Rachel Maddow | Media Matters for America

Rachel Maddow

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  • Maddow's bombshell that the Trump administration tracked immigrant pregnancies also reveals how bad Fox's coverage was

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    After numerous controversies and advertiser losses, Fox News has been scrambling to erect an imaginary firewall between the network's so-called "news" and "opinion" sides. But recent reporting from MSNBC's Rachel Maddow about a 2017 case involving the treatment of pregnant detained teenagers underscores the reality about the two sides: Fox's "news" hosts are in lockstep with their so-called “opinion” colleagues and seemingly have been for some time.

    During the March 15 edition of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, Maddow reported on spreadsheets kept by President Donald Trump's administration containing details about unaccompanied immigrant girls’ pregnancies in an attempt to delay or prevent wanted abortions. In 2017, the Trump administration made a policy change that shelters could not facilitate abortion access for detained minors without “direction and approval” from Scott Lloyd, the then-director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. An undocumented teen (referred to as Jane Doe) who was being held in federal custody and was blocked from obtaining a wanted abortion brought suit, and a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to allow her to access abortion care.

    Although it had been previously reported that Lloyd tracked pregnant teens in the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s (ORR) custody using a spreadsheet, the March 15 edition of The Rachel Maddow Show showcased the exclusively obtained spreadsheet and shared previously unseen details. As Maddow said of the 28-page document:

    This is the federal government, with your tax dollars, keeping an individualized record of pregnant teenage girls’ menstrual cycles, whether they've had a positive pregnancy test, what the government knows about how they believe the girls got pregnant, how they believe this individual girl got pregnant, and whether this girl has requested an abortion.

    As Maddow explained, “This was essentially a spreadsheet designed to facilitate federal government action to block these girls from getting any abortion they might want.” In addition, Maddow noted, Lloyd kept tracking the girls’ pregnancies and cycles even after the court ordered ORR to stop blocking teens from obtaining abortions.

    Back in 2017, The Rachel Maddow Show had reported that Lloyd, an anti-choice extremist, used his position to push an anti-abortion agenda on the undocumented minors in his care. He allegedly visited at least one of the pregnant teens to try to talk her out of an abortion and made others go to anti-abortion fake health clinics for the same purpose. He had also reportedly inquired about whether a teenager in ORR custody could have her abortion “reversed,” an anti-abortion scam that is not based in science. Lloyd left ORR to join the Health and Human Services Department (HHS)’s Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives in November 2018.

    The updated story about Lloyd keeping tabs on teenage girl's menstrual cycles shines a light on the slanted lens through which both Fox's opinion and "news" sides present stories. Those who get their news from Fox are unlikely to hear about this invasive spreadsheet -- just as they were unlikely to hear about Lloyd’s actions in 2017. Instead, the network’s stories about the Jane Doe case that year focused on anti-abortion misinformation and fearmongering about immigrants.

    For example, during a 2017 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson falsely claimed the Jane Doe case was about “liberals … arguing that U.S. taxpayers somehow have an obligation to fund abortions for illegal aliens,” though Jane Doe had obtained private funding for the abortion. On The Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham claimed that, because of a related court decision to allow undocumented minors to access abortion, the United States would become “an abortion magnet.” Notably, Ingraham opened the segment by downplaying the experiences of the pregnant detained minors impacted by the decision, mockingly saying: “Underage and need an abortion? Well, just come to America. … No visa needed.”

    Fox News’ so-called “straight news” hosts covered the 2017 case similarly. Bret Baier and Shannon Bream also pushed abortion misinformation about the Jane Doe case -- as they’ve frequently done for other abortion-related stories. During a 2017 edition of Special Report, host Baier opened a segment about Jane Doe’s case by posing the misleading question of whether viewers and their “fellow taxpayers [would] be required to pay for an abortion for an illegal immigrant.” In that same segment, Bream appeared as a correspondent and alleged that some people “think this could open the door to the U.S. providing abortions for minors who would seek to cross the border illegally solely for that purpose.” On her own program, Fox News @ Night, Bream continued promoting anti-choice groups’ talking points, pointing to comments from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, worrying that his state would become “a sanctuary state for abortions” due to the Jane Doe case.

    MSNBC’s new reporting further highlights the failures of Fox News’ work on this story -- on both the “news” and “opinion” sides. Fox News has a vested interest in proving (no matter how inaccurate) that the network's news hosts are somehow different from the network's opinion hosts. But hosts on both sides of Fox's artificial divide have prioritized anti-abortion misinformation and xenophobia over accurate reporting on Scott Lloyd's tenure at HHS. Given the amount of energy the network has spent fearmongering about abortion this year, it seems unlikely that viewers will hear anything accurate about the spreadsheets -- or, perhaps, anything at all.

  • Only MSNBC hosted LGBTQ opponents of the Trump-Pence administration's plan to define away trans identities

    While MSNBC aired segments featuring six LGBTQ people, Fox News hosted anti-LGBTQ group leader Tony Perkins and two anti-trans gay women

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melisa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Trump-Pence administration is “considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth,” which would be “the most drastic move yet in a governmentwide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people,” according to an October 21 New York Times report. When TV news reported on the proposal, only MSNBC hosted LGBTQ guests to condemn it, while Fox hosted primarily anti-trans voices, including two gay women and major anti-LGBTQ group leader Tony Perkins.

    The Times reported that the definition would be established under Title IX, which bars “gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance.” Title IX is enforced in part by the “Big Four” federal agencies -- the departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Labor -- most of which currently employ anti-LGBTQ group alumni who would potentially implement the policy. According to the Williams Institute, there are roughly 1.4 million American adults who identify as transgender, all of whom would be impacted by the proposed change. CNN reported that “if adopted, such a definition could exclude transgender people from existing federal civil rights protections in education, employment and access to health care.” The move is part of a greater trend of the Trump-Pence administration going after transgender people, and transgender advocates and their allies have sounded the alarm about the proposal and are fighting back.

    How TV news covered the proposal

    Following the Times’ reporting on the Trump-Pence administration’s proposal, broadcast and cable TV news spent a moderate amount of time covering the issue. MSNBC turned to transgender and queer guests to discuss the impacts of the proposal, while Fox News hosted primarily anti-transgender guests, including Perkins. Though generally critical of the proposal, CNN’s segments relied entirely on CNN hosts, commentators, and reporters, none of whom openly identify as LGBTQ.

    In discussing the proposal, MSNBC hosted six LGBTQ people, four of whom identify as trans, who were able to explain the personal impact the Trump administration’s proposal would have on the trans community.

    On October 23, MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson hosted Laverne Cox, a transgender actress and activist, who outlined the Trump-Pence administration’s history of anti-trans policies, as well as those proposed around the country in state legislatures. Cox said that state legislatures “are continually trying to introduce legislation banning transgender people from public life” but noted that “we have fought those battles, and we have won.” She explained that “over and over again the courts have held that transgender people are covered by Title IX and Title VII.” Cox said, “They want to make us afraid, but we need not be afraid.”

    MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson aired an October 22 segment featuring National Center for Transgender Equality's (NCTE) Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, who was the first out transgender person to be appointed to a White House job. Freedman-Gurspan called the proposal “an abomination” and highlighted that the new definition does not align with medical consensus or the lived experiences of trans people. She also noted the many anti-trans actions and rhetoric of the Trump-Pence administration and highlighted activism by the trans community and their allies who are ready to fight the proposal. Freedman-Gurspan ended the segment by saying, “We won’t be erased. We are standing up. … We are going to get through this.”

    During other segments, MSNBC also hosted Mara Keisling, a trans woman and president of NCTE; Hannah Simpson, a trans woman and activist; Masha Gessen, an LGBTQ journalist; and Sarah Kate Ellis, a lesbian and president of GLAAD. Additionally, Rachel Maddow, an out lesbian, did a monologue on her October 22 show about the proposal in which she contextualized the history of Republican administrations rolling back LGBTQ rights.

    While MSNBC turned to LGBTQ people who were either transgender or trans allies for their insights on the potential impact of the Trump-Pence administration’s proposal, Fox News hosted primarily anti-transgender guests, including two gay women and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council’s (FRC) President Tony Perkins.

    In Fox News’ first substantial segment about the proposal, Fox News at Night with Shannon Bream aired a debate between liberal radio host Ethan Bearman and FRC’s Perkins, who was also appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in May. During the segment, Perkins praised the proposal and resorted to fearmongering when presented with historical facts about gender identity. Perkins also pushed the the thoroughly debunked myth that trans-inclusive policies pose a threat to the safety of women and girls. From the segment:

    What we’re doing by this policy that was put in place without an act of Congress -- this was the Obama administration -- we’re putting people at risk. We're actually denying people equal protection under the law, because under this, we would force women that are going to battered shelters for abused women, we would force them under government policy to be housed with men, biological men. This makes no sense.

    On October 23, Tucker Carlson, who has an anti-transgender track record himself, hosted Tammy Bruce, an anti-trans lesbian and president of the conservative group Independent Women’s Voice. In the past, Bruce has criticized trans-inclusive restrooms and compared being transgender to “a child” thinking they are “a cocker spaniel. She has also defended Jack Phillips, the Christian baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple and who was represented by extreme anti-LGBTQ powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom at the Supreme Court. During the segment, Carlson claimed that the government recognizing the trans community would hurt women, and Bruce leveraged her identity as a lesbian to dismiss the impact of the proposal on trans people.

    Additionally, Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum hosted Camille Paglia, also an LGBTQ-identified person who is critical of trans identities. During the segment, Paglia pushed anti-trans narratives about biology and said that trans-inclusive policies are “unfair” in areas like athletics. She also described herself as transgender while criticizing the trans community. Paglia has made similar comments in the past, saying, "Although I describe myself as transgender (I was donning flamboyant male costumes from early childhood on), I am highly skeptical about the current transgender wave." In other reporting, it appears that she identifies as gay and uses female pronouns.

    CNN had at least eight separate significant discussions, news reads, or reports covering the proposal but failed to host a single LGBTQ person in its reporting. Though the network’s coverage was generally critical of the proposal, CNN’s shows only used staff commentators and reporters to discuss it.

    Broadcast TV news outlets ABC and CBS barely covered the story at all, only airing news reads with no comprehensive segments or reporting, and both networks failed to feature any LGBTQ voices. NBC, however, aired a package on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt that included a clip from NCTE’s Freedman-Gurspan’s appearance on MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson. It also aired a report on Today.

    Additionally, PBS aired a segment featuring LGBTQ legal group Lambda Legal’s Sharon McGowan and was the only TV outlet so far to contextualize the anti-LGBTQ track record of Roger Severino, head of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, the department spearheading the proposal.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts for cable TV coverage appearing between October 21 and 23 on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- as well as transcripts of broadcast TV coverage on ABC, NBC, and CBS -- for mentions of the words “transgender” or “health and human services” as well as mentions of the words or variations of the words “trans,” “sex,” or “gender” occurring within 10 words of the words or variations of the words “memo,” “policy,” “definition” or “Trump.” Additionally, Media Matters conducted searches on Snapstream for the same time frame for the same terms. “Significant discussion” is defined as two or more speakers in the same segment discussing the proposal with one another.

  • Right-wing media are filling a void of abortion-related coverage with misinformation

    Fox News is dominating the conversation about abortion on evening cable news -- and the network is doing it all wrong

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    A 12-month-long Media Matters study of evening cable news programs found that Fox News dominated discussions of abortion and reproductive rights and that the network was wrong about four common abortion-related topics 77 percent of the time.

  • The Vindication Of Rachel Maddow

    Journalists Panned Her Report On Trump’s Tax Returns, But It Produced The Best Evidence Trump’s Tax Proposal Boosts His Own Bottom Line

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Under pressure to show some sign -- any sign -- that President Donald Trump’s administration hasn’t squandered its first 100 days in office, the White House yesterday released a one-page collection of bullet points billed as a tax plan.

    There are many unanswered questions relevant to the 200-word proposal -- among them whether the massive tax cuts it proposes, channeled mostly to corporations and the wealthy, would be temporary or permanent; whether the tax cuts would be paid for, and how; and how much the proposal would cost. Top administration officials making the rounds on the morning news shows say they don’t know how the plan would affect the budget deficit and can’t guarantee that it wouldn’t raise the taxes of the middle class.

    One thing seems clear, however: If this proposal becomes law, the Trump family will be the big winners.

    As The New York Times’ Neil Irwin noted after detailing the proposal:

    It is striking how many of the categories listed above affect the president and his family. He is a high-income earner. He receives income from 564 business entities, according to his financial disclosure form, and could take advantage of the low rate on ''pass-through'' companies. According to his leaked 2005 tax return, he paid an extra $31 million because of the alternative minimum tax that he seeks to eliminate. And his heirs could eventually enjoy his enormous assets tax-free.

    We don’t know precisely how much Trump will benefit from the policies he supports because he refuses to release his tax returns, breaking decades of precedent and taking a hammer to an important political norm that curbs political corruption. And so as Irwin demonstrates, Trump’s “leaked 2005 tax return” provides the best available evidence of the impact Trump’s proposal will have on his own wallet.

    For that, we have MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and The Daily Beast’s David Cay Johnston to thank. It is a vindication for Maddow in particular, who was widely criticized by political reporters for the way in which she revealed documents that none of them had been able to obtain.

    Six weeks ago, Maddow set the political world on fire with a single tweet issued fewer than 90 minutes before her show began:

    After journalists and political commentators spent nearly an hour burning up Twitter with theories about what precisely Maddow had uncovered, she revealed that her show was going to feature the president’s 1040 form from 2005, which Johnston had obtained.  

    When her show began, Maddow did not open with the contents of the document. Instead, she used her first segment to provide context, detailing the long saga of Trump’s unwillingness to reveal his tax returns and the evidence about his income that had been made public thus far. Only after returning from a commercial did she and Johnston reveal what they had learned: Trump had paid a mere $5.3 million in income taxes -- a rate of less than 4 percent on an income of more than $150 million -- but had to pay $31 million more under the alternative minimum tax, which he had proposed eliminating during the campaign.

    And the political press went wild. Not because they had learned new information about the president’s taxes that he had kept from the public in unprecedented fashion. Not because the tantalizing scraps that Maddow and Johnston had unveiled suggest that Trump’s interest in keeping his returns secret is at least in part because they reveal how much he would benefit from policies he supports.

    No, the press freaked out because reporters had to wait for 20 minutes on a weeknight and watch a cable news program to hear a scoop none of them had been able to get over the previous 20 months, and because the actual content of that scoop didn’t match whatever they were expecting.

    In real time, political media Twitter exploded with criticism for the MSNBC host. Afterward, the critique from journalists seemed to overwhelm the actual news the show had produced.

    Maddow had used “a windup that some fellow journalists, eager for any bombshells, found exceedingly lengthy,” according to the Times. She had “disappoint[ed] many in the political-media establishment with a report that was widely characterized as overhyped,” CNN reported. Her program was a “cynical, self-defeating spectacle.” She “bur[ied] the lede,” having “talked . . . and talked . . . and talked” for what “felt like an eternity.” She had made a “big-time blunder” and her “bombshell” had “fizzled.”

    Poynter.org chief media writer James Warren was one of Maddow’s few defenders on style, excoriating the press for its “mix of impatience and internet-fueled craving for instant gratification” in the face of a garden-variety effort by a media outlet to ensure the largest possible audience for its scoop. As to the revelation’s content, as The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple noted, “The president wants to abolish the part of the tax code that stings him the hardest. In what news world is that not a bombshell?”

    With the White House’s release of a tax proposal that eliminates that part of the tax code, Maddow’s bombshell is more important than ever. But don’t expect to see apologies any time soon -- even news reports that detail how the 2005 1040 shows how Trump would benefit from the proposal don’t give Maddow any credit for unveiling it.

    This post has been updated for clarity.

    Images by Sarah Wasko.

  • STUDY: Cable News’ Sporadic Coverage Of Trump's Hidden Tax Returns

    Nearly Half Of Cable News Discussion Of Trump Tax Returns Since Inauguration Occurred Within A Week Of Rachel Maddow’s Tax Exclusive

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    A Media Matters study found that between President Donald Trump’s January 20 inauguration and Tax Day, April 18, evening cable news has dedicated only sporadic coverage to Trump’s failure to release his tax returns. And of the 110 segments spread out over three months, nearly half came within a week after MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow revealed two leaked pages of Trump’s 2005 tax documents. This inconsistent coverage comes as pressure mounts from activists and Republican lawmakers for the president to release his tax returns, and highlights the media’s inability to consistently report on this story.

  • How Right-Wing Media Are Lying To Protect Trump's Muslim Ban

    ››› ››› NINA MAST

    Since President Donald Trump signed a controversial executive order banning visitors and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, conservative media figures have defended him as being “within his mandate” as president and claimed the constitutionality of the order is “crystal clear,” but the recent federal appeals court decision against his order proves otherwise. Here are some of the right-wing media myths -- and the corresponding facts -- on Trump’s Muslim ban:

  • What The Media Ignore When They Call Gorsuch "Mainstream"

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Some media have called President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, District Court Judge Neil Gorsuch, “relatively mainstream.” But this label is misleading -- if Trump’s nominee is a “mainstream” conservative judge, it is only because conservative legal thought has shifted to the far right, as The New York Times’ Linda Greenhouse explained. That shift is also reflected in the extreme anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ “originalist” decisions Gorsuch has issued, which have radical impacts that some in the media have downplayed.