Kathleen Parker | Media Matters for America

Kathleen Parker

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  • The Problem With The Media’s ‘Trump Is Pivoting’ Narrative

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Media figures have repeatedly claimed that presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is “pivoting” to the general election every time he does something that they think makes him look or sound “presidential.” Media’s constant search for Trump’s “pivot” effectively whitewashes all of the racist, sexist, slanderous, and conspiratorial attacks Trump has doled out, and mainstreams the idea that Trump’s past diatribes can be forgiven so long as he assumes a veneer of conventional, tempered behavior.

    Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump and the media have engaged in a cycle wherein Trump launches offensive broadsides and character attacks; He gets bad press; Republican leaders clamor for Trump to tone down his rhetoric; Trump obliges, often using a teleprompter to restrain himself; Media figures claim Trump has “pivoted” and is “becoming more presidential”; and repeat.

    As MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace said, Trump constantly shatters the “pivot” narrative “by trotting out conspiracy theories” -- or, as others have noted, outrageous insults -- within hours of being lauded as “presidential.” 

    In following this pattern, the media are both applauding Trump for having simply mastered “campaign 101,” as CNN’s David Gregory noted, and excusing his past remarks as political maneuvering and electoral showmanship.

    In early June, after Trump launched a multiday racist crusade against Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over Trump University lawsuits, Republican leaders beseeched Trump to “get on message” and “quit attacking … various minority groups in the country.” That very night, Trump delivered a speech -- devoid of any attacks and with the aid of a teleprompter -- that “sought to calm fretful Republicans bolting from his side over his latest controversy,” CNN reported.

    Media figures immediately claimed that Trump’s restraint showed he was “pivoting.” NBC News reporter Ali Vitali wrote that Trump “acted presidential” in the speech, which “finalized his pivot to the general election.” CNN host Don Lemon said the “new, more presidential Donald Trump” is what “people in Washington wanted to see.” Unsurprisingly, Trump also received praise from right-wing media for sounding “more presidential than ever.”

    CNN political commentator Marc Lamont Hill explained the phenomenon:

    “It's kind of a good outcome for Trump, because we're not talking about a Mexican judge anymore. We're not talking about something controversial. We're talking about Trump changing the direction of his campaign. That can only be good news for him, based on what the last three weeks have been.”

    GOP leaders condemned Trump’s repeated “offensive” suggestions that President Obama had sympathies for terrorists, but changed their tune once Trump delivered his next teleprompter-guided speech following the mass shooting in Orlando, FL. Some media figures said Trump sounded “more presidential” and was “behaving like general election nominees behave,” and Trump’s slanderous accusations against the president quickly fell out of the news cycle.

    The “pivot” claim, which has repeatedly surfaced since at least February, has also helped wash away many of Trump’s past actions and comments: his doubling down on his proposed Muslim ban, his accusations that Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) father was involved in the John F. Kennedy assassination, and his questioning of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s faith.

    Some media figures have noted the journalistic malpractice associated with the constant fallback on the “pivot” narrative. New York Times Magazine correspondent Mark Leibovich, calling the narrative “absurd,” wrote:

    But really, how do you pivot away from saying that Mexicans are rapists? (Will he negotiate “great deals” with more moderate Mexican rapists?) If your campaign is a cult of personality, how can you modulate that personality and still have the cult? In Trump’s case, a “pivot” would constitute a complete overhaul of his very essence.

    Similarly, Washington Post opinion writer Kathleen Parker lambasted media’s “softening of criticism” of Trump and warned “the commentariat,” “Nothing makes Trump more acceptable today than yesterday or last week — or six months ago.”

    The "pivot" narrative has become a reset button, allowing media to excuse or forget all of Trump’s past rhetorical assaults. Media figures are essentially condoning all of his racism, sexism, and conspiracies, so long as he sounds and acts subdued and presidential.

    Image by Dayanita Ramesh and Sarah Wasko. 

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

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

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

  • Washington Post's Kathleen Parker Props Up Carly Fiorina's Misleading Statements About Anti-Planned Parenthood Video

    ››› ››› RACHEL LARRIS

    In the wake of the November 27 attack on a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood that left three people dead and another nine injured, Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker discussed the role previous, demonstrably false statements by Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina might have played in instigating the attacker. However, Parker's recap of the smear campaign against Planned Parenthood severely misstated the level of inaccuracy of Fiorina's fabricated charges against the organization.

  • MSNBC's GOP Debate Analysis Included Conservative Media Myths Smearing Planned Parenthood

    ››› ››› KATE SARNA

    On MSNBC, Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker's pre-Republican-debate analysis pushed the conservative media myth that the deceptively edited videos attacking Planned Parenthood revealed that the women's health organization engaged in the sale of fetal tissue. In reality, the videos have been roundly debunked as showing no illegal activity on the part of Planned Parenthood, and the organization has been cleared of wrong doing in two state investigations.

  • 9 Right-Wing Media Myths About The Hobby Lobby Case, Debunked


    The Supreme Court will soon decide Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, a case that could let owners of for-profit, secular corporations ignore the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and provide health insurance that does not cover preventive benefits like contraception. Right-wing media continue to advance multiple myths to support the owners of Hobby Lobby, despite the fact that these arguments have been repeatedly debunked by legal experts, religious scholars, and medical professionals.

  • Sunday News Shows' False Equivalence Is Drowning Out Benghazi Facts


    Hosts of the network Sunday news shows treated Benghazi myths and facts with false equivalence, an approach that hides the truth about the tragedy.

    The right-wing's manufactured hysteria over the release of new White House memos and the House GOP's announcement that it would form a special select committee brought the September 11, 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya back into the spotlight on the May 4 Sunday news talk shows. The latest charge from conservative media is that a newly-released email from Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes preparing then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice for the September 16, 2012 Sunday talk shows -- where she suggested that the terror attacks had grown out of spontaneous protests -- was part of a deliberate effort to deceive the American people about the cause of the attacks.

    In a seeming effort to provide false balance between the facts and the myths, the network news hosts lent credence to evidence-free claims by their guests, giving them equal weight with the truth. 

  • Washington Post's Parker Dismisses Legislation Requiring "Persistent" Consent During Sex

    Blog ››› ››› OLIVIA MARSHALL

    Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker dismissed sexual assault legislation requiring that consent be present at all times during a sexual encounter.

    In her February 21 column, Parker weighed in on the firestorm surrounding Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto's suggestion that both parties are equally to blame in sexual assault cases where both the victim and attacker are intoxicated. Parker wrote that Taranto's argument was "inartful," and concluded that because of their stronger "physicality," "it is for men to not take advantage of women who are bereft of their faculties, no matter the state of their own."

    Despite her conclusion, Parker nonetheless lamented "one of the problems with gender issues," wherein "someone always takes things too far, making ridiculous what should be treated with scientific precision." As if to prove her own point, Parker made that observation after seemingly dismissing legislation requiring that "yes needs to be persistent throughout" a sexual encounter:

    What got Taranto going was a New York Times article about bystander intervention in campus rape. Basically, if a drunk guy is getting aggressive with a girl, you're supposed to stop him. What was once simple citizenship is now innovative behavior modification. Elsewhere the zeitgeist was buzzing about proposed legislation in California that would codify the terms of consent in sexual relations among college students. Saying "yes" apparently isn't good enough. Now yes needs to be persistent throughout the act.

    The comic possibilities are nearly irresistible, but my survival instinct prompts me to exercise restraint. Herein lies one of the problems with gender issues. Someone always takes things too far, making ridiculous what should be treated with scientific precision.

    The California legislation in question was introduced earlier this month. According to The Sacramento Bee, it would put "the responsibility on a person who wants to engage in sexual activity to ensure that he or she has explicit consent from a partner." Despite the "comic possibilities" Parker sees, the language of the legislation seems non-controversial:

    Consent must be present throughout sexual activity, and at any time, a participant can communicate that he or she no longer consents to continuing the sexual activity. If there is confusion as to whether a person has consented or continues to consent to sexual activity, it is essential that the participants stop the activity until the confusion can be clearly resolved.

    Slate's Amanda Marcotte has explained why affirmative consent standards are important:

    Women should not be assumed to be consenting to sex unless they say otherwise in blunt language, especially since research shows that most people tend to refuse to go along with activities, sexual or otherwise, with demurring language instead of blunt refusals.


    That doesn't mean that the law would require partners to draft a contract before having sex, but it would mean that a rapist would have a harder time pretending that he didn't understand what it meant when a woman repeatedly asked to go home and refused to kiss him back and wiggled away when he tried to take off her clothes, all because she broadcast her refusals politely instead of yelling "no" at him. 

  • WaPo's Kathleen Parker Ignores Religious Protections, Cites Bush-Era Lawsuit To Attack Obamacare

    Blog ››› ››› MEAGAN HATCHER-MAYS

    Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker baselessly criticized President Obama for his administration's "willingness to challenge, rather than protect, religious liberty in this country," citing right-wing legal challenges to insurance coverage of birth control under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and a lawsuit that was filed by the previous administration, not the current one.

    In a recent column, Parker complained that Obama's decision to speak out against attacks on religious freedom overseas during the National Prayer Breakfast was done "without a hint of irony," because Obama failed to mention the "eroding protections of religious liberty" in the United States. Parker pointed to several high-profile cases as evidence of the Obama administration's supposed "challenge [to] religious liberty in this country." Parker overlooked the fact that the right-wing legal arguments that form the basis of these cases are a radical departure from settled corporate law precedent and the "well-established" religious accommodation practice for objectors toward neutral laws like the ACA's "contraception mandate." Parker also went on to claim that a separate Supreme Court decision in 2012 that ruled in favor of a church's discriminatory hiring practices was further evidence of the Obama administration's attack on religious liberty:

    President Obama gave a lovely speech at the recent National Prayer Breakfast -- and one is reluctant to criticize.

    But pry my jaw from the floorboards.

    Without a hint of irony, the president lamented eroding protections of religious liberty around the world.

    Just not, apparently, in America.

    Nary a mention of the legal challenges to religious liberty now in play between this administration and the Catholic Church and other religious groups, as well as private businesses that contest the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare.

    Missing was any mention of Hobby Lobby or the Little Sisters of the Poor -- whose cases have recently reached the U.S. Supreme Court and that reveal the Obama administration's willingness to challenge, rather than protect, religious liberty in this country.


    The more germane question to cases such as Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters is whether the government can accomplish its goal of making free contraception available without burdening religious objectors. Can't women in Colorado get contraception without forcing the Little Sisters, a group of nuns who care for the elderly, to violate their core beliefs? Their charitable work could not long survive under penalties the government would impose on them for noncompliance.

    For now, the Little Sisters have been granted a reprieve, thanks to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Arguments in the Hobby Lobby case are scheduled for March, with a decision expected in June. Meanwhile, another case settled in 2012 reveals much about this administration's willingness to challenge religious freedom. In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the question boiled down to whether the government can decide whom a church hires as minister. Since when?

  • Wash. Post's Parker Revises Mass Shooting History To Attack Stronger Gun Laws

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Kathleen Parker, a conservative opinion writer, argued against bans on high-capacity magazines by claiming that "several small magazines" were used in the Columbine High School and Virginia Tech massacres -- even though high-capacity magazines were used in both shootings -- and also falsely suggested that banning assault weapons would necessitate banning all semi-automatic firearms.

    In an April 9 column in The Washington Post, Parker falsely suggested that the shooters in those incidents did not use high-capacity magazines:

    Limiting the size of magazines also seems like a common-sense solution. Then again, maybe a killer simply would carry several small magazines and swap them out, as Eric Harris did at Columbine High School in 1999 and Seung-Hui Cho did at Virginia Tech in 2007. Harris was armed with a Hi-Point 995 carbine with 13 magazines of 10 rounds each. His partner, Dylan Klebold, carried a semi-automatic handgun and a short-barrel shotgun, which, gun experts will tell you, is the most effective close-range weapon of all. And Cho used two handguns that are not considered "assault weapons."

    But like assault weapons, some handguns accept high-capacity magazines. In the 1999 Columbine massacre, where two gunmen killed 13 and injured 21, Dylan Klebold attacked his classmates with an Intratec TEC-9 assault pistol and was found to have brought 52-, 32- and 28-round magazines into the school. Of the 67 rounds fired by Klebold, 55 were fired by the TEC-9, which Klebold was observed carrying -- equipped with a high-capacity magazine -- in an infamous security camera still taken during the shooting. On April 17, 2007 Seung-Hui Cho used two handguns to kill 32 and injure 17 at Virginia Tech. During the shooting, Cho fired 174 rounds from 10- and 15-round magazines. A ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) would ban any ammunition feeding device that is capable of accepting more than 10 rounds, the same limit contained in the previous assault weapons ban which expired in 2004.

    Parents of some of the children killed in the December 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School have advocated for a ban on high-capacity magazines after being told by authorities that a number of children were able to escape the shooter when he paused to reload. At a press conference in support of a Connecticut proposal to ban high-capacity magazines in that state, Mark Barden, whose son was killed in the mass shooting, explained, "The more times you have to reload the more opportunities there are to escape and to stop the shooting. In the amount of time -- it was somewhere around four minutes -- he was able to fire 154 rounds. I think that speaks volumes about reducing the size [of magazines]."

  • Health Care Assault Is Blueprint For Future Constitutional Challenges To Safety Net Laws

    Blog ››› ››› DAVID LYLE

    In Salon, Andrew Koppelman sets out the process by which the constitutional challenge to the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate made its way - via think tank issue briefs, op-eds, and blog posts - from being a completely off-the-wall notion to a nearly universal article of constitutional faith among conservative activists. This look back is even more important as a means of anticipating how the Right is likely to launch future attacks against Social Security, Medicare, and any number of health, safety and consumer protections. The assault on health care reform shows that the right's combination of established infrastructure, an activist and ideological segment of the judiciary, and partisan media is a powerful one. Progressives should remember how aggressively and effectively the right was able to deploy its view of the Constitution as a weapon, and meet future attempts to do so head on.

    Koppelman's research shows that within a few months in mid-2009 the constitutional argument against health care reform went from nonexistent to a subject of mainstream discussion. Koppelman was unable to find any published claim that the individual mandate would be unconstitutional prior to a July 2009 Federalist Society issue brief written by two former Bush administration officials. In August 2009, conservative lawyers David Rivkin and Lee Casey, who regularly write on issues the right-wing legal infrastructure wishes to move into the mainstream, published a Washington Post op-ed attacking the mandate on constitutional grounds. On September 18, law professor Randy Barnett, who would play a leading role in the subsequent litigation against the act, first weighed in on the issue with a post on Politico. Koppelman notes that days later CBS News reported that "[i]n the last few days, a new argument has emerged in the debate over Democratic healthcare proposals," and that CBS mentioned that the constitutionality issue had emerged on The O'Reilly Factor and Fox News.

    It is noteworthy that Fox News was out in front, driving the constitutional attack on the health care law into mainstream debate. Bill O'Reilly raised the constitutional issue on his show on September 9, over a week before Barnett, soon to become the public face of the cause, made his first public pronouncement. That night, in the "Talking Points Memo" portion of his show, O'Reilly said:

    And finally it may be unconstitutional to force Americans to buy health care insurance, although Mr. Obama wants that and compares it to mandatory auto insurance. With auto insurance you have a machine that can do damage.

    Could be unconstitutional to force you to buy this stuff. But if Obamacare passes, you will be on somebody's policy. That is certain. That's the memo. [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 9/9/09, via Nexis]