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  • Washington Blade highlights the influence of hate groups on White House policy

    Anti-LGBTQ extremists successfully lobbied for Trump to ban transgender people from the military. Now they’re promising action on so-called “religious freedom” guidance.

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Dayanita Ramesh / Media Matters

    In an August 9 report, the Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson detailed the growing influence of anti-LGBTQ hate groups in setting federal policy, including their “intense lobbying” that influenced President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military and their push for a potential anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” order.

    Last month, Newsweek’s Tom Porter wrote about the hate groups that “fiercely lobbied” for a reinstatement of the ban on transgender service members, which Trump announced via Twitter on July 26. The announcement stated that transgender people would not be allowed “to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” Among the groups mentioned by Porter was the Family Research Council (FRC), whose leaders have bragged that they “have big communications channels with the Trump administration,” he wrote. FRC senior fellow Ken Blackwell was a member of Trump’s transition team and now sits on Trump’s so-called “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity,” which has been called the “voter suppression dream team.”

    On August 2, The New York Times wrote that FRC President Tony Perkins had spent months pressuring Trump to make a statement about transgender service members. The article included a quote from Perkins saying, “I’ve been to the White House I don’t know how many more times in the first six months this year than I was during the entire Bush administration.” Perkins has also boasted that he “was not surprised” by Trump’s announcement because FRC had been “working with the White House” on the issue.

    Johnson’s August 9 report in the Washington Blade highlighted “intense lobbying” by anti-LGBT lawmakers and hate groups such as FRC and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) for Trump to sign a religious freedom executive order, a draft of which was leaked to The Nation in February. Johnson added that although Trump hasn’t yet signed the order that the groups are floating -- which would “enable sweeping anti-LGBT discrimination in the name of ‘religious freedom’” -- he has empowered Attorney General Jeff Sessions “to issue guidance ensuring religious liberty.” He noted that Perkins, speaking on his radio show last month, “said action would come soon” on religious freedom guidance. In a speech to ADF, Sessions also promised that the Justice Department is “finalizing” guidance on “federal religious liberty protections.” From the Washington Blade:

    Prior to his August vacation, Trump announced his intent to ban transgender people from the U.S. military “in any capacity,” unilaterally instituting the anti-LGBT policy after the U.S. House — under Republican control, no less — rejected a narrower measure to undermine transgender service by denying military funds for transition-related health care.

    Trump’s declaration came after intense lobbying by anti-LGBT lawmakers and groups, who threatened to withhold support from major defense spending legislation unless the White House acted. That bill includes funds for Trump’s wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

    Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said in a statement after Trump’s announcement on transgender service his organization would withdraw its opposition to border wall payments.

    “Now that we are assured that the Defense Department has its fiscal priorities in order, Family Research Council withdraws our opposition to increasing the budget of the Department of Defense through the ‘Make America Secure Appropriations Act’ and looks forward to seeing that legislation pass,” Perkins said.

    Although Trump — despite entreaties from social conservatives — hasn’t signed an executive order circulating among federal agencies and advocacy groups that would enable sweeping anti-LGBT discrimination in the name of “religious freedom,” he did pen his name to a directive empowering U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to issue guidance ensuring religious liberty.

    Critics say that’s a red herring that could lead the U.S. government to give the OK for discrimination among federal contractors, private employer denial of family and medical leave to same-sex couples and federal workers refusing to process paperwork for LGBT people. Sessions had already stated the directive would be based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law meant to preserve the rights of religious minorities that’s now used as an excuse for anti-LGBT discrimination.

    It remains to be seen when the administration will issue the guidance and the nature of the policy. On his weekly radio show late last month, Perkins said action would come soon and the U.S. government will be “on notice that they have to respect religious freedom” — code for social conservatives to mean anti-LGBT discrimination.

  • Newspapers are turning to hate group Conservative Republicans of Texas over the state's proposed bathroom ban

    Conservative Republicans of Texas is an anti-LGBTQ hate group whose leaders have said that a “key part of the homosexual agenda” is “overturning the laws prohibiting pedophilia”

    ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE & BRENNAN SUEN

    National and local newspapers have repeatedly quoted and highlighted anti-LGBTQ hate group Conservative Republicans of Texas (CRT) when reporting on proposed legislation in Texas that would prevent transgender people from using the restroom that aligns with their gender identity. CRT’s leaders have compared LGBTQ people to “Nazis,” claimed that a “key part of the homosexual agenda” is “overturning the laws prohibiting pedophilia,” and said that the “word transgender is a euphemism … for the word pervert.”

  • The imprisonment and execution of gay men in Chechnya has been virtually ignored by evening cable and broadcast news

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters
     

    In the four months since The New York Times first reported that authorities in Chechnya “were arresting and killing gay men,” evening cable and evening broadcast news programming has virtually ignored the story. Between April 1 and July 31, there were only three significant mentions in total across six networks -- two news packages and one brief exchange -- about the ongoing human rights abuses.

    On April 1, The New York Times reported that “Chechen authorities were arresting and killing gay men.” Citing independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, the Times’ Andrew Kramer wrote that “men were detained ‘in connection with their nontraditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such,’” and that “more than 100 gay men had been detained” so far. The report added that Novaya Gazeta “had the names of three murder victims, and suspected many others had died in extrajudicial killings,” and it noted that authorities posed “as men looking for dates” on social networking sites to lure in victims. Many gay men have fled the region as a result. The Times report quoted a spokesperson for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov who denied the existence of gay people in Chechnya, calling the reports “absolute lies and disinformation.” “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” he said. Kadyrov has since been interviewed for HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel by reporter David Scott, and according to The Washington Post, during the conversation, he “laugh[ed] dismissively at questions about the allegations” and said that gay men “are not people”:

    In his interview with Scott, Kadyrov initially laughs dismissively at questions about the allegations. “Why did he come here?” he says to someone off camera. “What's the point of these questions?” But as Scott presses him, Kadyrov talks angrily about the reporters and activists who write about LGBT rights in Chechnya.

    “They are devils. They are for sale. They are not people,” he says. “God damn them for what they are accusing us of. They will have to answer to the almighty for this.”

    A Media Matters analysis of CNN's, MSNBC's, and Fox News’ weekday evening programming from 5-11 p.m. and ABC's, CBS', and NBC’s flagship evening news programs -- both weekend and weekday -- found virtual silence across the networks regarding the abuse of LGBTQ people in Chechnya. There were only three significant mentions of the story across all six networks between April 1 and July 31 and one short exchange in a broader discussion about the United States’ position on human rights around the world.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Over the last four months, CNN was the only cable network to air a full segment dedicated to the subject, as well as one brief exchange during a separate interview. A special April 24 evening edition of CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper aired a package in which reporter Matthew Chance covered the subject. During the May 4 edition of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, there was also a brief exchange between host Anderson Cooper and guest Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in which Cooper mentioned German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s request to Russian President Vladimir Putin to intervene and help protect gay people in the country. McCain did not comment on the atrocities in Chechnya specifically during the exchange.

    Of the three broadcast flagship programs, there was no significant mention of Chechnya’s abuses on weekdays. On April 23, however, the Sunday edition of NBC Nightly News devoted a segment to the topic featuring reporter Lucy Kafanov. 

    During the segment on The Lead, host Jake Tapper noted that the story was not “getting enough attention,” and Matthew Chance reported that the journalist who broke the story was “fleeing the country” after she received threats for her reporting. He also said that at least five other reporters at her newspaper have been killed since 2000 “in mafia-style hits.” The package also featured video of a victim speaking out about what Chance described as “horrifying abuse,” detailing the torture by authorities:

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They tied wires to my hand and put metal clippers on my ears to electrocute me. When they shock you, you jump high above the ground. [via Nexis]

    NBC’s report also featured interviews with a victim of the abuse in Chechnya, as well as another journalist from Novaya Gazeta. The victim, who used a pseudonym, detailed being “dragged … out of a car,” beaten, and told that “gays shouldn’t exist in Chechnya.” NBC's Kafanov added that in addition to the reporting by Novaya Gazeta, the abuses had been corroborated by human rights groups.

    Prominent world leaders have spoken out against the human rights abuses in Chechnya, including Merkel and newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron. Major human rights groups such as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Amnesty International, and Outright International have also launched campaigns in support of LGBTQ Chechens. Despite this international condemnation -- and human rights groups’ calls for President Donald Trump to comment -- the president has not spoken publicly about the allegations or condemned Chechnya’s actions. It should be noted that newly appointed United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert have issued statements on the reports.

    Chechnya’s brutal attacks against and murders of queer men in the region have become an international human rights issue, but the American public would not know that by watching the evening news. Though NBC's and CNN’s pieces provided solid reporting, one package on each network's evening programming over a four-month span is not enough, and the utter silence of ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and Fox News does a disservice to their viewers.

    Methodology:

    Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of CNN's, MSNBC's, and Fox News’ weekday 5-11 p.m. programming between April 1 and July 26 for mentions of the words “Chechnya” or “Chechen” or “Kadyrov” or “Russia” within 20 words of the terms “gay” or “LGBT” or “homosexual” or “lesbian” or “bisexual.” Media Matters also searched Nexis transcripts for those terms appearing on ABC's, CBS', and NBC’s nightly news programs ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News, including the Saturday and Sunday editions of those shows. Media Matters also searched iQ media for those terms appearing on MSNBC’s 6 p.m. programming and the weekend broadcast news shows.

    Mentions of those terms were included in the analysis if the human rights abuses of gay, bisexual, and queer men in Chechnya were mentioned as the stated topic of conversation or if there was significant discussion of the topic. “Significant discussion” is defined as a back-and-forth exchange between two or more people; passing mentions were not included in the analysis.

  • Trump’s embattled attorney general once again retreats to his safe space on Tucker Carlson Tonight

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions will appear on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight as President Donald Trump continues to criticize Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 election. Given host Tucker Carlson’s frequent fanboying and staunch defenses of Sessions in the past, the beleaguered attorney general  will most likely enjoy a fawning, sophomoric interview during his appearance on the show.

    Sessions’ planned appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight is not the first time he has used the friendly platform to address controversies surrounding his role in the administration. During Sessions’ confirmation process for his current job, Roll Call’s Jonathan Allen highlighted the former Alabama senator’s racist past, writing in a November 15 column that Sessions was “unfit for the Cabinet” and a “partially reconstructed baiter of minorities.” In response, Carlson went to bat for Sessions; he invited  Allen on to his November 18 broadcast and lambasted his article as “one of the most unfair things I’ve ever read.” Carlson also accused Allen of “smearing” Sessions by "download[ing] some talking points from the DNC” and said Allen had impugned Sessions with “slur[s]” and “pure talking points.”

    On March 2, when numerous Democratic lawmakers were calling for Sessions’ resignation in response to reports that he had met with the Russian ambassador and lied about it under oath, Sessions retreated to his safe space on Carlson’s show in an effort to defuse the firestorm. Carlson’s softball interview with Sessions included questions such as, “Do you see this as a witch hunt?”

    Carlson is once again coming to Sessions’ defense, but this time around, the people aiming for Sessions are doing so from inside the White House. In a July 19 interview with The New York Times, Trump went after his own attorney general, saying, “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.” The attacks haven’t ceased, with the president repeatedly tweeting out criticism of Sessions.

    Carlson, in a somewhat surprising split from agreeing with everything Trump does, leapt to Sessions’ defense and devoted a segment of his July 20 show to vouch for Sessions’ perceived value to the Trump administration. Carlson maintained that Sessions “has been the rare person in the entire executive branch making actual progress implementing the agenda his boss ran on, because he's the rare person who believes in it,” and warned that Trump should “lay off Jeff Sessions.” 

    TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): Sessions was worried about what an unsecured border and mass immigration would do to America, even though the biggest effects from those wouldn't be seen until decades after he was long gone from this earth. So, he jumped in and accepted Trump’s offer to become attorney general. He didn't do it to get rich, and certainly not to become more popular. He instantly became less. You’ll remember that many of his former colleagues in the Senate slandered him as a bigot during his confirmation hearings. As attorney general, Sessions has been the rare person in the entire executive branch making actual progress implementing the agenda his boss ran on, because he's the rare person who believes in it. In an administration brimming with opportunists and ideological saboteurs, people who literally couldn’t be less interested in what voters think, Sessions has never lost sight of the lessons of the last election. He’s gone after sanctuary cities, he’s enforced immigration laws, he’s ended the Obama administration's attacks on local police departments, and a lot more. He’s likely the most effective member of the Trump cabinet.

    In return, the president attacked him in the failing New York Times. That’s not just criticism. It's an insult. It's also a worrisome sign that the president may be forgetting who is on his side. Goldman Sachs did not elect Donald Trump. America’s long-ignored middle class did. Trump voters may find his tweets about the media amusing, and well-deserved because, obviously, they are, but they’re not the point of this exercise. The point is to shine some light on the broad middle of this country, on the millions of normal people who are hurting and who could badly use an ally in power for the first time in a long time. Now the hope is that what happened yesterday was just a stress-related aberration, the political equivalent of yelling at your kids when you had a bad day at the office. If so, it will be not be hard to fix this. Going forward, just pay a little less attention to The New York Times, pay a little more to Matt Drudge. And for God’s sake, lay off Jeff Sessions. He is your friend. One of the very few you have in Washington.

    There are many similarities between Carlson and Sessions. They both regularly villainize immigrants, and like Sessions, Carlson is beloved by neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Tonight’s interview will most likely be nothing more than a public relations stunt for Sessions.

  • Media can't take their eyes off the ball on health care

    Trump and Secretary Price can (and probably will) work to destabilize the current health care system behind the scenes. Media must hold them accountable.

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN


    Dayanita Ramesh/Media Matters

    After Senate Republicans failed in their latest effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it is imperative that media stay focused on covering health care. President Donald Trump and Tom Price, his secretary of health and human services, are likely to make unilateral changes that will undermine the ACA and affect those currently covered under it. Media outlets cannot let these policy decisions happen in the dark, as they have in the past.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced on July 17 that the latest “effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful,” after four Republican senators said they would not vote for the bill. McConnell currently intends to vote on a bill to repeal the ACA with no replacement plan in place -- a move Trump supports -- which, The New York Times wrote, “has almost no chance to pass.”

    Media largely failed to cover the debate leading up to this failed legislative attempt, which played out behind closed doors in “almost-unprecedented opacity,” leaving audiences in the dark about the consequences and stakes of the proposed bill. For the time being, it appears as if decisions about health care will continue to be made in the dark.

    Without Congress, Trump and Price can still deal a potentially fatal blow to the health insurance market. On July 18, Trump reacted to the Senate’s failure to pass an ACA replacement, saying, “Let Obamacare fail. ... I’m not going to own it.” And, as Vox explained, “Especially in states with shakier exchanges, the president certainly does have some fairly broad discretionary authority that he and his health and human services secretary can use to deliberately sabotage the program if they want to.” In March, former Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius told New York magazine that Trump and Price would have to decide “whether or not HHS will continue to reimburse insurance companies for cost-sharing expenses.” Sebelius explained that not making those payments, which Trump has threatened to do, “could cause a number of companies now offering plans in the marketplace to not sign up again for 2018.”

    Given the likelihood that Trump and Price will work to destabilize the health care system however they can, media have an obligation to prioritize the issue, especially as Trump is likely to blame Democrats for any negative impacts to health care coverage or to the insurance market in general. The current health care system will undoubtedly continue to inspire debate and attempted sabotage throughout Trump’s time in office. Media better pay attention.

  • NY Times details how “reverence for Putin” in right-wing media helps Trump run from his Russia scandal

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A report from The New York Times highlighted how an ongoing, years-long trend of right-wing media figures praising Russian President Vladimir Putin has helped President Donald Trump downplay the fast-growing Russian scandal surrounding himself, his family, and his administration.

    Right-wing media has long been obsessed with Putin’s masculinity and authoritarian tendencies. In 2013, Fox News analyst Ralph Peters, when speaking about Putin said, “I respect that guy,” adding “he presents himself as a real He-Man.” The same year, Matt Drudge tweeted “Putin is the leader of the free world.” FoxNews.com previously published a “must watch” video of "Putin doing macho things." And Fox host Kimberly Guilfoyle once said she wanted Putin to be US president for 48 hours in order to defeat ISIS.

    Essentially, right-wing media effectively built a normalization machine working to sanitize Putin, and it had results.

    In a July 14 New York Times article, Jeremy Peters noted that while “such fondness for Mr. Putin fell outside the Republican Party’s mainstream” previously it became a widely held sentiment in the conservative movement by the time Mr. Trump started running for president in 2015.” Peters wrote that “the veneration of Mr. Putin helps explain why revelations about Russia’s involvement in the election ... and Mr. Trump’s reluctance to acknowledge it, have barely penetrated the consciousness of the president’s conservative base.” Media Matters President Angelo Carusone added that the mythologizing of Putin by right-wing media has led to him enjoying “a Paul Bunyan-esque persona among this audience.” From the July 14 article:

    Years before the words “collusion” and “Russian hacking” became associated with President Vladimir V. Putin, some prominent Republicans found far more laudatory ways to talk about the Russian leader.

    “Putin decides what he wants to do, and he does it in half a day,” Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor and longtime friend and adviser to President Trump, gushed in 2014.

    Mr. Putin was worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, K. T. McFarland said in 2013, before going on to serve a brief and ill-fated stint as Mr. Trump’s deputy national security adviser.

    “A great leader,” “very reasoned,” and “extremely diplomatic,” was how Mr. Trump himself described Mr. Putin that same year.

    Though such fondness for Mr. Putin fell outside the Republican Party’s mainstream at the time, it became a widely held sentiment inside the conservative movement by the time Mr. Trump started running for president in 2015. And it persists today, despite evidence of Russian intervention in the 2016 American election and Mr. Putin’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies at home.

    The veneration of Mr. Putin helps explain why revelations about Russia’s involvement in the election — including recent reports that members of Mr. Trump’s inner circle set up a meeting at which they expected a representative of the Russian government to give them incriminating information about Hillary Clinton — and Mr. Trump’s reluctance to acknowledge it, have barely penetrated the consciousness of the president’s conservative base.

    [...]

    In this view, the Russian president is a brilliant tactician, a slayer of murderous Islamic extremists — and not incidentally, a leader who outmaneuvered and emasculated President Barack Obama on the world stage. And because of that, almost any other transgression seems forgivable.

    [...]

    The unflattering comparisons with Mr. Obama became especially personal in 2014 after Mr. Putin invaded Crimea, an act of aggression that was widely condemned by the United States and its allies but praised as a display of brawn and guts by many on the right.

    Sarah Palin, for one, questioned Mr. Obama’s “potency” and added that no one had any such doubts about Mr. Putin. “People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil,” she told Sean Hannity on Fox News.

    “He’s looking like a real man,” Mr. Limbaugh declared approvingly in 2014.

    Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, which has tracked the conservative media’s depiction of the Russian president, described Mr. Putin as taking on “a Paul Bunyan-esque persona among this audience.”

    Mr. Putin’s mystique for conservatives resembles in many ways the image that Mr. Trump has cultivated for himself.

  • Betsy DeVos just perpetuated years of right-wing attacks on rape survivors

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Many have questioned the incomprehensible logic of President Donald Trump’s proposal to collaborate with Russia on cybersecurity policy, but Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appears to be deploying a similar strategy: collaborating with rape deniers on policy regarding campus sexual assault. This comes after right-wing media spent years questioning the severity of sexual assault and attacking the credibility of survivors.

    First reported by Politico, DeVos planned a July 13 meeting with “advocates for survivors of campus sexual assault, as well as with groups representing students who say they were wrongfully accused.”

    Politico identified several invitees as representatives from the men’s rights groups Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE), Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE), and National Coalition for Men -- all of which have dedicated themselves to combating what they believe is rampant false reporting of sexual assault, and the lack of attention paid to the “true victims”: those who are accused.

    As The Daily Beast’s Robert Silverman noted, the Southern Poverty Law Center classified SAVE as an organization that is “promoting misogyny” and "lobbying to roll back services for victims of domestic abuse and penalties for their tormentors.” Jaclyn Friedman, an expert on campus sexual violence, told Silverman that groups like SAVE not only “actively publicize the names of rape survivors in order to intimidate them,” but also “blame women for ‘instigating’ men's violence against them” and believe that “victims' sexual histories should be fair game in rape cases.” According to ThinkProgress and BuzzFeed, organizations like FACE, National Coalition for Men, and the like are no better in their advocacy, nor less extreme in their beliefs.

    Despite posturing from these groups, false rape reports are actually a statistical minority -- representing between 2 and 8 percent of all reported cases. Meanwhile, according to research by the Rape, Abuse, & Incest Network (RAINN), 66 percent of rapes go unreported to law enforcement. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center found that “one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives,” while the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey revealed that “nearly half” of survey respondents “were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.” Survivors already face rampant challenges when reporting sexual assault, and it is unlikely the Department of Education’s invitation to these men’s rights groups will improve these conditions.

    A July 12 press release explained that DeVos would meet with the various groups in a series of “listening sessions” meant to “discuss the impact of the Department’s Title IX sexual assault guidance on students, families and institutions.” In 2011, the Obama administration provided schools with guidance on how to “review and enforce Title IX complaints,” emphasizing the role assault and harassment play in the creation of “a hostile educational environment in violation of Title IX.” Many have speculated that DeVos’ openness to including men’s rights organizations in the meetings is just the latest signal that the department will revoke these protections.

    In April, ProPublica implied that DeVos’ selection of Candice Jackson to head the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) was a sign of bad things to come for Title IX and anti-sexual violence protections, noting that Jackson had previously “arranged for several of Bill Clinton’s accusers to attend a presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton” and that she called women who accused Trump of sexual assault “fake victims.” In June, ProPublica published a memo from Jackson that directed OCR staff to make changes to investigative procedures that “advocates fear will mean less consistent findings of systemic discrimination at colleges.” As ThinkProgress previously reported, DeVos herself has “long donated to organizations that frequently side with students accused of rape and sexual abuse.”

    The men’s rights groups DeVos plans to meet with aren’t alone in waging war on sexual violence protections and survivors. Some of Trump’s favorite right-wing media figures and staunchest cable news supporters have put on a masterclass in how to not report on sexual assault. After an uncovered 2005 audio showed Trump bragging about committing sexual assault, many Fox News employees seemingly made it their jobs to either downplay the severity of his comments or attack the many women who came forward with specific allegations against him.

    Even before Trump, right-wing media were especially adamant in their campaign of misrepresenting the severity of sexual assault and harassment. Beyond disputing the veracity of campus sexual assault statistics, right-wing media figures have called reporting on statutory rape “whiny,” claimed sexual assault victims have a “coveted status,” blamed feminism for encouraging sexual assault, and said attempts to curb sexual assault harm men and constitute “a war happening on boys.” Although she has since fled the network in an attempt to rehab her image at NBC, former Fox News star Megyn Kelly was a chief proponent of the “war on boys” talking point -- which was just part of her long history of criticizing sexual assault prevention measures and minimizing the credibility of survivors.

    Fox itself has spent the better part of the past year -- when not providing the ultimate safe space for Trump and his administration -- embroiled in a series of sexual assault allegations after years of harassment at the network. Such allegations ultimately led to the ouster of both the late Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and longtime host (now aspiring podcast provocateur) Bill O’Reilly, as well as the recent suspension of Fox Business host Charles Payne.

    Although right-wing media have engaged in some of the most overt attacks on survivors, many other outlets are far from magnanimous in their coverage of sexual assault. As coverage around former Stanford student Brock Turner showed, media have a bad habit of sympathetically highlighting the past accomplishments of the accused, or bemoaning the costs to their lives and careers.

    The New York Times fell into this very trap in a July 12 article about the meetings. The Times began its report by highlighting the “heartfelt missives from college students, mostly men, who had been accused of rape or sexual assault” before going on to describe the consequences they faced, ranging from “lost scholarships” to expulsion. In one case, as the Times noted, a man had tried to “take his own life” but “maintained he was innocent” and “had hoped to become a doctor.” In another example, the Times highlighted the comments of the father of an accused student who complained that his son’s “entire world [was] turned upside down” and that, as the paper put it, he had been “forced to abandon his dream of becoming a college wrestling coach.” Reporting like this -- although seemingly benign -- not only perpetuates victim blaming, but also downplays the severity of allegations by treating offenders as the real victims.

    Slate’s Christina Cauterucci described DeVos’ planned meetings as “a classic case of false balance, because the two sides here do not have equal merit.” She noted that one side includes “advocates for sexual-assault victims” while the other is made up of “trolls who have made it their lives’ work to defend domestic violence.” She concluded that however unfortunate the decision to invite these men’s rights groups to meet, it was unsurprising. After all: “As a representative of an administration run by a man with an interest in protecting sexual harrassers, DeVos has every reason to side with the latter.”

    Undeterred, survivors aren’t letting DeVos off the hook that easily. While she meets with men's rights groups that have systematically tried to silence and shame survivors, organizations that advocate for them will be outside the Department of Education making their voices heard.

  • After emails are released, pro-Trump media launch flailing defense of Donald Trump Jr.

    Pro-Trump media figures can’t read

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Multiple pro-Trump far-right media figures falsely suggested that Donald Trump Jr.’s tweets in which he released a chain of emails about his meeting with a lawyer connected to the Kremlin somehow disproved The New York Times’ reporting on the issue.

    The Times reported on July 8 that Trump Jr. met with “a Russian lawyer who has connections to the Kremlin,” and the next day reported that Trump Jr. “was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing” to the meeting. Initially, Trump Jr. falsely told the Times that the meeting, which was set up by publicist Rob Goldstone on behalf of a Russian singer, was “primarily about an adoption program.”

    But on July 11, another Times report revealed details from email correspondence between Trump Jr. and Goldstone in which they arranged the meeting. Shortly before the Times published its July 11 report, Trump Jr. released emails between himself and Goldstone on Twitter to pre-empt the report, with the emails’ content effectively confirming he had lied to the Times earlier.

    Still, prominent pro-Trump media figures immediately jumped to Trump Jr.’s defense, absurdly suggesting that his released emails discredited the Times. Far-right troll Mike Cernovich wrote, “@DonaldJTrumpJr posted the full email, as suspected the lying NY Times fabricated another fake story!” Another far-right troll, Jack Posobiec, wrote, “NY Times story blown out of the water. Emails complete[ly] contradict their ‘anonymous sources’ yesterday.” Jim Hoft of the fringe website The Gateway Pundit wrote that Trump Jr. “beat the #FakeNews media to the punch and released the ENTIRE email chain of his conversation with Rob Goldstone on a meeting with a Russian lawyer.”

    Anyone who actually reads the emails that Trump Jr. released can see that they confirm the Times’ reporting. The emails show that Goldstone told Trump Jr. that the “Crown prosecutor of Russia” offered to “provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary … and would be very useful to your father.” Goldstone also wrote, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr. replied to the email saying, “If it’s what you say I love it.” In a later email, Goldstone asked Trump Jr. about scheduling his meeting with a “Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow.”

    The response is yet another effort by pro-Trump media figures, some of whom have specifically lauded Trump Jr. in the past, to defend the president with false claims and smears against perceived opponents.

  • To right-wing media, Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer is a "nothingburger"

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    After The New York Times reported that Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer during the 2016 campaign in hopes of receiving damaging information on Hillary Clinton, right-wing media immediately defended Trump Jr., calling the report a “nothingburger,” and “a big yawn,” and suggesting it would have been “malpractice” for him not to do so.

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

  • MSNBC's newest host, Hugh Hewitt, has a years-long history of climate denial

    ››› ››› LISA HYMAS

    Conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt, who recently began hosting a Saturday morning program on MSNBC, has long been a climate denier. Like many prominent conservatives, he does not dispute that some change is happening, but he does deny that there's a robust climate-science consensus that attributes the vast majority of warming to human activity and points to the need for serious action.

  • How a scheme to discredit climate science spread from conservative media to the EPA chief

    Scott Pruitt has embraced the “red team/blue team” idea that got exposure from Daily Caller and WSJ

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is calling for a “red team/blue team” review of climate science that would attempt to cast doubt on well-established science and lend an outsize voice to fringe scientists. The idea spread from a climate-denying scientist to conservative outlets like The Daily Caller and The Wall Street Journal to Pruitt, and now more right-wing outlets are promoting it.

    How the “red team/blue team” idea spread

    John Christy, a fringe scientist and climate denier, proposed the creation of a “red team” in comments submitted to the EPA in 2014. His proposal was promoted by the denialist Cooler Heads Coalition, a group of organizations that “question global warming alarmism.” In his comments, Christy wrote:

    The EPA should constitute a “Red Team” of analysts, independent from the climate modeling industry, to judge the current state of knowledge, i.e. the current state of how much we know about the “why” of climate variations. Such an examination would provide transparency to the process and give confidence to the public that the agency values open examination of its methodology.

    In 2015, Christy again promoted the idea of the federal government funding a new “red team” that would review the climate science currently being produced by what he calls the “blue team.” The Daily Caller reported on Christy’s proposal in December 2015:

    Christy told the [Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness] he believes the attempt to study climate change objectively is thwarted by the federal funding process.

    Christy, a well-known climate change skeptic, suggests Congress can fix the problem by directly funding independent “red team” programs.

    And in March of this year, Christy promoted the idea during a hearing held in the House Science Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), a noted climate denier. Judith Curry, another scientist who’s been skeptical of the mainstream consensus on climate change, also testified in favor of the idea. The Washington Post reported on Christy and Curry’s testimony and the “red team” idea:

    A main mission of red teams would be to challenge the scientific consensus on climate change, including the work of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose reports are widely considered the authority on climate science.

    On April 20, the idea got more exposure when it was endorsed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Steven Koonin, a theoretical physicist who has a history of climate denial and served as undersecretary at the Energy Department under President Barack Obama for two years before resigning. Koonin called on the Trump administration “to convene a ‘Red Team/Blue Team’ process for climate science, one of the most important and contentious issues of our age.” He continued:

    The national-security community pioneered the “Red Team” methodology to test assumptions and analyses, identify risks, and reduce—or at least understand—uncertainties. The process is now considered a best practice in high-consequence situations such as intelligence assessments, spacecraft design and major industrial operations.

    As justification for such an exercise, Koonin claimed that the “public is largely unaware of the intense debates within climate science.”

    Shortly after his op-ed was published, Koonin told Axios, “I can tell you that’s found some resonance within the administration. I’m just going to say people seem to be interested.”

    One of those people is Pruitt. In a radio interview on Breitbart News Daily on June 5, Pruitt expressed interest in the “red team/blue team” idea. From a Breitbart article about the interview:

    “What the American people deserve is a true, legitimate, peer-reviewed, objective, transparent discussion about CO2,” [Pruitt] said. “There was a great article that was in the Wall Street Journal about a month or so ago called ‘Red Team, Blue Team’ by Steve Koonin, a scientist, I believe, at NYU. He talked about the importance of having a Red Team of scientists and a Blue Team of scientists, and those scientists get into a room and ask, ‘What do we know? What don’t we know? What risk does it pose to health in the United States and the world, with respect to this issue of [carbon dioxide]?’”

    In the days after that interview, right-wing outlets picked up on the idea again. The Daily Caller reported that it “could upset the supposed ‘consensus’ on man-made global warming.” Breitbart said the proposal “has naturally caused massive upset among the ivory towers of climate science academe” where researchers “aren’t at all used to having their dodgy theories exposed to serious scrutiny.” The right-wing website Daily Signal, the conservative blog Power Line, and the climate-denial blog Watts Up With That also highlighted Pruitt's interview and the red team proposal.

    Why the “red team/blue team” idea is wrongheaded

    In advocating for a “red team” review of climate science, Pruitt, Koonin, and right-wing media are glossing over the fact that climate science already has a method for testing assumptions and analyses: the peer-review system. Climate science papers submitted to respected journals are reviewed by other scientists in the field to assess their soundness and validity.

    As Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Washington Post in June, creating a red team to review climate science would constitute an act of false equivalence and lend, as the Post wrote, “more prominence to alternative ideas than they have earned in the refereed journal process.” Earlier, in March, he told the Post, “The notion that we would need to create an entirely different new approach, in particular for the specific question around global warming is unfounded and ridiculous and simply intended to promote the notion of a lack of consensus about the core findings, which in fact is a false notion.”

    The Post also quoted Marshall Shepherd, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Georgia, who called Koonin’s proposal a “gimmick,” saying, “This just feels to me a like another way to skirt the tried and true scientific process that has worked for years in our field and many others.”

    Climate science has already been litigated ad nauseum in mainstream forums. Numerous studies have found that the vast majority of climate scientists agree that humans are the primary cause of global warming. And recent studies examining the robustness of that consensus have reaffirmed it; about 97 percent of publishing climate scientists concur.


    Via Skeptical Science

    Creating a “red team” could lead to scenarios like the one at a House science committee hearing in March, when climate scientist Michael Mann was outnumbered by fringe scientists and forced to be the sole representative of the scientific consensus on climate change. “We find ourselves at this hearing today, with three individuals who represent that tiny minority that reject this consensus or downplay its significance, and only one—myself—who is in the mainstream,” Mann said in his opening testimony.

    The impact of major newspapers’ opinion pages

    Though fringe, right-wing media have played a substantial role in spreading the “red team/blue team” proposal and other denialist ideas, mainstream newspapers also bear some responsibility. When Pruitt referenced Koonin’s op-ed, it was the second time in less than a week that he had lifted an argument from the opinion pages of a major newspaper to cast doubt on established climate science. On June 2, standing at the podium of the White House press briefing room, Pruitt cited an error-riddled, denialist New York Times column by Bret Stephens in order to downplay “exaggerated” concerns about climate change.

    As a Media Matters study conducted last year demonstrated, climate denial remains a significant problem in the major newspapers. The world has just endured the three hottest years on record, and newspapers are still allowing their opinion pages to be used to deny climate change. That trend is all the more alarming now that the Trump administration is quickly adopting those denialist arguments.