How media outlets promoted problematic narratives and anti-abortion misinformation
On January 19, the annual March for Life was held in Washington D.C. In covering both the anti-abortion protest and the lead-up to it, some media outlets promoted problematic narratives and anti-abortion misinformation.
On January 16, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a report in concert with the Department of Justice (DOJ) alleging that, among other things, “three out of every four, or 402, individuals convicted of international terrorism-related charges in U.S. federal courts between September 11, 2001, and December 31, 2016 were foreign-born.” Fox News immediately promoted the study over criticism from homeland security experts, and then went silent about the report’s integrity after it was revealed that the administration had sidestepped DHS experts and statistics to produce it.
Reporting on the study on the day of its release, The New York Times noted that “the 11-page report, parts of which were confusing and in some respects misleading, highlighted cases in which immigrants were linked to terrorism plots.” MSNBC security analyst Matthew Miller was one of the first to point out that the report “includes people who committed terrorist acts overseas, were arrested overseas and brought here to face trial” and explained that “it also doesn’t count incidents of domestic terrorism,” meaning terrorists who are American citizens and who perpetrated attacks on U.S. soil were excluded.
Essentially, the report focused on international terrorism, but the way it was presented suggested that immigrants were disproportionately responsible for domestic terrorism, particularly because it was published amid immigration policy negotiations. Adding to the confusion, President Donald Trump tweeted a deceptive summary of the report, excluding the word “international”:
New report from DOJ & DHS shows that nearly 3 in 4 individuals convicted of terrorism-related charges are foreign-born. We have submitted to Congress a list of resources and reforms....
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 16, 2018
As criticism around the study mounted, Fox reported on its findings by uncritically parroting the Trump administration line. Fox’s Bret Baier commented that the report includes “some amazing statistics, and scary ones.” Sandra Smith also promoted the misleading study without mentioning its many flaws. Peter Doocy pointed to the study as justification for why “the White House is not budging on immigration talks.” Fox host Julie Banderas used the report to fearmonger about “convicted terrorists in this country who have come over as young adults, if not children, and their families brought them over here, and they went ahead and killed Americans,” even though U.S. vetting procedures make the possibility of that happening incredibly rare. Tucker Carlson, who regularly uses his platform for anti-immigrant misinformation, also gladly hyped the details of the report, declaring, “According to federal numbers released today, America's terror threat is clearly, among other things, an immigration issue”:
But yesterday, the Daily Beast revealed that career experts at DHS told DOJ officials that DHS does “not track or correlate international terrorism data by citizenship or country of origin, and have warned the Trump administration that doing so risks a misleading portrait of both terrorism and immigration.” As explained by Spencer Ackerman, “The result was that the document released last week did not include the contributions of those career DHS officials tasked with providing professional and objective analysis. They were not asked to participate, and so the document did not reflect their input.” In short, on top of the flawed methodology and cherry-picked statistics, the Trump administration willfully sidestepped homeland security experts to produce a report that would vindicate the president’s insistence on linking immigration to crime and terrorism.
Fox News is ignoring this glaring problem with the report, demonstrating once again that the network prioritizes its anti-immigration agenda over honesty in reporting.
MSNBC, in contrast, invites Native American leaders to speak for themselves
A guest on Fox News made inaccurate claims when he said Native Americans have been hurt by national monument designations in southern Utah, and his Fox interviewer failed to question or push back against his claims.
Boyd Matheson, president of the conservative, Utah-based Sutherland Institute, was interviewed by host Shannon Bream on Fox News @ Night on December 4:
BOYD MATHESON: Grazing goes down with these big national monuments. Ranchers are hurt, farmers are hurt. The local Navajo tribes are really hurt because they're not able to access these lands which they use not only for their wood to heat their homes and gathering herbs and berries and doing their spiritual traditions there on the mountain. So it's an important day. This was critical. We got involved in this whole process because those voices weren't being heard.
The segment aired a few hours after President Donald Trump signed proclamations to dramatically shrink two national monuments in southern Utah -- the Bears Ears National Monument, which was established by President Barack Obama at the end of 2016, and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which was designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996. Both designations were made under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which was intended to protect Native American ruins and artifacts.
Matheson was flat-out wrong to say that national monument protections prevent Native Americans from gathering herbs, foods, or wood on the land. Obama's proclamation establishing Bears Ears calls for the federal government to "provide access by members of Indian tribes for traditional cultural and customary uses ... including collection of medicines, berries and other vegetation, forest products, and firewood for personal noncommercial use." Some Native Americans endorsed the creation of Bears Ears specifically because they saw it as a way to protect their rights to hunt and gather on the land.
Matheson was also wrong to suggest that Native American communities broadly supported Trump's move to shrink the monuments and roll back protections from about 2 million acres. Some members of the Navajo Nation backed Trump, including a few who were present at the signing ceremony. But Bears Ears has been widely endorsed by Native Americans, many of whom consider the area sacred. The monument was created in response to a proposal from a coalition of five Native American tribes in the region, including the Navajo Nation. The coalition pushed for years to get Bears Ears protected, with the backing of an additional 25 tribes.
Contrast that Fox segment -- which featured a white man pretending to represent Native American views and misrepresenting the impacts of Trump's action on tribes -- with coverage on MSNBC in the wake of Trump's move.
MSNBC host Ali Velshi conducted substantive interviews with three Native American leaders, all of whom opposed shrinking the monuments: Shaun Chapoose, a member of the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee; Jonathan Nez, vice president of the Navajo Nation; and Ethel Branch, attorney general for the Navajo Nation.
Chapoose was interviewed by Velshi on MSNBC Live with Katy Tur:
SHAUN CHAPOOSE: I sat and listened to the president's speech, and what is interesting is nowhere in that discussion do we as Native Americans even take any recognition as far as protecting our rights. People forget, we were the first residents of the state of Utah, long before it was a state. And the areas in question have historical artifacts, they have graveyards, they have all kinds of things which are sacred to not just my tribe but all the tribes in the state of Utah and outside the state of Utah.
Nez and Branch were guests on MSNBC Live with Ali Velshi:
JONATHAN NEZ: It's a sad day in Indian country. It’s a sad day for Americans to where the president says that the law of the land, and Antiquities Act is the law of the land, but he is overstepping his own authority by doing this type of action, and it's quite saddening to see this happen today here in the state of Utah. But for us, we hold that area as [a] historic place.
ETHEL BRANCH: [Trump] is completely missing, completely misunderstanding, what an Indian nation is and is ignoring the fact that we are sovereigns, we're governments, and we expect to be engaged on a nation-to-nation basis, and we have treaties, federal law, federal statutes, federal common law that define that relationship and there's absolutely no understanding of that from the actions we've seen from both President Trump, as well as [Interior Secretary Ryan] Zinke. They think that talking to one Native American person, one Navajo person, constitutes consultation with the Navajo Nation, and they're both gravely mistaken. We have our own tribal laws that define who can speak on behalf of our nation and we want those laws to be respected.
This would be a good time to reiterate a key lesson from Journalism 101: Don't let a white man speak on behalf of Native Americans or any other communities of color. It's a lesson Fox has long neglected.
On October 30, Fox News’ Shannon Bream debuted the evening program Fox News @ Night. The show was new, but one thing stayed the same: Bream’s commitment to misinforming about abortion.
As Mic noted, Bream’s program represents a “departure from a longtime tradition” of playing reruns of other “popular primetime shows” during the 11 p.m. hour. Bream herself has attempted to brand her program as “straight news, not opinion” and claimed the program “will be straight down the middle.” In reality, Bream has a long history of presenting misleading reporting about a number of reproductive rights topics -- and if the first episode of Fox News @ Night is any indication, having her own program won’t change anything.
For example, long after the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) and its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood were discredited, Bream gave CMP founder David Daleiden an unchallenged platform to push misinformation. Before that, Bream had played frequent validator for CMP’s claims -- going so far as to anchor a Fox News special on its content, titled Planned Parenthood: The Hidden Harvest. Beyond her emphasis on CMP’s inaccurate contentions, Bream also has a tendency to cite polls commissioned by anti-choice groups to suggest a lack of public support for abortion access.
In back-to-back segments during the October 30 edition, Bream also hosted NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to discuss a recent case involving the Trump administration’s denial of an abortion to an undocumented minor being held in federal custody. According to BuzzFeed, the minor (referred to as Jane Doe) did not ask for “the government to pay for the procedure or arrange the transportation” -- in fact, as Politico reported, she had already “obtained the money” for the procedure. Nevertheless, Fox News’ coverage of the case has focused on a made-up idea that taxpayers should be outraged about the possibility of funding abortions for undocumented immigrants like Doe -- an offshoot of the debunked, but oft-repeated, right-wing myth of so-called “taxpayer-funded abortion.” (In fact, no taxpayer money may go to abortions under the Hyde Amendment.)
During the first segment, Bream not only pressed Hogue on a series of anti-choice talking points about the case (including the myth of taxpayer-funded abortion), but also directly channeled the concerns of anti-abortion groups. In one instance, after Hogue noted that opponents of Doe’s abortion want to “put Roe [v. Wade] on trial through this case,” Bream interjected that what she “heard from a lot of pro-life groups is they were worried this is Roe v. Wade 2.0.” Bream continued that these anti-abortion groups were concerned that Doe’s case was “not just about abortion, but it’s now encouraging -- they think -- in some ways, people coming here from other countries where maybe they can’t get an abortion.”
Bream’s comment about having “heard from a lot of pro-life groups” is unsurprising. In but one example, the afternoon before Bream’s program debuted, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List, tweeted that Bream is a “friend” and that she “covers Life issues with fearlessness and fairness.”
— MarjorieDannenfelser (@marjoriesba) October 30, 2017
The Fox prime-time lineup has seen a lot of change over the past year. Following the ouster of Bill O’Reilly for numerous reports of sexual harassment (and more recent news of further settlements still), the network was forced to make changes to its evening talent. As a result, white nationalist golden boy and serial anti-abortion misinformer Tucker Carlson scored a prime-time spot -- a platform he has used to host anti-abortion activists and present their allegations in a way that appeals to his extremist base. In September, after Fox was forced to fire prime-time host Eric Bolling (again for reports of sexual harassment), the network announced Fox News @ Night, hosted by Bream at 11 p.m., and another program, The Ingraham Angle, hosted by longtime contributor Laura Ingraham (who has her own history of spreading misinformation about abortion).
As Variety reported, Fox executives are hopeful that the addition of Ingraham and Bream will finally “cap a flurry of schedule changes” that audiences have endured over the past year. And although Bream has pitched her show as one that “will focus heavily on politics and events in Washington” -- a choice that one media professor told Variety will offer viewers “news, not more punditry” -- audiences shouldn’t be fooled.
If the chyron previewing the abortion-related segment during the October 30 premier is any indication, Bream’s coverage of reproductive rights topics will be more of the same Fox News xenophobia and bluster: