, who, in reality, was, in fact, pretty radical on politics. He had a longtime history of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. He was very much in favor of more radical Islam in the Middle East, not less radical Islam in the Middle East. He was certainly no moderate. But since he was murdered for being a journalist, he is the Time magazine Person of the Year.

    ...

    Now that doesn't mean we shouldn't worry about the Jamal Khashoggi case, but again, this is the media trying to play itself up.

  • Anti-LGBTQ media and groups have been crying "censorship" as flawed research on trans teens is re-evaluated

    A Brown researcher published a flawed study about so-called "rapid-onset gender dysphoria" that relied on surveys from anti-trans websites. The report claimed that teens were coming out as trans due to “social contagion”; after concerns were raised, it is now under review.

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In August, a researcher at Brown University published flawed research about so-called “rapid-onset gender dysphoria,” a concept that suggests that young people may be coming out as trans due to “social and peer contagion” and that has not been recognized by any mainstream medical organization. Among other flaws, the study was widely criticized for surveying only parents found on anti-trans parent communities rather than transgender people themselves, and Brown and the academic journal that published the study have since pledged to re-evaluate the work. Right-wing media and anti-LGBTQ groups responded by calling the reassessment “academic censorship” and saying Brown and the journal had caved to “transgender activism.”

    Brown University researcher Lisa Littman published a flawed study that claims teens may be identifying as trans due to social influences

    A Brown University researcher published a study on so-called “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” that suggested teenagers were identifying as trans due to “social and peer contagion.” In August, Brown University researcher Dr. Lisa Littman published a study on so-called “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” (ROGD) in the online journal PLOS ONE. The study suggested that transgender youth are experiencing a new type of “rapid” gender dysphoria due to social influences, asserting that both multiple peers in pre-existing friend groups coming out as transgender and “increased exposure to social media/internet preceding a child’s announcement of a transgender identity” raise “the possibility of social and peer contagion.” From PLOS ONE (citations removed):

    The description of cluster outbreaks of gender dysphoria occurring in pre-existing groups of friends and increased exposure to social media/internet preceding a child’s announcement of a transgender identity raises the possibility of social and peer contagion. Social contagion is the spread of affect or behaviors through a population. Peer contagion, in particular, is the process where an individual and peer mutually influence each other in a way that promotes emotions and behaviors that can potentially undermine their own development or harm others.

    Littman’s study surveyed the parents of transgender people ages 11-27, circulating the survey on three websites: 4thwavenow.com, transgendertrend.com, and youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org. Those websites are online communities primarily for parents of transgender people who deny their children’s identities, and the study acknowledged that the survey was specifically targeted to “websites where parents and professionals had been observed to describe rapid onset of gender dysphoria.” In fact, according to trans researcher Julia Serano, the phrase “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” and accompanying acronym originated on those very websites in July 2016, before Littman’s study or abstract were released. The term and acronym are frequently used by parents who do not accept their children’s trans identities; there is even a website called parentsofrogdkids.com. Prior to releasing her full study, Littman published an abstract in the Journal of Adolescent Health in February 2017 describing supposed parental experiences with ROGD.

    Gender dysphoria is an established diagnosis involving “a difference between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender, and significant distress or problems functioning.” The American Psychiatric Association recommends affirming the gender expression of people with gender dysphoria, including through “counseling, cross-sex hormones, puberty suppression and gender reassignment surgery” as well as social transitions not involving medical treatments.

    After fielding concerns about Littman’s methodology, Brown and PLOS ONE announced they would re-assess her research

    PLOS ONE is seeking “further expert assessment on the study’s methodology and analyses” after receiving complaints. On August 27, PLOS ONE announced that it would re-evaluate Littman’s study due to “concerns raised on the study’s content and methodology.” Slate’s Alex Barasch noted that “re-evaluating a study’s content and methodology doesn’t stymie the scientific process; it’s a natural and necessary extension of it.” From PLOS ONE’s announcement:

    PLOS ONE is aware of the reader concerns raised on the study’s content and methodology. We take all concerns raised about publications in the journal very seriously, and are following up on these per our policy and [Committee on Publication Ethics] guidelines. As part of our follow up we will seek further expert assessment on the study’s methodology and analyses. We will provide a further update once we have completed our assessment and discussions.

    Brown University removed a news article about the study after receiving complaints about Littman’s research and its methodology. After experts and advocates pointed out several flaws in the study’s methodology and PLOS ONE announced its own re-evaluation, “Brown determined that removing the article from news distribution is the most responsible course of action.” The next day, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health issued a letter confirming that the article had been removed “because of concerns about research methodology,” acknowledging concerns that the flawed study’s conclusions could harm the transgender community, and reiterating the university’s commitment to academic freedom and “the value of rigorous debate informed by research.” On September 5, the university released an expanded statement, proclaiming, “Brown does not shy away from controversial research.” The statement claimed that the article’s removal from the university’s news site was “not about academic freedom,” but rather “about academic standards,” noting that “academic freedom and inclusion are not mutually exclusive.”

    Researchers, experts, and journalists have found several flaws with Littman’s research

    The World Professional Association for Transgender Health urged restraint of the term “ROGD” and noted that it has not been “recognized by any major medical professional association.” The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), which publishes the internationally accepted Standards of Care and Ethical Guidelines for managing gender dysphoria, released a position statement about ROGD on September 4, noting that it “is not a medical entity recognized by any major professional association” and has not gone through “the deliberative processes by which diagnostic entities and clinical phenomena are classified and established.” WPATH’s statement said ROGD “constitutes nothing more than an acronym created to describe a proposed clinical phenomenon that may or may not warrant further peer-reviewed scientific investigation.” From the September 4 statement (emphasis original):

    At present, WPATH asserts that knowledge of the factors contributing to gender identity development in adolescence is still evolving and not yet fully understood by scientists, clinicians, community members, and other stakeholders in equal measure. Therefore, it is both premature and inappropriate to employ official-sounding labels that lead clinicians, community members, and scientists to form absolute conclusions about adolescent gender identity development and the factors that may potentially influence the timing of an adolescent’s declaration as a different gender from birth-assigned sex.

    ...

    WPATH also urges restraint from the use of any term—whether or not formally recognized as a medical entity—to instill fear about the possibility that an adolescent may or may not be transgender with the a priori goal of limiting consideration of all appropriate treatment options in accordance with the aforementioned standards of care and clinical guidelines.

    Researchers writing in PinkNews: Littman’s study “was heavily biased towards specific groups” and “tells us less about trans teenagers than it does about the parents being surveyed.” Writing for PinkNews, researchers Florence Ashley of McGill University and Alexandre Baril of the University of Ottawa said Littman’s research “was heavily biased towards specific groups and in no way can be said to be representative of the general population” because it surveyed parents from specific anti-trans websites. Their report contended that “the study tells us less about trans teenagers than it does about the parents being surveyed.” They also pointed out that research suggesting that trans identities are the result of a “contagion” attempts to frame the narrative in a way that “distinguishes ‘good,’ true transgender people from ‘bad,’ fake trans people, allowing proponents to claim that they have nothing against trans people — well, at least the real ones.”

    Slate’s Alex Barasch: “The sites that participants were culled from are full of damning evidence of bias” against transgender people. Barasch noted that Littman’s study was “purportedly about 256 trans-identified ‘adolescents and young adults,’” but it is “perhaps fairer to say that it’s about their parents, who participated in a 90-question survey about their relationships with and perceptions of their children—with no input from the kids themselves, and no controls to speak of.” Barasch identified several problems with the study’s sample, including that it sourced parental reporting from websites with anti-trans biases such as 4thwavenow.com, which “hosts long missives from parents who have strenuously denied their children’s identities for years.” He continued, “In exclusively surveying parents from these ‘gender critical’ spaces, Littman sharply limited both the relevance and the validity of her results.”

    Barasch added that “one of the study’s most glaring flaws” is that Littman made no effort to substantiate the claims of the parents who participated in her study by speaking to their transgender children. He noted that the study’s findings about "the worsening of parent-child relationships" after the child came out and the children's preference to befriend other LGBTQ kids actually weakened its conclusions about trans identities being a “social contagion” because young LGBTQ people would be more likely to “flock together online or in-person” if they face “skepticism and hostility at home.”

    Finally, Barasch noted that the concept of ROGD “treats the emergence of dysphoria around or after puberty as something new and unusual that should be treated with suspicion” when in fact the medical community recognizes late-onset gender dysphoria, which describes the emergence of dysphoria “around puberty or much later in life.” Barasch highlighted examples of PLOS ONE retracting several other studies that featured “questionable research” and pointed out that “peer review isn’t an automatic assurance of ironclad science” and that the review of the study “is both standard and vital.”

    Researcher Julia Serano: The concept of ROGD originated in 2016 on three blogs “that have a history of promoting anti-transgender propaganda.” In an essay on Medium, biologist and transgender activist Julia Serano explained that the concept of ROGD was not new, but originated in 2016 on three anti-trans blogs -- the same blogs from where Littman drew her sample. Thus, Serano wrote, Littman’s study was “entirely based on the opinions of parents who frequent the very same three blogs that invented and vociferously promote the concept of ROGD.” She contended, “This is the most blatant example of begging the question that I have ever seen in a research paper.” Serano also refuted the study’s assertion that gender dysphoria in the surveyed parents’ children was “rapid,” writing that “the word ‘rapid’ in ROGD doesn’t necessarily refer to the speed of gender dysphoria onset. … Rather, what’s ‘rapid’ about ROGD is parents’ sudden awareness and assessment of their child’s gender dysphoria (which, from the child’s standpoint, may be long standing and thoughtfully considered).”

    Brynn Tannehill in The Advocate: Transgender youth featured in the study may have avoided coming out to “hostile parents,” which could have led to parents perceiving their gender identity development as “rapid.” Responding to an abstract of Littman’s study released in 2017, transgender advocate and author Brynn Tannehill -- who recently published an explanatory book about transgender issues -- pointed out flaws in the hypothesis that young people may be identifying as transgender because of other LGBTQ friends and online LGBTQ media. She noted that “transgender youth in unsupportive homes are much more likely to share their thoughts and feelings with LGBT friends at school and peers online than family.” Tannehill added that those youth often “stick to ‘safe’ LGBT social groups” and “delay telling hostile parents until they cannot bear not to,” which could explain why the parents Littman surveyed from unsupportive online communities thought that their child’s identity came on rapidly.

    Tannehill in INTO: “Littman failed to mention the viewpoints of the groups from which she drew her sample” and did not interview supportive parents or trans youth. Writing for the digital magazine INTO, Tannehill reiterated that the study “failed to address the much more realistic explanation that transgender teens with anti-trans parents look for support from other LGBTQ youth online because they fear the reaction of their families.” She also noted that Littman did not acknowledge the anti-trans viewpoints of the websites from which she drew or sampled, “nor did she make any attempt to reach out to groups for supportive parents” or interview transgender youth.

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups have claimed Brown “is in denial about transgender identity” and “caved to cross-dressers”

    Family Research Council’s Cathy Ruse: Littman’s study “reveals trouble in transgender paradise.” Cathy Ruse of the extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council wrote a post in The Stream attacking Brown University for removing news about Littman’s study from its website. Ruse called the move “censorship” and asserted that “there’s an alarming trend of adolescents suddenly announcing they’re in the wrong body.” She also defended the study’s survey of parents rather than the actual transgender young people the study was about, writing that this “acknowledged limitation of the study” is a response to clinicians accepting what transgender patients tell them “at face value, never seeking the parents’ perspective.” Ruse has a history of disparaging trans identities, and she has previously suggested that affirming transgender children “can be child abuse.”

    American College of Pediatricians’ Michelle Cretella: Littman’s study “was quickly silenced” because “transgender activists called for censorship.” Writing for The Heritage Foundation’s right-wing outlet The Daily Signal, American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) President Michelle Cretella said that Littman’s study “was quickly silenced by activists and by Brown University,” which “disconnected its link to the study and issued an apology” for it because “transgender activists called for censorship.”

    ACPeds is a small and extreme anti-LGBTQ group of physicians that broke off from the legitimate American Association of Pediatrics (AAP). Cretella and ACPeds have worked for years to discredit trans-affirming science and policy under the veneer of credibility offered by the group’s misleading name, which “is easily confused with the AAP.” Cretella has claimed that affirming transgender youth is child abuse.

    ACPeds’ Dr. Andre Van Mol posted several times about ROGD on Twitter. ACPeds’ Dr. Andre Van Mol retweeted several posts about Littman’s study, including from two of the anti-transgender parent forums where Littman sourced her data. Van Mol promoted a tweet linking to a petition calling for Brown to “defend academic freedom and scientific inquiry” by supporting Littman and her study. He also tweeted a link to an article about Littman’s study and asserted, “Idealogues (sic) are trying to suppress a study that shows the effect of peer pressure on transgenderism.” Van Mol has a long anti-LGBTQ record, including advocacy in favor of forcibly changing sexuality or gender identity through the discredited and harmful practice of conversion therapy. He has actively worked to oppose measures to protect LGBTQ people from the practice.

    Illinois Family Institute’s Laurie Higgins: Brown “cave[d] to cross-dressers and their collaborators.” Laurie Higgins of the extreme anti-LGBTQ state organization Illinois Family Institute wrote that Brown “cave[d] to cross-dressers and their collaborators” after feeling “the wrath of men in dresses with flowing tresses and bearded women in dungarees.” Higgins called Brown’s removal of its article about the study “censorship” and claimed, “No matter how well a study is designed and executed, if trannies don’t like the findings, ‘progressive’ universities will not draw attention to it even if the study is conducted by their own faculty.” Higgins previously called transgender identity a “superstition” and compared trans people and their allies to a cult. She has also praised the Trump-Pence administration’s plan to redefine “gender” to exclude the transgender community.

    Right-wing media and proponents of the study have called the re-evaluation “academic censorship” and said Brown and PLOS ONE caved to LGBTQ activists

    Proponents of ROGD launched a petition to “defend academic freedom and scientific inquiry” by supporting Littman’s research. Supporters of the ROGD concept launched a petition urging Brown and PLOS ONE to “defend academic freedom and scientific inquiry” in response to the study’s re-evaluation. The petition implies that the study was being censored, claiming that Brown and PLOS ONE should “resist ideologically-based attempts to squelch controversial research evidence.” The petition, which currently has 4,900 signatures, was shared by some of the same anti-trans websites where Littman collected data for her study, including 4thwavenow and Transgender Trend.

    Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on Brown’s decision: “Acknowledging reality itself becomes a criminal act; superstition reigns. The dark ages have arrived.” Fox prime-time host Tucker Carlson claimed that Brown was “censoring” Littman’s study and stopped promoting it because “activists descended” and “were offended by the conclusions of the study.” Carlson claimed that activists found Littman’s conclusions “ideologically inconvenient and therefore unacceptable.” He also asserted that they “demanded that the data be suppressed, and remarkably, Brown caved to their demands.” Carlson has previously denied the existence of the trans community, claimed that trans-affirming policies would hurt women, and hosted anti-transgender guests like ACPeds’ Cretella on his show. From the September 11 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight:

    TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): Brown University is censoring a scientific study by one of its own researchers because political activists don't like it. In a paper published earlier this month, a tenured Brown professor called Lisa Littman found that teenagers who say they want to switch genders are often influenced, not surprisingly, by friends and social media like all young people are. Well, the study was solid enough to be picked up by a reputable scientific journal. In fact, Brown’s PR department sounded a press release promoting the study. But then activists descended. They were offended by the conclusions of the study, not because the conclusions were wrong -- no one even argued they were wrong -- but because the conclusions were ideologically inconvenient and therefore unacceptable. They demanded that the data be suppressed, and remarkably, Brown caved to their demands. The university yanked the press release and apologized for sending it in the first place.

    This is not really about Brown. This is what it looks like when reason itself dies: Politics trump science; empirical conclusions are banned; acknowledging reality itself becomes a criminal act; superstition reigns. The dark ages have arrived. This is what they told you the Christian right wanted to do. They were lying. As soon as they took power, they did it themselves. Of course.

    The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro: “The left went insane” over Littman’s study, “so Brown caved” in an act of “academic tyranny.” The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro claimed that “Brown immediately caved” by removing its article because “any effort to actually research the environmental component of transgenderism is met with raucous calls for censorship.” Shapiro alleged that PLOS ONE and Brown “turned against the study because it offended politically correct sensibilities about transgenderism” and called the situation “academic tyranny.”

    Shapiro: “Science is taking a back seat to the realities of political correctness.” On his show, Shapiro repeated talking points from his Daily Wire post and claimed that Brown had “buried the study” and “caved” because “it offended politically correct sensibilities about transgenderism.” He called the move “insane,” claimed that “science is taking a back seat to the realities of political correctness,” and called leaders at Brown “cowards.” Shapiro then predicted that Brown would fire Littman, saying that the left “will go after anyone who does not follow the basic leftist consensus on politics, they will destroy science in order to do so, and they will censor people.” Shapiro has a history of anti-transgender bigotry, including calling transgender troops “mentally ill soldiers” and mocking transgender men and women who date them. He has also called being trans a “mental disorder” and “tyranny of the individual.”

    One America News’ Liz Wheeler: “This is even creepier, I think, than just stifling free speech. This is akin to book banning and book burning.” On the September 7 edition of One America News’ The Tipping Point, host Liz Wheeler railed that Brown’s decision to remove its article on the study was “even creepier, I think, than just stifling free speech,” comparing it to “book banning and book burning.” She continued, “This is taking a scientific study because it doesn't substantiate your political view and erasing it. That's so creepy.” Wheeler’s guest Amber Athey, a Daily Caller contributor, asserted that Brown “decided to get rid of the study not because they think that it didn’t meet scientific standards but just because they don’t like the results of it.”

    Wheeler: Brown is participating in “thought control. … That’s incredible scary. That is 1984.” In another segment, Wheeler repeatedly claimed that Brown’s removal of its post about the study was an example of “thought control.” Wheeler and her guest, The Daily Caller’s Anders Hagstrom, compared the situation to the dystopian novel 1984 and the Soviet era. Wheeler had previously criticized the Boy Scouts for accepting transgender youth and has suggested that affirming trans identities will lead to accepting “transracial, “transable,” and “transbaby” identities in which people believe themselves to be of a different race, ability or disability, or age. From the September 17 edition of One America News’ The Tipping Point:

    ANDERS HAGSTROM (REPORTER, THE DAILY CALLER): I know there’s a study at Brown college where a similar thing happened where this -- I can't remember if it was a he or a she who did this study, but they basically found that something regarding transgenders and a gender dysphoria and the way that children may grow out of it. And people objected to what that study found, and they just said, “OK, you're not allowed to publish that anymore. You can’t do any more research.”

    LIZ WHEELER (HOST): Right, because it might offend activists who are advocating for the transgender ideology.

    HAGSTROM: Yeah, exactly, because it might offend people.

    WHEELER: This is why I say this is thought control, because when you pick and choose what information is to be made public, and you pick and choose what you're going to hide from the American people because it might influence their thought in a way that you don't want. That's incredibly scary. That is 1984. That is thought control. It goes beyond the speech control.

    HAGSTROM: It’s Soviet, yeah.

    WHEELER: The way that you control speech is you control what people are allowed to put in their heads so that they can form those ideas. It's terrifying, and it’s sanctioned now by liberals on these campuses.

    Breitbart’s Tom Ciccotta: “Brown University has decided that not displeasing the LGBT community is more important than having its professors research this phenomenon.” On August 30, Breitbart News’ Tom Ciccotta wrote that Brown had “censored a research paper on gender dysphoria” because the university “decided that not displeasing the LGBT community is more important than having its professors research this phenomenon.” Breitbart often pushes anti-transgender narratives and cites ACPeds’ anti-transgender positions as credible.

    The Federalist’s Robert Tracinski: “Is transgender the new anorexia?” The Federalist’s Robert Tracinski called Littman’s study a “blockbuster” for arguing that transgender identities “might be a ‘social contagion’ -- a maladaptive coping technique for troubled teens, spread by peer groups and the Internet.” Tracinski claimed that Brown retracted its press release “in response to a furious outcry from transgender activists” who saw the research as a “threat.” He also posited that the study began because researchers saw “eerie parallels” of “social contagion” between eating disorders such as anorexia and transgender identities, and then highlighted the study’s assertion that so-called ROGD, “with the subsequent drive to transition, may represent a form of intentional self-harm.” He further claimed that medical professionals who offer gender-affirming care are “ideologically motivated gender dysphoria specialists” who “have engaged in massive malpractice in their zeal to ‘affirm’ their young patients’ self-diagnosis.”

    The Federalist’s Joy Pullman: Brown “repressed” the study because it reinforces the idea that “transgenderism looks a lot like a dangerous fad.” Federalist Executive Editor Joy Pullmann wrote that Brown had “repressed” Littman’s study “after a transgender activist feeding frenzy.” She continued, “The reason trans activists went nuts is that the study reinforces what plenty of parents, public health experts, and doctors have been saying: Transgenderism looks a lot like a dangerous fad.” She also said that transgender advocates “demand[ed] suppressing the results” and that Brown “chose to prioritize the unreasonable demands of a tiny minority above the potential well-being of children and the process of scientific inquiry.” Pullman admitted that “the study design has many flaws — self selection and self reporting among them.” However, she claimed that it was “comparable in quality to studies that LGBT activists amplify when it serves their narratives.” Despite its flaws, Pullman still praised the study because “Littman found a number of things that make transgender narratives look terrible.” The Federalist is a go-to outlet for conservatives to push anti-LGBTQ stories, compare transgender inclusion to “transgender authoritarianism,” and call gender-affirming procedures “mutilation.” From the August 31 post:

    This makes it obvious why transgender activists do not want this information public. It suggests many gender dysphoric young people hit a rough patch in life (or several), have poor or immature coping skills, and got the message from peers, online, or both that transgenderism was a handy, simple explanation for their feelings that also offered instant social acceptance and attention.

    National Review’s Madeleine Kearns: Brown “succumbed to political pressure” and “sacrificed its core principles of scientific inquiry and truth-seeking.” In a post titled “Why Did Brown University Bow to Trans Activists?” National Review’s Madeline Kearns claimed that Brown and PLOS ONE “succumbed to political pressure” by re-evaluating the study and that the university “appears more concerned with its marketability than with finding truth,” which she said “undermines academic freedom.” Though she acknowledged that there were concerns about the sample of parents coming from 4thwavenow and other biased websites, Kearns suggested that Brown’s removal of its article about Littman’s study was “cowardice” and “part of a bigger trend” -- an example of how “a radical ideological lobby has, once again, been highly effective in bullying dissenters into silence.” She concluded that Brown “sacrificed its core principles of scientific inquiry and truth-seeking to the feelings of ‘some members’ of their community.” National Review has a history of providing a platform to anti-LGBTQ figures such as anti-transgender conservative commentator David French, who in a May 9 article repeatedly misgendered Chelsea Manning and declared, “He’s a man.”

  • 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.