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  • Anti-abortion extremists keep crying censorship to raise money

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    If there’s one thing Republicans love more than pretending they’re being victimized by liberal elites, it’s raising money off this inaccurate claim -- a tendency demonstrated clearly during recent congressional hearings on the activities of Facebook. During these hearings, Republican members of Congress elevated various overinflated right-wing grievances against social media companies (such as claims of anti-abortion censorship and anti-Christian bias) in order to pressure the platform into allowing greater promotion of inflammatory or inaccurate content. In particular, they seized on pro-Trump YouTubers Diamond and Silk, who have actively lied about Facebook censoring them and then used the attention to raise money. As close watchers of the anti-abortion movement know, this tactic of crying censorship to garner attention and raise funds is a favorite of anti-choice actors. Here are a few that have recently employed this practice:

    Live Action

    Lila Rose, founder of the anti-abortion group Live Action, appeared on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight in June 2017 alleging that Twitter was censoring Live Action’s ads due to ideological bias. In reality, the content still appeared on Live Action’s Twitter page, but was not allowed to be promoted as an advertisement to other users, not because of bias, but because it violated several of Twitter’s content policies regarding "hate content, sensitive topics, and violence.”

    Instead of altering the organization’s content to meet Twitter’s policies, Rose appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight and used claims of supposed censorship to raise funds for Live Action. As Rose told Carlson, “We’re actually doing a campaign right now to get people to fund Live Action and to get out the information that Twitter is trying to block using other platforms -- using Facebook, using YouTube, using the blogosphere, obviously coming on here and talking with you.”

    Live Action continued to deploy this dishonest tactic even after Rose’s Fox News appearance. Following the June 26 segment, Live Action sent a fundraising email claiming that “Live Action is being suppressed” and asking supporters “to help us strengthen our efforts against the abortion industry.” Live Action’s censorship allegations also animated other right-wing media outlets. For example, on June 29, Christian Broadcasting Network published an article promoting Live Action’s claims about Twitter’s ad policy, which stated that “Live Action has launched a campaign to compensate for their losses due to Twitter’s censoring,” and directed readers to Live Action’s fundraising page. Rose and Live Action also pushed the narrative on Twitter, using the hashtag #DontDeleteMe -- even though all of Live Action tweets remained publicly available on the platform.

    The group also continued to use claims of censorship to raise funds in three October 2017 emails. In one email, Live Action stated that “Twitter is STILL banning our paid ads” and asked whether members would “give a gift to Live Action today so that we can expose more people to the truth.” In another email, Live Action claimed, “While we work to pressure Twitter to lift their ban on ads for pro-life content, we must double our efforts elsewhere” and asked people to “make a gift … so that we can reach more people with the truth.” Live Action made a similar plea in another email, asking people to “consider helping us reach more Americans with the truth about abortion through our other social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.”

    Operation Rescue

    The extremist anti-abortion group Operation Rescue claimed in July 2017 that Google was censoring parts of its website after its page rankings decreased in the results of searches for “abortions in US” or “abortion statistics.” The group alleged that “Google’s search engine has manipulated search parameters to dramatically reduce exposure” to Operation Rescue's web pages, which contain abortion statistics purporting to show the "truth about abortion." Operation Rescue then sent a fundraising email asking for support to "launch a massive campaign to ensure our critical abortion research and pro-life content is available, and no longer pushed down by the pro-abortion radicals at Google." Prior to the complaint, Google announced a policy change regarding how sites containing misleading or false information would be ranked.

    Susan B. Anthony List

    In October 2017, Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) claimed that one of the organization’s Twitter ads, targeting Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring in the 2017 election, was taken down by the platform, seemingly for inflammatory language. Citing this example and other anti-abortion censorship allegations, SBA List asked people to “make a gift today to get our pro-life message past Twitter’s censorship” and to “fight back against Twitter’s censorship.”

    Following Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress last week, SBA List reprised this tactic and emailed supporters to detail instances where the group claimed to have been censored by social media companies. SBA List then directed people to “please make a generous donation of $250 to help win the fight against pro-abortion Silicon Valley elites.”

    Anti-abortion outlets

    Not to be left out of the conversation about supposed anti-abortion censorship, the anti-choice news outlet Life News also sent an email after Zuckerberg’s testimony stating, “Social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube are increasingly censoring pro-life voices,” and asking readers to sign a petition and to “make a donation today … so we can continue to stand up to these social media giants [and] their censorship.”

    Another anti-abortion outlet, LifeSite News, also asked for donations in light of supposed censorship by social media companies. The site posted in March 2018 about the “surprising and disturbing reason why LifeSite’s Spring campaign is struggling.” The reason, according to LifeSite News, “is an almost declared war by the globalist social media giants – Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube against websites, blogs and individuals who promote conservative views.” LifeSite argued that its inability to raise funds was due to censorship from Facebook and Google and pleaded to readers, writing, “To those of you who were not blocked from reading this letter, we are depending on you much more than normal to help us to reach our goal.” Unsurprisingly, the outlet provided zero evidence of the censorship it was allegedly experiencing.

    Roe v. Wade -- the movie

    The producer of an anti-abortion film about Roe v. Wade claimed that Facebook temporarily blocked his ability to post an Indiegogo crowdfunding page for the production of the film. On the Indiegogo page, the film is described as “the real untold story of how people lied; how the media lied; and how the courts were manipulated to pass a law that has since killed over 60 million Americans.” According to the film’s crowdfunding page, the film needs “support now more than ever. Facebook has banned us from inviting friends to ‘Like’ our page and from ‘Sharing’ our PAID ads.”

    Rep. Marsha Blackburn

    In October 2017, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) announced she was running for a Senate seat by tweeting out a campaign video that included a mention of her time as chair of the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives -- a sham investigation based on deceptive and disproven claims by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. The video included inflammatory language such as that Blackburn had “stopped the sale of baby body parts.” After Twitter temporarily blocked her from running the tweet as a paid ad due to its inflammatory language, Blackburn claimed censorship and made the rounds on Fox News to push this story. Blackburn also used the opportunity to tweet that the “conservative revolution won’t be stopped by @Twitter and the liberal elite,” urging people to “donate to my Senate campaign today.”

    Anti-abortion groups and outlets have found a great deal of success in crying censorship -- a lesson that wider conservative media outlets and figures appear to be taking to heart. As a recently published report from the right-wing Media Research Center (a report that was readily promoted by outlets like Life News) melodramatically framed the issue: “The question facing the conservative movement is one of survival. Can it survive online if the tech companies no longer allow conservative speech and speakers? And, if that happens, can the movement survive at all?”

  • 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 most extreme right-wing reactions to Cecile Richards' departure from Planned Parenthood

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On January 24, BuzzFeed reported that Cecile Richards plans to step down as president of Planned Parenthood. Richards confirmed the news on January 26, saying she is departing the organization some time this year. Immediately, anti-abortion and right-wing media and groups took the opportunity to smear Richards and Planned Parenthood in a number of outlandish ways.

    • The Federalist inaccurately claimed that Richards was leaving “amid an ongoing federal investigation.” The story pointed as evidence to the Department of Justice’s procedural request to the Senate judiciary committee in December 2017 for documents related to the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress’ (CMP) discredited videos, which purport to show Planned Parenthood engaged in illicit practices.
    • Anti-abortion outlet LifeSiteNews published a piece that quoted CMP’s founder David Daleiden who alleged that Richards was leaving because “the secret is out that Planned Parenthood is a taxpayer-sponsored crime syndicate of industrial-scale child killing."
    • On One America News’ Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, host Liz Wheeler said that although some might refer to her as "a conspiracy theorist,” her previous segment “about the legacy of Cecile Richards” was “666 words exactly.” She made the same point on Twitter.
    • Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue’s Senior Vice President Cheryl Sullenger -- who served two years in prison for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic -- posted on social media a series of photoshopped images of Richards wearing an orange jumpsuit in a prison cell and used a variety of hashtags, such as #ReleaseTheMemo and #Qanon. Sullenger’s use of the hashtags was likely an attempt to connect Richards’ departure to the right-wing campaign against special counsel Robert Mueller and the conspiracy theory thread on 8chan message board, respectively.

    • The Stream, an outlet founded by televangelist James Robison, posted a story titled “Can Cecile Richards Live With All the Ghosts?”

    • The Daily Wire called Richards “Planned Parenthood’s chief maniacal ghoul” and stated that “we can only hope Cecile Richards returns swiftly to the obscurity of whichever cavern of Hell spawned her.” The image accompanying the article -- titled “3.5 Million People Are Dead Today Because Of Cecile Richards” -- depicted Richards with devil horns and tail, photoshopped on an ultrasound image of a fetus with a halo.

    • Fake news purveyor Conservative Tribune responded to news of Richards’ departure, commenting, “It takes a special kind of evil to go to sleep at night knowing babies are being killed under your watch.”
    • Catholic newspaper National Catholic Register published a blog post that asked, “Does Richards sleep well at night, or are sleeping pills required to stop the nightmares of babies’ souls that come to visit?”
    • After Hillary Clinton tweeted at Richards thanking her for her work, far-right blog The Gateway Pundit published a piece titled, “Hillary Clinton Thanks Planned Parenthood Pres Cecile Richards For Overseeing the Murder of Millions of Babies - Twitter Responds.”

  • Right-wing media react in disgust after openly transgender candidates win historic elections

    ››› ››› ALEX MORASH & BRENNAN SUEN

    Right-wing media reacted in disgust to the historic November 7 win by Danica Roem -- one of a number of openly transgender candidates, including Andrea Jenkins in Minnesota, to take races that day. Anti-LGBTQ websites The Federalist and LifeSite News joined a handful of white nationalists in attacking Roem, a transgender woman who is set to be the first openly transgender candidate elected and seated in a state legislature in U.S. history, after her win in Virginia. Right-wing figures called her "transgendered" and a man, compared her to a Nazi, and said her “claim to fame is transgenderism.”

  • “Tinker Bell’s Torrid Lesbian Affair”: Right-Wing Media React To LGBTQ Diversity In Disney

    ››› ››› KATHERINE HESS

    On March 1, Attitude Magazine reported that the upcoming live-action remake of the film Beauty and the Beast would feature Disney’s first LGBTQ character, and the following day, Mashable reported that Disney’s digital cable channel had showed its first same-sex kiss on the children’s cartoon Star vs. the Forces of Evil. Right-wing and white nationalist media organizations responded by blaming the “faggot agenda,” creating a “boycott petition” against the film, and saying Disney is attempting to “indoctrinate American children.”

  • Right-Wing Media Attack Teen Vogue For Taking On Abortion Stigma

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    After Teen Vogue published an article about gifts to buy for a friend who has had an abortion, right-wing and anti-choice outlets lashed out at the young women’s magazine for “normalizing” the procedure. Although right-wing media have frequently claimed that women pathologically regret their abortions -- and these media have attacked providers and clinics accordingly -- in reality, it is a safe and common medical practice. This wasn’t Teen Vogue’s first attempt at challenging abortion stigma and the myth of abortion regret, and the magazine’s collective efforts provide a useful model for other outlets.

  • The Inspiring Transgender Child And The Fox News Doctor Who Would Prescribe Anti-Psychotic Medication

    Blog ››› ››› LUKE BRINKER

    Fox News "Medical A Team" member Dr. Keith Ablow assailed the parents of a transgender child whose story has gone viral on the web, suggesting that six-year-old Ryland Whittington would have been better served by "anti-psychotic medication" than by having his parents affirm his gender identity.

    On May 27, Jeff and Hillary Whittington shared Ryland's story in a seven-minute YouTube video. The video, which has been viewed more than 4 million times, describes Ryland's discovery of his gender identity and the family's acceptance of his gender transition:

    The Whittingtons' support for Ryland was spotlighted at the Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast last month, where they received the Inspiration Award for 2014.

    According to a June 3 article on right-wing website LifeSiteNews.com, Fox's Ablow wasn't moved by Ryland's story of self-discovery. LifeSiteNews - which misgendered Ryland throughout its story - reported that Ablow opposes parents helping their children transition to the genders with which they identify (emphasis added):

    Massachusetts psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow, an author and Fox News contributor, told LifeSiteNews that the video paints a happy picture while consciously ignoring the risks of early transition - which often involves genital plastic surgery and large doses of hormones.

    "I am not convinced that the best option for children who are uncomfortable with their gender is to rapidly transition them to the opposite gender," he said. "I believe that on reflection, it will be shown that other paths may be the wiser paths."

    [...]

    "I believe that it is possible that developing secondary sexual characteristics that match one's DNA may actually be part of someone becoming more comfortable with his or her God-given gender," he said.  He added that allowing a child to undergo transition at an early age may prevent them from ever becoming reconciled to their biological sex.

    [...]

    "From a personal, not a professional standpoint, were my daughter to assert that she were a boy, not a girl, there is no chance we would be headed to a surgeon's office without a trial of anti-psychotic medication," Ablow said.

    Ablow said that transgender activists have made it more difficult for therapists to do their jobs because they have turned gender dysphoria into a political issue instead of a medical one.

    While Ablow has no expertise in gender or sexuality issues, actual experts contradict his transphobic talking points. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, gender identity is usually established by the age of four. Medical professionals note that denying medical treatment to transgender children can be harmful; Dr. Norman Spack of Children's Hospital Boston, for instance, states that many children who don't receive treatment resort to self-mutilation in an attempt to change their anatomies. According to Spack, the earlier children deemed to need treatment start receiving it, the easier of a time they'll have passing as the gender with which they identify and the less likely they'll be to require more radical treatments later in life.

  • LifeSiteNews Praises Accused War Criminal For Opposing LGBT Rights

    Blog ››› ››› LUKE BRINKER

    With polls showing record levels of support for marriage equality, opponents are looking for all the backing they can get - including, it appears, from accused war criminals.

    In a July 1 article, right-wing website LifeSiteNews.com highlighted Kenya's Deputy President William Ruto's "rebuke" of President Barack Obama for calling for African nations to affirm the rights of LGBT people:

    A second African president has rebuffed President Barack Obama's promotion of homosexuality in foreign relations during his $100 million tour of the continent.

    Obama said he respects "people's personal views and their religious faith, et cetera," but "when it comes to how the state treats people, how the law treats people," he believes the equality of homosexuality and the traditional family is"a principle that I think applies universally."

    Deputy President of Kenya William Ruto responded during Sunday Mass that Kenya is committed to the nuclear family as taught by the Scriptures.

    "Those who believe in other things, that is their business," Ruto said at St. Gabriel's Catholic Church in Maili Kumi. "We believe in God."

    "This nation, the nation of Kenya," he said, is "sovereign and God-fearing."

    In promoting Ruto's comments, LifeSiteNews.com failed to note that he has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for his role in stoking Kenya's post-election violence after the 2007 election. Beginning September 10, Ruto will be tried in abstentia on charges including crimes against humanity, murder, and the forcible removal of persons leading to civilian deaths. That anti-marriage equality forces appear to find an ally in Ruto says a great deal about their increasing desperation for support.

  • The Right's Latest Attack On Planned Parenthood

    Blog ››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN

    Glenn Beck's The Blaze and a number of anti-abortion rights outlets are highlighting audio of a 9-1-1 call made by Planned Parenthood employees after a patient who had received an abortion apparently began bleeding.

    Here's The Blaze's inflammatory headline:

    REPORT: RECORDING REVEALS PLANNED PARENTHOOD INJURED WOMAN IN BOTCHED ABORTION

    Aside from invading the patient's privacy, it's unclear what the point of this particular anti-Planned Parenthood frenzy is.

    It's not exactly news that abortion -- like any other legal medical procedure -- can occasionally lead to complications, as apparently happened in this case. Abortion obviously has well known risks, but those risks are rare. According to a frequently cited 1999 article, less than 0.3% of abortion patients developed complications that required hospitalization: