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  • How adopting right-wing spin about Doug Jones' support for abortion access led media astray

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On December 12, Alabama voters elected Democrat Doug Jones to the U.S. Senate -- ending a 25-year streak in which Democrats were unable to win a single seat in the state. Jones’ victory put to rest weeks of media hand-wringing and speculation about what would be more offensive to Alabamians: Republican candidate Roy Moore’s reported sexual misconduct with teenagers when he was in his 30s or Jones’ allegedly “extreme” position on abortion.

    In November, The Washington Post reported multiple women’s accounts of experiencing inappropriate conduct from Moore when they were in their teens, including one account of Moore pursuing a 14-year old girl. A few days later, another woman reported that Moore sexually assaulted her when she was a teenager. In response, Moore largely avoided granting interviews to media, with the exception of a few friendly outlets such as Breitbart and One American News Network. To counteract these reports, right-wing outlets began leveraging what they claimed were Jones’ “extreme” views on abortion access against allegations of wrongdoing against Moore.

    In reality, as Jones has explained, he supports upholding current Alabama law, which allows patients to seek an abortion up to 20 weeks of pregnancy with limited exceptions for “medical necessity” beyond that point. During a September 27 interview with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, Jones stated that he was “a firm believer that a woman should have the freedom to choose what happens to her own body.” Despite this, many outlets not only adopted right-wing media’s inaccurate spin that Jones’ stance was “extreme,” but also went on to claim that Jones’ support for abortion access would ultimately cost him the election.

    From early in the campaign, right-wing media consistently pushed the talking point that Jones’ position on abortion access was “extreme.” For example, during the November 15 edition of Fox News’ The Five, co-host Jesse Watters described Alabama voters as having to decide between Moore, who “may have done inappropriate things with young girls 40 years ago,” and Jones, who he claimed supported so-called “‘partial-birth’ abortion” (a procedure that doesn’t exist but was invented by anti-abortion groups to shame those seeking abortions). In another example, Fox’s Marc Thiessen tried to equate Moore’s predatory behavior and Jones’ stance on abortion by calling them “two extremes.” Beyond this, Fox hosts and contributors alike leveraged a variety of inaccurate claims about Jones’ position on abortion -- saying he was for “abortion on demand,” claiming he was “a person who supports abortion at every level,” or parroting that he supported “abortion through all nine months” of pregnancy. In a particularly ill-fated exchange on the night of the election, Fox's Tucker Carlson and Brit Hume predicted that Jones' support for abortion would be his undoing:

    Unfortunately, rather than debunking such obvious anti-choice talking points, some outlets instead adopted this right-wing spin about Jones.

    During a November 27 discussion on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, co-host Joe Scarborough claimed that Democrats would be better off if they had run “somebody who were, let’s say, conservative to moderate on abortion … but with Democrats on 99 percent of the other issues.” The following day, a panel on Morning Joe continued this line of argument with MSNBC political analyst Elise Jordan stating that adopting an anti-abortion viewpoint “would have taken Doug Jones easily over the finish line.” Beyond Jordan’s claims, during the same discussion MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki also promoted the right-wing argument that Jones supported “no restrictions on abortion at all.”

    On CNN, contributor Stephen Moore also adopted the right-wing spin about Jones, arguing that he supported “partial-birth abortion, which a lot of people in Alabama think is tantamount to murder.” While at The Daily Beast, Matt Lewis speculated that Alabama voters may not be able to cast a vote for Jones because of his “extreme position on what many see as a definitive life or death issue.” Lewis concluded that Jones “would be in a much better position” to win if his views about abortion weren’t “so radical.”

    As election day drew nearer, other outlets continued to run with the argument that not only was Jones’ position “extreme,” but that it would also cost him the election. For example, The Boston Globe claimed that for Alabama voters, Jones’ stance was “a deal-breaker” and that if Moore was “running against a Democrat less doctrinaire on abortion, the revelations about Moore’s pursuit of young girls would likely have sunk his campaign.” NPR reported on December 8 that “for some Alabama voters, supporting abortion rights may be a sin worse than some of the sexual misdeeds Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore has been accused of.” On the night of the election, MSNBC’s Chuck Todd said that he’d been told that “if Doug Jones loses, it will be a one word answer: Abortion.”

    This is far from the first time that media have gotten carried away with the argument that support for abortion access costs votes or elections for Democratic or progressive candidates. In early 2017, The New York Times published an op-ed titled, “To Win Again, Democrats Must Stop Being the Abortion Party” -- kicking off wave of responses rebutting the false dichotomy that Democrats must sacrifice reproductive rights to win voters.

    As HuffPost reported on December 4, however, there was ample reason to believe that Jones’ support for abortion access wouldn’t be a hindrance. According to polling performed by Clarity Campaign Labs, “Abortion wasn’t really in the top couple issue” when likely Republican voters explained why they wouldn’t support Jones over Moore.

  • Right-wing media pushed false, racist narrative of widespread looting during Hurricane Harvey

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox News and other right-wing media outlets overhyped the threat of looting during their coverage of Hurricane Harvey last week. Some conservative blogs ran stories warning about looting that featured tweets from fake accounts, which have since been deleted. This coverage often had a racist element, either subtly or overtly accusing African-Americans of rampant criminal behavior.

    In fact, looting has not been a widespread problem, according to law enforcement officials. Experts say the threat of looting is often exaggerated during disasters, and that appears to be the case with Harvey. "The Houston Police Department says very little looting occurred during the first week of flooding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey," Snopes reported on September 1. A spokesperson for the department told Snopes, "Looting is almost non existent in Houston. People have been cooperative not just with each other, but also with Houston PD. The weather is at its worst but Houstonians are at their best." Los Angeles Times correspondent Matt Pearce, who drove around Houston to report on Harvey, called claims of widespread looting "bullshit."

    When news outlets overhype the risks of looting and violence, it can have dire consequences, one expert told WNYC's On the Media. "The media has a responsibility here to be very nuanced in the way it talks about crime in the midst of a disaster, which is that if people are overly concerned about that, they may not evacuate," said Scott Gabriel Knowles of Drexel University, a historian and author of the book The Disaster Experts: Mastering Risk in Modern America.

    Fox News and Alex Jones stoke fears of looting in Houston  

    On August 30, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo announced that his officers had arrested 14 people for looting. But in a metropolitan area with 6.6 million residents, that's not a large number.

    Nonetheless, President Donald Trump's favorite program Fox & Friends played the arrests up on August 30 and scaremongered about looters, with correspondent Griff Jenkins describing them as "criminals that have unleashed the worst that humanity has to offer." 

    Fox News' Tucker Carlson and his guest, former police officer and GOP congressional candidate Dan Bongino, also used over-the-top rhetoric on August 30 while discussing a tweet from ABC's Tom Llamas that described looting at a supermarket in Houston. Bongino said, "What kind of like certifiable savage man-beast do you need to be to walk into a small business [and loot]?"

    Other Fox News programs inflated the looting danger too, like America's Newsroom, which featured this chyron on September 1:

    Conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones, a Trump friend and ally, displayed blatant bigotry when he blamed looting on black people on his August 29 show, citing tweets he claimed to have seen. "It's got the racist black gangs are there saying, 'Look at what we looted, look at what we got.' They're putting it on Twitter, 'We're robbing the white folks, they deserve it.' And then of course there's black folks helping white folks and white folks helping black folks. It's a very small minority of scum that's doing this. But can you imagine if there were white people robbing black neighborhoods right now? And you know, I'm sure I bet some of that actually goes on."

    Twitter trolls and right-wing blogs pushed false narrative of blacks looting in Houston

    Other conservative outlets pushed the same false narrative, in some cases basing their stories on tweets from fake accounts. Snopes investigated a "proliferation of dozens of tweets hashtagged #HarveyLootCrew threatening widespread looting and purporting to prove that a great deal of looting had already taken place," and found that the tweets were entirely bogus:

    A series of tweets from the accounts (since deleted) of “Jamaal Williams” (@RUthlessFCB) and “Jayrome Williams” (@BrotherTooTurnt), for example, spoke of looting white neighborhoods and “racist Trump supporters”

    [...]

    The tweets were taken at face value by some mainstream media outlets (including Click2Houston), as well as by several right-leaning blogs such as Pacific Pundit, DC Clothesline, and Think Americana, with the latter using them as the basis for a report stating that “far leftists promote looting of homes and businesses of only Trump supporters”.

    What we found when we looked at the tweets carefully, however, was that all of them were fake, originating from troll accounts set up under assumed identities. None of the photos depict anything that actually took place in Houston, much less in 2017.

    [...]

    It isn’t difficult to discern the motivation behind these fake tweets, which were obviously created to sow fear and racial hatred in a time of crisis.

    Experts debunk the myth of widespread looting

    Other, more responsible media outlets have pointed out that the frequency of looting during disasters is often greatly exaggerated. "Looting and violence are the exception, not the rule," Brooke Gladstone, co-host of WNYC's On the Media, said while introducing a segment on the topic. "Disasters usually bring out the best in people."

    Knowles told On the Media, "Fifty years of social science research indicates that widespread looting is really pretty much a myth. … There's pretty good evidence, looking at Hurricane Sandy for example, that crime can actually go down in the midst of a disaster."

    The Washington Post cited other experts who made similar points:

    In the wake of massive disasters, fears about crime and other forms of disorder almost always rise, experts say. But while some people do take advantage of the collective distraction, the fear of crime — particularly looting — typically outstrips the reality, said experts who study storms and recoveries.

    There were about 63 people charged with storm-related crimes including burglary and theft from Aug. 26, the day after Harvey made landfall, to this past Thursday, according to the Harris County district attorney’s office. Harris County has a population of nearly 5 million people, including the city of Houston.

    “Fears of looting are common in disasters and maybe even more common than actual looting itself,” said Andy Horowitz, an assistant professor of history at Tulane University who focuses on disasters.

    [...]

    “There’s no doubt that on any given day, there are people who are going to steal other people’s stuff,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honore, who helped oversee the military response to Hurricane Katrina. “But what we see after these storms is a greatly overexaggerated concern.”

    In the days and weeks after Katrina made landfall, major news outlets relayed reports of rape and murder inside emergency shelters — many of which were later found to be false and may have delayed aid to evacuees.

    Claims of widespread looting often have a racist tinge

    Knowles and Honore both pointed out that claims about looting often have racial and socioeconomic overtones, playing into negative stereotypes about poor, non-white people engaging in criminal behavior.

    “There’s a bias at play," Honore told the Post. "People think that if you’re poor or black you’re always trying to steal something. These warnings about looting validate the stereotypes that people hold about poor people.”

    As Knowles told On the Media, "Looting gets to the media's responsibility to be very careful in the way it portrays neighborhoods that have low socioeconomic status or neighborhoods that are diverse."

    These stereotypes were put front and center in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as the Los Angeles Times reminded people last week. Two much-discussed wire-service photographs from that period showed people wading through chest-deep water with groceries: One photo that depicted an African-American had a caption describing him as "A young man … after looting a grocery store"; another photo that showed a white couple had a caption describing them as "Two residents … after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store."

    Boston Globe reporter Astead W. Herndon summed up the contrast in a tweet: "The difference between 'looting' and 'finding' is often black and white."

    African-Americans should get extra aid during disasters, not unwarranted accusations

    Black communities tend to get hurt the most by hurricanes in the U.S. "During any natural disaster such as a hurricane, low-income and under-served communities are usually the hardest hit," according to a 2010 study by researchers at Florida A&M University. It assessed "the socio-economic vulnerability of African Americans to hurricanes at the county level in the Gulf Coast region," and found that in nearly half of the counties, "African Americans are in a high vulnerable condition against hurricanes and natural disaster."

    The disproportionate impact on African-Americans was highly visible during Hurricane Katrina. “Katrina was not an equal opportunity storm,” wrote Gary Rivlin, investigative journalist and author of a book on the hurricane, last year for TalkPoverty.org, a project of the Center for American Progress. “A black homeowner in New Orleans was more than three times as likely to have been flooded as a white homeowner. That wasn’t due to bad luck; because of racially discriminatory housing practices, the high-ground was taken by the time banks started loaning money to African Americans who wanted to buy a home.”

    After Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012, the story was similar. "Studies show that low-income and communities of color in the New York-New Jersey area were among the hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy," wrote Pamela Worth of the Union of Concerned Scientists. These same dynamics have been playing out in Houston. And as climate change worsens and leads to more extreme disasters, experts say people of color will continue to bear the brunt.

    But instead of reporting on the struggles of black hurricane victims and the ways that disasters disproportionately hurt non-white communities, some right-wing media outlets have been blaming blacks for fictional crime rampages.

    Now, as Hurricane Irma barrels toward Florida, which has large black and Latino communities, should we expect to see more of the same?

  • Four ways the NY Times has undermined its own climate coverage

    The paper gave ammunition to the Trump administration to deny climate science and defend dropping out of the Paris agreement

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS

    The New York Times has done some stellar reporting on climate change, and it’s poised to do more thanks to its recent creation of a dedicated climate team. See, for instance, its impressive ongoing series on how climate change is affecting major cities, and another recent multimedia series on the melting of Antarctica.

    But the paper has made serious missteps in recent days and weeks, some of which have bolstered the White House’s case for climate denial and for dropping out of the Paris climate agreement. Here are four problems that deserve to be called out:

    1. Letting Bret Stephens spread climate denial, which was seized on by Scott Pruitt

    The New York Times hired conservative climate denier Bret Stephens as an op-ed columnist in April, and his first column was a factually compromised and misleading attack on climate science. Its publication provoked widespread condemnation of the Times and Stephens in late April.

    Then the column got a new round of attention late last week, in the wake of President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreement. On June 2, the day after Trump’s announcement, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt defended the move from the podium in the White House briefing room, and cited Stephens' column to make the case that climate science is unsettled:

    I don’t know if you saw this article or not, but the “Climate of Complete Certainty” by Bret Stephens that was in The New York Times talked about -- and I’ll just read a quote, because I thought it was a very important quote from this article. “Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the IPCC knows that, while the modest 0.85 degrees Celsius warming of the earth that has occurred since 1880, much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities. That’s especially true of the sophisticated but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future. To say this isn’t to deny science. Isn’t (sic) to acknowledge it honestly.”

    Pruitt actually misquoted the column, omitting Stephens’ acknowledgement that there has been “indisputable ... human influence” on the warming of the earth since 1880. But nonetheless, Pruitt left the impression that The New York Times supported his fringe views.

    As Media Matters senior fellow Matt Gertz put it, “It’s a disaster for a paper that sold itself to readers as a bulwark against the new president, then turned around and hired a prominent climate change skeptic.”

    2. Ignoring the fact that Pruitt seized on Stephens’ climate denial

    In an article about Trump’s views on climate change, New York Times reporter Peter Baker noted that Pruitt had questioned climate science during his remarks at the White House, but Baker neglected to mention that the EPA chief had used a New York Times column as a main piece of supporting evidence for his claims.

    3. Publishing a misleading story on small-business owners’ views on Paris, which was seized on by Pruitt

    On June 2, The New York Times published an article by Landon Thomas Jr. titled “Small Businesses Cheer ‘New Sheriff in Town’ After Climate Pact Exit.” Thomas claimed, “While multinational corporations such as Disney, Goldman Sachs and IBM have opposed the president’s decision to walk away from the international climate agreement, many small companies around the country were cheering him on, embracing the choice as a tough-minded business move that made good on Mr. Trump’s commitment to put America’s commercial interests first.”

    The article ignored the fact that hundreds of small businesses had publicly called for remaining in the Paris agreement, and it quoted no small-business owners who supported the deal. Small-business supporters weren’t that hard to find, even in red states. NPR's Morning Edition featured one, Fhebe Lane, who runs a store in a conservative Texas coal town. A Trump voter, Lane said she was concerned about the climate getting hotter and thought limiting emissions was a good idea.

    Thomas’ article also drew criticism for quoting some of the same pro-Trump voices he had cited in a previous piece, as Media Matters has noted. Boston Globe writer Michael Cohen pointed out that the article was “remarkably similar” to a piece Thomas wrote three months earlier; Cohen and others noted that the same two people “are quoted in both articles extolling Mr. Trump’s virtues” and “their positive words about Trump are used as evidence that small business owners are behind the president.”

    But Pruitt, for one, liked the article. He quoted it during an appearance on ABC’s This Week on June 4:

    Even The New York Times had an article, I think, within the last couple of days that talked about small business celebrating, euphoria, with respect to the president’s decision.

    4. Blaming the Democrats alongside the Koch brothers for GOP climate denial

    New York Times reporters Coral Davenport and Eric Lipton published a mostly well-reported article on widespread Republican refusal to accept climate science. But the story contained a ridiculous claim that “Democratic hubris” was partly to blame:

    The Republican Party’s fast journey from debating how to combat human-caused climate change to arguing that it does not exist is a story of big political money, Democratic hubris in the Obama years and a partisan chasm that grew over nine years like a crack in the Antarctic shelf, favoring extreme positions and uncompromising rhetoric over cooperation and conciliation.

    While the article laid out plenty of evidence that the Koch brothers had affected elected Republicans’ views, it did not make any kind of convincing case that Democrats had.

    Talking Points Memo Editor Josh Marshall characterized the “Democratic hubris” line as “half of what is imbecilic in contemporary political journalism”:

    As New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer, who wrote a book on the Koch brothers, noted in a post on June 5, Republican climate denial and the rejection of the Paris agreement are clear and direct consequences of the Kochs and other rich fossil fuel barons pouring money into the political scene. “It is, perhaps, the most astounding example of influence-buying in modern American political history,” she wrote.

    Democrats, hubristic or not, can’t claim credit for that.

    Whither the Times?

    “The paper has lost its way,” Think Progress’ Joe Romm wrote in a post criticizing the Davenport/Lipton article and other pieces published by the Times. “A shocking number of recent articles reveal a paper that’s begun to embrace false balance, giving equal time to both climate misinformers and actual climate experts, despite the overwhelming scientific consensus.”

    Still, many journalists at The New York Times are pulling in the right direction. Columnist David Leonhardt gently disputed the “Democratic hubris” argument in a piece on June 5. A number of Times journalists expressed their displeasure with Stephens’ first column. And the climate team keeps doing great work. Let’s hope their side wins the tug-of-war.

  • These Four Outlets Are A Welcome Exception To Media's Failure To Appropriately Label This Anti-Immigrant Hate Group

    Media Need To Stop Helping The Center Of Immigration Studies Sanitize Its Nativist Image

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    The media’s problem of citing the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) as merely "conservative" -- and effectively elevating it as a legitimate source -- has allowed for the proliferation of anti-immigrant extremist groups in mainstream media. However, some outlets have become a welcome exception by appropriately describing “the nativist lobby” of CIS and its sister organizations, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and NumbersUSA.

    The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has dubbed these three groups “the nativist lobby” for their ties to white supremacists. It has also specifically singled out CIS and FAIR as hate groups in its latest annual hate group census, listing them as among “the most extreme of the hundreds of nativist and vigilante groups that have proliferated since the late 1990s.” CIS is referred to as the “think tank” arm of the Nativist Lobby because it attempts to mask its extremist agenda under a veil of academic discipline. CIS produces studies that routinely use flawed methodologies, distort reputable research, and demonize immigrants despite its attempt to cast itself as being “low-immigration, pro-immigrant.

    Media have aided the group in sanitizing its image. Major newspapers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, Politico, and others have all cited CIS within the last year without accurately exposing the group’s anti-immigrant agenda and unreliable research. USA Today routinely publishes articles written by CIS members that misinform readers about immigrants and refugees; the paper justifies the platform as “the opposing view,” offering the space as a counterpoint to the paper’s editorials. CIS is also no stranger to mainstream cable news outlets like CNN.

    But a handful of outlets are offering a refreshing exception to this media pitfall. The New Yorker, New Republic, and La Opinión have recently joined The Daily Beast in exposing the CIS anti-immigration campaign that is having tangible effects via President Donald Trump's administration. The New Yorker zeroed in on the group’s growing influence, calling it one of the most “prominent nativist groups” and writing, “Under the Trump Administration, the relationships between anti-immigrant stalwarts and Border Patrol are being strengthened, and formalized, as never before.” New Republic lambasted CIS for bolstering Trump’s border wall proposal with false statistics, noting that the group has been “Trump’s go-to source for research about migrants and the dangers they pose.” La Opinión pointed to CIS, FAIR, and NumbersUSA as “the pillar organizations of the nativist movement today,” noting that their roots “emerge from their concern that Latinos bring maladies and defects that damage [American] society.”

    Articles like these are welcome nuggets of truth in a political climate often devoid of facts, especially when it comes to immigration. CIS responded to the New Yorker and New Republic articles, attempting to discredit the outlets as well as the SPLC, which the articles cited. The group’s response underscores the need for other media outlets to ditch the “conservative” label when mentioning CIS and its cohorts and apply the proper name: “anti-immigrant hate groups.” Failure to provide audiences with the complete truth about the nativist lobby will only serve to further their already established influence within the administration and throughout government.

  • Front Page Headlines Fall For Trump’s Press Conference Trap

    ››› ››› LIS POWER

    Following a press conference featuring many questions about ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn and whether President Donald Trump’s campaign was in frequent communication with Russia, front page newspaper headlines the next day hyped “ringmaster Don” and his assertion that he “inherited a mess” while de-emphasizing unanswered questions and new reporting about the Flynn and Russia controversies.

  • Trump Says He Wants Roe v. Wade Overturned, Mainstream Media Ignore The Draconian Effects That Would Have

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    During a November 13 interview on CBS News’ 60 Minutes, president-elect Donald Trump promised to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, upending a longstanding constitutional right to abortion access. Rather than calling out this extreme position and explaining its potential consequences for millions of Americans, outlets instead attempted to normalize and downplay Trump’s commitment to roll back legal abortion access in the United States.

  • Newspapers Highlight Trump’s Stunning Failure To Confirm He Will Accept Election Results

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    After Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said he could not confirm that he would accept the result of the presidential election, newspapers across America all used their front pages to highlight this stunning development.

    During the third presidential debate, Fox anchor and debate moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump if he would accept the integrity of the American electoral process if he lost. Trump, who has spent the last few weeks claiming that the only way he could lose is if the election were rigged against him, said he will “look at it at the time” and will keep Americans “in suspense.” Media recoiled at Trump’s comment, calling it “horrifying” and a “rejection of U.S. democracy.”

    Newspaper editors led their October 20 editions with the story. Images accessed via Newseum archives:

    The New York Times

    The Washington Post

    Los Angeles Times

    The Wall Street Journal

    The Chicago Tribune

    USA Today

    The Boston Globe

    Houston Chronicle

    The Dallas Morning News

    The Post and Courier

    The Philadelphia Inquirer

    The Columbus Dispatch

    The Charlotte Observer

    Orlando Sentinel

    Naples Daily News

    Miami Herald

    Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

    Wisconsin State Journal

    Quad-City Times

    Sioux City Journal

    Loveland Reporter-Herald

    The Denver Post

    Concord Monitor

    New Hampshire Union-Leader

  • Two New Reports On LGBT Poverty Shatter Media Myth Of LGBT Affluence

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Contrary to media misperceptions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) affluence, two new reports by the Williams Institute and Center for American Progress show the LGBT community continues to face higher rates of poverty, low wages, and economic insecurity than non-LGBT people.

    The Williams Institute, an LGBT think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), released its findings “that poverty remains a significant problem for LGBT people” in a report on September 13. The study found that raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would dramatically cut the poverty rate for same-sex couples -- a 46 percent drop for lesbian couples and a 35 percent decline for gay male couples. The author, economist M.V. Lee Badgett, noted that the study showed that the notion that the entire LGBT community is wealthy is nothing more than “a misleading stereotype” and that “raising the minimum wage would help everybody.” From the Williams Institute:

    The Williams study follows a September 8 report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) that focused on the significant barriers that LGBT people face in accessing middle-class economic security. The study analyzes how anti-LGBT discrimination in employment and housing creates major hurdles for economic security, contributing to wage gaps faced by the LGBT community. CAP reported that up to 28 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans have been fired, not hired, or passed over for a promotion as a result of their orientation. As many as 47 percent of transgender Americans have experienced an adverse job outcome, such as “being fired, not hired, or denied a promotion” because of their gender identity, according to the report. CAP also noted that “LGBT people often struggle to find stable, affordable housing” and experience disparately higher out-of-pocket health care costs, which compounds the impact of economic insecurity experienced by LGBT people and their families.

    Media frequently focus on the buying power and affluence of the LGBT community, and on companies that eagerly court the “pink dollar.” On July 20, when one marking firm -- Witeck Communications -- published its findings that LGBT American buying power reached $917 billion in 2015, it was picked up by Bloomberg, The Huffington Post, CNBC, and USA Today. While another study quoted by Business Insider claimed LGBT Americans take “16% more shopping trips” and have more disposable income than their straight counterparts -- claims echoed by a Nielsen study published in the National Journal in 2015.

    Gary Gates of the Williams Institute told The Atlantic in 2014 that the downside of this media-created perception “is that those marketing studies looked at the LGBT community as a consumer market” and may only be seeing LGBT Americans who are in an economically secure enough situation to come out. Marketing studies don’t show that LGBT individuals face higher rates of poverty than their non-LGBT counterparts, or that 29 percent of LGBT Americans have experienced food insecurity in the last year. Right-wing media use the myth of LGBT affluence to dismiss LGBT discrimination and claim laws protecting the LGBT community are not needed. Currently, there is no federal law that protects people from being fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. CAP concluded its reporting by noting that the best way to address LGBT economic insecurity would be the passage of a broad-based federal nondiscrimination law called The Equality Act -- which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations, employment, and housing.

  • Still Waiting For Newspaper Editorials Demanding The Trump Foundation Be Shut Down

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Adding to a cavalcade of campaign condemnations, a string of major newspaper editorial boards in recent weeks stepped forward to announce that, in the name of avoiding even the appearance of a conflict of interest, Bill and Hillary Clinton needed to shut down their successful Clinton Foundation.

    Conceding that recent news reports hadn’t proven any actual wrongdoing or lawbreaking with the foundation and its connection the State Department when Clinton was secretary of state, editorials from Washington PostBoston Globe, and USA Today, among others, were nonetheless adamant: Shut it down. 

    Columnists at SlateNew York and The Wall Street Journal also jumped in, as did an array of TV talkers anxious to add their voices to the media choir demanding a global charity be shut down because the optics didn’t look quite right. And several outlets insisted that waiting until after the election for foundation action wasn’t “good enough.” 

    Everyone, it seemed, was in heated agreement.

    • “Even if they’ve done nothing illegal, the foundation will always look too much like a conflict of interest for comfort.” (Boston Globe)
    • “[T]he only way to eliminate the odor surrounding the foundation is to wind it down and put it in mothballs.”  (USA Today)
    • “Impressions such as these are corrosive to national institutions.” (Washington Post)

    On and on the editorials went, patiently explaining to Clinton what she needed to do to eliminate budding concerns within the Beltway press; how she had to shutter her landmark charity in order to please the optics police.

    Reading the proclamations, it was clear to readers that even the appearance of impropriety when it comes to politicians and charitable foundations must be met with swift, pro-active and even drastic action.  

    So what explains the deafening editorial board silence about the Donald J. Trump Foundation in the wake of the shocking news report that in 2013 it sent an illegal $25,000 donation to a political group supporting Florida’s attorney general, Pam Bondi? At a time, her office was considering opening a fraud investigation into Trump University and widespread allegations the company had cheated students. After the group supporting Bondi received the large Trump check, which she reportedly personally solicited, her office announced it wasn’t going to investigate Trump University.

    Where’s the collective demand that the Trump Foundation be shut down because of conflicts?

    Not only does the payoff reek of a quid pro quo arrangement, but the generous Foundation donation was also against the law because as a registered non-profit organization, the Trump Foundation isn’t allowed to make political contributions. It appears the Foundation may have taken steps to cover up the donation by by listing the recipient of the funds as a Kansas-based charity in tax forms, according to the Washington Post report. After the $25,000 check was brought to light earlier this year, Trump’s organization paid a $2,500 fine to the IRS.

    Given the hyper attention paid to the Clinton Foundation, and the relentless media search for wrongdoing, the Trump revelations are astounding: They seem to represent precisely the type of naked misdeed the press has been trying to uncover with regards to Clinton. But instead, the foundation’s wrongdoing is attached to the Republican nominee and the campaign press reaction has been muted, to say the least.

    On the Sunday morning talk shows this week, the story was occasionally referenced by guests, but CBS’s Face The Nation host John Dickerson was the only host to bring up the Trump/Bondi controversy. 

    Meanwhile, according to a search of CNN transcripts via Nexis, “Trump Foundation” was mentioned in one on-air report on the all-news channel between Monday, August 29, through Monday, September 5. By contrast, “Clinton Foundation” was mentioned in dozens of CNN reports during that same time period.

    Keep in mind, the constant media churning about Clinton “optics” revolve around a global charity that represents a textbook example of how to build a modern-day foundation for giving. “If Hillary Clinton wasn’t running for president, the Clinton Foundation would be seen as one of the great humanitarian charities of our generation,” Daniel Borochoff of Charity Watch recently told CNN. (The foundation receives exceptional marks from watchdog organizations.)

    The Clinton Foundation's sterling reputation has now been tarnished, in part because the press has decided to go all in with the GOP’s smear campaign against the charity. It’s decided to overhype trivial revelations about Foundation contacts and meetings that took place years ago.

    But when the Trump Foundation is found to have illegally donated to a state attorney general who was contemplating fraud charges against a Trump company? Suddenly the referees on newspaper editorial boards fall silent.

  • How The Media's Obsession With “Optics” Is Ruining Campaign Journalism

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Joining a long list of concerned media voices, The New York Times' editorial page this week linked up with the Beltway chorus to express alarm over the Clinton Foundation and the “question” it presents for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

    Surveying the well-trampled ground of supposed conflicts of interest and insinuations that Clinton sold State Department access to donors, the Times announced a pressing “need for major changes at the foundation now, before the November election.”

    As part of its declaration, the newspaper dutifully noted, “‘Pay-to-play’ charges by Donald Trump have not been proved.” But the Times, like so many other lecturing voices, was quite clear in claiming that the Clintons have to address concerns about optics even if that means shutting down their landmark global charity. That’s how important it now is for the do-good foundation to be spotless and pure: Optics trump humanitarianism.

    Or, there’s no proof anybody did anything wrong, therefore drastic actions must be taken to fix the problem.

    The meandering foundation story has become a case study for the Beltway media’s double standard: holding Clinton to a higher mark that’s based on optics, not on facts. Unable to prove misconduct or anything close to it (just ask the AP), the press relies on the comfy confines of “optics” and the “appearance” of conflict to allow them to attack Clinton and the foundation. 

    For Clinton, it’s a can’t-win proposition. If the press says the story looks bad, even if there’s nothing to suggest it actually is bad, she gets tagged with an optics problem. And because journalists are the only ones handing out the grades, they get to decide how bad it looks.

    But the journalism malpractice doesn’t end there. It extends to the fact that the press doesn’t apply the same visual test to Republican nominee Donald Trump, whose far-flung business dealings would represent an actual, even historic, conflict of interest were he to be elected president.

    Also, note that high-profile Republicans have run foundations in the past, accepted big donations, and never been hounded by the press regarding supposed optics violations.

    What’s so strange about the current “appearance” phenomenon is that the narrative often runs right alongside media concessions about the lack of evidence proving Clinton wrongdoing.

    “Let’s be clear, this is all innuendo at this point. No pay for play has been proven. No smoking gun has been found,” announced NBC’s Chuck Todd. “But like many of these Clinton scandals, it looks bad.”

    A recent NPR report also perfectly summed up the media’s working equation:

    There's no question the optics are bad for Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. But no proof has emerged that any official favors -- regulations, government contracts, international deals -- were curried in exchange for donations or pledges.

    On and on the parade marches: “Even if they’ve done nothing illegal, the foundation will always look too much like a conflict of interest for comfort” (Boston Globe). “At the very least, there is an appearance of a conflict of interest for the foundation” (CNN’s Anderson Cooper).

    Perhaps the strangest presentation came from a Times news report that claimed “the potential for real or perceived conflicts of interest” was causing problems for Clinton. Think about that for a minute. Not only is Clinton being graded on perceived conflicts of interest, but also on potential perceived ones.

    The media’s emphasis on optics when relating the foundation story represents a giant tell in terms of how soggy the supposed scandal really is. As Matthew Yglesias noted at Vox:

    It’s natural to assume that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. But the smoke emanating from the Clinton Foundation is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. It is the result of a reasonably well-funded dedicated partisan opposition research campaign, and of editorial decisions by the managers of major news organizations to dedicate resources to running down every possible Clinton email lead in the universe.

    It also seems like journalists aren’t even sure what they’re trying to accuse the Clintons of doing. Optics violations can be confusing like that.

    From Slate: [emphasis added]

    But you don’t need to believe the Clintons are guilty of intentionally engaging in quid pro quo (though it’s not crazy to think they may have) to know that there is something wrong with a dynamic where it is nearly impossible to prove that they did, or even that they didn’t.

    It’s not possible to prove any Clinton Foundation wrongdoing, therefore the Clinton Foundation must be “shut down.” In fact, the charitable outpost should’ve been closed “yesterday.”

    Slate continued:

    Even if Hillary were somehow able to completely separate the donations -- to say nothing of her and her husband’s speaking fees, which have often come from many of the same corporations who fund their family foundation -- from her official decision-making, she simply has no way of preventing the appearance of pay for play. And the mere perception of access matters, both in the financial marketplace and the political one.

    That is, frankly, a bizarre and impossible standard: Clinton must eliminate even the “perception” of special access. I mean, people realize every member of Congress accepts money from donors, right? Therefore, every donor who gives money instantly creates the possibility of purchased access. When is Slate going to cross-check schedules for every member of Congress to see how many donors they meet with and then demand each member eliminate even the “perception” of access?

    Meanwhile, all of this optics policing unfolds while Clinton’s Republican opponent serves as an executive on more than 500 companies. So why the relative media silence about Trump’s boulder-sized conflicts of interest? Where are the litany of editorials demanding he take preventive action to fix the optics?

    I’ve seen some good coverage in the business press about Trump’s massive conflicts (“Donald Trump's 500 Businesses Would Pose 'Unprecedented Ethical Dilemma'”), but little attention from the Beltway media, especially as compared to their relentless obsession with alleged Clinton conflicts.

    Lastly, the media’s ceaseless hand-wringing over the Clinton Foundation represents a brand new way of covering charities run by famous political figures. The media allegation that wealthy donors give to the Clintons simply to cash in favors at a later date represents a cynical narrative that simply did not exist in previous Beltway foundation coverage.

    Note that Colin Powell founded a charity, America’s Promise. Then he became secretary of state under President George W. Bush.

    What happened to the charity? From Yglesias at Vox:  

    Well, Powell’s wife, Alma Powell, took it over. And it kept raking in donations from corporate America. Ken Lay, the chair of Enron, was a big donor. He also backed a literacy-related charity that was founded by the then-president’s mother. The US Department of State, at the time Powell was secretary, went to bat for Enron in a dispute the company was having with the Indian government.

    Did donors send big checks to Powell’s family foundation in order to gain access to him, to his son Michael, who was then commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, or to other Bush administration officials? We don’t know, in part because the press never turned the issue into an “optics” obsession.

    The press also didn’t seem relentlessly interested in finding out whether big donors were sending checks to the American Red Cross in 1996 while Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS) ran for president. At the time, Dole’s wife, Elizabeth, ran the charity.

    Today, “optics” has become the go-to campaign theme for journalists who can’t find evidence of Clinton malfeasance. That’s not what campaign reporting is supposed to be, but the misleading craft is thriving. And in this election cycle, the flimsy, malleable standard only seems to apply to her.

    And the examples listed above are just a small sample of media figures obsessing about optics recently. Some others:

    AP:

    The meetings between the Democratic presidential nominee and foundation donors do not appear to violate legal agreements Clinton and former president Bill Clinton signed before she joined the State Department in 2009. But the frequency of the overlaps shows the intermingling of access and donations, and fuels perceptions that giving the foundation money was a price of admission for face time with Clinton.

    Washington Post's Chris Cillizza:

    It just plain looks bad. Really bad.

    [...]

    To be clear: I have no evidence -- none -- that Clinton broke any law or did anything intentionally shady. But, man oh man, does this latest news about the Clinton Foundation cloud her campaign's attempts to paint the charity group and her State Department as totally separate and unconnected entities.

    LA Times:

    There is not an ounce of proof suggesting criminality or racketeering, no indication that Secretary Clinton performed special favors for foundation donors.

    [...]

    Nevertheless, there are plenty of Clinton allies who are troubled by her ties to the foundation because it simply looks bad.

    [...]

    Appearances are important, even if intentions are pure.

    USA Today:

    No, it is not “the most corrupt enterprise in political history,” as Donald Trump is calling it, nor is there enough evidence of potential criminality to warrant appointment of the special prosecutor Trump is seeking. But the only way to eliminate the odor surrounding the foundation is to wind it down and put it in mothballs, starting today, and transfer its important charitable work to another large American charity.

    The Atlantic:

    Even if every one of the meetings that Secretary Clinton had with foundation donors was a meeting she would have had anyway, the impression that one can pay to play means that there’s no tidy way to wall the two off.

    Time:

    If she didn’t do anything wrong, why won’t she defend herself? By avoiding taking responsibility, Clinton only exacerbates the perception she is dishonest and untrustworthy, the primary hurdle on her path to the White House. Optics matter when the issue is transparency.

    Tampa Bay Times:

    We can all readily agree that the optics of Clinton granting audiences to deep-pocketed swells who had sent tens of millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation are not good.

    WSJ's James Taranto:

    The Clinton Foundation and the appearance of corruption.

    [...]

    And the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized a “compelling government interest”—which can justify restrictions of the fundamental right to free speech—in avoiding even the appearance of corruption. The “quid” and the “quo” are enough, even if the “pro” can’t be proved.

    Media Matters researcher Tyler Cherry contributed research to this post. 
  • Widespread Agreement That House GOP Benghazi Report Has No “Smoking Gun” Against Clinton

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Following the release of the House Select Committee on Benghazi’s report on the 2012 terror attack on a diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, -- which was the culmination of an investigation lasting “two years and [costing] more than $7 million,” -- journalists are pointing out that the report “failed to unearth anything so damning as to change many minds about the events of that tragic night, or who is to blame for them,” and that “there doesn't seem to be a smoking gun when it comes to Hillary Clinton's culpability.”

  • Latest Accounts Of Trump Misogyny Allege Unlawful Behavior, But Media Don't Notice

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Media coverage of The New York Times’ report detailing allegations of misogyny and sexual harassment on the part of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump virtually ignored allegations of possible illegal behavior and focused instead on one of the women in the report who claimed the Times “spun” her words.

    On May 14, The New York Times published a front-page story titled “Crossing the Line: How Donald Trump Behaved With Women in Private.” The article, based on over 50 interviews, “reveal[ed] unwelcome romantic advances, unending commentary on the female form, a shrewd reliance on ambitious women, and unsettling workplace conduct” by Trump, according to the Times.

    Two of the people the Times referenced in the report were Jill Harth and her former boyfriend George Houraney, who had both “worked with Mr. Trump on a beauty pageant in Atlantic City and later accused Mr. Trump of inappropriate behavior toward Ms. Harth during their business dealings.” The Boston Globe detailed Harth and Houraney's accounts extensively in April, which included accusations of sexual harassment by the candidate against his reported business partner in the pageant, Ms. Harth:

    After a few weeks of negotiating, they came to terms on many aspects of a deal. It was time to celebrate. Trump invited the American Dream executive team, along with at least nine past and present calendar models, to a party at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach in January 1993.

    During dinner, Harth alleged, Trump demanded that she sit next to him.

    “When we got to the dinner table, Donald started right in on the groping under the table, to tell you the truth,” Harth said in her deposition.

    Some of the salacious charges about what happened later that night, based on Harth’s assertions, were reported in 1997 in New York tabloids and the National Enquirer. Trump took her into an empty bedroom — the one normally used by daughter Ivanka, who at the time was 11. Trump forcibly “kissed, fondled, and restrained” her from leaving, according to Harth’s suit.

    [...]

    Several weeks later, Harth again went to Mar-a-Lago for a meeting to discuss the competition. After some of Trump’s business associates left, Harth alleges that Trump forced her into a bedroom, made “unwanted sexual advances,” and began touching her “private parts” and “uttering Svengali-type proclamations of love.”

    Harth said in the lawsuit that she immediately “became nauseated and vomited profusely.”

    A Media Matters analysis found that Harth’s account of sexual harassment was not examined by media on morning, daytime, or evening news programs on CNN, Fox News, ABC, NBC, or CBS, and was mentioned only once on MSNBC in a report on All in with Chris Hayes. But the Times report suggests that Harth’s story is part of a pattern of “unsettling workplace conduct,” which could constitute allegations of what is legally known as the creation of hostile work environments through unlawful sexual harassment.

    Only one show made this connection about the gravity of the allegations -- ABC’s The View on May 16 -- but co-host Joy Behar didn’t go into more detail beyond saying, “That is called sexual harassment.”

    By contrast, media outlets mentioned Rowanne Brewer Lane’s allegations that the Times “spun” her words at least 40 times. According to the Times, Brewer Lane alleged that Trump had “asked her to change out of her clothes” and “to put on a swimsuit.” Since the publication of the report, Brewer Lane has labeled the account “a hit piece.”

    Methodology: Media Matters searched Nexis and Snapstream transcripts for coverage between May 14 and May 22 on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, ABC, CBS, and NBC using the terms "Jill Harth," "Harth," "Sexual harassment AND Trump," “Trump AND Harth,” "Sexual assault AND Trump,'" and “Brewer Lane.” A supplemental search was conducted using alternate spellings including the terms: “Trump and har” “Trump and herth,” “herth,” “harf,” and “Trump and harf.”