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  • Alliance Defending Freedom spent big fighting against marriage equality in Latin America and Europe. It's losing.

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Last year, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a designated anti-LGBTQ hate group, fought against marriage equality in Latin American and European courts, including by presenting oral arguments before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) in the Americas. Multinational courts in both countries recently ruled or advised in favor of same-sex marriage and spousal recognition. The international courts’ opinions show that attempting to export anti-LGBTQ bigotry abroad is not always a winning battle, even as ADF gains influence in our court system.

    The IACHR is a part of the Organization of American States (OAS), an organization that “brings together all 35 independent states of the Americas and constitutes the main political, juridical, and social governmental forum in the Hemisphere.” On May 17 of last year, ADF International presented oral arguments before the IACHR against legalizing marriage equality in its member states. The IACHR was reviewing a petition submitted in 2016 by Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis, "who had vowed to increase rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the majority Catholic country.” Talking about the case, ADF International legal counsel Neydy Casillas had said, “While the right for men and women to marry is recognized under international law, there is no corresponding right to same-sex marriage or a name change based on ‘gender identity.’” Casillas continued, “The American Convention on Human Rights does not obligate Member States to recognize same-sex partnerships.”

    On January 9, Reuters reported that the IACHR ruled “that countries in the region should legalize same-sex unions.” According to AFP and Costa Rica’s Tico Times, the ruling “said gay married couples should have the same rights as heterosexual ones existing under each country’s laws.” The court also ruled that transgender people should be able to change their names on identification documents. In response, Costa Rica’s government said that it “would take steps to adopt the court’s criteria ‘in its totality.’” And on January 17, Panama’s government also “signaled it plans to comply” with the ruling, according to the Washington Blade.

    ADF International showcased this work in its Annual Report 2017, writing that its team argued “in defence of Costa Rica’s definition of marriage.” ADF and another anti-LGBTQ hate group, C-Fam, both participated in the 47th annual session of the OAS General Assembly.

    In a separate international case, ADF submitted an intervention in April to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) against a married Romanian and American gay couple who were fighting for their right to live together. The couple challenged Romanian authorities’ decision to refuse the American husband’s residence permit. On January 11, a senior adviser to the ECJ backed legal residency for same-sex couples under the definition of “spouse.” According to the BBC, “ECJ Advocate General Melchior Wathelet said the term ‘spouse’ included, under the freedom of residence of EU citizens and their family members, spouses of the same sex.” “Opinions given by ECJ advocate generals are non-binding on the court’s judges,” The Guardian noted, “but are normally followed by the full court.” The court decision, which is expected in a few months, “could have wider repercussions for the range of benefits and rights” same-sex married couples can claim.

    As expected, ADF saw the repercussions of the decision in a very different way. In April, ADF International legal counsel Adina Portaru, the “leading lawyer on the third party intervention,” released a statement saying, "Forcing a Member State to amend its national law to legally recognize same-sex relationships means deliberately ignoring a national democratic process." The statement also claimed that the ECJ "runs the risk of undermining the law" in many EU countries and "creating legal chaos as a result."

    ADF International also highlighted its work before the ECJ in its Annual Report 2017. Additionally, ADF gave legal assistance to a “Coalition for Family” in Romania that worked to collect 3 million signatures across the country in order to get a referendum “to amend the constitution to prohibit gay marriage” up for a vote. Anti-LGBTQ hate group Liberty Counsel also gave legal assistance and organized for Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to LGBTQ couples in 2015, to visit the coalition. The United Nations has granted ADF a special consultative status, which allows its attorneys access to treaty and convention drafting meetings. C-Fam also has the same status.

    ADF is the largest designated anti-LGBTQ hate group in the nation, and the group and its representatives have supported a number of extreme positions, including criminalizing gay sex both domestically and abroad. According to a major investigative report by The Nation’s Sarah Posner, ADF has “redoubled its efforts to portray its views as mainstream” amid its growing influence, including its role in the U.S. Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. ADF’s international arm has grown to “50 team members in 8 countries,” with a budget of more than 3.5 million euros, and engagement in “580 ongoing legal matters in 51 countries.” Its work in international courts proves that ADF is not simply interested in “free speech” and is in fact dedicated to eroding every aspect of LGBTQ equality both in the U.S. and abroad. It is to be seen whether ADF’s arguments prove successful in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case before our own nation’s high court, but failures abroad illustrate that international courts aren’t falling for them.

  • It's not just Masterpiece Cakeshop: Alliance Defending Freedom is attacking nearly every aspect of LGBTQ equality

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    On December 5, anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) will argue before the Supreme Court in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case on behalf of a baker who refused to serve a gay couple. ADF is a highly influential, right-wing legal group that has worked to impact policy at the local, state, national, and international level, from working to ban transgender students from using the restrooms that align with their gender identity to helping write and defend the country’s most sweeping anti-LGBTQ state law in Mississippi.

  • What men's rights activists and other "anti-feminist" men have in common with white supremacists

    It's not just Breitbart.

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    The "Men's Rights Movement" (MRM) regularly overlaps with and reinforces white supremacy and the “alt-right” through a shared belief that dominant groups in society -- men and whites, respectively -- are actually oppressed. Along with other "anti-feminist" activists, this misogynist coalition seeks to force its regressive viewpoint on the rest of society, from movie releases to federal education policy. From online harassment to deadly violence, the MRM and its activists are an immediate and growing threat.

  • Here's a textbook example of how climate misinformation spreads through right-wing media

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Dayanita Ramesh / Media Matters

    In February of this year, the conservative British tabloid newspaper The Mail on Sunday ran a mistake-laden article that attacked climate scientists who published a paper refuting the idea of a global warming "pause." Written by reporter David Rose, the article ran under a sensationalized headline -- "Exposed: How world leaders were duped into investing billions over manipulated global warming data" -- and alleged misconduct by scientists and leaders at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

    Media Matters, among other outlets, swiftly debunked the story.

    Now the Mail article has been more formally discredited. The Independent Press Standards Organization (IPSO), an independent media regulator in the U.K., ruled that "the newspaper had failed to take care over the accuracy of the article ... and had then failed to correct ... significantly misleading statements." The Mail was required to publish IPSO's reprimand, which it did a little more than a week ago.

    This episode tells us a lot about how climate denial and misinformation spread through the right-wing media ecosystem, as environmental scientist and writer Dana Nuccitelli explained in a good piece in The Guardian:

    The [Mail's] attack was based on an interview with former Noaa scientist John Bates.

    […]

    Essentially, Bates had expressed displeasure in the way the data from a Noaa paper had been archived at the organization. Rose and the Mail blew this minor complaint into the sensationalist claim that “world leaders were duped into investing billions over manipulated global warming data.” It would be hard to find a better example of fake news than this one.

    [...]

    Rose’s story seemed to have all the climate denial components that biased conservative media outlets crave. A lone wolf scientist whistleblowing his former colleagues with accusations of data manipulation for political purposes? Despite the glaring errors in the story that were immediately called out by climate scientists and reputable science journalists, this narrative proved irresistible to the conservative media: Breitbart, Fox News, Drudge Report, Rush Limbaugh, The Daily Caller, The Washington Times, and more ran with Rose’s story. Meanwhile, legitimate news outlets like The Guardian, The Washington Post, Carbon Brief, E&E News, Ars Technica, Science Insider, RealClimate, and numerous other science blogs quickly debunked Rose’s falsehoods.

    Climate denier Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) further amplified the right-wing media misinformation. The House science committee, which Smith chairs, put out a press release that drew from the Mail article and provided a quote of Smith praising Bates. Smith also played up the faux scandal at a committee hearing a few days later, even though the article had been debunked by then, and soon thereafter sent a letter to NOAA's acting administrator that cited the Mail article and requested documents related to the disputed study. More from the September 25 Guardian piece:

    That Smith still tried to exploit the story, that it reverberated throughout the right-wing media echo chamber, and that the Mail published it in the first place tells us a lot about the narrative this group wants to push.

    [...]

    Usually they get away with it. This time the Mail on Sunday’s “significantly misleading statements” were so bad that they were censured, though not before they had misinformed millions of people. However, the Ipso ruling tells us which media outlets are reliable sources on the subject of climate change. Those that blindly echoed David Rose’s misinformation are not; those that debunked the Mail on Sunday’s distortions are.

    It's reassuring that IPSO did its job in this case. Unfortunately, the United States doesn't have an equivalent organization, so a number of inaccurate articles published by American outlets about Bates and the NOAA study still stand uncorrected.

  • Debunking right-wing media myths on DACA

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE & MADELINE PELTZ

    Following President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would reverse the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), right-wing media rushed to praise Trump’s actions by stereotyping DACA recipients, or “Dreamers,” as criminals and gang members. They also falsely claimed that the program constitutes a form of “amnesty,” that DACA recipients take jobs from native-born Americans, that the program is unconstitutional, and that President Barack Obama did not take any action to pass comprehensive immigration reform during his tenure.

  • Trump sycophant Tomi Lahren joins Fox News after taking cues from Sean Hannity

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Conservative commentator Tomi Lahren will join Fox News as a contributor, the channel announced today. The announcement comes over a month after Lahren’s weeklong de facto “audition” on Fox News’ Hannity where she provided commentary at the end of the show that served to complement host Sean Hannity’s swooning coverage of President Donald Trump. Lahren has a long history of making racist, nativist, and misogynistic comments.

  • 5 must-read debunks of the junk science abortion reversal scam

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    A so-called abortion reversal procedure lacks sound scientific support, but that hasn’t stopped anti-abortion groups from promoting it to inaccurately suggest patients inherently regret their decision to have an abortion. As anti-choice groups increasingly lobby for the elimination of abortion access, media often treat anti-choice pseudo-science, like abortion reversal, as the “other side” of the issue. But five media outlets recently provided comprehensive debunks that show how their counterparts should be reporting on abortion reversal and the junk science behind the procedure.

  • No, the Republican Party has not pivoted on climate change

    Don't believe the trend pieces. Just look at what's happening in California.

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Republicans-are-about-to-turn-a-corner-on-climate-change article is a perennial hot take. Its latest iteration comes to us courtesy of Politico. But like its many predecessors in the genre, it misses the real story: Republican politicians who do anything more than give lip service to the need for climate action will get pummelled by their fellow conservatives.

    Politico's story, which ran on August 19, was titled "More GOP lawmakers bucking their party on climate change." It claimed that "an unlikely surge of Republican lawmakers has begun taking steps to distance themselves from the GOP’s hard line on climate change," and that the "willingness of some Republicans to buck their party on climate change could help burnish their moderate credentials ahead of the 2018 elections."

    The article offers two main examples to support its argument: First, the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus "has more than tripled in size since January" and now includes 26 of the House's 240 Republicans. Second, 46 House Republicans voted in July against lifting a requirement that the Defense Department study climate change's impacts on the military.

    But these House members are hardly going out on a limb. The climate caucus does not promote any specific legislation or policies. And military leaders, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, have long been concerned about climate change and have voiced no objections to studying it. Indeed, the Politico article notes, "If the Republican Party is undergoing a shift on climate, it is at its earliest, most incremental stage."

    What About California?

    What the article missed was a timely and dramatic counterexample: In California, where a handful of GOP state legislators recently provided the decisive votes in favor of actual climate legislation, they have come under brutal fire from other Republicans.

    California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed a bill on July 25 to extend the state's cap-and-trade system until 2030. He had negotiated with a handful of Republican legislators and with business lobbies, among others, to craft a relatively corporate-friendly bill, not as strong as many environmental justice advocates and other progressives wanted. In the end, three Democrats in the Assembly voted against it, so it was passed only because seven of their Republican colleagues voted for it. One Republican in the state Senate also voted in favor of the bill.

    The blowback against those Republicans was immediate and intense. GOP leaders throughout California are now pushing for the ouster of Republican Assembly Leader Chad Mayes, who played a key role in negotiating the bill and rounding up other Republican votes for it.

    And the blowback has gone national: Powerful D.C.-based anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist declared open season on Mayes and the seven other Republicans who voted “yes,” co-authoring an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times last week that accused Mayes of "treachery" and argued that the California legislature is a "big fat target for taxpayers who wish to go after Republicans behaving badly."

    So even in California -- the most environmentally progressive state, where 72 percent of adults support an ambitious climate law that was passed last year -- Republicans are getting slammed for voting in favor of climate legislation.

    Never mind that they actually helped companies avoid tougher regulations. Never mind that the oil and gas industry participated in drafting the bill and ultimately supported it, as did the agriculture lobby, the California Chamber of Commerce, and other major business groups. Never mind that the law could help Republicans kill the state's high-speed rail project, which they have long opposed. Never mind that the Republican Party desperately needs to change if it wants to regain a foothold in California; only 25.9 percent of the state’s voters are registered as GOP and 7 percent of those voters have told pollsters they’re considering leaving the party over its stance on climate change. Mayes and his compatriots went against GOP orthodoxy, and that’s what their fellow party members care about.

    If this kind of backlash happens in the Golden State, just imagine what would happen in D.C. if the House Climate Solutions Caucus did anything more than gently gesture at the possibility of climate action. Conservative groups in D.C. aren't even satisfied with an administration that's been aggressively rolling back environmental protections; they are pushing the EPA to debate and undermine basic climate science.

    National media should be reporting on the drama unfolding in California when they write about Republicans and climate change. It's been covered by newspapers in the state but missed by virtually all outlets beyond California's borders.

    The Mythical Republican Climate Pivot

    Politico is far from alone in pushing the idea that Republicans might be nearing a tipping point on climate change. Reporters and columnists at national outlets keep publishing versions of this seemingly counterintuitive story and glossing over a key truth: The base and the establishment of the Republican Party will enact harsh retribution on elected officials who endorse policies designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

    Vice published a piece on August 17 titled "The Republicans Trying to Fight Climate Denial in Their Own Party," which focused on the Climate Leadership Council, a group of former Republican officials who are pushing a carbon tax. The key word there is former; no current Republican members of Congress or prominent officeholders have publicly endorsed such a policy. The story made no mention of the ongoing fight in California.

    Going back a few months, Time ran an article in May headlined "Meet the Republicans Taking On Climate Change," which mentioned both the Climate Solutions Caucus and the Climate Leadership Council. The Guardian ran one in April under the headline "The Republicans who care about climate change: 'They are done with the denial.'" It claimed that "there are fresh shoots of hope that, as a party, Republicans’ climate intransigence is shifting," and it, too, cited the climate caucus.

    Journalists have been writing these sorts of stories for years. I wrote one myself in 2015 for Grist: "Getting warmer: More Republicans are starting to take climate change seriously." It was no more prescient than the others. It began by noting that then-Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) had come out in support of President Obama's Clean Power Plan. But the next year, the Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity announced that it didn't like Ayotte's embrace of "Obama’s far-left environmental agenda," so it pulled its support from her re-election campaign, and she went on to lose to her Democratic challenger.

    Go all the way back to 2010 for a classic of the genre, a Thomas Friedman opinion column in The New York Times titled "How the G.O.P. Goes Green," which praised Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) for "courageously" trying to craft a bipartisan climate bill. Less than four months later, Graham bailed from the whole enterprise and helped to ensure that no climate legislation would pass during the Obama presidency. 

    The Harsh Truth

    It's nice that a handful of congressional Republicans are taking baby steps toward acknowledging that climate change is a big problem that demands big solutions. But their moves are far from courageous, and the media adulation they get is all out of proportion to their clout. Norquist is more influential on this issue than all of the climate-concerned congressional Republicans combined, a fact most journalists are not acknowledging, and Norquist reiterated his die-hard opposition to a carbon tax just last week.

    Many of the articles about Republicans turning over a new leaf on climate cite Bob Inglis or the group he runs, RepublicEN, which promotes conservative climate solutions. Inglis was a U.S. representative from South Carolina until he got primaried out in 2010, in part because he called for a carbon tax. Norquist's organization, Americans for Tax Reform, gave a boost to Inglis' primary challenger. In the years since, Inglis has been working doggedly to get other Republicans to take climate change seriously, but if they followed his advice at this point, they'd likely get booted out in a primary too.

    Just like there's no Donald Trump pivot, there's no Republican climate pivot. We'll know we're seeing real change when more than a handful of GOP lawmakers take a risky vote for actual policy to reduce carbon emissions. Until then, journalists should avoid writing trend stories about this nonexistent trend.

  • Contra right-wing media, US officials have verified core aspects of the Trump dossier

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media have waged a months-long attempt to discredit the 35-page dossier produced by a former British intelligence officer that contains allegations of coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Various right-wing commentators have described its contents as “unreliable,” “discredited,” “largely debunked,” and "evidence of ... collusion between Democrats and Russian disinformation," including a Washington Times story that Trump promoted this week. But, according to numerous reports, American intelligence officials have “verified” various “core” aspects of the dossier.

  • Will Facebook supply data to the inquiries into pro-Trump websites possibly colluding with Russia?

    Russia probes looking into possible Russia collusion with Trump campaign and Trump allies

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A new report from The Guardian claims that Russia probe special counsel Robert Mueller and Congress are likely looking into possible Russian collusion with pro-Trump websites and associates of President Donald Trump’s election campaign in order to spread fake news and misinformation on social media during the 2016 presidential election. The report helps underscore the need for Facebook to show greater transparency and cooperation with experts as part of the company’s efforts to fight fake news.

    On July 5, the Guardian reported that multiple probes about “possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow” are looking into “whether Trump supporters and far-right websites coordinated with Moscow over the release of fake news.” According to the Guardian, the ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, “said there was evidence that this campaign appeared to be focused on key voters in swing states [Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania], raising the question over whether there was coordination with US political operatives in directing the flow of bogus stories.” The article noted that “a huge wave of fake news” that originated in Eastern Europe was impacting the campaign as early as March 2016, with fake stories aiming to harm former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the Democratic Party’s primaries, and then aiming to help Trump during the general election campaign.

    The report is one of several which has suggested possible collusion between Russia, people surrounding Trump’s campaign, and pro-Trump media. In March, a separate report was published claiming that the FBI was looking into Russian bots spreading pro-Trump stories from “alt-right” websites like Breitbart and Infowars, and investigating whether “far-right news operations took any actions to assist Russia’s operatives.” As far back as November 2016, The New York Times reported on Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm hired by the Trump campaign, helping to push “dark posts” on Facebook -- targeted ads that “can only be seen by users with specific profiles” -- during the campaign to “try to suppress the African-American vote.” The firm, which is primarily owned by major Trump donor and Breitbart financier Robert Mercer and in which former Breitbart head and current White House chief strategist Steve Bannon invested, is being investigated by Congress, according to a May report from Time magazine, for its possible ties to “right-wing web personalities based in Eastern Europe who the U.S. believes are Russian fronts.” Notably, Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, who is “under FBI scrutiny in the Russia investigation,was involved with coordinating Trump’s digital operation, which included Analytica.

    As these probes look further into possible collusion between Russia’s operatives, pro-Trump websites, and members of Trump’s campaign to influence the election outcome, Facebook continues to be non-transparent in its efforts to fight fake news. Although the social network platform has taken some steps to combat the problem, those steps appear to be lacking, especially seeing as the company may have information that could show possible Russian collusion that it has not released. Facebook has refused to share its data on fake news with experts and researchers who are trying to track fake news and have called on the company to release it, and it has additionally refused to publicly report on the impact of fake news via its website. As Trump continues to engage in efforts to potentially suppress votes, it is critical for Facebook to maximize opportunities that could prevent future attempts to stop people from voting.

  • Right-wing media continue to push myth that Trump can get a better deal than Paris

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    via flickr creative commons user neurotic_buddha

    Within hours of President Donald Trump’s announcement that he intends to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement and negotiate a better deal, other world leaders made it clear that renegotiation is not an option. But right-wing media and the administration are continuing to push the fanciful notion that Trump can negotiate a more favorable pact.

    Trump claims Paris was a bad deal and he can get a better one

    When Trump made his announcement on June 1 -- a move cheered by many in conservative media -- he said he intended to renegotiate:

    [T]he United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord … but but begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris accord or an -- really entirely new transaction, on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers. So we're getting out, but we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that's fair. And if we can, that's great. And if we can't, that's fine.

    The White House talking points about the decision stress the idea that the Paris accord was a bad deal for the U.S. -- bad in all caps, lest you miss the point:

    The Paris Accord is a BAD deal for Americans. … The deal was negotiated BADLY.

    Right-wing media push bad-deal/good-deal frame

    This frame -- that Paris is a bad deal and Trump can get a good deal -- had been pushed by right-wing media in the days leading up to his decision, and the claim continued to make the rounds after the announcement was made, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

    On May 30, David Bossie -- a former deputy campaign manager for Trump and a Fox News contributor who is being considered for a role in the White House -- went on Fox News Radio and called for the Trump administration to renegotiate the Paris deal:

    My recommendation is: You get out of Paris, you get out of the Paris treaty, you get out right now, and then you let Scott Pruitt, your EPA administrator, who is very good and a great negotiator, go out and negotiate new deals, deals that are good for America and the rest of the world combined.

    On June 1, before Trump made his announcement, Stuart Varney of Fox Business' Varney & Co. argued that former President Obama did a terrible job negotiating the Paris deal and Trump could do much better:

    The Obama team gave virtually everything away -- our money and our jobs -- and received only vague promises of future good behavior. In my opinion, it was a lousy deal. So maybe our president will do the same as he did with NAFTA -- that is, threaten to withdraw, then negotiate a better deal. … He did, after all, write the book The Art of the Deal.

    And Fox Business tweeted out the point too:

    During Trump's speech, Breitbart's Curt Schilling tweeted out his approval of the president's plan to renegotiate the deal:

    Nobody wants to renegotiate with the U.S.

    But other world leaders are not interested in sitting down at the table with the U.S. again, as they quickly made clear.

    Shortly after Trump's announcement, the leaders of France, Italy, and Germany issued a joint statement refuting the notion that the Paris deal is up for renegotiation:

    We deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible and we firmly believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated, since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies.

    And a group of ministers from 24 nations -- known as the High Ambition Coalition, which pushed to make the Paris agreement as strong as possible -- also threw cold water on the idea of renegotiating:

    Our commitment to the Paris Agreement is unshakeable. We have every reason to fight for its full implementation.

    “Apparently the White House has no understanding of how an international treaty works," said Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), who led the negotiation process leading up to the Paris agreement. "There is no such thing as withdrawing and then negotiating.”

    And the current secretariat of the UNFCCC also put out a statement saying that the agreement "cannot be renegotiated based on the request of a single Party."

    Bloomberg summed up the situation in headline: "Everyone But Donald Trump Is Standing By the Paris Climate Agreement."

    Right-wing media still insist Trump can negotiate a better deal

    Even after world leaders made their opposition to renegotiation crystal clear, right-wing media continued to push the myth that the president could get a new and improved deal.

    "One of the [things] I'm looking forward to, and I've seen some of: Donald Trump's ability to renegotiate a better deal and better positioning for the United States of America," said Eboni Williams, a co-host of The Fox News Specialists, on June 2.

    "If the Paris accord was actually meant to save the environment, the globalists would be happy to renegotiate the deal with President Trump," wrote Kit Daniels at Infowars on June 3.

    Administration officials also went on Fox News to keep pushing the "better deal" idea.

    Vice President Mike Pence said on Fox & Friends on June 2, "You also heard [Trump] leave the door open to renegotiating a better arrangement, to maybe re-entering the Paris accord under new terms and new conditions. … In withdrawing from the Paris accord, and in offering to renegotiate it in a way that is more fair, more equitable to our economy and every economy in the world, again you see President Donald Trump is being leader of the free world." Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt did not push back on that assertion.

    And Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke went on Fox News' America's Newsroom on June 2 to defend Trump's move: "It was a bad deal. I think the president has said he’s going to renegotiate it, offer to renegotiate it. … If we're going to sit down, let's make sure the agreement has shared burden." Fox host Bill Hemmer neglected to point out that other countries have said they will not sit down to renegotiate the deal with the Trump administration.

    Informed commentators mock renegotiation claims

    New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza, speaking on The New Yorker's "Politics and More" podcast on June 2, slapped down the renegotiation idea: "When Trump says, 'I'm going to negotiate a better deal,' well that's a lie, that's just not possible."

    Former Secretary of State John Kerry, who played a key role in negotiating the Paris agreement, was even more forceful on this point during an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press on June 4:

    When Donald Trump says, well, we're going to negotiate a better deal, you know, he's going to go out and find a better deal? That's like O.J. Simpson saying he's going to go out and find the real killer. Everybody knows he isn't going to do that.

    The U.S. already had a favorable deal

    Even if other countries were willing to sit back down at the table, it's highly unlikely the U.S. would get a better deal. That's because the U.S. already got a favorable deal when the Paris agreement was negotiated in 2015.

    The Paris deal "is more fair to the U.S. than previous agreements because it includes all the major economies of the world, not just the rich countries, so both developed countries and developing countries have skin in the game," Jody Freeman, director of Harvard Law School's Environmental Law and Policy Program, told The Washington Post after Trump made his announcement.

    "Paris already gives countries tremendous flexibility, and no penalties," Michael Gerrard, a professor of environmental law at Columbia and director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, told the Post.

    The Obama administration had wanted to take part in the agreement, but it knew that a climate treaty couldn't get ratified by the U.S. Senate. So the entire global community bent over backward to accommodate the U.S. political system -- crafting a nonbinding accord that's looser than a treaty and making action pledges voluntary with no enforcement mechanisms. 

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel said before the negotiations that a good agreement would be “binding,” but she and other like-minded leaders gave in to the U.S. on this point.

    As The Guardian reported just after the Paris negotiations took place in December 2015, "Under US insistence, the 31-page agreement was explicitly crafted to exclude emissions reductions targets and finance from the legally binding parts of the deal. … The other exclusion zone was any clause in the agreement that would expose the US to liability and compensation claims for causing climate change."

    Ultimately, many world leaders and climate advocates thought the U.S. got too good of deal -- so good that the resulting agreement was disappointingly weak.

    From The Guardian: "The US – and European – position was a huge disappointment for the low-lying and small island states, which argued they needed recognition that their countries could pay the ultimate price for climate change in terms of land loss and migration."

    “The United States has hindered ambition," Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth U.S., said in December 2015. "Using the world’s atmosphere and the suffering of the vulnerable as a guide, the United States is failing -- by a long shot -- to do what climate science and justice demand. This holds true for the United States' greenhouse gas reduction pledge, its provision of funds for developing countries to take climate action and its obstruction of progress on loss and damage.”

    Despite the United States' successful effort to water down the Paris agreement, other countries, both rich and poor, still stepped up to the plate with meaningful action pledges. As The Economist noted just after Trump made his announcement, "All [of the Paris agreement's] signatories—which is to say, every country except Syria, Nicaragua and now America—have undertaken to reduce emissions against business-as-usual targets." This despite the fact that many of those countries have contributed very little to the problem of climate change, while the U.S. is the biggest carbon polluter in history, as The New York Times pointed out.

    So now other countries are moving forward without the U.S. The Europeans are planning to work more closely with China and India. The leaders of France and India have announced that they're going to cooperate jointly on fighting climate change. Instead of getting a better deal, the U.S. is cut out of the dealmaking.

  • The Guardian: Facebook's Attempt To Combat Fake News Is A Total Disaster

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    According to The Guardian, Facebook’s efforts to combat fake news on its platform have been “regularly ineffective,” appear to be “having minimal impact,” and may even be backfiring. These findings from a review of Facebook’s efforts, published May 16, come as experts have warned that Facebook’s tactics against fake news are unlikely to work and have recommended other approaches.

    The outlet reviewed “false news articles” on Facebook and interviewed fact-checkers with whom the social media platform partnered and writers who produce fake news content. Under that partnership, articles shared on Facebook that were labeled by fact-checkers as fake news would supposedly be labeled "disputed" when shared by other users. The Guardian in its review found that “articles formally debunked” by those fact-checkers “frequently remain on the site without the ‘disputed’ tag warning users about the content.” Additionally, “the label often comes after the story has already gone viral and the damage has been done,” and the labeling sometimes has the opposite effect, as the traffic to the story can actually increase. Recently, professors from Harvard and Northeastern universities warned that Facebook’s labeling would likely be insufficient because the "more you’re exposed to things that aren’t true, the more likely you are to eventually accept them as true.” The professors had also urged Facebook to disclose its data so “independent researchers” could analyze the effectiveness of its fact-checking system. But, as the Guardian reported, Facebook refused to share the “data or information” with the newspaper. Thus, the report said it is "unclear to what extent the flag [by fact-checkers] actually limits the spread of propaganda.” From The Guardian’s report:

    A Guardian review of false news articles and interviews with fact-checkers [who have partnered with Facebook] and writers who produce fake content suggests that Facebook’s highly promoted initiatives are regularly ineffective, and in some cases appear to be having minimal impact.

    Articles formally debunked by Facebook’s fact-checking partners – including the Associated Press, Snopes, ABC News and PolitiFact – frequently remain on the site without the “disputed” tag warning users about the content. And when fake news stories do get branded as potentially false, the label often comes after the story has already gone viral and the damage has been done. Even in those cases, it’s unclear to what extent the flag actually limits the spread of propaganda.

    [...]

    While some of the fact-checking groups said the collaboration has been a productive step in the right direction, a review of content suggests that the labor going into the checks may have little consequences.

    ABC News, for example, has a total of 12 stories on its site that its reporters have debunked as part of its Facebook partnership. But with more than half of those stories, versions can still be shared on Facebook without the disputed tag, even though they were proven false.

    [...]

    Facebook refused to provide data or information on the number of articles that have been tagged as disputed, how a flag impacts traffic and engagement, if there are specific websites most frequently cited and how long after publication the flags are typically added. A spokesman said “we have seen that a disputed flag does lead to a decrease in traffic and shares”, but declined to elaborate.

    The Guardian study also found that conservatives are more likely to share fake news in response to fact-checkers disputing it. A former fake news writer told the newspaper, “A far-right individual who sees it’s been disputed by Snopes, that adds fuel to the fire and entrenches them more in their belief.” This statement is not surprising, given that right-wing outlets have repeatedly attacked and tried to delegitimize fact-checking websites and even the term “fake news” itself. From The Guardian's report:

    When Facebook’s new fact-checking system labeled a Newport Buzz article as possible “fake news”, warning users against sharing it, something unexpected happened. Traffic to the story skyrocketed, according to Christian Winthrop, editor of the local Rhode Island website.

    “A bunch of conservative groups grabbed this and said, ‘Hey, they are trying to silence this blog – share, share share,’” said Winthrop, who published the story that falsely claimed hundreds of thousands of Irish people were brought to the US as slaves. “With Facebook trying to throttle it and say, ‘Don’t share it,’ it actually had the opposite effect.”

    [...]

    Jestin Coler, a writer who got widespread attention for the fake news he published last year, said it was hard to imagine Facebook’s effort having any impact.

    “These stories are like flash grenades. They go off and explode for a day,” said Coler, who said he is no longer publishing false news. “If you’re three days late on a fact check, you already missed the boat.”

    He also noted that many consumers of fake news won’t be swayed by a “disputed” tag given their distrust of the media and fact-checkers: “A far-right individual who sees it’s been disputed by Snopes, that adds fuel to the fire and entrenches them more in their belief.”

    The review of Facebook’s ongoing attempts to battle fake news on its website comes just weeks after Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center published a study recommending steps to fight fake news. These steps included making the effort bipartisan by engaging “center-right private institutions” and “news outlets” in dealing with fake news; strengthening reliable and credible information sources and broadening their reach; and having social media platforms such as Facebook and Google actually share their data on fake news with academics so that they may gauge the effectiveness of these companies’ efforts.

  • Ahead Of Marches This Month, Scientists Are Speaking Up Against Trump And GOP’s Attacks On Science

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    President Donald Trump and the Republican Party have demonstrated an alarming disregard for science and evidence-based policy and decision-making, prompting scientists to voice their concerns.

    Since the election, multiple media outlets have accused the Trump administration and the Republican Party of waging a “war on science.” And with good reason: The Trump administration has appointed a climate denier to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), proposed budget cuts that would eliminate billions of dollars for scientific research programs, called climate-related government programs “a waste of money,” and banned the use of the term “climate change” at the Department of Energy. As for the rest of the GOP, House Republicans have passed bills that would “stifle science at the EPA,” and the Republican-led House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has endorsed climate science denial and bogus accusations of data manipulation promulgated by propaganda outlet Breitbart.com. The committee has also held a hearing aimed at disputing the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change.

    These alarming trends have prompted scientists, educators, and other citizens to organize and participate in the March for Science and the People’s Climate March at end of April. But in the months leading up to the marches, scientists have been voicing their concerns in the media. Here are a few recent examples of scientists speaking out against the Trump administration and GOP’s anti-science policies, science denial, and ignorance.

    Ben Santer Rebutted Trump’s “Ignorance” On Climate Science

    On the February 23 edition of Late Night with Seth Meyers, climate scientist Ben Santer appeared on the show as a private citizen, explaining, “It seems kind of important to talk about the science that we do, but I'm not sure how the folks who fund my research will feel about that. So it just seems kind of safer to do it this way.” When Meyers mentioned that Trump has called climate change a “hoax,” Santer answered that it “feels tough” to have his life’s work dismissed as a conspiracy and a hoax, but added, “You have a choice. What do you do with that? You can either retreat to your office, close the door, and be silent. Or you can choose to push back against ignorance and say, ‘Hey, this is not our understanding. We know something about the causes of climate change.’” Santer concluded by stating, “I want to tell people, this is our understanding. These are the likely outcomes if we do nothing about the problem of human-caused climate change. And let's have a respectful, honest debate on what to do about it. But let's not dismiss this incorrectly as a hoax or a conspiracy. We all lose if we embrace ignorance with open arms.”

    Santer also appeared on CBS Evening News the day after Trump took his biggest step yet toward fulfilling his campaign promise to dial back former President Barack Obama's climate policies. In an interview with correspondent John Blackstone, Santer discussed Trump’s anti-science views and policies, a letter he wrote to Trump urging him not to listen to “ignorant voices” denying climate change, and the “new climate of intimidation” that the Trump administration has created for scientists.

    Michael Mann Called Out Lamar Smith And Scott Pruitt For Their Climate Denial

    On the April 7 edition of NPR’s Science Friday, Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann discussed his appearance as the sole witness voicing the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change in a House science committee hearing that The Washington Post described as “an act of gamesmanship from a body intent on manufacturing doubt on scientific issues which have long been settled.” Mann described House science committee Chairman Lamar Smith as a “climate change denier” who has “spent much of his time as the chair of the House science committee going on the attack against climate scientists” and “taken on an adversarial position when it comes to the science of climate change.” Mann added that he thought the hearing was “intended to try to convey [Smith’s] doubts and his critiques of the science.”

    When asked by host Ira Flatow why Mann decided to appear before the committee knowing that he would face opposition, Mann replied:

    My good friend Bill Nye the Science Guy has really demonstrated, I think, that you do sometimes have to take the science straight to the critics. You really do have to take on science denial because if it goes unopposed then some of it becomes sort of accepted. The doubts, the confusion becomes part of the discourse and it clouds the public understanding of science. And so we do need to do our best to inject science into those fora, and so that’s what I saw my role as being, to really communicate why it is that there is such a widespread consensus about human-caused climate change.

    And during the committee hearing in question, after Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) brought up the roles of climate deniers Myron Ebell and Scott Pruitt in Trump’s EPA, Mann lamented that the EPA is now headed by a climate denier for the first time ever, stating that “to have an EPA administrator who has a position that’s so at odds with the scientific evidence -- there is no precedent, even in past Republican administrations, under Nixon, under Reagan, under George H.W. Bush. They each had EPA administrators that embraced science.”

    Gavin Schmidt: House Science Committee Hearing Aimed To “Obfuscate Well Characterized, Oft Reproduced, Inconvenient Science”

    On the day of the House science committee hearing, NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt criticized Republicans’ attacks on climate science, tweeting that the committee’s hearing was “being held to obfuscate well characterized, oft reproduced, inconvenient science”:

    Katharine Hayhoe: Appointing Pruitt Head Of EPA Is “Like Putting One Of The World’s Leading Atheists In Charge Of The Church Of England”

    On the April 3 episode of Crooked Media’s Pod Save America podcast, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe told hosts Tommy Vietor and Jon Lovett that the selection of Scott Pruitt as EPA administrator was “like putting one of the world’s leading atheists in charge of the Church of England. It just doesn’t make sense. Why would you do that?” When asked what worried Hayhoe the most about Trump’s executive order rolling back Obama’s climate legacy, she answered, “The most concerning thing to me is that these regulations are going to be rolling the United States back from an international perspective, from a technological perspective -- back into even possibly a second-world country.”

    TOMMY VIETOR (CO-HOST): It’s hard to overstate what a radical pick Scott Pruitt was to run the EPA. He’s sued the agency 14 times, he doesn’t believe that CO2 is a primary driver of climate change, which is stunning. Even ExxonMobil has said that. Can you talk about his selection -- what it means for U.S. climate policy. Is there anything states, cities, or citizens can do to weigh in and push back?

    KATHARINE HAYHOE: Yeah, I agree, I mean putting somebody who doesn’t believe in something in charge of that very institution is like putting one of the world’s leading atheists in charge of the Church of England. It just doesn’t make sense. Why would you do that?

    [...]

    JON LOVETT (CO-HOST): So, one thing that Trump did, speaking of these standards, is an executive order called the Energy Independence Order, or something like that? But really it’s about rolling back the clean climate plan -- uh, the Clean Power Plan. It was sort of a catch-all, there was a lot in there. What is the most worrisome to you?

    HAYHOE: Yeah. [Laughs] Well, where should I start? So first of all, though, let’s be clear. The Clean Power Plan was what the president could do with the abilities that he had at the time, but it would not take us all the way to the Paris agreement. So the Paris agreement, signed about a year and half ago almost, says that we should limit warming to at least 2 degrees and possibly 1.5 if we can to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change. And the Clean Power Plan was only part of the way there. We needed more. Now of course we’re looking at not even that, we’re looking at a lot less. But we’re also looking at things that just lack common sense, like investing in the coal economy when there’s already twice as many jobs in the solar industry, and coal jobs have been dropping like a rock, not because of the Clean Power Plan, but just because it’s not as economically viable a form of energy anymore. It’s like investing in shoring up horse farms when Henry Ford is already rolling out the Model T on his assembly line.

    Honestly, the most concerning thing to me is that these regulations are going to be rolling the United States back from an international perspective, from a technological perspective -- back into possibly even a second-world country. China is already poised to take the leadership, not just in the clean energy economy -- they’re already taken leadership there -- but with the climate plan as well. So the U.S. is losing leadership, and how long will it take to regain, if ever?

    Kevin Trenberth and Reto Knutti: Comments By Trump, Pruitt, And Smith Show A“Woeful Ignorance” Of Science And Climate Change

    Climate scientists Kevin Trenberth and Reto Knutti co-authored an April 5 op-ed published in The Conversation decrying the Trump administration’s climate science denial: “The kinds of statements made by Smith, the president and Pruitt are misguided. They show a woeful ignorance about science and how it works, and in particular about climate science. Consequently, they ignore sound advice on how to best plan for the future.” They added, “The failure of Lamar Smith and his ilk to recognize that climate scientists ask legitimate scientific questions, and moreover, that they that they provide very useful information for decision-makers, is a major loss for the public.”

    From the April 5 op-ed:

    Chairman Smith accused climate scientists of straying “outside the principles of the scientific method.” Smith repeated his oft-stated assertion that scientific method hinges on “reproducibility,” which he defined as “a repeated validation of the results.” He also asserted that the demands of scientific verification altogether preclude long-range prediction, saying, “Alarmist predictions amount to nothing more than wild guesses. The ability to predict far into the future is impossible. Anyone stating what the climate will be in 500 years or even at the end of the century is not credible.”

    At the same time, President Trump has been dismissive of climate change and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in March that “measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do…so, no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

    The kinds of statements made by Smith, the president and Pruitt are misguided. They show a woeful ignorance about science and how it works, and in particular about climate science. Consequently, they ignore sound advice on how to best plan for the future.

    […]

    Accordingly, we have many facts and physical understanding of the Earth’s climate. The role of scientists is to lay out the facts, their interpretation, and the prospects and consequences as best we can. But the decision about what is done with this information is the responsibility of everyone, including and often led by politicians. The failure of Lamar Smith and his ilk to recognize that climate scientists ask legitimate scientific questions, and moreover, that they that they provide very useful information for decision-makers, is a major loss for the public.

    Brenda Ekwurzel’s Message To Scott Pruitt: “Listen To The Scientists”

    During a March 9 report about Pruitt’s comment that he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming, CBS Evening News correspondent Chip Reid asked senior climate scientist and director of climate science at the Union of Concerned Scientists Brenda Ekwurzel, “If you were talking to Mr. Pruitt right now, what would you tell him?” Ekwurzel replied, “Listen to the scientists. Ninety-seven percent of scientists who have studied climate change agree that carbon dioxide is the primary cause of human-driven climate change.”

    Victoria Herrmann: “I Am An Arctic Researcher. Donald Trump Is Deleting My Citations”

    Victoria Herrmann, managing director of the Arctic Institute, wrote a March 28 op-ed in The Guardian about “politically motivated data deletions” of her work by the Trump administration. Though Herrmann was able to find archived materials to replace defunct links to her work, she wrote that having to do so evoked “a bit of anger at the state of the country.” She continued, “The consequences of vanishing citations, however, pose a far more serious consequence than website updates. Each defunct page is an effort by the Trump administration to deliberately undermine our ability to make good policy decisions by limiting access to scientific evidence.” Herrmann concluded, “While working in one of the most physically demanding environments on the planet, we don’t have time to fill new data gaps created by political malice. So please, President Trump, stop deleting my citations.”

    From the op-ed:

    At first, the distress flare of lost data came as a surge of defunct links on 21 January. The US National Strategy for the Arctic, the Implementation Plan for the Strategy, and the report on our progress all gone within a matter of minutes. As I watched more and more links turned red, I frantically combed the internet for archived versions of our country’s most important polar policies.

    [...]

    All in all, emails about defunct links of sites that weren’t saved are annoying, but harmless. Finding archived materials to replace them add maybe 20 minutes of internet searches to my day – and a bit of anger at the state of the country.

    The consequences of vanishing citations, however, pose a far more serious consequence than website updates. Each defunct page is an effort by the Trump administration to deliberately undermine our ability to make good policy decisions by limiting access to scientific evidence.

    […]

    These back-to-back data deletions come at a time when the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average. Just this week, it was reported that the Arctic’s winter sea ice dropped to its lowest level in recorded history. The impacts of a warming, ice-free Arctic are already clear: a decline in habitat for polar bears and other Arctic animals; increases in coastal erosion that force Alaskans to abandon their homes; and the opening up of shipping routes with unpredictable conditions and hazardous icebergs.

    In a remote region where data is already scarce, we need publicly available government guidance and records now more than ever before. It is hard enough for modern Arctic researchers to perform experiments and collect data to fill the gaps left by historic scientific expeditions. While working in one of the most physically demanding environments on the planet, we don’t have time to fill new data gaps created by political malice.

    So please, President Trump, stop deleting my citations.

    Ploy Achakulwisut and Geoffrey Supran: “We Became Scientists To Help The World. Now We Need To Take To The Streets.”

    Scientists Ploy Achakulwisut and Geoffrey Supran co-authored an April 11 op-ed published in Mashable explaining that “the Trump administration's unrelenting attacks on climate science and our generation's future” had motivated them to participate in the People’s Climate March on April 29. They urged readers to do the same, adding, “Their attacks on climate science are an affront to all the scientists working to understand and solve this singular crisis of our time. … Now, more than ever, we need to demonstrate that the majority of the public understands the realities of climate science and demands clean air, clean water, and clean energy.”

    From the op-ed:

    As scientists and as a couple in our twenties, it's been excruciating to watch the Trump administration's unrelenting attacks on climate science and our generation's future. Knowing that policy decisions made over the next four years could impact the lives of hundreds of generations to come, we're more determined than ever to do not only our best work as scientists, but our best activism as citizens.

    On April 29, we'll stand up for climate science, justice, and democracy in the People's Climate March. If you're appalled at the Trump administration's anti-climate agenda, we hope you'll join us.

    [...]

    Then Donald Trump was elected, and our battles to stand up for science became a war. President Trump, EPA head Scott Pruitt, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Chairman of the House Science Committee Lamar Smith are just some of the many politicians abusing their positions of power to advance their ideological agendas. Their attacks on climate science are an affront to all the scientists working to understand and solve this singular crisis of our time. What's more, people's lives are at stake. "The War on Science is more than a skirmish over funding, censorship, and 'alternative facts,'" says scientist Jon Foley. "It's a battle for the future, basic decency, and the people we love."

    Now, more than ever, we need to demonstrate that the majority of the public understands the realities of climate science and demands clean air, clean water, and clean energy. That we won’t allow our democracy to be hijacked by Big Oil and billionaire ideologues. We've already seen how concerted opposition by activists, lawyers, and journalists can stop the Trump administration in its tracks on immigration and health care. We are not powerless to change the course of history.