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Conservative media and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s presidential campaign are revisiting the debunked right-wing media pseudo-scandal of voter intimidation by the New Black Panther Party to defend Trump’s assertion that “large scale voter fraud” will affect the election.
After the 2008 election of President Barack Obama, a video went viral of two members of the New Black Panther Party standing outside a Philadelphia polling station on Election Day. One was a registered Democratic poll watcher; the other held a nightstick. Under President George W. Bush, the Department of Justice (DOJ) opened an investigation into the incident after Republican poll watchers complained (no voters ever alleged that they were intimidated by the men). Later, under Obama’s administration, the DOJ obtained a default judgment against the member carrying the nightstick and dropped the case against the poll watcher, the organization, and its leader.
Bush’s U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which at the time was packed with conservative activists, responded to the conclusion of the case by opening an investigation, even though the Republican vice chairwoman of the commission called the case “very small potatoes” and criticized the “overheated rhetoric filled with insinuations and unsubstantiated charges.” Nevertheless, J. Christian Adams, an activist Republican member of the commission, went on a lengthy crusade against Obama’s Justice Department for dropping the charges, resigning and claiming the decision showed unprecedented, racially charged corruption.
Adams found a friendly and eager platform for his position in Fox News, particularly with host Megyn Kelly. In 2010, Fox News devoted at least 95 segments and more than eight hours of airtime in two weeks to the phony scandal, including more than 3.5 hours on Kelly’s America Live. Adams admitted that he had no first-hand knowledge of the conversations leading to the decision.
One year later, an internal investigation at the Justice Department found that “politics played no role in the handling” of the case and that “department attorneys did not commit professional misconduct or exercise poor judgment.” Fox News spent only 88 seconds covering the debunking of a phony scandal of its own creation. Kelly spent only 20 seconds of her show covering the report.
But the damage was already done, and the obsessive coverage of the non-event has bubbled back up in the 2016 presidential election.
On October 17, Trump tweeted, “Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day.” As they tried to play defense for their candidate, right-wing media figures invoked the faux New Black Panther scandal. CNN’s paid Trump surrogates Kayleigh McEnany and Scottie Nell Hughes got in on the action, with McEnany claiming that Trump “doesn’t want a scenario where there's New Black Panthers outside with guns, essentially like intimidating people from coming into the polls” and Hughes saying that “voter suppression happened when the Black Panthers stood outside the election room.” (CNN’s Kristen Powers retorted, “There was not a single complaint from a single voter.”)
Conservative radio hosts joined in, with Mike Gallagher asserting that “in Philadelphia we know all about the New Black Panther movement and what they did in Philadelphia at the polling places,” and Howie Carr accusing the Obama administration of “refus[ing] to prosecute” them for “roaming outside polling places, precincts in Philadelphia with baseball bats and threatening white people.”
Key figures in creating the scandal have also resurfaced to defend Trump’s voter fraud narrative. Fox & Friends hosted J. Christian Adams to push the myth that “dead people are voting … and it’s going to affect the election” (in reality, claims of dead voter fraud are “plagued by recurring methodological errors” and actual instances of this kind of fraud are exceedingly uncommon). The Trump campaign also hired Mike Roman as head of a “nationwide election protection operation.” Roman is a Republican political consultant who shopped the 2008 video to Fox News, worked with Adams to push the scandal, and offered to contact every Republican voter in the Philadelphia precinct to determine if any were intimidated at the polling location.
The New Black Panther Party pseudo-scandal’s resurgence is only the latest example of how obsessive right-wing coverage of a comprehensively debunked myth, followed by scant coverage of news that does not fit the narrative, can allow a myth to pass as truth for years. Fox’s infatuation with Benghazi still continues to this day and, like the New Black Panther Party issue and other myths, it is frequently revived to attack Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton or bolster ridiculous assertions by Trump. By bringing the overblown and debunked New Black Panther story back into the mainstream, Trump backers in the media are grasping at straws to defend his rigged election nonsense.
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Evening cable news programs rarely discuss college affordability issues, and they even more rarely feature guests who present relevant expertise or recent personal experiences in these discussions. In a recent analysis of evening cable news programming, Media Matters found an overall apparent lack of student or borrower guests participating in these conversations, while the majority of guests were white, male, and 35 or older. Though Fox News programs featured the most student guests, the network’s discussions of college affordability were limited and they often allowed older, white hosts and guests to push outdated math about college costs and dismiss the experiences of students who are struggling to afford higher education.
In a recent study, Media Matters analyzed an entire year of evening cable news programming and found that Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC together spent just 2 hours and 22 minutes -- 56 total segments -- airing substantial discussion of topics related to college affordability. Of the 56 segments, almost half (24) were aired on Fox News. Of the 127 total guests participating in these segments across all three networks, eight were identified as current students -- all appearing in segments on Fox.
Considering the overall lack of interviews and panels discussing college affordability across all the networks, including four segments with eight student guests throughout a year of programming is not a significant accomplishment. All three networks ought to be including more guests who can share recent, personal experiences with paying for higher education in conversations about college costs or student debt. Two Fox News evening programs -- On The Record with Greta Van Susteren and Hannity -- took this initial step by featuring student guests, but the discussions were still largely dictated by the hosts.
And Fox’s comparatively better inclusion of student guests in college affordability discussions did not yield more substantive discussions.
On The Record featured a total of seven college students in discussions of student debt or college affordability, across three panel segments. The stated topic of all three segments was the millennial vote, yet each featured some exchanges about college affordability issues. In two of the segments, host Greta Van Susteren asked Democrat student guests if they were planning to vote based on their desire for “free” college. In the third segment, Van Susteren asked student guests, “Who do [millennials] blame for the student loan problem? ... Republicans or Democrats?” And later she asked which party the guests believed would help alleviate student loan debts. The guests -- all of whom explained that they were planning to vote for Republican candidates in the 2016 election -- all declined to “blame” a single party or to conclude that only one party could provide solutions. Together, as defined by the Media Matters analysis, substantial discussion of college affordability in these three segments totaled eight minutes.
In another segment, Fox News’ Hannity featured a 37-second exchange in which a young viewer asked in a video message what host Sean Hannity would do to “help students like me who are going to be in crippling debt after graduation.” Hannity advised students to forego attending a “big-name school” in favor of a (supposedly) more affordable option, then concluded that “of course, working hard never hurt anybody.”
Meanwhile, other Fox News evening programs -- although they included ostensible firsthand experiences -- were responsible for some of the most misleading and dismissive segments in our analysis. In discussions on The O’Reilly Factor and The Kelly File, Fox figures pushed claims that students could afford higher education in 2016 if they simply “work for it,” citing their own experiences attending college 24 to 45 years ago when it was still practical to afford tuition through part-time work.
On The Kelly File, host Megyn Kelly and Fox & Friends’ Brian Kilmeade discussed Fox colleague Neil Cavuto’s daytime interview with a student activist guest about the Million Student March. Kilmeade began the discussion by diminishing student concerns about affordable loan payments, then pivoted to listing the cost of tuition at several private, four-year colleges and suggesting that if students are accepted to those schools but cannot afford the sticker price, “Guess what? Maybe you can’t go. You have to go to a college that you can afford, and you work your way up.” Kelly cited her own college experience, arguing, “I took out loans. I paid them back. That’s how it works in this country.” Kilmeade agreed, saying, “It’s unbelievable.” Throughout the segment, Kelly repeatedly mocked student protesters, suggesting they were asking for “the one percenters to pay for your life,” and asking, “Why do they even have to buy a crib? It’s unfair.”
In 1992, when Kelly graduated from college, the average sticker price (tuition, fees, room, and board) for a full year of full-time attendance at a private research university like her alma mater was $17,572, which amounts to $30,166 in 2016 when adjusted for inflation. For Kilmeade, who graduated in 1986, it was $11,034, or $24,248 in 2016 inflation-adjusted dollars. Today, both schools cost more than twice what they did when Kelly and Kilmeade were students -- attending Kelly’s alma mater as a full-time student costs $63,344. For Kilmeade’s alma mater, the figure is $49,582. These numbers do not include transportation, books, or health insurance, among other additional costs.
On The O’Reilly Factor, host Bill O’Reilly blamed students for incurring student debt by choosing to attend “Harvard,” arguing that students ought to attend state universities or community colleges where tuition is more “reasonable.” Schools in the New York state system, according to O’Reilly, cost “a bit, but it’s not punitive.” Fox News analyst Kirsten Powers attempted to explain that rising costs can be prohibitive for students from low-income families and that his argument reinforces a “class system where only certain people can go to college.” O’Reilly responded, “The argument can be made that -- and millions of Americans have done it -- that you can get a good education, but you must work for it.” O’Reilly asked Powers, “Why do they think they’re owed all this by the government? What is that mentality? I don’t get that. I never took a penny from the government.” The discussion then devolved into O’Reilly claiming that child hunger was a “myth.”
In another segment from April, O’Reilly disparaged young people who supported free public college tuition -- at the time, a policy proposal from then-Democratic presidential candidate Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders -- explaining that he had “never taken anything from anybody in [his] life.” O’Reilly dismissed attempts from economist Austan Goolsbee to point out how college costs have risen significantly since O’Reilly was a student. O’Reilly focused instead on his mid-career graduate school attendance at Harvard University in the 1990s (years after he became a nationally recognized media figure) to attempt to rebut Goolsbee, rather than drawing the more appropriate and even less compelling analogy to his undergraduate college experience decades earlier.
O’Reilly graduated college in 1971, when the average sticker price for a full year of full-time attendance at a private liberal arts college like his alma mater was $2,599, or $15,456 in 2016 dollars when adjusted for inflation. Today the cost for the first year of full-time attendance at the same school -- which, again, does not include many estimated additional costs associated with attending college -- is $49,860.
Images created by Sarah Wasko.
Media should report on the immense hypocrisy of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump levying attacks on former President Bill Clinton’s history with women and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s responses to those women.Trump and several of his closest advisers have long histories of engaging in infidelity, workplace sexual harassment, and misogynistic behavior. Trump himself has also called Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky “totally unimportant,” and, The Washington Post reported, he “repeatedly dismissed and at times mocked” the women who have accused Bill Clinton.
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When media report on Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s latest attacks on former President Bill Clinton’s history with women and Hillary Clinton’s responses to those women, they should also mention the immense hypocrisy of Trump levying those claims. Trump and several of his closest advisers have long histories of infidelity, workplace sexual harassment, and misogyny. And Trump himself previously said both that Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky was “totally unimportant” and that people would have been more “forgiving” if Clinton had a relationship “with a really beautiful woman.”
In a USA Today opinion piece, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump told Fox’s Kirsten Powers that women should “‘find another career’” if they are sexually harassed by their employer, referring to former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson’s allegations against ousted Fox CEO, and current 21st Century Fox consultant, Roger Ailes.
Trump previously defended Ailes during a Meet the Press interview, telling NBC’s Chuck Todd that Ailes has helped the women who are “complaining,” and noting that the women have said “wonderful things about [Ailes].” Trump went on to say the situation is “very sad … I’ve always found him to be just a very, very good person.” Trump also has consulted with Ailes throughout the campaign, including the week that he announced his departure from Fox News. When asked if he would consider bringing Ailes on the campaign in an official capacity, Trump said he would consider it, and called Ailes “a very capable guy.”
In a phone interview with Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers, Trump doubled down on his defense of Ailes, suggesting Carlson wouldn’t have said “fabulous things” about her former boss if she was had been harassed. Powers asked Trump what his daughter Ivanka would do if she was in Carlson’s position. Trump responded that he would “‘like to think she would find another career or … company if that were the case.” From the August 1 opinion:
Donald Trump thinks it’s “very sad” that women at Fox News are “complaining” about being sexually harassed by former Fox chief Roger Ailes.
As allegations against his old friend piled up, Trump told NBC’s Chuck Todd on July 24 that, “Some of the women that are complaining, I know how much he's helped them…And when they write books….and say wonderful things about him….[N]ow, all of a sudden, they're saying these horrible things about him.”
Without passing judgment about the specific allegations, which are currently under investigation by 21st Century Fox, one should be able to accept that a woman could both have been promoted by a boss and harassed by him. Women are often forced to maintain good relations with men who abuse them precisely because those men have power.
When I mentioned this to Trump in a phone interview last Tuesday, he doubled down on his retrograde take. “There was quite a bit of fabulous things said [about Ailes by Gretchen Carlson],” he told me. “It would be easier for me and more politically correct for me to say you are right. But you would think she wouldn’t say those things.”
I pointed out that it wasn’t just Carlson who had made allegations. “I didn’t know it was more than just her,” Trump told me, even though his comments to Chuck Todd referred to women, plural.
What if someone had treated Ivanka in the way Ailes allegedly behaved?
His reply was startling, even by Trumpian standards. “I would like to think she would find another career or find another company if that was the case,” he said.
But most women don’t have the financial resources of Ivanka. They can’t afford to quit their job without another in hand, something that is impossible to do when you are under contract and forbidden to speak to competitors. Most importantly, why should a woman be expected to upend her career just because she ended up in the crosshairs of some harasser?
Trump’s defense of Ailes and criticism of the alleged victims comes as the media blackout of Trump’s own alleged sexual assault continues. Trump denied the allegations by pointing to an article that had appeared in The National Enquirer.
After nearly four years of right-wing myths about the September 2012 attack on an American diplomatic compound and CIA compound in Benghazi, Libya, and as Republicans and Democrats on the House Select Committee on the attacks release their reports, Media Matters has compiled a list of more than 50 myths and facts regarding the origin of the attack, the security surrounding the compounds, the Obama administration’s handling of the attack during and after its occurrence, attacks on then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other lies and misinformation regarding the Benghazi attack.
On June 27, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that Texas’ anti-choice law HB 2 placed an “undue burden on abortion access.” Supporters of the unconstitutional law argued that HB 2’s restrictions were necessary to protect women’s health and prevent another “Kermit Gosnell scandal” -- talking points pushed by right-wing media. Writing the majority opinion of the court, Justice Stephen Breyer rebuked these anti-choice myths, saying there was unequivocal evidence that HB 2 lacked medical benefits and posed extreme harm to Texas women.
Fox Host Bill O’Reilly downplayed the dangers of anti-abortion attacks claiming he was unable to remember the last time an abortion clinic was attacked by right-wing extremists, ignoring the long history of attacks against abortion clinics.
On the June 21 edition of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, O’Reilly argued with contributor Kirsten Powers over remarks made by CNN’s Van Jones claiming that “young white” right-wing extremists are seven times more likely to kill an American citizen than Muslim terrorists. During his discussion with Powers, O’Reilly dismissed the prevalence of right-wing Christian attacks by asking, “When is the last time a Christian blew up an abortion clinic?”
The National Abortion Federation reports there have been 42 documented cases of bombing or attempted bombings of abortion clinics since 1977. Most recently, in 2005 a man confessed to two deadly bombings at women’s clinics in Georgia and Alabama. After pleading guilty to the crimes, he told the court “abortion is murder.”
From 1977-2014, 6,948 incidents of violence have been reported at abortion clinics, including the Nov. 27 deadly shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic that was inspired by false claims that alleged the network of clinics illegally sold “baby parts.”
Reproductive health clinics have faced a surge of violent threats following conservative media’s wave of anti-abortion attacks that tailed the release of the deceptive video that inspired the Colorado shooter.
Right-Wing Media’s Favorite Myths About Abortion Made It To The Supreme Court In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt
In June 2016, the Supreme Court will release its decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a controversial case that will determine the constitutionality of a Texas anti-choice law (HB 2) that severely limits access to abortion and medical care. Right-wing media have alleged that HB 2 is necessary to protect women’s health and prevent another “Kermit Gosnell scandal” -- talking points that made their way into Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller’s defense of HB 2 during oral arguments before the Supreme Court.
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