Joe Scarborough | Media Matters for America

Joe Scarborough

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  • Conservatives are lying about the migrant caravan to scare people into voting for Republicans

    Blog ››› ››› LEANNE NARAMORE

    Just two weeks ahead of the midterm elections, right-wing media figures and President Donald Trump are spreading lies about the migrant caravan, falsely claiming that the caravan has been infiltrated by radical terrorists and is on its way to invade and destroy the U.S. These lies are designed purely to scare people into voting for Republicans in the midterms; any honest reporting on this situation must be framed around that fact. Here are some good examples so far, via CNN, MSNBC, and Shepard Smith on Fox News:

  • Pundits can’t quit their lazy, evidence-free talking points about Democrats and elections

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Lazy conventional wisdom is running abound in horse race coverage of the upcoming midterm elections.

    The October 22 broadcast of MSNBC’s Morning Joe devoted a lengthy segment to claims that the Democratic Party has no messaging or, if it does, the message is packaged incorrectly. This evaluation of Democratic Party election efforts is evidence-free -- Democrats have largely coalesced around the issue of health care -- and it is also a gift to the Republican Party, as it plays into the argument that Democrats have no principles or plan for governance.

    Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski opened the discussion by saying, “Donald Trump is talking about trade, crime, immigration, and judges. What are the Democratic issues that pack the same kind of inspiring emotional punch? Democrats can still win these midterms, but with time running out, the message and the momentum appears to be on Donald Trump’s side.”

    Brzezinski's claim that Democrats have no response to Trump’s midterm rhetoric probably says more about the beltway press -- which tends to cover Trump's every move, at the expense of other topics -- than about reality.

    What is happening on the ground tells a different story. Although it is important to note that the idea that a party needs a singular national message to be successful in elections is itself largely empty conventional wisdom, Democrats have unified to a great extent around the issue of health care in their messaging. Wesleyan Media Project -- an initiative that tracks and analyzes all broadcast election ads -- found in a September analysis that “Pro-Democratic messaging in federal races is concentrated primarily on healthcare, with 44 percent of airings in U.S. House races and 50 percent of airings in U.S. Senate races featuring the topic.” An October 18 report from the project stated, “It’s official: the 2018 midterms are about health care.” The “typical” message, according to an analysis by Vox, is that “the Republicans voted to take away people’s health care and end Obamacare’s protections for people with preexisting conditions.”

    The media, however, have largely not been interested in covering health care policy, which could explain the perception that Democrats have no message on the issue. An October 19 Media Matters analysis found that broadcast nightly news shows did not air a single substantive segment about health care policy between January 1 and October 18

    Despite Brzezinski's suggestion that Democrat messaging is inept, polling suggests that what the Democrats are doing is working. According to Morning Consult, a survey research company, the “strategy” to focus on health care “is paying off” because it is a high priority issue for voters and “voters who say health care is their top priority favor Democrats over Republicans by a margin of 28 points.”

    Republicans have also been clearly put on the defensive by this messaging strategy. As The New York Times reported on October 16, “For months, Democratic candidates have been running hard on health care, while Republicans have said little about it. In a sign of the issue’s potency, Republicans are now playing defense, releasing a wave of ads promising they will preserve protections for Americans with pre-existing health conditions.” (It should be noted that these ads include false claims -- many of the Republicans running them have clear voting records of supporting legislation that would threaten mandatory coverage of pre-existing conditions.)

    After Brzezinski’s opening, co-host Joe Scarborough and frequent show panelist Mike Barnicle offered a factually incorrect analysis of Democrats’ communication strategy around health care. They both essentially attacked Democrats for not effectively messaging on the issue, even though Democrats are actually messaging in the ways that Scarborough and Barincle said they should be.

    Scarborough said, “So, if the Republican issue that they’re going to lean on is immigration, the Democratic issue is health care. I haven’t heard a compelling argument about health care.” He then claimed, “All they would have to say is the same exact thing that [then-President] Bill Clinton said [in 1996] for the next two weeks and they’d win a landslide and it’s this: Republicans are coming for your Medicare to pay for their tax cuts for the rich. … All they have to say is Republicans are coming after your Social Security and your Medicare to pay for tax cuts for the rich. Boom. They can’t put a sentence together like that. They are incapable.”

    But that is largely what Democrats are saying. According to the Wesleyan analysis, ads supporting Democrats running for House seats are mentioning health care 44 percent of the time, Medicare 18 percent of the time, Social Security 17 percent of the time, and taxes 14 percent of the time. So what Scarborough says Democrats are incapable of talking about are actually the four top issues that they are messaging on:

    And in the Senate, Democrats are mentioning health care in 50 percent of ads and prescription drugs in 16 percent of ads.


    Barnicle went a step further, saying of Democrats running for House seats: “All they talk about is impeaching the president, when all they would have to do, as Joe just referenced, is go to the country and say, ‘If you have a child who is sick, you better pray that the Republicans don’t take control again because your child will be in severe danger of losing health care.’” But as the Weslayan analysis showed, in the House, Democrats are running on health care, not impeachment.

    Another example of lazy horse race coverage occurred during the October 22 broadcast of CNN’s New Day when David Gregory said: “It’s also disturbing -- I mean, if you look at both parties, what they are really selling their supporters is anger and fear. That’s the vision for the country, which is pretty ugly during an ugly time following an ugly political episode with the confirmation of Justice [Brett] Kavanaugh.”

    There is really no comparison between Republicans and Democrats engaging in fearmongering as an election tactic. For weeks, Trump, the GOP, and its conservative media allies have argued without evidence that the Republican supporters are in danger of being killed by angry mobs of Democrats. And now Trump and his allies are coalescing on racist messaging that a caravan of migrants from Central America is poised to invade the U.S. While examples of divisive Democratic messaging can certainly be found, two of the party’s most high-profile candidates -- Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke and Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum -- have made aspirational messaging about healing political divides in the U.S. a primary argument of their candidacies.

    Horse race punditry is often shallow on election coverage, but analysis should not be so poor that it is clearly at odds with reality.

  • An MSNBC segment on Serena Williams included only one Black commentator -- he was the only person to defend her 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A segment on MSNBC’s Morning Joe covering Serena Williams’ loss in the U.S. Open final included commentary by three white pundits, who all criticized Williams, and a sole Black commentator, who defended her actions and argued that she set a good example for young women. The segment was a stark example of why newsroom diversity matters, and what happens when the dominant voices in the media are white ones.

    During the match, chair umpire Carlos Ramos repeatedly penalized Williams. Many in the media and on social media platforms have noted the gendered and racist nature of the violations against Williams. Some pointed out that male players have rarely been penalized for similar actions or for showing emotion on the court.

    The three white commentators on Morning Joe seemed largely unmoved by these arguments. Mike Lupica, a sports journalist, argued that Williams was “was out of line” and claimed that she had “priors at this event,” referring to past instances where Williams reacted strongly at the tournament. He also attempted to disconnect the umpire’s decisions from Williams’ race, suggesting that the violations could not have been rooted in racism because Williams’ opponent Naomi Osaka is of Japanese and Haitian descent. Co-host Joe Scarborough attempted to dismiss arguments of sexism, denying that the extreme, and often unpenalized, rants of former men's tennis player John McEnroe demonstrate that Williams was treated differently because of her gender. Instead he claimed that Williams was penalized because “the codes, a lot of the standards were changed to stop the sort of verbal abuse that John McEnroe heaped on umps.” His co-host Mika Brzezinski claimed that Williams’ behavior is not “becoming whether a man does it or a woman does it.”

    The only commentator who defended Williams’ actions was Princeton professor Eddie Glaude, who also happened to be the only Black person included in the segment. Glaude noted that the umpire’s decision was akin to “throwing Lebron James out in Game 7.” He said he understood “exactly her emotion, her anger” and argued that Williams was “absolutely justified in standing up for herself” and “point[ing] out the very gendered way in which she was responded to.” He also suggested that, “every young girl in this country who saw it should look up to her in that moment and stand up for themselves and not be disciplined by how they're supposed to behave in those moments.”

    From the September 10 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe:

    Glaude’s empathy for Williams, as compared to Lupica, Scarborough, and Brzezinski’s apathy, is evidence of the importance of cable programs having diverse voices, especially while discussing issues of race and gender. But, while the systemic racism and overwhelming whiteness of media is a problem for many reasons, it's also an accuracy problem:

    The absence of people of color in newsrooms and on television allows the biases of white journalists and commentators to go unchecked, resulting in reporting that often overlooks important angles, privileges one side of a story, and fails to provide necessary context to understand news events.  

    Media diversity isn't a luxury good that can be jettisoned for the sake of convenience. White newsrooms are broken newsrooms.

    Unfortunately, cable news channels have often failed to seek out diverse perspectives, and their coverage has suffered as a result.   

  • Iraq War cheerleaders are still driving foreign policy discussions, Iran tweet edition

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On Sunday, July 22, President Donald Trump tweeted another bellicose threat of war, this time against Iran. In discussions about the president’s tweets, some media outlets prominently featured Iraq War boosters.
     

    Though, collectively, these figures were hardly as pro-military action as they were in 2003 in their support for the Iraq War (some even harshly criticized the president’s posturing), the prominence of such boosters in the conversation betrays one of the media’s long-running, barely-acknowledged failures: The same voices that helped the Bush administration lie its way into the "the single worst foreign policy decision in American history" are still, for some reason, considered important voices on foreign policy.

    • Former press secretary for President George W. Bush Ari Fleischer appeared on Fox News’ America’s Newsroom to urge the United States to destabilize Iranian society in order to trigger regime change.

    • Steve Doocy, co-host of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, said that the Iranian “people are really hacked (sic) off, they don’t really like the corruption, they don’t like the leadership, they want something new, and now this,” referring to Trump’s tweet.  

    • On Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, senior strategic analyst retired Gen. Jack Keane, who was the a strong advocate of Bush’s troop “surge” strategy in Iraq, hailed Trump for having “absolutely reset the table [away] from coddling Iran” as soon as he was inaugurated and framed the tweet -- which he called a “policy decision” -- as a continuation of this trend.

    • On CNN’s New Day, global affairs analyst Max Boot commented that Trump “belongs in a padded cell” for his tweet and was “predictable” for “gin[ning] up a threat of war with Iran” to shield himself from embarrassment over the Helsinki summit.

    • On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough commented that Trump was “screaming about the Republican (sic) Guard and his threat to wipe out Iran,” and suggested that the threat against Iran was a tactic to distract from the news that, among others, the FBI possessed recordings of the president talking with his former attorney Michael Cohen about payments to a former playboy model.

    • Fox’s senior political analyst Brit Hume predicted that Trump’s broader posture against Iran, from exiting the nuclear deal to Sunday’s tweet, indicated that his administration “is attempting to overthrow the government or attempting to get regime change” in Iran, even though Trump officials “will not say” so.

    • Disgraced ex-Fox host Bill O’Reilly promised to “analyze the Iran threats made by Mr. Trump” on the Monday edition of his web-based show.

    • On CNN Newsroom, military analyst Rick Francona, who was previously part of a military analyst program set up by the Pentagon to sell the Iraq War, warned that “if you start poking the eye of the Iranians” as Trump’s tweet did, “they’re liable to push back,” and the resulting situation “will ratchet out of control very quickly.”

    • National security adviser John Bolton, hired directly off of Fox News, underlined the president's threat with a statement that said: “If Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid before.”

  • Media are misleadingly characterizing Brett Kavanaugh as “mainstream”

    Researchers found that Kavanaugh "is an uncommonly partisan judge" who "justified his decisions with conservative doctrines far more than his colleagues," particularly in the run-up to elections

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On July 9, President Donald Trump nominated conservative D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court in a move that would undoubtedly shift the court far to the right and out of step with the American people. Many media figures, though, have casted Kavanaugh as a centrist pick, citing his ties to former President George W. Bush and saying he is less conservative than other potential nominees.

    • MSNBC host Joe Scarborough called Kavanaugh “such a mainstream pick” and praised him for voicing opposition to indicting a sitting president, saying it “speaks to the content of the judge’s character” because it was written under a Democratic president.

    • CNN senior political analyst and occasional host John Avlon praised Trump’s choice as “not as far right” as many of the other options he had considered. After CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin disputed that characterization, fellow commentator David Gregory dug in, saying, “Any Republican would have made this selection.”

    • The New York Times published a July 9 opinion piece on its website written by a liberal friend and former law professor of Kavanaugh’s, which Fox News exploited as evidence of widespread bipartisan support for the nominee.

    • A New York Times article described him as “often a moderating force.”

    • On CBS This Morning, Dan Senor, a Republican strategist and former colleague of Kavanaugh’s in the George W. Bush administration, said he’s “not some fire-brand right-winger” and argued that other Republicans also would have nominated him.

    • MSNBC political commentator Bret Stephens claimed that Kavanaugh is “within the broad mainstream of the American movement.”

    But data shows that Kavanaugh is “an uncommonly partisan judge” who has historically “tended to dissent more often along partisan lines than his peers,” according to research compiled by social scientists Elliott Ash and Daniel L. Chen. They also noted that Kavanaugh “justified his decisions with conservative doctrines far more than his colleagues” and that his right-leaning partisan decisions ramped up in the midst of presidential elections, “suggesting that he feels personally invested in national politics.” Additionally, Kavanaugh’s views on the environment, labor, LGBTQ discrimination, reproductive rights, gun safety, and immigration -- which are often out of step with those of the majority of Americans -- have won him the support of some of the most extreme factions, including extremist anti-LGBTQ groups and nativists like Ann Coulter and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

  • Right-wing media use Parkland school shooting to rail against abortion

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Update: This piece has been updated to include additional examples.

    On February 14, after a school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, left 17 dead, right-wing and anti-abortion media made outlandish comparisons between gun regulation and abortion restrictions, as well as comparing the National Rifle Association (NRA) to Planned Parenthood.

    • Peggy Noonan, a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, compared the debate around gun violence prevention policies following the Parkland shooting to calls from the anti-abortion movement to restrict access to abortions after 20 weeks. Noonan claimed, “On gun law, Republicans oppose banning assault weapons such as the AR-15, the one the Parkland shooter used, because of the numbers, power and contributions of gun owners and the NRA. Democrats oppose banning late-term abortion because of the numbers, power and contributions of the rising left, feminists and Planned Parenthood.” Noonan argued that lawmakers should “trade banning assault weapons for banning late-term abortion. Make illegal a killing machine and a killing procedure. In both cases the lives of children would be saved.”
    • After Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) said that gun regulation is needed because Americans cannot stand by while “our babies are being slaughtered,” The Western Journal -- which is known to peddle fake news -- highlighted conservatives on Twitter who “were quick to point out the glaring hypocrisy in her statements, suggesting that one cannot decry the deaths of babies while being such a strong advocate for the practice of abortion,” including actor James Woods’ tweet:

    • The Daily Caller’s Benny Johnson similarly attacked Harris with an article titled “Pro-Abortion Senator Horrified About ‘Slaughter of Babies.’”

    • RedState’s Josh Kimbrell wrote, “It is a contradiction in political philosophy to promote Planned Parenthood while accusing gun rights advocates of being against life.” Kimbrell claimed that while Planned Parenthood “is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths every single year,” the NRA “does not advocate gun violence or promote a culture of death.” Instead, Kimbrell argued, the NRA “provides excellent gun safety training resources to all ages.”
    • During a February 22 appearance on Fox News @ Night, Townhall's Guy Benson talked about the supposed media bias of outlets reporting on the NRA’s political donations but not covering donations from Planned Parenthood’s political arm. He was referring to a Senate vote against a ban on abortions at 20 weeks:

    GUY BENSON: CNN, one of our rival networks, tweeted out a list of the Republicans who had voted no, with a list of their ratings from the NRA, and people were highlighting how much money they had taken from the NRA. And that type of coverage simply did not exist with the Democrats and Planned Parenthood and the abortion lobby when they voted for a life-and-death issue against the strong wishes of the American people. And, to me, that dichotomy is striking and unavoidable.

    • On the February 21 edition of One America News Network’s Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, host Liz Wheeler also compared donations from the NRA and Planned Parenthood. Wheeler said that not only was it a “hideous lie” that the “NRA buys off politicians in an effort to push a pro-gun agenda that costs the lives of millions of children,” but also that it was “ironic because liberals have no problem with another organization that also donates to politicians and actually does kill millions of children -- Planned Parenthood.”
    • Writing for Townhall, conservative blogger Erick Erickson also compared Planned Parenthood to the NRA, saying that “elite opinion makers in America champion Planned Parenthood, which actually does kill thousands of children each year, while savaging the National Rifle Association, which has never killed a child and whose members have actually saved others' lives.”
    • Christian Schneider, an opinion columnist at USA Today, wrote that the “double standard” of media coverage could be summed up as: “When Democrats work on behalf of a special interest that aborts millions of children, they are doing so from a place of conscience and ideological purity. When Republicans argue in favor of Second Amendment rights, it is because they have been bought off by a disfavored lobbying group looking to profit from carnage.” Schneider explained that this “double standard” is a “cynical ploy that only devalues Congress in the voters’ eyes. And it is especially destructive when applied only to one party.”
    • Fox News’ Laura Ingraham used the high schools students who survived the Parkland shooting and have been calling for gun safety policies to make a comparison to media coverage of the anti-abortion March for Life. On the February 20 edition of her Fox News show, The Ingraham Angle, Ingraham said that “the media has a little double standard problem here” because of what she deemed under-coverage of the March for Life. She claimed that “18- to 34-year-olds were the second most likely age group to oppose” abortions after 20 weeks -- a statistic the media should think more critically about before reporting -- and said the media should “give those kids some mention as well and maybe a little empathy, or at least a little fair coverage. That would be nice. The kids count? Well, that means all of their views.”
    • Tucker Carlson made a similar comparison to the March for Life on the February 21 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight. Carlson said that “thousands of other children come to Washington for the March [for] Life,” and that “like the kids from Parkland, they’re against killing.” Carlson also questioned the media response to the March for Life in comparison to coverage of the Parkland shooting, asking, “Do the media hold these kids up as the last word on the subject? Do they attack anyone who questions them? Please. A lot of news outlets don't even bother to cover that march at all.”

    Other outlets promoted similar talking points comparing abortion restrictions and gun regulation

    • On the February 20 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Time magazine’s Michael Duffy and MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell praised Peggy Noonan’s Wall Street Journal column in which she called for a “trade” between banning assault weapons and restricting abortion after 20 weeks:

    MICHAEL DUFFY: Science is chasing politics in both those cases. And Peggy Noonan wrote a really interesting column on Saturday, I think, where she said --

    ANDREA MITCHELL: It’s a wonderful column.

    DUFFY: -- where she said -- she had a proposal at the end that was shocking at first when you read it that basically said the right should give on late-term abortion -- I'm sorry, the left --

    MITCHELL: The left, exactly.

    DUFFY: -- should give on late-term abortion and the right should give on some of these gun restrictions, particularly with respect to assault weapons. And that that’s a vote, she said, for life in general. And she cited young people as a changed political factor.

    MITCHELL: I'm glad you mentioned that, Mike. Because she is ahead of the curve in all of these cultural issues, I think, Peggy has a unique sensibility. And --

    DUFFY: It was an interesting trade up.

    • In a column for the Chicago Tribune, John Kass made an argument similar to Noonan’s. He argued that Republicans can call for “gun-violence restraining orders” and Democrats can agree to support a ban on abortion after 20-weeks as both "common sense" compromises.

    The comparison also spread to social media and message boards

    • On Reddit, the “r/The_Donald” forum featured several threads touting right-wing media’s comparisons between Planned Parenthood and NRA or abortion with guns. The titles of these threads included “If You Want To Take My Guns, I Want To Take Your Abortions That Kill 300,000 Children A Year” and “2017 killing statistics. Planned Parenthood: 328,348. NRA members: 0." Some of these threads drew significant engagement from users:

    UPDATE: Right-wing media continued using the Parkland shooting to attack Planned Parenthood and abortion rights

    • Radio host Michael Graham wrote for The Federalist that politicians who claim to be personally opposed to abortion, but vote for pro-choice policies are “too timid to vote” for abortion restrictions “because Planned Parenthood is the NRA of the Democratic Party. Only worse.” Planned Parenthood is worse, Graham said, because although some Republicans support gun regulation, no Democrat supports abortion restrictions “because Planned Parenthood and its allies wouldn’t let it happen.” Graham further argued that “Planned Parenthood and the abortion lobby are proof that you don’t need a gun to be a bully.”
    • National Review’s Alexandra DeSanctis compared outrage over politicians taking donations from the NRA to what she perceived as a media silence about politicians taking donations from Planned Parenthood, noting that “mainstream outlets” never “point to the campaign contributions that Democratic politicians accept from Planned Parenthood and its close cousin NARAL.” DeSanctis stated, “If the Left and its friends in the media truly cared about the influence of ‘dark money,’ they would bother to report this information about Planned Parenthood.”
    • On the March 1 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson asked Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI), “What would drive a 19-year-old to want to murder strangers?” In response, Duffy partly blamed abortion, saying, “We dehumanize life in those video games, in those movies, and with abortion.”
    • Duffy returned to Fox News during the March 2 edition of The Ingraham Angle, where Duffy and host Laura Ingraham repeatedly claimed that calling out Planned Parenthood instead of the NRA made more sense to them. Ingraham stated, “If we're going to judge people based on an organization’s blood spilled, well, I hope Planned Parenthood is going to lose all of its partnerships or affiliations, given the fact that we have about 57 million babies who never got to see the light of day.” Duffy agreed, saying, “If you want to save kids' lives, I would look to the Democrat (sic) Party and Planned Parenthood and the left-wing media. And Planned Parenthood killed 300 of the most defenseless, voiceless, little babies last year alone.” After Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) wondered how the conversation moved to abortion and attempted to bring it back to gun regulation, Ingraham stated, “I thought it was pretty clear, but I'll explain it again if you’re confused. We're talking about the blood of children, innocent children who were gunned down in that school, and we're talking about the blood of the most innocent who are defenseless in the womb.”
    • On March 2, NRA TV contributor Dan Bongino claimed on Tucker Carlson Tonight that it is “so beyond stupid” to debate with liberals on gun regulations because, he said, liberals don’t support putting “any abortion laws on the books” as “they’ll all be ignored” anyway, but believe “gun laws, those will really work.” Host Tucker Carlson agreed with Bongino’s argument, saying that for liberals, “abortion, which is not mentioned in the Constitution is the beating heart of our constitutional rights.”
    • Fox contributor David Bossie argued on the March 2 edition of Fox News’ The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino that “it's interesting that people want to protect Planned Parenthood by killing babies on one hand and, on the other hand, they want to take guns away.”
    • During the March 4 edition of Fox and Friends Weekend, conservative radio host Kathy Barnette said, “Tragically Nikolas Cruz killed 17 little souls on that day, but Planned Parenthood kills over 800 babies on a daily basis, and where is the moral outrage on that?” Host Rachel Campos-Duffy replied, “Absolutely.”
  • On the Sandy Hook anniversary, Morning Joe highlights Congress’ refusal to pass the gun safety laws Americans support

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    On the five year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, CT, MSNBC’s Morning Joe pointed out that despite strong public support for regulating firearms on the federal level, Congress has been slow to move on any type of gun safety legislation since the tragedy.

    Co-host Joe Scarborough mentioned the number of Americans killed by gun violence since Sandy Hook and highlighted that Americans on both sides of the political divide overwhelming support gun safety measures, including banning assault weapons, expanding background checks and bump stocks, like those that were used in the October Las Vegas mass shooting. Scarborough noted that despite the support, members of Congress opposing reforms are “playing to a small hard core interest group in Washington D.C., and not even listening to the majority of” Americans. From the December 14 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe

    JOE SCARBOROUGH (CO-HOST): It's -- we talked about this. Mika, I don't know that there's been anything as jarring, other than September 11th, certainly in my lifetime of following news and reporting on the news, than what happened in Newtown five years ago today. It just still -- it's something obviously that the families will never get past. It's something that the town will never get past. And so many of these families are still fighting every day to make sense of it, but to also try to turn this tragedy into something good. You look at the numbers, the Daily News, October 3rd, wrote that there have been -- there's been nearly one mass shooting every day for the 1,754 days since the shocking slaughter of those 20 Connecticut angels. And Mike Barnicle, there are times -- the American people, I mean, this shook the American people to the core. Ninety percent of Americans still support enhanced background checks. The number of Americans that support a ban on assault-style weapons continues to go up. Americans support gun safety at higher numbers than ever before and so much of it came out of that, and yet, how does Congress answer this just a week ago?

    [...]

    SCARBOROUGH: And you look at the number of Americans that have been killed by guns since Sandy Hook. It's unfathomable that Congress still has refused to do anything despite the fact that 90 percent of Americans want them to. They are playing to a small hard core interest group in Washington D.C., and not even listening to the majority of NRA members who want -- I’ll say that again. The majority of NRA members, the majority of Republicans, the majority of conservatives, want expanded background checks, and they want legislation passed, gun safety legislation passed.

    SUSAN DEL PERCIO: And they can start even working backwards from some of the most dangerous weapons that are out there. You can start at whether it's the block gizmo on the gun or other types of weapons. I mean, we do have certain standards in our country. You can't have land mines on your yard, for example. Those are deemed too dangerous. We have to start working back and force this country into sensible, responsible gun ownership because you're right, Joe. Most NRA members are for proper background checks. They have no problem with waiting. If I need a gun in 24 hours, there's probably a bad reason that I would want a gun in 24 hours. The government, they need to start moving this, and this is one of those issues that we can start saying, I'm for the Second Amendment, but we need to be responsible. This is something Republicans can be moderate on and still hold onto their base.

    SCARBOROUGH: And the bump stock issue, Willie, that after Las Vegas, after that horrific slaughter in Las Vegas, we heard that they might even move on bump stocks. They can't even do that.

    Despite Congress’ inaction, Josh Horwitz, the executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, noted in a HuffPost piece that the last five years have been “among the most productive” throughout his 30 years working on the gun violence issue. He highlighted that individuals states have passed “laws creating universal background check systems, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and protecting victims of domestic violence from armed abusers” and that there has been a “marked political shift regarding gun violence prevention” with fewer politicians “ducking the issue.”

  • How adopting right-wing spin about Doug Jones' support for abortion access led media astray

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On December 12, Alabama voters elected Democrat Doug Jones to the U.S. Senate -- ending a 25-year streak in which Democrats were unable to win a single seat in the state. Jones’ victory put to rest weeks of media hand-wringing and speculation about what would be more offensive to Alabamians: Republican candidate Roy Moore’s reported sexual misconduct with teenagers when he was in his 30s or Jones’ allegedly “extreme” position on abortion.

    In November, The Washington Post reported multiple women’s accounts of experiencing inappropriate conduct from Moore when they were in their teens, including one account of Moore pursuing a 14-year old girl. A few days later, another woman reported that Moore sexually assaulted her when she was a teenager. In response, Moore largely avoided granting interviews to media, with the exception of a few friendly outlets such as Breitbart and One American News Network. To counteract these reports, right-wing outlets began leveraging what they claimed were Jones’ “extreme” views on abortion access against allegations of wrongdoing against Moore.

    In reality, as Jones has explained, he supports upholding current Alabama law, which allows patients to seek an abortion up to 20 weeks of pregnancy with limited exceptions for “medical necessity” beyond that point. During a September 27 interview with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, Jones stated that he was “a firm believer that a woman should have the freedom to choose what happens to her own body.” Despite this, many outlets not only adopted right-wing media’s inaccurate spin that Jones’ stance was “extreme,” but also went on to claim that Jones’ support for abortion access would ultimately cost him the election.

    From early in the campaign, right-wing media consistently pushed the talking point that Jones’ position on abortion access was “extreme.” For example, during the November 15 edition of Fox News’ The Five, co-host Jesse Watters described Alabama voters as having to decide between Moore, who “may have done inappropriate things with young girls 40 years ago,” and Jones, who he claimed supported so-called “‘partial-birth’ abortion” (a procedure that doesn’t exist but was invented by anti-abortion groups to shame those seeking abortions). In another example, Fox’s Marc Thiessen tried to equate Moore’s predatory behavior and Jones’ stance on abortion by calling them “two extremes.” Beyond this, Fox hosts and contributors alike leveraged a variety of inaccurate claims about Jones’ position on abortion -- saying he was for “abortion on demand,” claiming he was “a person who supports abortion at every level,” or parroting that he supported “abortion through all nine months” of pregnancy. In a particularly ill-fated exchange on the night of the election, Fox's Tucker Carlson and Brit Hume predicted that Jones' support for abortion would be his undoing:

    Unfortunately, rather than debunking such obvious anti-choice talking points, some outlets instead adopted this right-wing spin about Jones.

    During a November 27 discussion on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, co-host Joe Scarborough claimed that Democrats would be better off if they had run “somebody who were, let’s say, conservative to moderate on abortion … but with Democrats on 99 percent of the other issues.” The following day, a panel on Morning Joe continued this line of argument with MSNBC political analyst Elise Jordan stating that adopting an anti-abortion viewpoint “would have taken Doug Jones easily over the finish line.” Beyond Jordan’s claims, during the same discussion MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki also promoted the right-wing argument that Jones supported “no restrictions on abortion at all.”

    On CNN, contributor Stephen Moore also adopted the right-wing spin about Jones, arguing that he supported “partial-birth abortion, which a lot of people in Alabama think is tantamount to murder.” While at The Daily Beast, Matt Lewis speculated that Alabama voters may not be able to cast a vote for Jones because of his “extreme position on what many see as a definitive life or death issue.” Lewis concluded that Jones “would be in a much better position” to win if his views about abortion weren’t “so radical.”

    As election day drew nearer, other outlets continued to run with the argument that not only was Jones’ position “extreme,” but that it would also cost him the election. For example, The Boston Globe claimed that for Alabama voters, Jones’ stance was “a deal-breaker” and that if Moore was “running against a Democrat less doctrinaire on abortion, the revelations about Moore’s pursuit of young girls would likely have sunk his campaign.” NPR reported on December 8 that “for some Alabama voters, supporting abortion rights may be a sin worse than some of the sexual misdeeds Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore has been accused of.” On the night of the election, MSNBC’s Chuck Todd said that he’d been told that “if Doug Jones loses, it will be a one word answer: Abortion.”

    This is far from the first time that media have gotten carried away with the argument that support for abortion access costs votes or elections for Democratic or progressive candidates. In early 2017, The New York Times published an op-ed titled, “To Win Again, Democrats Must Stop Being the Abortion Party” -- kicking off wave of responses rebutting the false dichotomy that Democrats must sacrifice reproductive rights to win voters.

    As HuffPost reported on December 4, however, there was ample reason to believe that Jones’ support for abortion access wouldn’t be a hindrance. According to polling performed by Clarity Campaign Labs, “Abortion wasn’t really in the top couple issue” when likely Republican voters explained why they wouldn’t support Jones over Moore.