The Daily Signal | Media Matters for America

The Daily Signal

Tags ››› The Daily Signal
  • Under fire for scandals, EPA head Scott Pruitt again turns to right-wing media

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt turned to conservative and oil industry-linked outlets to defend himself after receiving a barrage of negative press coverage for his ethically questionable condo lease.

    In the past week, Pruitt has been facing an ethics scandal after numerous stories came out about a $50-a-night rental agreement Pruitt made with the wife of an energy lobbyist for a condo in Washington, D.C. Pruitt, who has a habit of going to right-wing and conservative outlets for favorable coverage, took to The Washington Examiner and The Daily Signal to defend the condo lease and dismiss criticism.

    In an interview with The Washington Examiner for its Washington Secrets column, Pruitt wrote off criticism about his below-market condo lease as evidence of his attackers being willing to “resort to anything” to stop his agenda at the EPA:

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Tuesday forcefully pushed back against criticism that he won a short-term sweetheart rental deal from a lobbyist friend, claiming it’s just the latest attempt by his and the president’s attackers to “resort to anything” to stop their agenda.

    “There are people that have long in this town done business a different way and this agency has been the poster child of it. And so do I think that because we are leading on this agenda that there are some who want to keep that from happening? Absolutely. And do I think that they will resort to anything to achieve that? Yes,” he said in an interview with Secrets.

    Pruitt also claimed that he rented only one room of the condo, that his monthly rent was about $1,500, and that the lobbyist whose wife co-owns the condo had no business before the EPA:

    Pruitt dismissed the townhouse controversy, explaining that he rented just one room while he looked for permanent housing. The EPA’s general counsel issued a reporting calling the rent for one room, about $1,500 a month, “reasonable.”

    Pruitt said, “I’m dumbfounded that that’s controversial.” He added that the lobbyist friend from Oklahoma doesn’t have business before the EPA.

    “When you think of the townhouse, the rent last year. The owner of that is an Oklahoman. I’ve known him for years. He’s the outside counsel for the National Rifle Association, has no clients that are before this agency, nor does his wife have any clients that have appeared before this agency."

    Yet recent reporting contradicts each of those claims: ABC News revealed that Pruitt’s daughter occupied a second room in the condo during her White House internship. Bloomberg reported that Pruitt paid “paid $6,100 to use the room for roughly six months,” which comes out to an average monthly rent of about $1,000. And The New York Times reported that the condo owner's husband, Steven Hart, is head of a lobbying firm that represents pipeline company Enbridge, and the EPA signed off on an Enbridge pipeline project while Pruitt was staying at the condo.

    In a separate interview with The Daily Signal, the news site of the oil industry-funded Heritage Foundation, Pruitt claimed that media reports about his rental were “not terribly complete with respect to what the truth is.” He described his arrangement as “an Airbnb-type situation where I rented literally one room that was used in a temporary status, until I found more permanent residence,” and he once again dismissed concerns about the fact that an energy lobbyist’s wife co-owned the condo. From the article:

    Media reports, Pruitt told The Daily Signal during an interview Tuesday, are incomplete and don’t reflect “the truth.”

    “I think the information has been, as things go, I think very intermittent and very sporadic and not terribly complete with respect to what the truth is,” Pruitt said in the interview.

    “We had a memo and a statement from career ethics officials here that have actually reviewed the lease, that actually reviewed comps—comparables of similar units,” Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma, told The Daily Signal.

    “And I think what’s missed in this: I didn’t rent a unit,” Pruitt said. “I didn’t rent an apartment. This was an Airbnb-type situation where I rented literally one room that was used in a temporary status, until I found more permanent residence.”

    ...

    Pruitt also pushed back against reports that he rented space from an energy lobbyist.

    “The other thing I would say is that the owner of the residence—people, I’ve heard, say that he’s an energy lobbyist,” Pruitt told The Daily Signal.

    Speaking of Hart, Pruitt said: “He’s the chairman of a law firm. I’ve know this gentleman for years. He’s an Oklahoman, and his firm represents these [energy industry] clients, not him. There has been no connection whatsoever in that regard.”

  • Right-wing media botch GAO report to push myth that taxpayers are funding abortion

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    On March 6, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released an updated report about the use of federal funds by Planned Parenthood and several other health care providers for providing “preventive, reproductive, and diagnostic health care services in the United States or abroad.” Predictably, even though the report didn’t show any wrongdoing by the provider, right-wing media used its release to promote the longstanding myth that Planned Parenthood uses taxpayer funding to support its abortion services.

    According to the March 2018 GAO report, investigators sought to answer how much federal funding had been granted to federally qualified health centers, International Planned Parenthood Federation, Marie Stopes International, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America between 2013 and 2015, as well as how those organizations or networks had spent the funds. Right-wing media quickly seized on the data to push the myth of so-called “taxpayer-funded” abortion, even though the report showed no such thing.

    Even before the GAO’s most recent report came out, right-wing media have frequently claimed that U.S. taxpayers fund the provision of abortion services. In reality, under the Hyde Amendment, federal funding for abortion is prohibited except in cases of rape or incest or if the life of the mother is at risk. Although Planned Parenthood receives funds to support non-abortion health services, the allocations aren’t a blank check for the organization to spend as it pleases. Indeed, just like any other health care provider -- including the other providers listed in the GAO’s March 2018 report -- Planned Parenthood is reimbursed by the government for the specific non-abortion services it provides to low-income patients via programs like Medicaid. In many other cases, funds that are not reimbursed in this way are specifically allocated to cover a narrow set of health outcomes, such as HIV prevention.

    Nevertheless, right-wing media pushed their misleading reading of the report within their own echo chamber to allege wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. In order to make this point, many outlets ignored the reality that the allocated funding did not support abortion services. For example, in a March 8 article, Breitbart reported that the GAO report had shown that “federal and state taxpayers provided $1.5 billion in funding to abortion providers over a three-year period,” yet it failed to note that none of these funds supported abortion services. This tactic was copied by Newsmax, Washington Free Beacon, Townhall, OneNewsNow, and The Daily Signal, each of which repeated the implication that the money went to abortions. Some outlets went a step further in their allegations, arguing that even if the funding allocated wasn’t for abortion services, it would inevitably be used to support abortions. In one example, LifeSiteNews wrote, “Pro-lifers note that money is fungible, meaning that public funding Planned Parenthood uses for approved purposes frees funds from other sources to be spent on abortions.” The Federalist claimed that such “funds are fungible” because when “an abortion provider gets its hands on government money, it controls how that money is spent.”

    This narrative culminated in a March 12 appearance by Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight. In the segment, host Tucker Carlson and Black each lambasted anti-choice legislators for failing to strip Planned Parenthood’s funding by making a number of inaccurate allegations about the way the organization used taxpayer funds. In one instance, Black claimed that it was inappropriate for “taxpayer dollars to be going to abortion,” saying that the funding was “set up for family planning” but “abortion is not family planning, it’s family destruction.”

    The GAO's findings rebut the right-wing argument that the federal funding Planned Parenthood received supported the provision of abortion services. For example, in a chart listing the programs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) funded at Planned Parenthood, there is no allocation that would include abortion services:

    Although right-wing media may be suggesting that the allocations for “Family planning services” or the “Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Program” could include support for abortion, a review of each program in the government’s Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance refutes this claim. Furthermore, the GAO not only reviewed the financial documents of Planned Parenthood and all of its affiliates, but also sought additional documentation and audit information.

    In other words, given the level of scrutiny applied to both the allocation and the expenditure of funds, it is highly improbable money allocated for other uses was spent on abortion care. Once again, the frenzy drummed up by right-wing media appears to be supported with only spin, and no substance.

  • The right has a new 20-week abortion ban, and it's still built on junk science and right-wing lies.

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    The U.S. House of Representatives has promised an October 3 vote on a 20-week abortion ban -- misleadingly named the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act -- that is based on junk science and a longstanding right-wing media myth that fetuses can feel pain by 20 weeks in a pregnancy. In reporting on the vote, media have an obligation to include scientifically accurate information about abortion including 20-week abortion bans at the state level, how a ban is unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade, and the personal or medical decisions behind having an abortion after 20 weeks.

  • EPA chief Scott Pruitt's official schedule omitted many right-wing media appearances

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Environmental Protection Agency has grudgingly released partial schedules showing how Administrator Scott Pruitt has been spending his time, but many of his media interviews were omitted -- including at least 12 interviews with right-wing media.

    Journalists, activists, and members of Congress have been pushing the EPA for months to release Pruitt's calendar. Pruitt's predecessor, Gina McCarthy, and other past EPA administrators had their calendars posted publicly. Reporters and representatives of public interest groups have filed dozens of requests under the Freedom of Information Act for access to part or all of Pruitt's schedule. In response to one such request from E&E News, the EPA in June released a version of the administrator's schedule for February 21 to March 31, albeit with numerous redactions. Then last week, the agency posted to its website a skeletal outline of Pruitt's schedule for April 3 to September 8. 

    Media Matters identified 13 media interviews Pruitt gave that were not accounted for on these publicly released schedules, and 12 of these interviews were with conservative or right-wing outlets.

    The more recent, bare-bones schedule lists 52 occasions on which Pruitt gave interviews to media outlets over the five months covered. For 51 of them, the outlets are not specified; the events are simply listed as “media interview” or "media interviews." (The only outlet named on this schedule is The Associated Press.) But even these vague listings of media interviews don't encompass all of Pruitt's media appearances, Media Matters has found. We identified six media interviews Pruitt gave that were omitted from the calendar:

    The more detailed schedule that the EPA had earlier released for February 21 to March 31 did list some specific media outlets the administrator spoke with, including Fox News, CNBC, and CNN, but Media Matters identified another six interviews that were omitted:

    One more media appearance was not listed on public schedules because EPA didn't share any of Pruitt's calendar information for April 1-2:

    Pruitt has shown a strong preference for right-wing media. As Media Matters documented previously, Pruitt appeared 12 times on Fox News during his first six months in office, twice as many times as he appeared on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and NBC combined. The hosts at Fox and other right-wing outlets often ask Pruitt softball questions, giving him a comfortable platform from which to repeat his favorite talking points and push items on his agenda. Pruitt made some of his earliest mentions of his idea to create a sham red team/blue team exercise on climate science on The Savage Nation, a fringe right-wing talk show hosted by conspiracy theorist Michael Savage, and on the Breitbart News Daily radio show.

    In addition to national TV and radio programs, Pruitt also gives interviews to conservative local programs, like a talk radio show in North Dakota. These kinds of appearances are more difficult to track and tally, so it's unclear how many such interviews Pruitt has given and how many have been included on or omitted from his publicly released schedules.

    The EPA under Pruitt has been unprecedented in its secrecy, as The New York Times, The New Republic, and other outlets have reported. Journalists and advocates are continuing to push for the release of Pruitt's full calendar, emails, and other information about how the agency and its administrator operate.

    The omission of so many media appearances from Pruitt's public calendar is yet another sign of a pervasive and troubling lack of transparency at the EPA.

  • STUDY: EPA chief Scott Pruitt has given more interviews to Fox than to all other major TV networks combined

    Pruitt shares the Trump administration’s preference for Fox News and right-wing media

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has appeared on Fox News twice as often as on other cable and broadcast networks combined, and he has frequently granted interviews to right-wing talk radio shows and other climate-denying outlets, Media Matters has found.

    Pruitt’s media strategy is right in line with that of his boss. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump eschewed mainstream media outlets; it's a pattern his administration has continued since the election, favoring conservative and right-wing media outlets that are friendly to President Trump's agenda. By following the same approach, Pruitt has been able to push misinformation, avoid tough questioning, and appeal to the president’s political base.

    Pruitt appeared on Fox News twice as often as he did on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and NBC combined

    Scott Pruitt has been a guest on Fox News a total of 12 times since his confirmation. From February 17, when he was sworn in, to August 14, Pruitt made twice as many appearances on Fox News (12) as he did on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and NBC combined (6).* With the exception of two appearances on Fox News Sunday, Pruitt rarely faced tough questions on Fox News and was able to use the network as a platform for pushing misleading talking points without rebuttal. Pruitt appeared most frequently on Fox & Friends, Trump’s favorite show, which some journalists have criticized as “state TV” and “a daily infomercial for the Trump presidency” for its sycophantic coverage of the president and his administration. Pruitt made the following appearances on Fox News:

    By comparison, Pruitt made only six appearances on the other major cable and broadcast television networks combined. From the time Pruitt took the helm at the EPA through August 14, he was a guest just six times total on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, and NBC, and he made no appearances at all on CBS. On each of these non-Fox programs, Pruitt faced questions either about whether Trump still believes climate change is a hoax or about Pruitt's own views on climate change. In response, Pruitt either avoided answering the question or repeated his “lukewarmer” stance that climate change is happening but we don’t know how much is human-caused. In all but one of these appearances, Pruitt repeated false or misleading talking points about the Paris climate agreement. Here are Pruitt's guest appearances on cable news and broadcast networks other than Fox:

    • One appearance on CNN’s The Situation Room on February 28.
    • One appearance on CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper on June 1.
    • One appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on June 6.
    • Two appearances on ABC’s This Week on March 26 and June 4.
    • One appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press on June 4.

    *Pruitt’s appearance on Meet the Press aired on both NBC and MSNBC, but for the purposes of this study, we only counted it as an NBC appearance.

    Pruitt has been a frequent guest on national right-wing talk radio shows

    Pruitt has also been a frequent guest on nationally broadcast right-wing talk radio shows since his confirmation, Media Matters found. We examined the top 10 shows listed on Talkers.com's Top Talk Audiences list, as well as numerous shows broadcast on the SiriusXM Patriot channel, and found the following:

    • Three appearances on Salem Radio Network’s The Hugh Hewitt Show on March 29, May 11, and June 2.
    • Two appearances on Fox News Radio’s Brian Kilmeade Show on April 27 and May 19.
    • One appearance on SiriusXM Patriot’s David Webb Show on April 26.
    • One appearance on SiriusXM Patriot’s Breitbart News Daily on June 5.
    • One appearance on Westwood One’s The Savage Nation on June 1.

    All of these hosts or outlets have denied climate change:

    • Hugh Hewitt has a years-long record of climate denial: He wrote in a 2011 blog post that “we don’t know” how much humans contribute to global warming or “if it will be harmful or if there's anything we can do about it.” Hewitt also downplayed the threat of climate change in a September 2016 episode of his show in which he said that warming might be "a real problem over 500 years."
    • Brian Kilmeade has denied climate change, both as a host on his radio show and as a co-host on Fox & Friends. On a 2013 episode of his radio show (then called Kilmeade & Friends), Kilmeade suggested that only “corrupt” climatologists accept human-caused climate change. On the same day, Kilmeade disputed on Fox & Friends that it is “settled scientific collective thought” that human activity causes climate change. 
    • On the January 12, 2017, episode of the David Webb Show, Webb cast doubt on the scientific consensus around climate change, arguing that it's not significant that the vast majority of climate scientists publishing peer-reviewed research agree on the human causes of warming: "You can have 99 percent of peer-reviewed, but it doesn’t mean that the one percent like that guy named Copernicus won’t be correct about the fact that the Earth was not flat and we were not the center of the universe.”
    • Breitbart.com has a long track record of pushing blatant climate science misinformation and attacking climate scientists and climate science, calling researchers “talentless low-lives” and “abject liars” and climate change a “hoax.” Breitbart is also a go-to outlet for fossil fuel industry-funded academics who want to get publicity for their work.
    • Michael Savage has echoed Trump’s position on climate change, calling it a “scam” and a “hoax,” and has urged the president to continue denying that humans are the cause of global warming. During his June 1 interview with Scott Pruitt, Savage repeated the denier argument that human-made climate change is disproven by samples from the Vostok ice core in Antarctica and criticized Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) for promoting “fake science.” In response, Pruitt appeared to endorse Savage’s views and floated the idea of having a "red team" of skeptical scientists debate a "blue team" of mainstream climate scientists, a proposal Pruitt pushed again a few days later on Breitbart’s radio program:
    MICHAEL SAVAGE (HOST): Please explain to me how come ancient core samples from the Antarctic show that there was climate change going on hundreds of thousands of years before man industrialized. [Whitehouse] would not have an answer for us, Mr. Pruitt. The science is fake science that they’ve been foisting upon a gullible public.
    SCOTT PRUITT: You know what’s interesting, Michael? There was a great article in The Wall Street Journal to your point, by Steven Koonin, a scientist at NYU, called “red team/blue team.” I don’t know if you saw it or not. But he proposed that we should have a red team/blue team approach with respect to CO2. We should have red team scientists and blue team scientists, in an open setting, debate, discuss, and have an open discussion about what do we know, what don’t we know, and the American people deserve truth.
    SAVAGE: Amen to that, because we’ve had no debate whatsoever. All Obama told us was 98 percent of scientists agree. So what? There was a time when 100 percent of scientists said the Earth is flat. Did that make them right?
    PRUITT: No, look, I mean the reason there’s not consensus, through policy in Washington, D.C., is because, truly, the American people don’t trust what has happened in the past several years with respect to regulatory policy and this issue.

    Pruitt’s right-wing radio appearances have extended beyond nationally broadcast shows. E&E News reported in May that Pruitt appeared on “the local morning talk radio show of a North Dakota blogger who described the Obama administration's EPA as an enemy to the well-being of his state.” ThinkProgress noted that during a “state listening tour” in North Dakota earlier this month, “Pruitt stopped by the conservative talk radio show What’s On Your Mind to share his thoughts on a number of EPA-related issues.” During that conversation, Pruitt referred to the “so-called settled science” of climate change.

    And on August 10, Pruitt appeared on a Texas radio show, Politico reported, where he said his staff will assess the "accuracy" of a major federal climate report that's been drafted by scientists from 13 agencies. “Frankly this report ought to be subjected to peer-reviewed, objective-reviewed methodology and evaluation,” he said, ignoring the fact that the report has already undergone extensive peer review. Pruitt also used his appearance on the show to cast doubt on climate science in general.

    Pruitt has given interviews to other climate-denying outlets, including online publications and cable business shows

    In addition to his June interview on Breitbart’s radio show, Pruitt granted the Breitbart website an interview in March.

    Pruitt also sat for a lengthy video interview in July with the fossil fuel-funded Daily Caller, another denialist online outlet. And he gave an interview in May to The Daily Signal, an online news outlet run by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that casts doubt on climate change.

    Besides his appearances on cable news shows, Pruitt also went on cable business shows and networks that serve as platforms for climate denial -- most notably CNBC’s Squawk Box, where he told climate-denying host Joe Kernen that he did not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming. Pruitt has also frequently given interviews on Fox Business Network, which mirrors Fox News’ denialist stance on global warming. Pruitt made the following appearances on the Fox Business Network:

    Pruitt’s courting of conservative media is “on an entirely different level” from predecessors

    Scott Waldman of E&E News reported that after “weeks of blowback” from Pruitt’s appearance on Squawk Box, the EPA chief “shifted his media appearances to friendlier venues,” a move that “allowed him to tee off on a favorite series of talking points: Obama's energy policy was ‘America second,’ energy industry innovations have reduced the U.S. carbon footprint, the so-called war on coal is now over, EPA's job is to encourage business growth in concert with the environment, and the era of punitive action against energy companies is over.” Waldman also noted that Pruitt’s “courting of conservative media is on an entirely different level” from previous EPA administrators. From Waldman’s article:

    To be sure, all administrations seek out friendly press. President Obama talked about health care on the "Between Two Ferns" comedy program with Zach Galifianakis, which Republicans criticized as undignified. And former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy granted exclusive interviews to left-leaning outlets like Mother Jones and Grist.

    But critics say Pruitt's courting of conservative media is on an entirely different level.

    […]

    Liz Purchia, a former EPA spokeswoman under the Obama administration, said it's extremely unusual to place an administrator only on partisan outlets. She noted that McCarthy regularly interacted with reporters from outlets that produced coverage EPA officials did not appreciate.

    […]

    "Only talking to far right-wing media outlets, they are only talking to a small group of Americans that regularly follow them, and they are intentionally going to reporters who will only ask them questions they want to hear and aren't speaking to the broader American people about their actions," Purchia said.

    In Mother Jones, Rebecca Leber also reported that “since taking office, Pruitt has almost exclusively relied on a small number of conservative media outlets to tell an upbeat version of his leadership at the EPA, with occasional detours into the Sunday news shows,” creating “an echo chamber cheerleading the EPA’s regulatory rollbacks, Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, and its newfound anti-science denial.”

    Leber also quoted Purchia remarking on how Pruitt’s approach to media interviews “isolates him from most Americans and instead plays to Trump’s base”:

    Liz Purchia, an Obama-era EPA communications staffer, says the EPA’s attention to right-wing audiences resembles Trump’s tactics at the White House. “They’re tightly controlling [Pruitt’s] public events and interviews, which isolates him from most Americans and instead plays to Trump’s base,” Purchia said in an email. “They’re not trying to use communications tactics to reach a broad audience.”

    Charts by Sarah Wasko

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the following terms in Nexis, iQ Media, and TVEyes to find Scott Pruitt's on-air TV appearances from the date of his swearing in as EPA Administrator on February 17 to August 14: “Pruitt,” "EPA administrator," "E.P.A. administrator," "EPA chief," "E.P.A. chief," "EPA head," "E.P.A. head," "head of the EPA," "head of the E.P.A.," "head of the Environmental Protection Agency," "Environmental Protection Agency Administrator," or "Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency." We did not count instances of networks airing Pruitt’s appearance at the White House’s June 2 press briefing.

    For radio appearances, Matters Matters searched the same terms in Veritone for the top 10 programs in Talkers.com's Top Talk Audiences list and the following programs that air on SiriusXM Patriot: Breitbart News Daily, David Webb Show, Brian Kilmeade Show, and The Wilkow Majority.

  • Right-wing media are freaking out as anti-LGBTQ hate groups are called out

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & ERIN FITZGERALD


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters
     

    Following Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ controversial speaking engagement at an event hosted by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), right-wing media figures lashed out at ABC and NBC News for accurately reporting that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has designated ADF as an anti-LGBTQ hate group.

    On July 11, Sessions spoke at an event hosted by ADF, the nation’s largest anti-LGBTQ hate group. Many progressive and LGBTQ advocacy organizations objected to Sessions’ decision to attend the event, in part because of ADF’s long-standing history of anti-LGBTQ extremism. Sessions’ office initially refused to release the transcript of his speech, but it was leaked to the conservative and extreme anti-LGBTQ website The Federalist.

    In their reporting on Sessions’ speech, both ABC News and NBC News accurately noted that the SPLC has designated ADF as an “anti-LGBT hate group.” ABC reported that SPLC described ADF as a group that “specializes in supporting the recriminalization of homosexuality abroad, ending same-sex marriage and generally making life as difficult as possible for LGBT communities in the U.S. and internationally,” also adding that ADF objected to its hate group designation as a “lie.” The report also quoted SPLC’s deputy legal director for its LGBT Rights Project, who said ADF had “rightfully earned” the hate group label.

    In multiple reports, NBC News described ADF as “conservative Christian law firm that was designated a ‘hate group’ in 2016 by the Southern Poverty Law Center” and highlighted its role in promoting bathroom bans “aimed at keeping transgender people out of restrooms and other private facilities that correspond to their gender identity and presentation.” NBC noted ADF’s years-long attempts at criminalizing homosexuality and Sessions’ concerning record on LGBTQ issues. The network also included a response from an ADF attorney who attempted to delegitimize SPLC by calling it “increasingly irrelevant” and “extreme.”

    Following these reports, right wing media figures quickly attacked NBC and ABC News. ADF responded as well, issuing a statement demanding a retraction from ABC and claiming that the network had “committed journalistic malpractice,” saying it “cut and paste false charges ... by a radically left-wing, violence-inciting organization.”

    In a July 13 National Review article, senior writer and former ADF senior counsel David French called SPLC a “dangerous joke” that spreads “vicious hate.” French claimed that ADF was labeled a hate group “merely because [its members] advocate for orthodox Christian principles and the liberty to live those principles.” He also suggested that there are only two forms of extremism that SPLC should track -- “racist terrorists and white supremacists” -- and concluded that “media outlets who use the SPLC to assess Christian speech expose only their own bias and incompetence.”

    Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist, declared that ABC News reporters “smeared Christians who believe the Bill of Rights secures religious liberty as a ‘hate group’” and argued that ADF “is not a hate group at all, but a civil liberties organization that battles for religious liberty.” Hemingway went on to warn the media against using SPLC’s designations in the future, threatening that they would be turning “journalism into anti-religious propaganda on behalf of a partisan group” and could potentially “be perceived as enemies of average Americans.”

    Katrina Trinko, managing editor of The Daily Signal, wrote that SPLC’s designations put “conservatives’ safety at risk” of persecution and violence by the left, and that “once again, the mainstream media is demonstrating it doesn’t care about the impact of extremist rhetoric on conservatives.” Right-wing outlet The Daily Caller published a post about ADF’s demand that ABC News retract its story, writing that SPLC “frequently smears conservatives as ‘extremists.’” It also published tweets from conservatives who “blasted the media coverage of ADF as an obvious example of media bias.”

    During the July 14 edition of his show, Fox News prime-time host Tucker Carlson called SPLC a “totally discredited but extremely rich left-wing organization” that attempts to “shut down legitimate debate by labeling ideas it disagrees with as ‘hate speech.’” Carlson asserted that NBC News and SPLC “think they’re in charge” of deciding “which ideas are legitimate and which ideas are so dangerous we must suppress them.” Carlson also hosted ADF Vice President Kristen Waggoner, who asserted that ABC and NBC had committed “journalistic malpractice,” and she and Carlson both said SPLC is a “scam.”

    In addition to the numerous right-wing media attacks, a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #SPLCexposed was launched by numerous other SPLC-identified hate groups and right-wing figures, including anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council, anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform, and anti-Muslim extremist Brigitte Gabriel.

    This reaction is nothing new. Hate groups and far-right commentators have been predictably outraged in the past when mainstream media like The Associated Press and CBS News’ Bob Schieffer properly identified hate group representatives. Just last month, ADF similarly lashed out at Time magazine and columnist Judy Shepard over a piece outlining the extent of ADF’s anti-LGBTQ extremism and its body of work targeting trans students with bathroom bans in schools. In 2014, an ADF attorney asserted that the murder of Shepard’s son Matthew was a hoax to advance the “homosexual agenda.”


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    However, as Media Matters for America has noted, it is a myth that the SPLC bases its hate group designations on conservative or religious beliefs about sexuality and marriage. As SPLC stated in 2010, when it first began listing anti-LGBTQ hate groups, “viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups.” Organizations are labeled anti-LGBTQ hate groups when they knowingly spread “demonizing lies about the LGBT community,” engage in “baseless, incendiary name-calling,” or actively work to criminalize the lives of LGBTQ people.

    SPLC added ADF to its list of anti-LGBTQ hate groups in February 2017 because ADF’s leaders and affiliated lawyers have “regularly demonized LGBT people, falsely linking them to pedophilia, calling them ‘evil’ and a threat to children and society, and blaming them for the ‘persecution of devout Christians’” and have also “supported the criminalization of homosexuality in several countries.”

    As a majority of Americans have grown to support LGBTQ equality, hate groups now cloak anti-LGBTQ extremism under the false pretense of protecting religious freedom or privacy, or protecting women and children from sexual assault. ADF, for instance, has recently made the rounds in the media for representing clients in “religious freedom” and “free speech” cases. But it is also the group behind many of the anti-LGBTQ bills proposed in state legislatures and bathroom bans proposed in school districts, which have been introduced in unprecedented numbers over the last two years.

    In the past, ADF has openly advocated to “recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries.” And in 2012, ADF published a list of suggested and discouraged terminology in its media guide, instructing readers to use the phrase “homosexual agenda” instead of “lesbian and gay civil rights movement,” refer to transgender people as “sexually confused,”and use the term “special privileges” when discussing anti-discrimination laws. In an amicus brief for Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 Supreme Court decision that declared anti-sodomy laws across the country unconstitutional, ADF argued that “the history of this country reflects a deep conviction that sodomy is criminally punishable conduct and not a constitutionally protected activity” and that “state legislatures have always possessed a broad authority to outlaw private, consensual sex.”

    ADF’s actions speak for themselves. Despite the group’s efforts to maintain its highly cultivated facade of respectability in the media, its history of anti-LGBTQ extremism cannot be undone or erased. When journalists employ SPLC’s hate group designation and contextualize ADF’s current work, they provide accurate, much-needed information to the public.

  • Newsweek failed to disclose fossil fuel ties in an article promoting industry groups’ claims

    Newsweek also failed to disclose the fossil fuel funding of the story’s sources

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Newsweek missed multiple opportunities to disclose the fossil fuel ties of industry groups when it re-published a Daily Signal article promoting allegations of collusion between Russia and environmental groups that oppose fracking.

    On July 11, Newsweek posted an article by Kevin Mooney that first appeared in The Daily Signal about a letter House science committee members Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Randy Weber (R-TX) had written to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. According to Mooney, the congressmen alleged that “the Russian government has been colluding with environmental groups to circulate ‘disinformation’ and ‘propaganda’ aimed at undermining hydraulic fracturing” in order to prop up Russian gas prices by reducing the United States’ natural gas production.

    Newsweek failed to disclose that The Daily Signal is the news site of the Heritage Foundation, a think tank that has received almost $800,000 from ExxonMobil and millions from the oil billionaire Koch brothers’ family foundations.

    And, as Andrew Freedman of Mashable noted, the allegations contained in Smith and Weber’s letter were “based on research done by a PR front group, known as the Environmental Policy Alliance, with a record of ties to the energy industry. This raises the question of whether Smith is using the alleged Russian activities as cover to go after environmental groups, who are no friend of his.” Indeed, the Environmental Policy Alliance is a subsidiary of a group called the Center for Organizational Research and Education (CORE), which was founded and is run by the PR firm of corporate lobbyist Richard Berman. The New York Times reported that Berman had “solicited up to $3 million from oil and gas industry executives” in 2014 for a campaign against environmental activists and boasted of being able to keep donors' contributions and involvement hidden.

    Dianna Wray of the Houston Press also highlighted the Environmental Policy Alliance’s industry ties in a July 12 article about the congressmen’s letter, noting that it doesn’t offer proof of its allegations and that the claims come from the “other EPA”:

    The idea that Russians are attempting to meddle in the U.S. energy industry isn't entirely ludicrous. After all, it is believed Russian money was backing protesters opposed to fracking in Romania back in 2014, according to the The New York Times.

    But keep in mind that what Smith presents is far from actual proof. Plus, the letter Smith and Weber signed failed to note one crucial detail about the stories claiming the Russians have been attempting to influence energy policy by dumping money secretly into U.S. environmental organizations like the Sierra Club. Namely, that all of the stories about this big Russian plot to shut down fracking in the United States are based on research from the Environmental Policy Alliance. (The other EPA.)

    While the name may sound fairly innocuous, the organization is actually a public relations firm with ties to the oil industry, i.e., a group that has its own reasons for wanting to cast doubt on any and all environmental reports, particularly any reports that find problems with fracking.

    In its article, Newsweek also failed to note that Smith and Weber themselves have received substantial donations from the fossil fuel industry. Both congressmen have individually received hundreds of thousands of dollars in fossil fuel campaign contributions over their respective careers.

    This isn’t the first time Newsweek has allowed industry-tied authors and groups to push pro-fossil fuel claims without disclosure. In 2015, Newsweek published an article by Randy Simmons, the former Charles G. Koch professor of political economy at Utah State University, without disclosing his affiliation. The magazine subsequently added an update disclosing his fossil fuel ties after Media Matters flagged the omission. In publishing The Daily Signal's article, Newsweek missed another opportunity to be transparent with its readers and disclose important conflicts of interest.

  • How a scheme to discredit climate science spread from conservative media to the EPA chief

    Scott Pruitt has embraced the “red team/blue team” idea that got exposure from Daily Caller and WSJ

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is calling for a “red team/blue team” review of climate science that would attempt to cast doubt on well-established science and lend an outsize voice to fringe scientists. The idea spread from a climate-denying scientist to conservative outlets like The Daily Caller and The Wall Street Journal to Pruitt, and now more right-wing outlets are promoting it.

    How the “red team/blue team” idea spread

    John Christy, a fringe scientist and climate denier, proposed the creation of a “red team” in comments submitted to the EPA in 2014. His proposal was promoted by the denialist Cooler Heads Coalition, a group of organizations that “question global warming alarmism.” In his comments, Christy wrote:

    The EPA should constitute a “Red Team” of analysts, independent from the climate modeling industry, to judge the current state of knowledge, i.e. the current state of how much we know about the “why” of climate variations. Such an examination would provide transparency to the process and give confidence to the public that the agency values open examination of its methodology.

    In 2015, Christy again promoted the idea of the federal government funding a new “red team” that would review the climate science currently being produced by what he calls the “blue team.” The Daily Caller reported on Christy’s proposal in December 2015:

    Christy told the [Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness] he believes the attempt to study climate change objectively is thwarted by the federal funding process.

    Christy, a well-known climate change skeptic, suggests Congress can fix the problem by directly funding independent “red team” programs.

    And in March of this year, Christy promoted the idea during a hearing held in the House Science Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), a noted climate denier. Judith Curry, another scientist who’s been skeptical of the mainstream consensus on climate change, also testified in favor of the idea. The Washington Post reported on Christy and Curry’s testimony and the “red team” idea:

    A main mission of red teams would be to challenge the scientific consensus on climate change, including the work of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose reports are widely considered the authority on climate science.

    On April 20, the idea got more exposure when it was endorsed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Steven Koonin, a theoretical physicist who has a history of climate denial and served as undersecretary at the Energy Department under President Barack Obama for two years before resigning. Koonin called on the Trump administration “to convene a ‘Red Team/Blue Team’ process for climate science, one of the most important and contentious issues of our age.” He continued:

    The national-security community pioneered the “Red Team” methodology to test assumptions and analyses, identify risks, and reduce—or at least understand—uncertainties. The process is now considered a best practice in high-consequence situations such as intelligence assessments, spacecraft design and major industrial operations.

    As justification for such an exercise, Koonin claimed that the “public is largely unaware of the intense debates within climate science.”

    Shortly after his op-ed was published, Koonin told Axios, “I can tell you that’s found some resonance within the administration. I’m just going to say people seem to be interested.”

    One of those people is Pruitt. In a radio interview on Breitbart News Daily on June 5, Pruitt expressed interest in the “red team/blue team” idea. From a Breitbart article about the interview:

    “What the American people deserve is a true, legitimate, peer-reviewed, objective, transparent discussion about CO2,” [Pruitt] said. “There was a great article that was in the Wall Street Journal about a month or so ago called ‘Red Team, Blue Team’ by Steve Koonin, a scientist, I believe, at NYU. He talked about the importance of having a Red Team of scientists and a Blue Team of scientists, and those scientists get into a room and ask, ‘What do we know? What don’t we know? What risk does it pose to health in the United States and the world, with respect to this issue of [carbon dioxide]?’”

    In the days after that interview, right-wing outlets picked up on the idea again. The Daily Caller reported that it “could upset the supposed ‘consensus’ on man-made global warming.” Breitbart said the proposal “has naturally caused massive upset among the ivory towers of climate science academe” where researchers “aren’t at all used to having their dodgy theories exposed to serious scrutiny.” The right-wing website Daily Signal, the conservative blog Power Line, and the climate-denial blog Watts Up With That also highlighted Pruitt's interview and the red team proposal.

    Why the “red team/blue team” idea is wrongheaded

    In advocating for a “red team” review of climate science, Pruitt, Koonin, and right-wing media are glossing over the fact that climate science already has a method for testing assumptions and analyses: the peer-review system. Climate science papers submitted to respected journals are reviewed by other scientists in the field to assess their soundness and validity.

    As Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Washington Post in June, creating a red team to review climate science would constitute an act of false equivalence and lend, as the Post wrote, “more prominence to alternative ideas than they have earned in the refereed journal process.” Earlier, in March, he told the Post, “The notion that we would need to create an entirely different new approach, in particular for the specific question around global warming is unfounded and ridiculous and simply intended to promote the notion of a lack of consensus about the core findings, which in fact is a false notion.”

    The Post also quoted Marshall Shepherd, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Georgia, who called Koonin’s proposal a “gimmick,” saying, “This just feels to me a like another way to skirt the tried and true scientific process that has worked for years in our field and many others.”

    Climate science has already been litigated ad nauseum in mainstream forums. Numerous studies have found that the vast majority of climate scientists agree that humans are the primary cause of global warming. And recent studies examining the robustness of that consensus have reaffirmed it; about 97 percent of publishing climate scientists concur.


    Via Skeptical Science

    Creating a “red team” could lead to scenarios like the one at a House science committee hearing in March, when climate scientist Michael Mann was outnumbered by fringe scientists and forced to be the sole representative of the scientific consensus on climate change. “We find ourselves at this hearing today, with three individuals who represent that tiny minority that reject this consensus or downplay its significance, and only one—myself—who is in the mainstream,” Mann said in his opening testimony.

    The impact of major newspapers’ opinion pages

    Though fringe, right-wing media have played a substantial role in spreading the “red team/blue team” proposal and other denialist ideas, mainstream newspapers also bear some responsibility. When Pruitt referenced Koonin’s op-ed, it was the second time in less than a week that he had lifted an argument from the opinion pages of a major newspaper to cast doubt on established climate science. On June 2, standing at the podium of the White House press briefing room, Pruitt cited an error-riddled, denialist New York Times column by Bret Stephens in order to downplay “exaggerated” concerns about climate change.

    As a Media Matters study conducted last year demonstrated, climate denial remains a significant problem in the major newspapers. The world has just endured the three hottest years on record, and newspapers are still allowing their opinion pages to be used to deny climate change. That trend is all the more alarming now that the Trump administration is quickly adopting those denialist arguments.

  • How a discredited anti-abortion group used the anti-choice media ecosystem to do its dirty work

    CMP seemingly tried to avoid an injunction by circulating video footage to anti-choice and right-wing media outlets, rather than publishing it

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    On May 25, the discredited anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) circulated an unlisted YouTube link to a new smear video against the National Abortion Federation (NAF) and Planned Parenthood. This footage was removed that evening because a district judge had “barred it from release.” Given this injunction, it seems notable that CMP didn’t publicly release or promote the video, and instead relied on anti-choice and right-wing media outlets to spread its claim.

  • Right-Wing Media Promote Industry Group’s Effort To Label Anti-Fracking Websites As “Fake News”

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    Conservative outlets are highlighting a pro-fracking group’s attempt to convince Google, which recently promised to alter its search algorithm to demote fake news, to also tweak it to purge or demote websites critical of fracking.

    On May 8, Texans for Natural Gas, an industry group funded by Texas energy companies, published an open letter addressed to Google titled “ANTI-FRACKING ACTIVISM IS FAKE NEWS.” The letter, which was highlighted in the industry-funded outlets The Daily Caller and The Daily Signal, referred to Google’s recent move to alter its search algorithm to “demote misleading, false, and offensive articles online” before claiming, “We believe many of the most prominent anti-fracking websites have content that is misleading, false, or offensive – if not all three. As a result, we urge you to consider purging or demoting these websites from your algorithm, which in turn will encourage a more honest public discussion about hydraulic fracturing, and oil and natural gas development in general.”

    The pro-fracking group claimed that environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, Earthworks, and others were “peddling fake news” about the link between fracking and drinking water contamination. The letter cited an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study to support its claims, saying that the EPA study “found no evidence of widespread water contamination.” The group subsequently urged Google to examine other sites that contradict the findings of the EPA report, stating, “There are certainly other environmental groups that have made similarly false claims about fracking and groundwater risks, despite the conclusions of the EPA and other scientific experts.”

    Yet for all the grandstanding the letter makes about rooting out “misleading” information online, it is full of misleading statements. Though the group claimed that the EPA study “found no evidence of widespread water contamination” from fracking, it neglected to mention that the EPA subsequently removed that sentence from the report on the advice of its Science Advisory Board because the findings of the report did not support that conclusion. Additionally, according to Cleveland.com, a study conducted by Stanford researchers in 2016 “found that common practices in the industry may have widespread impacts on drinking water.”

    Texans for Natural Gas also said in the letter that statements linking fracking to worsening climate change are further examples of a “false claim peddled by anti-fracking groups and environmentalist websites,” adding that the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) cited the U.S.’s increased use of natural gas as “an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States.” But this claim ignores more recent studies, including one by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that found that methane emissions were actually "one-fifth higher than IPCC estimates,” as well as numerous studies that have concluded that methane leakage from natural gas production could negate the climate benefits of natural gas.

    The term “fake news” has been wildly misused recently, and Texans for Natural Gas is only adding to the trend. If the group wants to cast itself as an ally in Google’s effort to root out misleading information, it would do well to provide an honest accounting of scientific research in its letter.

  • Right-Wing Media’s New Favorite Immigration Statistic Reflects Misguided Policy

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Right-wing media celebrated a new report from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that showed a significant drop in border apprehensions since President Donald Trump took office, suggesting that fewer immigrants are making the journey to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump campaigned on preventing dangerous criminals from entering the country, but officials and experts report that the drop reflects the administration's focus on women and children and that the new policies incite fear in noncriminal immigrants and largely deter asylum seekers fleeing violence. In fact, these policies fail to address the proliferation of transnational crime organizations that Trump promised to tackle and undermine counter-crime operations within the United States.

  • Right-Wing Media's Failed Attempt To Downplay The Impact Of North Carolina's Anti-LGBTQ Law In Governor's Race

    ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    Right-wing media outlets are attempting to deny the impact of North Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ law House Bill 2 (HB 2) in the state’s still too-close-to-call gubernatorial race between incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and Democratic challenger Roy Cooper. Mainstream journalists and political scientists have repeatedly pointed to the “politically obvious” costs of the discriminatory HB 2 as a “key issue” in the governor’s race, the outcome of which could mark a potential “watershed” moment for LGBTQ equality. 

  • Right-Wing Media’s Favorite Myths About Planned Parenthood

    As Planned Parenthood Celebrates 100 Years Of Providing Essential Health Care, A Look Back At Right-Wing Media’s Most Common Smears About The Organization

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    On October 16, Planned Parenthood celebrated 100 years of providing quality reproductive health care to millions of Americans. Despite the essential role Planned Parenthood has and continues to play in facilitating access to both primary and reproductive health care, right-wing media have frequently provided a platform for numerous smears and misinformation about the organization. Here are right-wing media’s favorite myths about Planned Parenthood.

  • Kellyanne Conway’s History Of Pushing A Right-Wing Media, Anti-Choice Lie About Abortion

    To Limit Abortion Access, Trump's Campaign Manager Has Long Promoted The Dangerous Lie That Democrats Support "Sex-Selective" Abortion

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, has a long history of alleging that the Democratic Party supports allowing so-called “sex-selective” abortions because it devalues "little baby girls." During the 2016 election cycle, Conway has frequently promoted this misleading and unsubstantiated right-wing media myth, which perpetuates harmful racial and ethnic stereotypes and is a cover for greater abortion restrictions.  

  • What The Media Should Know About A Proposed Title X Funding Rule And Planned Parenthood

    Planned Parenthood Is An Essential Health Care Provider -- And A New Rule Could Help Protect Its Funding From Political Attacks

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    In September 2016, the Obama administration proposed a rule that would stop anti-choice lawmakers from diverting federal family planning money -- distributed to states through Title X -- away from Planned Parenthood. With support from right-wing media, several states have attempted to defund Planned Parenthood based on the misinformation that there are ample replacements already available at the local level.