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  • Trump to keynote anti-abortion group's gala after it promoted his DC hotel

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In anticipation of its annual gala, the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) has been promoting official room blocks for the event at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., and running a contest in which the prize includes a free stay at the property during the gala. On May 14, during the White House press briefing, deputy press secretary Raj Shah then announced that President Donald Trump would be delivering the keynote address at the gala.

    Since Trump’s election, many experts have warned about the potential for the president to benefit from expenditures made at Trump Organization properties. As part of an ongoing analysis of how political groups leverage use of the Trump hotel in D.C. to gain influence with the administration, The Washington Post noted that since Trump’s election, the property has “turned into a Republican power center where foreign governments, political groups, religious organizations and business interests have held dozens of events.” In March, CNN reported that in February alone, Federal Election Commission documents indicated that “the RNC spent more than $271,000 on venue rental and catering at Trump properties in Florida and Washington, DC," noting that "more than half of that" was spent at the Trump International Hotel. Politico similarly explained, “Because Trump has maintained his financial interest in his vast business while president — and, unlike previous presidents, filed for reelection soon after taking office — the relationship between pro-Trump political groups and the Trump businesses has no precedent.”

    SBA List is one group cashing in on its ties to President Trump. On May 22, the group will host its annual “Campaign for Life” gala, with Trump as the keynote speaker. Before Trump’s appearance was announced, SBA List promoted on its website a discounted room rate ($399 per night) at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. for those attending the gala. However, after the White House announced Trump as the speaker, SBA List’s website stopped listing the hotel among its accommodation options. It’s unclear exactly when the change was made, but according a Google cached version of the webpage, SBA List took down the page listing the hotel and discounted rate as early as the night before the announcement.

    In addition, before and after the announcement of Trump as keynote speaker, SBA List promoted a contest in which its members could win a trip to the gala and a stay at the Trump International Hotel.

    SBA List enjoys close ties to the president and his administration. Last year, Vice President Mike Pence delivered the gala’s keynote address, while this year “longtime friend” of the organization Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, will be awarded “SBA List’s 2018 Distinguished Leader Award.” Previously, SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser was appointed to lead Trump’s “Pro-Life Coalition.”

  • A timeline of scandals and ethical shortfalls at Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department

    Journalists have uncovered a long list of the interior secretary’s scandals and controversies

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is being investigated for multiple scandals involving potential Hatch Act violations, excessive travel expenditures, and apparent coziness with industries he’s entrusted to regulate. Under his leadership, the Department of Interior (DOI) has been credibly accused of doing the bidding of dirty energy lobbyists, misappropriating government resources, discriminating against Native American employees, and censoring scientific reports. Even in an administration that may be the most unethical in modern history, Zinke’s corruption and managerial ineptness stand out. 

    Journalists have been dogged in documenting questionable ethical behavior at DOI during Zinke’s 14 months at the head of the department. The following is an overview of original reporting on scandals and controversies at Zinke’s DOI:

    July 26, 2017, Anchorage Daily News: Zinke threatened to pull support for projects in Alaska after Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted “no” on Obamacare repeal. On July 26, Zinke called both of Alaska's senators, Lisa Murkowski (R) and Dan Sullivan (R), to inform them that Murkowski’s vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act jeopardized administration support for projects in Alaska, including expanding oil drilling. Sullivan called Zinke’s message “troubling,” and Murkowski told E&E News, "It was a difficult call." The DOI's inspector general opened an investigation into the incident, then dropped it in late August. The Government Accountability Office is still looking into the matter, and it's drafting a legal opinion on whether Zinke threatened the senators, CNN reported this April.

    September 28, 2017, Politico/Wash. Post: Zinke gave a speech to a hockey team owned by a campaign donor, then chartered a $12,000 flight home. Zinke traveled to Las Vegas on June 26 to give a motivational speech to a hockey team at the behest of team owner Bill Foley. After the speech, Zinke flew on a charter flight that cost taxpayers over $12,000 to an airport near his Montana home, aboard a plane owned by oil and gas executives. An inspector general report released on April 16, 2018, found that Zinke and his aides failed to relay important details about the trip to ethics officers, including Foley’s role as one of Zinke’s largest campaign contributors and the fact that the speech was unrelated to Zinke's work as interior secretary. According to Politico, Foley donated $7,800 to Zinke’s 2014 congressional campaign, while employees and political action committees associated with his financial services company donated another $166,860. The inspector general also found that the $12,000 charter flight "could have been avoided.” The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating whether Zinke’s speech violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits employees of the executive branch from engaging in partisan politics.

    October 5, 2017, Politico: Zinke’s participation in a Republican fundraiser in the Virgin Islands possibly violated the Hatch Act. During what DOI labeled an official trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands, Zinke attended a fundraiser for the Virgin Islands Republican Party on April 1, 2017. Donors paid up to $5,000 per couple for a picture with him. After concerns were raised, the Virgin Islands Republican Party reimbursed taxpayers for the trip. But Zinke’s prominence at the political fundraiser still may have violated the Hatch Act according to complaint filed by the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit, government watchdog organization.

    November 20, 2017, Politico: Zinke’s wife used Interior staff and resources to coordinate her travel with her husband’s. Lola Zinke relied on DOI staff to ensure her travel arrangements allowed her to accompany the interior secretary during some of his official events and trips, including ones to California, Alaska, Norway, and Greenland. "While the department says Lola Zinke paid her own way, the records show Interior used staff time to coordinate some of her activities while traveling with her husband," Politico reported. One ethics expert called that "an ethically gray area." Some ethics watchdogs are also concerned that Lola Zinke is using her access to high-level events to further her own political career; she is campaign chair for a Republican Senate candidate and has worked on the Trump campaign and transition teams. The DOI's inspector general tried to investigate whether these actions and other travel arrangements by Ryan Zinke constituted an abuse or misuse of government resources, but the investigation was stymied “by absent or incomplete documentation for several pertinent trips and a review process that failed to include proper documentation and accountability,” according to a memo released on November 15.

    December 7, 2017, Politico: Zinke spent $14,000 on helicopter rides so he could attend a swearing-in and ride horses with Vice President Mike Pence. Zinke put taxpayers on the hook for a pair of helicopter trips that blurred the line between his professional and personal obligations. On June 21, he attended the swearing-in of his congressional replacement, Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT), then took an $8,000 helicopter ride to an emergency management exercise in West Virginia. In July, Zinke took a $6,250 round-trip helicopter flight from Washington, D.C., to Yorktown, VA, to guarantee he was back in time to go horseback riding with Pence and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO). The inspector general’s office declined to confirm an investigation into these specific helicopter rides, but spokesperson Nancy DiPaolo told CNN on December 8, "We are taking a comprehensive look at the secretary's travel since he took office.”

    December 29, 2017, Newsweek: Zinke spent almost $40,000 in wildfire preparedness funds for a helicopter tour of Nevada. Days after firefighters managed to largely contain the Whittier Fire in California, Zinke used nearly $40,000 from wildfire preparedness funds to pay for a helicopter tour of Nevada on July 30 that did not include any visits to fire zones. DOI initially told Newsweek the tour was “in full compliance of all federal regulations.” But after Newsweek provided Interior officials with documentation showing the tour was paid for with funds “earmarked for such uses as worker pay and to purchase equipment,” DOI admitted the helicopter tour “was charged to the account in error” and said it would pay for the ride from “a more appropriate account.”

    January 22, 2018, HuffPost: Zinke failed to disclose his shares in a firearms company and signed orders that could have benefitted the firearms industry. As nominee for interior secretary, Zinke neglected to inform the Office of Government Ethics that he retained 1,000 shares in PROOF Research, a rifle and weapons-parts manufacturer founded in Zinke’s hometown. Cabinet appointees are required to disclose all assets worth $1,000 or more. Although there is some dispute about the value of Zinke’s shares, HuffPost notes that Zinke’s long relationship with the company may have given it special access at Interior. Zinke provided consulting services to PROOF in 2011-12. As interior secretary, he met with PROOF CEO Larry Murphy and a company lobbyist about a month after he was confirmed. Zinke also enacted policy changes -- such as rescinding the ban on lead ammunition and expanding hunting access at wildlife refuges -- that might have benefitted the firearms industry.

    February 1, 2018, Politico: Interior appeared to cave to pressure from MGM to stonewall a casino proposal backed by two Native American tribes. The Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes received indications from Interior officials last May that the department would clear the way for the tribes to build a casino in Connecticut, about 12 miles from MGM Resorts International’s nearly $1 billion casino complex in Massachusetts. But MGM launched an aggressive lobbying campaign to convince Interior’s political appointees to change course, including outreach to Zinke via multiple meetings and phone calls with two Nevada Republican lawmakers closely allied with MGM. MGM lobbyists were invited by Zinke for a social visit two weeks before the agency was to decide on the tribes’ request. MGM lobbyists also met with Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, whose former firm also lobbies for MGM. Bernhardt signed an ethics agreement barring him from “participating in matters involving his former employer,” according to a recent ThinkProgress story. On September 15, DOI informed the tribes that it would delay its decision, even though federal law requires it to decide yes or no within 45 days. Records obtained by Politico show that “career staffers were circulating what they labeled 'approval' letters just 48 hours before their political bosses reversed course and refused to either OK or reject the tribes’ application.” The DOI's inspector general has opened an investigation into the incident.

    March 9, 2018, AP: Interior planned to spend nearly $139,000 to upgrade Zinke’s office doors. Interior officials approved a contract to renovate “three sets of double doors in the secretary’s office, including two doors that open onto a corner balcony with a spectacular view of the Washington Monument and the National Mall,” The Associated Press reported. Though Zinke scoffed at questions about the excessive price of the doors renovation during a Senate hearing on March 13, two days later he told the House Committee on Natural Resources that he negotiated the price down to $75,000. Despite this, House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) sent Zinke a letter on March 22 asking for a briefing “on the need to replace the doors and provide details on the acquisition process, bidding and receipts,” per Reuters.

    March 11, 2018, USA Today: Zinke’s trip to Pennsylvania to announce $56 million in grants during a close campaign may have violated the Hatch Act. Toward the end of a tight campaign for Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone, Zinke went to nearby East Bethlehem to announce $56 million in grants to clean up abandoned mining sites in the area. The entire event, “had the feel of a hastily arranged news conference/town hall meeting/political opportunity,” according to the local Observer-Reporter. While Saccone was among the politicians present, his challenger did not attend. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating whether Zinke’s trip was designed to benefit Saccone politically.

    March 15, 2018, AP: Zinke stacks wildlife-trade advisory board with trophy hunters. Zinke appointed trophy hunters, including some with direct ties to the Trump family, to an advisory board tasked with rewriting federal rules to allow the importation of body parts from slain African elephants, lions, and rhinos. The Associated Press reported, “A coalition of more than 20 environmental and animal welfare groups objected that the one-sided makeup of the council could violate the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires government boards to be balanced in terms of points of view and not improperly influenced by special interests.” Most board members belong to hunting clubs or the National Rifle Association, and one member co-owns a private hunting reserve with Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump. The Trump administration officially lifted a ban on importing elephant parts from Zimbabwe and Zambia on March 1. 

    March 21, 2018, Politico: Zinke had a security detail during his two-week vacation in Greece and Turkey. Ryan and Lola Zinke’s two-week vacation in Greece and Turkey to celebrate their 25-year wedding anniversary also included a security detail, according to records obtained by Politico. Besides these bare facts, the public still does not know important details about this arrangement including “exactly how many security personnel accompanied the couple, who paid for them, how much they cost or whether they traveled with Zinke and his wife, Lola, for the entire trip,” Politico reported.

    March 27, 2018, Politico: Florida’s offshore drilling exemption may have been intended to benefit Gov. Rick Scott’s Senate campaign. On January 4, 2018, Zinke announced a controversial proposal to allow offshore drilling in many new coastal areas, including off the coasts of Florida. Five days later, Zinke exempted Florida from the expanded drilling after a supposedly spur-of-the-moment encounter in the Tallahassee airport with Florida Gov. Rick Scott. But records reviewed by Politico in March “showed that top officials from the offices of both Scott and the Interior secretary were in regular contact for several days leading up to the sudden announcement, contradicting the supposed spontaneous event that portrayed Scott as protecting Florida's environment.” According to The Washington Post, “The whole episode seems to have been designed to demonstrate Mr. Scott’s power and influence, by having him appear to summon the interior secretary to his state and bring him to heel in an afternoon.” Scott announced his Senate candidacy on April 9, 2018. The next day, CNN reported the U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating whether Zinke’s Florida announcement violated the Hatch Act.

    March 28, 2018, TPM: Zinke’s mass reassignment of career Interior employees may have violated federal anti-discrimination laws. Last July, Zinke initiated the reassignment of 35 Senior Executive Service members at DOI, of which 27 were ultimately transferred. Many were told to “either accept a new placement on the other side of the country or in a role unrelated to their background, or leave the agency,” according to Talking Points Memo. The DOI’s inspector general concluded the reassignments occurred “without a written plan or clear criteria, and without consulting with the departmental leadership,” which created the perception that staff were reassigned for “political or punitive reasons.” Because a third of those reassigned are Native American, DOI may have violated federal anti-discrimination laws, as well as its own Indian Preference rules, as TPM later reported. Zinke has reportedly told senior staff that diversity is not important. After a congressional hearing in March, he was also accused of racial insensitivity for responding “Oh, konnichiwa” to Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) after she shared the experience of two of her grandfathers who were held in internment camps during World War II.

    April 6, 2018, Reveal: National Park Service deletes climate change from months-delayed report on sea-level rise. “National Park Service officials have deleted every mention of humans’ role in causing climate change in drafts of a long-awaited report on sea level rise and storm surge,” according to an investigation conducted by The Center for Investigative Reporting and published on its Reveal website. The Department of Interior oversees the National Parks Service. Cat Hawkins, the head of the National Park Service’s climate change response program, made the deletions, in possible violation of Interior rules prohibiting political appointees from influencing scientific and scholarly activities. The report was also delayed for 10 months, which hindered park managers’ ability to access the latest research about how to mitigate the effects of extreme weather and sea-level rise on their parks. Zinke told the House Committee on Natural Resources in March, “I didn’t change a paragraph — a comma — in any document and I never would.” But Senate and House Democrats have called for DOI's inspector general to investigate the matter in light of Reveal’s reporting.

    April 16, 2018, HuffPost: Oil industry rep uses perch on DOI advisory group to push “wish list” of regulatory rollbacks. Under Zinke, advisory groups at DOI have been packed with industry representatives who want looser regulations. Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance (WEA), a lobbying group that represents 300 oil and gas companies chairs one such group, which is tasked with recommending how Zinke should manage federal lands for fossil fuel development. The group's recommendations, which included regulatory rollbacks that had been on WEA's wish list for years, was initially drafted by Tripp Parks, WEA’s head of government affairs. According to HuffPost, “A document obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that Parks created the draft recommendations one day before Sgamma circulated them to committee members overseeing the working group." As the Sierra Club’s legal director told HuffPost, “It’s a very clear instance of regulatory capture.”

  • A gun that looks like a cellphone isn't the only tone deaf thing on display at the NRA annual meeting

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS & TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The National Rifle Association is holding its annual meeting in Dallas, TX, this year. The event kicked off on May 3 with an evening banquet and is now in full swing with a three-day exhibition at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. In addition to exhibiting guns, ammunition, gun accessories, tactical gear, and other merchandise, the event features speeches, seminars, and workshops.

    The preeminent event at the annual meeting will be the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum, which will begin at noon CST on May 4. (The Institute for Legislative Action, or ILA, is the NRA’s lobbying wing.) NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, chief lobbyist Chris Cox, and national spokesperson Dana Loesch are scheduled to speak at the forum. Elected officials speaking at the event include President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, and several conservative media figures will round out the lineup. The following day will feature the event’s official “Annual Meeting of Members,” where the election results for the NRA's board of directors will be announced and other NRA business will be conducted.

    There are many notable facts about the event, but none highlight the disconnect between the NRA and public sentiment on firearms regulation and the role of guns in society more than a pistol featured in the exhibition hall that can be disguised to look like a cell phone:



    The pistol is manufactured by Ideal Conceal, whose website says, “Smartphones are EVERYWHERE, so your new pistol will easily blend in with today’s environment.” A demonstration video shows that the weapon can be pulled from a pocket, unfolded, and fired in just seconds.





    The display comes less than two months after Stephon Clark was shot and killed by police in Sacramento, CA, after the cops mistook the cellphone he was holding for a gun. As Jaclyn Corin, a survivor of the mass Parkland, FL, shooting, noted on Twitter, the existence of the firearm could be used as a pretext to justify police shootings of unarmed people:

    Here are some other highlights of the NRA’s annual meeting:

    Speeches, seminars, and other events

    • Trump’s will give a speech at the meeting for the fourth year in a row. The Kremlin reportedly sought to use the 2016 annual meeting as a venue to attempt to make “first contact” with Trump’s presidential campaign.

    • The meeting will have a “Women’s Leadership Forum” and the keynote speaker will be white nationalist favorite Tucker Carlson, a Fox News host. This isn’t the first time a Fox host has keynoted the event; Sean Hannity was the featured speaker in 2013.

    • The NRA announced that pro-Trump media figures Diamond and Silk will speak at the event’s NRA-ILA Leadership Forum. The announcement came just days after the duo appeared before Congress and made false statements under oath.

    • NRA board member Ted Nugent will be attending the meeting. Nugent has made several controversial statements this year including saying the Parkland shooting survivors are liars who “have no soul.” Nugent has been a regular figure at NRA annual meetings, where he’s talked about shooting former Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and called then-President Barack Obama “Osama Obama” and offered to “pilot” a boat to send him to Kenya.   

    • Discredited gun researcher John Lott will give a seminar on “false and misleading claims that will be made to advance gun control this year” ranging from “claims about Australia’s and the UK’s gun laws to … the true costs of expanded background checks to mass public shootings and gun-free zones.” His group, the Crime Prevention Research Center, will also have a booth.  

    • During the meeting’s “Youth Day,” the NRA will introduce children to firearms by using “nerf guns.” The NRA was previously criticized for pushing an ineffective program to teach kids gun safety and for rewriting children’s fairy tales to include pro-gun narratives.

    • The NRA has stated that no guns will be allowed in the arena during appearances by Trump and Pence at the behest of the Secret Service, undermining the NRA’s frequent claims that so-called “gun-free zones” imperil people’s lives, enable mass shootings, and draw terrorists.

    The exhibition hall

    • Smith & Wesson, the maker of the assault weapon used in the Parkland, FL, school shooting, will exhibit several products in the “Featured Product Center & Demo Area.” Smith & Wesson has donated more than $1 million to the NRA.

    • Aagil Arms, a sister company of TuffZone and the “official manufacurer (sic) of the Ted Nugent Signature Series upper assemblies,” will have a booth on the exhibit floor that will feature a line called “Ted Nugent’s American Spearchucker Series AR15-style Upper kits,” which reference an obscure racial slur.

    • Trump-supporting Liberty University, conservative Hillsdale College, and right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation -- entities with no direct connection to the gun industry  -- will all have booths at the meeting.

    • U.S. Border Patrol will also have a booth at the meeting, even though members of NRA leadership routinely demean and attack immigrants.  

    • There will likely be a lot of men. Eighty-five percent of attendees last year were men, according to information posted on the NRA annual meeting website for potential exhibitors.

    • According to The Texas Tribune, the NRA is “getting a free ride” for this event and will not pay the usual $410,000 rent for the space.

  • The trans military ban is yet another example of the White House's cozy relationships with anti-LGBTQ hate groups

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Dayanita Ramesh / Media Matters

    There’s new reporting about anti-LGBTQ hate group leader Tony Perkins’ role in crafting the latest White House policy banning transgender troops from serving in the military -- and that’s only the most recent reminder that we should be very, very worried about the Trump administration’s coziness with anti-LGBTQ hate groups and extremists.

    Hours after the White House released an updated policy banning transgender service members from serving in the military, Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern reported that “behind the scenes, a ‘panel of experts’” crafted a report justifying the ban. The so-called experts included Perkins, president of anti-LGBTQ hate group the Family Research Council (FRC), and the virulently anti-trans Ryan Anderson from the Heritage Foundation, who wrote an entire book dedicated to discrediting the transgender experience. Stern also reported that Vice President Mike Pence, who has a long history of anti-LGBTQ animosity and is a longtime friend of Perkins’, “played a leading role in the creation of this report.” This is yet another disturbing example of anti-LGBTQ extremists’ influence on White House policy and close relationships with the administration.

    Just one day before Trump announced the new policy, Tyson Langhofer, director of the Center for Academic Freedom at the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), spoke at an official youth outreach event at the White House. During the event, Justice Department Office of Public Affairs Director Sarah Isgur Flores praised ADF as a “great organization” and thanked Langhofer for its work.

    Here are just some of the ways ADF and other anti-LGBTQ hate groups and extremists are directly influencing White House policy beyond the newly released ban:

    • After consulting with ADF, Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions released religious exemptions guidance making it easier for individuals and businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

    • The Justice Department issued an unusual brief on behalf of ADF’s client in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission Supreme Court court case.

    • ADF is reportedly in “negotiations” with the Trump administration to undo protections for incarcerated transgender people.

    • Perkins has bragged about how many times he has visited the White House.

    • Trump is nominating attorneys with ties to ADF for federal judgeships.

    • Former ADF legal counsel Matt Bowman works in the Health and Human Services Department (HHS), which has been employing more right-wing religious activists and has started a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division that makes it easier for health care providers to deny services to LGBTQ people, among others.

    • Roger Severino, who wrote an anti-trans report with Ryan Anderson at the Heritage Foundation, runs the HHS Office of Civil Rights.

    • Former Family Research Council Chief of Staff Shannon Royce has emerged “as a pivotal player” at HHS as director of its Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

    • Former ADF Communications Director Kerri Kupec is a Department of Justice spokesperson.

    • ADF client Sara Hellwege spoke at the HHS announcement of its anti-LGBTQ rule granting religious exemptions for health care providers to deny services to LGBTQ people.

    • At least four people who have worked for the Family Research Council were on Trump’s transition team.

    These groups spent years under the Obama administration pushing anti-LGBTQ policies through municipalities and states and fighting equality in court while also strategizing over how to undo the progress that has happened over the past decade at the national level. Now the current administration is welcoming them to the table and fulfilling their wish lists. Trump made a clear play for these groups and their supporters' votes when he chose Pence as his running mate, and so-called “values voters” like Perkins have repeatedly abandoned their morals to defend Trump -- and reaped the rewards in policy.

    We are witnessing a massive effort to roll back LGBTQ equality at all levels of government and on nearly every issue affecting the lives and rights of community members, and these groups are at the forefront of it. And there are repercussions outside of the policy realm: Their attacks are creating a more hostile, anti-LGBTQ environment in society at large. For the first time in four years, acceptance of LGBTQ people has decreased, and violence against the community is surging without many Americans even being aware of it.

    The trans military ban was just the latest win for anti-LGBTQ hate groups. There will certainly be more. If you haven’t been alarmed by this yet, it’s time to be now.

  • Evening news shows are ignoring ethnic cleansing of one of the world's most persecuted minorities

    The crisis has been mentioned merely three times in the past seven weeks

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Myanmar government’s military forces are conducting ethnic cleansing of the country’s Rohingya Muslim population -- an ethnic and religious minority in Myanmar -- through systematic violence and expulsion. Facing murder, rape, and now famine, hundreds of thousands have fled the country in recent months. Prime-time cable news and broadcast evening newscasts, however, have been reluctant to cover what the U.N. is calling a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

    National newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post as well as Time magazine and NPR have reported extensively on the state-sponsored “clearance operations” with in-depth analyses and multimedia features devoted to the state-sponsored violence, but broadcast evening newscasts and prime-time cable news shows have been nearly silent on the issue. In a period of nearly two months following a government crackdown and subsequent mass flight of Rohingya from Myanmar into Bangladesh, evening news referenced the crisis a mere three times: in two reports by Fox News and one from ABC’s World News Tonight.

    Of the two reports by Fox News, one, which appeared on the September 21 edition of The Story with Martha MacCallum, exploited the ethnic cleansing to scandalize Hillary Clinton’s past support for Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi -- Myanmar’s de facto civilian leader who has drawn criticism for her failure to denounce the recent violence -- and to praise the response from President Donald Trump’s administration. The other Fox News report, which appeared on the October 10 edition of Special Report, was a 20-second segment in which host Bret Baier garbled the word “Rohingya” and focused on Pope Francis’ response to the violence.

    CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and evening prime-time programming on MSNBC and CNN completely ignored the humanitarian disaster taking place in Myanmar. While CNN International devoted almost 50 segments to the expulsion of Rohingya, none of these reports were re-aired during CNN’s evening programming. Moreover, most reports of Rohingya erasure on CNN International occurred on CNN Newsroom, a program that airs between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m.

    While the Trump administration has called for the Myanmar military to cease its campaign against the Rohingya, U.S. officials have stopped short of encouraging a formal resolution condemning the violence or imposing targeted sanctions against the military’s leaders. Additionally, the United States still funds military cooperation with Myanmar. And the Trump administration has placed a ban on refugees from around the world and plans to cap refugee admissions over the next year at 45,000 -- the lowest limit ever. Last year, refugees to the United States from Myanmar, including Rohingya, outpaced arrivals from Syria, a nation that has been embroiled in a civil war for over six years that has displaced millions

    Activists say they are being censored, and local journalists say they are putting their lives on the line in order to expose Myanmar’s crimes against humanity. Cable and broadcast news networks have an opportunity and responsibility to lift up voices of the Rohingya, whose plight is only becoming more desperate amid the news cycle’s continued silence.

                           Dayanita Ramesh and Miles Le / Media Matters

    Methdology:

    Media Matters used Nexis to search transcripts from ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News and weekday programming between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from August 24 to October 16, 2017, for mentions of one or more of the following terms: Rohingya, Burma, Myanmar, or Bangladesh. Reports of flooding across South Asia were not included.

  • Amidst calamitous Harvey flooding, Pence speaks to a racist, a hurricane conspiracy theorist, and other right-wing radio hosts

    Blog ››› ››› SANAM MALIK & MADELINE PELTZ

    In the ongoing efforts to mitigate the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Vice President Mike Pence appeared on several right-wing radio programs in Texas to give updates on the recovery and rescue efforts. According to the transcripts posted on the White House website, the vice president appeared to limit his radio outreach mostly to conservative shows, including Rush Limbaugh and Michael Berry, who is notorious for mocking black victims of gun violence in Chicago and other racist programming.

    Limbaugh has a history of using hurricanes to attack Democrats and further his fringe conspiracy theories. During Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, Limbaugh stated that “it's in the interest of the left to have destructive hurricanes because then they can blame it on climate change” and that the National Hurricane Center is “playing games” to convince people of climate change. Limbaugh also told his listeners that “there is politics in hurricanes” because “there are votes.”

    During Tropical Storm Isaac, Limbaugh questioned the National Hurricane Center’s forecasting, pointing out “the degree of coincidence” that the storm was headed for Tampa, the location of the National Republican Convention. Limbaugh implied, according to The Atlantic, that “the weather service was collaborating with the liberal media to invent narratives that are unpleasant for the GOP.”

    In 2016, Limbaugh attacked Hurricane Katrina victims as “liberals” on welfare who lacked “self-reliance.” He also compared the Katrina disaster to “a reality show.” In 2008 following significant flooding in the Midwest, Limbaugh minimized the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina relative to the floods and accused Katrina victims of “waving guns at helicopters,” “shooting cops,” and “raping people on the street.”

    As evidenced by the White House's posted list of transcripts of the vice president’s radio appearances, Pence appeared almost exclusively on conservative radio shows, including KTRH during a joint interview with Michael Berry and Shara Fryer. Berry has been known for making sexist, homophobic, anti-Muslim, and anti-African-American comments on his radio show.

    Berry has posted several racist videos to his show's YouTube channel that criticize African-Americans and has referred to African-Americans as “jungle animals,” “pack animals,” and used blackface comedian “Shirley Q. Liquor” on his show to tell jokes based on racial and religious stereotypes. Media Matters President Angelo Carusone pointed out to TheWrap that “the idea that the vice president would dignify that kind of a program with his office should be alarming.” Carusone said the fact that the White House has sent out transcripts of Pence’s interview with Berry shows that “they’re proud” of his appearance and “they’re not even hiding it.” When asked to explain the vice president’s choice, a White House official told TheWrap that Pence’s team was unaware Berry would be conducting the interview.

    Pence also granted an interview to Trey Ware, host of The Trey Ware Morning Show on KTSA. As reported by Right Wing Watch, Ware said America is suffering through riots, terrorist attacks, and same-sex marriages because it has left God. Pence also spoke to Chris Salcedo on The Chris Salcedo Show on KSEV. Salcedo is a conservative radio host in Houston who believes liberalism makes America "less successful" and that President Obama is “sympathetic to radical Islam.” And in a tweet about North Korea directed at far-right troll Jack Posobiec who has appeared on Salcedo's show, Salcedo claimed “This is the danger of uninformed libs. They’d sacrifice the lives of Americans just to prop up brutal dictators who starve their own people.”

  • With Bannon gone, the far-right media trolls are ready to break up with the White House

    The anti-establishment trolls have lost their biggest White House ally and are starting to go after Pence. Prepare for the right-wing media food fight.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Stephen Bannon is no longer the White House chief strategist. His departure, in addition to furthering the narrative of a Trump administration in constant chaos, is likely to become a source of acrimony between right-wing anti-establishment outlets and online trolls and those who remain in the Trump administration.

    Bannon’s departure has prompted a shift in amongst pro-Trump outlets and far-right trolls -- like The Gateway Pundit and Mike Cernovich -- who are now reporting that the White House is being taken over by a “deep state” coup led by Vice President Mike Pence. Cernovich is a right-wing opportunistic troll who rode to prominence by supporting President Donald Trump but has recently announced “a big pivot” away from the president. In response to the news about Bannon getting fired, Cernovich took to Periscope to claim that “there’s a full-on coup” organized by Pence but that Trump doesn’t deserve any sympathy because he’s “a 71-year old man” who chose to listen to his daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner instead of Bannon. Pro-Trump troll Jack Posobiec (who has also recently tried to move away from the “alt-right” movement) pushed the coup narrative as well, suggesting that the “RNC is counting impeachment votes from Congress against Trump,” adding, “They want rid of him.” Milo Yiannopoulos, a right-wing troll who was formerly employed by Breitbart.com, celebrated Bannon’s departure by launching Bannon 2020 merchandise on his online store and saying he looks forward to “having Steve back in the trenches again.” Yiannopoulos also said he wants to see “Bannon the Barbarian crush his enemies.”

    Bannon’s departure has other possible impacts for the far-right media universe. According to reports, Bannon might be returning to Breitbart, the Mercer-funded outlet he once claimed was “platform for the ‘alt-right,’” a term its current editors (much like former proud supporters of the movement) are trying to move away from. With Bannon in the White House, Breitbart behaved like any other pro-Trump outlet, showing little editorial independence and supporting Trump’s agenda (including his war on the press). But this support lasted as long as Trump’s agenda aligned with Bannon’s: Breitbart did not shy away from attacking Kushner, who is a White House senior adviser, to defend Bannon. With Bannon out, it seems like Breitbart will hold no punches in a war against a White House it now perceives as controlled by globalists.

    The right-wing media landscape is about to shift once more, putting the Bannon-loyalists, nationalist ideologues, and opportunistic trolls in a war against an establishment Republican Party faction they think is being led by Pence and, likely, Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of Fox News and owner of the Wall Street Journal. It remains to be seen whether Trump and his White House will be caught in the middle.

  • Administration officials proved their loyalty by pushing lies and propaganda about voting

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Officials in President Donald Trump’s administration and those who worked for his presidential campaign took to broadcast and cable news over the past year to spread lies and propaganda about voting, often defending Trump’s debunked claims about massive noncitizen voting and widespread voter fraud.

    Before and after the election, Trump repeatedly hyped debunked theories that widespread voter fraud and massive noncitizen voting “rigged” the election against him and cost him the popular vote. Given the president’s affection for his staunchest cable news defenders, his “TV addiction,” and his desire for loyalty, it makes sense that those seeking to curry favor with Trump took to TV to hype lies about voting. According to a Media Matters analysis of broadcast morning and nightly news as well as prime-time cable news, at least 11 different Trump loyalists made television appearances, often on Fox News, in which they misinformed viewers about voter fraud nearly 120 times:

    • Ben Carson, who now serves as Trump’s secretary for housing and urban development, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news twice from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those two appearances, Carson made two statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made one statement falsely alleging that voter ID laws do not suppress minority turnout in elections.

    • Boris Epshteyn, who previously served as one of Trump’s press officers, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news three times from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those three appearances, Epshteyn made four statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made two statements falsely alleging that there is massive noncitizen voting. Additionally, Epshteyn made two statements falsely claiming that voter ID laws prevent voter fraud and one statement falsely claiming that voter ID laws do not suppress minority turnout in elections.

    • Corey Lewandowski, who previously served as Trump’s campaign manager, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news four times from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those four appearances, Lewandowski made 10 statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made four statements baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud.

    • J. Christian Adams, who now serves on Trump’s election integrity commission, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news twice from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those two appearances, Adams made six statements falsely alleging that there is massive noncitizen voting. He also made two statements baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud.

    • Jason Miller, who previously served as a senior communications adviser on Trump’s campaign, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news three times from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those three appearances, Miller made seven statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made one statement falsely alleging that there is massive noncitizen voting and two statements baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud.

    • Jeff Sessions, who now serves as Trump’s attorney general, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news twice from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those two appearances, Sessions made three statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made two statements falsely alleging that there is massive noncitizen voting and one statement falsely claiming that voter ID laws prevent voter fraud.

    • Kellyanne Conway, who now serves as Trump’s senior counselor, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news 11 times from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those 11 appearances, Conway made 13 statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. She also made four statements falsely alleging that there is massive noncitizen voting and two statements baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud.

    • Kris Kobach, who now serves as vice chair of Trump’s election integrity commission, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news four times from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those four appearances, Kobach made 12 statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made seven statements falsely alleging that there is massive noncitizen voting and one statement baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud. Additionally, Kobach made one statement falsely claiming that voter ID laws prevent voter fraud and four statements falsely claiming that voter ID laws do not suppress minority turnout in elections.

    • Michael Cohen, who served as a surrogate during the presidential campaign, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news once from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. During his appearance, Cohen made six statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made three statements baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud.

    • Mike Pence, who now serves as Trump’s vice president, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news four times from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those four appearances, Pence made 12 statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud (but also one statement correctly stating that widespread voter fraud does not exist). He also made two statements baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud.

    • Mike Pompeo, who now serves as Trump’s CIA director, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news once from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. During his appearance, Pompeo made one statement falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made one statement falsely claiming that voter ID laws prevent voter fraud.

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts for evening cable news programs and broadcast morning news and evening newscasts from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017. We included the following programs in the data: ABC’s Good Morning America and World News Tonight, CBS’ CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News, NBC’s Today and NBC Nightly News, CNN’s The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Tonight, Fox News’ The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren*, On the Record with Brit Hume*, Tucker Carlson Tonight*, First 100 Days*, The Story*, The O’Reilly Factor*, The Kelly File*, and Hannity, and MSNBC’s Meet the Press Daily, For the Record with Greta*, Hardball with Chris Matthews, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell. Due to the substantial reorganization of Fox News’ programming during the study period, programs that were either added or removed from the network during the study period are marked with an asterisk. During the study period, Greta Van Susteren moved to MSNBC and began hosting a program there; unlike with the network’s previous 6 p.m. programming, the transcripts for this program were included in the Nexis database, and thus were included.

    For this study, Media Matters included only those segments where the stated topic of conversation was voting rights or issues related to voting, or where “substantial discussion” of these topics occurred. We defined “substantial discussion” as that where two or more speakers had at least one direct exchange on the topic. Host monologues were also included only when the speaker made two independent mentions of voting or voting rights within the same segment. We did not include statements made in news or video clips in edited news packages except those made by a network correspondent. If news packages aired more than once, Media Matters coded only the first unique appearance. Similarly, if a live event -- such as a town hall or public forum -- was held during regularly scheduled programming, these segments were also excluded because the participants were not network or media guests.

    The resulting 561 segments were then coded for the mention of one or more of four general topics of conversation: logistical barriers to voting on the state level, the election, legal issues, and gerrymandering. Segments were also coded for the number of accurate or inaccurate statements each speaker made about six topics: widespread voter fraud, massive noncitizen voting, voter ID laws, voter registration inaccuracies, early voting, and gerrymandering. The statements coded for were:

    • There is widespread voter fraud (inaccurate).

    • Widespread voter fraud does not exist (accurate).

    • There is massive noncitizen voting (inaccurate).

    • Massive noncitizen voting does not exist (accurate).

    • Voter ID laws are useful to fight voter fraud (inaccurate).

    • Voter ID laws would do little combat voter fraud (accurate).

    • Voter ID laws do not affect voter turnout (inaccurate).

    • Voter ID laws disenfranchise voters, especially minority voters (accurate).

    • Voter registration inaccuracies lead to voter fraud (inaccurate).

    • Voter registration inaccuracies are different from voter fraud (accurate).

    • Early voting leaves elections more susceptible to voter fraud (inaccurate).

    • Early voting does not leave elections more susceptible to voter fraud (accurate).

    • Gerrymandering has not contributed to an outsized Republican majority on a federal and state level (inaccurate).

    • Gerrymandering has contributed to an outsized Republican majority on a federal and state level (accurate).

  • Tucker Carlson fails to ask Pence about his opposition to transgender military service

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The July 26 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight featured a pre-taped interview with Vice President Mike Pence. Notably absent from the interview was any reference to Pence’s opposition to trans military service, service President Donald Trump has just banned. 

    Pence has been reportedly working behind the scenes to ensure the reversal of the Obama administration’s repeal of the transgender ban, but it failed to pass muster in Congress. Carlson skirted the issue, focusing on the GOP’s struggling health care bill during the interview rather than asking Pence about the new policy implementation and its potential impact. Outside of his interview with Pence, Carlson did mention the policy, erroneously stating that the ban was due to prohibitive costs and a negative impact on military readiness, ignoring years of research and policy analysis conducted prior to the Department of Defense’s decision to repeal the ban in 2016.

  • Right-wing media continue to push myth that Trump can get a better deal than Paris

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    via flickr creative commons user neurotic_buddha

    Within hours of President Donald Trump’s announcement that he intends to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement and negotiate a better deal, other world leaders made it clear that renegotiation is not an option. But right-wing media and the administration are continuing to push the fanciful notion that Trump can negotiate a more favorable pact.

    Trump claims Paris was a bad deal and he can get a better one

    When Trump made his announcement on June 1 -- a move cheered by many in conservative media -- he said he intended to renegotiate:

    [T]he United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord … but but begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris accord or an -- really entirely new transaction, on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers. So we're getting out, but we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that's fair. And if we can, that's great. And if we can't, that's fine.

    The White House talking points about the decision stress the idea that the Paris accord was a bad deal for the U.S. -- bad in all caps, lest you miss the point:

    The Paris Accord is a BAD deal for Americans. … The deal was negotiated BADLY.

    Right-wing media push bad-deal/good-deal frame

    This frame -- that Paris is a bad deal and Trump can get a good deal -- had been pushed by right-wing media in the days leading up to his decision, and the claim continued to make the rounds after the announcement was made, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

    On May 30, David Bossie -- a former deputy campaign manager for Trump and a Fox News contributor who is being considered for a role in the White House -- went on Fox News Radio and called for the Trump administration to renegotiate the Paris deal:

    My recommendation is: You get out of Paris, you get out of the Paris treaty, you get out right now, and then you let Scott Pruitt, your EPA administrator, who is very good and a great negotiator, go out and negotiate new deals, deals that are good for America and the rest of the world combined.

    On June 1, before Trump made his announcement, Stuart Varney of Fox Business' Varney & Co. argued that former President Obama did a terrible job negotiating the Paris deal and Trump could do much better:

    The Obama team gave virtually everything away -- our money and our jobs -- and received only vague promises of future good behavior. In my opinion, it was a lousy deal. So maybe our president will do the same as he did with NAFTA -- that is, threaten to withdraw, then negotiate a better deal. … He did, after all, write the book The Art of the Deal.

    And Fox Business tweeted out the point too:

    During Trump's speech, Breitbart's Curt Schilling tweeted out his approval of the president's plan to renegotiate the deal:

    Nobody wants to renegotiate with the U.S.

    But other world leaders are not interested in sitting down at the table with the U.S. again, as they quickly made clear.

    Shortly after Trump's announcement, the leaders of France, Italy, and Germany issued a joint statement refuting the notion that the Paris deal is up for renegotiation:

    We deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible and we firmly believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated, since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies.

    And a group of ministers from 24 nations -- known as the High Ambition Coalition, which pushed to make the Paris agreement as strong as possible -- also threw cold water on the idea of renegotiating:

    Our commitment to the Paris Agreement is unshakeable. We have every reason to fight for its full implementation.

    “Apparently the White House has no understanding of how an international treaty works," said Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), who led the negotiation process leading up to the Paris agreement. "There is no such thing as withdrawing and then negotiating.”

    And the current secretariat of the UNFCCC also put out a statement saying that the agreement "cannot be renegotiated based on the request of a single Party."

    Bloomberg summed up the situation in headline: "Everyone But Donald Trump Is Standing By the Paris Climate Agreement."

    Right-wing media still insist Trump can negotiate a better deal

    Even after world leaders made their opposition to renegotiation crystal clear, right-wing media continued to push the myth that the president could get a new and improved deal.

    "One of the [things] I'm looking forward to, and I've seen some of: Donald Trump's ability to renegotiate a better deal and better positioning for the United States of America," said Eboni Williams, a co-host of The Fox News Specialists, on June 2.

    "If the Paris accord was actually meant to save the environment, the globalists would be happy to renegotiate the deal with President Trump," wrote Kit Daniels at Infowars on June 3.

    Administration officials also went on Fox News to keep pushing the "better deal" idea.

    Vice President Mike Pence said on Fox & Friends on June 2, "You also heard [Trump] leave the door open to renegotiating a better arrangement, to maybe re-entering the Paris accord under new terms and new conditions. … In withdrawing from the Paris accord, and in offering to renegotiate it in a way that is more fair, more equitable to our economy and every economy in the world, again you see President Donald Trump is being leader of the free world." Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt did not push back on that assertion.

    And Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke went on Fox News' America's Newsroom on June 2 to defend Trump's move: "It was a bad deal. I think the president has said he’s going to renegotiate it, offer to renegotiate it. … If we're going to sit down, let's make sure the agreement has shared burden." Fox host Bill Hemmer neglected to point out that other countries have said they will not sit down to renegotiate the deal with the Trump administration.

    Informed commentators mock renegotiation claims

    New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza, speaking on The New Yorker's "Politics and More" podcast on June 2, slapped down the renegotiation idea: "When Trump says, 'I'm going to negotiate a better deal,' well that's a lie, that's just not possible."

    Former Secretary of State John Kerry, who played a key role in negotiating the Paris agreement, was even more forceful on this point during an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press on June 4:

    When Donald Trump says, well, we're going to negotiate a better deal, you know, he's going to go out and find a better deal? That's like O.J. Simpson saying he's going to go out and find the real killer. Everybody knows he isn't going to do that.

    The U.S. already had a favorable deal

    Even if other countries were willing to sit back down at the table, it's highly unlikely the U.S. would get a better deal. That's because the U.S. already got a favorable deal when the Paris agreement was negotiated in 2015.

    The Paris deal "is more fair to the U.S. than previous agreements because it includes all the major economies of the world, not just the rich countries, so both developed countries and developing countries have skin in the game," Jody Freeman, director of Harvard Law School's Environmental Law and Policy Program, told The Washington Post after Trump made his announcement.

    "Paris already gives countries tremendous flexibility, and no penalties," Michael Gerrard, a professor of environmental law at Columbia and director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, told the Post.

    The Obama administration had wanted to take part in the agreement, but it knew that a climate treaty couldn't get ratified by the U.S. Senate. So the entire global community bent over backward to accommodate the U.S. political system -- crafting a nonbinding accord that's looser than a treaty and making action pledges voluntary with no enforcement mechanisms. 

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel said before the negotiations that a good agreement would be “binding,” but she and other like-minded leaders gave in to the U.S. on this point.

    As The Guardian reported just after the Paris negotiations took place in December 2015, "Under US insistence, the 31-page agreement was explicitly crafted to exclude emissions reductions targets and finance from the legally binding parts of the deal. … The other exclusion zone was any clause in the agreement that would expose the US to liability and compensation claims for causing climate change."

    Ultimately, many world leaders and climate advocates thought the U.S. got too good of deal -- so good that the resulting agreement was disappointingly weak.

    From The Guardian: "The US – and European – position was a huge disappointment for the low-lying and small island states, which argued they needed recognition that their countries could pay the ultimate price for climate change in terms of land loss and migration."

    “The United States has hindered ambition," Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth U.S., said in December 2015. "Using the world’s atmosphere and the suffering of the vulnerable as a guide, the United States is failing -- by a long shot -- to do what climate science and justice demand. This holds true for the United States' greenhouse gas reduction pledge, its provision of funds for developing countries to take climate action and its obstruction of progress on loss and damage.”

    Despite the United States' successful effort to water down the Paris agreement, other countries, both rich and poor, still stepped up to the plate with meaningful action pledges. As The Economist noted just after Trump made his announcement, "All [of the Paris agreement's] signatories—which is to say, every country except Syria, Nicaragua and now America—have undertaken to reduce emissions against business-as-usual targets." This despite the fact that many of those countries have contributed very little to the problem of climate change, while the U.S. is the biggest carbon polluter in history, as The New York Times pointed out.

    So now other countries are moving forward without the U.S. The Europeans are planning to work more closely with China and India. The leaders of France and India have announced that they're going to cooperate jointly on fighting climate change. Instead of getting a better deal, the U.S. is cut out of the dealmaking.

  • LGBTQ media highlight repercussions of Trump’s budget proposals

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH


    Dayanita Ramesh / Media Matters

    News outlets, experts, and health care advocates blasted President Donald Trump’s federal budget proposal that would rip health care away from millions while eliminating key HIV prevention and research programs. If enacted, these cuts would have a disproportionately devastating impact on members of the LGBTQ community, who rely more heavily on Medicaid than the general public does and face higher rates of HIV infection.

    Outcries continue to grow in response to Trump’s federal budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year. The proposal faced immediate criticism for its unrealistic revenue projections and was branded by critics as a “repugnant grab bag” of cuts to vital anti-poverty and public health programs to pay for part of a massive tax cut for top earners. The latest criticism of Trump’s budget comes from public health experts and LGBTQ media, which are pointing out that its cuts to Medicaid, coupled with harsh reductions in funding of HIV treatment, prevention, and research add up to a reprehensible swipe at the LGBTQ community.

    Cuts to Medicaid would disproportionately affect the LGBTQ community, which faces higher levels of poverty than the public at large. On May 28, NBC Out reported that Trump’s budget would hit the LGBTQ community in several ways. Stephen Forssell, director of George Washington University’s graduate program in LGBTQ health policy, explained that Medicaid is “hugely important” for LGBTQ Americans, who are more likely than others to rely on the program:

    Medicaid is "hugely important" for the LGBTQ community," (sic) Gruberg told NBC Out, noting that 18 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have Medicaid compared to 8 percent of non-LGBTQ people.

    Gruberg also noted that Medicaid is the "largest source of coverage for people with HIV in the U.S.," adding that "a $1.4 trillion cut to Medicaid over 10 years will be detrimental to the ability of people living with HIV to get the health care they need to survive."

    HIV funding is of great concern for the LGBTQ community and faces steep cuts in the White House’s budget. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) outlined that the fiscal year 2018 budget would include a $59 million reduction to the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program, including eliminating all its funding for LGBTQ and minority education and HIV prevention. The Ryan White HIV/AIDS program funds health care services for individuals living with HIV as well as public service education programs about the virus. The program is named after an HIV activist who fought for the program’s enactment before tragically passing away just months before it was authorized after battling the virus.

    On May 31, the Washington Blade highlighted the funding cuts to the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program and an additional $186 million in proposed cuts to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) work on HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Doug Wirth, CEO of the nonprofit Amida Care, called Trump’s budget proposal a “cruel and callous attack” on those living with HIV. Advocacy groups argued that the funding cuts would lead to “more suffering” for those living with HIV, and the AIDS Institute criticized the White House’s “severe cuts” while noting that the 19 percent cut to the CDC’s HIV prevention program would set back efforts to eliminate the virus.

    According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, gay and bisexual men represent 2 percent of the American population but make up 56 percent of all Americans living with HIV and 55 percent of all HIV-related deaths in the U.S. The CDC reported that while HIV diagnoses have declined overall in recent years, diagnoses have increased among gay and bisexual men. The CDC found that much of the increase was among men of color and even projected that one out of every two black gay and bisexual men would become infected with the virus during their lives. Currently, gay and bisexual men make up 67 percent of all new HIV infections:

    Trump’s cuts to HIV programs are eerily reminiscent of cuts Vice President Mike Pence imposed on Indiana during his tenure as governor. Pence followed through on right-wing media’s obsession with defunding Planned Parenthood and cut funding to the health care provider ostensibly to reduce abortions, but in doing so actually shut down access to the only HIV testing centers available to many Indiana residents and may have inadvertently caused an HIV epidemic in rural parts of the state. Pence has a long history of supporting right-wing media causes against the LGBTQ community and during the 2016 presidential campaign was called out by MSNBC host Rachel Maddow for statements he made while serving in Congress.

    Trump campaigned as an alleged ally of the LGBTQ community, but community leaders recently slammed his “shameful” refusal to sign a proclamation declaring June LGBTQ Pride month, ending an eight-year tradition. The Trump administration also faced pushback after it announced it would not allow Americans to self-identify as LGBTQ in the 2020 national census.

  • What Iowa media can teach others about covering the consequences of defunding Planned Parenthood

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In the wake of one-third of the Planned Parenthood clinics closing in the state, Iowa newspapers have rejected right-wing media talking points in favor of fact-based analyses about the limited capacity of so-called alternatives to the shuttered facilities. Iowa’s print media outlets are not only emphasizing the dire consequences of losing Planned Parenthood in many communities, but they are also modeling how other local media should handle politically motivated attacks on essential reproductive health care. 

    On May 12, then-Gov. Terry Branstad (R-IA) signed a budget rejecting at least $3 million in federal Medicaid family planning funds in order to exclude Planned Parenthood from the state’s reproductive health program. Days later, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland announced that as a result of the measure, the organization would close four of its 12 clinics -- upending the primary health care system in the state.

    Anti-choice lawmakers, and the coalition of anti-abortion groups behind them, have celebrated these closures by repeating several anti-abortion myths. They’ve particularly highlighted the supposed existence of plentiful alternatives to Planned Parenthood and the defeat of the right-wing-media-fueled fever dream of “taxpayer-funded abortion.”

    A Media Matters analysis of three of the state’s largest circulation papers (The Des Moines Register, The Gazette, and Quad-City Times) found that Iowa print media are refusing to buy the myths right-wing media have been selling and thus providing a model for other media outlets in states whose essential reproductive health care will come under attack in the coming months. Already, Planned Parenthood has been forced to announce anticipated clinic closures in California, New Mexico, and Wyoming.

    Outside of Iowa, anti-choice lawmakers and right-wing media have argued that Planned Parenthood should be defunded in order to prevent taxpayer money from subsidizing abortion services. In reality, because of the Hyde Amendment, federal funds are expressly forbidden from supporting abortion care -- much to the detriment of low-income patients and those from marginalized communities. Although some anti-abortion advocates argue that the “fungibility” of money means any funds given to Planned Parenthood contribute to abortion, this logic is deeply flawed. As Slate’s Amanda Marcotte explained, “Since medical services are billed and funded individually, that's not actually how this works.”

    Instead, Planned Parenthood has long received reimbursements via Medicaid for non-abortion services provided to low-income patients. Nevertheless, anti-choice lawmakers have demanded that funds be shifted to “community health centers” (CHC), which they argue can absorb patient demand.

    Experts argue this is “a gross misrepresentation of what even the best community health centers in the country would be able to do.” In a May 17 report, Kinsey Hasstedt of the Guttmacher Institute explained that although CHCs and other “federally qualified health centers” (FQHC) play “an important part” in providing contraceptives and other essential care, “they cannot be expected to deliver contraceptive care to the large numbers of women who currently rely on Planned Parenthood” and “to suggest otherwise willfully oversimplifies the considerable challenges FQHCs would face in doing so.”

    As Planned Parenthood comes under attack across the country, here’s what other media outlets can learn from The Des Moines Register, The Gazette, and the Quad-City Times.

    1. Demand specifics about clinics that can supposedly replace Planned Parenthood’s facilities

    Iowa papers have dismantled claims by anti-choice lawmakers about the availability of care without Planned Parenthood’s clinics and lambasted them for failing to provide a list of even potentially feasible alternatives in a transparent way.

    On May 26, the Quad-City Times editorial board mocked the lack of a publicly available list of alternatives, writing that while “Iowa’s GOP-run Legislature achieved its ultimate goal,” it “didn’t even try to fake it by rolling out some half-baked list of alleged alternatives.” The Times continued:

    The timing was especially astounding, as the lawmakers spent this year's session hacking and slashing to plug budgetary holes. Defunding Planned Parenthood will cost Iowa $3 million in federal funds this year. Another $3.3 million will be spent creating a state-run program to, feasibly, make up for the self-inflicted shortfall of women's health care providers.

    It's that yet-to-be drafted list that's at the heart of the matter. Four clinics across the state are closing. Many states that have tried similar attacks on a woman's access to health care at least attempted to compile other options. Not in Iowa. Lawmakers just did it blind and directed the state Health Department to force reality into their partisan narrative somewhere down the line.

    In January, the editorial board of Iowa’s Des Moines Register responded to the proposed defunding of Planned Parenthood with a warning that lawmakers should answer specific questions about alternative providers and the particular services they were equipped to deliver before eliminating support for the organization. 

    This is sound advice, and in fact, exemplifies the kind of reporting local outlets should be doing in response to threats to defund essential health care in their communities. Unsurprisingly, given this earlier push for accountability, the Register followed up with an investigation of so-called replacement clinics. In a May 27 piece, the Register’s editorial board modeled how local news outlets can easily debunk the myth that other clinics can fill in for the loss of Planned Parenthood’s clinics:

    Republicans said more than 200 clinics statewide could fill any void left if Planned Parenthood clinics closed. This number was apparently derived from information provided by the Iowa Department of Human Services.

    The Register editorial board obtained the list of 219 clinics from the agency on Monday.

    One "behavioral health center" in Leon filled 11 spots on the spreadsheet. We took the liberty of assuming that entity would not be offering cervical cancer screenings, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, contraception and other medical services provided by Planned Parenthood. So we eliminated that one.

    Then we decided to call three of the remaining 208, selecting providers in areas where Planned Parenthood clinics are closing.

    First up was Wayne Mercy Medical Clinic, which the list identified as being located in Sioux City. The woman who answered the phone said the clinic changed its name years ago, was not affiliated with Mercy and was not even located in Iowa; it's in Nebraska and about an hour’s drive from Sioux City.

    Next we called Mediapolis Clinic in West Burlington. It does not provide long-acting, reversible contraception, including birth control implants and IUDs, which are the method of choice for nearly 12 percent of contraceptive users nationally. Sutherland Mercy Medical Clinic in Sioux City said it did not provide those either.

    In fact, none of Mercy Health Network’s 108 family practice clinics across the state, including those on the list provided by DHS, will provide any type of long-acting birth control.

    [...]

    So now that four clinics that served nearly 15,000 patients over the last three years are closing, the Republicans who insisted there would be "more access" to family planning services should compile and distribute a reliable, accurate list of where women can go for those services.

    Building on this momentum, other local media did similar reporting, such as the Des Moines CBS affiliate, KCCI 8, which ran a story in which reporter Todd Magel tried to contact many of the so-called “other clinics” pointed to by state lawmakers. Magel found that few of the clinics referenced in the list of FQHCs provided “reproductive medical care and screenings” like Planned Parenthood does and that the lawmaker’s alternatives included a school “nurse’s office,” “a dentist’s office,” and “a homeless shelter.”

    2. Include statistics about the loss of coverage and highlight the disproportionate impact closures have on low-income communities

    Beyond emphasizing the lack of transparency from lawmakers, Iowa papers also relied on ample statistics to highlight exactly who was hurt by the closure of Planned Parenthood’s clinics in the state.

    For example, Chelsea Keenan of The Gazette began a May 19 article with the information that “more than 14,600 people” would be impacted once Planned Parenthood closed “one-third of its Iowa clinics.” She also wrote about the specific number and types of services people would lose without the essential health care provider:

    The budget discontinues a federal Medicaid waiver that, since its creation in 2006, has helped more than 80,000 Iowa women receive Pap smears, birth control and cancer screenings through the Iowa Family Planning Network, including more than 12,000 last year. The waiver helps extend reproductive health services to men and women who due to income often fall in the gap between private insurance and Medicaid eligibility.

    [...]

    Planned Parenthood — which said loss of funding through the Family Planning Network amounted to about $2 million — administered services to more than 30,000 Iowans last year, with nearly 50 percent of its patients at or below the federal poverty level.

    The Quad-City Times also lamented that “per usual, it is impoverished women who will pay more than their share of the bill.” The editorial board continued:

    Medicaid, mind you, provides health care for the poorest Iowans. It's already foundering in Iowa since last year's privatization. President Donald Trump has targeted Medicaid for deep cuts in his draft budget.

    [...]

    Yet, it's these patients to whom Planned Parenthood brought otherwise out-of-reach gynecological care. They're a population with an abnormally high risk for sexually transmitted diseases. They're less likely to receive regular gynecological exams. They're at substantially greater risk for unwanted pregnancy.

    Women across the socio-economic strata relied on Planned Parenthood. But, suddenly, those in the lower tiers are destined to have fewer options.

    To these women, Iowa just said, "Tough."

    3. Use empirical case studies about the consequences of losing Planned Parenthood

    Finally, several Iowa papers drew on empirical case studies from what happened in other states when anti-choice lawmakers sacrificed their constituents’ health in order to engage in political attacks on Planned Parenthood.

    As the Register’s William Petroski noted, Texas’ exclusion of Planned Parenthood from its reproductive health safety net “resulted in a significant increase in births among low-income women who lost access to birth control, according to a 2016 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine." 

    The Gazette’s Keenan also reported on the similarities between Texas’ ill-fated plan to replace Planned Parenthood and the beginning stages of the same situation in Iowa. She wrote:

    Starting in 2011, Texas took steps to bar abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood from participating in a program aimed at giving low-income women family planning services. It’s a move that, in the years following, research has shown hurt the state’s family planning safety net.

    The funding changes forced dozens of Planned Parenthood clinics there to close in 2012, according to researchers at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, which studies the effects of family planning funding cuts and restrictions.

    Those that have remained open have reduced their hours, patient loads and available services.

    Research by the Guttmacher Institute shows that Texas’ family planning program in 2013 served less than one-quarter of the women it helped in 2011. And that care became more expensive when you take knowledgeable providers out of the network — the cost to the state to provide family planning care jumped from $206 per client to $240.

    The Gazette’s Lynda Waddington explained the negative effects of a similar decision in Indiana when then-Gov. Mike Pence eliminated funding for the provider:

    Former Indiana Gov. and current Vice President Mike Pence declared a 2015 public emergency in his state due to HIV outbreaks. The county at the epicenter of the problem had been without a testing center since 2013, when the local Planned Parenthood clinic closed.

    Just like three out of the four Iowa clinics now caught in the GOP’s defunding snare, the Indiana facility did not offer abortion services — none of the five Indiana clinics forced to close offered abortions, but they all provided HIV testing. Instead of being able to rely on ongoing prevention efforts provided by those local clinics, Indiana taxpayers took on the added cost burden of erecting pop-up clinics. Worst of all, Indiana residents needlessly suffered.

    As attacks on Planned Parenthood continue, media can look to Iowa’s local media as an example of how to interrogate lawmaker’s claims about so-called alternatives and make clear the consequences when communities lose access to essential health care.

  • Fox & Friends offers Trump administration a platform to mislead about the link between climate change and asthma

    Blog ››› ››› CHRISTOPHER LEWIS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox News’ Fox & Friends gave members of the Trump administration a platform to attack former Secretary of State John Kerry after Kerry pointed out that the president’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord will hurt children with asthma. Research has in fact demonstrated a connection between worsening climate change and the prevalence of asthma.

    In response to President Donald Trump, Kerry said to NBC’s Andrea Mitchell that by pulling out of the agreement, Trump “is not helping the forgotten American. He's hurting them.Their kids will have worse asthma in the summer.” Kerry added that the decision is “one of the most self-destructive moves I’ve ever seen by any president in my lifetime.”

    The next day, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway appeared on Fox & Friends, and host Abby Huntsman highlighted Kerry's comments about asthma for Conway. Conway called Kerry's full statement “a very disappointing assessment,” saying it “tells you why he lost when he ran for president.” From the June 2 edition:

    Later in the program, host Ainsley Earhardt also cited Kerry's warnings about children's asthma in her interview with Vice President Mike Pence, who asserted, “It is disappointing to hear the hot rhetoric”:

    Conservative media have a history of attacking the fact that climate change can have negative impacts on people with asthma. Despite research showing that lower emissions reduce asthma attacks and would create an overall healthier society, conservative media figures such as Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh, Tammy Bruce, and Sean Hannity have relentlessly mocked the science and misinformed their audiences.

    According to a study published in the Journal of Asthma and Allergy, “Trends in the incidence of childhood asthma worldwide have paralleled the sharp increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, over at least the last two decades. The prevalence of asthma in the United States has quadrupled over the last 20 years in part due to climate-related factors.” Additionally, “As atmospheric CO2 levels have risen and global temperature fluctuations have increased, so has the incidence of childhood asthma. According to one CDC-based survey, the number of children under 17 years of age with asthma increased from almost 40 to 60 per 1000 from 1980 to 1993.”