Fox’s evening news programs routinely misinform viewers on reproductive rights issues, disproportionately relying on extreme anti-choice figures and deceptive smear campaigns to deliver their message, according to a new Media Matters study. During a recent 14-month period, Fox News’ guests, hosts, and network correspondents all helped propagate the false claims that Planned Parenthood sold fetal tissue and used government funds to illegally pay for abortions, and that a series of deceptively edited videos produced by the anti-choice Center for Medical Progress (CMP) were accurate.
Media Matters analyzed 14 months of Fox News’ evening programs, looking at discussions of abortion-related topics on the shows Special Report with Bret Baier, On The Record with Greta Van Susteren, The O’Reilly Factor, The Kelly File, and Hannity. Since July 15, 2015, Fox’s evening news programs have repeatedly spread CMP’s false allegations that Planned Parenthood was breaking laws in its handling of fetal tissue. Media Matters, a federal judge, an independent analysis, and numerous media outlets have found that CMP’s videos were deceptively edited (CMP was named Media Matters’ Misinformer of Year); 13 states and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have investigated the allegations and cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing; and CMP’s founder and an associate were indicted for the fraudulent actions they took in making the videos.
Nevertheless, Fox’s evening news programs have repeated CMP’s false claims as though they were true and falsely claimed that the videos were accurate.
From July 15, 2015, through March 6, 2016, Fox News evening show hosts, guests, and correspondents made 384 statements or claims that Planned Parenthood was “harvesting,” or “profiting” from the sale of, fetal tissue and 378 statements or claims that CMP’s videos or work were accurate, even going as far as to refer to the discredited smear campaign as “journalism.” In contrast, Fox’s hosts, guests, and correspondents made only 55 statements or claims that Planned Parenthood was not, in fact, selling fetal tissue and 84 statements or claims that CMP’s videos weren’t accurate.
Fox News helped CMP not only by repeatedly reporting on, replaying, or commenting on 11 of CMP’s deceptively edited videos, but also by hosting the person responsible for the entire smear campaign, David Daleiden, seven times from July 15 through September 4, including in an hour-long Fox News Special, “Hidden Harvest,” which was devoted to the group’s baseless allegations. Daleiden appeared seven times on Fox’s evening news programs during the course of the study, and he has also made additional appearances since the study ended in March.
And Daleiden wasn’t the only self-identified anti-choice person featured on the network. Fox’s evening news programs overwhelmingly favored those who identify as anti-choice versus those who identify as pro-choice. In segments on Fox’s evening news programs that discussed abortion or abortion-related topics, people who self-identify as anti-choice made up 36 percent of appearances, whereas people who self-identify as pro-choice comprised only 6 percent.
Media Matters also ran a secondary analysis on whether individuals who didn’t explicitly identify as anti-choice more often cited statements containing accurate or inaccurate information about four types of prevalent misinformation about abortion, Planned Parenthood or the Center for Medical Progress. We found that those who consistently cited anti-choice statements accounted for 9 percent of appearances and those who mostly cited anti-choice statements accounted for 25 percent of appearances. All combined, 70 percent of appearances on Fox News evening programs were made by people who either self-identified as anti-choice or consistently or mostly made anti-choice statements, compared to the combined 5 percent of appearances by either pro-choice-identified or pro-choice-leaning people.
Overall, Fox also shared nearly two dozen times the false claim that Planned Parenthood uses Medicaid funding to pay for abortions outside of the legal limitations, spreading the claim (without countering it in equal measure) on Hannity and The O’Reilly Factor. Additionally, any time a person on a Fox evening news program asserted -- or cited a claim -- that some kinds of birth control act as abortifacients, no speaker in the segment challenged those statements or discussed the medical community’s consensus that no contraceptive device or medication currently available is equivalent to an abortion.