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On March 18, police officers in Sacramento, CA, gunned down Stephon Clark, an unarmed 22-year-old black man and father of two, in his grandmother’s backyard, sparking protests and drawing nationwide media coverage. Fox News’ reporting on the shooting has almost entirely focused on the most disruptive protests, diminishing the message of the demonstrators while portraying them as intimidating and lawless. One Fox correspondent also said the reactions to Clark’s death could actually end up harming police officers, pointing to the officer who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, as an example.
Fox has a history of disparaging coverage of protesters -- even peaceful protesters -- particularly those protesting police brutality. The network will commonly exaggerate the disruption caused by protests and cherry-pick examples to misrepresent the overall movement. (The pattern, of course, doesn’t hold true if those protesters are white nationalist, anti-immigrant, or tea party protesters.)
An ABC affiliate spoke to protesters at a Sacramento City Council meeting, one of whom explained that the demonstrations are “the first step, and you want to have conversations with the people who can make the changes.” An ABC affiliate aired balanced footage of protesters yelling, but also sitting, speaking calmly, and supporting one another. The report emphasized that the protesters showed "solidarity" and that they were "sisters, brothers, fathers, and mothers." They also spoke to one protester at the meeting who said, “I know there's good cops out there, you know, and I don’t believe all cops are bad. I think we have some issues that need to be changed, some systemic issues that need to be changed.”
Other national cable news networks provided well-rounded depictions of the March 27 protests and allowed the protesters’ voices to be heard. MSNBC’s Joe Fryer described footage in his report as “Stephon Clark’s brother Stevante bursting into the council chambers” while “some in the crowd called for calm.” The MSNBC report showed clips of activists describing the pain in their community after the fatal shooting and included an interview with Clark’s grandmother. CNN correspondent Dan Simon highlighted the more chaotic aspects of the protests while also underscoring the “impactful moment” when activists voiced their discontent.
CNN: “There was no violence and there were no arrests” at the protest outside the Sacramento Kings game. CNN’s coverage of the March 22 protest outside the Kings basketball game made clear that the team was supportive of the protests and mentioned that “there was no violence and there were no arrests.” The reporter also spoke to Stevante Clark, whose comments included, “We’re afraid. We’re afraid. It’s not the first, and it won’t be the last. I think that’s what hurts the most.”
N.Y. Times highlighted comments from the Clark family’s lawyer, reporting that he “emphasized that in high-profile criminal cases when proven assailants are white … police officers showed restraint that is not afforded to black suspects.” The New York Times reported on comments made by civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who will be representing the Clark family, who asked, “Why is that young black people and young brown people don’t get the same consideration” as white assailants do when they are pursued by police. The Times also published comments from a protester who said, “We run because we’re scared because they have the right to shoot us, they get away with it every day.”
Reporter describes March for Our Lives protesters as more peaceful than Clark protesters. Fox correspondent Alicia Acuna reported on Saturday that she “did not see instances where there was a lot of anger expressed” at the March for Our Lives and that protesters there “were relatively peaceful.” By contrast, Acuna commented, “That is far different from what they saw last night” in Sacramento, with the report cutting to video of protesters yelling while surrounded by police.
Fox host Abby Huntsman: “Demonstrators in Sacramento showing no sign of calming down.” On March 24, a Fox & Friends headline report about protesters in Sacramento over the weekend focused on participants “confronting police officers and blocking drivers in traffic, some even becoming violent by breaking the window of a car.”
Fox report focuses on critics of protests outside a Sacramento Kings game, including one man who hyped demonstrators as violent. Fox correspondent William LaJeunesse spoke to people attending a March 22 Sacramento Kings game who were temporarily blocked from entering the arena and who complained about the inconvenience imposed upon them by the protesters. One man commented, “The violence kind of muddles the message,” and LaJeunesse reported that one man was knocked unconscious.
Fox & Friends sensationalized Sacramento City Hall protests, repeatedly playing footage of protesters jumping on tables. Fox & Friends' coverage of the March 27 demonstrations focused on footage of protesters yelling and standing on tables.
Fox’s Jonathan Hunt: Protesters “have targeted the Sacramento Kings.” Fox co-host Sandra Smith introduced a report on the March 27 protests by commenting that the “protesters [were] standing on tables demanding answers.” She and correspondent Jonathan Hunt both reported that protesters also “targeted the Sacramento Kings.” In an earlier report, correspondent Trace Gallagher had mentioned that the Kings supported the protests, but Hunt failed to include that context in his coverage.
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Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump called for an end to "gun-free zones," parroting a prominent right-wing media claim that more civilians carrying guns would prevent mass shootings. However, there is no evidence the claim is true and research instead shows more guns are linked to higher levels of violence. This instance is just the latest example of Trump parroting right-wing media myths in his talking points.
CNN, Fox News Allowed False "Gun-Free Zone" Claim To Go Unchallenged More Than 20 Times Each
The false conservative media talking point that Umpqua Community College (UCC) was a "gun-free zone" was frequently pushed on CNN and Fox News in the aftermath of an October 1 mass shooting where a gunman killed nine and wounded several others on the Roseburg, Oregon, campus.
Conservative media figures often claim that mass shootings tend to happen in so-called "gun-free zones" in order to advocate for less restrictive gun laws. In reality, most mass shootings occur where firearms are allowed, and a Mother Jones review of mass public shootings over a 30-year period concluded, "In not a single case was the killing stopped by a civilian using a gun. And in other recent (but less lethal) rampages in which armed civilians attempted to intervene, those civilians not only failed to stop the shooter but also were gravely wounded or killed."
Within the first two hours of breaking news reporting on the UCC shooting, claims that UCC was a "gun-free zone" began to appear on CNN and Fox News. The claim, however, was untrue under any reasonable definition of what a "gun-free zone" could be. According to a Newsweek interview of more than a dozen people connected with UCC, it was "common knowledge" that "many students carried guns" on UCC's campus.
Under Oregon law, individuals with concealed carry permits are allowed to carry guns on the grounds of public colleges and universities. Public colleges and universities can create a policy to not allow guns within campus buildings. UCC did not allow guns in buildings "except as expressly authorized by law or college regulations," which was apparently interpreted by students as allowing concealed carry with a lawfully issued permit.
As one student explained to Newsweek, "You are allowed to conceal and carry on that campus. It's not a gun-free zone":
"You are allowed to conceal and carry on that campus," said Umpqua student and part-time wildland firefighter Jeremy Smith, 24. "It's not a gun-free zone."
Smith said he would never return to campus without a handgun.
"I'm an avid gun owner," he said. "I carry, like just about anybody else does."
Although Oregon state law allows concealed weapons, Umpqua's student handbook says firearms are prohibited on college property "except as expressly authorized by law or college regulations."
The school includes firearms training in its criminal justice program for people accepted into a Police Reserve Academy. Students use the Roseburg Rod and Gun Club, a short drive from campus, to shoot or get help registering for a concealed-carry permit, an employee there said.
While there were two unarmed security guards at the sprawling campus, several current and former students said legally carrying concealed handguns was not unusual, particularly among the hundreds of military veterans who attend classes and frequent the Student Veterans Center.
News reports also established that there were indeed armed students on campus at the time of the shooting. A student who also happened to be a U.S. military veteran described on MSNBC why he and other veterans he was with decided not to intervene, explaining, "Not knowing where SWAT was on their response time, they wouldn't have known who we were, if we had our guns ready to shoot they could think we were bad guys."
Despite this plethora of evidence that UCC was not a "gun-free zone," CNN and Fox News continued to advance the falsehood in the week after the shooting.
According to a review of internal Media Matters video archives of coverage between October 1 and October 6, the "gun-free zone" falsehood as it relates to UCC was mentioned 23 times on Fox News, with just two instances where it was explained that UCC was not a "gun-free zone." The falsehood appeared 25 times on CNN, with four of those instances being debunked with accurate information.
By contrast, the falsehood was advanced just once on MSNBC without pushback, and in two instances the "gun-free zone" claim was pro-actively debunked without someone first pushing the myth:
Fox News ran 23 segments where it was claimed that UCC was a "gun-free zone." The claims came from Fox News reporters, hosts, guests and soundbites of GOP presidential candidates making the claim. The claim was debunked in only two cases.
In one of these instances, during the October 1 broadcast of The O'Reilly Factor, guest David Jaques, the publisher of the Roseburg Beacon News, explained "it's not a gun-free zone," citing a statement from UCC's past president.
False claims about UCC being a "gun-free zone" were not limited to conservative punditry on Fox News. During breaking news coverage of the shooting on October 1, Fox News correspondent and breaking news anchor Trace Gallagher falsely reported, "As we know, and have been reporting, Umpqua Community College is a gun-free zone."
On October 2, Fox News correspondent William La Jeunesse falsely reported UCC was a "gun-free zone" during several news reports. During the October 2 broadcast of Happening Now, La Jeunesse falsely reported, "This was a gun-free zone." Later on Outnumbered, La Jeunesse editorialized further, saying, "This was a gun-free zone, so the gunman had no fear of being shot himself by other students."
CNN ran 25 segments that included claims that UCC was a "gun-free zone," with claims coming from CNN hosts, guests, and unchallenged soundbites of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump pushing the falsehood during a speech.
In four instances, other on-air individuals corrected the claim that UCC was a "gun-free zone."
During the early morning hours of October 2, CNN ran a report several times that erroneously reported UCC was "technically ... a gun-free zone" in a botched attempt to explain Oregon law and UCC policies.
The claim that UCC was a "gun-free zone" was made just once on MSNBC, by co-host Willie Geist during the October 2 broadcast of Morning Joe.
In two other instances, the notion that UCC was a "gun-free zone" was preemptively debunked, once by Mark Kelly, whose wife, then-Congresswoman Gabby Giffords (D-AZ), was wounded in a 2011 mass shooting, and once by MSNBC correspondent Jacob Soboroff who explained, "This was not a so-called gun-free zone" while relaying reports of concealed carry on campus and students who were carrying guns during the shooting.
Media Matters reviewed internal video archives for MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News beginning at 2 P.M. EST on October 1 and ending at 11:59 P.M. EST on October 6, searching for the term "gun-free zone." Segments that included this term were reviewed to determine whether the claim that UCC was a "gun-free zone" was either advanced, debunked, or both advanced and debunked. Segments that referenced Oregon gun law or UCC gun policy but ultimately concluded that UCC was a "gun-free zone" were coded as "Segments Pushing 'Gun-Free Zones' Myth."
Chart by Craig Harrington.
A Texas charity has abandoned a plan to help house child migrants after conservative media outlets used misleading images to suggest displaced children would be living there in luxury conditions. In fact, the same charity operates other no-frills facilities and had planned to convert a hotel in a similar style.
Conservative media have promoted multiple conspiracy theories connected to the humanitarian migration crisis, including the accusation that President Obama "planned" the recent surge of child migrants across the border for political reasons, that migrant children are infecting Americans with rare diseases, and that Obama is allowing violent gang members to cross the border.
Fox News misrepresented the TRUST Act, a California immigration bill that would limit law enforcement's ability to detain undocumented immigrants for deportation, claiming the legislation will allow criminals to go free. In fact, the bill is aimed at shielding undocumented victims and witnesses to crimes, as well as those who have committed only minor offenses, from deportation. It also seeks to stop criminalizing undocumented immigrants for the sole civil offense of being in the country illegally.
The bill, formally known as Assembly Bill 4, was passed by the California state legislature on September 10. Gov. Jerry Brown has until October 17 to sign it into law. The bill states:
This bill would prohibit a law enforcement official, as defined, from detaining an individual on the basis of a United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold after that individual becomes eligible for release from custody, unless, at the time that the individual becomes eligible for release from custody, certain conditions are met, including, among other things, that the individual has been convicted of specified crimes.
The bill lists some of the crimes that would prompt law enforcement to detain undocumented immigrants for the 48-hour immigration hold, including violent and serious felonies such as rape, assault, robbery, and selling drugs.
The bill also argues that Secure Communities (S-Comm) -- the controversial and widely criticized program under which law enforcement can detain undocumented immigrants for deportation -- "and immigration detainers harm community policing efforts because immigrant residents who are victims of or witnesses to crime, including domestic violence, are less likely to report crime or cooperate with law enforcement when any contact with law enforcement could result in deportation." The text continues:
The program can result in a person being held and transferred into immigration detention without regard to whether the arrest is the result of a mistake, or merely a routine practice of questioning individuals involved in a dispute without pressing charges. Victims or witnesses to crimes may otherwise have recourse to lawful status (such as U-visas or T-visas) that detention resulting from the Secure Communities program obstructs.
In an article on the S-Comm program, California's KPBS reported that in the city of Escondido, "collaboration between the city's police and federal immigration activists has caused tension in the city's Latino communities for years." The article continued:
Agents have been present at the police department's driver's license and sobriety checkpoints, and in the city's jails.
Activists say this kind collaboration diminishes public safety because immigrants are less likely to trust police or report crime if they fear that interacting with police could get them deported.
But in a segment on the TRUST Act for Fox News' Special Report, correspondent William La Jeunesse suggested the bill would allow violent criminals to go free and avoid deportation if they are in the country illegally. His report included Marin County Sheriff Robert Doyle saying, "If you or I were victimized by someone stealing our identity, or selling drugs in our community, or burglarizing our homes or embezzling our money, that that's OK. That's a minor crime."
Fox News repeatedly trumpeted a report from a local Fox affiliate claiming that immigrants crossing at the U.S.-Mexico border are using a "loophole" to enter and stay in the United States illegally by saying key phrases, namely that they have a "credible fear" of the drug cartels. But as even its own reporting admitted, this so-called "loophole" is long-established asylum policy of allowing foreigners who fear persecution in their own country to state their case in immigration court. Moreover, the evidence doesn't support Fox's claims that these immigrants are using the tactic to ultimately skip out on their asylum hearings.
Fox News ran a prepackaged segment that took an immigration expert's comments out of context to stoke fears about the Senate immigration bill and the Obama administration's prosecutorial discretion policy.
In the segment, which appeared three times on Fox News on one day, correspondent William La Jeunesse discussed the cases of two undocumented immigrants who are accused of drunken driving accidents which resulted in the deaths of two police officers. La Jeunesse used these cases to baselessly claim that the Senate immigration bill would allow some immigrants who are criminals and felons to stay if they have family connections in the U.S. The segment included quotes from a pre-recorded interview with immigration expert Crystal Williams, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA):
Fox News is reviving the pernicious smear that undocumented immigrants are criminals in order to attack the comprehensive immigration reform proposal being debated in the Senate. In fact, the legislation toughens provisions against those immigrants who have been convicted of crimes and bars them from gaining legal status; moreover, studies show that immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born Americans.
Fox News used a dishonest graph to distort the Obama administration's record on border enforcement and claim that the border is less secure. Fox's chart painted a misleading picture of Southwest border apprehensions by using an arbitrary time period and an improper scale -- even as illegal border crossings under President Obama are at historic lows.
In several segments on Fox News, correspondent William La Jeunesse highlighted the graph to claim that the Southwest border "is actually less secure," pointing to what he called the "double-digit surge" in border apprehensions from 2011 to 2013 to make his point:
La Jeunesse reported that the numbers for October-April 2013 were released exclusively to Fox News from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
In a report on Happening Now, La Jeunesse touted the graph and highlighted the fact that apprehensions of Central American nationals have risen 13 percent -- leading him to claim that by this standard more people are getting into the United States illegally.
La Jeunesse gave a similar report on Your World using the same graph.
However, the graph La Jeunesse used suffers from several misleading characteristics. First, it depicts an arbitrary time period: October through April, though we're only a few days into the month, for the years 2011 to 2013 -- which takes into account only half of Obama's first term. Moreover, the graph has a skewed scale -- making the 27,000 jump from 2011 to 2013 seem more dramatic than it actually is.