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  • Kevin Williamson also said on his podcast that people who’ve had abortions should be hanged

    Update: Williamson out at The Atlantic

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE (4/5): After previously defending the hiring of former National Review writer Kevin Williamson as an exercise in ideological diversity, Atlantic Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg announced on April 5 that the outlet was “parting ways” with Williamson. In particular, Goldberg noted that Williamson’s defense of his belief that those who have had abortions should be hanged -- made in a podcast uncovered by Media Matters yesterday -- “runs contrary to The Atlantic’s tradition of respectful, well-reasoned debate, and to the values of our workplace.”

    Original article below. 

    The Atlantic recently sparked outrage after hiring former National Review writer Kevin Williamson -- who notoriously argued that “the law should treat abortion like any other homicide” with punishment including hanging. Although some have tried to make light of these comments, in reality, Williamson both defended and again promoted this belief during a September 2014 edition of his National Review podcast.

    Williamson has a long history of producing problematic articles and commentary on a variety of topics, including on abortion, transgender people, and immigrants. Several of Williamson’s defenders have downplayed his history emphasizing, in particular, that Williamson’s tweets on abortion should not be taken seriously. 

    For example, the National Review’s David French alleged that Williamson was being subjected to “the unbelievably tedious ‘gotcha’ exercise of angry progressives combing through” his articles and “attempting to define” him by pointing to “a few paragraphs, a sentence here or there, or an ill-considered tweet or two.” Similarly, Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum wrote that although he found some of Williamson’s work problematic, he dismissed the severity of his comments on abortion, saying: “Lots of conservatives believe that abortion is murder. Williamson was willing to take this publicly to its logical endpoint -- that women who get abortions should be prosecuted for murder one -- but that act of folly is the only difference between him and every other right-wing pundit.” 

    As Slate reported, in a memo sent to staff at The Atlantic, even Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg argued that he didn’t think “taking a person’s worst tweets, or assertions, in isolation is the best journalistic practice” and that he “would also prefer, all things being equal, to give people second chances and the opportunity to change. I’ve done this before in reference to extreme tweeting.” This sentiment was echoed by The New York Timesmuch maligned columnist Bret Stephens who remarked in his column: “I jumped at your abortion comment, but for heaven’s sake, it was a tweet.” 

    However, as Williamson himself explained in a September 2014 episode of his National Review podcast, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” he had no problem defending his view that he supported capital punishment for those who had an abortion and that what he “had in mind was hanging.” Notably, although Williamson did hedge saying that he was “kind of squishy on capital punishment in general” he was “absolutely willing to see abortion treated like regular homicide under the criminal code.”

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON (CO-HOST): And someone challenged me on my views on abortion, saying, “If you really thought it was a crime you would support things like life in prison, no parole, for treating it as a homicide.” And I do support that, in fact, as I wrote, what I had in mind was hanging.

    [...]

    WILLIAMSON: My broader point here is, of course, that I am a -- as you know I’m kind of squishy on capital punishment in general -- but that I’m absolutely willing to see abortion treated like a regular homicide under the criminal code, sure.

    Later in the same episode of the podcast, Williamson continued that when it came to punishment for those who had abortions, he “would totally go with treating it like any other crime up to and including hanging” -- going so far as to say that he had “a soft spot for hanging as a form of capital punishment” because “if the state is going to do violence, let’s make it violence. Let’s not pretend like we’re doing something else.”

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON (CO-HOST): But yeah, so when I was talking about, I would totally go with treating it like any other crime up to and including hanging -- which kind of, as I said, I’m kind of squishy about capital punishment in general, but I’ve got a soft spot for hanging as a form of capital punishment. I tend to think that things like lethal injection are a little too antiseptic --

    CHARLES C.W. COOKE (CO-HOST): Sure, if you’re going to do it.

    WILLIAMSON: -- quasi-medical -- yeah, if the state is going to do violence, let’s make it violence.

    COOKE: I absolutely agree.

    WILLIAMSON: Let’s not pretend like we’re doing something else.

    [...]

    WILLIAMSON: I think in some ways it’s worse than your typical murder. I mean, it’s absolutely premeditated --

    COOKE: It’s clinical.

    WILLIAMSON: --it’s clinical.

    COOKE: Literally.

    WILLIAMSON: Yes, it’s something that’s performed against the most vulnerable sort of people. And that’s the sort of thing we generally take into account in the sentencing of other murder cases. You know, murdering a four year old kid, is not the same as killing a 21-year-old guy.

  • We reviewed Kevin Williamson's past work. The Atlantic hiring him is even worse than you think.

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


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    After The Atlantic hired former National Review writer Kevin Williamson, Media Matters and a number of others called out Williamsons’ history of problematic commentary -- including his belief that “the law should treat abortion like any other homicide” and, as Rewire.News characterized it, that “women who have had abortions should face capital punishment, namely hanging.” 

    It turns out there are plenty of other reasons that The Atlantic should feel bad about the new hire and his self-proclaimed commitment to “raising a brand new kind of hell.”

    Williamson attacked Laverne Cox as “a man masquerading as a woman” and said transgender people were not “super emotionally stable” because they are “living in adolescence”

    After writing an article attacking transgender advocate and actress Laverne Cox, Williamson reiterated his anti-trans claims on his podcast, saying that she is “not a woman” and that his belief shouldn’t be “controversial” because she is “a man masquerading as a woman.”

    During the same podcast, Williamson said that “sex reassignment surgery” is “brutal and lamentable” because it is “surgical mutilation basically for cosmetic purposes.”

    Williamson also said that some transgender people do not give “the impression of being super emotionally stable” because they are “self-dramatizing” and “theatrical.” He claimed this characterization is “unfortunately stereotypical” but nevertheless called it “an accurate description.”

    Williamson continued that transgender people are probably “living in adolescence” because “if you’re 40, and you’re still getting massive hormone treatments from a hormone that belongs to a sex that isn’t you, then, I guess, you should maybe be able to expect that this is going to be some sort of continued adolescence.”

    Williamson called Mexican immigrants “peasants” who “aren’t really contributing” and said they’ve made the border look “like Afghanistan”

    During a 2011 appearance on Lou Dobbs Tonight, Williamson not only called Mexican immigrants, “peasants” but also claimed that they “aren’t really contributing a great deal.” When pressed on this statement, Williamson said that the border between Texas and Mexico “looks like Afghanistan.”

    Williamson commented that he “certainly hopes” we have continued “waterboarding people somewhere”

    In a 2011 appearance on Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight, Williamson called for a continuation of waterboarding, saying: “We’re probably waterboarding people somewhere. I certainly hope so.”

    Williamson was “offended” that former first lady Michelle Obama “gripes about having to pay back her student loans”

    In 2012, Williamson used another appearance on Lou Dobbs Tonight to attack former first lady Michelle Obama, saying he was “offended” that Michelle Obama “gripes about having to pay back her student loans” because “when someone loans you money to do something that you want to do, that’s a favor.”

    Williamson told Parkland students that they “didn’t know anything” and claimed that “assault weapons” are not “actually very dangerous guns”

    During a 2010 appearance on CNN, Williamson argued that hunting rifles are more dangerous than “so-called assault weapons,” which are “not actually very dangerous guns.” Williamson also said that it wasn’t “an entirely irrational or paranoid belief” to think that the government would someday seize people’s guns.

    Then, last month on his own National Review podcast, “Mad Dogs & Englishmen,” Williamson attacked the high school students who survived a mass shooting at their Parkland, FL, school for advocating for stronger gun laws. Williamson compared the situation to asking people who had been in New York City during the 9/11 attacks for advice on the Middle East, saying, “We’re glad you made it through it OK. But you still don’t know anything.”

    Williamson attacked Maya Angelou, calling her a “cultural mascot” whose purpose is to “teach white liberals the meaning of life”

    Shortly after poet Maya Angelou’s passing in 2014, Williamson discussed her legacy on his podcast -- arguing that she was merely “a kind of cultural mascot” or “literary character that we tend to attach to older, African-American women” whose purpose is to “teach white liberals the meaning of life.”

    Additionally, Williamson has expressed a number of questionable opinions about race and white supremacy

    During a 2011 segment on NPR’s Tell Me More, Williamson attacked Malcolm X as “the sort of figure” who “is destructive in a lot of ways” because he engaged “in some of the most destructive and counterproductive politics the 20th century had to offer.” [NPR, Tell Me More, 4/8/11]

    In 2012, on the same NPR program, Williamson said that the idea that “racial diversity is an inherent fundamental part of higher education’s mission” is “intellectually indefensible.”[NPR, Tell Me More, 2/24/12]

    In 2018, on Fox News Radio’s The One w/ Greg Gutfeld, Williamson claimed that “if white supremacy” could be pointed to as an explanation for both chattel slavery as well as “the fact that there are nice restaurants in Brooklyn now in neighborhoods that didn’t have them,” then it “doesn’t explain anything.”

    Williamson made a similar statement in 2014 on his podcast, describing white supremacy as “an imaginary substance” created out of “intellectual crudity.”

    Williamson has attacked students, government workers, and union members as “illiterate” and “parasites”

    In a 2011 appearance on NPR’s Tell Me More, Williamson said that American students were the “most illiterate, bad reading level kids on the Earth.” [NPR, Tell Me More, 1/7/11]

    In 2013, Williamson said on Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight that the government shutdown “put a few thousand parasites out of work in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.” When pressed on his comment by a fellow panelist, Williamson responded: “Well if they’re not parasites let’s put their wages to a market test and see if they are actually worth what they’re paid. But they know they are not worth what they’re paid which is why they resist putting their wages to a market test.”

    In 2012, Williamson appeared on Dobbs’ program and referred to union members as “grotesque parasitic union goons.”

    Williamson has attacked Planned Parenthood as “grisly” and “bloodthirsty”

    After Planned Parenthood announced support for Barack Obama during the 2012 election, Williamson called the organization a “grisly, bloodthirsty enterprise.” 

  • Kevin Williamson is dreadful, and The Atlantic should feel bad for hiring him

    Williamson has a history of making misogynistic, extreme, and outrageous claims on a number of issues

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

    On March 22, National Review writer Kevin Williamson announced he had been hired by The Atlantic. Williamson announced his departure in a post for National Review titled “On My Departure” in which he wrote:

    As some of you have heard by now, I’ve accepted a position at The Atlantic, and my regular duties here at National Review and the National Review Institute will come to a close after ten very happy and fruitful years for which I am and always will be grateful.

    [...]

    When asked why he sometimes wrote for Playboy, Bill Buckley said that he wanted to be sure that at least some of his work was seen by his son. I can’t say I know Christopher Buckley very well, but he never has struck me as the kind of pervert who reads Playboy for the articles. Still, I get the sentiment. And even though The Atlantic was founded by a bunch of sometime Republicans (Ralph Waldo Emerson et al., from whom our modern Republicans could learn a thing or two of value) it isn’t exactly what you’d call conservative. So like St. Paul, who also benefited from the services of a good editor, I will be an apostle to the Gentiles. I am very much looking forward to raising a brand new kind of hell.

    As Splinter noted, “The Atlantic’s former editor, James Bennet, has been busy in the past year turning the New York Times opinion page into an even bigger source of frustration for its newsroom. His old place of employment is apparently looking to top those efforts.” And indeed, Williamson has quite a history of making misogynistic points, pushing anti-abortion extremism, and offering outrageous views on a number of other issues.

    Williamson once called for women who had abortions to be hanged

    In 2014, Williamson tweeted that “the law should treat abortion like any other homicide.” Although Williamson has since deleted his Twitter account, the exchange was immortalized by Rewire.News Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson, who explained that Williamson not only advocated for abortion to “be treated as premeditated homicide,” but also that “women who have had abortions should face capital punishment, namely hanging.”

    The comments sparked enough outrage that Salon created a quiz for readers: “Can you tell the difference between National Review’s Kevin Williamson and a 4chan troll?”

    Beyond this, Williamson has a history of making extreme, anti-abortion commentary.

    In 2014, Williamson also wrote a piece claiming that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has a “desire to see as many poor children killed” as possible through abortion.

    In 2015, Williamson urged lawmakers to support a 20-week abortion ban (a medically unsound bill that anti-choice Republicans are still pushing in 2018). As justification, Williamson suggested that although he did “sympathize with women who feel that they are not ready for a child," he had also “had many developments in life for which I was not ready.”

    In 2013, Williamson argued against “exceptions for rape and incest” in anti-abortion restrictions, saying that “invites the very critique that feminists would like to make” because “if we are going to protect unborn human lives, then we are going to protect them regardless of the circumstances of their conception.”

    Most recently, Williamson wrote an article for National Review this year about the annual anti-abortion event March for Life. In the article, Williamson argued that he could tolerate many things other than abortion, writing: “Smoke weed, snort cocaine, watch porn, but don’t kill a living human organism, for any reason, ever.”

    Williamson also has a history of misogyny

    In an article titled “Like a Boss,” Williamson claimed that “from an evolutionary point of view, Mitt Romney should get 100 percent of the female vote,” including “Michelle Obama’s vote,” because “the ladies do tend to flock to successful executives and entrepreneurs.” Williamson concluded that although Americans “don’t do harems … Romney is exactly the kind of guy who in another time and place would have the option of maintaining one.”

    Williamson also launched an ad hominem attack on actress Lena Dunham for writing a piece that encouraged people to vote. Williamson’s 2014 post, headlined “Five Reasons Why You’re Too Dumb to Vote,” attacked Dunham as “distinctly unappealing" while calling her piece “a half-assed listicle penned by a half-bright celebrity and published by a gang of abortion profiteers" directed toward Dunham's "presumably illiterate following."

    And this line of criticism was not limited to attacks on Dunham. That same year, Williamson also penned a criticism of feminism, including attacks on then-California state Senate candidate Sandra Fluke and Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. As Media Matters noted, Williamson defined feminism in this piece as “the words ‘I Want!’ in the mouths of three or more women, provided they're the right kind of women."

    Williamson also has a checkered history of offering problematic commentary on sexual assault and harassment. In 2015, Media Matters called out Williamson for declaring the epidemic of campus sexual assault “a fiction” and arguing that efforts to curb incidents were somewhat akin to the “mass hysteria” during the Salem witch trials.

    This sentiment goes back even further. In 2008, Williamson wrote a tribute to newspaper advice columnist Miss Manners that included such gems as “As every female police officer knows, there is something maddeningly sexy about a woman enforcing rules, and something sexually repugnant about a woman without any rules at all” and “Miss Manners is sexy for the same reason that librarians and teachers and nurses can be sexy: she is an authority — it's fun to play with authority.”

    Also in 2008, Williamson claimed that Hillary Clinton’s “true-believers understand that they and their grievances will never merit the free upgrade to first-class victimhood.” In the National Review article, Williamson also wrote that Clinton was “getting in touch with her inner dominatrix (which does not seem to have been much of a reach for her.)”

    More recently, Williamson wrote an article for National Review headlined “The Treasury Secretary’s Wife” in which he attacked Louise Linton, wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, as a “D-minus-list never-was CSI-extra actress.”

    Williamson has a history of making anti-LGBTQ comments

    In 2014, Williamson attacked transgender actress and advocate Laverne Cox, writing that she was “not a woman, but an effigy of a woman," because transgender identity is a "delusional tendency." This was not the first time Williamson expressed anti-trans sentiments. In 2013, he penned the article “Bradley Manning Is Not A Woman.”

    Williamson also used his platform at National Review to praise and admit to a “sneaking admiration for Kim Davis” -- the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Although he did note that her position was “wrong, inarguably” and that her sentence was justified even “as much as one might admire Davis’s conviction,” Williamson still compared her “principled noncompliance” to that of Martin Luther King Jr.

    Williamson has made racist and Islamophobic comments

    Following the Paris terror attacks in 2015, Williamson argued that the Paris attackers should spur "more scrutiny and surveillance of Muslim immigrant communities.”

    This year, in an National Review article headlined “The Intellectual Emptiness of ‘White Supremacy,’” Williamson wrote that although “‘white supremacy’ … used to mean something: the Ku Klux Klan, Nazis and their imitators, race-science crackpottery, etc.,” it no longer has the same meaning. As Williamson argued, now “‘white supremacy’ is only another in the progressive parade of horribles, up there with Islamophobia and transmisogyny, the terrible sin straight men commit if they forgo dating ‘women’ with penises and testicles.”

    Williamson has expressed callous views around gun violence and gun violence prevention

    Writing for the National Review, Williamson criticized former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) for writing a New York Times op-ed by stating, "It should be noted that being shot in the head by a lunatic does not give one any special grace to pronounce upon public-policy questions." Williamson added that Giffords' op-ed was "childish" and "an embarrassment." Williamson doubled down on this criticism of Giffords when he said on HuffPost Live that “the fact that something terrible happens to you doesn’t give you any special understanding of the situation.”

    On a 2011 episode of former Fox Business show Following the Money with Eric Bolling, Williamson said that if current economic policies continued, “you’re going to want to have a very good gun.”

    After protesters took to the streets in Baltimore in 2015 following the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, Williamson wrote on Twitter, “I wonder if any of my lefty friends in the DC suburbs are rethinking their Second Amendment rights this week.”

    Williamson has made questionable comments about environmental protection policies

    In 2015, Williamson claimed that emissions standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to curtail vehicle pollutants were “phony moral imperatives” and thus Volkswagen’s cheating on the standards should be expected.

    Williamson wrote a shining profile of EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt, saying that Pruitt “is in fact a true believer … principled” and that he “is genuinely excited about the possibilities we have for improving the environment.”

    Williamson has made other outrageous claims

    On a 2009 episode of the former Fox News program Glenn Beck, Williamson asserted of the Obama administration’s environmental protection policies, “The left always needs an emergency because they can't get this stuff done through normal democratic means.”

    In 2014, Williamson compared Cliven Bundy, who got into a armed standoff with law enforcement after refusing to pay grazing fees for his cattle, to “every fugitive slave” and "every one of the sainted men and women who enabled them."

    Williamson claimed in 2015 that the arrest of teenager Ahmed Mohammed for bringing a homemade clock to school was "a phony case of Islamophobia.," Williamson then attacked President Barack Obama and other public figures for expressing support for Ahmed, calling their actions "cheap moral preening," and arguing that the story received attention only because it "can be used to further a story" about racism in the United States.

    In 2015, Williamson compared Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to a Nazi, writing that Sanders’ political views equate to “national socialism,” which Williamson said made him “queasy and uncomfortable” to write because of Sanders’ Jewish heritage and the fact his family was killed in the Holocaust.

    Williamson wrote in 2014 that rich Americans “work more -- a lot more” than low-income Americans, pointing to a study claiming that top-bracket income workers inherit a smaller percentage of their wealth than low-income Americans do.

    In a 2017 article for National Review, Williamson wrote about “the myth of the idle rich,” saying that wealthy people’s “fortunes do not build themselves” and that “those who are truly passive in their economic lives tend to end up at the unhappy end of the income-distribution curve.”

  • A timeline of scandals and ethical shortfalls at Scott Pruitt's EPA

    Journalists have uncovered a long list of controversies during Pruitt's time in office

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER & EVLONDO COOPER

    This post was updated on 4/24/18 to incorporate additional news reports.

    The Trump presidency has been called the most unethical in modern history, with its scandals continuously dominating the news cycle. And the questionable ethical behavior extends far beyond the White House to cabinet members and the departments and agencies they oversee, including the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Journalists covering the EPA have unearthed a litany of scandals, conflicts of interest, extravagant expenditures, and ethically dubious actions involving administrator Scott Pruitt and other politically appointed officials. Here is an overview of the reporting on ethical scandals at Pruitt’s EPA, starting a week after he was sworn in and continuing up to the present:

    February 24, 2017, KOKH: Pruitt lied to senators about his use of a private email account. An investigation by Oklahoma City Fox affiliate KOKH revealed that Pruitt lied during his Senate confirmation hearing when he said he did not use a private email account to conduct official business while he was attorney general of Oklahoma, a finding later confirmed by the office of the attorney general. The Oklahoma Bar Association subsequently opened an investigation into the matter, which could lead to Pruitt being disbarred in the state of Oklahoma.

    May 17, 2017, ThinkProgress: An EPA appointee appeared to violate Trump's ethics order on lobbyists. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) sent a letter to Pruitt on May 16 noting that EPA appointee Elizabeth “Tate” Bennett had lobbied both the Senate and the House on EPA regulations as recently as 2016 -- an apparent violation of Trump’s ethics executive order barring former lobbyists from participating in any government matter related to their past lobbying within two years of their appointment.

    June 16, 2017, Bloomberg: Pruitt met with oil executives at Trump’s D.C. hotel, then backed away from a regulation on oil companies. On March 22, Pruitt met with oil executives who sit on the American Petroleum Institute’s board of directors, and less than three weeks later, the EPA announced that it was reconsidering a regulation requiring oil and gas companies to control methane leaks. The meeting took place at the Trump hotel in Washington, D.C., which Time has called a “dealmaker’s paradise” for “lobbyists and insiders.”

    August 28, 2017, E&E News: Pruitt gave a Superfund job to a failed banker whose bank had given loans to Pruitt. In May, Pruitt appointed Albert “Kell” Kelly to head a task force on the EPA’s Superfund program, even though Kelly had been fined $125,000 by federal banking regulators and banned for life from banking activity because of misdeeds committed when he was CEO of Oklahoma-based SpiritBank. Kelly had no previous experience working on environmental issues and, as ThinkProgress reported in February 2018, he had a financial stake in Phillips 66, an oil company that the EPA had deemed responsible for contaminating areas in Louisiana and Oregon. In previous years, Kelly’s bank had given a loan to Pruitt to purchase a share in a minor league baseball team and provided acquisition financing when the team was sold. The bank had also provided three mortgage loans to Pruitt and his wife, as The Intercept reported in December.

    September 20, 2017, Wash. Post: Pruitt's security team drew staff away from criminal investigations. Pruitt’s 24/7 security detail -- the first-ever round-the-clock protection detail for an EPA administrator -- required triple the manpower of his predecessors' security teams and pulled in special agents who would have otherwise spend their time investigating environmental crimes.

    September 26, 2017, Wash. Post: Pruitt spent about $43,000 on a private soundproof booth, violating federal spending law. The Post reported on September 26 that the EPA spent nearly $25,000 to construct a secure, soundproof communications booth in Pruitt’s office, even though there was another such booth on a different floor at EPA headquarters. No previous EPA administrators had such a setup, the Post reported. On March 14, the Post reported that the EPA also spent more than $18,000 on prep work required before the private phone booth could be installed, which put its total cost “closer to $43,000.” On April 16, a Government Accountability Office report found that Pruitt’s use of agency funds for the booth violated federal rules. Agency heads are required to notify Congress in advance when office improvement expenditures exceed $5,000. Two days later, Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, told lawmakers that his office is investigating Pruitt’s spending on the booth.

    September 27, 2017, Wash. Post: Pruitt spent $58,000 on charter and military flights. Pruitt took at least four noncommerical and military flights that together cost taxpayers more than $58,000. The most expensive of these was a $36,000 flight on a military jet from Ohio, where Pruitt had joined Trump at an event promoting an infrastructure plan, to New York, where Pruitt then set off on a trip to Italy.

    October 24, 2017, CNN: Pruitt met with a mining CEO, then immediately started clearing the way for his proposed mine. In May, Pruitt sat down with the CEO of Pebble Limited Partnership, the company seeking to build the controversial Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska. Just hours after that meeting, he directed the EPA to withdraw an Obama-era proposal to protect the ecologically rich area from certain mining activities. (In January 2018, Pruitt reversed his decision without explanation.)

    December 12, 2017, Wash. Examiner: Pruitt made a costly trip to Morocco to promote natural gas. In December, Pruitt flew to Morocco to promote natural gas exports during talks with Moroccan officials, as first reported by The Washington Examiner. E&E reported that the trip cost nearly $40,000, according to an EPA employee. The Washington Post reported, “The purpose of the trip sparked questions from environmental groups, Democratic lawmakers and some industry experts, who noted that the EPA plays no formal role in overseeing natural gas exports. Such activities are overseen primarily by the Energy Department and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.”

    December 15, 2017, Mother Jones/NY Times: The EPA hired a GOP opposition research firm whose VP had investigated EPA employees. Mother Jones reported that the EPA awarded a $120,000 contract to Definers Corp., a Republican PR firm specializing in opposition research and finding damaging information on individuals, to do what the firm describes as "war room"-style media monitoring. According to The New York Times, Definers Vice President Allan Blutstein had submitted at least 40 Freedom of Information Act requests to the EPA targeting employees that he deemed “resistance" figures critical of Pruitt or the Trump administration. After the contract was exposed, the EPA canceled it.

    February 11, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt spent $90,000 on first-class flights and other travel in a single week. During a stretch in early June, Pruitt racked up at least $90,000 in taxpayer-funded travel costs, including first-class, business-class, and military flights. The figure did not include the cost of Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail accompanying him on those trips. One first-class flight was for an overnight trip to New York, where Pruitt made two media appearances to praise Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement. According to the Post, “[EPA] records show that wherever Pruitt’s schedule takes him, he often flies first or business class, citing unspecified security concerns.” The Associated Press later reported that, for travel where Pruitt had to foot the bill himself, the EPA head flew coach, according to an EPA official with direct knowledge of Pruitt’s security spending. The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Trey Gowdy (R-SC), demanded documentation and explanation for Pruitt’s first- and business-class work travel, but Pruitt missed the chairman’s March 6 deadline to turn over documents. As of April 11, the EPA still hadn’t provided all requested documents, so Gowdy sent Pruitt another letter demanding the information. Later reporting by The Associated Press found that Pruitt flew coach when taxpayers were not footing the bill.

    February 13, 2018, CBS News: Pruitt flew luxury business class on a foreign airline. Pruitt broke with government rules requiring employees to fly on U.S. carriers. He got a waiver to return home from Milan, Italy, in June on Emirates Airline in what CBS described as “one of the world’s most luxurious business class cabins.”

    February 15, 2018, NY Times: Pruitt met with trucking executives, then preserved a loophole to benefit their company. In May, Pruitt met with executives from Fitzgerald Glider Kits, a company that sells big-rig trucks with retrofitted diesel engines. They were seeking to preserve a loophole that exempted Fitzgerald’s trucks from emission rules. Pruitt announced in November that he would provide the exemption, citing a Fitzgerald-funded Tennessee Tech study that found the company’s trucks emitted no more pollution than trucks with modern emissions systems. But just days after Pruitt made his announcement, EPA staffers published findings that Fitzgerald trucks emit 43 to 55 times as much air pollution as new trucks. And after The New York Times reported on the story, Tennessee Tech's president disavowed the Fitzgerald-funded study and asked the EPA to disregard it. The EPA responded by claiming to the Times that it "did not rely upon the study," even though Pruitt had cited it in making his announcement about the exemption. In April, four Republican senators and 10 Republican House members sent Pruitt a letter asking him to close the loophole.

    February 26, 2018, Politico: The EPA has been hit with a record number of anti-secrecy lawsuits. A Politico analysis found that the EPA has “experienced a huge surge in open records lawsuits since President Donald Trump took office” and that 2017 was “the busiest calendar year by far for open-records cases brought against EPA, according to data stretching back to 1992.” A separate analysis by the Project on Government Oversight found that the EPA has been especially slow in resolving Freedom of Information Act requests.

    March 5, 2018, E&E News/AP: An EPA public affairs official was given the OK to do outside media consulting. John Konkus, a top political aide to Pruitt who works in the EPA's public affairs office, was granted permission to work as a media consultant outside of his agency work. In August, when the arrangement was approved, Konkus had “two likely clients” for his outside work and anticipated adding more in the next six months. The EPA has not disclosed who those clients were. Konkus, a former Trump campaign aide, had been put in charge of hundreds of millions of dollars in grants that the EPA distributes annually -- an "unusual" arrangement, as The Washington Post reported in September. According to the Post, "Konkus has told staff that he is on the lookout for 'the double C-word' — climate change — and repeatedly has instructed grant officers to eliminate references to the subject in solicitations."

    March 6, 2018, Wash. Post: EPA awarded a bug-sweeping contract to a business associate of Pruitt’s head of security. The head of Pruitt’s security detail, Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, advised EPA officials to hire his business associate for a contract to conduct a sweep of Pruitt’s office for concealed listening devices, a source told The Washington Post. Perrotta’s move prompted Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) to ask the EPA for documentation that Perrotta obeyed federal conflict-of-interest rules.

    March 8, 2018, AP: Almost half of EPA political appointees have strong industry ties. An analysis conducted by The Associated Press found that “nearly half of the political appointees hired at the Environmental Protection Agency under Trump have strong industry ties. Of 59 EPA hires tracked by the AP over the last year, about a third worked as registered lobbyists or lawyers for chemical manufacturers, fossil fuel producers and other corporate clients that raise the very type of revolving-door conflicts of interests that Trump promised voters he would eliminate. Most of those officials have signed ethics agreements saying they would not participate in actions involving their former clients while working at the EPA. At least three have gotten waivers allowing them to do just that.”

    March 8, 2018, The New Republic: Pruitt appointed the vice president of a polluting company to the EPA’s environmental justice advisory council. On March 7, Pruitt announced the addition of eight new members to the agency’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, one of whom was Michael Tilchin, a vice president of CH2M Hill, a big engineering firm. The New Republic reported that since February 2017, CH2M Hill’s work at the Hanford Site, a decommissioned nuclear weapons production facility in Washington state, “has sparked at least three accidental releases of plutonium dust, which emits alpha radiation—'the worst kind of radiation to get inside your body,’ according to KING-TV, the Seattle-based news station that’s been investigating the incidents.” Dozens of workers at the site have tested positive for internal plutonium contamination in the wake of the releases.

    March 28, 2018, Politico: EPA signs research agreement with firm tied to GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson. In March of 2017, Pruitt met with executives from Water-Gen, a technology firm based in Israel, at the behest of GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, and Pruitt had a second meeting with a Water-Gen executive in May. In January of this year, the EPA agreed to study Water-Gen's technology, an “atmospheric water generator” that the company claims can pull drinkable water out of the air and thereby provide clean water in remote areas with poor infrastructure. The meeting came to light after activists sued the EPA and forced the agency to produce Pruitt’s calendar. Important details about the arrangement, including Adelson’s relationship with the company, are still unknown.

    March 28, 2018, HuffPost: EPA gave employees talking points based on Pruitt’s lukewarm climate denial. Staffers at the EPA received an email on March 27 from the Office of Public Affairs with a list of eight approved talking points about climate change, echoing lines that Pruitt likes to use when discussing the topic. Point No. 5 is one the administrator has repeated often: "Human activity impacts our changing climate in some manner. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue."

    March 29, 2018, ABC News/Bloomberg: Pruitt paid below-market rent for a condo co-owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist. For the first half of 2017, Pruitt lived at a prime Capitol Hill address in a condo co-owned by Vicki Hart, wife of energy lobbyist J. Steven Hart. ABC News reported that, instead of contracting with a real estate broker, Pruitt worked directly with Steven Hart to arrange the $50-a-night rental agreement, with rent having to be paid only for the nights Pruitt stayed in the unit. ABC also reported that Pruitt's daughter used a second room in the condo from May to August, in apparent violation of the lease agreement. The EPA reimbursed the condo association $2,460 after Pruitt’s security team kicked in the door, mistakenly believing his safety was in jeopardy. While Pruitt was living in the condo, and paying well below market rate, the EPA gave its approval for expansion of the Alberta Clipper oil pipeline, directly benefiting Enbridge Inc., a client of Hart’s lobbying firm, according to The New York Times. Also, Steven Hart “was personally representing a natural gas company, an airline giant, and a major manufacturer that had business before the agency at the time he was also renting out a room to Pruitt,” according to The Daily Beast, and the Harts have donated to Pruitt's political campaigns since 2010. After the condo story broke, EPA’s top ethics watchdog said that he didn’t have all the information he needed when he initially determined that Pruitt’s rental arrangement did not violate federal rules, and the federal government’s top ethics official sent a letter to the EPA expressing concern over Pruitt’s living arrangements, travel, and reports that Pruitt retaliated against officials questioning his spending. And on April 21, The Hill reported that Pruitt met with Steven Hart last year on behalf a client, an executive linked to Smithfield Foods, according to a newly filed disclosure from Hart's firm. Hart and Smithfield contend that the meeting was about philanthropy and did not constitute lobbying, but the disclosure still appears to contradict Hart’s earlier statement that he had not lobbied the EPA during 2017 and 2018 as well as Pruitt’s earlier claim that “Hart has no clients that have business before this agency.”

    March 29, 2018, The Intercept: Nominee to head Superfund program is lawyer with long record of defending polluting companies. Pruitt has repeatedly claimed that he wants to prioritize the EPA Superfund program, which cleans up sites contaminated by industry. But Trump’s nominee to oversee the Superfund program, Peter Wright, seems unlikely to help the cause. As The Intercept reported, "For the last quarter-century, he has defended companies responsible for some of the biggest of these industrial disasters, including Dow Chemical, where he has worked for more than 18 years, and Monsanto, where he worked for seven years before that." Nonetheless, Pruitt enthusiastically endorsed Wright's nomination. 

    March 30, 2018, CNN: Taxpayers paid for Pruitt’s 24/7 security detail during his personal trips to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl. Pruitt’s security team accompanied him on trips home to Oklahoma as well as on a family vacation to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl, according to a letter that Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) sent to the EPA’s Office of Inspector General and shared with CNN.

    April 2, 2018, Wash. Post: EPA staff looked into the possibility of leasing a private jet for Pruitt’s travel. Pruitt’s aides contacted NetJets, a company that leases private planes, about "leasing a private jet on a month-to-month basis" to accommodate Pruitt’s travel needs. After receiving NetJets’ quote of about $100,000 a month, senior officials objected and the plan was abandoned.

    April 3, 2018, The Atlantic: The White House told Pruitt he could not give two of his closest aides a pay raise, but he used a loophole to do it anyway. In March, Pruitt sought permission from the White House’s Presidential Personnel Office for substantial pay increases for two of his closest aides, Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp. The White House said no. Pruitt then exploited a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act to increase Greenwalt’s salary from $107,435 to $164,200 and Hupp’s salary from $86,460 to $114,590.

    April 3, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt may have violated ethics rules by having his aide research housing arrangements for his family. Millan Hupp, whose salary Pruitt boosted by 33 percent against the White House’s wishes, did considerable legwork to help Pruitt and his wife find a home last summer. This may have been an ethics violation, as federal officials are barred from having their staff do personal tasks for them, according to ethics experts. 

    April 3, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt abused a little-known loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act to hire loyalists and ex-lobbyists. In 1977, Congress passed an amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act allowing the EPA to hire expert personnel without Senate or White House approval. The section was added to ensure the agency could hire the staff it needed to protect public health, but Pruitt broke from tradition and used the provision to “bring in former lobbyists along with young spokesmen and schedulers,” according to The Washington Post. Pruitt’s controversial hires included loyalists from his home state of Oklahoma, former industry lobbyists such as Nancy Beck, and James Hewitt, the son of radio host and MSNBC personality Hugh Hewitt -- one of Pruitt's most ardent public defenders. The Post reported that "ethics experts say hiring lobbyists through the provision breaks with some of Trump’s ethics rules."

    April 5, 2018, CBS News: Pruitt asked to use vehicle siren during non-emergency, reassigned staffer who objected. Several weeks after taking his position as head of the EPA, Pruitt was stuck in D.C. traffic and asked to use his vehicle's lights and sirens to get to an official appointment more quickly, sources told CBS News. According to CBS, “The lead agent in charge of his security detail advised him that sirens were to be used only in emergencies. Less than two weeks later that agent was removed from Pruitt's detail, reassigned to a new job within the EPA.”

    April 5, 2018, ABC News: EPA improperly paid for repair to Pruitt's condo door, congresswoman says. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), who sits on the subcommittee that oversees the EPA’s budget, took issue with the EPA using agency funds to repair a door in Pruitt’s condo after members of his security detail broke it down when they believed a napping Pruitt was unresponsive. “I know that Congress appropriates money for the EPA to protect human health and the environment – not for repairs to the administrator's residence,” McCollum wrote in a letter to the EPA.

    April 5, 2018, NY Times: Pruitt reassigned and demoted EPA officials who questioned his spending. Four career EPA employees and one Trump administration political appointee were demoted or reassigned after they confronted Pruitt and expressed concerns over his excessive spending on furniture, travel, and his security detail.

    April 5, 2018, Salon: Pruitt was involved in a questionable real estate deal while serving as Oklahoma attorney general. Documents obtained by the nonprofit watchdog group the Center for Media and Democracy revealed that in 2011, Pruitt, then-attorney general of Oklahoma, and his wife flipped a Tulsa home for a $70,000 profit after buying it just days before a court ruled that it had been fraudulently transferred. Kevin Hern, a major campaign donor to Pruitt, bought the house through a dummy corporation. According to Salon, “Evidence suggests that Pruitt planned the quick turnaround on the property in advance.”

    April 5 and 6, 2018, Politico/Politico: Pruitt was late paying his rent and “overstayed his welcome” at the lobbyist-linked condo. Pruitt was sometimes slow in paying rent to his lobbyist landlords. He also stayed in the condo longer than initially agreed. The original $50-a-night rental agreement was supposed to be for just six weeks, but Pruitt ended up using the condo for about six months. Politico reported, “The couple, Vicki and Steve Hart, became so frustrated by their lingering tenant that they eventually pushed him out and changed their locks.”

    April 6 and 9, 2018, Wash. Post/The Atlantic: Doubts cast on Pruitt’s claim that he did not approve controversial pay raises. During an April 4 interview with Fox News correspondent Ed Henry, Pruitt claimed that he did not approve controversial pay raises for his aides Greenwalt and Hupp and had learned about the raises only when the media first reported on them. But on April 6, the Post reported that two EPA officials and a White House official “told The Post that the administrator instructed staff to award substantial pay boosts to both women.” Additionally, administration officials told The Atlantic that an email exchange between Greenwalt and EPA human resources “suggests Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt personally signed off on a controversial pay raise.” The day after The Atlantic’s article came out, EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson took responsibility for the pay raises, issuing a statement reading, “Administrator Pruitt had zero knowledge of the amount of the raises, nor the process by which they transpired. These kind of personnel actions are handled by EPA's HR officials, Presidential Personnel Office and me.”

    April 10, 2018, Wash. Post/Politico: EPA staffers questioned the justification for Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail, and one was then fired. Sens. Whitehouse and Carper sent a letter to the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee calling for a congressional inquiry into Pruitt’s 24/7 security detail. In their letter, the senators cited several internal EPA documents that questioned the rationale for Pruitt’s detail, highlighting in particular a February 14 assessment by the EPA’s Office of Homeland Security that concluded that the justification for Pruitt’s security detail (emphasis in original) “DOES NOT employ sound analysis or articulate relevant ‘threat specific’ information appropriate to draw any resource or level of threat conclusions regarding the protection posture for the Administrator.” Politico reported that one of the EPA career officials who drafted the assessment, Mario Caraballo, was removed from his post on April 10. On the same day, The New York Times also reported that the EPA “has been examining posts on Twitter and other social media about Scott Pruitt, the agency’s administrator, to justify his extraordinary and costly security measures.” Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told the Times that the EPA may have violated federal law if the agency was aggressively monitoring Pruitt’s critics.

    April 10, 2018, HuffPost: As EPA head, Pruitt has met with dozens of his former campaign donors. An analysis conducted by the nonprofit MapLight found that Pruitt “has met with more than three dozen organizations that donated to his past campaigns and political committees in the last year,” HuffPost reported. “The donors include major oil and gas companies, electricity providers, coal producers, and conservative think tanks. At least 14 of the meetings were with organizations from Oklahoma, where Pruitt served as attorney general from 2011-16.”

    April 12, 2018, Politico Pro/Mother Jones: EPA staff were concerned about Pruitt’s misleading statements on emissions standards. Emails obtained by Greenpeace via the Freedom of Information Act showed that EPA experts were worried about Pruitt spreading “troubling” and “inaccurate” information in his justification for rolling back Obama-era auto emissions standards. Agency staffers pointed out multiple inaccuracies in Pruitt’s March 20 USA Today op-ed, including Pruitt’s claim that Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards “have pushed manufacturing and jobs to Mexico” -- a claim contradicted by the EPA’s own analysis and many other reports. To support his argument, Pruitt cited an analysis written by an author with no background in CAFE from the now-defunct National Center for Policy Analysis.

    April 12, 2018, NY Times: Lawmakers demand information about Pruitt's travel habits and luxury hotel stays. Five Democratic lawmakers sent Pruitt a letter seeking documents related to additional spending abuses after their staff members met with Pruitt’s dismissed former chief of staff, Kevin Chmielewski. According to the letter, Chmielewski revealed that Pruitt insisted on staying in luxury hotels priced above allowable limits and pressed for flights on airlines not listed on the government’s approved list so that he could earn more frequent flier miles. Chmielewski also told congressional investigators that Pruitt would direct staff to schedule trips for him to fly back home to Oklahoma and desired locations, telling them, “Find me something to do.”

    April 12, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt used four different email addresses at EPA. Pruitt has used four different email accounts during his time as EPA administrator, according to an agency official and a letter sent by Sens. Merkley and Carper to the EPA's inspector general. Pruitt’s use of multiple email accounts has prompted “concerns among agency lawyers that the EPA has not disclosed all the documents it would normally release to the public under federal records requests,” according to the Post. On April 17, the Post reported that Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) will examine whether Pruitt is fully complying with public records requests.

    April 17, 2018, Wash. Post: Pruitt upgraded to larger vehicle with bulletproof seat covers. In June last year, Pruitt upgraded his official vehicle to a larger, more high-end Chevy Suburban equipped with bullet-resistant seat covers. Federal records show that the Suburban cost $10,200 to lease for the first year and that the lease included an extra $300 a month worth of additional upgrades.         

    April 18, 2018, NY Times: Pruitt faces multiple investigations into his ethics and use of taxpayer money. Pruitt is the subject of multiple investigations by the EPA’s inspector general, the Government Accountability Office, the Office of Management and Budget, and the House Oversight Committee, a Times guide to Pruitt’s investigations revealed. The newest investigation, examining Pruitt’s use of his security detail during personal trips to the Rose Bowl, Disneyland, and basketball games, “brings the number of investigations into Mr. Pruitt’s use of taxpayer money and possible ethics violations to 10,” the Times reported.

    April 19, 2018, Reuters: EPA spent $45,000 to fly aides to Australia in advance of a Pruitt trip that was later canceled. Pruitt sent two aides and three security agents on business-class flights to Australia last August, at a cost of about $45,000, to do advance work for a trip the administrator planned to take, EPA officials told Reuters. The trip was canceled when Pruitt decided to travel instead to Texas to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. It has not been rescheduled.

    April 21, 2018, NY Times: Pruitt’s partners in ethically questionable behavior in Oklahoma now work for him at EPA. New York Times reporters examined Pruitt’s career in Oklahoma and identified multiple instances of excessive spending and ethics lapses, noting that “many of the pitfalls he has encountered in Washington have echoes in his past.” The article focused on Pruitt's purchase of a lobbyist-owned home in Oklahoma City when Pruitt was a state senator. According to real estate and other public records, Pruitt purchased the home “at a steep discount of about $100,000” from its prior price through a shell company formed with his business partner and law school friend, Kenneth Wagner. Pruitt did not disclose the house in his financial disclosure forms at the time, “a potential violation of the state’s ethics rules,” according to the Times. Years later, when he was the state's attorney general, Pruitt awarded more than $600,000 worth of state contracts to Wagner’s law firm from 2011 to 2017. Another business associate, Albert Kelly, led the bank that issued the mortgage for the home. After taking the reins at the EPA, Pruitt gave high-ranking positions within the agency to both Wagner and Kelly.

  • The 5 worst takes from coverage of the 2018 March for Life

    How media outlets promoted problematic narratives and anti-abortion misinformation

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On January 19, the annual March for Life was held in Washington D.C. In covering both the anti-abortion protest and the lead-up to it, some media outlets promoted problematic narratives and anti-abortion misinformation.

  • Six fights on reproductive rights that the media should be prepared to report on in 2018

    ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE

    President Donald Trump’s first year in office was particularly damaging for abortion rights and reproductive health. Beyond the Trump administration’s multiple moves to curtail abortion access, anti-choice advocates were also successful on the state level, organizing large-scale protests in North Carolina and Kentucky and implementing a litany of anti-choice policies. Yet with the upcoming Supreme Court case on crisis pregnancy centers, the continuing controversy over abortion access for undocumented minors, a wave of state-level attacks, and Trump’s anti-choice judicial confirmations, 2018 may be an even more dangerous year. 

  • Guide to right-wing media myths and facts about the Senate health care bill

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE & NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media figures are trying to curry favor for the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) by attacking the Affordable Care Act (ACA), pushing lies about the BCRA, disparaging the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) or distorting its analysis of the legislation, and muddying the truth about the health care system in general. Here is a guide to the myths right-wing media are employing to sell the Senate Republican health care bill.

  • STUDY: Major North Carolina Newspapers Largely Failed To Report On The Devastating Impacts Of The GOP Health Bill

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    Three of the top North Carolina newspapers largely failed to explain the major impacts of the proposed Republican health care bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA). A Media Matters analysis of originally reported articles about the bill in the Winston-Salem Journal, The News & Observer, and The Charlotte Observer found little to no mention of its impact on women and minority communities, insufficient reporting on its impact on seniors, and minimal coverage of its hidden, massive tax breaks for the wealthy.

  • Experts And Media Observers Stunned By Trump’s Budget Proposal

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Economic policy experts, advocacy groups, and media outlets scrambled to respond to President Donald Trump’s budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year, which includes $54 billion in new defense spending to be offset by dramatic cuts to the entire non-defense discretionary budget. Many observers were quick to point out that the president’s so-called “America First” budget will worsen the suffering of at-risk communities, including many low-income regions that supported his election and are kept afloat economically by federal spending programs.

  • Why News Outlets Only Sometimes Push Back Against Climate Denial

    The Atlantic: Backlash Against Scott Pruitt’s “Extremely Wrong” Climate Denial Highlights Media’s Failure To Call Out Trump Nominees’ “Milder” Form Of Denial

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer wrote that the backlash against Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s “extremely wrong” statement that carbon dioxide is not a primary contributor to climate change stands in stark contrast to the tepid criticism Pruitt and other Trump cabinet members received for their “milder” form of climate denial during nomination hearings.

    On the March 9 edition of CNBC’s Squawk Box, Pruitt roundly denied the scientific consensus on climate change by claiming that carbon dioxide is not a primary contributor. In his March 15 article, Meyer questioned (and addressed) why some media outlets “rushed to correct this untruth” when they paid less attention to past similar comments. He noted that Pruitt, as well as then-Trump nominees Rex Tillerson and Ryan Zinke, had made previous statements at odds with the scientific consensus that human activity is the dominant cause of climate change by employing what multiple outlets identified as Republicans’ new tactic on climate denial.

    Meyers described this “milder” form of denial as consisting of two parts: “A nominee first recognized the reality of ‘some’ global warming—sounding appropriately grave and concerned about it—before they pivoted to casting doubt on whether humans were behind this warming, or even whether a human influence could ever be known at all.”

    Yet Meyer noted that “even as scientists and some journalists shook their heads, Trump nominees’ statements were amended, and not outright rejected, in the broader public conversation,” adding, “My own work testifies to that: My headline about Tillerson’s hearing announced that he believes in climate change, even as I corrected what was incorrect about his scientific summary.” Indeed, The Atlantic was not the only mainstream outlet to describe Pruitt, Tillerson, and Zinke as believing in climate change in its headline, as articles in USA Today, Time, and Politico did the same. And even though these outlets noted in the articles that the Trump nominees’ statements were at odds with the scientific consensus on climate change, this sort of coverage is still problematic because studies show that most Americans don’t read beyond the headlines of news articles, most people who share articles on social media haven’t actually read them, and misleading headlines misinform people even when the body of the article gets the facts right.

    Meyer concluded that part of the difficulty in adequately calling out this new form of denial is due to journalists having to regularly correct “obviously wrong Republican claims” on climate change:

    Journalists covering climate change are constantly correcting obviously wrong Republican claims. This makes it harder for many to fact check the other, more waffley quotes that waft by. Many are loosely phrased and reasonable-sounding, but they contain little truth content. An example is Pruitt’s line from his confirmation hearing: “The human ability to measure with precision the extent of [the human] impact is subject to continuing debate and dialogue, as well they should be.”

    There is some kind of invisible consensus around questions of climate change. Say an obvious untruth and be mocked the world over. Say a non-commital (sic) vapidity—which has the same import as an outright lie—and you don’t wind up on Colbert. I suspect that an effect like this exists across politics, but it is surprising to see it so clearly on this one issue, where scientific agreement on reality is so strong.

    From The Atlantic:

    In January of this year, a ritual took shape on Capitol Hill, as one Trump nominee after another sat down a Senate committee for their confirmation hearing. The nominee shuffled his papers, greeted the lawmakers, and delivered conciliatory pablum about climate change.

    As many soon noticed, these statements were often… surprisingly similar. They seemed to attest more to careful pre-briefing than to some new cross-party consensus. With tremendous reliability, every answer about the issue consisted of two parts. A nominee first recognized the reality of “some” global warming—sounding appropriately grave and concerned about it—before they pivoted to casting doubt on whether humans were behind this warming, or even whether a human influence could ever be known at all.

    “Science tells us that the climate is changing and human activity in some manner impacts that change,” said Scott Pruitt, the future administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. (That’s part one.) “The human ability to measure with precision the extent of that impact is subject to continuing debate and dialogue, as well they should be.” (Part two.)

    “The risk of climate change does exist. The increase in greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is having an effect,” said Rex Tillerson, future secretary of state. (Part one.) “Our ability to predict that effect is very limited.” (Part two.)

    “I do not believe it is a hoax,” said Ryan Zinke, the future secretary of the interior. (Part one.) “I think where there’s debate on it is what [the human] influence is, what can we do about it.”(Part—well, you know.)

    These answers weren’t necessarily true, but they were milder and more reasonable than outright denial. They prompted coverage in The New York Times and The Washington Post, which noted the new position was “more nuanced” and “less urgent” while also noting that it wasn’t, well, correct. As Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University, told the Post: “It sounds like an orchestrated campaign of head-in-the-sand. The scientific consensus is clear: Most of the warming since 1950 is the result of the buildup of the human-made greenhouse gases.”

    But even as scientists and some journalists shook their heads, Trump nominees’ statements were amended, and not outright rejected, in the broader public conversation. My own work testifies to that: My headline about Tillerson’s hearing announced that he believes in climate change, even as I corrected what was incorrect about his scientific summary. I also wondered if his kinder, softer line pointed to a “potential shift in the Republican Party’s treatment” of the issue. 

    Compare that to what happened last week. On Friday, Scott Pruitt told a CNBC host that he didn’t believe carbon dioxide to be a primary contributor to modern-day climate change. He also said he hoped for more study and debate of the issue.

    This is extremely wrong. Decades of research have established that carbon dioxide, emitted by human industrial activities, traps heat in the atmosphere and boosts global temperatures. It is a scientific fact, as surely as the simple pull of gravity or the miracle of photosynthesis is a scientific fact. But if you go back and read Pruitt’s comments from January above, he doesn’t contradict himself.

    And yet this time, the public leaped in to correct him. My inbox soon filled up with comments from pastors, politicians, well-known scientists, and former military leaders. So many people called Pruitt’s main telephone number to complain that the EPA had to set up an impromptu call center. And Keith Seitter, the executive director of the American Meteorological Society, wrote a public letter to Pruitt.

    [...]

    Journalists covering climate change are constantly correcting obviously wrong Republican claims. This makes it harder for many to fact check the other, more waffley quotes that waft by. Many are loosely phrased and reasonable-sounding, but they contain little truth content. An example is Pruitt’s line from his confirmation hearing: “The human ability to measure with precision the extent of [the human] impact is subject to continuing debate and dialogue, as well they should be.”

    There is some kind of invisible consensus around questions of climate change. Say an obvious untruth and be mocked the world over. Say a non-commital vapidity—which has the same import as an outright lie—and you don’t wind up on Colbert. I suspect that an effect like this exists across politics, but it is surprising to see it so clearly on this one issue, where scientific agreement on reality is so strong.

  • Conservative Media Split On Who To Blame For Trump's Attempt To Destroy Health Care

    ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ

    Conservative media figures can’t decide who to blame for the disastrous American Health Care Act (AHCA), which seeks to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and will endanger the health insurance of millions of Americans. Despite President Donald Trump taking credit for this effort to roll back health care reform, right-wing media figures and outlets are grappling over whether they should fault the president for “Trumpcare” or absolve him of responsibility.

  • Yes, Fake News Exists On The Left -- But It's Being Overblown

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    The weaponized fake news stories that have emerged of late are certainly not confined to just one end of the political spectrum and are dangerous to political discourse regardless of partisan tilt. But a recent spate of articles trumpeting the so-called “rise of progressive ‘fake news’” omits the context necessary to understanding why the right-wing fake news ecosystem is so uniquely destructive, and in doing so collapses the collective understanding of fake news into a trite and distracting argument about “both sides.”

    During the presidential campaign, fake news purveyors -- by and large right-wing, hyperpartisan fringe websites -- unleashed a blizzard of politically motivated lies packaged as legitimate news largely designed to undermine Hillary Clinton and boost Donald Trump. The onslaught of fabrications was effective: Fake news stories outperformed real ones on Facebook in the final campaign stretch, and most Americans who saw fake news during the election believed it.

    But as it becomes clearer how and why right-wing fake news stories proliferated and succeeded, media outlets are now beginning to document an ostensible “uptick in fake news … with a distinctly liberal bent,” as The Guardian’s Sam Levin describes it, and to compare it to the flood of conservative fake news stories shared during the election.

    The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer similarly writes that progressives have recently embraced fake news just like “conservative Facebook users [shared] stories that had nothing to do with reality” during the election, in what Meyer calls a “funny reversal of the situation from November.” And a BuzzFeed article claims that progressive “alarm, paranoia, and genuine outrage” are ushering in an increase in “ the left’s own distinct brand of the online phenomenon known as fake news.”

    Some examples these outlets point to indeed fit the mold of weaponized fake news and are cause for concern. There are also other recent cases of unsubstantiated claims rocketing through the liberal blogosphere. Yes, fake news-purveying websites that cater to progressive audiences do exist and do, as BuzzFeed contends, “undermin[e] legitimate causes for outrage on the left.”

    But these and other outlets hyping the rise of progressive fake news point to what The Atlantic calls a liberal “panoply of wishful thinking” as evidence of the nascent trend of fake news on the left. Included in their examples is the famous bunch of “rogue,” anti-Trump Twitter accounts and a series of conspiratorial Medium posts about an impending coup d'etat; neither of which fits within Media Mattersoperational understanding of fake news, which is clearly and demonstrably fabricated information deceptively packaged as legitimate news, and is either motivated by profit or ideology. BuzzFeed highlights a parodical story about Trump’s “plan to turn the USS Enterprise into a floating casino,” which comes from an explicitly satirical website. Satire, though damaging when weaponized politically, is in its most basic sense also not fake news. The Guardian points to several-months-old fake news stories as evidence that progressive fake news is a post-election phenomenon.

    But weak examples notwithstanding, this all-too-common lunge toward “both sides do it” analysis not only muddies the understanding of what fake news actually is, but also more critically ignores or even whitewashes how and why fake news on the right thrives in a way that it never could on the left.

    Essentially, there is a larger conversation here than “the rise of progressive ‘fake news’” -- one in which the story isn’t how the fake news universes on the left and right are the same, but rather how they are different. Conflating right-wing, hyperpartisan fake news with left-wing “wishful thinking” glosses over both the vast infrastructure of fake news on the right and the audience pool that cultivates, enables and validates it.

    The Right-Wing Media Infrastructure Enables Conservative Fake News In A Way The Left Doesn’t

    Conservative fake news flourishes because of the right-wing media infrastructure -- both mainstream and fringe -- that has been cultivated for over a decade. A vast constellation of fake news-purveying websites have long lived in the dark corners of the internet, and mainstream conservative news outlets have fomented a toxic alternate reality in which venomous lies can and do thrive -- neither of which the left has.

    Fake news is fertile on the right because of the sea of lies that have been fed to conservative audiences all throughout President Barack Obama’s administration. Years of misleading, out-of-context, unjustified, racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical, and outright false attacks on Obama and the left by the right-wing noise machine have, naturally, paved the way for weaponized conservative fake news to take hold. 

    That’s why a fake news story about Obama banning the pledge of allegiance in public schools can take off -- because in the context of Fox News and other conservative media outlets bellowing for years that Obama was anti-American, that story simply makes sense to the conservative masses. The left has no such equivalent to the might of the right’s loudest conservative voices or the warped worldview they have sold their audiences.

    Moreover, the coalition of extreme right-wing websites like Infowars, Drudge Report, The Gateway Pundit, LifeZette, and Breitbart that serve as bridges between the radical fringes of the internet and the conservative mainstream media are long- and well-established, which consequently helped facilitate the spread of fake news into the mainstream during the election. These direct pipelines by which lies slide from obscurity into the mainstream also do not exist on the left.

    The sophisticated level of coordination among right-wing fake news purveyors also enables fake news -- and the left does not have a similar set of complex and coordinated pathways. Fake news stories on the right typically don’t grow organically; rather, fake news purveyors create a facade of credibility by all publishing the same untrue stories on their sites. Thus, when a dozen right-wing sites are reporting the same lie, its chance of going viral, piercing the mainstream, and being noticed by public figures grows.

    This far-reaching, enduring infrastructure that both creates and boosts conservative fake news took years to build and has credibility in the eyes of millions of political observers. It would be misguided to suggest that progressives have created a similar ecosystem at all, let alone in the last three months.

    Conservative Audiences Believe -- And Right-Wing Giants Validate -- Fake News In A Way That Democrats Do Not

    Comparisons between left- and right-wing fake news that fail to examine the media consumption habits of the Republican base and those (including the president of the United States) who enable fake news on the right are also insufficient.

    Trump is a serial liar. But more than that, he is one of the loudest, most powerful purveyors of fake news around, who both feeds into and draws from the fake news universe. Democrats have no such validating figure.

    Since his election, Trump has peddled false claims about widespread voter fraud; an immigration ban instituted by Kuwait; and thousands of bikers traveling to D.C. for his inauguration. Before November 8, Trump came to be known as the “King of Whoppers” for his unmatched, unrestrained, and disturbing penchant for lying about any issue, great or small. Not to mention that Trump sources his lies regularly and terrifyingly from disreputable fake news purveyors like Alex Jones, Roger Stone, and Russian state-sponsored media.

    Supported by a cadre of aides who also propagate fake news, including social media director Dan Scavino and Brad Parscale, Trump himself has become one of the greatest validators of fake news and, relatedly, a prominent catalyst in the breakdown of objective truth. As debunking site Snopes’ editor Brooke Binkowski emphasized in The Atlantic:

    [T]here’s no equivalence between the falsehoods coming from the American left and the right in the past two weeks. Individual Democrats on Facebook may cling to pleasant stories and wishful thinking, but the Republican White House press secretary spouts off lies beneath the presidential seal.

    Additionally, by repeatedly attacking credible news outlets as “fake news,” Trump is attempting to redefine “fake news” in his own terms. Conflating honest mistakes in reporting with fake news (which, to be sure, are clearly distinct issues) helps Trump degrade the Fourth Estate, which, in effect, helps chip away at the biggest barrier to his efforts to gaslight his way through his presidency. Trump’s appropriation of the term “fake news” also effectively validates the worst fake news purveyors out there -- because if The New York Times is fake news, then who isn’t?

    So, when the person carrying the mantle of the Republican Party unabashedly spouts nonsense and bullshit, the idea that “both sides do it” becomes moot.

    Trump’s success in peddling fake news largely stems from the way that conservatives seek out and digest their news. With a greater tendency than liberals to believe false information that plays into their own confirmation biases (facilitated, as aforementioned, by the bitterly hostile alternate reality the right-wing media has created for its base), conservatives are essentially primed to receive fake news in a way that liberals are not.

    As documented by The Washington Post, psychologist John Jost of New York University found that liberals are “slightly more predisposed to think critically than conservatives,” and Stefan Pfattheicher of Ulm University “found that individuals who identified as more conservative were more likely to be duped by nonsense than liberals.” As the Post explains:

    Conservatives may be perfectly able to do the kind of critical thinking and cognitive exploration that would lead them to be more skeptical of nonsense and fake news -- they just choose not to, preferring instead to seek out information that allows them to make quick decisions that reinforce their existing views.

    Take it from one of the most prolific fake news creators, Paul Horner, who claims that “Donald Trump is in the White House because of me”: “Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it.”

    And, as conservative commentator Charlie Sykes wrote in The New York Times, conservatives have been “conditioned to reject reporting from news sites outside of the conservative media ecosystem,” which in turn “essentially destroy[ed] much of the right’s immunity to false information.”

    So yes, fake news does exist on the left. Progressive fake news is dangerous and misguided, and Democrats should absolutely not try to build a parallel fake news universe for the sake of electoral success. But the burgeoning media hype about “lefty” fake news is being oversold, and it’s glossing over the reality of the multifaceted conservative media ecosystem at large, which is unique and unmatched in the way it encourages and rewards right-wing fake news. Myopic, one-to-one comparisons of left- and right-wing fake news stories are leading us to miss the forest for the trees.