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  • Anti-abortion extremists keep crying censorship to raise money

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    If there’s one thing Republicans love more than pretending they’re being victimized by liberal elites, it’s raising money off this inaccurate claim -- a tendency demonstrated clearly during recent congressional hearings on the activities of Facebook. During these hearings, Republican members of Congress elevated various overinflated right-wing grievances against social media companies (such as claims of anti-abortion censorship and anti-Christian bias) in order to pressure the platform into allowing greater promotion of inflammatory or inaccurate content. In particular, they seized on pro-Trump YouTubers Diamond and Silk, who have actively lied about Facebook censoring them and then used the attention to raise money. As close watchers of the anti-abortion movement know, this tactic of crying censorship to garner attention and raise funds is a favorite of anti-choice actors. Here are a few that have recently employed this practice:

    Live Action

    Lila Rose, founder of the anti-abortion group Live Action, appeared on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight in June 2017 alleging that Twitter was censoring Live Action’s ads due to ideological bias. In reality, the content still appeared on Live Action’s Twitter page, but was not allowed to be promoted as an advertisement to other users, not because of bias, but because it violated several of Twitter’s content policies regarding "hate content, sensitive topics, and violence.”

    Instead of altering the organization’s content to meet Twitter’s policies, Rose appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight and used claims of supposed censorship to raise funds for Live Action. As Rose told Carlson, “We’re actually doing a campaign right now to get people to fund Live Action and to get out the information that Twitter is trying to block using other platforms -- using Facebook, using YouTube, using the blogosphere, obviously coming on here and talking with you.”

    Live Action continued to deploy this dishonest tactic even after Rose’s Fox News appearance. Following the June 26 segment, Live Action sent a fundraising email claiming that “Live Action is being suppressed” and asking supporters “to help us strengthen our efforts against the abortion industry.” Live Action’s censorship allegations also animated other right-wing media outlets. For example, on June 29, Christian Broadcasting Network published an article promoting Live Action’s claims about Twitter’s ad policy, which stated that “Live Action has launched a campaign to compensate for their losses due to Twitter’s censoring,” and directed readers to Live Action’s fundraising page. Rose and Live Action also pushed the narrative on Twitter, using the hashtag #DontDeleteMe -- even though all of Live Action tweets remained publicly available on the platform.

    The group also continued to use claims of censorship to raise funds in three October 2017 emails. In one email, Live Action stated that “Twitter is STILL banning our paid ads” and asked whether members would “give a gift to Live Action today so that we can expose more people to the truth.” In another email, Live Action claimed, “While we work to pressure Twitter to lift their ban on ads for pro-life content, we must double our efforts elsewhere” and asked people to “make a gift … so that we can reach more people with the truth.” Live Action made a similar plea in another email, asking people to “consider helping us reach more Americans with the truth about abortion through our other social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.”

    Operation Rescue

    The extremist anti-abortion group Operation Rescue claimed in July 2017 that Google was censoring parts of its website after its page rankings decreased in the results of searches for “abortions in US” or “abortion statistics.” The group alleged that “Google’s search engine has manipulated search parameters to dramatically reduce exposure” to Operation Rescue's web pages, which contain abortion statistics purporting to show the "truth about abortion." Operation Rescue then sent a fundraising email asking for support to "launch a massive campaign to ensure our critical abortion research and pro-life content is available, and no longer pushed down by the pro-abortion radicals at Google." Prior to the complaint, Google announced a policy change regarding how sites containing misleading or false information would be ranked.

    Susan B. Anthony List

    In October 2017, Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) claimed that one of the organization’s Twitter ads, targeting Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring in the 2017 election, was taken down by the platform, seemingly for inflammatory language. Citing this example and other anti-abortion censorship allegations, SBA List asked people to “make a gift today to get our pro-life message past Twitter’s censorship” and to “fight back against Twitter’s censorship.”

    Following Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress last week, SBA List reprised this tactic and emailed supporters to detail instances where the group claimed to have been censored by social media companies. SBA List then directed people to “please make a generous donation of $250 to help win the fight against pro-abortion Silicon Valley elites.”

    Anti-abortion outlets

    Not to be left out of the conversation about supposed anti-abortion censorship, the anti-choice news outlet Life News also sent an email after Zuckerberg’s testimony stating, “Social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube are increasingly censoring pro-life voices,” and asking readers to sign a petition and to “make a donation today … so we can continue to stand up to these social media giants [and] their censorship.”

    Another anti-abortion outlet, LifeSite News, also asked for donations in light of supposed censorship by social media companies. The site posted in March 2018 about the “surprising and disturbing reason why LifeSite’s Spring campaign is struggling.” The reason, according to LifeSite News, “is an almost declared war by the globalist social media giants – Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube against websites, blogs and individuals who promote conservative views.” LifeSite argued that its inability to raise funds was due to censorship from Facebook and Google and pleaded to readers, writing, “To those of you who were not blocked from reading this letter, we are depending on you much more than normal to help us to reach our goal.” Unsurprisingly, the outlet provided zero evidence of the censorship it was allegedly experiencing.

    Roe v. Wade -- the movie

    The producer of an anti-abortion film about Roe v. Wade claimed that Facebook temporarily blocked his ability to post an Indiegogo crowdfunding page for the production of the film. On the Indiegogo page, the film is described as “the real untold story of how people lied; how the media lied; and how the courts were manipulated to pass a law that has since killed over 60 million Americans.” According to the film’s crowdfunding page, the film needs “support now more than ever. Facebook has banned us from inviting friends to ‘Like’ our page and from ‘Sharing’ our PAID ads.”

    Rep. Marsha Blackburn

    In October 2017, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) announced she was running for a Senate seat by tweeting out a campaign video that included a mention of her time as chair of the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives -- a sham investigation based on deceptive and disproven claims by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. The video included inflammatory language such as that Blackburn had “stopped the sale of baby body parts.” After Twitter temporarily blocked her from running the tweet as a paid ad due to its inflammatory language, Blackburn claimed censorship and made the rounds on Fox News to push this story. Blackburn also used the opportunity to tweet that the “conservative revolution won’t be stopped by @Twitter and the liberal elite,” urging people to “donate to my Senate campaign today.”

    Anti-abortion groups and outlets have found a great deal of success in crying censorship -- a lesson that wider conservative media outlets and figures appear to be taking to heart. As a recently published report from the right-wing Media Research Center (a report that was readily promoted by outlets like Life News) melodramatically framed the issue: “The question facing the conservative movement is one of survival. Can it survive online if the tech companies no longer allow conservative speech and speakers? And, if that happens, can the movement survive at all?”

  • Wash. Post falls for anti-choice talking points and spin on abortion polling

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Washington Post attempted to explore millennials’ supposed support for abortion restrictions after 20 weeks, but instead pushed anti-choice talking points and failed to account for the intricacies and challenges of producing accurate polling on abortion.

    On January 29, the U.S. Senate failed to pass a bill that would have banned abortions after 20-weeks of pregnancy -- a bill that is based on the scientifically unsound premise that fetuses feel pain by 20 weeks. The Washington Post published an article on January 31 that claimed the bill’s failure “may have offended” a demographic group “both parties are highly interested in winning: millennial voters.” The Post argued that millennials “view later-term abortions differently than abortions overall” by pointing to a Quinnipiac poll from January 2017 that allegedly showed “nearly half — 49 percent — of 18- to 34-year-olds said they would support” a 20-week abortion ban, but that the same group polled at only 9 percent support for the complete outlawing of abortion.

    Accordingly, the Post zeroed in the outrage of younger anti-abortion activists about the failed bill, explaining that the outlet thought that was where “some of the loudest criticism” was originating from. To support this, the Post pointed to a tweet from Lila Rose, the founder of the anti-abortion group Live Action and comments by Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life of America (SFLA). Hawkins told the Post, “For those Senators who voted against the bill, millennials will be asking how they can embrace such an inhumane procedure for infants who soon can survive outside the womb, and the pro-life generation will hold them accountable.” The article concluded, “The culture battle over abortion is not over — and will continue with the youngest generation of voters.”

    The Post published the anti-abortion talking points of Hawkins and Rose without providing any opposing viewpoints -- giving them free reign to advance their assertions. Beyond quoting Hawkins and Rose, some media outlets have given them a platform to repeat their disingenuous narrative that millennials do not support abortion rights and will ultimately be the group that successfully outlaws abortion. Abortion opponents like Hawkins and Rose often point to polling to support their assertions that millennials, and Americans in general, either want to restrict or completely ban abortion after 20 weeks. Although, the Post and many outlets may attempt to objectively explore Americans' opinions on abortion access, when they do so by relying on decontextualized polling data, such pieces can easily slip into a flawed framing that misrepresents the range of opinions on this topic.

    Polling on abortion should be nuanced and not rely on narrow categories or labels

    As Vox’s Sarah Kliff explained, although “abortion usually gets framed as a two-sided debate” that “Americans support abortion rights, or they don’t,” people “don’t live in this world of absolutes.” Kliff stated that “what most discourse [about abortion] misses is the nuance — the personal factors and situations that influence how each individual thinks about the issue.” Indeed, as Tresa Undem, co-founder and partner at PerryUndem -- a public-opinion research firm -- wrote for Vox, her experience as a researcher and pollster demonstrated to her that on abortion, “the current polling fails at accurately measuring opinion on this complex issue.” According to Undem, most “standard measures” that firms and outlets use across the spectrum “to report the public’s views on abortion ... don’t capture how people really think” about the issue:

    The standard measures ask respondents about when or in what cases abortion should be legal. The question wording and response categories vary across pollsters. But when collapsed into two categories — legal and illegal — you tend to get a divided public.

    [...]

    When it comes to "real life" views on the issue — how people actually experience abortion — the numbers get even more intriguing. Among people who said abortion should only be legal in rare cases, 71 percent said they would give support to a close friend or family member who had an abortion, 69 percent said they want the experience of having an abortion to be nonjudgmental, 66 percent said they want the experience to be supportive, 64 percent want the experience to be affordable, and 59 percent want the experience to be without added burdens.

    [...]

    We need to ask questions about how the public views abortion policy — but do so in a more real and accurate way. We shouldn’t, for example, simply ask "Do you support or oppose recent restrictions to abortion?" when we know most people aren’t aware of any trend or what the restrictions might be.

    Kliff's and Undem's criticisms of standard polling methodologies should greatly influence how outlets interpret and deploy the findings of polling about abortion. For example, the Quinnipiac poll cited by the Post gave respondents a limiting set of categories to express whether they support legal abortion or not; those categories were whether abortion should be “legal in all cases,” “legal in most cases,” “illegal in most cases,” or “illegal in all cases.” As one public opinion research specialist told ThinkProgress, these categories and reductive labels, such as 'pro-life' or 'pro-choice,' “are ‘very superficial,’ particularly because researchers have known for quite some time that the ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ labels don’t accurately reflect the American public’s complicated attitudes about abortion.” Indeed, Vox found that when polls gave people options beyond selecting just ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice,’ “about four in 10 Americans” rejected the binary labels, including 18 percent who chose both.

    Vox’s polling also found that Americans have a variety of misunderstandings about the actual realities of abortion, including the prevalence of abortion (they think it’s rarer than it is) and whether the procedure is safe (they inaccurately think it’s more dangerous than it is). Vox suggested that polling about specific laws restricting abortion access could be misleading if questions do not provide an explanation for what those laws entail. For example, before the Supreme Court decided Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016, only 15 percent of people polled had heard about the case, but when a polling question explained that the law in dispute led to abortions clinics being closed in Texas, 65 percent respondents said the law put “an undue burden on women who are seeking an abortion.”

    Thus, giving people static categories to choose from to express their opinions about abortion -- particularly ones that are divorced from “how people actually experience” the procedure -- leads to misleading findings that are often misused by outlets, intentionally or not.

    Polling on support for 20-week abortion ban should reflect individualized reasoning for access to later abortions

    Right-wing media frequently push the idea that the majority of Americans support a 20-week abortion ban -- often relying on polling as evidence of their claims. However, just as questions asked in narrow categories often fail to accurately reflect Americans’ actual opinions on abortion access, polling that merely asks whether people support a 20-week ban similarly misrepresents public opinion on the matter in a way that unduly bolsters right-wing and anti-abortion claims.

    There’s a drastic drop in support for 20-week bans when people realize that abortions in later stages of pregnancy are often undertaken out of medical necessity or for particular personal circumstances. For example, a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study on the Zika virus found that when asked in the abstract about later abortion, “less than a quarter of people (23%) believe women should have access to a legal abortion after 24 weeks.” However, that flipped when people were asked about access to a later abortion when a pregnant person had been infected with the Zika virus -- with results showing “a majority of Americans (59%) believe a woman should have access to a legal abortion after 24 weeks” in that situation.

    In other words, as Hart Research Associates found, “Once voters consider the range of circumstances in which abortions would be made illegal under most 20-week abortion ban proposals, a majority of Americans oppose them.” Polling by PerryUndem also showed that people believe that the the power to decide when to have an abortion should be with the woman, her doctor, and the larger medical community -- and not determined by politicians.

    Reporting on abortion polling should reflect that individuals support abortions access because of the reality that people obtain abortions for a variety of personal reasons -- and that when polling considers the specifics of a person’s experience, respondents are far more likely to support greater access to abortion care.

    Media should avoid the dangerous strategy of incompletely reporting on abortion viewpoints, oversimplifying (whether intentionally or not) public opinion polling, or propping up figures who self-servingly tout this talking point, as the Post’s January 31 article ultimately did.

  • The 5 worst takes from coverage of the 2018 March for Life

    How media outlets promoted problematic narratives and anti-abortion misinformation

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On January 19, the annual March for Life was held in Washington D.C. In covering both the anti-abortion protest and the lead-up to it, some media outlets promoted problematic narratives and anti-abortion misinformation.

  • How one Republican used a tactic from the anti-abortion media playbook to bully Twitter

    Rep. Marsha Blackburn has a long history of taking cues from anti-abortion groups to gin up right-wing support -- and her latest attack on Twitter is no different

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Anti-abortion groups and media outlets have a habit of claiming censorship in order to boost fundraising by ginning up outrage and support. Now this media manipulation tactic is being employed by a staunch anti-choice ally: Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).

    On October 5, Blackburn announced a run for retiring Sen. Bob Corker’s (R-TN) seat. As part of this announcement, Blackburn’s campaign tweeted a short video advertising her right-wing bonafides, including her work as chair of the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, which was created to conduct a politically motivated investigation of Planned Parenthood on the basis of deceptive videos from a discredited anti-abortion organization. Although the panel was regarded by many as merely “an expensive witch hunt,” Blackburn touted her role during the campaign video, claiming that she had “fought Planned Parenthood” and “stopped the sale of baby body parts.”

    Although Blackburn's campaign wanted to pay to promote the video on Twitter as an ad, the social media site initially objected, drawing widespread outrage among anti-abortion and right-wing outlets. According to an October 10 Associated Press report, Twitter found that Blackburn’s statement about “baby body parts” violated platform rules because it was “‘deemed an inflammatory statement that is likely to evoke a strong negative reaction.’” Twitter allowed the video to remain up but not as promoted content, concluding that the campaign “would be allowed to run the rest of the video” as a paid ad if it ommitted the phrase.

    This stance did not last long, however. The next day, Twitter reversed its position and announced that it would allow Blackburn’s campaign to promote the ad, commenting to Politico, “While we initially determined that a small portion of the video used potentially inflammatory language, after reconsidering the ad in the context of the entire message, we believe that there is room to refine our policies around these issues.”

    Blackburn's campaign quickly seized on Twitter’s refusal as an act of censorship -- taking a page straight from the anti-abortion media playbook.

    As Media Matters has previously noted, anti-abortion extremists have increasingly employed the tactic of alleging “censorship” or claiming that inaccurate anti-choice content is being “shut down” to gin up fundraising support and rile up right-wing media allies. By reacting to perceived slights as instances of injustice or censorship, these groups can incite followers, increase fundraising, and appeal to an audience motivated by anti-elite sentiments but normally less attuned to the activities of the anti-abortion movement.

    In one example, anti-abortion extremist Lila Rose alleged that Twitter was censoring advertisements from her group Live Action by similarly prohibiting their promotion as sponsored content. After Rose appeared on the June 26 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight to discuss Twitter’s alleged bias, a banner was added to Live Action’s home page begging for donations to combat the act of censorship. By June 30, the organization had announced that it had reached its fundraising goal but nevertheless asked supporters to continue donating in order to “guarantee” Live Action could continue working “to expose the abortion industry.” Other anti-abortion organizations and right-wing outlets also came to Live Action’s defense, working to create even more support for claims of censorship and persecution.

    Emulating this tactic, the Blackburn campaign was quick to cry foul and turn the perceived slight into a fundraising opportunity. On October 9, the campaign’s Twitter account circulated a video inaccurately alleging that Blackburn was “banned by Twitter” and asking supporters to share the clip in order to “spread the word” that “Silicon Valley won’t stop our conservative movement with censorship.” The account also shared posts from anti-abortion groups and outlets alleging that Blackburn had been censored. The Blackburn campaign even sent an email to supporters asking for donations, warning that the “liberal elite wants to censor us at every opportunity.” Over the next 24 hours, Blackburn appeared multiple times on Fox News to repeat her claims of censorship and enjoyed a surge in media attention from outlets across the political spectrum. Twitter ultimately caved to the pressure and allowed the campaign to run Blackburn’s ad with the allegations against Planned Parenthood intact.

    The symbiotic relationship between Blackburn and various anti-abortion groups or media is hardly a secret. During Blackburn’s time as select panel chair, the committee held three hearings that utilized evidence sourced directly from anti-abortion groups as so-called “evidence” of wrongdoing by abortion providers and related organizations. Indeed, several anti-abortion groups, including (but likely not limited to) New Mexico Alliance for Life, Protest ABQ, Operation Rescue, and the Center for Medical Progress provided “documentation and materials” to the select panel. A member of Protest ABQ even bragged about having influence over the panel's investigators, stating that their research "finally paid off and turned into the panel investigating.” In addition to leveraging connections to anti-abortion groups, Blackburn also leaked an advanced copy of allegations from the panel to Fox News -- before sharing it with minority members -- and provided an exclusive interview inaccurately alleging that Planned Parenthood had operated in “direct violation of federal law.”

    Blackburn’s deployment of the censorship tactic elides the more fundamental issue with the ad itself: the fact that it was based on a falsehood. Contrary to Blackburn's claim, multiple state investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing, while the anti-choice activists responsible for the initial “baby parts” allegations are currently the subject of multiple lawsuits.

    Blackburn’s campaign took a page out of the anti-abortion playbook to garner a concession from Twitter. And as New York magazine's Margaret Hartmann noted, Blackburn’s success -- despite the falsity of her claims -- “has probably encouraged Republican midterm candidates to throw some unproven, inflammatory statements into the ads.” Indeed, Blackburn has already taken to calling Twitter's reversal "our first Senate conservative victory." 

  • How anti-abortion extremists are using Tucker Carlson's show to cultivate the far right

    Tucker Carlson is readily providing anti-choice extremists with a platform and a message that appeals to his radical base 

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    When he’s not busy harassing Teen Vogue columnists, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson has made a habit of hosting anti-abortion activists and packaging their misinformation and lies in a way that appeals to his base of “alt-right” extremists and Reddit trolls. 

    Since the white nationalists’ golden boy scored a prime-time spot in the Fox News lineup, he has gained a reputation for bullying and insulting his guests, deceptively editing segments, and even booking actors to represent highly curated versions of “opposing viewpoints” to his own. His most recent trick, however, appears to be hosting anti-abortion extremists and giving them a platform to cry “censorship” while simultaneously spreading misinformation about abortion.

    Although Carlson is no stranger to hosting anti-abortion guests -- a Media Matters study found that he did so frequently over the span of a year -- his more recent segments have heavily relied on the false proposition that anti-abortion groups or individuals are somehow being censored.

    Alleging censorship is a common tactic among anti-abortion activists to rally support and rile up sympathetic right-wing media audiences. And for his part, Carlson appears more than willing to amplify such voices and give them an even larger platform from which they can spread their misinformation to millions. 

    For example, on June 26, Carlson hosted anti-choice activist Lila Rose for a segment about Twitter’s alleged censorship of ads by her organization, Live Action. During the segment, Rose argued that Twitter was secretly “blocking the advertisement of pro-life speech” by not allowing Live Action to buy ads on the platform. Rose frequently referenced what she called the “hate and sensitive” policy as the reason for the ads being rejected.

    In reality, the so-called “hate and sensitive” policy is Twitter’s “sensitive advertising content policy” -- guidelines that are publicly available and a far cry from being a means of censorship. Despite this, Carlson ramped up his incredulity and further sensationalized Rose’s claims, calling Twitter’s decision “an atrocity” and alleged that Twitter was treating Live Action’s tweets like “hate speech.”

    Previously, Rose appeared on the May 31 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight to promote deceptive footage from the discredited anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP). Before her appearance, federal Judge William Orrick had barred the release of the footage, and ultimately required all copies of the illicitly spread footage be removed from the internet. Ignoring the substance of these orders, Carlson and Rose alleged the videos had been censored, and attacked Orrick for being biased. At one point, Carlson suggested that the footage should be shared in spite of the court order because “if there was ever a time for civil disobedience, it seems like some might think this would be the time.” 

    On June 9, Carlson hosted CMP founder David Daleiden on his program to continue this line of attack on Orrick and advance the narrative that anti-abortion misinformation was being censored. During the segment, Daleiden alleged he was a victim of “viewpoint discrimination” and detailed evidence of Orrick’s supposed “pre-existing personal bias and prejudice” against anti-abortion groups that should “disqualify” him from the case.

    Just as with Rose’s appearances, Carlson acted as an instigator for Daleiden -- amplifying outrage, crying censorship, and fanning the already over-inflated persecution complex of his anti-choice guest. Carlson called Orrick’s order to bar the footage from release “a clear violation of free expression” and complained that it was “totally un-American” as well as “completely authoritarian and insane.”

    One would think that sustaining this level of outrage over exaggerated censorship claims would be exhausting, but it appears Carlson’s ability to conjure expressions of faux incredulity and take offense from phantom injury knows no bounds. And regardless of the veracity of these censorship claims, the frequency with which Carlson fuels and spreads them is a dangerous tactic meant to specifically appeal to the radicalized base of his show’s viewers.

    Media Matters has consistently documented Carlson’s history of noxious commentary about any number of topics. Notably, it’s his very commitment to attacking women, people of color, and the most vulnerable -- while positioning proponents of those attacks as victims of persecution or censorship -- that has appealed to Carlson’s “alt-right” base the most. In fact, it's become common for "alt-right" and white supremacist trolls to harass guests on the program if they don't agree with Carlson's extreme views. 

    As Rewire’s Amy Littlefield explained, the tactic of attacking so-called media bias has also been largely embraced by the anti-choice movement. Reporting on the most recent National Right to Life Conference, Littlefield noted that there had been a “general tenor of anti-journalism throughout the conference, as speaker after speaker condemned and mocked outlets from the New York Times to the Washington Post to CNN.” In one particularly revealing moment, Littlefield noted that Daleiden refused to speak with her claiming that Rewire was not only “American Pravda,” but also “very fake news.”

    Being wrong about abortion and reproductive rights is nothing new to Carlson. What’s different, though, and potentially more dangerous, is Carlson’s latest trick: manufacturing, amplifying, and ultimately over-inflating claims of censorship made by anti-abortion extremists in order to convince his radical base that it would be “un-American” not to rally behind their cause.

  • Tucker Carlson ignores court order, hypes video that stokes harassment of abortion providers

    Carlson: “Some might think” that “if there was ever a time for civil disobedience,” sharing this footage “would be the time”

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    During the May 31 edition of Tonight with Tucker Carlson, host Tucker Carlson and his guest, anti-choice extremist Lila Rose, promoted yet another smear video from the discredited Center for Medical Progress (CMP) -- despite a federal judge’s order that the footage be removed from the internet out of concern for abortion providers’ safety.

    On May 25, anti-choice and right-wing media circulated an unlisted YouTube link to a smear video from CMP. Although CMP was ultimately forced to remove the video -- which violated a court order -- right-wing media outlets and personalities quickly re-posted it in full and urged followers to watch.

    In February, federal Judge William Orrick extended a preliminary injunction for the duration of ongoing legal proceedings against CMP, barring the release of any footage depicting National Abortion Federation (NAF) members or meetings. In the decision, Orrick explained that this injunction was necessary, writing, “It is not speculative to expect that harassment, threats, and violent acts will continue to rise if defendants were to release NAF materials.”

    Ignoring the substance of the order and the serious threat of anti-choice violence, Carlson and Rose attacked Orrick and called for the barred footage to be spread.

    Rose noted that by asking for a protective order, NAF had merely demonstrated that it was “very afraid of what is on these tapes” -- rather than afraid for the lives of its members. Rose also argued that actions like Orrick’s’ were having “a chilling effect right now on journalism.” Carlson claimed that Orrick was biased and had “ordered that the video be suppressed, saying, in effect, the First Amendment doesn’t exist.” He asked, “How in the world, and in what country, could a judge unilaterally decide that you’re not allowed to show them?”

    In reality, media experts have agreed that CMP’s work is not journalism -- despite right-wing media claims to the contrary. In fact, in Orrick’s February ruling, he detailed why CMP’s efforts “thus far have not been pieces of journalistic integrity,” noting that CMP founder David Daleiden did not “-- as Daleiden repeatedly asserts -- use widely accepted investigatory journalism techniques” (emphasis added):

    The context of how defendants came into possession of the NAF materials cannot be ignored and directly supports preliminarily preventing the disclosure of these materials. Defendants engaged in repeated instances of fraud, including the manufacture of fake documents, the creation and registration with the state of California of a fake company, and repeated false statements to ... numerous NAF representatives and NAF members in order to infiltrate NAF and implement their Human Capital Project. The products of that Project – achieved in large part from the infiltration – thus far have not been pieces of journalistic integrity, but misleadingly edited videos and unfounded assertions (at least with respect to the NAF materials) of criminal misconduct. Defendants did not – as Daleiden repeatedly asserts – use widely accepted investigatory journalism techniques. Defendants provide no evidence to support that assertion and no cases on point.

    During Carlson and Rose’s discussion, Carlson failed to mention anti-choice violence -- an omission that is not uncommon among prime-time cable news hosts. A recent Media Matters study found that during 12 months of coverage about abortion and reproductive rights, only four segments out of a total 354 on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN even mentioned the topic.

    Even before this latest example, Fox News has readily given a platform to CMP’s claims and ignored or downplayed the threat of anti-choice violence.

    Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly (ousted earlier this year after public reports that he sexually harassed multiple colleagues) spent years spreading misinformation about reproductive rights and openly bullying abortion providers. A frequent target of O’Reilly’s invective was Dr. George Tiller, who was assassinated in 2009 by anti-choice extremist Scott Roeder. O’Reilly often referred to the doctor as “Tiller the baby killer” and insisted there was “a special place in hell for this guy.” May 31 marked the eighth anniversary of Tiller’s murder.

    In April, Fox’s The Five co-host Greg Gutfeld -- who moved to prime time after O’Reilly’s departure -- encouraged anti-choice advocates to engage in violence to protect their views, saying, “If you are pro-life and you believe it is murder, you should be willing to fight” and “start a war” over the issue.

    During the May 31 segment on Tonight with Tucker Carlson, Carlson claimed he was “proud” to elevate the barred footage and said people have the right to “say what you think is true.” Although he hedged on the issue somewhat, saying that he was not “advocating for this,” he strongly implied that the footage should be shared in spite of the court order because “if there was ever a time for civil disobedience, it seems like some might think this would be the time.”

    Meanwhile, incidents of targeted harassment of abortion providers, patients, and clinics continue to rise. According to a recent report from NAF, in 2016, there was “an increase in a wide range of intimidation tactics meant to disrupt the provision of health care at facilities, including vandalism, picketing, obstruction, invasion, trespassing, burglary, stalking, assault and battery, and bomb threats” as well as “an escalation in hate speech and internet harassment, which intensified following the election in November.”

    There is a real risk to circulating this footage. In 2015, Robert Lewis Dear opened fire inside a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic, killing three people and injuring nine more. After his arrest, Dear used the statement “no more baby parts” -- a phrase that Fox News and Fox Business had used more than any other network between the release of CMP’s first video and the Colorado attack. Furthermore, as the New Republic noted, “The narratives [Dear] learned from Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones and Bill O’Reilly and countless far-right web sites meshed perfectly with his paranoid delusions, misogynist beliefs, and violent fantasies.”

    Although Carlson, Rose, and many anti-choice outlets are protesting the removal of CMP’s latest video as “censorship,” Orrick has already refuted claims about the supposed public value of these videos and demonstrated why such a protective order was necessary in the first place. By not only elevating the barred footage, but also encouraging viewers to actively spread it themselves, Fox News is engaging in dangerous and irresponsible behavior.

  • How a discredited anti-abortion group used the anti-choice media ecosystem to do its dirty work

    CMP seemingly tried to avoid an injunction by circulating video footage to anti-choice and right-wing media outlets, rather than publishing it

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    On May 25, the discredited anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) circulated an unlisted YouTube link to a new smear video against the National Abortion Federation (NAF) and Planned Parenthood. This footage was removed that evening because a district judge had “barred it from release.” Given this injunction, it seems notable that CMP didn’t publicly release or promote the video, and instead relied on anti-choice and right-wing media outlets to spread its claim.

  • Who Are The Anti-Choice Activists On Evening Cable?

    Meet the Anti-Choice Figures Who Appear Most Often To Spread Misinformation About Abortion

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    In 2015 and early 2016, evening cable news programming featured three anti-choice activists a total of 23 times, despite these guests’ consistent efforts to spread misinformation and outright falsehoods about Planned Parenthood, reproductive health care, and abortion access. According to a new Media Matters study, all 23 of these appearances occurred on Fox, which during this same timespan hosted only a single advocate representing a pro-choice organization.

    Media Matters analyzed 14 months of evening cable programming, examining details including the frequency with which people who self-identified as anti-choice were involved in discussions about abortion and reproductive rights.

    From January 1, 2015, to March 6, 2016, the three anti-choice activists who appeared the most on evening cable news programs were Lila Rose and David Daleiden -- both notorious for their discredited attempts to smear Planned Parenthood using deceptively edited videos -- along with Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, an extremist hate group. Collectively, these three anti-choice activists appeared a total of 23 times on Fox News’ evening programs to talk about abortion-related topics.

    Dishonorable mentions also go to Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, the Rev. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, and Operation Rescue president Troy Newman, another infamous extremist with ties to anti-choice violence. Each of these speakers appeared at least once to attack Planned Parenthood and spread misinformation about reproductive health.

    The Anti-Choice Speakers Who Appeared The Most Often On Evening Cable Programs To Talk About Abortion

    1. Lila Rose, Live Action

    Lila Rose, the president and founder of the anti-choice group Live Action, was the most frequent anti-choice guest to appear during evening cable programming, with 10 appearances over 14 months. Rose is best known for her connections to right-wing activists and her long, disreputable history of perpetrating hoaxes and concocting false allegations against abortion providers.

    These allegations have been repeatedly debunked and proved to be unfounded.

    According to a 2009 profile in the Los Angeles Times, Rose began her career partnered with right-wing activist James O’Keefe in 2006. O’Keefe had a history of attempting to smear liberal organizations by using doctored undercover video, but the two “came up with the idea to infiltrate clinics” after being “inspired by the work of Mark Crutcher, a Texas anti-abortion activist who in 2002 taped faked calls to hundreds of Planned Parenthood clinics,” the Los Angeles Times reported. Rose has staged (and illicitly filmed) conversations with Planned Parenthood providers and staff while masquerading as a young woman seeking an abortion. She then heavily edited these conversations to allege that Planned Parenthood engaged in a variety of systemic criminal activities.

    Beyond O’Keefe, Rose has been supported by a larger infrastructure of right-wing media and anti-choice organizations. For example, when Rose released her deceptive videos in February 2011, Fox News provided frequent coverage. Rose herself appeared on Fox to promote the videos multiple times in the months that followed. Rose has also greatly benefited from the “generous assistance” of “powerful players” on the right such as anti-LGBT legal giant Alliance Defending Freedom and the Gerard Health Foundation -- an organization known for promoting fringe views on birth control, sex education, and reproductive rights. In 2008, Rose received the anti-choice group Operation Rescue’s Person of the Year award, and she also previously employed David Daleiden as Live Action’s director of research.

    Rose also has a history of making extreme comments about abortion, such as that the procedure should be “done in the public square” so that people could experience outrage and then “hear angels singing as we ponder the glory of conception.” Rose has also attacked abortion providers, once calling Planned Parenthood “the single most evil organization in human history” and alleging that they provide abortions on behalf of Satan.

    2. David Daleiden, Center For Medical Progress

    David Daleiden is the founder and “project lead” at the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the organization responsible for propagating an extensive smear campaign against Planned Parenthood so fraudulent that CMP earned the title of Media Matters’ 2015 Misinformer of the Year. After CMP released its first deceptively edited video in July 2015, Daleiden appeared seven times on evening cable news programs over the next nine months to promote the false allegations that Planned Parenthood profited from the sale of fetal tissue.

    CMP’s videos have been consistently discredited while over 13 state investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. On January 25, a Houston grand jury, which was called upon to investigate allegations made by CMP, decided not to take action against Planned Parenthood and instead indicted Daleiden and one of his associates for using fraudulent means to gain access to Planned Parenthood clinics in the state. Likewise, a federal judge determined that CMP’s work constituted “misleadingly edited videos and unfounded assertions … of criminal misconduct.”

    Daleiden is not only well-connected to other anti-choice extremist groups; he also enjoys support from conservative media. Daleiden has used this media prominence as an opportunity to attack abortion providers. For example, in an interview on Glenn Beck’s radio program, Daleiden described one provider as “evil” and having “the predator look … that you see in someone who is accustomed to killing people.” Even when right-wing media have not given Daleiden himself a platform, they have frequently carried water for his misleading allegations.

    CMP’s work has also prompted a variety of baseless congressional investigations and multiple efforts by anti-choice legislators to defund Planned Parenthood at the state and federal level. Most recently, the congressional Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives -- established by Republicans in October 2015 to investigate fetal tissue donation practices -- has extensively relied on “evidence” pulled directly from CMP’s website and deceptively edited videos to allege wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood.

    According to the National Abortion Federation (NAF), harassment, violence, and threats against abortion providers and clinics have all been increasing. NAF’s 2015 statistics confirm that “the sharp rise in threats and violence in 2015 ... directly correlates to the release of inflammatory videos aimed at demonizing providers.”

    3. Tony Perkins, Family Research Council

    With six appearances over the span of 14 months, Tony Perkins -- an extremist hate group leader -- was the third-most hosted anti-choice advocate. Perkins is president of the Family Research Council (FRC), an anti-LGBT group that was listed as a “hate group” in 2010 by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its role in propagating known falsehoods about LGBT people.

    In addition to Perkins’ anti-choice views, he also has a history of making inflammatory comments about the LGBT community. For example, Perkins has equated being gay with using drugs and committing adultery, accused gay people of attempting to “recruit” children, and compared gay advocates to terrorists. As president of FRC, he has repeated the extensively debunked myth that pedophilia is “a homosexual problem,” argued in favor of the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “reparative therapy,” and falsely claimed that children are harmed by having same-sex parents.

    Perkins is responsible for organizing key evangelical support behind former Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz. Perkins served on the former candidate’s “Pro-Lifers for Cruz Coalition” alongside known anti-choice extremist Troy Newman. Cruz has made no secret of his disdain for Planned Parenthood, or of his support for David Daleiden and CMP’s smear campaign.

    Dishonorable Mentions -- Other Anti-Choice Activists Hosted By Fox

    1. Jay Sekulow, American Center For Law And Justice

    Jay Sekulow is the chief counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) -- a conservative anti-choice legal group that is defending former CMP board member Troy Newman in a lawsuit filed by the National Abortion Federation (NAF). Sekulow has been a vocal opponent of Planned Parenthood funding and the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

    Following CMP’s release of deceptively edited video, Sekulow joined anti-choice legislators and extremists in calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood. Beyond attacking Planned Parenthood, Sekulow and the ACJL have frequently defended Daleiden and CMP as “investigative journalists.” A grand jury, a federal judge, and many journalists have rejected this characterization.

    Sekulow is also a proponent of Senate Republicans' ongoing obstruction of Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court, and he has suggested support for state policies that “punish” people for obtaining an abortion. In an April 1 edition of his radio show, Sekulow said that the idea of punishing people for receiving abortions was “not craziness” and that “for any other person that somebody killed, they’d be held culpable.”

    Sekulow also represented one of the plaintiffs in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby -- the first challenge heard by the Supreme Court to the ACA’s contraceptive mandate. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the court found that certain classes of employer could not be compelled to include contraception in their employees’ insurance plans if doing so ran counter to the employers’ sincerely held religious beliefs. In explaining his client’s position, Sekulow wrongly argued that the ACA’s contraceptive mandate would include coverage of “abortion-inducing drugs.”

    Neither of his assertions is true.

    Medical experts agree that there are stark differences between emergency contraception and abortion procedures or drugs that act as "abortifacients." According to a March 2016 white paper from the Princeton University Office of Population Research, emergency contraception pills "do not interrupt an established pregnancy" and therefore “are not abortifacient[s]," in part because the medical consensus defines "implantation" as the beginning of a pregnancy.

    2. The Rev. Frank Pavone, Priests For Life

    The Rev. Frank Pavone is the national director of the Catholic anti-choice group Priests for Life. Pavone is well-connected to other anti-choice groups -- notably bragging about his “partnership with Operation Rescue” and the “close” relationship he enjoys with CMP. In his work, Pavone regularly insults abortion providers, attacks Planned Parenthood, and promotes the stigmatization of abortion.

    Pavone has a history of making extreme and false comments about abortion providers and reproductive rights advocates. For example, when the president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, spoke at Georgetown University, Pavone argued that inviting Richards was akin to inviting “representatives of ISIS” to speak in order to “understand terrorism.” Similarly, when defending CMP’s work, Pavone wrongly accused abortion providers of “doing a lot of other evil things” as well. His examples were: “medical malpractice, sexual abuse of patients, violation of OSHA standards, insurance laws, money laundering, all kinds of fraud and, yes, even the sale of body parts.” In response to the deadly November 2015 attack on a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado, Pavone blamed supporters of abortion access for “poisoning the moral climate in our nation.”

    Despite Daleiden’s mounting legal troubles, Pavone has warned that “the troubles for Planned Parenthood have only just begun.” He has championed the efforts of anti-choice extremist Mark Crutcher -- who previously promised to train and “unleash a whole army of David Daleidens” to infiltrate and baselessly attack reproductive health care providers.

    Pavone has also worked to stigmatize abortion, saying that anti-choice groups like his “exploit the stigma of abortion, we lift it up high for people to see, we reinforce it.” Abortion stigma is the shared idea that abortion is morally wrong or socially unacceptable, but in reality, abortion is an incredibly common procedure that 30 percent of women will undergo by age 45.

    3. Troy Newman, Operation Rescue

    Troy Newman is the president of Operation Rescue -- an extremist anti-choice group with a history of spouting violent rhetoric and harassing abortion providers, whose senior policy advisor, Cheryl Sullenger, was convicted of conspiring to bomb a clinic in 1987. A Rolling Stone profile of Operation Rescue described the organization’s strategy as a “smear campaign … to shut down abortion clinics by systematically harassing their employees into quitting.”

    To further this strategy, Newman has trained other anti-choice activists and supported the development of spin-off groups that continue Operation Rescue’s work across the country. He previously served as one of CMP’s founding board members before resigning after a Texas grand jury indicted Daleiden and one of his associates.

    Newman claims that Operation Rescue has never endorsed violence, yet in his book Their Blood Cries Out, Newman wrote that the U.S. government had “abrogated its responsibility to properly deal with the blood-guilty,” which he said would involve “executing convicted murderers, including abortionists, for their crimes.” Similarly, when Paul Jennings Hill was executed for the murder of an abortion provider and a clinic escort, Newman argued that Hill should have been able to mount the defense that it was “necessary” to kill the providers in order to save "the lives of pre-born babies." Operation Rescue's Sullenger also reportedly helped convicted murderer Scott Roeder keep track of legal proceedings for his eventual victim, abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.

    Beyond his work with Operation Rescue, Newman also has a personal history of harassing providers -- a reputation that caused Australia to deport him out of concern that his “presence would be ‘a threat to good order’” and that he would “compromise the safety and wellbeing” of abortion providers and those seeking care.

  • Fox Falsely Claims Latest Video "Proves" Planned Parenthood Failed To Obtain Consent For Tissue Donations

    ››› ››› HANNAH GROCH-BEGLEY

    Fox News hosts Eric Bolling and Sean Hannity falsely claimed the latest video attacking Planned Parenthood "proves" that the organization has failed to obtain proper consent from women for fetal tissue donations. In fact, as other media outlets have noted, the accusations in the video are focused on a separate organization known as StemExpress.

  • This Conservative Myth About Birth Control Could Sway A Supreme Court Case

    Blog ››› ››› HANNAH GROCH-BEGLEY

    Antonin Scalia

    Right-wing media have spent nearly a decade making false claims about birth control -- and now those falsehoods have found their way into the mouths of Supreme Court justices.

    The Supreme Court on March 25 heard consolidated arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, which examine whether for-profit businesses can deny employees health insurance coverage based on the owners' personal religious beliefs, a radical revision of First Amendment and corporate law. The owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga argue they should not be forced by the government to provide their employees insurance which covers certain forms of contraception, because they believe those types of birth control can cause abortions.

    The owners are wrong. Medical experts have confirmed they are wrong, repeatedly and strenuously, including experts at the National Institute of Health, the Mayo Clinic and the International Federation of Gynecology. The contraceptives Hobby Lobby objects to -- which include emergency contraceptives like Plan B and long-term contraceptives like Intrauterine Devices (IUDs) -- delay an egg from being fertilized, and as the former assistant commissioner for women's health at the FDA noted, "their only connection to abortion is that they can prevent the need for one."

    Despite this overwhelming medical evidence, the myth that some of the contested forms of birth control are "abortifacients" has gone all the way to the Supreme Court -- and now has been repeated by some of the justices themselves. During the oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case, Justice Antonin Scalia responded to a point made by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the lawyer for the government, by referring to "birth controls ... that are abortifacient."

    JUSTICE SCALIA: You're talking about, what, three or four birth controls, not all of them, just those that are abortifacient. That's not terribly expensive stuff, is it?

    GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, to the contrary. And two points to make about that. First, of course the -- one of the methods of contraception they object to here is the IUD. And that is by far and away the method of contraception that is most effective, but has the highest upfront cost and creates precisely the kind of cost barrier that the preventive services provision is trying to break down.

    Justice Stephen Breyer, while describing the position of the Hobby Lobby owners, also referred to "abortifacient contraceptives."

    This misunderstanding matters because it could determine the outcome of the case. In order to win, a majority of justices may have to understand there is a compelling government interest in facilitating equal access to contraceptives across health insurance plans. It is an entirely different and more difficult question if the justices examine whether there is a compelling interest in the government facilitating access to abortion. Even though federal law explicitly prohibits federal funding of abortion and these birth control methods are not abortifacients, if the justices mistakenly think abortion is involved, this case becomes far more dangerous.

    So whether the employees of for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby are guaranteed access to basic preventative health care could ultimately come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions. Whether for-profit companies are considered religious persons, a drastic change to constitutional corporate law, could come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions. Whether the rights of gay and lesbian employees are respected, and whether taxes, vaccines requirements, minimum wage, overtime laws are all upheld could come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions.

    This simple lie about birth control could set up a chain of events that drastically alter health care by rewriting First Amendment and corporate law in this country -- and it's a lie that comes straight from the media, who have been pushing it for almost a decade.

    Studies came out as early as 2004 pushing back on the idea that Plan B caused abortions, but Media Matters has repeatedly noted the tendency of journalists to get their facts wrong when addressing the issue. In 2005, CNN host Carol Costello gave a platform to a pharmacist who refused to fill a prescription for birth control pills because she thought they were equivalent to "chemical abortion." In 2007, Time magazine called the morning-after pill "abortion-inducing," while an AP article pushed the false Republican claims that emergency contraception destroys "developing human fetuses." In 2010, The Washington Times repeatedly equated emergency contraception to abortion.

    And there was Lila Rose, the anti-abortion activist who in 2011 released videos heavily edited to deceptively portray practices at Planned Parenthood clinics, and who has equated contraception to "abortion-inducing drugs" which she claims exploit women. Rose and her mentor, James O'Keefe, defended their manipulation and falsification of evidence as "tactics" against the "genocide" of abortion, and she was supported and promoted on The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity's America, The Glenn Beck Show, The Laura Ingraham Show, while her work was been featured by Reuters, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, and National Review.

    When the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, and medical experts including the Institute of Medicine recommended including comprehensive coverage for contraception as part of the preventative care provisions, right-wing media freaked out, calling it "immoral" and "a way to eradicate the poor." Fox News ignored the overwhelming support for the resulting contraception policy, instead pretending that Catholic hospitals and employers were being victimized -- even as exemptions and accommodations were included for churches and religious nonprofits. By 2012, Fox News' Michelle Malkin was referring to the contraception regulations as an "abortion mandate." Now, right-wing media figures have used the Hobby Lobby case and others to bring back this lie, from Fox News to the Wall Street Journal, while Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham have become particularly fond of discussing these "abortifacients."

    As Media Matters has previously explained, right-wing talking points demonizing birth control made their way into the amicus briefs presented to the court before the case was even argued, and Justice Scalia in particular has been known to repeat verbatim right-wing myths, such as the dubious idea that if the Supreme Court upheld the ACA the federal government could ultimately require consumers to purchase broccoli.

    But the presence of the "abortifacient" lie during oral arguments takes this worrying tendency to a new level, raising the prospect that right-wing media's lies could potentially determine the outcome of a crucial case for religious and corporate law, hugely damaging reproductive rights in the process. If women lose the guarantee for their basic preventative health care, and corporations are granted even more flexibility as "persons" with religious rights, right-wing media will be partly to blame.