Martha MacCallum | Media Matters for America

Martha MacCallum

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  • A Fox News anchor lied about immigrants during the town hall with Julian Castro

    Martha MacCallum echoed the false claim made by Trump 'border czar' pick and Fox contributor Tom Homan

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    During Fox News’ town hall with 2020 Democratic candidate Julian Castro, co-moderator Martha MacCallum falsely claimed that 90% of immigrants who are detained and then released “do not ever show up for their court date.” MacCallum’s comment echoed a stat also used by Fox opinion contributor Tom Homan, whom President Donald Trump recently named as his border czar.

    On the May 10 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, Homan referenced congressional testimony that acting Executive Associate ICE Director Nathalie Asher gave two days earlier to comment that “almost nine out of 10” undocumented or asylum-seeking families “aren’t making it to court” for their hearings. However, the figure was only related to a Trump administration pilot program launched in late 2018 to expedite asylum cases; in contrast, per Asher’s testimony, the traditional program for these families “is effective in ensuring that its vetted participants show up to specified hearings” -- with just 27.4% of families failing to appear for their court dates. Multiple studies have also shown that over 90% of asylum-seekers in several categories actually do appear for their court hearings.

    Until Homan rejoins the Trump administration -- as the president announced during a June 14 Fox & Friends interview -- he is a Fox News contributor, a part of the “opinion” division that executives claim is separate from the “news” division. However, MacCallum, a Fox “news”-side anchor, repeated the same false claim during the town hall, noting that 90% of the people detained at the border “do not ever show up for their court date once they’ve been apprehended and released.” Castro said he wanted to “dispute” the figure and mentioned the Obama-era Family Case Management Program, which he said saw a “more than a 98% return rate” for immigrants going to court. MacCallum’s responded, “It doesn’t sound like there’s anyone that you wouldn’t let in. I mean, is there anyone you wouldn’t let in?”

    As with earlier Fox News Democratic town halls, Fox & Friends quickly used Castro’s appearance to attack him as a radical leftist, this time on immigration. Co-host Brian Kilmeade denounced Castro’s plan for what he called “wide-open borders” and mocked him for “going back in time to 1929” for mentioning that the U.S. traditionally didn’t criminalize people for crossing the border illegally but treated such acts as civil violations. And the clip reel the show assembled consistently cut Castro off mid-sentence, denying the audience his policy explanations and allowing the hosts to tear down a leftist caricature.

    Fox has been using its Democratic town halls to both attack liberals and keep the network financially sound amid controversy about its prime-time lineup pushing dangerous conspiracy theories and unabashed white supremacy. A Democratic town hall featuring a false anti-immigrant talking point from Fox News’ go-to immigration misinformer -- who is also a former and possibly returning Trump border official -- should be a red flag for any non-conservative considering appearing on the network.

  • Fox News town halls give right-wing media new fuel for inaccurate abortion “extremism” talking points

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    During the latest Fox News town hall, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called out the network's oversized role in mainstreaming inaccurate and sensationalized information about abortions that take place later in pregnancy. One of the ways the network and other right-wing media outlets have spread such misinformation is by asking candidates misleading questions about abortion rights and spinning their answers as “extreme." The town hall events have served as yet another chance to deploy this deceptive tactic.

    As at previous Fox News town halls, during the June 2 event, Gillibrand was asked by an attendee about her position on “late-term abortion or last trimester abortions.” In response, she explained that “the debate about whether or not women should have reproductive freedom has turned into a red-herring debate,” thanks in part to highly inaccurate allegations by Fox News and other right-wing media that support for later abortion access amounts to promoting “infanticide.”

    Gillibrand also cited research from Media Matters showing that Fox News “talked about infanticide for 6.5 hours” in the run-up to President Donald Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address and that, in the last week of January, Fox News hosts and guests used the word “infanticide” 35 times when discussing state measures intended to protect abortion access.

    Indeed, Fox News and other right-wing media outlets have seized on these sensationalized talking points about “infanticide” to hound candidates with falsely framed questions or to attack their support for abortions later in pregnancy. This tactic is a crucial part of right-wing media’s playbook for the 2020 elections which relies on the use of anti-abortion misinformation to gin up controversy and support among conservative audiences.

    During Gillibrand's town hall event, moderator Chris Wallace (allegedly representing Fox’s “news” division, although he himself has a history of spreading anti-abortion misinformation) attempted to defend Fox in response to her comments, suggesting she shouldn’t criticize the network that was hosting her. But Fox has been far from friendly to the candidates it has hosted; after previous town halls, network personalities have spent the next day attacking the candidates for their comments.

    In particular, the network, other right-wing media, and anti-choice advocates have used these town halls as a mechanism to falsely characterize Democratic candidates as having “extreme” abortion positions. To begin with, the hosts of these events -- Wallace and another of Fox News’ supposed “straight news” personalities, Martha MacCallum -- have presented abortion-related questions in misleading ways. MacCallum asked both Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) during their town halls whether they supported abortion up to “the moment of birth.” Wallace also asked a misleadingly framed question to South Bend, IN, Mayor Pete Buttigieg about whether he believes in “any limit” on when a person could get an abortion.

    After the town halls, Fox News and other right-wing media spun the candidates’ answers to allege that they support abortion up to birth or “infanticide.” For example, after Buttigieg said he trusts “women to draw the line” on when to have an abortion during his town hall event, Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume claimed that Buttigieg’s position was “not widely held in this country.” Hume further argued that Buttigieg’s position was extreme because he said “there is no moment before birth when he wouldn't support a woman's right to an abortion.” Other Fox News personalities repeated a similar refrain: treating Buttigieg’s comments as evidence of alleged Democratic “extremism” on abortion, a talking point further echoed by other right-wing media and those in anti-abortion circles.

    Sanders’ answer that abortion in the third-trimester "happens very, very rarely” and “the decision over abortion belongs to a woman and her physician” predictably evoked the ire of right-wing and anti-abortion media, with one headline proclaiming “Bernie Sanders Supports Abortions Up to Birth, Okay to Kill Babies Up to Birth Because ‘It’s Rare.’” During the April 16 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson attacked Sanders, arguing that “Like 10 years ago, that would be considered like an extreme position. Today, it's the moderate position in the Democratic Party. Some are defending ‘infanticide’ just flat-out. Safe, legal, and rare. No. That's not at all the position today. It should be free, frequent, and horrifying.”

    Klobuchar received less right-wing media attention after her Fox News town hall and very little of that attention focused on her abortion-related comments. Instead, outlets focused on attacking her claim about Planned Parenthood offering mammograms as a lie -- although the provider does facilitate this care through referrals. For her part, Gillibrand has drawn criticism (including on Fox News) that she was incorrect to attack Fox News because, critics claimed, Democrats do indeed support “infanticide.”

    No matter the focus of right-wing media’s outrage, it is undeniable that Fox News’ abortion-related coverage, including the network’s town halls, has served as the jumping-off point for inaccurate and dangerous rhetoric about abortion access. And whether or not Democrats continue to appear on the network, personalities on both the “news” and opinion sides will undoubtedly continue to deploy this tactic throughout the 2020 election cycle.

  • Five lies from Fox News figures about Robert Mueller’s press conference

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Fox News figures spread multiple falsehoods about special counsel Robert Mueller’s May 29 press conference in which he explained that his team could not consider charging President Donald Trump with any crimes because of Justice Department policy, while also saying that if he had been confident Trump hadn’t broken any laws, he “would have said so” -- but didn’t. These falsehoods about Mueller’s statement from Fox hosts and commentators include claims that Trump was exonerated; that it was the special counsel’s job to determine charges against the president; that Mueller never presented evidence Trump may have obstructed justice; that Trump wasn’t charged with any crimes because of a lack of evidence; and that an “underlying crime” was necessary for Trump to criminally obstruct justice.

  • How right-wing media defended Trump after Mueller's press conference

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS & ZACHARY PLEAT

    Special counsel Robert Mueller read a statement at a May 29 press conference in which he explained that his investigation did not attempt to determine whether President Donald Trump had committed any crimes because it would be against Department of Justice policy to charge a president who is in office. Mueller also announced that he was formally closing the special counsel's office and resigning from the DOJ to return to private life. Conservative media figures responded by criticizing Mueller for not exonerating Trump, claiming his statement is a “huge win” for the president, complaining that Mueller helped make Democrats’ case for impeaching Trump, misrepresenting what he said about his findings, and suggesting he might be lying in his statement.

    Claiming Mueller didn’t do his job properly by failing to recommend whether Trump should be charged

    Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro: “‘If we had confidence that the president did not commit a crime, we would have said so.’ That is not the standard of a prosecutor. Prosecutors exist to determine whether someone committed a chargeable offense, not whether they are exonerated of charges.”

    National Review Online Editor Charles C. W. Cooke: “Is this how it works? Isn't it the other way around? You look for evidence that a crime was committed, and if you don't find it you say ‘we didn't find any.’ You don't look for evidence that it wasn't and then say, ‘we couldn't find evidence of innocence.’”

    The Federalist co-founder Sean Davis: “Also, Mueller's view of a prosecutor's role -- to prove and declare a target's innocence, rather than to charge criminality -- is a despicable affront to the rule of law and the Constitution. Cops and lawyers don't grant innocence. It is our default legal state absent conviction.”

    Fox News Radio host Guy Benson: “If he had the evidence, Mueller could have identified criminal conduct & *recommended* charges, then let DOJ decide whether OLC guidance would or would not permit those charges being filed against a sitting POTUS. Instead, he decided not to recommend anything.”

    Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich: “Muller tried today to have [it both] ways. If he thought President [Trump] was guilty of something he should have said he was guilty of something. Ken Starr used the word guilty 11 times on 11 different counts in his report on President Clinton. If not guilty Trump is innocent.”

    Claiming Mueller’s statement represents a victory for Trump

    Breitbart.com White House correspondent Charlie Spiering: “Huge win for Trump: Mueller steps down, refuses to testify, states that president cannot be charged with a crime, urges Americans to secure future elections.”

    Far-right blog The Gateway Pundit: “Mueller Dunks on Pelosi and Dems – Praises Attorney General Bill Barr For Releasing Entire Report in Good Faith.”

    Gingrich: “In the absence of proof in America, you are innocent. Therefore, by definition, President Trump is innocent.”

    Claiming Mueller is inviting chaos and impeachment of Trump

    Commentary Associate Editor Noah Rothman: “The impeachment case just got a lot easier to make.”

    Fox Nation and Fox News Radio host Todd Starnes: “Mueller just poured gasoline on the Democrats' Impeachment fire.”

    Radio host Rush Limbaugh: “He begged [Congress] to impeach. He gave them the green light. He said that’s what you people have to do.”

    Fox News contributor and Townhall Editor Katie Pavlich: “Impeachment is coming.”

    Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly: “After Robert Mueller’s deflection to Congress on the obstruction issue, we can expect democrats to begin impeachment proceedings. That will harm the country economically and lead no where as the Senate will not convict.”

    Fox’s Martha MacCallum and Brian Kilmeade agreed Mueller “threw some kerosene on the fire.” Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade said on his radio show Mueller “closed his office, he called it quits, but before he did it, he actually threw some kerosene on the fire and then threw the match.” Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum agreed, saying: “Absolutely, no doubt.” Kilmeade then added: “So my sense was he saw the chaos that happened after he released the report that was supposed to put a fine point on a 22-month investigation, and he made it worse.”

    Fox's Lisa Boothe: “Robert Mueller is a hack. And we know that he’s a hack because he gave Democrats exactly what they wanted ... more fuel to the fire of impeachment.”

    Claiming Mueller said things he didn’t say

    Fox host Pete Hegseth falsely claimed that Trump will “rightfully” say there was “no obstruction” and that he's “exonerated.” Mueller actually explained that he was prevented from considering charging Trump with a crime because of Department of Justice policy.

    Wash. Examiner’s Philip Klein: “Impeachment or bust: Robert Mueller just made clear he won't give Democrats a second crack at his report through testimony.” The text of Klein’s article was more accurate than its headline, correctly noting that Mueller said the report covers everything he has to say about the investigation.

    Claiming that Mueller may have been lying

    The Federalist Senior Editor Mollie Hemingway: “Multiple people at DOJ say Mueller stated that [Office of Legal Counsel] opinion had nothing to do with his decision not to charge obstruction, and report itself doesn’t make determination on obstruction, as it did on collusion. Remarks today curiously at odds with both.” While responding to a reply pointing that Mueller had set the record straight with his statement, Hemingway added that Mueller “wasn’t speaking under oath while someone who said otherwise was, so…..”

    Claiming Mueller did it to appease his “social circles”

    Fox contributor Jason Chaffetz: “It’s purely a guess, but from where I sit I think it was to cover his butt within his own political, social circles. … Barr was actually out there telling the truth, and it scared Mueller and his reputation. He was supposed to be the guy to get Trump, and he didn't, and he feels bad about that.”

    Gingrich: “My guess is that in his social circles, people felt that he had failed to serve the worthy cause of destroying Donald Trump, and he was trying to sort of cleverly toss it to the Congress."

    Claiming Mueller was fairer to the indicted Russians than to Trump

    Boothe: “Robert Mueller gave more deference to the Russians yesterday than he did to President Trump.”

    Hegseth: Mueller “went out of his way when talking about the Russians that had been indicted to say that they are innocent until proven guilty. The Russians. Which he never went out of his way to say about a sitting president.” 

    Gingrich: Mueller “says of the Russians they’re innocent until proven guilty, and in the next paragraph he says he can’t prove the president’s innocence. So, his standard for the American president is dramatically lower than his standard for Russians. You couldn’t have made that up.”

  • Right-wing media's anti-abortion misinformation playbook for 2020

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump and other conservative candidates have already signaled that anti-abortion lies will be a core part of their 2020 playbook -- tactics that right-wing media are certain to amplify in order to fearmonger and rally support ahead of the election. In line with this, right-wing outlets have already been badgering Democratic candidates about their stances on abortion access, in some cases smearing them with sensationalized and inaccurate tropes about later abortions.

    Following the introduction of measures in New York, Virginia, and other states to ensure abortion access if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, right-wing media generated a firestorm of coverage that mischaracterized Democrats’ efforts to protect abortion rights as promoting “infanticide” or so-called abortion “up to birth.” In reality, the idea that abortions happen up to the “moment of birth” is a fiction fueled by right-wing media and does not reflect any actual medical procedures performed in the U.S. Rather, abortions that happen later in pregnancy are performed for complicated personal and medical reasons, with the people anti-choice advocates compare to murderers often having to make the difficult decision to end a wanted pregnancy. In other instances, people need abortions later in pregnancy due to anti-choice restrictions prohibiting or greatly delaying earlier access.

    Beyond broadly alleging that Democrats support abortion “up to birth,” right-wing media have also promoted the false claim that pro-choice candidates are in favor of denying care to babies “born alive” after so-called “failed abortions.” These alleged “born alive” abortions that right-wing media protest are not based in any medical practice or standard of care, as Rewire.News reported in 2013. Nevertheless, Republicans in Congress recently introduced the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act to aid so-called “abortion survivors” who are “born alive” following an attempted abortion procedure. As doctors Daniel Grossman and Jennifer Conti pointed out to The New York Times, it is more likely that the bill would force doctors to pursue treatment options that run counter to patients’ wishes -- such as ensuring that a fetus delivered “at the edge of viability” but unlikely to survive could not receive “comfort care” which would “allow the child to die naturally without extreme attempts at resuscitation.” In addition, as writer Robin Marty explained, the bill could also be used opportunistically by anti-choice opponents to prosecute abortion providers.

    Right-wing media and anti-abortion groups have used these manufactured controversies as part of a playbook for attacking abortion rights supporters and have already proven they'll deploy the same strategy against candidates. The playbook involves:

    1) Hounding candidates with anti-choice questions -- and spinning any abortion-related answers -- to generate an outrage-based news cycle

    2) Manufacturing fake “grassroots” support for anti-choice misinformation

    3) Using candidate comments about unrelated topics as a jumping-off point to criticize them about abortion

    1. Hounding candidates with anti-choice questions -- and spinning any abortion-related answers -- to generate an outrage-based news cycle

    The tactic

    Although right-wing media have long represented Democratic positions on abortion in bad faith, the campaign trail has given these outlets more opportunities to hound candidates with inaccurate and sensationalized questions about abortion to intentionally generate outrage. In addition, others in the right-wing and anti-abortion media echo chamber are then able to pick up these comments -- or really any comment from candidates on abortion -- and spin them to fit predetermined anti-choice narratives. Thus far, those anti-choice narratives have been focused on Democrats’ alleged support for abortion “up to birth” or even after.

    Unfortunately, this has permeated beyond right-wing media and several outlets outside of this ecosystem have adopted this inaccurate framing. Already in 2019, non-right-wing outlets have uncritically repeated dangerous lies about abortion from Trump’s State of the Union address and echoed the language used by right-wing media and Republicans about efforts to secure a vote for the so-called Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.

    Examples

    Beto O’Rourke

    Presidential candidate and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) received a flurry of inaccurately framed questions about his stance on abortion in March. On March 18, at a campaign event in Ohio, Millie Weaver (also known as “Millennial Millie”), a staffer from the far-right conspiracy outlet Infowars, questioned O’Rourke about his support for abortion access later in pregnancy. Relying on an inaccurate right-wing framing of the topic, Weaver asked:

    Are you for third-trimester abortion or are you going to protect the lives of third-trimester babies? Because there is really not a medical necessity for abortion. It’s not a medical emergency procedure because typically third-trimester abortions take up to three days to have. So, you would -- in that sense, if there was an emergency, the doctors would just do a C-section, and you don’t have to kill the baby in that essence. So, are you for or against third-trimester abortions?

    In her subsequent article about the event, Weaver continued to distort the premise of the question, as well as misrepresenting O’Rourke’s answer. Weaver claimed that she asked “if he supports up-to-birth abortions” and that his answer that abortion should be “a decision that the woman makes” showed he “endorses third-trimester abortions.”

    After that, O’Rourke was peppered with similar questions about abortion from other right-wing outlets and reporters. For example, after Weaver's question, The Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito -- known for producing “revealing dispatches from Trump country” that have drawn claims of fabrication and plagiarism -- asked O’Rourke whether he supported access to third-trimester abortions “to make sure” there was “clarity” about his previous answer. Zito ultimately wrote that “O’Rourke has refused to rule out abortions more than six months into a pregnancy,” but she noted on Twitter that supporters’ “cheers” in reaction to his answer “told me so much about the state of what Democrats want from their eventual nominee.” Apparently dissatisfied that his answer didn’t garner broader coverage, Zito followed up with another piece about O’Rourke’s “extreme abortion stance” days later, complaining:

    It is hard to find any D.C. reporters in a mainstream news organization writing about a viewpoint professed by a Democratic presidential candidate as being “extreme” or “radical.” Yet had this been a Republican candidate coming out in support of something the majority of Americans find impossible to support, it would be a headline for days, followed by asking every Republican running or holding office if they support that radical position as well.

    Right-wing media used O’Rourke's answers to these bad faith questions to claim that he supports abortion “up to birth” or beyond and to say that this view represents the Democratic “party line” on abortion. Fox News, Townhall, and The Daily Wire published articles condemning the alleged position of O’Rourke and the Democratic Party on abortion access. Right-wing media figures echoed this approach, with the Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro saying on Fox & Friends that “Beto O'Rourke and every other major Democrat feel forced to embrace this position, that you have to be for abortion up to and sometimes beyond the point of birth. It just demonstrates the radicalism of the Democratic Party.”

    Fox News host Sean Hannity dedicated an entire opening monologue on March 19 to this claim. Hannity claimed that O’Rourke’s comments were further evidence of the Democratic Party’s “barbaric abortion agenda” and said, “If Democrats get their way, well, third-trimester abortion, including infanticide during and after birth -- well, that would be perfectly legal and readily available. Sadly, they’re fighting for that. They would protect infanticide seemingly above all else.” To further his point, he also displayed this on-screen graphic:

    Anti-abortion groups and other conservative figures signal-boosted right-wing media’s claims about the alleged “extremism” of O’Rourke’s position (and by extension, the Democratic Party’s). For example, American Conservative Union chair Matt Schlapp presented the comments as part of Democrats’ efforts to allow so-called “post-birth abortion.” Anti-abortion group Live Action claimed O’Rourke “barbarically defends abortion until birth." Kristan Hawkins, president of anti-abortion group Students for Life of America, tweeted:

    Anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List even sent supporters a fundraising appeal citing O’Rourke’s comment, saying the organization needed followers to make “a pro-life contribution” to help the group “fight back in the name of saving ALL babies and to STOP Beto O’Rourke’s extreme pro-abortion and pro-infanticide agenda.”

    Outlets outside of the right-wing media ecosystem have also adopted this framing at times without offering pushback. Newsweek published Weaver’s question to O’Rourke (but identified her as “a crowd member”) and O’Rourke’s response, but did not provide adequate context about what support for abortions later in pregnancy means or dispute the flawed premise of Weaver’s question. The Hill also reported on O’Rourke’s responses to Weaver and to the Washington Examiner, but focused on his “fundraising status” and "national prominence” without noting the flawed basis of the questioning itself.

    Bernie Sanders

    During a Fox News town hall event, candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was also asked an inaccurate question based on anti-abortion misinformation. Notably, Fox News is attempting to leverage Democratic candidate town halls to sanitize the network’s image, which is currently suffering as companies become less willing to associate with its toxic commentary. During Sanders’ town hall, anchor Martha MacCallum -- who works on Fox’s “news” side but has a history of pushing anti-abortion lies -- asked Sanders, “With regard to abortion, do you believe that a woman should be able to terminate a pregnancy up until the moment of birth?”

    Sanders’ answer that abortion in the third-trimester "happens very rarely” and “the decision over abortion belongs to a woman and her physician” predictably evoked the ire of right-wing and anti-abortion media, with one headline proclaiming “Bernie Sanders Supports Abortions Up to Birth, Okay to Kill Babies Up to Birth Because ‘It’s Rare.’” During the April 16 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson said of Sanders’ comments, “Like 10 years ago, that would be considered like an extreme position. Today, it's the moderate position in the Democratic Party. Some are defending ‘infanticide’ just flat-out. Safe, legal, and rare. No. That's not at all the position today. It should be free, frequent, and horrifying.” Anti-abortion advocate Lila Rose similarly (and inaccurately) summarized Sanders’ response:

    Elizabeth Warren

    In March, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) received a question about the so-called “Born Alive” bill when someone in a crowd shouted at her, “What about the babies that survive abortion? How come they can’t have health care?” Warren replied that “infanticide is illegal everywhere in America” and moved on. Despite Warren’s accurate characterization of the bill, right-wing outlets spun the answer as Warren defending her “abortion extremism” or intentionally avoiding answering the question.

    Cory Booker

    In April, candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said people have started to ask him if he voted for a bill that allows “us to kill babies when they’re born.” Booker responded by saying, “That is a felony” and explaining that the bill (meaning the “Born Alive” bill) was “put forth to try to create schisms and differences between us.” Predictably, anti-abortion and right-wing media claimed Booker was “defending voting for infanticide.”

    Pete Buttigieg

    Right-wing and anti-abortion media utilized comments from South Bend, IN, Mayor and candidate Pete Buttigieg about abortion and reproductive rights to push misinformation -- with at least one outlet outside of right-wing media circles falling for this false premise in subsequent coverage.

    Following comments from Buttigieg in March that he supported measures introduced to protect abortion access in Virginia and New York, National Review’s David French argued that Buttigieg “has zero appeal to religious conservatives so long as he holds to the Democratic party line on the right of a woman to hire a doctor to kill a viable, living unborn baby.” During Buttigieg’s candidacy announcement speech, he said that “women’s equality is freedom, because you’re not free if your reproductive health choices are dictated by male politicians or bosses.” Fox News host Laura Ingraham argued during the April 15 edition of her show that Buttigieg’s vision of “reproductive freedom” apparently does not include “the unborn child in the womb or, for that matter, the child born ... after a botched abortion in this new Democrat Party. I don't see the freedom there.”

    This framing spread beyond the right-wing media echo chamber on the April 18 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe. During the segment, co-host Willie Geist asked Buttigieg about third-trimester abortions, and, after Buttigieg noted that it can be an “incredibly painful set of decisions in these horrifying medical cases,” Geist said, “But to people who would criticize that, they’d say, ‘Actually there is a pretty easy answer -- that’s a fundamental child in the third term … of pregnancy, that is a human being who could be born alive and have a great and full life,’ and so it is a pretty easy question to people who would criticize your answer.” Geist’s question relied on right-wing framing and anti-abortion misinformation that he and the other hosts did not refute. The back-and-forth was picked up by right-wing and anti-abortion outlets, which spread further misinformation about Buttigieg’s answer, with LifeNews.com tweeting that Buttigieg “is perfectly fine with killing defenseless unborn babies in abortions right up to birth.” 

    In each instance, right-wing media relied on either inaccurately framed questions or dishonest spin to generate outrage and drive additional news cycles about alleged Democratic extremism on abortion.

    2. Manufacturing fake “grassroots” support for anti-choice misinformation

    The tactic

    Beyond peppering Democratic candidates with incendiary and inaccurately framed questions about abortion, right-wing media have also attempted to propagate the idea that there is “grassroots” opposition to supporting abortion access. Following the introduction of Virginia and New York’s recent measures, right-wing media heavily promoted the narrative that Democrats are pushing an “extreme” position on abortion that is not supported by their base. This is an approach that the Republican Party -- including Trump himself -- has adopted as part of a 2020 election strategy at both the federal and the state level. Right-wing media and Republicans previously deployed this strategy during the ultimately failed 2017 special election for U.S. Senate in Alabama.

    Right-wing media have also attempted to extrapolate about voters’ probable opposition to a candidate’s position on abortion based on polling about specific abortion policies or viewpoints. Most frequently, right-wing media have touted polls claiming to represent likely voters’ support for bans on abortion after 20 weeks -- which would include procedures performed in both the second and the third trimester. While some polls have suggested that support for abortion access decreases as a pregnancy advances, polls that provide adequate context about the specific circumstances surrounding why a person would choose to have an abortion after 20 weeks don’t show the same results. In fact, as experts have explained, these polls better reflect the reality of abortion later in pregnancy and thus show that people support maintaining this health care option.

    Examples

    To prove allegations of so-called Democratic extremism, right-wing media have cherry-picked examples of people opposing abortion and presented these views as being widely held. For example, after O’Rourke responded to Infowars' question, Fox & Friends First aired two segments that shared the thoughts of random Twitter users who disliked his answer:

    On Fox News’ Hannity, Fox News contributor Lawrence Jones was sent to Texas to ask voters about O’Rourke’s alleged position on abortion, with many in the resulting segment claiming he was problematically extreme.

    Some right-wing media also specifically noted when questions came from non-media participants in an effort to imply that those questioners represented the views of many voters. For example, on One America News’ The Tipping Point, host Liz Wheeler applauded a “student who asked a question” about abortion, saying “professional reporters” wouldn’t do it “because Beto’s a Democrat, and the mainstream media wants to protect the left.” Conversely, many right-wing media outlets failed to note that Weaver, who asked O’Rourke if he would “protect the lives of third-trimester babies,” works for Infowars. The Daily Caller, Fox News, TheBlaze, Washington Free Beacon, and National Review credited either an “attendee” or “a woman” at the event for the question.

    Right-wing media have also pointed to imprecise polling on abortion and a supposed lack of public support for the health care staple in discussions of candidates' answers. Townhall’s Lauretta Brown wrote that O’Rourke’s answer about abortion to Infowars “marks a significant departure from public opinion and state laws.” CBN News said the Democratic presidential candidates “are out of step with the public.” After candidate Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) answered a question on abortion during MSNBC’s Morning Joe by saying “the reality of it is that you got to protect the woman’s right to choose,” Townhall’s Guy Benson tweeted that Ryan was “pandering to” a supposedly extreme position that he claimed was only “shared by roughly one-fifth of the electorate.” The Washington Free Beacon also wrote that Booker had cast votes against anti-abortion legislation “despite popular public opinion” supporting them.

    These assertions are largely based on polling that asks generic questions about abortion. However, polling that puts into context why someone would have an abortion after 20 weeks shows a different result. 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 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.”

    In each instance, right-wing media have relied on selective samples of public opinion and opinion polling to give the appearance of widespread opposition to Democratic support for abortion access. In reality, right-wing media have been intentionally fearmongering about so-called Democratic extremism on abortion as part of a 2020 strategy being pushed by Trump and other members of his administration.

    3. Using candidate comments about unrelated topics as a jumping-off point to criticize them about abortion

    The tactic

    Anti-abortion groups and right-wing media have also tried spinning non-abortion comments from candidates to fit anti-abortion groups' stereotypes about Democrats. Right-wing media relied on this approach to spread misinformation and stigma before, employing similar spin to try to connect abortion to the Parkland school shooting, the Trump administration’s family separation policy, and Christine Blasey Ford’s report that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were in high school.

    Examples

    At a CNN town hall, when Warren said her “favorite Bible verse” includes the lesson that “there is value in every single human being,” the anti-abortion group Concerned Women for America asked, “But only the ones that are wanted? What about the ones who survive an abortion?” Warren repeated this comment on her Twitter account, prompting The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh to claim that her comment proved Democrats “will actually jump on any opportunity to extol the virtue of human life and the value of human life,” but “you would think they would avoid talking about that because they know 60 million babies have been slaughtered in the womb and they are perfectly OK with that.” He also asserted:

    Even though the Democratic Party is the party of Satan, and even though it has embraced satanism and it has embraced infanticide and all of these forms of just the most -- the darkest, most debauched, evil you can imagine, even in spite of all that, still most Democrats feel the need to pretend to be Christian.

    In response to a tweet from candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) explaining her belief that “housing is a basic human right,” anti-abortion activist Lila Rose replied, “If housing is a basic human right, then I imagine you’re even more passionate about the right for a child to be born?” Following comments from Buttigieg about Trump’s religion, Fox News contributor Rachel Campos-Duffy dismissed his criticism because Buttigieg “is a guy who is on the record as a supporter of late-term abortion.” Tucker Carlson said on his show of Buttigieg, “This is a guy telling us what a great Christian he is, who’s for abortion up until birth and for sex-selection. Spare me your Christian talk, please. It's absurd.”

    Similarly, when candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called Trump “a coward,” right-wing radio host Stacy Washington replied, “You believe in abortion up to birth, gun confiscation, open borders and limp-wristed governance. You have no room to call anyone a coward.” When Gillibrand later tweeted about legislation she introduced that would “limit opioid prescriptions for acute pain to 7 days,” Fox News’ Brit Hume replied with an inaccurate comparison between her comments and the idea that abortion should be between a patient and a doctor. He wasn’t the only one to make this inaccurate “joke.”

    Anti-abortion activist Alveda King wrote a piece for Newsmax claiming that “Booker is touting a new reparations bill for African Americans while secretly supporting an agenda of genocide and infanticide by abortion of millions of black babies.” After comments from candidate Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) that the “number one cause of death for a black child in America today is gun violence,” LifeNews.com tweeted, “Actually @ericswalwell the #1 killer of black children is abortion.”

    Right-wing media regularly dominate the conversation about abortion -- so it is unsurprising that these outlets are working overtime to drive an inaccurate narrative in advance of the 2020 election. Trump and the GOP have emphasized anti-abortion misinformation as a core part of their electoral strategies, and right-wing media have already shown their willingness to manufacture or signal boost these attacks. It is crucial for other media outlets to recognize these tactics and provide important context, rather than repeating lies and misinformation from these sources.

    Graphics by Melissa Joskow

  • Fox "straight news" anchor Martha MacCallum allows Rush Limbaugh to spew racism and conspiracy theories with no pushback

    Fox News pushes "straight news" anchors like MacCallum and Bret Baier as somehow distinct from its prime-time opinion programming -- but Rush Limbaugh of all people just proved otherwise

    Blog ››› ››› REBECCA MARTIN

    Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum allowed Rush Limbaugh to make long debunked claims, racist statements, and false accusations which she left unchecked throughout her interview with the right-wing radio host.

    During the interview, Limbaugh claimed fomer Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should be investigated, indicted and put in jail. Limbaugh offered no evidence to back up this claim, and MacCallum did not ask for any. Limbaugh also used a racial slur to attack Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and MacCallum again let the attack slide without mention. Limbaugh then claimed Democratic candidates do not have plans to pay for their policy proposals, another falsehood that MacCallum did not push back on.

    Shortly after the segment ended, President Donald Trump enthusiastically tweeted it:

    A few minutes after Trump's tweet, Sean Hannity also gushed over Limbaugh's remarks on his Fox News "opinion" show.

    While Fox News presents MacCallum as a “straight news” host, labeling her as a contrast to its problematic opinion hosts, she continually pushes right-wing misinformation and allows conservative guests to present falsehoods with minimal pushback. As Media Matters' Matt Gertz recently wrote, "MacCallum is every bit as pure an ideologue as anyone else on the network, using her show to claim that a border wall is 'needed' to stop the immigrant 'invasion' and declare that 'both sides' were at fault during the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA, among other misdeeds."

    Fox's chief political anchor Bret Baier, whom Fox touts as being on the “straight news” side, recently interviewed Limbaugh with similar results -- even though it was days after Limbaugh had called the New Zealand shootings a false flag. Baier and MacCallum hosted Fox’s town hall with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

    Fox News is currently in an advertiser crisis and has been pushing "straight news" anchors like MacCallum and Baier as somehow distinct from its prime-time opinion programming. In reality, the two are cogs in the same machine -- as Rush Limbaugh himself just proved.

  • Here's how Fox News is spinning the Mueller report

    Blog ››› ››› COURTNEY HAGLE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On April 18, the Department of Justice released a 448-page redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Since the report’s release, Fox News has been spinning its findings to appear favorable to President Donald Trump.

    Although Mueller didn’t officially charge Trump, the report is still widely seen as “a “brutal indictment of his campaign and his presidency.” According to NBC News, the first volume of the report “details how Trump and his allies solicited, encouraged, accepted and benefited from the assistance provided by America's most storied foreign adversary as part of a multi-front assault on American democracy.” The second volume “lays out comprehensive evidence that the president may have obstructed justice through what Mueller described as a ‘pattern of conduct’ that included firing FBI Director Jim Comey, trying to remove Mueller, publicly praising and condemning witnesses, and seeking to limit the scope of the probe.” In short, the report tells a story of “a president who used nearly every power vested in his office and his persona … to cover up ties between his campaign and Russia so that he could spare himself the public humiliation of having won an election that wasn't entirely on the level.” As NBC notes, critics argue that the report’s findings “rattle the very foundations of the American system of governance.”

    However, Fox News is still working hard to keep the president in a favorable light. Fox figures have argued that Trump’s actions were justifiable because he was frustrated; have deflected from the report’s findings by pivoting to the perceived reporting errors of the media; and have falsely claimed that one can’t obstruct justice without an underlying crime. Fox figures have also continued to call for an investigation of the investigators and of the origins of the probe, and they have defended Attorney General William Barr’s questionable and highly partisan actions.

    Narrative 1: Trump was cooperative and his actions were justified because he was frustrated

    Fox figures are suggesting that the fact that Trump didn’t use executive privilege is evidence that he cooperated with the Mueller investigation. Fox is also arguing that Trump’s reaction when he found out about the special counsel investigation could not be perceived as guilt because it came out of frustration that it would slow down his agenda. (Barr advanced this argument of Trump’s frustration in his April 18 press conference.) Fox is also pointing to an expletive Trump used as proof that he was just worried people would see him as an illegitimate president.

    Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt claimed Trump said “I’m doomed” only because he had “been told that any time there's a special counsel, it goes on and on and on for years.”

    AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): Yeah, the president sat down at his desk and said, basically, I'm doomed. I have been told that any time there's a special counsel, it goes on and on and on for years. And he said this is the worst thing that's ever happened to me in my life. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/19/18]

    Fox’s Dana Perino claimed that Trump “was actually quite cooperative” with the special counsel’s investigation.

    DANA PERINO (HOST): I do want to ask Martha [MacCallum] about this idea about cooperation. And if we can pull up sound bite number 15, because I want to have you listen to this. And it's interesting to me that there's these calls about obstruction, and yet the president was actually quite cooperative -- didn't ask for executive privilege on any of the documents, allowed people to go and be interviewed. [Fox News, Daily Briefing with Dana Perino, 4/18/19]

    Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich claimed that Trump didn’t say a “bad word … in the sense that he was guilty” but “in the sense that special counsel investigations or special investigations, independent counsels slow down your agendas.”

    KATIE PAVLICH (FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR): You know, there's been this out-of-context quote from the Mueller report that reporters have been talking about as a result of the release, saying that the president said he was -- a bad word. He was -- essentially, his presidency was over as a result of the special counsel getting launched. But he didn't say it in the sense that he was guilty. He said it in the sense that special counsel investigations or special investigations, independent counsels slow down your agendas. [Fox News, Outnumbered Overtime, 4/18/19]

    Narrative 2: The media were wrong in their reporting on the Mueller report

    Fox figures are arguing that the Mueller report vindicated their accusations that the mainstream media was wrong in their reporting of the investigation, even though much of what mainstream media reported on was ultimately seen as corroborated by the final report. Various Fox figures demanded that media outlets apologize to Trump and others. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway echoed this narrative when she appeared on Fox, saying, “We’re accepting apologies today, too, for anybody who feels the grace in offering them.”

    Fox & Friends guest Buck Sexton criticized other media outlets for not apologizing for "the insanity that they have been reporting" about the Mueller investigation.

    AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): Buck, you have said this is a reminder of the media getting it wrong for the last two years. Do you think the media will realize -- or has realized that and will make it right or apologize? I think I know the answer.

    BUCK SEXTON (TALK RADIO HOST): I'm quite sure that the media is not going to apologize and, in fact, I think what you’re seeing today Ainsley is a lot of people doubling down. There was certainly a bit of humiliation that was doled out to them when we knew that there would no charges, either on obstruction or on collusion, conspiracy once that came out. But now you are going to see a lot of media outlets that are desperate to find something in this report to justify the insanity that they have been reporting on for two years. They are going to work very hard at a kind of special interpretive analysis here to say, “Well, there weren't charges, but look at this thing.” They are also going to dig deep into the redactions and suggest that that's where the real collusion happened or that’s where you’ll find -- I mean, it's all nonsense and it’s all politics for them. And speaking of politics, the Democrats are going to try to use obstruction. There will be some -- I don't know if the whole party will go in this direction to create a narrative that there needs to be at least investigations going toward or hearings going toward impeachment based on the obstruction evidence but not charges that will be in this report. I think that's pretty likely. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/18/19]

    On Tucker Carlson Tonight, Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume said media reporting on the Mueller investigation was “dog doo.”

    TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): [The Mueller report] comes out. How can the rest of us act like our assumptions for the past two years -- or their assumptions for the last two years -- were ratified, were right. I mean why doesn’t the entire city of Washington stop and ask itself, “How were we so wrong?”

    BRIT HUME (FOX NEWS SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST): Well, that can be attributed to the partisan divide that you see across the country and very much in Washington. There are some of us, such as those of us here at Fox News, who don't have any of this collusion dog doo all over our shoes and never did. And so we look at this and we think to ourselves, "Well, yeah, I guess we sort of sized that up properly." We didn't buy into that. We didn't make a hero out of Michael Avenatti and having him on our air a couple of hundred times and talk about what a serious presidential candidate he was. We didn't spin every story that came along to suggest that it pointed in the direction of the collusion that was talked about endlessly. We didn't do any of that. So there's a big segment of us -- there’s a big segment of our audience that didn't buy into that stuff either. So none of us tonight has anything but regrets that this took up as much of our time and as much of our political air as it did as you point out. [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 4/18/19]

    On his show, Carlson said, “The Mueller report is probably the single most humiliating thing that has ever happened to the White House press corps."

    TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): These are hysterical children. They should not be in journalism, but they are. In fact, they run journalism, and they have no plans on giving up their power. The Mueller report is probably the single most humiliating thing that has ever happened to the White House press corps in the history of this country. So, how did reporters in Washington respond today when it finally came out? Well, they did what they do best; they celebrated themselves. [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 4/18/19]

    Fox’s Mark Levin claimed that “it's now a matter of the American people versus the press," adding, “I would call them the unfree press.” Levin also cast doubt on the legitimacy of the report, saying that “you have no idea” if "the report is truthful” and that it’s a “200-page op-ed” that Mueller “should never have written.”

    MARK LEVIN (FOX HOST): This is political document that he should never have written. A political document that is 200 pages long that the press keeps focusing on. That's why he and Weissmann and the others wrote it, because he knew you all -- he knew CNN would be obsessed with it. He knew that MSNBC would be obsessed with it. This is an op-ed. This is a 200-page op-ed. That's all this is.

    LEVIN: This is a hack job. Now, where are we here? Where are we here? From my perspective, it's now a matter of the American people versus the press. Or how I would call them, the unfree press. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/19/18]

    Narrative 3: The report found "no obstruction"

    A growing Fox narrative asserts that there’s no obstruction of justice unless there’s an underlying crime. Attorney General Barr also suggested this idea, which, according to The Washington Post, is wrong: “It’s black letter law that a defendant can satisfy the corrupt intent criterion for obstruction even if the defendant himself committed no underlying crime.” That hasn’t stopped Fox from using this talking point -- Trump even tweeted a paraphrased quote from Fox host Martha MacCallum, writing, “When there is not an underlying crime with regard to Collusion (in fact, the whole thing was a made up fraud), it is difficult to say that someone is obstructing something. There was no underlying crime.”

    On Fox & Friends, former independent counsel Ken Starr said that “not only was there no obstruction, there was cooperation.” Co-host Ainsley Earhardt accused the left of “shifting the narrative yet again” to obstruction.

    AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): We heard Russia, Russia, Russia. Then we heard no collusion. And now we're hearing obstruction, obstruction, obstruction. The left is shifting the narrative yet again. Are you surprised?

    KEN STARR (FORMER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL): Well, I'm not. I'm disappointed, but here's the bottom line: Not only was there no obstruction, there was cooperation. Did the president want to cooperate? No. Did he like Bob Mueller and the whole thing? He hated it. Well, guess what? Bill Clinton hated me and hated the investigation. Ulysses S. Grant fired the special counsel. Harry Truman's attorney general fired the special counsel. Famously, Richard Nixon fired the special counsel and the special prosecutor. You know there's a difference between having thoughts and this is another dimension that really did surprise me: how open and frank the conversations are with the president of the United States that then become disclosed and they are now in the public domain. We used to call that executive privilege. Talk about cooperation: cooperation in all caps. Not a single, as far as we know, invocation of executive privilege when these were such private, confidential conversations that are now, obviously, embarrassing to the president and being seized upon for political purposes. But there was no obstruction here. The 10 obstructive acts just don't add up to being an obstruction of justice in the criminal sense.[Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/19/19]

    Fox News correspondent Ed Henry falsely claimed, “You can't obstruct something if there is no underlying crime.”

    ED HENRY (GUEST CO-HOST): Think about what they have said in the run-up to this. Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow have said you can't obstruct something if there is no underlying crime. So if part one of the Mueller report says there was no collusion/conspiracy coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, then there is no underlying criminal activity by the president of the United States. So then how can you say, “Well, there is no crime but you obstructed justice even though you didn't commit a crime”? [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/18/19]

    The following day, Henry again falsely claimed that there is “no obstruction there” because Trump’s aides “didn’t act on it.”

    ED HENRY (FOX NEWS CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT): Well, on that incident that Brian [Kilmeade] was talking about with Don McGahn, who was White House counsel at the time, it basically talked about the president calling him up, and the report says that weekend, the president called McGahn and directed him to have the special counsel removed because of asserted conflicts of interest. McGahn did not carry out the instruction for fear of being seen as triggering another "Saturday Night Massacre" and instead prepared to resign himself. Now McGahn ultimately did not quit and the president did not follow up with McGahn on his request to have the special counsel removed. Important points there because in the end, embarrassing details for the president about how it all played out. But he didn't act on it. McGahn didn't act on it. So there was no removal of Robert Mueller. So no obstruction there. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/19/19]

    Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade falsely asserted that Mueller found Trump wasn't trying to obstruct the investigation.

    BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): One of the big controversies I guess from the White House perspective is there will be a mass of details, according to, I think, Jonathan Swan, a great reporter on Axios, of the president unloading on -- about Mueller, about [Jeff] Sessions, about Rod Rosenstein to, I guess, [former White House counsel] Don McGahn and others. I have news for you: We all heard it. We have seen it, we've interviewed him. We've read his Twitter feed. He's doing it non-stop in front of the public eye which might have made it challenging for Robert Mueller to figure out, “Is these the rantings of an innocent man or is somebody trying to manipulate me?” And Robert Mueller's answer is obviously no one is manipulating him. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/18/19]

    Narrative 4: The investigators and origin of the Mueller investigation need to be investigated

    For weeks, Fox personalities have been demanding that the origins of the investigation, Hillary Clinton, and the Obama administration be investigated. The narrative made its way to Barr’s press briefing, where Fox White House correspondent Catherine Herridge asked Barr if he will investigate the “genesis of the Russia investigation.” This right-wing narrative questions the legitimacy of the starting point of the investigation, even though the details of the investigation’s origins are public.

    Speaking to Trump attorney Jay Sekulow, Fox host Sean Hannity questioned the origin of the report, asking, “Are we really to believe the origins of this as they claim?”

    SEAN HANNITY: Attorney General Barr said the other day, and there was a media freakout over it, that yes, the Trump campaign was spied upon. Now it happened in a number of ways. It happened vis-a-vis the FISA warrant full of the Hillary-bought-and-paid-for, of all things Russian lies as the bulk of information, according to the Grassley-Graham memo. … Are we really to believe the origins of this as they claim was George Papadopoulos and a drink set-up? Do you believe that origin? Because that would not warrant what has just happened to this country. [Fox News, Hannity, 4/18/19]

    Fox Nation host Lynette Hardaway of the Diamond and Silk duo said, “The government officials that participated … need to be brought to justice,” later adding that it's "time to investigate the investigators.”

    LYNETTE HARDAWAY (DIAMOND, FOX NATION PERSONALITY): You have to understand also that the media is trying to divert attention away from what really happened.

    ROCHELLE RICHARDSON (SILK, FOX NATION PERSONALITY): Mhm.

    HARDAWAY: The government officials that participated, that masterminded, that orchestrated all of this here collusion mess -- they need to be brought to justice.

    RICHARDSON: That's right.

    HARDAWAY: It's time to investigate the investigators. They don't want the issue to get out. And that's why they are trying to divert our attention away for, and trying to push this obstruction of justice mess when there was no obstruction of justice. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/19/19]

    Narrative 5: Barr was transparent and technically didn’t need to release anything at all

    Some mainstream reporters have disagreed with premature reporting describing the report as "lightly redacted," but Fox figures have repeated that phrase, with some arguing that Barr didn’t need to release a report at all and praising his transparency.

    Fox anchor Shannon Bream defended Barr, saying he didn't have to release Mueller's report. Host Dana Perino agreed that “the attorney general didn’t have to do this at all.”

    DANA PERINO (HOST): Shannon Bream, I did want to ask you about this. It's very lightly redacted. I worked at the Justice Department for a while. I know redactions are very frustrating to people. I think we have a full screen that we can pull up that shows that they did try to provide the American people as much as they possibly could in this report. But also to your point, earlier, and we'll repeat it here, the attorney general didn't have to do this at all.

    SHANNON BREAM (FOX NEWS ANCHOR): Yeah, there's nothing in the statute of the regulations that require him to do this. I mean, the way that it works is that the attorney, or the special counsel has to report to the attorney general on his findings. It simply says that the attorney general has to report on those things to Congress. It could have been one page. It could have been the four-page letter he sent a couple of weeks ago. He wasn't obligated to release this publicly or to Congress. So for people who were worried about his transparency, which he pledged to do, I would hope that many of them would look at this today, and they may still have their concerns on the issue of collusion, but each redaction is spelled out perfectly.

    But what people were really wanting to dig into was obstruction, so on that volume, too, hundreds of pages there of material that is both flattering and unflattering to the president has been revealed. Barr promised when he was asked by Sen. [Jeanne] Shaheen on the Hill that he would not withhold information that could be damaging to the president. So it looks like he's made the effort here. We'll see if it's enough for Congress, because as we've talked about, House Judiciary has already approved subpoenas and they say they'll use them if they need to. [Fox News, The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino, 4/19/19]

    Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano claimed that Barr “erred on the side of transparency.” Fox host Martha MacCallum agreed, saying that “by most standards” the report is “lightly redacted.”

    MARTHA MACCALLUM: With regard to the report itself, we have a kind of cool graphic that The Wall Street Journal did that is an overview photograph of all of the pages, and you can see where the redactions are. It is, I think by most standards, fairly lightly redacted.

    ANDREW NAPOLITANO (FOX SENIOR JUDICIAL ANALYST): Yes, I quite -- I was wrong. I sat right here and I said half of it was going to be redacted and the more redactions, the less credibility it will have. I was very wrong. They were -- erred on the side of transparency in the redactions. [Fox News, The Story with Martha MacCallum, 4/19/19]

    Fox’s Catherine Herridge said that the report is “lightly redacted.”

    CATHERINE HERRIDGE (FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT): I've been able to peel through it. It is lightly redacted and where there are redactions there is actually a statement justifying the redactions. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 4/18/19]

    Narrative 6: Fox defended Barr against accusations that he acted unprofessionally and in a partisan manner

    Since the release of the Mueller report, Barr’s actions have been called into question due to his oversimplification of the report in a four-page summary he initially released. According to The Guardian, Barr “was responsible for the decision not to prosecute Trump, despite the preponderance of evidence gathered by Mueller.” Barr’s Thursday morning press conference, held before anyone in media had seen the report, was seen as an effort to spin the report's findings ahead of its release, raising questions about his credibility and ability to act in a nonpartisan capacity. Still, Fox figures are defending Barr, brushing off criticisms of his actions as merely stemming from Democrats’ disappointment in the results of the report.

    On Outnumbered, the panelists defended Barr. Co-host Dagen McDowell called criticisms of Barr "unbridled outrage," while co-host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery dismissed them as "clearly a Democratic talking point."

    DAGEN MCDOWELL (CO-HOST): What do you make of just the unbridled outrage toward Attorney General Bill Barr that we certainly saw in the media yesterday? Because I was talking to Robert Ray, who worked on the Whitewater investigation after Ken Starr did. And he said the argument that the attorney general varied from fair characterization of what Bob Mueller did, that notion is completely ridiculous. He knew the whole report was going to come out. And he said people are going to remember that the way this man is being disparaged, because you would be disciplined if you attacked a federal judge this way.

    LISA KENNEDY MONTGOMERY (CO-HOST): And it was so clearly a Democrat talking point that was issued, and that's why all the presidential candidates parroted it. And it's -- I don't understand -- the only thing that you can say is they were looking for something very clear and demonstrative to hang their hats on in order to impeach or at least reputationally tar the president beyond repair. And when they didn't have that one big thing, the next thing was to go after the AG. But I don't think that's going to stick, either. [Fox News, Outnumbered, 4/19/19]

    America's Newsroom co-anchor Bill Hemmer said that it's "clear" that "so many Democrats have turned their fire on Bill Barr." His guest Tom Dupree agreed, claiming that Barr is a "target" for Democrats "who were hoping that the report would have reached a different conclusion."

    BILL HEMMER: What was clear watching the coverage yesterday is that so many Democrats have turned their fire on Bill Barr. Is that fair to say now, Tom?

    TOM DUPREE (FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL): I think that is fair to say. Look, I think that there were a lot of Democrats who were hoping that the report would have reached a different conclusion, as to the underlying collusion or nonexistence of collusion with Russia. And when they didn't get that, I think they said well, what can we do now? And I think Barr presents a target. I mean, his press conference yesterday, he explained the reasons why he reached a conclusion he did around obstruction. I think it opened him up to charges from some quarters that he was acting more as the president's personal lawyer then rather as an impartial, neutral arbiter of the law. So, I think they see Barr as a more vulnerable target at this point, frankly, than the president. [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 4/19/19]

  • Fox “news” side anchor Shannon Bream hosted anti-abortion filmmakers to spread misinformation

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    Fox News @ Night host Shannon Bream brought on the producers and writers of the anti-abortion movie Gosnell -- days after the White House screened the movie -- to advance an inaccurate and sensationalized right-wing media narrative about abortion providers engaging in so-called “infanticide.”

    Fox News promotes Bream and her program as part of its “straight news” division in an effort to reassure wary advertisers to stay the course, despite the frequent xenophobia, sexism, racism, and lies of Fox’s “opinion” side, helmed by Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity. But like her colleague Martha MacCallum -- another host the network inaccurately points to as a supposed counterpoint to the “opinion” side -- Bream has long been a source of anti-abortion misinformation and cannot be used to prop up a facade of objectivity.

    During the April 15 edition of Fox News @ Night, Bream facilitated a discussion about abortions conducted later in pregnancy that was dominated by the same sensationalized lies that have defined Fox’s opinion and news coverage since the beginning of the year.

    The White House screening of Gosnell on April 12 was another example of Republicans’ and President Donald Trump’s strategy to stoke outrage over Democratic efforts to protect and secure access to abortion later in pregnancy. In recent months, right-wing media, and Fox News in particular, have gone all-in on promoting outrageous and inaccurate talking points claiming state efforts to protect abortion access were akin to legalizing abortion “up to birth” or even supporting “infanticide.”

    Bream’s segment was an unsurprising continuation of this strategy. She allowed the filmmakers to conflate the illegal actions of former abortion provider Kermit Gosnell -- who is currently serving “three life terms in jail” for “first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies born alive at his rogue clinic, then stabbed with scissors” -- with the actions of legitimate abortion providers. During the segment, co-writer Phelim McAleer alleged that "there wasn't that much difference" between what Gosnell did from what a "legal" abortion provider does. As co-writer Ann McElhinney claimed, “The reason we made this film in the first place” was because legal abortion, in her opinion, allows an abortion provider to “neglect a baby to death.”

    In reality, Gosnell’s practices are in no way representative of abortion providers or abortion procedures in the United States. As New York magazine’s Irin Carmon wrote in 2013, Gosnell’s actions were not evidence of widespread malfeasance by abortion providers, some of whom attempted to warn about his actions and the condition of his clinics beforehand; rather, it was his "willingness to break the law" that made many patients seek him out, believing “they had no alternative.”

    During the segment, Bream pointed to an NBC News article by Robin Marty about the film to allow the filmmakers to explain away “criticisms.” Marty’s article, however, accurately lays out the issues with the film, noting, among other things, that the movie makes an absurd comparison between Gosnell and assassinated legal abortion provider Dr. George Tiller:

    To compare an experienced doctor who legally performed third trimester abortions, usually for women victimized by sexual assault or who learned that their child had fatal fetal anomalies, to a man who stabbed live babies in the neck to sever their spinal chords isn’t just disingenuous, it’s disrespectful (and potentially slanderous).

    Bream allowed her guests to equate Gosnell’s actions with those of legitimate abortion providers -- and the segment played into right-wing and anti-abortion media's manufactured villainization of abortion providers and those who have abortions.