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  • Thanks to anti-abortion media, the latest congressional "tech censorship" hearing was particularly absurd

    Senate hearing about alleged censorship of anti-abortion movie Unplanned was another exercise in right-wing outrage-baiting

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    During an April 10 Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing about the so-called “censorship” of conservative content by social media platforms, senators continually (and inaccurately) claimed Twitter's temporary suspension of an account associated with the anti-abortion movie Unplanned was evidence of wider bias. Although allegations of widespread conservative censorship by social media companies are inaccurate, the accusation itself is familiar among anti-abortion extremists, who have long deployed it as a tactic to rally supporters and raise funds.

    Soon after Unplanned’s release in March, a Twitter account associated with the movie was temporarily suspended and reactivated. The Hollywood Reporter explained that the movie’s account “was not suspended on purpose, but rather was linked to another account that had violated Twitter's rules.” Because of this, the Unplanned account was soon reactivated and its followers restored -- but not before right-wing media expressed outrage and alleged that the film had been “shadow banned” (a common and completely false conservative claim). Although Twitter’s FAQ clearly explains that follower and tweet counts “will be fully restored within 24 hours of reactivation,” right-wing and anti-abortion media continued to treat the incident as yet another example of censorship by tech companies.

    This is far from the first time that anti-abortion groups or outlets have alleged censorship to rile up supporters or solicit funds. Lila Rose, founder of the anti-abortion group Live Action, told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson in 2017 that Twitter was censoring her organization’s ads. In reality, the content remained on the platform -- Live Action simply wasn’t allowed to promote the ads as such because they violated several of Twitter’s content policies. In other instances, this tactic has been deployed by anti-abortion groups to lambast Google’s page rankings or allege widespread media bias against right-wing or anti-abortion views.

    Beyond riling up their supporters, this tactic is often deployed by anti-abortion groups to fundraise in the name of fighting back against alleged social media censorship. The anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List has leveraged similar allegations to sway voters and raise funds for specific campaigns. During the 2018 midterm elections, SBA List accused Facebook of removing its ads urging people to “vote pro-life.” Although Facebook actually disallowed the ads because the platform doesn’t “allow ads that depict medical procedures or conditions,” SBA List framed the move as another example of censorship and urged supporters to “RUSH a contribution … to help us fight back and get this ad in front of voters in key swing-states DESPITE the ongoing censorship of pro-life voices by the abortion lobby.”

    This Senate hearing is only the latest example of Republican lawmakers’ willingness to entertain inaccurate talking points claiming censorship of conservative views. In 2017, then-Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) deployed this tactic to generate attention and garner support after announcing her run for retiring Sen. Bob Corker's (R-TN) seat, which she ultimately won. Blackburn referred to this incident during the April 10 hearing as well -- even receiving an apology from Twitter’s representative.

    Early in the hearing, while questioning witnesses from Facebook and Twitter, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) demanded to know why a 2017 tweet from SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser had allegedly been censored. Although the tweet was never actually removed from Twitter (and in fact remains up today), The Washington Post noted that the tweet had originally been rejected from paid promotion for violating that platform’s “health and pharmaceutical products and services policy.” During the hearing, Twitter’s witness affirmed that SBA List was generally “in good standing” for the purposes of advertising on the platform. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) also questioned why several of SBA List’s Facebook ads depicting premature babies in a medical setting were removed. Although the ads were ultimately allowed to run on the platform, Lee implied that they were initially flagged due to rampant liberal bias at Facebook -- an allegation the witness denied.

    During the hearing’s second session, Unplanned and SBA List were both given a platform to repeat talking points about the alleged censorship of anti-abortion content online. In his opening testimony, Unplanned co-director Chuck Konzelman claimed that the temporary suspension of the film’s Twitter account was “suspect” and credited right-wing media personalities such as Fox News host Shannon Bream and National Rifle Association spokesperson Dana Loesch for raising awareness of the incident. SBA List’s Vice President of Government Affairs Marilyn Musgrave testified that her organization had “been fighting censorship of our content for more than two years” alongside other anti-abortion organizations that she claimed had experienced similar difficulties.

    When conservatives have previously attempted to hold hearings investigating the so-called bias of tech platforms, the results have featured laughable conspiracy theories about liberals censoring conservative content. As this latest hearing demonstrated, anti-abortion and right-wing media will continue to falsely cry censorship to signal-boost their deceptive content, rile up supporters, and raise funds. Given this track record, perhaps the only thing more predictable than right-wing and anti-abortion media’s invocation of censorship to market Unplanned was Senate Republicans’ willingness to give a platform to such a transparent ploy in the first place.

  • Fox News won’t run an anti-Nazi ad, but will let Laura Ingraham compare Planned Parenthood to Hitler

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News: Where a historical documentary can’t run an ad warning about the dangers of fascism because it contains “disgraceful Nazi imagery,” but host Laura Ingraham can show graphics comparing Planned Parenthood to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler with impunity.

    During the February 26 edition of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, Ingraham spent several segments delivering a sensationalized and inaccurate rant against abortion, particularly those performed later in pregnancy. In addition to alleging that Democrats support “the wanton extermination of children already born” -- a false talking point that has been circulating among right-wing media, anti-abortion groups, and other conservative figures -- Ingraham also compared Planned Parenthood to Nazi Germany, claiming that “Hitler, just like Planned Parenthood, practiced and defended mass extermination.” To drive her point home, Ingraham showed the following graphic on the screen:

    Fox News viewers -- particularly those who watch the prime-time lineup of Tucker Carlson, Ingraham, and Sean Hannity -- are no strangers to xenophobic or sexist content, racist dog whistles, and even talking points borrowed from white nationalists. And this isn’t the first time that Ingraham or other Fox News figures have asserted inaccurate and harmful comparisons between Planned Parenthood and Nazis. However, Ingraham’s choice of talking points and on-screen imagery raises some questions in light of Fox News’ recent decision to reject an advertisement warning about the dangers of fascism and Nazi ideology.

    On February 13, The Hollywood Reporter wrote that Fox News executives had “rejected a national advertising buy” promoting A Night at the Garden, an Oscar-nominated documentary short warning “viewers about the potential dangers of American fascism.” Although the ad was intended to warn “Sean Hannity's largely conservative viewers about the potential dangers of President Donald Trump's brand of populism,” ad sales representatives for the network rejected it, citing concerns from Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott who reportedly said that it was “not appropriate.” The network clarified the alleged “inappropriate” nature of the anti-facism ad in a subsequent comment to The Week, with Fox’s President of Ad Sales Marianne Gambelli stating that “regardless of the film’s message,” the ad was rejected for being “full of disgraceful Nazi imagery” which “did not meet our guidelines.”

    Fox News has found itself under a great deal of pressure going into the upcoming advertising sales season -- thanks in large part to an increasing awareness by many companies that associating their products with Fox News is bad for business. Dozens of advertisers have abandoned Ingraham’s show alone in the past year. As Variety reported in January, the network is currently in the process of trying to rebrand itself to advertisers after “sponsors have pulled their advertising” from a number of prime-time shows. The report continued:

    Keeping the ad dollars flowing at Fox News is critical – not only for the network, but for its parent company, 21st Century Fox. At some point in the next few months, Fox is slated to sell the bulk of its cable and studio assets to Walt Disney Co. The remaining company, known as Fox Corporation will rely on not only Fox News and Fox Business Network, but Fox Sports and Fox Broadcasting. The Fox News unit has contributed around 20% of the overall company’s operating profit. In a pared-down structure, it might be more. And while many analysts focus on the revenue Fox News derives from affiliates, its ad dollars will also be important after the sale.

    There are consequences to allowing this kind of extreme rhetoric to continue unchecked that extend beyond the negative impact on advertisers for having their products associated with vitriol like Ingraham’s. Anti-abortion violence and harassment have been on the rise in recent years -- a trend fueled in part by the extreme rhetoric of right-wing media figures, whose anti-choice talkings points are echoed by the president.

    When Fox News pitches upfronts this May, advertisers should remember: Fox News was unwilling to show an advertisement denouncing the dangers of Nazism, but the network seemingly has no problem invoking or showing Nazi imagery to attack abortion providers and patients.

  • Creator Of Fox's Anti-Obama Attack Ad Will Not Be Hired By CNN

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Any plans that CNN may have had to hire Fox News associate producer Chris White have been scuttled following the firestorm over the controversial four-minute segment attacking President Obama that White reportedly created and which Fox aired twice yesterday.

    Several news outlets had speculated and even reported that White's move to CNN was in the works at the time he produced the video, which many have compared to a political attack ad. But a CNN spokesperson confirmed to Media Matters Thursday that White will not be hired by CNN.

    Bill Shine, executive vice president of programming for Fox News, told Mediaite yesterday that the four-minute segment "was created by an associate producer and was not authorized at the senior executive level of the network. This has been addressed with the show's producers."

    With Fox failing to even acknowledge that airing the video was a mistake White appears to be the only one at the network who has suffered from their repeated airing of the video - with the apparent punishment coming from a different news outlet. This morning the hosts of Fox & Friends - who praised both White and the video at the time they aired it - did not address the controversy.

    Since the piece aired, several news outlets have claimed White was heading to CNN, with some speculation this might have been his way of departing the network.

    The same Mediaite item stated about White: "Mediaite hears that White may be heading to CNN in the near future."

    Hollywood Reporter wrote: " ... the associate producer responsible for it, Chris White, likely has already decided to leave Fox for CNN."

    CNN would not say if White had been under consideration prior to the latest incident, but The New York Times' Jeremy W. Peters reports that White had "his offer revoked."