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  • Anti-LGBTQ media and groups have been crying "censorship" as flawed research on trans teens is re-evaluated

    A Brown researcher published a flawed study about so-called "rapid-onset gender dysphoria" that relied on surveys from anti-trans websites. The report claimed that teens were coming out as trans due to “social contagion”; after concerns were raised, it is now under review.

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In August, a researcher at Brown University published flawed research about so-called “rapid-onset gender dysphoria,” a concept that suggests that young people may be coming out as trans due to “social and peer contagion” and that has not been recognized by any mainstream medical organization. Among other flaws, the study was widely criticized for surveying only parents found on anti-trans parent communities rather than transgender people themselves, and Brown and the academic journal that published the study have since pledged to re-evaluate the work. Right-wing media and anti-LGBTQ groups responded by calling the reassessment “academic censorship” and saying Brown and the journal had caved to “transgender activism.”

    Brown University researcher Lisa Littman published a flawed study that claims teens may be identifying as trans due to social influences

    A Brown University researcher published a study on so-called “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” that suggested teenagers were identifying as trans due to “social and peer contagion.” In August, Brown University researcher Dr. Lisa Littman published a study on so-called “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” (ROGD) in the online journal PLOS ONE. The study suggested that transgender youth are experiencing a new type of “rapid” gender dysphoria due to social influences, asserting that both multiple peers in pre-existing friend groups coming out as transgender and “increased exposure to social media/internet preceding a child’s announcement of a transgender identity” raise “the possibility of social and peer contagion.” From PLOS ONE (citations removed):

    The description of cluster outbreaks of gender dysphoria occurring in pre-existing groups of friends and increased exposure to social media/internet preceding a child’s announcement of a transgender identity raises the possibility of social and peer contagion. Social contagion is the spread of affect or behaviors through a population. Peer contagion, in particular, is the process where an individual and peer mutually influence each other in a way that promotes emotions and behaviors that can potentially undermine their own development or harm others.

    Littman’s study surveyed the parents of transgender people ages 11-27, circulating the survey on three websites: 4thwavenow.com, transgendertrend.com, and youthtranscriticalprofessionals.org. Those websites are online communities primarily for parents of transgender people who deny their children’s identities, and the study acknowledged that the survey was specifically targeted to “websites where parents and professionals had been observed to describe rapid onset of gender dysphoria.” In fact, according to trans researcher Julia Serano, the phrase “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” and accompanying acronym originated on those very websites in July 2016, before Littman’s study or abstract were released. The term and acronym are frequently used by parents who do not accept their children’s trans identities; there is even a website called parentsofrogdkids.com. Prior to releasing her full study, Littman published an abstract in the Journal of Adolescent Health in February 2017 describing supposed parental experiences with ROGD.

    Gender dysphoria is an established diagnosis involving “a difference between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender, and significant distress or problems functioning.” The American Psychiatric Association recommends affirming the gender expression of people with gender dysphoria, including through “counseling, cross-sex hormones, puberty suppression and gender reassignment surgery” as well as social transitions not involving medical treatments.

    After fielding concerns about Littman’s methodology, Brown and PLOS ONE announced they would re-assess her research

    PLOS ONE is seeking “further expert assessment on the study’s methodology and analyses” after receiving complaints. On August 27, PLOS ONE announced that it would re-evaluate Littman’s study due to “concerns raised on the study’s content and methodology.” Slate’s Alex Barasch noted that “re-evaluating a study’s content and methodology doesn’t stymie the scientific process; it’s a natural and necessary extension of it.” From PLOS ONE’s announcement:

    PLOS ONE is aware of the reader concerns raised on the study’s content and methodology. We take all concerns raised about publications in the journal very seriously, and are following up on these per our policy and [Committee on Publication Ethics] guidelines. As part of our follow up we will seek further expert assessment on the study’s methodology and analyses. We will provide a further update once we have completed our assessment and discussions.

    Brown University removed a news article about the study after receiving complaints about Littman’s research and its methodology. After experts and advocates pointed out several flaws in the study’s methodology and PLOS ONE announced its own re-evaluation, “Brown determined that removing the article from news distribution is the most responsible course of action.” The next day, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health issued a letter confirming that the article had been removed “because of concerns about research methodology,” acknowledging concerns that the flawed study’s conclusions could harm the transgender community, and reiterating the university’s commitment to academic freedom and “the value of rigorous debate informed by research.” On September 5, the university released an expanded statement, proclaiming, “Brown does not shy away from controversial research.” The statement claimed that the article’s removal from the university’s news site was “not about academic freedom,” but rather “about academic standards,” noting that “academic freedom and inclusion are not mutually exclusive.”

    Researchers, experts, and journalists have found several flaws with Littman’s research

    The World Professional Association for Transgender Health urged restraint of the term “ROGD” and noted that it has not been “recognized by any major medical professional association.” The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), which publishes the internationally accepted Standards of Care and Ethical Guidelines for managing gender dysphoria, released a position statement about ROGD on September 4, noting that it “is not a medical entity recognized by any major professional association” and has not gone through “the deliberative processes by which diagnostic entities and clinical phenomena are classified and established.” WPATH’s statement said ROGD “constitutes nothing more than an acronym created to describe a proposed clinical phenomenon that may or may not warrant further peer-reviewed scientific investigation.” From the September 4 statement (emphasis original):

    At present, WPATH asserts that knowledge of the factors contributing to gender identity development in adolescence is still evolving and not yet fully understood by scientists, clinicians, community members, and other stakeholders in equal measure. Therefore, it is both premature and inappropriate to employ official-sounding labels that lead clinicians, community members, and scientists to form absolute conclusions about adolescent gender identity development and the factors that may potentially influence the timing of an adolescent’s declaration as a different gender from birth-assigned sex.

    ...

    WPATH also urges restraint from the use of any term—whether or not formally recognized as a medical entity—to instill fear about the possibility that an adolescent may or may not be transgender with the a priori goal of limiting consideration of all appropriate treatment options in accordance with the aforementioned standards of care and clinical guidelines.

    Researchers writing in PinkNews: Littman’s study “was heavily biased towards specific groups” and “tells us less about trans teenagers than it does about the parents being surveyed.” Writing for PinkNews, researchers Florence Ashley of McGill University and Alexandre Baril of the University of Ottawa said Littman’s research “was heavily biased towards specific groups and in no way can be said to be representative of the general population” because it surveyed parents from specific anti-trans websites. Their report contended that “the study tells us less about trans teenagers than it does about the parents being surveyed.” They also pointed out that research suggesting that trans identities are the result of a “contagion” attempts to frame the narrative in a way that “distinguishes ‘good,’ true transgender people from ‘bad,’ fake trans people, allowing proponents to claim that they have nothing against trans people — well, at least the real ones.”

    Slate’s Alex Barasch: “The sites that participants were culled from are full of damning evidence of bias” against transgender people. Barasch noted that Littman’s study was “purportedly about 256 trans-identified ‘adolescents and young adults,’” but it is “perhaps fairer to say that it’s about their parents, who participated in a 90-question survey about their relationships with and perceptions of their children—with no input from the kids themselves, and no controls to speak of.” Barasch identified several problems with the study’s sample, including that it sourced parental reporting from websites with anti-trans biases such as 4thwavenow.com, which “hosts long missives from parents who have strenuously denied their children’s identities for years.” He continued, “In exclusively surveying parents from these ‘gender critical’ spaces, Littman sharply limited both the relevance and the validity of her results.”

    Barasch added that “one of the study’s most glaring flaws” is that Littman made no effort to substantiate the claims of the parents who participated in her study by speaking to their transgender children. He noted that the study’s findings about "the worsening of parent-child relationships" after the child came out and the children's preference to befriend other LGBTQ kids actually weakened its conclusions about trans identities being a “social contagion” because young LGBTQ people would be more likely to “flock together online or in-person” if they face “skepticism and hostility at home.”

    Finally, Barasch noted that the concept of ROGD “treats the emergence of dysphoria around or after puberty as something new and unusual that should be treated with suspicion” when in fact the medical community recognizes late-onset gender dysphoria, which describes the emergence of dysphoria “around puberty or much later in life.” Barasch highlighted examples of PLOS ONE retracting several other studies that featured “questionable research” and pointed out that “peer review isn’t an automatic assurance of ironclad science” and that the review of the study “is both standard and vital.”

    Researcher Julia Serano: The concept of ROGD originated in 2016 on three blogs “that have a history of promoting anti-transgender propaganda.” In an essay on Medium, biologist and transgender activist Julia Serano explained that the concept of ROGD was not new, but originated in 2016 on three anti-trans blogs -- the same blogs from where Littman drew her sample. Thus, Serano wrote, Littman’s study was “entirely based on the opinions of parents who frequent the very same three blogs that invented and vociferously promote the concept of ROGD.” She contended, “This is the most blatant example of begging the question that I have ever seen in a research paper.” Serano also refuted the study’s assertion that gender dysphoria in the surveyed parents’ children was “rapid,” writing that “the word ‘rapid’ in ROGD doesn’t necessarily refer to the speed of gender dysphoria onset. … Rather, what’s ‘rapid’ about ROGD is parents’ sudden awareness and assessment of their child’s gender dysphoria (which, from the child’s standpoint, may be long standing and thoughtfully considered).”

    Brynn Tannehill in The Advocate: Transgender youth featured in the study may have avoided coming out to “hostile parents,” which could have led to parents perceiving their gender identity development as “rapid.” Responding to an abstract of Littman’s study released in 2017, transgender advocate and author Brynn Tannehill -- who recently published an explanatory book about transgender issues -- pointed out flaws in the hypothesis that young people may be identifying as transgender because of other LGBTQ friends and online LGBTQ media. She noted that “transgender youth in unsupportive homes are much more likely to share their thoughts and feelings with LGBT friends at school and peers online than family.” Tannehill added that those youth often “stick to ‘safe’ LGBT social groups” and “delay telling hostile parents until they cannot bear not to,” which could explain why the parents Littman surveyed from unsupportive online communities thought that their child’s identity came on rapidly.

    Tannehill in INTO: “Littman failed to mention the viewpoints of the groups from which she drew her sample” and did not interview supportive parents or trans youth. Writing for the digital magazine INTO, Tannehill reiterated that the study “failed to address the much more realistic explanation that transgender teens with anti-trans parents look for support from other LGBTQ youth online because they fear the reaction of their families.” She also noted that Littman did not acknowledge the anti-trans viewpoints of the websites from which she drew or sampled, “nor did she make any attempt to reach out to groups for supportive parents” or interview transgender youth.

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups have claimed Brown “is in denial about transgender identity” and “caved to cross-dressers”

    Family Research Council’s Cathy Ruse: Littman’s study “reveals trouble in transgender paradise.” Cathy Ruse of the extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council wrote a post in The Stream attacking Brown University for removing news about Littman’s study from its website. Ruse called the move “censorship” and asserted that “there’s an alarming trend of adolescents suddenly announcing they’re in the wrong body.” She also defended the study’s survey of parents rather than the actual transgender young people the study was about, writing that this “acknowledged limitation of the study” is a response to clinicians accepting what transgender patients tell them “at face value, never seeking the parents’ perspective.” Ruse has a history of disparaging trans identities, and she has previously suggested that affirming transgender children “can be child abuse.”

    American College of Pediatricians’ Michelle Cretella: Littman’s study “was quickly silenced” because “transgender activists called for censorship.” Writing for The Heritage Foundation’s right-wing outlet The Daily Signal, American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) President Michelle Cretella said that Littman’s study “was quickly silenced by activists and by Brown University,” which “disconnected its link to the study and issued an apology” for it because “transgender activists called for censorship.”

    ACPeds is a small and extreme anti-LGBTQ group of physicians that broke off from the legitimate American Association of Pediatrics (AAP). Cretella and ACPeds have worked for years to discredit trans-affirming science and policy under the veneer of credibility offered by the group’s misleading name, which “is easily confused with the AAP.” Cretella has claimed that affirming transgender youth is child abuse.

    ACPeds’ Dr. Andre Van Mol posted several times about ROGD on Twitter. ACPeds’ Dr. Andre Van Mol retweeted several posts about Littman’s study, including from two of the anti-transgender parent forums where Littman sourced her data. Van Mol promoted a tweet linking to a petition calling for Brown to “defend academic freedom and scientific inquiry” by supporting Littman and her study. He also tweeted a link to an article about Littman’s study and asserted, “Idealogues (sic) are trying to suppress a study that shows the effect of peer pressure on transgenderism.” Van Mol has a long anti-LGBTQ record, including advocacy in favor of forcibly changing sexuality or gender identity through the discredited and harmful practice of conversion therapy. He has actively worked to oppose measures to protect LGBTQ people from the practice.

    Illinois Family Institute’s Laurie Higgins: Brown “cave[d] to cross-dressers and their collaborators.” Laurie Higgins of the extreme anti-LGBTQ state organization Illinois Family Institute wrote that Brown “cave[d] to cross-dressers and their collaborators” after feeling “the wrath of men in dresses with flowing tresses and bearded women in dungarees.” Higgins called Brown’s removal of its article about the study “censorship” and claimed, “No matter how well a study is designed and executed, if trannies don’t like the findings, ‘progressive’ universities will not draw attention to it even if the study is conducted by their own faculty.” Higgins previously called transgender identity a “superstition” and compared trans people and their allies to a cult. She has also praised the Trump-Pence administration’s plan to redefine “gender” to exclude the transgender community.

    Right-wing media and proponents of the study have called the re-evaluation “academic censorship” and said Brown and PLOS ONE caved to LGBTQ activists

    Proponents of ROGD launched a petition to “defend academic freedom and scientific inquiry” by supporting Littman’s research. Supporters of the ROGD concept launched a petition urging Brown and PLOS ONE to “defend academic freedom and scientific inquiry” in response to the study’s re-evaluation. The petition implies that the study was being censored, claiming that Brown and PLOS ONE should “resist ideologically-based attempts to squelch controversial research evidence.” The petition, which currently has 4,900 signatures, was shared by some of the same anti-trans websites where Littman collected data for her study, including 4thwavenow and Transgender Trend.

    Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on Brown’s decision: “Acknowledging reality itself becomes a criminal act; superstition reigns. The dark ages have arrived.” Fox prime-time host Tucker Carlson claimed that Brown was “censoring” Littman’s study and stopped promoting it because “activists descended” and “were offended by the conclusions of the study.” Carlson claimed that activists found Littman’s conclusions “ideologically inconvenient and therefore unacceptable.” He also asserted that they “demanded that the data be suppressed, and remarkably, Brown caved to their demands.” Carlson has previously denied the existence of the trans community, claimed that trans-affirming policies would hurt women, and hosted anti-transgender guests like ACPeds’ Cretella on his show. From the September 11 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight:

    TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): Brown University is censoring a scientific study by one of its own researchers because political activists don't like it. In a paper published earlier this month, a tenured Brown professor called Lisa Littman found that teenagers who say they want to switch genders are often influenced, not surprisingly, by friends and social media like all young people are. Well, the study was solid enough to be picked up by a reputable scientific journal. In fact, Brown’s PR department sounded a press release promoting the study. But then activists descended. They were offended by the conclusions of the study, not because the conclusions were wrong -- no one even argued they were wrong -- but because the conclusions were ideologically inconvenient and therefore unacceptable. They demanded that the data be suppressed, and remarkably, Brown caved to their demands. The university yanked the press release and apologized for sending it in the first place.

    This is not really about Brown. This is what it looks like when reason itself dies: Politics trump science; empirical conclusions are banned; acknowledging reality itself becomes a criminal act; superstition reigns. The dark ages have arrived. This is what they told you the Christian right wanted to do. They were lying. As soon as they took power, they did it themselves. Of course.

    The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro: “The left went insane” over Littman’s study, “so Brown caved” in an act of “academic tyranny.” The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro claimed that “Brown immediately caved” by removing its article because “any effort to actually research the environmental component of transgenderism is met with raucous calls for censorship.” Shapiro alleged that PLOS ONE and Brown “turned against the study because it offended politically correct sensibilities about transgenderism” and called the situation “academic tyranny.”

    Shapiro: “Science is taking a back seat to the realities of political correctness.” On his show, Shapiro repeated talking points from his Daily Wire post and claimed that Brown had “buried the study” and “caved” because “it offended politically correct sensibilities about transgenderism.” He called the move “insane,” claimed that “science is taking a back seat to the realities of political correctness,” and called leaders at Brown “cowards.” Shapiro then predicted that Brown would fire Littman, saying that the left “will go after anyone who does not follow the basic leftist consensus on politics, they will destroy science in order to do so, and they will censor people.” Shapiro has a history of anti-transgender bigotry, including calling transgender troops “mentally ill soldiers” and mocking transgender men and women who date them. He has also called being trans a “mental disorder” and “tyranny of the individual.”

    One America News’ Liz Wheeler: “This is even creepier, I think, than just stifling free speech. This is akin to book banning and book burning.” On the September 7 edition of One America News’ The Tipping Point, host Liz Wheeler railed that Brown’s decision to remove its article on the study was “even creepier, I think, than just stifling free speech,” comparing it to “book banning and book burning.” She continued, “This is taking a scientific study because it doesn't substantiate your political view and erasing it. That's so creepy.” Wheeler’s guest Amber Athey, a Daily Caller contributor, asserted that Brown “decided to get rid of the study not because they think that it didn’t meet scientific standards but just because they don’t like the results of it.”

    Wheeler: Brown is participating in “thought control. … That’s incredible scary. That is 1984.” In another segment, Wheeler repeatedly claimed that Brown’s removal of its post about the study was an example of “thought control.” Wheeler and her guest, The Daily Caller’s Anders Hagstrom, compared the situation to the dystopian novel 1984 and the Soviet era. Wheeler had previously criticized the Boy Scouts for accepting transgender youth and has suggested that affirming trans identities will lead to accepting “transracial, “transable,” and “transbaby” identities in which people believe themselves to be of a different race, ability or disability, or age. From the September 17 edition of One America News’ The Tipping Point:

    ANDERS HAGSTROM (REPORTER, THE DAILY CALLER): I know there’s a study at Brown college where a similar thing happened where this -- I can't remember if it was a he or a she who did this study, but they basically found that something regarding transgenders and a gender dysphoria and the way that children may grow out of it. And people objected to what that study found, and they just said, “OK, you're not allowed to publish that anymore. You can’t do any more research.”

    LIZ WHEELER (HOST): Right, because it might offend activists who are advocating for the transgender ideology.

    HAGSTROM: Yeah, exactly, because it might offend people.

    WHEELER: This is why I say this is thought control, because when you pick and choose what information is to be made public, and you pick and choose what you're going to hide from the American people because it might influence their thought in a way that you don't want. That's incredibly scary. That is 1984. That is thought control. It goes beyond the speech control.

    HAGSTROM: It’s Soviet, yeah.

    WHEELER: The way that you control speech is you control what people are allowed to put in their heads so that they can form those ideas. It's terrifying, and it’s sanctioned now by liberals on these campuses.

    Breitbart’s Tom Ciccotta: “Brown University has decided that not displeasing the LGBT community is more important than having its professors research this phenomenon.” On August 30, Breitbart News’ Tom Ciccotta wrote that Brown had “censored a research paper on gender dysphoria” because the university “decided that not displeasing the LGBT community is more important than having its professors research this phenomenon.” Breitbart often pushes anti-transgender narratives and cites ACPeds’ anti-transgender positions as credible.

    The Federalist’s Robert Tracinski: “Is transgender the new anorexia?” The Federalist’s Robert Tracinski called Littman’s study a “blockbuster” for arguing that transgender identities “might be a ‘social contagion’ -- a maladaptive coping technique for troubled teens, spread by peer groups and the Internet.” Tracinski claimed that Brown retracted its press release “in response to a furious outcry from transgender activists” who saw the research as a “threat.” He also posited that the study began because researchers saw “eerie parallels” of “social contagion” between eating disorders such as anorexia and transgender identities, and then highlighted the study’s assertion that so-called ROGD, “with the subsequent drive to transition, may represent a form of intentional self-harm.” He further claimed that medical professionals who offer gender-affirming care are “ideologically motivated gender dysphoria specialists” who “have engaged in massive malpractice in their zeal to ‘affirm’ their young patients’ self-diagnosis.”

    The Federalist’s Joy Pullman: Brown “repressed” the study because it reinforces the idea that “transgenderism looks a lot like a dangerous fad.” Federalist Executive Editor Joy Pullmann wrote that Brown had “repressed” Littman’s study “after a transgender activist feeding frenzy.” She continued, “The reason trans activists went nuts is that the study reinforces what plenty of parents, public health experts, and doctors have been saying: Transgenderism looks a lot like a dangerous fad.” She also said that transgender advocates “demand[ed] suppressing the results” and that Brown “chose to prioritize the unreasonable demands of a tiny minority above the potential well-being of children and the process of scientific inquiry.” Pullman admitted that “the study design has many flaws — self selection and self reporting among them.” However, she claimed that it was “comparable in quality to studies that LGBT activists amplify when it serves their narratives.” Despite its flaws, Pullman still praised the study because “Littman found a number of things that make transgender narratives look terrible.” The Federalist is a go-to outlet for conservatives to push anti-LGBTQ stories, compare transgender inclusion to “transgender authoritarianism,” and call gender-affirming procedures “mutilation.” From the August 31 post:

    This makes it obvious why transgender activists do not want this information public. It suggests many gender dysphoric young people hit a rough patch in life (or several), have poor or immature coping skills, and got the message from peers, online, or both that transgenderism was a handy, simple explanation for their feelings that also offered instant social acceptance and attention.

    National Review’s Madeleine Kearns: Brown “succumbed to political pressure” and “sacrificed its core principles of scientific inquiry and truth-seeking.” In a post titled “Why Did Brown University Bow to Trans Activists?” National Review’s Madeline Kearns claimed that Brown and PLOS ONE “succumbed to political pressure” by re-evaluating the study and that the university “appears more concerned with its marketability than with finding truth,” which she said “undermines academic freedom.” Though she acknowledged that there were concerns about the sample of parents coming from 4thwavenow and other biased websites, Kearns suggested that Brown’s removal of its article about Littman’s study was “cowardice” and “part of a bigger trend” -- an example of how “a radical ideological lobby has, once again, been highly effective in bullying dissenters into silence.” She concluded that Brown “sacrificed its core principles of scientific inquiry and truth-seeking to the feelings of ‘some members’ of their community.” National Review has a history of providing a platform to anti-LGBTQ figures such as anti-transgender conservative commentator David French, who in a May 9 article repeatedly misgendered Chelsea Manning and declared, “He’s a man.”

  • Abortion opponents celebrate Kavanaugh’s confirmation as their chance to end Roe v. Wade

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Following the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, anti-abortion advocates stopped downplaying the newest justice’s stance on abortion rights. Instead, once Kavanaugh had secured the necessary votes in the Senate, abortion opponents celebrated his confirmation as an opportunity to end Roe v. Wade once and for all.

    On October 6, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed 50-48 to be an associate justice on the Supreme Court despite multiple credible reports that Kavanaugh committed sexual assault when he was in high school and college. In order to generate support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation, some right-wing media and anti-abortion advocates argued that Kavanaugh would not pose a threat to Roe or abortion rights in general. This was belied by Kavanaugh’s record on abortion access and comments about Roe and contraception before and during his confirmation hearing.

    After his confirmation, abortion opponents dropped this pretense and celebrated Kavanaugh for what he always was: the culmination of years of work by conservative and anti-abortion activists to reverse Roe. Here are some examples:

    Anti-abortion advocates celebrated the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court

    • Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List and frequent White House guest, tweeted in celebration that “Beautiful change is afoot. The wheels are turning.” During the confirmation process, Dannenfelser tweeted in support of Kavanaugh following reports that he had previously committed sexual assault, saying that the anti-abortion movement was not going to “help destroy a man” as part of a “PR image” to appear “pro woman.”
    • Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said in a press release, “For the first time in decades, this nomination -- his nomination -- brought with it the reality of returning to a truly constitutionalist court. Many on the Left couldn’t stand such a thought. And for that, he and his family have paid a tremendous price. … Today was a major step in the journey to restore the Constitution to its rightful and intended role in our Republic.” The idea of “returning to a truly constitutional court” or being a “strict constitutionalist” is often used by anti-abortion advocates to indicate coded support for overturning Roe because they do not believe the Constitution supports the Supreme Court’s decision.
    • Students for Life of America tweeted, “What do you call someone attacked viciously by Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and every other anti-life group in the country? Justice.”
    • National Review’s Alexandra DeSanctis tweeted, “Just got a fundraising email from Planned Parenthood with the subject line ‘we’re heartbroken.’ I’m not usually a huge fan of spiking the football but...that feels pretty good.”
    • The Federalist’s Bre Payton tweeted, “the tears... they taste... delicious” in response to an actor expressing distress over Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
    • In response to a tweet from NARAL Pro-Choice America’s Ilyse Hogue that “it’s okay to feel anything right now” about Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Media Research Center’s Katie Yoder replied, “Even happiness?”

    Some abortion opponents celebrated Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a sign that Roe v. Wade could be weakened or even imminently overturned

    • After Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) tweeted a picture of a baby and said, “Soon, babies like this little angel will be protected in the womb by law.” King recently met with President Donald Trump to discuss his proposed federal heartbeat bill that would effectively ban abortion in the U.S.
    • White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said that by nominating Kavanaugh, Trump was fulfilling his promise to appoint justices who would overturn Roe, and that now “people are going to look at state law and circuit law” to determine the legality of abortion. Since former Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement in June, this talking point has been used frequently by abortion opponents to suggest that overturning Roe wouldn’t outlaw abortion, but would instead return power to regulate reproductive rights to the states. However, this argument ignores both the difficulties of accessing abortion -- particularly for low-income people -- in states that could ban or restrict abortion, as well as abortion rights’ precarious reliance on a handful of pro-choice governors and state legislatures.
    • Priests for Life’s Bryan Kemper celebrated Kavanaugh’s confirmation and outlined what he thought the process would now be for banning abortion nationwide:

    • Operation Rescue’s Troy Newman said in a press release about Kavanaugh’s confirmation that Roe was a "wrongly decided ruling that has cost over 60 million innocent lives. I understand that overturning that horrendous decision will take time, but I believe we are now at last on the final road to accomplishing our goal of ending abortion in America.”
    • Similarly, March for Life President Jeanne Mancini said, “The Supreme Court plays a critical role in pro-life policy and has for decades. We look forward to Justice Kavanaugh’s tenure on the bench and the impact his dedicated public service will have towards creating a country where every human life is valued and protected equally under the law.”
    • The state anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life tweeted, “Texas Right to Life is optimistic that Judge Kavanaugh will prove to be a principled justice who will consistently recognize the Right to Life of all human beings.”
    • On Fox News Channel’s Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Robert Jeffress said that he had “never seen Christians as stirred up about anything” as the Kavanaugh confirmation because “they knew that what really was at issue was the fear by the left that if Justice Kavanaugh got on the court, he might diminish in some way the number of babies being murdered every year through abortion -- that he would chip away at Roe v. Wade.”
    • Students for Life of America (SFLA) President Kristan Hawkins tweeted, “It’s done! Onward to reverse Roe and #abolishabortion!! This is the #prolifegen!”
    • On the day of the Senate confirmation vote, SFLA also posted a video titled “We Can Overturn Roe v. Wade.” The video argued that “the end of Roe v. Wade is in our sights now that Judge Brett Kavanaugh has been confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States” and also outlined how Kavanaugh could be the fifth vote to overturn Roe. In the video, Hawkins also emphasized that allowing states to regulate abortion would be advantageous to the anti-abortion movement because SFLA has chapters in every state that would work to outlaw abortion entirely. Here are some screenshots from the video:

    Other abortion opponents used Kavanaugh’s confirmation to mock or attack those opposed to Kavanaugh

    • Eric Barber, a councilman in West Virginia, posted and then deleted a comment in a private Facebook group saying, “Better get you’re (sic) coathangers ready liberals” in response to the news that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) was voting for Kavanaugh.
    • American Life League tweeted:

    • One America News’ Liz Wheeler, who has promoted conspiracy theories about Planned Parenthood, tweeted:

    • CRTV’s Allie Beth Stuckey -- best known for her fake interview with politician Alexandria Ocasio Cortez -- celebrated Kavanaugh’s confirmation and lambasted Democrats for their “debased, depraved tactics” and accused protesters of being “unhinged.”
    • Human Coalition’s Lauren Enriquez tweeted that she was “grateful to those men” in the Senate who voted to confirm Kavanaugh “for not letting tantrums interrupt the democratic process.”
    • In response to a video of an anti-Kavanaugh protester, Human Defense Initiative’s Devin Sena tweeted, “Purely demonic. Satan isn't happy that one day soon God's children will be allowed to be born.” As the Senate appeared likely to confirm Kavanaugh, Sena tweeted in celebration, “Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton are without question the most egregiously unconstitutional decisions of all time. It's past time they are overturned! #ConfirmKavanaugh.”
    • Operation Rescue’s Cheryl Sullenger -- who was sentenced to prison for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic in 1987, and has recently promoted Qanon conspiracy theories -- tweeted in response to a video of anti-Kavanaugh protesters:

  • Trump pushes false anti-abortion talking point claiming there's a lack of public support for Roe​

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    In a recent interview, President Donald Trump repeated a right-wing, anti-abortion talking point alleging that Americans’ support for abortion is evenly divided. This talking point -- and Trump’s comment -- has emerged as part of the push to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and to paint any warnings about his likelihood of overturning of Roe v. Wade as overblown.

  • The Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade. Don’t buy these right-wing excuses that it’s not a big deal.

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Following the announcement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, media have been speculating about the possibility of a nominee selected by President Donald Trump casting the deciding vote overturning Roe v. Wade.

    While some mainstream outlets have rightly warned about the likelihood and negative impacts of overturning, or even further hollowing out, Roe’s protections, many conservative outlets and figures deployed a variety of excuses either to suggest that Roe is not at risk or to downplay any potential negative effects such a move would have. But make no mistake -- the Trump administration and its anti-abortion allies haven’t been shy about their goal: making abortion inaccessible or even illegal in the United States, no matter what the consequences.

    In 2016, then-candidate Trump said in response to a debate question about whether he would overturn Roe: “Well, if we put another two or perhaps three justice on, that’s really what’s going to be — that will happen. And that’ll happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court.” Previously, in July 2016, then-vice presidential nominee Mike Pence said that he believed that electing Trump would lead to the overturning of Roe and that he wanted to see the decision “consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs.” In return, anti-abortion groups have also supported the administration -- a fact underscored by Trump’s keynote address at the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List’s (SBA List) gala in May.

    Despite the administration’s promise, conservative media and figures are deploying a number of inaccurate excuses to either deny or downplay the severity of the threat to abortion rights with another Trump-appointed justice on the court:

    1. Claiming that abortion rights are safe because Roe is precedent, and none of the current justices will vote to overturn it.

    In the aftermath of Kennedy’s announcement, some conservative media argued that abortion rights are not threatened because the sitting justices -- including Chief Justice John Roberts and Trump’s previous nominee Justice Neil Gorsuch -- would be reticent to overturn precedent.

    For example, an editorial in The Wall Street Journal argued that because “the Court has upheld [Roe’s] core right so many times, ... the Chief Justice and perhaps even the other conservatives aren’t likely to overrule stare decisis on a 5-4 vote.” Similarly, during a June 27 appearance on Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs Tonight, conservative lawyer Alan Dershowitz claimed that Roe is safe because “true conservatives also follow precedent,” and therefore any conservative appointee would not vote to overturn it. Short-serving former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci said it is unlikely that Roe would be overturned because “the court recognizes that there are certain fundamental principles that are in place and certain presidential precedent-setting principles in place." He concluded, “I know there are conservatives out there that want it to be overturned but I just don't see it happening."

    It appears highly unlikely that the new Supreme Court would keep Roe intact. Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern wrote that Kennedy’s retirement “ensured” that Roe will be overturned -- even if it ultimately will “die with a whimper” as the Supreme Court would allow anti-choice lawmakers to foist “extreme regulations on clinics, outlawing abortion after a certain number of weeks, or barring a woman from terminating a pregnancy on the basis of the fetus’ disability or identity.” As Stern concluded, “the constitutional right to abortion access in America is living on borrowed time.” This argument was also echoed by The Daily Beast’s Erin Gloria Ryan who contended that one more Supreme Court vote against abortion would mean that “the conservative minority in this country will have the power to uphold laws designed to force pregnant women into motherhood.” During the June 27 edition of MSNBC’s Deadline: White House, host Nicole Wallace explained that the impact of Kennedy’s retirement means “actually talking about a future generation growing up with abortion being illegal again” and “young women and men taking the kinds of risks that a generation now hasn't had to consider.”

    2. Arguing that Roe is “bad” law, and therefore a Trump nominee would only be correcting judicial overreach.

    In other instances, conservative media have argued that Roe is "bad" law because the constitution doesn't include a right to abortion. By this logic, they contend, a reversal of precedent is inconsequential because the new nominee would merely be helping correct previous judicial overreach.

    In an opinion piece for The Sacramento Bee, The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro argued that Roe v. Wade is a decision that was rendered “without even the most peremptory respect for the text and history of the Constitution,” but that “pleased the Left.” An improved Supreme Court, according to Shapiro, “would leave room for legislatures – Democrats or Republicans – to make laws that don’t conflict with the Constitution.”

    In National Review, Rich Lowry similarly said that Roe “is, in short, a travesty that a constitutionalist Supreme Court should excise from its body of work with all due haste.” Lowry concluded that Roe “has no sound constitutional basis” and implied that it should be overturned because it is an embarrassment for the court.

    The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway claimed on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier, “Even people who are pro-choice recognize that it was a poorly argued judicial decision.” She also said that Trump does not need to ask the judicial candidates about Roe v. Wade as “so many people regard it as such a poorly reasoned decision.” Fox News contributor Robert Jeffress also said on Fox News’ Hannity that Trump doesn’t need to ask about Roe because “there is no right to abortion.” Jeffress continued that though abortion is “nowhere in the Constitution” there is, however, a constitutionally protected “right to life that has been erased for 50 million children butchered in the womb since 1973.”

    But, as legal analyst Bridgette Dunlap wrote for Rewire.News, these claims that Roe is bad law are part of a conservative tactic to invalidate abortion rights more broadly. She explained: “In order to portray abortion rights as illegitimate, conservatives like to argue—inaccurately—that the Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade by inventing a right to privacy that is not grounded in the Constitution’s actual text.” Instead, she noted, Roe is based on the idea that “using the force of law to compel a person to use her body against her will to bring a pregnancy to term is a violation of her physical autonomy and decisional freedom—which the Constitution does not allow.”

    In addition, Roe is not just an important acknowledgement of the right to legally access abortion care -- even if states have already chipped away at the accessibility of that care. As Lourdes Rivera of the Center for Reproductive Rights explained in the National Law Journal, overturning Roe would impact the right to privacy and mean “uprooting a half-century of judicial decision-making, with profound consequences for our most cherished rights and essential freedoms.” Lawyer Jill Filipovic similarly wrote for Time magazine that “if Roe is done away with under the theory that privacy rights don’t exist, this could mean that there is no constitutional right to birth control, either.” In addition, she said, “cases that came after Roe, including Lawrence v. Texas, which invalidated a Texas law that criminalized sex between two men, were decided on similar premises — and could be similarly imperiled.”

    3. Claiming that abortion would not be completely outlawed because regulatory power would merely be “returned to the states.”

    A common argument by conservative media -- and in some cases, Trump himself -- is that an overturning of Roe would merely return abortion regulations to the states and not completely outlaw the practice.

    For instance, according to Fox News guest and constitutional attorney Mark W. Smith, even if Roe were overturned, it wouldn’t “outlaw abortion” in the United States, it would just allow “states and voters [to] decide what to do about abortion.” Fox News commentator Andrew Napolitano also made this claim, saying the “worst case scenario” is that if Roe “were to be repealed or reversed, the effect would be the 50 states would decide” their own abortion regulations. This inaccurate claim was also made during segments on CNN and MSNBC. During a June 27 appearance on CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin, CNN legal commentator and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli argued that “all overturning Roe v. Wade does is” give the regulation power “to the states.” The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol made a similar claim on MSNBC Live with Velshi and Ruhle, when he argued that overturning Roe would merely “kick [abortion regulation] back to the states.”

    In reality, sending abortion regulation “back to the states” would functionally outlaw abortion access across large parts of the country. As Reva Siegel, a professor at Yale Law School wrote for The New York Times, returning the issue to the states would be disastrous because already, “27 major cities are 100 miles or more from the nearest abortion provider, and we can expect these ‘abortion deserts’ in the South and the Midwest to spread rapidly” if states are given free reign. New York magazine’s Lisa Ryan similarly reported that currently “there are only 19 states in which the right to abortion would be secure” if Roe is overturned.

    This landscape could easily worsen with anti-abortion groups turning their attention more directly to legislation on the state level rather than the federal level. As HuffPost’s Laura Bassett noted, a number of “abortion cases are already worming their way through the lower courts” that could further entrench abortion restrictions in a number of states. In 2016, ThinkProgress explained what a world before Roe looked like: “Wealthy women were able to access safe, though illegal, abortions, but everyone else had to risk their safety and sometimes their lives, and doctors had to risk going to jail.”

    4. Casting blame on abortion rights supporters for “overreacting” or trying to “attack” any Trump nominee on principle.

    Another common reaction among conservative media has been to cast blame back on abortion rights supporters. In this case, right-wing media have attacked supporters of Roe for “overreacting” to the potential loss of abortion rights, and accused others of opposing Trump’s nominee not on facts, but on principle.

    For example, during the June 27 edition of Fox Business’ Making Money with Charles Payne, guest and attorney Gayle Trotter argued that abortion rights supporters were just “trying to scare people” in order to “defeat the president’s nominee.” Federalist Society Executive Vice President Leonard Leo also echoed this argument during a June 27 appearance on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier. According to Leo, “The left has been using the Roe v. Wade scare tactic since 1982, when Sandra O’Connor was nominated. And over 30 years later, nothing has happened to Roe v. Wade.”

    Similarly, on June 29, Trump supporters and YouTube personalities Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, popularly known as Diamond and Silk, appeared on Fox News’ Fox and Friends to discuss potential replacements for Kennedy. During the segment, Diamond asked why Democrats were “fearmongering” and “going into a frenzy” before knowing the nominee or their position on abortion. After interviewing Trump on Fox Business about his thought process for nominating Kennedy’s replacement, Maria Bartiromo said on the Saturday edition of Fox & Friends Weekend she believed that “all of this hysteria” about a potential overturn of Roe was being "a little overdone” by the left.

    Pro-choice advocates are not “overreacting” to potential attacks on the protections afforded by Roe. As journalist Irin Carmon explained on MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, Kennedy’s retirement “is the point that the conservative movement, that the anti-abortion movement, has been preparing for for 40 years” by “taking over state legislatures and passing laws that are engineered to chip away at the abortion right.” Carmon said that even with Kennedy on the bench, “access to abortion, and in many cases contraception, was a reality [only] on paper already.” Now, “it is disportionately Black and brown women who are going to suffer with the regime that is going to come forward.” Attorney Maya Wiley similarly argued on MSNBC’s The Beat that overturning of Roe would mean “essentially barring a huge percentage of women from huge swaths of the country from access” to abortion.

    5. Claiming that there’s no public support for Roe or abortion access.

    Polling shows a large majority of Americans support the outcome of Roe. But some right-wing media personalities have said that such findings ignore other polling about Americans’ supposed support for restrictions on later abortion.

    For example, The Weekly Standard’s John McCormack argued on Fox News’ Outnumbered Overtime that the claims of support for abortion access are inaccurate because there is a “great misunderstanding about Roe v. Wade” and the impact it has on abortion restrictions and that “there is actually pretty popular support for second trimester regulations.” This talking point has been used elsewhere, such as by the Washington Examiner and anti-abortion outlet Life News, in an attempt to discredit perceived support for Roe.

    The argument deployed by McCormack has also frequently been used by right-wing outlets in the past -- despite the disregard such an argument shows for the complexities involved in abortion polling. As Tresa Undem, co-founder and partner at the public-opinion research firm PerryUndem, wrote for Vox, most “standard measures” that are used “to report the public’s views on abortion ... don’t capture how people really think” about the issue. In contrast to right-wing media and anti-abortion claims, polling done by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Hart Research Associates shows that support for later abortions goes up when people realize that abortions in later stages of pregnancy are often undertaken out of medical necessity or for particular personal circumstances.

    As Trump prepares to announce his selection for the Supreme Court on Monday, July 7, right-wing and conservative media will only offer more of these excuses to downplay that Roe v. Wade is firmly in the crosshairs.

  • The Supreme Court just enabled fake health clinics to lie to patients

    Right-wing media are calling it a "win" for the First Amendment

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT & SHARON KANN

    On June 26, the Supreme Court decided National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra in favor of a network of fake health clinics. Right-wing media and anti-abortion organizations framed the decision as a “win” for the First Amendment, but those outlets (and even some more mainstream ones) ignored that these clinics are harmful and actively deceive people seeking abortions.

  • Kevin Williamson says he was persecuted. Abortion providers and patients face much worse.

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    What’s a would-be conservative provocateur to do after being fired for misleading his employer and arguing on multiple occasions that people who’ve had abortions should be hanged? If you’re former National Review writer Kevin Williamson, the answer is apparently pontificating in The Wall Street Journal about your perceived victimization at the hands of the unsophisticated masses and media elite alike, who just don’t respect your audacity to “tell people things they don’t want to hear.”

    In his April 20 Wall Street Journal article, Williamson argued that his “trollish and hostile” comments about hanging women who have abortions were meant as rhetorical strategy to highlight “the sloppy rhetoric of the abortion debate,” and not as “a public-policy recommendation.” He argued that his comments instead detracted from his intended purpose of discussing "the more meaningful questions about abortion," claiming that "there aren’t very many people on the pro-choice side ... who are ready to talk candidly about the reality of abortion.”

    Williamson’s idea that people are unwilling to have candid conversations about abortion tells us far more about Williamson and the state of right-wing punditry than about the nature of conversations about abortion among pro-choice advocates. Abortion rights advocates have emphasized the importance of empowering people to share their abortion experiences. In contrast, right-wing media have long demonized and vilified those who have abortions, describing the legal medical procedure as “sickening,” “grisly,” and on par with terrorism. In some instances, abortion providers are attacked as villains and compared to Nazis while those who have had later abortions are called “selfish and disgusting.” 

    Abortion is a common health care experience in the United States. But right-wing media outlets and personalities -- particularly those self-styled as edgy firebrands -- show little sign of candidly engaging on the topic in good faith. For example, in 2016, in response to a woman sharing her abortion story with The New York Times, The Daily Caller “edited” her narrative “for accuracy and clarity” and added stigmatizing language and ad hominem attacks in brackets. In 2014, Renee Bracey Sherman wrote about the litany of threatening “Facebook posts, messages, emails, and tweets” she received after authoring a piece about her abortion experience.

    For Williamson, victimization appears to mean suffering the slings and arrows of conservatives and liberals in “the Twitter mob,” or being denied “sponsorships from Google and Pepsi.” Meanwhile, abortion providers, patients, and clinics in the United States are consistently and openly subjected to targeted harassment and in some cases violence. According to data from the National Abortion Federation (NAF), targeted harassment of abortion providers and clinics rose in 2016 to the highest levels seen since NAF began tracking incidents in 1977, including “a wide range of intimidation tactics meant to disrupt the provision of health care at facilities, including vandalism, picketing, obstruction, invasion, trespassing, burglary, stalking, assault and battery, and bomb threats.” Since 1993, attacks on abortion clinics and abortion providers have led to 11 deaths, including a 2015 attack on a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic that killed three and injured at least nine more.

    Already in 2018 there have been numerous reports of violence or threats against abortion clinics. In February, anti-abortion activist Luke Wiersma was “charged with sending a series of online death threats to Chicago-area abortion clinics,” and according to one report, Wiersma allegedly said that he would “do anything and everything to stop the unmitigated murders of fetuses” including “kill to stop these atrocities.” In another incident, in New Jersey, Marckles Alcius “deliberately crashed a stolen truck” into a Planned Parenthood clinic and “indicated to investigators after his arrest that the act was intentional and that he was willing to die.” These are hardly isolated incidents -- similar attacks or threats have also been recently reported in Illinois, Utah, Texas, Pennsylvania, California, Washington, Massachusetts, and more.

    Beyond bemoaning his alleged victimization, Williamson also argued that his undoing was the result of “the rage-fueled tribalism of social media” and that “no one is very much interested in my actual views on abortion and capital punishment.”

    Actually, we’re very interested. And the one in four women who have had an abortion in the United States are even more so. Williamson and his cadre of right-wing allies will continue to attempt to reframe the conversation away from the substance of his remarks -- to make his firing about anything other than the ramifications of his own rancor. Williamson will continue to play the victim, but that doesn’t change the facts: He was not a conservative thought leader sacrificed at the altar of vindictive liberal bias and elitism. He casually and cruelly gave voice to the idea that people who’ve had abortions should be brutally murdered.

    Kevin Williamson isn’t the victim of a vast left-wing conspiracy, or even an ill-informed “Twitter mob.” He’s only the victim of his own desire to provoke, no matter whom his argument may hurt -- and he’s learning what it’s like to be held accountable for his actions.

  • Media Matters' Sharon Kann discusses Kevin Williamson on SiriusXM's Tell Me Everything

    Kann says Williamson’s abortion comments show the importance of investigating the “fragmented media space”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    On the April 9 edition of SiriusXM’s Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang, Media Matters’ Sharon Kann spoke about The Atlantic’s firing of Kevin Williamson after Media Matters uncovered a National Review podcast in which Williamson affirmed his belief that people who have abortions should be hanged. Kann told host John Fugelsang that such comments -- particularly given the podcast format in which they were discovered -- demonstrate the importance of investigating the “fragmented media space”:

    JOHN FUGELSANG (HOST): You went through a lot of Fox News to find these comments.

    [...]

    SHARON KANN: After that, we kind of figured too that -- I think it’s something that’s very interesting about our current media environment and something that my team has been increasingly interested in looking at across the spectrum of news outlets, not just Fox, but how access to different media platforms or the creation of this fragmented media space where people can get all their information from Facebook or from podcasts, how that’s impacted the veracity of information that’s even put out, particularly about abortion. So after we did -- looking at all of his Fox News appearances -- we found out he had had a podcast with another National Review writer Charles Cooke and decided to dig into that and do another post.

    Kann further explained that the fragmented media space is creating a pipeline that helps extremists end up on mainstream outlets, including shows like Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight:

    FUGELSANG: What do you think is the public impact of trolls finding a voice in highly respected publications? I mean, this phenomena is not going to lessen in the years to come, is it?

    KANN: I don’t think it will lessen. I think hopefully people’s consciousness will be raised about it, and there will sort of be a higher standard of attention paid, both among people who are inputting or receiving that information and when people are making hiring decisions. I think more broadly, I mean, the effect of trolls is something that we’ve been reckoning with I think on a national platform level since the election, but I think in the aftermath we’ve been continuing to think through. You know, in the context of just trolling you’ll hear a lot -- we’ve done some work that you can find on our website about how, at least in the context of anti-abortion sentiment, there are people who will go and agitate on platforms specifically dedicated to being anti-abortion and spreading misinformation who will then agitate on Twitter, agitate on Facebook, and find themselves on Tucker Carlson’s program.

    FUGELSANG: Yep.

    KANN: And so I think attention to the pipelines that are being operated through and attention to what type of sentiment is getting pickup and going from just communities of trolls to a wider platform will be increasingly important.

  • Kevin Williamson’s real enemy wasn’t the left. It was Kevin Williamson.

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On Thursday, Atlantic Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg announced that the publication had cut ties with conservative columnist Kevin Williamson just a couple weeks after hiring him. Williamson’s move from the conservative National Review to The Atlantic -- a magazine whose commentators typically straddle the center-left and center-right -- was controversial from the first. Critics highlighted Williamson’s disparaging remarks about people of color and transgender people. But the debate quickly focused on 2014 tweets in which the writer argued that women who have abortions should be punished as murderers, with penalties that could include death by hanging. In a March 27 memo, Goldberg defended his decision to hire Williamson, suggesting that the writer’s tweets about abortion were an example of impulsive, bad behavior on Twitter, rather than an expression of a carefully considered worldview. But after Media Matters on Wednesday resurfaced audio in which Williamson reiterated and defended that abortion position, Goldberg issued a second memo stating that the magazine had cut ties with Williamson.

    Goldberg’s announcement triggered a wave of enraged reactions from other conservative commentators, with some describing the decision as an unfair silencing of Williamson’s views and part of a broader effort to ban conservatives in general and those with pro-life views in particular from mainstream publications.

    This position ignores a number of key points: the right of editors to determine what views they want represented by their staff, the difference between Williamson's views and the majority of those held by pro-life commentators, and what appear to be the specific facts surrounding Williamson's brief tenure at The Atlantic. And most importantly, it inaccurately inflates a highly specific hiring controversy at a single publication into a larger campaign to purge mainstream opinion writing of conservative thinkers.

    The Atlantic’s editor has the right to decide which views are represented by its writers.

    The editor of every magazine or newspaper opinions section makes decisions about which views are acceptable for its writers, making determinations about how to draw those lines based on the particular intellectual project of the outlet.

    Williamson’s former National Review colleague Jonah Goldberg argues for a distinction. “Editors or owners should have absolute authority to control what appears in the pages of their magazines,” he writes, but what “editors should not have any control over is what their writers are allowed to think.” The Atlantic’s editors would have been within their rights to turn down a pitch from Williamson calling for harsh punishments for women who have abortions, under this rule, but not to fire him for making the argument in other venues.

    This is not how that principle is generally applied, including at National Review. In April 2012, Rich Lowry, the magazine’s editor, dropped longtime columnist John Derbyshire and contributor Robert Weissberg over racist commentary they issued in other venues. Lowry fired Derbyshire after he wrote an essay for another magazine in which he recommended that parents tell their children to be wary of black people, and said he would no longer publish Weissberg after he gave a speech at a white nationalist convention in which he explained how zoning laws and other methods could be used to create "Whitopias" in the United States.

    In both cases, Lowry specifically stated that he was dropping the commentator for his comments in other venues. In announcing he was cutting ties with Derbyshire, Lowry said that while the columnist was “a deeply literate, funny, and incisive writer,” his essay had been “so outlandish it constitutes a kind of letter of resignation.” Lowry concluded: “It's a free country, and Derb can write whatever he wants, wherever he wants. Just not in the pages of NR or NRO, or as someone associated with NR any longer.” He likewise stated that he would no longer publish Weissberg due to his “noxious talk.”

    Lowry decided that he did not want Derbyshire’s or Weissberg’s racist commentary associated with the magazine he edited, even though they had not made those arguments at National Review. Jeffrey Goldberg has the same right to say that Williamson’s views fall outside the bounds of The Atlantic’s intellectual project and bring discredit to the magazine. We can argue about whether that magazine is making a wise decision in which views are permissible, but it’s simply inaccurate to suggest that the editor’s behavior is unusual -- even on the right.

    Williamson’s abortion comments were extreme and outside the bounds of current debate.

    Williamson was “Fired From The Atlantic For Opposing Abortion,” according to a headline at the right-wing website The Federalist. Nonsense. Several conservative writers in mainstream opinion sections oppose abortion (The New York Times’ Ross Douthat and The Washington Post’s Marc Thiessen, to name two). They represent the sizable minority of Americans who share that view.

    But Williamson argued not merely against abortion, but in favor of punishment up to death for women who have abortions. How far outside the bounds of typical debate is that view? Douthat and the conservative orthodox Christian commentator Rod Dreher -- both pro-life writers who oppose Williamson’s firing -- each describe it as “extreme,” with Dreher adding that “Kevin is the only pro-lifer I know who believes this — and I didn’t know he believed it until it came out after his hiring was announced.”

    Most anti-abortion groups and politicians also reject Williamson’s position. After Trump floated the idea of “some form of punishment" for women who have abortions, March for Life issued a statement calling the comment "completely out of touch with the pro-life movement and even more with women who have chosen such a sad thing as abortion." There are a few rare and disturbing cases in which conservative candidates have suggested punishing women for having abortions. But those proposals are outliers and have made little headway, suggesting that they're of limited value even in conservative political spaces.

    We can argue about whether the current bounds of debate should have been stretched to allow oxygen to the notion of hanging women who have abortions. But that’s what the debate is about, not whether “opposing abortion” is suddenly a position that is verboten at mainstream publications.

    Williamson appears to have been fired for misleading Goldberg about his abortion position. If he hadn’t done so, it’s unlikely he would have been hired.

    Williamson’s supporters want to portray him as a free speech martyr, the victim of a cowardly editor who refused to stand up to the anti-abortion mob. “Williamson's views are not a surprise to anyone and he was hired despite those views until they became inconvenient for Goldberg,” writes The Resurgent’s Erick Erickson.

    It’s impossible to reconcile that claim with Goldberg’s two memos, in which The Atlantic editor-in-chief strongly suggests that he always considered the belief that women should receive punishment that could include the death penalty unacceptable for a writer for his publication.

    In his first memo, Goldberg suggested that Williamson had been hired in spite of the “most horrible” abortion tweet, which he described as indefensible and unacceptable but aberrant. In the second, we get a sense of why Goldberg was so willing to overlook the tweet. In his telling, Williamson had misled him, explaining the tweet as “an impulsive, decontextualized, heat-of-the-moment post,” not as representative of “his carefully considered views.” The public resurfacing of audio in which Williamson defended the tweet, along with comments Goldberg said Williamson had made to him after being hired, convinced Goldberg that Williamson did actually hold the position indicated by his tweet. This destroyed the argument Goldberg made in support of hiring him despite the tweet, leading to Williamson’s firing.

    Goldberg deserves no credit for this affair -- he failed to properly vet Williamson’s work. If Goldberg believes that writers at The Atlantic should not hold a particular view, it is his responsibility to ensure that they don’t before he hires them.

    Goldberg represented himself in his first memo as an authority on Williamson’s work, in contrast to those who were arguing against his hiring. “I have read most, or much, of what he has written; some of his critics have not done the same,” he wrote.

    If Goldberg had done his due diligence on Williamson, then based on his own standards for the magazine he never would have hired him. But his effort apparently amounted to taking Williamson’s word that his tweet was an anomaly; it was Media Matters that found the podcast proving otherwise, leading to the termination.

    Liberals are not trying to ban all conservatives from mainstream opinion sections.

    Many on the right are sounding the alarm following Williamson’s firing. “Conservative thought is more and more relegated to a ghetto and should any prominent conservative try to leave the ghetto, the leftwing mob will take action to destroy them,” warned Erickson in a piece representative of this sentiment.

    The concern that liberals seek to indiscriminately “destroy” any conservative commentator who dares land a job at a mainstream outlet is dramatically overblown.

    By my count, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic have hired eight conservative or libertarian commentators to contribute opinion pieces since the 2016 election. If the theory Erickson espouses were true, each would have been greeted with denunciations from across the liberal commentariat and calls for the firings of the newly minted columnists. But if you consider the reaction to each hire individually (acknowledging that on the Internet, you can always find someone making any argument), that did not happen.

    The only recently hired columnist whose backlash approached Williamson’s was Bret Stephens at the Times -- and the loudest voices against them came from different factions of the left: women’s rights groups in Williamson’s case and climate activists in Stephens’ case. The hirings of four -- Hugh Hewitt, Gary Abernathy, and Max Boot at the Post and Reihan Salam at The Atlantic -- were almost entirely ignored by progressives. And the treatment of the Post’s Megan McArdle and the TimesBari Weiss fell somewhere between these poles (with criticism of the latter largely coming in response to particular things she wrote after joining that paper). None of these other columnists have faced any serious threat to their employment.

    So no, there isn’t a liberal conspiracy to ban every conservative writer from the public sphere: There are a series of cases in which different liberal activists have responded differently to the hirings of different conservative writers based on their work. The conservative media’s incentive structures do encourage bigoted and extreme commentary that is not acceptable in more mainstream venues, but the record of the last few years demonstrates that right-wing thinkers who eschew or avoid the worst tendencies of their colleagues can escape that fate.

    Williamson should be a cautionary tale to other writers on the right -- but not for the reasons many of them think. Kevin Williamson’s problem wasn’t a climate of censorship in mainstream publications. In the end, it was Kevin Williamson.

  • The Atlantic fired Kevin Williamson for his abortion comments. Check out all this other stuff he said.

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    After previously defending the hiring of former National Review writer Kevin Williamson as an exercise in ideological diversity, Atlantic Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg announced on April 5 that the outlet was “parting ways” with Williamson. In particular, Goldberg noted that Williamson’s defense of his belief that those who have had abortion should be hanged “runs contrary to The Atlantic’s tradition of respectful, well-reasoned debate, and to the values of our workplace.”

    Although some chose to write off Williamson’s comments on abortion as offhand statements, in reality, Williamson defended and expanded his belief that those who have abortions should face hanging in a 2014 edition of his podcast, “Mad Dogs & Englishmen.” In the episode, Williamson said that although he was “kind of squishy on capital punishment in general,” he was “absolutely willing to see abortion treated like regular homicide” and in particular had “a soft spot for hanging as a form of capital punishment.”

    Beyond his statements about abortion, Williamson also has a long resume when it comes to problematic articles and commentary, on a variety of topics.

    Before he was fired, Media Matters was reviewing additional episodes of Williamson’s podcast. Here are some previously unreported lowlights from other subjects Williamson discussed on “Mad Dogs & Englishmen”:

    On race

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: But at the end of the day we also have to pay attention to the actual facts of the case. And the unhappy part of that story is that a lot of the complaint is based on fiction. A lot of what we have to say about it is based on fiction. It just simply is not the case that young black men are getting gunned down, unarmed, by police officers in any sort of significant numbers. It’s just not something that really happens.

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: And I don’t think that a lot of people talking about this right now really even quite understand what the basic genesis of these protests were and where they came from. I think [football player Colin] Kaepernick is a fairly unsympathetic character because he seems to be someone who doesn’t actually know very much what he’s talking about and kind of likes to play radical, maybe to make up for the fact that his sports career wasn’t all that promising there at the end.

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: Yeah, so the kid, as I was noting in my piece, he yells at me and calls me a “cracker” and “white devil” and whatnot. And the kid sort of looked to me like Snoop Dogg, the rapper. And, he had -- he was very thin, had that sort of pointy kind of wry face, and had some braids and everything too. So I mention in my piece, I sort of did the math, he was just under 4 feet high it looked like and Snoop Dogg is a bit over 6 feet high, that he looked like a three-fifth-scale Snoop Dogg. So apparently the fraction three-fifths now, according to Jamelle [Bouie], is inherently racist because --

    CHARLES COOKE (CO-HOST): Because of the Constitution?

    WILLIAMSON: Because of the three-fifths compromise over slavery in the Constitution. In which the unit in question, I note, was not three-fifths of a Snoop Dogg.

    On gender and sexual assault

    CHARLES COOKE (CO-HOST) But this notion that we will make it incumbent upon your boss to provide a health plan, then tell him what has to be in it, and then tell him that it’s none of his business is inherently absurd. 

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: Someone just needs to tell these brave feminist warrior princesses fighting the patriarchy that it’s time to stop asking Daddy to buy you stuff.

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: This makes me want to bang my head on the table, because it’s just complete B.S. So, this stat that we’re always treated to, endlessly discredited, that women earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn, is produced this way: Take all the earnings of all the women who have full-time jobs and all the earnings of men who have full-time jobs and compare them. Yes, and you will come up with that. But that doesn’t tell you anything about what sort of jobs they’re in, or how long they’ve been in the workforce or what kind of education they have, or anything else.

    [...]

    Now, that may be that some nefarious, sexist cabal somewhere is shunting all the women over into HR and putting the men in sales jobs, but it could also be other things, like choices that people make. Commission sales is an inherently insecure job; women are more risk-averse than men are.

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: So, people make different decisions about those sorts of things. And we all know this. I mean, you walk into an elementary school and you notice the male teachers because there’s relatively few of them. You go to other sorts of positions and you’ll notice women there because they stand out because there are relatively few women in those jobs.

    CHARLES COOKE (CO-HOST): Construction.

    WILLIAMSON: Construction, bouncers, things like that. Not that you would go into a strip club, but if you did go into a strip club you would notice a very pronounced division of labor between the people collecting the money at the door and the people performing on stage. They're just -- people make different sorts of decisions about things.

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: A lot of the reaction against Trump, and I say this as an up-and-down-the-line anti-Trump guy, isn’t based on his policies, it’s based on the sort of people who are attracted to him and his candidacy. And that’s what was on my mind very much while watching these stupid protests and marches and riots and all of that kind of stuff. I want there to be opposition to Trump, but I want it to be intelligent, mature, patriotic, and authentically liberal opposition to him. Instead, we got a bunch of self-infantilizing people dressed in vagina hats, screaming about tampons and that sort of thing.

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: So, let’s see, if the two candidates -- the two major party candidates were Bugs Bunny characters. … [Hillary Clinton is] a slightly Daffy Duck kind of character, I think in some ways. She’s got an annoying voice, she tends to blow herself up when there’s no particular reason to, things just tend not to go right for her, she’s an egomaniac. She could be sort of a Daffy Duck.

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: This is something I bang on a lot about I know, and forgive me for bringing it up here again but I think it is relevant, that the idea that there is an epidemic of rape on college campuses is, first of all, demonstrably untrue. That there’s an epidemic of rape anywhere in the country is demonstrably untrue. Sexual assault have declined something like 68 percent in the last 20 years.

    On immigration

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: When I’ve -- I’ve talked about using an income criterion as a kind of cut-off for not all of our immigration problems -- programs -- but a lot of immigration programs, and a pretty high way, say $200,000 a year is more or less OK. There’s background check and other stuff, but if you’re coming in at a wage like that, you’re not being hired probably because you’re the cheapest guy for the job. You’re being hired because someone is looking for a specific set of skills. Because I simply don’t think our country is going to made better off by importing a lot of poor people. It sounds callous to say, but I think we probably have enough poor people in the United States to start with. I don’t really look out at the country and see a shortage.

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: One of the other problems with the purely economic libertarian arguments about immigration is that people aren’t capital. They’re just not. They bring other stuff with them. And that stuff has to be taken into consideration, I think, as well. 

    CHARLES COOKE (CO-HOST): Well, and people care about culture.

    WILLIAMSON: Yeah, they do care about culture. And that actually matters and it should be taken into account. And people think this is chauvinistic or racist or Islamophobic or whatnot, but there’s no reason that stuff should not be taken into account because we do care about the composition of our society.

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: And this is where people start to get a little nervous on grounds of things that sound like discrimination to us, and maybe it is discrimination in a way. But I think it’s useful and healthy discrimination that obviously people who are looking to immigrate here from Pakistan or Afghanistan or Iran or Saudi Arabia should obviously, in my view, be subject to a much, much higher level of scrutiny than people who are coming here from Switzerland or Sweden.

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON: One of the things I think that we have to be even more forthright about is that we aren’t talking here about a geographic[al] question, we are here talking about a cultural question. We are talking about people who come from Islamic backgrounds. And that’s also going to hold true for many immigrants from the United Kingdom and from other Commonwealth countries that have large immigrant populations of their own from the Middle East. So, I’m thinking that someone who immigrated from Pakistan to the U.K. 20 years ago or 25 years ago, and now the family wants to immigrate to the United States, I would treat them essentially the same way as we would people immigrating from Pakistan. And that gets you into the problem, I guess, where you don’t really get to use the geographic dodge.

  • Kevin Williamson also said on his podcast that people who’ve had abortions should be hanged

    Update: Williamson out at The Atlantic

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE (4/5): After previously defending the hiring of former National Review writer Kevin Williamson as an exercise in ideological diversity, Atlantic Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg announced on April 5 that the outlet was “parting ways” with Williamson. In particular, Goldberg noted that Williamson’s defense of his belief that those who have had abortions should be hanged -- made in a podcast uncovered by Media Matters yesterday -- “runs contrary to The Atlantic’s tradition of respectful, well-reasoned debate, and to the values of our workplace.”

    Original article below. 

    The Atlantic recently sparked outrage after hiring former National Review writer Kevin Williamson -- who notoriously argued that “the law should treat abortion like any other homicide” with punishment including hanging. Although some have tried to make light of these comments, in reality, Williamson both defended and again promoted this belief during a September 2014 edition of his National Review podcast.

    Williamson has a long history of producing problematic articles and commentary on a variety of topics, including on abortion, transgender people, and immigrants. Several of Williamson’s defenders have downplayed his history emphasizing, in particular, that Williamson’s tweets on abortion should not be taken seriously. 

    For example, the National Review’s David French alleged that Williamson was being subjected to “the unbelievably tedious ‘gotcha’ exercise of angry progressives combing through” his articles and “attempting to define” him by pointing to “a few paragraphs, a sentence here or there, or an ill-considered tweet or two.” Similarly, Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum wrote that although he found some of Williamson’s work problematic, he dismissed the severity of his comments on abortion, saying: “Lots of conservatives believe that abortion is murder. Williamson was willing to take this publicly to its logical endpoint -- that women who get abortions should be prosecuted for murder one -- but that act of folly is the only difference between him and every other right-wing pundit.” 

    As Slate reported, in a memo sent to staff at The Atlantic, even Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg argued that he didn’t think “taking a person’s worst tweets, or assertions, in isolation is the best journalistic practice” and that he “would also prefer, all things being equal, to give people second chances and the opportunity to change. I’ve done this before in reference to extreme tweeting.” This sentiment was echoed by The New York Timesmuch maligned columnist Bret Stephens who remarked in his column: “I jumped at your abortion comment, but for heaven’s sake, it was a tweet.” 

    However, as Williamson himself explained in a September 2014 episode of his National Review podcast, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” he had no problem defending his view that he supported capital punishment for those who had an abortion and that what he “had in mind was hanging.” Notably, although Williamson did hedge saying that he was “kind of squishy on capital punishment in general” he was “absolutely willing to see abortion treated like regular homicide under the criminal code.”

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON (CO-HOST): And someone challenged me on my views on abortion, saying, “If you really thought it was a crime you would support things like life in prison, no parole, for treating it as a homicide.” And I do support that, in fact, as I wrote, what I had in mind was hanging.

    [...]

    WILLIAMSON: My broader point here is, of course, that I am a -- as you know I’m kind of squishy on capital punishment in general -- but that I’m absolutely willing to see abortion treated like a regular homicide under the criminal code, sure.

    Later in the same episode of the podcast, Williamson continued that when it came to punishment for those who had abortions, he “would totally go with treating it like any other crime up to and including hanging” -- going so far as to say that he had “a soft spot for hanging as a form of capital punishment” because “if the state is going to do violence, let’s make it violence. Let’s not pretend like we’re doing something else.”

    KEVIN WILLIAMSON (CO-HOST): But yeah, so when I was talking about, I would totally go with treating it like any other crime up to and including hanging -- which kind of, as I said, I’m kind of squishy about capital punishment in general, but I’ve got a soft spot for hanging as a form of capital punishment. I tend to think that things like lethal injection are a little too antiseptic --

    CHARLES C.W. COOKE (CO-HOST): Sure, if you’re going to do it.

    WILLIAMSON: -- quasi-medical -- yeah, if the state is going to do violence, let’s make it violence.

    COOKE: I absolutely agree.

    WILLIAMSON: Let’s not pretend like we’re doing something else.

    [...]

    WILLIAMSON: I think in some ways it’s worse than your typical murder. I mean, it’s absolutely premeditated --

    COOKE: It’s clinical.

    WILLIAMSON: --it’s clinical.

    COOKE: Literally.

    WILLIAMSON: Yes, it’s something that’s performed against the most vulnerable sort of people. And that’s the sort of thing we generally take into account in the sentencing of other murder cases. You know, murdering a four year old kid, is not the same as killing a 21-year-old guy.

  • We reviewed Kevin Williamson's past work. The Atlantic hiring him is even worse than you think.

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    After The Atlantic hired former National Review writer Kevin Williamson, Media Matters and a number of others called out Williamsons’ history of problematic commentary -- including his belief that “the law should treat abortion like any other homicide” and, as Rewire.News characterized it, that “women who have had abortions should face capital punishment, namely hanging.” 

    It turns out there are plenty of other reasons that The Atlantic should feel bad about the new hire and his self-proclaimed commitment to “raising a brand new kind of hell.”

    Williamson attacked Laverne Cox as “a man masquerading as a woman” and said transgender people were not “super emotionally stable” because they are “living in adolescence”

    After writing an article attacking transgender advocate and actress Laverne Cox, Williamson reiterated his anti-trans claims on his podcast, saying that she is “not a woman” and that his belief shouldn’t be “controversial” because she is “a man masquerading as a woman.”

    During the same podcast, Williamson said that “sex reassignment surgery” is “brutal and lamentable” because it is “surgical mutilation basically for cosmetic purposes.”

    Williamson also said that some transgender people do not give “the impression of being super emotionally stable” because they are “self-dramatizing” and “theatrical.” He claimed this characterization is “unfortunately stereotypical” but nevertheless called it “an accurate description.”

    Williamson continued that transgender people are probably “living in adolescence” because “if you’re 40, and you’re still getting massive hormone treatments from a hormone that belongs to a sex that isn’t you, then, I guess, you should maybe be able to expect that this is going to be some sort of continued adolescence.”

    Williamson called Mexican immigrants “peasants” who “aren’t really contributing” and said they’ve made the border look “like Afghanistan”

    During a 2011 appearance on Lou Dobbs Tonight, Williamson not only called Mexican immigrants, “peasants” but also claimed that they “aren’t really contributing a great deal.” When pressed on this statement, Williamson said that the border between Texas and Mexico “looks like Afghanistan.”

    Williamson commented that he “certainly hopes” we have continued “waterboarding people somewhere”

    In a 2011 appearance on Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight, Williamson called for a continuation of waterboarding, saying: “We’re probably waterboarding people somewhere. I certainly hope so.”

    Williamson was “offended” that former first lady Michelle Obama “gripes about having to pay back her student loans”

    In 2012, Williamson used another appearance on Lou Dobbs Tonight to attack former first lady Michelle Obama, saying he was “offended” that Michelle Obama “gripes about having to pay back her student loans” because “when someone loans you money to do something that you want to do, that’s a favor.”

    Williamson told Parkland students that they “didn’t know anything” and claimed that “assault weapons” are not “actually very dangerous guns”

    During a 2010 appearance on CNN, Williamson argued that hunting rifles are more dangerous than “so-called assault weapons,” which are “not actually very dangerous guns.” Williamson also said that it wasn’t “an entirely irrational or paranoid belief” to think that the government would someday seize people’s guns.

    Then, last month on his own National Review podcast, “Mad Dogs & Englishmen,” Williamson attacked the high school students who survived a mass shooting at their Parkland, FL, school for advocating for stronger gun laws. Williamson compared the situation to asking people who had been in New York City during the 9/11 attacks for advice on the Middle East, saying, “We’re glad you made it through it OK. But you still don’t know anything.”

    Williamson attacked Maya Angelou, calling her a “cultural mascot” whose purpose is to “teach white liberals the meaning of life”

    Shortly after poet Maya Angelou’s passing in 2014, Williamson discussed her legacy on his podcast -- arguing that she was merely “a kind of cultural mascot” or “literary character that we tend to attach to older, African-American women” whose purpose is to “teach white liberals the meaning of life.”

    Additionally, Williamson has expressed a number of questionable opinions about race and white supremacy

    During a 2011 segment on NPR’s Tell Me More, Williamson attacked Malcolm X as “the sort of figure” who “is destructive in a lot of ways” because he engaged “in some of the most destructive and counterproductive politics the 20th century had to offer.” [NPR, Tell Me More, 4/8/11]

    In 2012, on the same NPR program, Williamson said that the idea that “racial diversity is an inherent fundamental part of higher education’s mission” is “intellectually indefensible.”[NPR, Tell Me More, 2/24/12]

    In 2018, on Fox News Radio’s The One w/ Greg Gutfeld, Williamson claimed that “if white supremacy” could be pointed to as an explanation for both chattel slavery as well as “the fact that there are nice restaurants in Brooklyn now in neighborhoods that didn’t have them,” then it “doesn’t explain anything.”

    Williamson made a similar statement in 2014 on his podcast, describing white supremacy as “an imaginary substance” created out of “intellectual crudity.”

    Williamson has attacked students, government workers, and union members as “illiterate” and “parasites”

    In a 2011 appearance on NPR’s Tell Me More, Williamson said that American students were the “most illiterate, bad reading level kids on the Earth.” [NPR, Tell Me More, 1/7/11]

    In 2013, Williamson said on Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight that the government shutdown “put a few thousand parasites out of work in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.” When pressed on his comment by a fellow panelist, Williamson responded: “Well if they’re not parasites let’s put their wages to a market test and see if they are actually worth what they’re paid. But they know they are not worth what they’re paid which is why they resist putting their wages to a market test.”

    In 2012, Williamson appeared on Dobbs’ program and referred to union members as “grotesque parasitic union goons.”

    Williamson has attacked Planned Parenthood as “grisly” and “bloodthirsty”

    After Planned Parenthood announced support for Barack Obama during the 2012 election, Williamson called the organization a “grisly, bloodthirsty enterprise.” 

  • Kevin Williamson is dreadful, and The Atlantic should feel bad for hiring him

    Williamson has a history of making misogynistic, extreme, and outrageous claims on a number of issues

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    On March 22, National Review writer Kevin Williamson announced he had been hired by The Atlantic. Williamson announced his departure in a post for National Review titled “On My Departure” in which he wrote:

    As some of you have heard by now, I’ve accepted a position at The Atlantic, and my regular duties here at National Review and the National Review Institute will come to a close after ten very happy and fruitful years for which I am and always will be grateful.

    [...]

    When asked why he sometimes wrote for Playboy, Bill Buckley said that he wanted to be sure that at least some of his work was seen by his son. I can’t say I know Christopher Buckley very well, but he never has struck me as the kind of pervert who reads Playboy for the articles. Still, I get the sentiment. And even though The Atlantic was founded by a bunch of sometime Republicans (Ralph Waldo Emerson et al., from whom our modern Republicans could learn a thing or two of value) it isn’t exactly what you’d call conservative. So like St. Paul, who also benefited from the services of a good editor, I will be an apostle to the Gentiles. I am very much looking forward to raising a brand new kind of hell.

    As Splinter noted, “The Atlantic’s former editor, James Bennet, has been busy in the past year turning the New York Times opinion page into an even bigger source of frustration for its newsroom. His old place of employment is apparently looking to top those efforts.” And indeed, Williamson has quite a history of making misogynistic points, pushing anti-abortion extremism, and offering outrageous views on a number of other issues.

    Williamson once called for women who had abortions to be hanged

    In 2014, Williamson tweeted that “the law should treat abortion like any other homicide.” Although Williamson has since deleted his Twitter account, the exchange was immortalized by Rewire.News Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson, who explained that Williamson not only advocated for abortion to “be treated as premeditated homicide,” but also that “women who have had abortions should face capital punishment, namely hanging.”

    The comments sparked enough outrage that Salon created a quiz for readers: “Can you tell the difference between National Review’s Kevin Williamson and a 4chan troll?”

    Beyond this, Williamson has a history of making extreme, anti-abortion commentary.

    In 2014, Williamson also wrote a piece claiming that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has a “desire to see as many poor children killed” as possible through abortion.

    In 2015, Williamson urged lawmakers to support a 20-week abortion ban (a medically unsound bill that anti-choice Republicans are still pushing in 2018). As justification, Williamson suggested that although he did “sympathize with women who feel that they are not ready for a child," he had also “had many developments in life for which I was not ready.”

    In 2013, Williamson argued against “exceptions for rape and incest” in anti-abortion restrictions, saying that “invites the very critique that feminists would like to make” because “if we are going to protect unborn human lives, then we are going to protect them regardless of the circumstances of their conception.”

    Most recently, Williamson wrote an article for National Review this year about the annual anti-abortion event March for Life. In the article, Williamson argued that he could tolerate many things other than abortion, writing: “Smoke weed, snort cocaine, watch porn, but don’t kill a living human organism, for any reason, ever.”

    Williamson also has a history of misogyny

    In an article titled “Like a Boss,” Williamson claimed that “from an evolutionary point of view, Mitt Romney should get 100 percent of the female vote,” including “Michelle Obama’s vote,” because “the ladies do tend to flock to successful executives and entrepreneurs.” Williamson concluded that although Americans “don’t do harems … Romney is exactly the kind of guy who in another time and place would have the option of maintaining one.”

    Williamson also launched an ad hominem attack on actress Lena Dunham for writing a piece that encouraged people to vote. Williamson’s 2014 post, headlined “Five Reasons Why You’re Too Dumb to Vote,” attacked Dunham as “distinctly unappealing" while calling her piece “a half-assed listicle penned by a half-bright celebrity and published by a gang of abortion profiteers" directed toward Dunham's "presumably illiterate following."

    And this line of criticism was not limited to attacks on Dunham. That same year, Williamson also penned a criticism of feminism, including attacks on then-California state Senate candidate Sandra Fluke and Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. As Media Matters noted, Williamson defined feminism in this piece as “the words ‘I Want!’ in the mouths of three or more women, provided they're the right kind of women."

    Williamson also has a checkered history of offering problematic commentary on sexual assault and harassment. In 2015, Media Matters called out Williamson for declaring the epidemic of campus sexual assault “a fiction” and arguing that efforts to curb incidents were somewhat akin to the “mass hysteria” during the Salem witch trials.

    This sentiment goes back even further. In 2008, Williamson wrote a tribute to newspaper advice columnist Miss Manners that included such gems as “As every female police officer knows, there is something maddeningly sexy about a woman enforcing rules, and something sexually repugnant about a woman without any rules at all” and “Miss Manners is sexy for the same reason that librarians and teachers and nurses can be sexy: she is an authority — it's fun to play with authority.”

    Also in 2008, Williamson claimed that Hillary Clinton’s “true-believers understand that they and their grievances will never merit the free upgrade to first-class victimhood.” In the National Review article, Williamson also wrote that Clinton was “getting in touch with her inner dominatrix (which does not seem to have been much of a reach for her.)”

    More recently, Williamson wrote an article for National Review headlined “The Treasury Secretary’s Wife” in which he attacked Louise Linton, wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, as a “D-minus-list never-was CSI-extra actress.”

    Williamson has a history of making anti-LGBTQ comments

    In 2014, Williamson attacked transgender actress and advocate Laverne Cox, writing that she was “not a woman, but an effigy of a woman," because transgender identity is a "delusional tendency." This was not the first time Williamson expressed anti-trans sentiments. In 2013, he penned the article “Bradley Manning Is Not A Woman.”

    Williamson also used his platform at National Review to praise and admit to a “sneaking admiration for Kim Davis” -- the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Although he did note that her position was “wrong, inarguably” and that her sentence was justified even “as much as one might admire Davis’s conviction,” Williamson still compared her “principled noncompliance” to that of Martin Luther King Jr.

    Williamson has made racist and Islamophobic comments

    Following the Paris terror attacks in 2015, Williamson argued that the Paris attackers should spur "more scrutiny and surveillance of Muslim immigrant communities.”

    This year, in an National Review article headlined “The Intellectual Emptiness of ‘White Supremacy,’” Williamson wrote that although “‘white supremacy’ … used to mean something: the Ku Klux Klan, Nazis and their imitators, race-science crackpottery, etc.,” it no longer has the same meaning. As Williamson argued, now “‘white supremacy’ is only another in the progressive parade of horribles, up there with Islamophobia and transmisogyny, the terrible sin straight men commit if they forgo dating ‘women’ with penises and testicles.”

    Williamson has expressed callous views around gun violence and gun violence prevention

    Writing for the National Review, Williamson criticized former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) for writing a New York Times op-ed by stating, "It should be noted that being shot in the head by a lunatic does not give one any special grace to pronounce upon public-policy questions." Williamson added that Giffords' op-ed was "childish" and "an embarrassment." Williamson doubled down on this criticism of Giffords when he said on HuffPost Live that “the fact that something terrible happens to you doesn’t give you any special understanding of the situation.”

    On a 2011 episode of former Fox Business show Following the Money with Eric Bolling, Williamson said that if current economic policies continued, “you’re going to want to have a very good gun.”

    After protesters took to the streets in Baltimore in 2015 following the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, Williamson wrote on Twitter, “I wonder if any of my lefty friends in the DC suburbs are rethinking their Second Amendment rights this week.”

    Williamson has made questionable comments about environmental protection policies

    In 2015, Williamson claimed that emissions standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to curtail vehicle pollutants were “phony moral imperatives” and thus Volkswagen’s cheating on the standards should be expected.

    Williamson wrote a shining profile of EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt, saying that Pruitt “is in fact a true believer … principled” and that he “is genuinely excited about the possibilities we have for improving the environment.”

    Williamson has made other outrageous claims

    On a 2009 episode of the former Fox News program Glenn Beck, Williamson asserted of the Obama administration’s environmental protection policies, “The left always needs an emergency because they can't get this stuff done through normal democratic means.”

    In 2014, Williamson compared Cliven Bundy, who got into a armed standoff with law enforcement after refusing to pay grazing fees for his cattle, to “every fugitive slave” and "every one of the sainted men and women who enabled them."

    Williamson claimed in 2015 that the arrest of teenager Ahmed Mohammed for bringing a homemade clock to school was "a phony case of Islamophobia.," Williamson then attacked President Barack Obama and other public figures for expressing support for Ahmed, calling their actions "cheap moral preening," and arguing that the story received attention only because it "can be used to further a story" about racism in the United States.

    In 2015, Williamson compared Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to a Nazi, writing that Sanders’ political views equate to “national socialism,” which Williamson said made him “queasy and uncomfortable” to write because of Sanders’ Jewish heritage and the fact his family was killed in the Holocaust.

    Williamson wrote in 2014 that rich Americans “work more -- a lot more” than low-income Americans, pointing to a study claiming that top-bracket income workers inherit a smaller percentage of their wealth than low-income Americans do.

    In a 2017 article for National Review, Williamson wrote about “the myth of the idle rich,” saying that wealthy people’s “fortunes do not build themselves” and that “those who are truly passive in their economic lives tend to end up at the unhappy end of the income-distribution curve.”

  • Myths and facts about California's pro-choice law regarding fake health clinics

    The Supreme Court will hear a case regulating the deceptive practices of anti-abortion clinics

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On March 20, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra. This case concerns a California law requiring unlicensed pregnancy clinics to disclose their lack of medical services and licensed pregnancy clinics to post a notice about low-cost or free reproductive health services offered by the state. Some media outlets have pushed the myth that the law compels anti-abortion fake health clinics to promote pro-choice views, including by advertising for abortions.

  • Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue has become fully “red-pilled” by an 8chan conspiracy theory

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    It was concerning enough when in January 2018, the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue encouraged followers to look into the allegations of an anonymous conspiracy theorist on the 8chan message board. Now, it appears that Operation Rescue, with its history of violent rhetoric and harassment, has become fully converted and is seeking to cultivate anti-abortion followers into believers in a far-right conspiracy theory.

    Headed by longtime extremists Troy Newman and Cheryl Sullenger -- the latter has served time for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic -- Operation Rescue has been described as an organization dedicated to “shut[ting] down abortion clinics by systematically harassing their employees into quitting.” Operation Rescue initially signaled that they’d been “red-pilled” -- a term popularized by the “alt-right” to refer to an ideological conversion to “seeing the world as it really is” -- in a January 7 press release, in which the group signal-boosted a series of posts from a far-right community on 8chan.

    8chan is a message board system -- similar to 4chan and Reddit -- that enables users to engage in discussions anonymously. This has made such communities hotbeds of racist commentary, misogyny, and politically motivated harassment campaigns, in addition to serving as fertile ground for those in the so-called “alt-right” or white nationalist movement. As Mother Jones’ Mariah Blake explained, “men’s rights forums on sites like 4chan and Reddit are awash in misogyny and anti-feminist vitriol” -- a trend that has turned such sites into what Vox’s Aja Romano called a “gateway drug” that leads people into the “alt-right.” 

    In the January 7 release, Operation Rescue focused on an 8chan conspiracy theory called “The Storm” in which a user who refers to himself as “Q” claims to be a “high-level government insider” secretly sharing clues to “inform the public about POTUS’s master plan to stage a countercoup against members of the deep state.” The scope of the conspiracy theory has expanded to encompass all types of events, ranging from a fire at Trump Tower to a train accident involving Republican members of Congress. Most recently, followers of The Storm have joined a campaign calling for the release of a four-page classified memo drafted by House intelligence committee Republicans that allegedly shows illicit behavior by the FBI and Justice Department during the early phases of investigating connections between Trump associates and Russia -- a campaign organized around the Twitter hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo. According to The Daily Beast, right-wing figures as well as online message board communities “have since turned the hashtag into a rallying cry, imploring fans to tweet the hashtag.” On February 2, the President Donald Trump authorized the release of the memo, despite explicit warnings from the FBI about the veracity of its contents.

    In the January 7 press release, Operation Rescue acknowledged that "Q" is a conspiracy theorist -- or at least inspires conspiracy theories. Since then, the social media activity of the group and its leadership indicates that they’ve gone full Sean Hannity. Between January 7 and February 12, both Sullenger’s Twitter account and the official Operation Rescue account have increased their engagements with accounts promoting #ReleaseTheMemo and related hashtags (#Qanon, #TheGreatAwakening, #FollowTheWhiteRabbit). In the past month alone, Sullenger’s changed her account handle to “CherylS sez #ReleaseTheMemo” and followed a number of right-wing media personalities’ accounts, including Alex Jones, Jerome Corsi, Paul Joseph Watson, Mike Cernovich, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Mark Levin, and Sara Carter.

    Since January 2018, Sullenger and Operation Rescue’s social media accounts have demonstrated a precipitous slide into full-embrace of The Storm and #ReleaseTheMemo:

    Cheryl Sullenger

    • January 10 -- Sullenger tweeted a National Review article and included the hashtag #Qanon.

    • January 16 & 17 -- Operation Rescue sent a press release, calling on followers to participate in the “Mother of All Tweet Storms.” According to the release, followers of The Storm were “asked to create memes that express truths that have been misreported or ignored by the Main Stream Media (MSM) and call them out for their dishonest reporting.” Operation Rescue characterized the event as “a tweet war of Biblical proportions with folks joined together in a concerted effort to break through to the masses with the truth about governmental corruption, human trafficking, and even Planned Parenthood.” The Operation Rescue Twitter account then spent the better part of January 17 tweeting a variety of memes attacking Planned Parenthood and promoting hashtags related to The Storm.

    • January 22 -- Sullenger tweeted #ReleaseTheMemo and included a screenshot from Fox News’ Hannity, in which host Sean Hannity was talking about it. Hannity has been an active promoter of so-called “deep state” conspiracy theories.

    • January 24 -- Sullenger reacted to news that Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards is leaving the organization sometime in 2018, by tweeting multiple memes of Richards depicted in prison with the hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo. The official Operation Rescue account also tweeted a press release about Richards’ departure using the hashtags #ReleaseTheMemo and #FollowtheWhiteRabbit. Sullenger also tweeted a link to a YouTube video about #Qanon, calling it, “Must watch!” In addition to Sullenger’s Twitter activity, the Operation Rescue account also liked a tweet about #ReleaseTheMemo.

    • January 27 -- Sullenger retweeted a Jerome Corsi tweet about #ReleaseTheMemo, featuring a story from far-right blog The Gateway Pundit about Hannity and the memo. Sullenger additionally tweeted an explainer video about The Storm, writing, “#TheStorm is real. #ReleaseTheMemo.” Sullenger also tweeted @realDonaldTrump, asking him to read the memo during the State of the Union address because “Americans need to know the #truth.” Meanwhile, The Operation Rescue account liked a tweet about #GreatAwakening and #QAnon.

    • January 28 -- Sullenger attacked Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) -- a frequent right-wing target -- on Twitter, citing a clip from Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight. This tweet included the hashtags #GreatAwakening and #ReleaseTheMemo. In addition to her own tweet, Sullenger also retweeted content from Jerome Corsi and Hannity about #ReleaseTheMemo.

    • January 29 -- Sullenger quote-tweeted a claim from Corsi about the memo, writing that she would not “be happy until we can all see the memo with our own eyes.” In addition, Sullenger also tweeted about the resignations of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and Democratic National Committee CEO Jess O’Connell from their positions -- linking each to #ReleaseTheMemo. Notably, Sullenger shared an image from an account (@Thomas1774Paine) about the memo supposedly being delivered to the White House -- writing in a public post on her Facebook that “we are on the brink of history!” The Operation Rescue Twitter account retweeted a user, @LadyStephC, calling the memo “the tip of the iceberg” and including a number of hashtags related to The Storm.

    • January 31 -- After a train crash involving Republican members of Congress, Sullenger retweeted a conspiracy theory from Corsi that suggested the accident was part of a “deep state” plot to stop the Republicans from releasing the memo.

    • February 1 -- Sullenger tweeted several memes linked to the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign, suggesting that if the memo is released some Democratic politicians will go to jail. Another meme that she tweeted showed "Q" as a revolutionary standing up to the "deep state" and implied the only way Americans would be "free" is by following him. Sullenger retweeted “alt-right” troll Jack Posobiec, in addition to tweeting a screenshot of an 8chan message board comment (allegedly from “Q”) and including the hashtags #ReleaseTheMemo and #Qanon.

    • February 2 & 3 -- Retweeting a comment from Trump’s Twitter account about opposition research firm Fusion GPS, Sullenger argued that the same firm had “issued fake ‘forensic analysis’” in order to “cover up [Planned Parenthood]'s illegal baby parts trafficking” -- referring to a debunked allegation from the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. In her tweet, Sullenger included the hashtags #ReleaseTheMemo and #ThesePeopleAreSick. Sullenger also retweeted right-wing media personality Mark Levin. After the release of the disputed memo, Sullenger retweeted several of Corsi's tweets hyping allegations of widespread wrongdoing by government entities. On February 3, Sullenger retweeted Trump claiming that the memo "totally vindicates" him.

    • February 4 -- Sullenger tweeted a video alleging that Super Bowl LII attendees were at risk of being targeted by terrorists, commenting, "Better safe than sorry!" For good measure, Sullenger also tweeted a Life News article about Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards calling her "evil" and using the hashtags #LockHerUp, #AbortionIsMurder, and #GreatAwakening. 

    • February 5 -- Retweeting an account that previously shared screenshots from 8chan, Sullenger commented that both Clinton and Planned Parenthood "both must pay for crimes." Sullenger also shared a press release published by Operation Rescue further connecting the memo to the organization's typical talking points about Planned Parenthood. 

    Troy Newman

    Throughout much of this timeline, the social media accounts of Troy Newman did not engage as often with topics related to The Storm, #ReleaseTheMemo, or even right-wing media personalities. However, on January 31, a public post on Newman’s Facebook page directed followers to what appears to be a conspiracy theory blog for a man named Jim Stone.

    The site seems to house blog posts about a number of conspiracy theories, including one about an alleged plot by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to smuggle a gun into the State of the Union and assassinate Trump:

    Among other extreme conspiracy theories, Stone claimed the January 31 train accident occurred because Republican members of Congress had “received death threats over the memo, and were heading to a safe place when they were stopped by a staged ‘accident’”:

    Perhaps the most outlandish conspiracy theory of all: "If Trump gets killed, they can produce a fake Trump and have him say whatever they need him to say in real time." The blog continued that this technology had been used "with Hillary [Clinton] during the campaign" and that it was "critical information you cannot skip seeing": 

    After the memo was released on February 2, Newman tweeted and posted on Facebook, wondering if it was "too early to call this an attempted coup" against Trump. 

    One thing is certain: If Sullenger and other members of Operation Rescue have been fully “red-pilled,” they are not only exposing their audience to a wellspring of conspiracy theories, but also potentially becoming further radicalized themselves. And if exposure to rapidly misogynist online communities is truly a “gateway drug,” as Romano warned, the cross-pollination between these 8chan conspiracy theorists and anti-abortion extremists is an incredibly dangerous prospect.