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

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • In unearthed audio, Tucker Carlson makes numerous misogynistic and perverted comments

    During interviews on Bubba The Love Sponge, Carlson said he "love[s]" the idea of young girls sexually experimenting, used sexist terms to refer to a number of women, and defended statutory rape 

    ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ

    Between 2006 and 2011, Tucker Carlson spent approximately an hour a week calling in to Bubba the Love Sponge, a popular shock jock radio program where he spoke with the hosts about a variety of cultural and political topics in sometimes-vulgar terms. During those conversations, Carlson diminished the actions of Warren Jeffs, then on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” list for his involvement in arranging illegal marriages between adults and underage girls, talked about sex and young girls, and defended statutory rape.

    Carlson, who was hired by Fox News in 2009, also used sexist language to talk about women, including then-co-workers at NBC and public figures. He referred to Martha Stewart’s daughter Alexis Stewart as “cunty,” called journalist Arianna Huffington a “pig,” and labeled Britney Spears and Paris Hilton “the biggest white whores in America.” He also said that women enjoy being told to “be quiet and kind of do what you’re told” and that they are “extremely primitive.”

  • Donald Trump used a Daily Caller interview to recycle abortion misinformation and stoke right-wing outrage

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


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After a flurry of Fox News-driven outrage over recent state measures protecting or expanding abortion access, President Donald Trump used an interview with The Daily Caller as an opportunity to recycle anti-choice misinformation and further stoke right-wing frenzy about abortion.

    On January 22, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law protecting abortion access in the state should the Supreme Court weaken or overturn Roe v. Wade. Right-wing media initially seized on a provision of the law decriminalizing abortions “after 24 weeks when the fetus is not viable or a woman’s health is at risk.” Virginia lawmakers also recently introduced a measure that would remove some restrictions to abortion care, though it has since been tabled. After a video of a lawmaker discussing the bill went viral, the right-wing and anti-abortion media outrage machine pointed to both measures as evidence that Democratic lawmakers support abortions being performed “all the way to the day of birth.”

    On January 30, Trump spoke with The Daily Caller about the Virginia measure and related comments from Gov. Ralph Northam. Predictably, Trump used the interview to repeat right-wing media talking points -- including many from Fox News -- about so-called “partial-birth” abortion and alleged support for anti-choice policies. Given Trump’s utter dependence on Fox for both talking points and policy proposals, it’s unsurprising he would take cues from the network’s rampant misinformation and sensationalized rhetoric about these abortion measures.

    This isn’t the first time Trump has repeated right-wing media lies about abortion. During the 2016 presidential election, then-candidate Trump invoked the myth of “partial-birth” abortion to falsely allege that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton supported abortion procedures that “rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month" of pregnancy. Trump returned to this talking point during his conversation with The Daily Caller, saying: “Do you remember when I said Hillary Clinton was willing to rip the baby out of the womb? That’s what it is, that’s what they’re doing, it’s terrible” -- echoing language that had been a prominent part of Fox News’ coverage of the Virginia bill. Trump also inaccurately alleged the Virginia measure would “lift up” the popularity of the anti-abortion movement, which he claimed was “a very 50-50 issue” -- recycling an inaccurate talking point about a supposed lack of public support for abortion access.

    Trump’s talking point about so-called “partial-birth" abortion or “abortion in the ninth month” is based on a lie:

    • So-called “partial-birth" abortion (often used by right-wing and anti-choice media to describe later abortions) is not a medical term, but one invented by anti-abortion extremists to shame and villainize people having abortions later in pregnancy.
    • The procedure that the term “partial-birth" abortion supposedly references was outlawed in 2003.
    • Later abortions happen because of medical necessity, risks to the life and health of the pregnant person, or because of a nonviable fetus. The decision to have one should be between a patient and their doctor.

    Trump also falsely claimed that there isn’t broad support for abortion rights in the United States:

    • Right-wing media love to mislead about polling on abortion to claim that people don’t support abortion access. This inaccurate framing has also influenced coverage outside of the right-wing media sphere -- a trend that has been repeated during coverage of other political fights.
    • Polling on abortion is notoriously difficult, but polling that uses clear language and real-life scenarios indicates that most people want abortion access to remain legal.
    • Support for later abortions goes up when people are presented with realistic scenarios about the procedure and why someone would need to have one.

    The anti-abortion movement has enjoyed a close relationship with Trump and his administration, with Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, having previously led Trump’s “Pro-Life Coalition.” Given the escalating rhetoric from anti-abortion groups and Trump’s steadfast allies on Fox News, it was only a matter of time before the president seized the opportunity to spread misinformation and stigma about abortion, throwing fuel on the fire of manufactured right-wing media outrage.

  • On WNYC's On the Media, Lisa Hymas explains what the press got right and wrong in covering the National Climate Assessment

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Lisa Hymas, director of Media Matters' climate and energy program, went on On the Media to discuss coverage of the National Climate Assessment -- the good coverage as well as the problems that cropped up on the Sunday morning political talk shows and CNN.

    From the November 30 edition of WNYC's On the Media:

    BROOKE GLADSTONE (HOST): So the National Climate Assessment dropped on Black Friday.

    LISA HYMAS: It looked like a pathetically blatant attempt by the Trump administration to keep it out of the public eye. But it didn't work.

    A lot of the print media did better than TV. The New York Times and The Washington Post, they have really strong climate teams; they did great coverage. But you saw it in smaller papers all around the country. The Columbia Journalism Review found that at least 140 newspapers around the country put it on their front pages. That includes places like The Chicago Tribune and the Miami Herald, 20 different papers in California. And many of those papers also looked at the local impacts. The Portland Press Herald in Maine, they had a big story about the national implications, but they also, on their print front page, had a big story about the impacts in New England, specifically.

    But I think TV was a mixed bag: Sometimes the coverage was good, and sometimes it was not. And in cases where the coverage is poor, we probably would have been better off without it.

    GLADSTONE: You said that Sunday was the first time this year that the five major Sunday shows discussed climate change on the same day. We're talking about ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, CNN's State of the Union, Fox News Sunday, and NBC's Meet the Press -- they all had segments. The most talked-about one on Sunday was probably on Meet the Press.

    HYMAS: Yes. NBC's Meet the Press featured Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank that's supported by the Koch brothers. She used a favorite climate denier line ...

    [BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]

    DANIELLE PLETKA (SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE): I'm not a scientist. I look at this as a citizen, and I see it, so I understand it. On the other hand, we need to also recognize that we just had two of the coldest years, biggest drop in global temperatures, that we've had since the 1980s, the biggest in the last 100 years. We don't talk about that because it's not part of the agenda.

    [END AUDIO CLIP]

    HYMAS: No. Climate scientists have been very clear that the global climate has consistently been warming, and the hottest years have been the most recent ones.

    GLADSTONE: Yeah. NOAA said that 2015, ’16, and ’17 were the warmest on record, but 2017 was only the third-warmest.

    HYMAS: I don't really find that comforting. You know, if you're not a scientist, you ought to listen to scientists. To say, "I'm not a scientist, but I don't believe this," that's nonsense.

    I mean, one thing that was frustrating about this last episode of Meet the Press: Host Chuck Todd later in the same show interviewed Tom Steyer, who got his start as an activist by focusing on climate change, and Todd didn't ask him anything about the report. The focus was just on the 2020 presidential race.

    GLADSTONE: Let's look at how Fox News handled the report on the day it was released. Here's CNN's Brian Stelter with a recap.

    [BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]

    BRIAN STELTER (CNN MEDIA CORRESPONDENT): The network actually spent more time talking about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's shoes on Friday. Now to be fair, the networks' newscasts did air several segments about climate change, about the crisis, on Saturday. But on the president's favorite talk shows, nada, not a word.

    [END AUDIO CLIP]

    GLADSTONE: Meanwhile, Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace also did not invite a climate scientist on to discuss the report. He spoke with Republican Senator of Nebraska Ben Sasse, who dodged the topic of climate action and spoke vaguely about the need for innovation.

    [BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]

    SASSE: Because you can't legislate or regulate your way into the past. We have to innovate our way into the future. And right now you don't hear a lot of the people who put climate as their No. 1 issue, you don't hear a lot of them offering constructive, innovative solutions for the future. It's usually just a lot of alarmism.

    [END AUDIO CLIP]

    HYMAS: You know, notably, Fox's big-name personalities didn't dig in on the report at all. They just stayed focused on their pet issues. So you had Sean Hannity, this past week, ranting about Hillary Clinton's supposed scandals and crimes. I mean, he's still doing that more than two years after she lost the presidential election. And you had Lou Dobbs scaremongering about the migrant caravan. And the Russia investigation is a witch hunt -- that got a lot of coverage this past week, but the climate report didn't.

    GLADSTONE: Margaret Brennan of CBS' Face the Nation did speak to a scientist about the report, NASA's Steven Clarke, but that exchange was very brief, and it was buried in a segment that was almost entirely about NASA's Mars probe.

    HYMAS: Yes. So, on the one hand, I was glad to see that Face the Nation actually asked a scientist about the climate report. We track how often the Sunday shows incorporate or talk to scientists when they're discussing climate change, and it's been almost three years since any Sunday show has asked a scientist about climate change.

    GLADSTONE: What? Seriously?

    HYMAS: Yes, the last time was in December of 2015. It was also on Face the Nation.

    GLADSTONE: So many opportunities. So many national conferences, so many elections, so many extreme weather incidents, and nothing?

    HYMAS: There are climate scientists who are really good public speakers and who do a really great job of explaining the science in terms that normal people can understand, but they don't get the airtime.

    GLADSTONE: I think the winner of the week's booby prize, though, would probably be CNN.

    HYMAS: I think that's true. Rick Santorum was on CNN claiming that scientists are in it for the money.

    [AUDIO CLIP]

    RICK SANTORUM (FORMER SENATOR): If there was no climate change, we'd have a lot of scientists looking for work. The reality is that a lot of these scientists are driven by the money that they receive ...

    [END AUDIO CLIP]

    HYMAS: The next day, we saw Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader.

    [AUDIO CLIP]

    TOM DELAY (FORMER REPRESENTATIVE): The report is nothing more than a rehash of age-old, 10- to 20-year assumptions made by scientists that get paid to further the politics of global warming.

    [END AUDIO CLIP]

    HYMAS: He's the disgraced former House majority leader who had to resign after he was convicted of money laundering and conspiracy. Why is this guy qualified to discuss a scientific report about climate change? We saw Stephen Moore, a Trump-loving economist, making the same ridiculous claim on CNN.

    [BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]

    STEPHEN MOORE: Billions and billions and billions of dollars at stake. A lot of people are getting really, really, really rich off the climate change issue.

    [END AUDIO CLIP]

    HYMAS: Then on Tuesday morning, John Avlon did a good segment on CNN where he completely debunked this notion that there's a big climate-industrial complex and that scientists are just doing it to get rich.

    [BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]

    JOHN AVLON (CNN POLITICAL ANALYST): Now, that talking point you're hearing is a classic bit of distraction and deflection. In fact, one of the scientists who worked on the climate change report, Katharine Hayhoe, confirms that she and her colleagues were paid, quote, “zero dollars” for their work and could easily make 10 times their salaries by working for something like Big Oil.

    [END AUDIO CLIP]

    HYMAS: But, later that same day on Tuesday, just hours after Avlon's fact-checking segment ran, CNN again had on Stephen Moore to make that same claim. And what was so frustrating about CNN having these climate deniers on to make ridiculous claims is they didn't disclose the fact that Rick Santorum and Tom Delay, when they were in Congress, they got more than $700,000 each from the oil and gas industry in campaign contributions. Stephen Moore works for a number of groups that are funded by the Koch brothers. Last month, Stephen Moore gave a speech to the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association. These things were not disclosed, but those men were allowed to accuse scientists of being in it for the money.

    GLADSTONE: Why does CNN pay people like Rick Santorum to lie to the public it's supposed to be serving?

    HYMAS: I will never understand why CNN pays Rick Santorum.

    Cable TV likes to have conflict, and they like to have sparks fly. But there’s much better ways you can do it, even if you do want the conflict. I mean, it's absurd, in 2018, for a discussion about climate change to include someone who contends that we're actually in a period of global cooling. Get people who all recognize the challenge of climate change but propose different responses and solutions to it. There are plenty of conservatives who propose carbon taxes. Let's see them discuss and debate people who are proposing a highly progressive Green New Deal, or a carbon-fee-and-dividend approach. There's a lot to debate. It just doesn't have to be a denier against someone who accepts the reality of climate change.

  • Family Research Council is terrible, and its president Tony Perkins just got appointed to an international commission 

    FRC and its president Tony Perkins have long fought LGBTQ equality abroad, including supporting Uganda's "Kill the Gays" bill

    ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE

    Tony Perkins, president of the anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council (FRC), was appointed commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a federal government commission dedicated to the “right to freedom of religion or belief abroad” that “makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.” Over the years, FRC has worked to push its anti-LGBTQ extremism in other countries, including Perkins personally defending an anti-gay bill in Uganda that could have punished sodomy by death. FRC has also spoken out against the LGBTQ-inclusive actions by the State Department under the Obama administration and has a long-established relationship with newly-confirmed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who similarly has a record of anti-LGBTQ advocacy. 

  • WSJ debunks Murdoch-fueled conspiracy theory on FBI texts and Obama

    The conspiracy theory, which was debunked by WSJ and others, was heavily pushed by Fox News and other right-wing outlets

    ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    The latest right-wing media ‘scandal,’ has completely fallen apart after The Wall Street Journal and others debunked several facets of the story. Fox News spent the day pushing Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-WI) claim that a text message between FBI lawyer Lisa Page and agent Peter Strzok referring to preparing talking points that then-FBI Director James Comey would use to brief then-President Barack Obama, implied an interference by Obama in the FBI’s investigation into Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email server. Right-wing media, heavily led by Fox News, and other mainstream outlets ran with the claim, despite the fact that there was no active investigation into Clinton’s emails at the time the text message in question was sent.

  • The most extreme right-wing reactions to Cecile Richards' departure from Planned Parenthood

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On January 24, BuzzFeed reported that Cecile Richards plans to step down as president of Planned Parenthood. Richards confirmed the news on January 26, saying she is departing the organization some time this year. Immediately, anti-abortion and right-wing media and groups took the opportunity to smear Richards and Planned Parenthood in a number of outlandish ways.

    • The Federalist inaccurately claimed that Richards was leaving “amid an ongoing federal investigation.” The story pointed as evidence to the Department of Justice’s procedural request to the Senate judiciary committee in December 2017 for documents related to the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress’ (CMP) discredited videos, which purport to show Planned Parenthood engaged in illicit practices.
    • Anti-abortion outlet LifeSiteNews published a piece that quoted CMP’s founder David Daleiden who alleged that Richards was leaving because “the secret is out that Planned Parenthood is a taxpayer-sponsored crime syndicate of industrial-scale child killing."
    • On One America News’ Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, host Liz Wheeler said that although some might refer to her as "a conspiracy theorist,” her previous segment “about the legacy of Cecile Richards” was “666 words exactly.” She made the same point on Twitter.
    • Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue’s Senior Vice President Cheryl Sullenger -- who served two years in prison for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic -- posted on social media a series of photoshopped images of Richards wearing an orange jumpsuit in a prison cell and used a variety of hashtags, such as #ReleaseTheMemo and #Qanon. Sullenger’s use of the hashtags was likely an attempt to connect Richards’ departure to the right-wing campaign against special counsel Robert Mueller and the conspiracy theory thread on 8chan message board, respectively.

    • The Stream, an outlet founded by televangelist James Robison, posted a story titled “Can Cecile Richards Live With All the Ghosts?”

    • The Daily Wire called Richards “Planned Parenthood’s chief maniacal ghoul” and stated that “we can only hope Cecile Richards returns swiftly to the obscurity of whichever cavern of Hell spawned her.” The image accompanying the article -- titled “3.5 Million People Are Dead Today Because Of Cecile Richards” -- depicted Richards with devil horns and tail, photoshopped on an ultrasound image of a fetus with a halo.

    • Fake news purveyor Conservative Tribune responded to news of Richards’ departure, commenting, “It takes a special kind of evil to go to sleep at night knowing babies are being killed under your watch.”
    • Catholic newspaper National Catholic Register published a blog post that asked, “Does Richards sleep well at night, or are sleeping pills required to stop the nightmares of babies’ souls that come to visit?”
    • After Hillary Clinton tweeted at Richards thanking her for her work, far-right blog The Gateway Pundit published a piece titled, “Hillary Clinton Thanks Planned Parenthood Pres Cecile Richards For Overseeing the Murder of Millions of Babies - Twitter Responds.”

  • Fake news website YourNewsWire deletes bogus story about Keanu Reeves

    Facebook, YouTube, and Google all helped the story spread

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Prominent fake news website YourNewsWire deleted a fabricated story headlined “Keanu Reeves: Hollywood Elites Use ‘Blood Of Babies’ To Get High” after the site was called out for its lie on Twitter -- but not before the post was widely circulated on verified Facebook pages, converted into a monetized YouTube video that became the top result when searching for the actor’s name on YouTube, and posted on other fake news sites that feature ads placed by Google. This is just the latest example of tech platforms aiding in the spread of misinformation from fake news websites.

    On November 19, YourNewsWire published a post claiming Reeves said that “Hollywood elites use ‘the blood of babies to get high’” and that “‘these people believe the more innocent the child, and the more it suffered before it died, the better the high.’” The story was blatantly fake, but it quickly spread. It was posted on both of YourNewsWire’s associated Facebook pages, both of which are verified by Facebook. One of those pages is called The People’s Voice; the other, called YourNewsWire after the website, recently lost its verification under unexplained circumstances, but has since gotten it back. The false story about Reeves received more than 26,000 Facebook engagements, according to BuzzSumo. The Facebook posts have since been deleted.

    The story was also posted on other fake news websites, some of which are funded by ads from Google AdSense, one of the most widely used advertising services by fake news websites. (YourNewsWire’s article displayed ads via Revcontent, another ad service used frequently by fake news sites.)

    Additionally, a video pushing the fake story from the account Kinninigan for a time became the top result for a search of Reeves’ name on YouTube, which is owned by Google and which has struggled to not feature misinformation on its platform. It has been viewed over 114,000 times and is monetized with ads as well; Media Matters found on the video an ad for the movie Lady Bird. In effect, YouTube, Google, and Kinninigan are all potentially making money from this video claiming that Reeves said “Hollywood elites” get high from drinking baby blood. (Kinninigan’s account features a number of videos of YourNewsWire content, as well as conspiracy theory videos and videos about various celebrities such as Sofia Vergara, Angelina Jolie, and Hillary Clinton being reptilian shapeshifters.)

    After some people on Twitter promised to flag the article as fake news on Facebook following a tweet from a Media Matters researcher who had called out the fake story, YourNewsWire's owner, Sean Adl-Tabatabai, lashed out. Adl-Tabatabai, who has openly stated that he believes facts are not sacred, tweeted:

    Although YourNewsWire took down the fake story after it was called out, the damage had already been done: other websites have now picked up the story and people are still sharing it on Facebook and elsewhere, as noted by Mashable.

    The tech companies that contribute to the spread of fake news and profit from these stories are, at least in part, responsible for them. They have also, as noted by BuzzFeed's Charlie Warzel, repeatedly bungled handling the spread of misinformation. By verifying YourNewsWire’s pages, Facebook -- which claims to be committed to fighting fake news on its platform -- is implicitly indicating to its users that the website has some kind of legitimacy, which it clearly does not merit. And YourNewsWire is not alone; although Facebook appears to have removed at least one verified page for a fake news website and blocked its links, plenty of other fake news websites’ Facebook pages remain verified.

    All of these companies should be aware that YourNewsWire is a bad actor. The site, which was founded in 2014, has come under fire for repeatedly publishing fake stories like a dying former MI5 agent confessing to killing Princess Diana, former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton helping run a pedophilia ring from the basement of a D.C. family pizzeria (which in fact led to a gunman to open fire in the restaurant), and actor Morgan Freeman wanting Clinton to be jailed. Some of YourNewsWire’s fake stories about Clinton and about former President Barack Obama have even been pushed by Fox News’ Sean Hannity. The website, which American and European experts have called a Russian proxy, has also published fake stories that seem to fit Russia’s anti-democratic, anti-European Union (EU), and anti-George Soros agenda. (The website has also been promoted by what appears to be a revived version of @TEN_GOP, a Russian account that was run by the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency.) And recently, the website published a fake story that the gunman involved in the massacre in Sutherland Springs, TX, was a member of antifa; the false story went viral and received more than a quarter million Facebook engagements, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo.

  • Sinclair-owned stations give platform to serial misinformer Peter Schweizer of Breitbart

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Dozens of Sinclair-owned local news stations are running a package featuring serial misinformer Peter Schweizer, a senior editor-at-large for Breitbart, making debunked allegations about Hillary Clinton’s role in a deal selling U.S. uranium holdings to Russia while she was secretary of state. This package is the latest in Sinclair’s attempt to infect local media with inaccurate right-wing commentary.

    Schweizer, whose work has been funded in large part by hedge fund billionaires Robert and Rebekah Mercer, used the segment to hype debunked allegations from his error-riddled book Clinton Cash. He implied that there was “cronyism” or “corruption” surrounding the selling of the Uranium One company to a Russian nuclear company while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state because the company, Rosatom, donated to the Clinton Foundation. Schweizer, who has a long history of pushing misinformation, baselessly claimed, “There was a quid pro quo culture at the Clinton Foundation, that large donors were getting favors in return for those donations.”

    From the October 20 edition of WNWO’s NBC 24 News:

    PETER SCHWEIZER: People often assume that corruption or cronyism is a victimless crime, that it’s just politicians making money and what’s the big deal? The problem is, in this particular case, there are huge national security implications.

    SARA CARTER: Peter Schweizer, the man behind the book Clinton Cash, says the U.S. government should take a closer look at the deal that allowed the Russian nuclear company Rosatom to purchase Uranium One.

    SCHWEIZER: Even at the time this deal was approved in 2010, it was massively controversial. You had a dozen members of Congress who ran national security committees, you had U.S. senators who wrote letters to the [Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States] raising questions about the fact that this deal was being looked at.

    CARTER: One of the points of contention for people investigating the Clintons’ potential connection to the deal were speech fees Bill Clinton received from a Russian bank while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state and sat on the panel that approved the transaction. Schweizer says a Clinton Foundation review, done at the behest of Chelsea Clinton, shows a lack of transparency in their contributions.

    SCHWEIZER: There was a quid pro quo culture at the Clinton Foundation, that large donors were getting favors in return for those donations.

    CARTER: When Schweizer helped The New York Times with an article on the Clinton Foundation in 2015, a spokesperson for the Hillary Clinton campaign told them no one has ever produced a shred of evidence supporting the theory that Hillary Clinton ever took action as secretary of state to support the interest of donors to the Clinton Foundation. The Clinton Foundation did not respond to attempts for comment.

    However, as numerous fact-checkers have previously pointed out, “The State Department was one of nine agencies on the committee that approved the deal,” and “there is no evidence Clinton herself got involved in the deal personally, and it is highly questionable that this deal even rose to the level of the secretary of state.”

    The segment, which was reported by Sinclair Broadcast Group subsidiary Circa, is the latest in Sinclair’s history of pushing right-wing commentary that has been compared to “propaganda.” The broadcasting company also has selectively omitted stories that don’t fit its agenda. Recently, Sinclair has made a series of conservative hires, including discredited former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson and former Trump White House aide Boris Epshteyn. In July, Sinclair announced it would be tripling the number of segments featuring Epshteyn that are sent to stations as “must-run” packages -- a typical practice for the company. There has also been reporting that Sinclair could partner with Breitbart, as the latter site’s chairman and former White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has sought to expand his “platform for the alt-right” to “compete with Fox News from the right.” Both Bannon and Schweizer worked at the Government Accountability Insitute, a venture that was funded by the Mercers.

    Sinclair’s dealings with the Trump administration run deep. During the campaign, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner reportedly “struck a deal” with Sinclair to “secure better media coverage” for then-candidate Donald Trump in exchange for “more access to Trump and the campaign.” Additionally, President Donald Trump’s Federal Communications Committee has pursued deregulatory efforts that could make it easier for the Sinclair empire to grow as it seeks to merge with Tribune Media.

    Circa, and in particular its correspondent Sara Carter, have become a favorite source for others in right-wing media, especially Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

  • Fox Business hosts far-right troll who yelled Seth Rich conspiracies at a Hillary Clinton book signing

    Fox Business cut away from video before Seth Rich attacks the network was forced to retract

    Blog ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET

    Fox Business host Liz MacDonald invited far-right, Seth Rich conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer on to the network to promote her ambush video attacking Hillary Clinton at a book signing event. MacDonald hosted Loomer, who has pushed the conspiracy theory that Clinton was involved in the murder of a Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer, even after the network’s sister company, Fox News, was forced to retract a Seth Rich conspiracy story.

    MacDonald introduced her September 14 segment with Loomer by highlighting footage from Loomer criticizing Clinton during a book signing where she attacked the former presidential candidate over emails and relief money to Haiti. But the video abruptly stops before the footage shows Loomer asking Hillary Clinton “What happened to Seth Rich?,” referring to the debunked conspiracy theory that Fox was forced to retract. From the September 14 edition of Fox Business’ Risk & Reward with Deirdre Bolton:

    LIZ MACDONALD (HOST): Conservative activist Laura Loomer confronted Hillary Clinton about the missing emails at her book signing.

    [VIDEO BEGINS]

    LAURA LOOMER: Hi, it's so great to see you.

    HILLARY CLINTON: Well, it's great for you to be here.

    LOOMER: Thanks for having me.

    CLINTON: Thank you for coming.

    LOOMER: Thanks for having me. So, the American people would really like to know what happened to your 33,000 emails? What happened in Benghazi?

    CLINTON: Go read the book, you want to find --

    LOOMER: What happened to the millions of dollars that was supposed to go to the people in Haiti?

    CLINTON: You know what? I'm so sorry you believe things that are untrue.

    [VIDEO ENDS]

    MACDONALD: Laura Loomer, from Rebel Media. Laura took those -- the footage right there, is with me now. What was it like to confront Hillary Clinton?

    LOOMER: You know, it's always a good time. I've done it a couple times in the past before, which is why I was surprised that she hasn't recognized me. But, you know, it's -- it's definitely an adrenaline rush because this is probably the most hated woman in America and, you know, to be asking her questions that so many --

    MACDONALD: To some. Not to everybody. She got 55 million people who voted for her.

    LOOMER: Yeah, to many, but to ask her questions that one, the mainstream media refused to ask her, and two, that so many Americans want answers about, it was great that I was able to do that.

    Fox News heavily promoted the Seth Rich conspiracy theory and even after the network conceded that the story was completely false, personalities like Sean Hannity continued. Hannity promoted the story after Fox retractions and media criticism and even pushed the conspiracy theory after Seth Rich’s family demanded he stop his disgraceful campaign.

    Loomer also has a long history of promoting Seth Rich conspiracy theories on Twitter, claiming Seth Rich was murdered for “testifying against Hillary.