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  • Right-wing media's anti-abortion misinformation playbook for 2020

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump and other conservative candidates have already signaled that anti-abortion lies will be a core part of their 2020 playbook -- tactics that right-wing media are certain to amplify in order to fearmonger and rally support ahead of the election. In line with this, right-wing outlets have already been badgering Democratic candidates about their stances on abortion access, in some cases smearing them with sensationalized and inaccurate tropes about later abortions.

    Following the introduction of measures in New York, Virginia, and other states to ensure abortion access if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, right-wing media generated a firestorm of coverage that mischaracterized Democrats’ efforts to protect abortion rights as promoting “infanticide” or so-called abortion “up to birth.” In reality, the idea that abortions happen up to the “moment of birth” is a fiction fueled by right-wing media and does not reflect any actual medical procedures performed in the U.S. Rather, abortions that happen later in pregnancy are performed for complicated personal and medical reasons, with the people anti-choice advocates compare to murderers often having to make the difficult decision to end a wanted pregnancy. In other instances, people need abortions later in pregnancy due to anti-choice restrictions prohibiting or greatly delaying earlier access.

    Beyond broadly alleging that Democrats support abortion “up to birth,” right-wing media have also promoted the false claim that pro-choice candidates are in favor of denying care to babies “born alive” after so-called “failed abortions.” These alleged “born alive” abortions that right-wing media protest are not based in any medical practice or standard of care, as Rewire.News reported in 2013. Nevertheless, Republicans in Congress recently introduced the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act to aid so-called “abortion survivors” who are “born alive” following an attempted abortion procedure. As doctors Daniel Grossman and Jennifer Conti pointed out to The New York Times, it is more likely that the bill would force doctors to pursue treatment options that run counter to patients’ wishes -- such as ensuring that a fetus delivered “at the edge of viability” but unlikely to survive could not receive “comfort care” which would “allow the child to die naturally without extreme attempts at resuscitation.” In addition, as writer Robin Marty explained, the bill could also be used opportunistically by anti-choice opponents to prosecute abortion providers.

    Right-wing media and anti-abortion groups have used these manufactured controversies as part of a playbook for attacking abortion rights supporters and have already proven they'll deploy the same strategy against candidates. The playbook involves:

    1) Hounding candidates with anti-choice questions -- and spinning any abortion-related answers -- to generate an outrage-based news cycle

    2) Manufacturing fake “grassroots” support for anti-choice misinformation

    3) Using candidate comments about unrelated topics as a jumping-off point to criticize them about abortion

    1. Hounding candidates with anti-choice questions -- and spinning any abortion-related answers -- to generate an outrage-based news cycle

    The tactic

    Although right-wing media have long represented Democratic positions on abortion in bad faith, the campaign trail has given these outlets more opportunities to hound candidates with inaccurate and sensationalized questions about abortion to intentionally generate outrage. In addition, others in the right-wing and anti-abortion media echo chamber are then able to pick up these comments -- or really any comment from candidates on abortion -- and spin them to fit predetermined anti-choice narratives. Thus far, those anti-choice narratives have been focused on Democrats’ alleged support for abortion “up to birth” or even after.

    Unfortunately, this has permeated beyond right-wing media and several outlets outside of this ecosystem have adopted this inaccurate framing. Already in 2019, non-right-wing outlets have uncritically repeated dangerous lies about abortion from Trump’s State of the Union address and echoed the language used by right-wing media and Republicans about efforts to secure a vote for the so-called Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.

    Examples

    Beto O’Rourke

    Presidential candidate and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) received a flurry of inaccurately framed questions about his stance on abortion in March. On March 18, at a campaign event in Ohio, Millie Weaver (also known as “Millennial Millie”), a staffer from the far-right conspiracy outlet Infowars, questioned O’Rourke about his support for abortion access later in pregnancy. Relying on an inaccurate right-wing framing of the topic, Weaver asked:

    Are you for third-trimester abortion or are you going to protect the lives of third-trimester babies? Because there is really not a medical necessity for abortion. It’s not a medical emergency procedure because typically third-trimester abortions take up to three days to have. So, you would -- in that sense, if there was an emergency, the doctors would just do a C-section, and you don’t have to kill the baby in that essence. So, are you for or against third-trimester abortions?

    In her subsequent article about the event, Weaver continued to distort the premise of the question, as well as misrepresenting O’Rourke’s answer. Weaver claimed that she asked “if he supports up-to-birth abortions” and that his answer that abortion should be “a decision that the woman makes” showed he “endorses third-trimester abortions.”

    After that, O’Rourke was peppered with similar questions about abortion from other right-wing outlets and reporters. For example, after Weaver's question, The Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito -- known for producing “revealing dispatches from Trump country” that have drawn claims of fabrication and plagiarism -- asked O’Rourke whether he supported access to third-trimester abortions “to make sure” there was “clarity” about his previous answer. Zito ultimately wrote that “O’Rourke has refused to rule out abortions more than six months into a pregnancy,” but she noted on Twitter that supporters’ “cheers” in reaction to his answer “told me so much about the state of what Democrats want from their eventual nominee.” Apparently dissatisfied that his answer didn’t garner broader coverage, Zito followed up with another piece about O’Rourke’s “extreme abortion stance” days later, complaining:

    It is hard to find any D.C. reporters in a mainstream news organization writing about a viewpoint professed by a Democratic presidential candidate as being “extreme” or “radical.” Yet had this been a Republican candidate coming out in support of something the majority of Americans find impossible to support, it would be a headline for days, followed by asking every Republican running or holding office if they support that radical position as well.

    Right-wing media used O’Rourke's answers to these bad faith questions to claim that he supports abortion “up to birth” or beyond and to say that this view represents the Democratic “party line” on abortion. Fox News, Townhall, and The Daily Wire published articles condemning the alleged position of O’Rourke and the Democratic Party on abortion access. Right-wing media figures echoed this approach, with the Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro saying on Fox & Friends that “Beto O'Rourke and every other major Democrat feel forced to embrace this position, that you have to be for abortion up to and sometimes beyond the point of birth. It just demonstrates the radicalism of the Democratic Party.”

    Fox News host Sean Hannity dedicated an entire opening monologue on March 19 to this claim. Hannity claimed that O’Rourke’s comments were further evidence of the Democratic Party’s “barbaric abortion agenda” and said, “If Democrats get their way, well, third-trimester abortion, including infanticide during and after birth -- well, that would be perfectly legal and readily available. Sadly, they’re fighting for that. They would protect infanticide seemingly above all else.” To further his point, he also displayed this on-screen graphic:

    Anti-abortion groups and other conservative figures signal-boosted right-wing media’s claims about the alleged “extremism” of O’Rourke’s position (and by extension, the Democratic Party’s). For example, American Conservative Union chair Matt Schlapp presented the comments as part of Democrats’ efforts to allow so-called “post-birth abortion.” Anti-abortion group Live Action claimed O’Rourke “barbarically defends abortion until birth." Kristan Hawkins, president of anti-abortion group Students for Life of America, tweeted:

    Anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List even sent supporters a fundraising appeal citing O’Rourke’s comment, saying the organization needed followers to make “a pro-life contribution” to help the group “fight back in the name of saving ALL babies and to STOP Beto O’Rourke’s extreme pro-abortion and pro-infanticide agenda.”

    Outlets outside of the right-wing media ecosystem have also adopted this framing at times without offering pushback. Newsweek published Weaver’s question to O’Rourke (but identified her as “a crowd member”) and O’Rourke’s response, but did not provide adequate context about what support for abortions later in pregnancy means or dispute the flawed premise of Weaver’s question. The Hill also reported on O’Rourke’s responses to Weaver and to the Washington Examiner, but focused on his “fundraising status” and "national prominence” without noting the flawed basis of the questioning itself.

    Bernie Sanders

    During a Fox News town hall event, candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was also asked an inaccurate question based on anti-abortion misinformation. Notably, Fox News is attempting to leverage Democratic candidate town halls to sanitize the network’s image, which is currently suffering as companies become less willing to associate with its toxic commentary. During Sanders’ town hall, anchor Martha MacCallum -- who works on Fox’s “news” side but has a history of pushing anti-abortion lies -- asked Sanders, “With regard to abortion, do you believe that a woman should be able to terminate a pregnancy up until the moment of birth?”

    Sanders’ answer that abortion in the third-trimester "happens very rarely” and “the decision over abortion belongs to a woman and her physician” predictably evoked the ire of right-wing and anti-abortion media, with one headline proclaiming “Bernie Sanders Supports Abortions Up to Birth, Okay to Kill Babies Up to Birth Because ‘It’s Rare.’” During the April 16 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson said of Sanders’ comments, “Like 10 years ago, that would be considered like an extreme position. Today, it's the moderate position in the Democratic Party. Some are defending ‘infanticide’ just flat-out. Safe, legal, and rare. No. That's not at all the position today. It should be free, frequent, and horrifying.” Anti-abortion advocate Lila Rose similarly (and inaccurately) summarized Sanders’ response:

    Elizabeth Warren

    In March, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) received a question about the so-called “Born Alive” bill when someone in a crowd shouted at her, “What about the babies that survive abortion? How come they can’t have health care?” Warren replied that “infanticide is illegal everywhere in America” and moved on. Despite Warren’s accurate characterization of the bill, right-wing outlets spun the answer as Warren defending her “abortion extremism” or intentionally avoiding answering the question.

    Cory Booker

    In April, candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said people have started to ask him if he voted for a bill that allows “us to kill babies when they’re born.” Booker responded by saying, “That is a felony” and explaining that the bill (meaning the “Born Alive” bill) was “put forth to try to create schisms and differences between us.” Predictably, anti-abortion and right-wing media claimed Booker was “defending voting for infanticide.”

    Pete Buttigieg

    Right-wing and anti-abortion media utilized comments from South Bend, IN, Mayor and candidate Pete Buttigieg about abortion and reproductive rights to push misinformation -- with at least one outlet outside of right-wing media circles falling for this false premise in subsequent coverage.

    Following comments from Buttigieg in March that he supported measures introduced to protect abortion access in Virginia and New York, National Review’s David French argued that Buttigieg “has zero appeal to religious conservatives so long as he holds to the Democratic party line on the right of a woman to hire a doctor to kill a viable, living unborn baby.” During Buttigieg’s candidacy announcement speech, he said that “women’s equality is freedom, because you’re not free if your reproductive health choices are dictated by male politicians or bosses.” Fox News host Laura Ingraham argued during the April 15 edition of her show that Buttigieg’s vision of “reproductive freedom” apparently does not include “the unborn child in the womb or, for that matter, the child born ... after a botched abortion in this new Democrat Party. I don't see the freedom there.”

    This framing spread beyond the right-wing media echo chamber on the April 18 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe. During the segment, co-host Willie Geist asked Buttigieg about third-trimester abortions, and, after Buttigieg noted that it can be an “incredibly painful set of decisions in these horrifying medical cases,” Geist said, “But to people who would criticize that, they’d say, ‘Actually there is a pretty easy answer -- that’s a fundamental child in the third term … of pregnancy, that is a human being who could be born alive and have a great and full life,’ and so it is a pretty easy question to people who would criticize your answer.” Geist’s question relied on right-wing framing and anti-abortion misinformation that he and the other hosts did not refute. The back-and-forth was picked up by right-wing and anti-abortion outlets, which spread further misinformation about Buttigieg’s answer, with LifeNews.com tweeting that Buttigieg “is perfectly fine with killing defenseless unborn babies in abortions right up to birth.” 

    In each instance, right-wing media relied on either inaccurately framed questions or dishonest spin to generate outrage and drive additional news cycles about alleged Democratic extremism on abortion.

    2. Manufacturing fake “grassroots” support for anti-choice misinformation

    The tactic

    Beyond peppering Democratic candidates with incendiary and inaccurately framed questions about abortion, right-wing media have also attempted to propagate the idea that there is “grassroots” opposition to supporting abortion access. Following the introduction of Virginia and New York’s recent measures, right-wing media heavily promoted the narrative that Democrats are pushing an “extreme” position on abortion that is not supported by their base. This is an approach that the Republican Party -- including Trump himself -- has adopted as part of a 2020 election strategy at both the federal and the state level. Right-wing media and Republicans previously deployed this strategy during the ultimately failed 2017 special election for U.S. Senate in Alabama.

    Right-wing media have also attempted to extrapolate about voters’ probable opposition to a candidate’s position on abortion based on polling about specific abortion policies or viewpoints. Most frequently, right-wing media have touted polls claiming to represent likely voters’ support for bans on abortion after 20 weeks -- which would include procedures performed in both the second and the third trimester. While some polls have suggested that support for abortion access decreases as a pregnancy advances, polls that provide adequate context about the specific circumstances surrounding why a person would choose to have an abortion after 20 weeks don’t show the same results. In fact, as experts have explained, these polls better reflect the reality of abortion later in pregnancy and thus show that people support maintaining this health care option.

    Examples

    To prove allegations of so-called Democratic extremism, right-wing media have cherry-picked examples of people opposing abortion and presented these views as being widely held. For example, after O’Rourke responded to Infowars' question, Fox & Friends First aired two segments that shared the thoughts of random Twitter users who disliked his answer:

    On Fox News’ Hannity, Fox News contributor Lawrence Jones was sent to Texas to ask voters about O’Rourke’s alleged position on abortion, with many in the resulting segment claiming he was problematically extreme.

    Some right-wing media also specifically noted when questions came from non-media participants in an effort to imply that those questioners represented the views of many voters. For example, on One America News’ The Tipping Point, host Liz Wheeler applauded a “student who asked a question” about abortion, saying “professional reporters” wouldn’t do it “because Beto’s a Democrat, and the mainstream media wants to protect the left.” Conversely, many right-wing media outlets failed to note that Weaver, who asked O’Rourke if he would “protect the lives of third-trimester babies,” works for Infowars. The Daily Caller, Fox News, TheBlaze, Washington Free Beacon, and National Review credited either an “attendee” or “a woman” at the event for the question.

    Right-wing media have also pointed to imprecise polling on abortion and a supposed lack of public support for the health care staple in discussions of candidates' answers. Townhall’s Lauretta Brown wrote that O’Rourke’s answer about abortion to Infowars “marks a significant departure from public opinion and state laws.” CBN News said the Democratic presidential candidates “are out of step with the public.” After candidate Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) answered a question on abortion during MSNBC’s Morning Joe by saying “the reality of it is that you got to protect the woman’s right to choose,” Townhall’s Guy Benson tweeted that Ryan was “pandering to” a supposedly extreme position that he claimed was only “shared by roughly one-fifth of the electorate.” The Washington Free Beacon also wrote that Booker had cast votes against anti-abortion legislation “despite popular public opinion” supporting them.

    These assertions are largely based on polling that asks generic questions about abortion. However, polling that puts into context why someone would have an abortion after 20 weeks shows a different result. There’s a drastic drop in support for 20-week bans when people realize that abortions in later stages of pregnancy are often undertaken out of medical necessity or for particular personal circumstances. For example, a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study found that when asked in the abstract about later abortion, “less than a quarter of people (23%) believe women should have access to a legal abortion after 24 weeks.” However, that flipped when people were asked about access to a later abortion when a pregnant person had been infected with the Zika virus -- with results showing “a majority of Americans (59%) believe a woman should have access to a legal abortion after 24 weeks” in that situation. In other words, as Hart Research Associates found, “once voters consider the range of circumstances in which abortions would be made illegal under most 20-week abortion ban proposals, a majority of Americans oppose them.”

    In each instance, right-wing media have relied on selective samples of public opinion and opinion polling to give the appearance of widespread opposition to Democratic support for abortion access. In reality, right-wing media have been intentionally fearmongering about so-called Democratic extremism on abortion as part of a 2020 strategy being pushed by Trump and other members of his administration.

    3. Using candidate comments about unrelated topics as a jumping-off point to criticize them about abortion

    The tactic

    Anti-abortion groups and right-wing media have also tried spinning non-abortion comments from candidates to fit anti-abortion groups' stereotypes about Democrats. Right-wing media relied on this approach to spread misinformation and stigma before, employing similar spin to try to connect abortion to the Parkland school shooting, the Trump administration’s family separation policy, and Christine Blasey Ford’s report that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were in high school.

    Examples

    At a CNN town hall, when Warren said her “favorite Bible verse” includes the lesson that “there is value in every single human being,” the anti-abortion group Concerned Women for America asked, “But only the ones that are wanted? What about the ones who survive an abortion?” Warren repeated this comment on her Twitter account, prompting The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh to claim that her comment proved Democrats “will actually jump on any opportunity to extol the virtue of human life and the value of human life,” but “you would think they would avoid talking about that because they know 60 million babies have been slaughtered in the womb and they are perfectly OK with that.” He also asserted:

    Even though the Democratic Party is the party of Satan, and even though it has embraced satanism and it has embraced infanticide and all of these forms of just the most -- the darkest, most debauched, evil you can imagine, even in spite of all that, still most Democrats feel the need to pretend to be Christian.

    In response to a tweet from candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) explaining her belief that “housing is a basic human right,” anti-abortion activist Lila Rose replied, “If housing is a basic human right, then I imagine you’re even more passionate about the right for a child to be born?” Following comments from Buttigieg about Trump’s religion, Fox News contributor Rachel Campos-Duffy dismissed his criticism because Buttigieg “is a guy who is on the record as a supporter of late-term abortion.” Tucker Carlson said on his show of Buttigieg, “This is a guy telling us what a great Christian he is, who’s for abortion up until birth and for sex-selection. Spare me your Christian talk, please. It's absurd.”

    Similarly, when candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called Trump “a coward,” right-wing radio host Stacy Washington replied, “You believe in abortion up to birth, gun confiscation, open borders and limp-wristed governance. You have no room to call anyone a coward.” When Gillibrand later tweeted about legislation she introduced that would “limit opioid prescriptions for acute pain to 7 days,” Fox News’ Brit Hume replied with an inaccurate comparison between her comments and the idea that abortion should be between a patient and a doctor. He wasn’t the only one to make this inaccurate “joke.”

    Anti-abortion activist Alveda King wrote a piece for Newsmax claiming that “Booker is touting a new reparations bill for African Americans while secretly supporting an agenda of genocide and infanticide by abortion of millions of black babies.” After comments from candidate Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) that the “number one cause of death for a black child in America today is gun violence,” LifeNews.com tweeted, “Actually @ericswalwell the #1 killer of black children is abortion.”

    Right-wing media regularly dominate the conversation about abortion -- so it is unsurprising that these outlets are working overtime to drive an inaccurate narrative in advance of the 2020 election. Trump and the GOP have emphasized anti-abortion misinformation as a core part of their electoral strategies, and right-wing media have already shown their willingness to manufacture or signal boost these attacks. It is crucial for other media outlets to recognize these tactics and provide important context, rather than repeating lies and misinformation from these sources.

    Graphics by Melissa Joskow

  • For the 2020 elections, Republicans are trying to insert anti-abortion talking points into mainstream outlets

    A recent vote on the so-called Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act seems designed to play into Republicans' 2020 strategy

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After Senate Republicans recently pushed for a procedural vote on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act -- legislation intended to solve a nonexistent problem invented by anti-choice groups -- right-wing media falsely alleged that Democrats who voted against the bill were promoting “infanticide.” Some other media outlets have uncritically echoed these claims, repeating harmful and sensationalized characterizations of abortions and failing to address the misinformation promoted by Republicans as part of their 2020 election strategy.

    On February 25, the Senate failed to advance a bill that Republicans touted as aiding so-called “abortion survivors” who are “born alive” following an attempted abortion procedure. In reality, experts have affirmed this rarely (if ever) happens and is instead a concept invented by anti-choice groups to spark fear. The push for the procedural vote came following a deluge of inaccurate and sensationalized right-wing media coverage manufactured to evoke outrage over state measures to protect abortion access in the event that the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Right-wing media repeatedly and falsely characterized those state measures as allowing “infanticide.”

    As right-wing media continued to excoriate Democrats for allegedly supporting such measures, Republicans and anti-abortion groups posed the so-called “Born-Alive” bill as a different solution to the very same problem these groups had just manufactured to score political points. Vox's Anna North explained that Republicans pushed this vote despite knowing it would fail as part of a strategy of “bringing back the issue of very late abortions, perhaps in the hope of energizing their base in advance of 2020.” The real goal of the recent bill was “to get Democrats on record opposing it,” which Republicans and right-wing media will spin as evidence of Democrats’ supposed “extremism” on abortion rights. President Donald Trump telegraphed this strategy for Republicans when he alleged in the State of the Union address that Democrats want to pass laws allowing "a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth."

    In reality, the bill would be rather ineffective at addressing the alleged crisis of “abortion survivors” being pushed by right-wing media. Reproductive rights historian Mary Ziegler explained to Newsweek that “if the aim of the bill is to protect the lives of born infants, legislation already exists to serve that purpose” in the so-called “‘Born Alive Infants Protection Act’ of 2002.” The only differences, Ziegler said, are that the existing law “isn't abortion specific,” and “also doesn't have criminal penalties for doctors.”

    Although the new bill is an ineffective solution to right-wing media’s manufactured problem, it could be a highly effective tool for restricting access to health care and intimidating abortion providers. As doctors Daniel Grossman and Jennifer Conti pointed out to The New York Times, it is more likely that the bill would force doctors to pursue treatment options that run counter to patients’ wishes -- such as ensuring that a fetus delivered “at the edge of viability” but unlikely to survive could not receive “comfort care” which would “allow the child to die naturally without extreme attempts at resuscitation.” In addition, as writer Robin Marty explained, the bill could be used opportunistically by anti-choice opponents to prosecute abortion providers.

    After the vote, right-wing media ran with the further sensationalized misinformation

    After right-wing media’s overwhelming outrage about proactive abortion protections in New York and Virginia, those outlets did not miss the opportunity provided by the Senate vote to push dangerous and extreme rhetoric about Democrats and to promote more misinformation about abortion.

    On Fox News’ Fox & Friends, co-host Ainsley Earhardt falsely claimed Democratic senators -- particularly those running for president in 2020 -- “want to make the decision not to allow [a] child to survive.” TheBlaze wrote that “opponents to this bill are saying that the medical practitioner performing the abortion should be allowed to finish the job of killing the baby even if it is somehow born alive.” National Review said Democratic senators “revealed their belief that allowing unwanted infants to perish after birth constitutes a form of women’s health care.” The Washington Examiner asked: “With their stance on infanticide bill, do Democrats show a death wish?” The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh called NARAL Pro-Choice America “blood-drenched scumbags” for pointing out the various ways the bill would cause harm to patients and providers. Fox News host Laura Ingraham even took the opportunity to compare Planned Parenthood and “the left” to Adolf Hitler:

    Other media outlets uncritically adopted right-wing media’s problematic and inaccurate framing

    Although other outlets haven’t echoed Ingraham’s comparison of Democrats to Hitler, some media outlets have uncritically accepted or repeated right-wing talking points about the bill in headlines and on social media without providing necessary pushback or context:

    • Louisiana’s KALB News Channel 5 [Twitter, 2/26/19]

    • Arizona’s KVOA News 4 Tucson [Twitter, 2/26/19]

    Other media outlets framed the bill correctly as a political tactic by Republicans or as an attempt to regulate something that has no medical basis. Journalists should be aware that right-wing media are using misinformation about this Senate bill to convince voters -- and not only Republican ones -- to reject Democrats’ alleged “extremism” in the 2020 elections. When other outlets carelessly repeat anti-choice lies, it plays right into this deceptive and harmful strategy. Media have a responsibility when reporting on abortion to include context about the implications of such bills and to ensure that they aren’t serving as conduits for anti-choice fearmongering designed to influence the 2020 election.

  • Media outlets uncritically push Trump’s anti-abortion lies while reporting on the State of the Union

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Donald Trump’s presidency has created a requirement for outlets to hold themselves accountable for managing his often false and inflammatory rhetoric, by including context and accurate information about his statements directly in headlines and tweets, as well as supplying details in reports. Trump’s inaccurate claims about abortion during the 2019 State of the Union were a prime opportunity for media to provide important context -- an opportunity that some outlets missed, instead promoting Trump’s lies uncritically though headlines and social media.

    During his address, Trump repeated talking points from a scandal manufactured by right-wing media alleging that Democrats support state bills supposedly legalizing “infanticide” or abortions “up to moment of birth.” In his speech, Trump said that a law in New York "would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth," claimed a Virginia bill would allow providers to "execute a baby after birth,"and called on Congress "to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children." In reality, Democratic legislators in New York recently passed legislation to codify Roe v. Wade's abortion protections at the state level, and Virginia Democrats introduced a bill to remove unnecessary barriers to abortion access, which has since been tabled.

    Right-wing media have responded with an avalanche of inaccurate coverage and extreme rhetoric, including saying that abortions later in pregnancy are “murders” and that Democrats were endorsing “infanticide.” To be clear, neither of these claims has any basis in reality. Abortions that take place later in pregnancy are extremely rare and often performed for medical necessity or due to access barriers created by anti-choice politicians. Right-wing media’s characterization of these abortion procedures as happening “at birth” -- or in some cases, allegedly after -- is simply wrong; according to medical professionals, such a scenario “does not occur.” Indeed, as patients who have had abortions later in pregnancy wrote in an open letter: “The stories we hear being told about later abortion in this national discussion are not our stories. They do not reflect our choices or experiences.”

    Here are the some of the outlets that reported Trump’s comments on abortion without providing this necessary context:

    • ABC’s World News Tonight [Twitter, 2/5/19]

    • NBC News [Twitter, 2/5/19]
    • The New York Times [Twitter, 2/5/19]

    • PBS NewsHour [Twitter, 2/5/19]

  • 2018 was marked by anti-abortion extremism, lies, and harassment

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Anti-abortion figures and right-wing media continued to push misinformation about reproductive health in 2018 and tried to insert abortion into nearly every major news story -- no matter how tenuous the connection. The past year also included ample efforts by anti-choice groups to influence federal policy under President Donald Trump, as well as several anti-abortion acts of harassment and violence. Here are some lowlights of anti-abortion extremism this year:

    Right-wing and anti-abortion media attempted to distract from various news stories by drawing inaccurate comparisons to or blaming abortion

    As the Trump presidency entered its second year, right-wing and anti-abortion media attempted to deflect from the administration’s various crises by drawing ridiculous comparisons to reproductive rights or blaming abortion.

    Parkland shooting and the gun-control debate


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    • After a February 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, left 17 dead, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan compared the debate around gun violence prevention policies to calls from the anti-abortion movement to restrict access to abortions after 20 weeks. Noonan argued that lawmakers should “trade banning assault weapons for banning late-term abortion. Make illegal a killing machine and a killing procedure. In both cases the lives of children would be saved.”
    • LifeNews.com’s Steven Ertelt tweeted:
    • During a February 22 appearance on Fox News’ Fox News @ Night, Townhall's Guy Benson talked about the supposed media bias of outlets reporting on the NRA’s political donations but not covering donations from Planned Parenthood’s political arm.
    • Writing for Townhall, conservative blogger Erick Erickson also compared Planned Parenthood to the NRA, saying that “elite opinion makers in America champion Planned Parenthood, which actually does kill thousands of children each year, while savaging the National Rifle Association, which has never killed a child and whose members have actually saved others' lives.”
    • On the March 1 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson asked Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI), “What would drive a 19-year-old to want to murder strangers?” In response, Duffy partly blamed abortion, saying, “We dehumanize life in those video games and in those movies, and with abortion.”
    • During the March 2 edition of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham claimed that people should be angier about Planned Parenthood performing abortions than about the role that the NRA plays in facilitating easier access to firearms. Ingraham stated, “If we're going to judge people based on an organization’s blood spilled, well, I hope Planned Parenthood is going to lose all of its partnerships or affiliations given the fact that we have about 57 million babies who never got to see the light of day.”
    • During the March 4 edition of Fox News’ Fox and Friends Weekend, conservative radio host Kathy Barnette said that although the Parkland shooter “killed 17 little souls on that day, but Planned Parenthood kills over 800 babies on a daily basis, and where is the moral outrage on that?”

    Family separation policy


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    • On the June 18 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson attacked Democrats for opposing the Trump administration’s policy requiring the separation of immigrant children from their parents as they cross the U.S. border, saying that the “same people who support third-term, post-viability abortion for purposes of sex selection” were “lecturing” others about “the holiness of children.”
    • Rep. Steve King (R-IA) tweeted:
    • On Westwood One’s The Mark Levin Show, host Mark Levin said that “suddenly the Democrats care about children” after Trump’s family separation policy went into effect. Levin went on to claim inaccurately that “when it comes to abortion,” Democrats support it “right up to the last second. It can be eight months, 29 days, and they still support abortion.”
    • Anti-abortion outlet LifeNews.com responded to a tweet from Planned Parenthood saying children shouldn’t be separated from their parents by alleging that Planned Parenthood was “ignoring how its own practices permanently and violently separate children from their fathers and mothers” and that the organization “does that 876 times a day in abortions.”
    • An article on the website for CRTV’s Louder with Crowder claimed that Planned Parenthood “separates babies from mothers every day. With surgical brutality. These babies are not being stored in chain-linked cages, waiting for processing. Planned Parenthood stores their children in jars. A calvarium in one jar, legs in another. Parts shipped, and sold, separately.”
    • Media Research Center’s Dan Gainor posted this since-deleted tweet:

    Confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    • On September 16, The Washington Post published an exclusive interview with Christine Blasey Ford, sharing her previously anonymous account of being assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when they were both in high school. On September 17, Erick Erickson wrote a post claiming that "the left" was amplifying her account as a tactic to keep abortion legal: “This entire thing is about the right to kill kids, not about the veracity of the accusation.” He continued, “The left is perfectly willing to destroy a man's reputation in order to keep destroying children,” adding that Democrats would use an “uncorroborated, single sourced, 35 year old claim … to protect the right to kill girls in utero.”
    • During the September 17 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson made a similar argument, claiming that Ford’s report came out only because Kavanaugh would likely be the deciding vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. “Does anyone really believe this story would have surfaced if Brett Kavanaugh had pledged allegiance to Roe v. Wade?” he asked. “Of course it wouldn't have. … Whatever the story is, it's not about protecting women. Don't buy that spin.”
    • From the Washington Examiner:

    • Micaiah Bilger, who writes for anti-abortion outlet LifeNews.com, tweeted at the Planned Parenthood Action Fund account: “If allegations are enough to disqualify someone from something, shouldn't all the allegations against you, Planned Parenthood, disqualify you from getting half a billion of our tax dollars every year?”
    • Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue tweeted a link to a bizarre website that claimed Ford’s account was politically motivated because of the potential impact Kavanaugh’s confirmation would have on the production of a so-called abortion pill. This is a false claim attempting to conflate her research for a pharmaceutical company that developed mifepristone to treat hyperglycemia related to Cushing's syndrome with pills used in medication abortions:
    • On Fox & Friends, Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera said that Ford’s motivation was “all about abortion” because “Kavanaugh is a pro-life guy and this is what it's all about.”
    • Right-wing site RedState argued: “The whole reason Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is in the crosshairs of a sexual assault allegation ... is because the left is 100 percent focused on making sure their ability to abort children and profit from it goes uninterrupted.”
    • Religious news site The Stream wrote, “The anti-Kavanaughs — i.e. the Left, the Democrats — could not care less whether he’s innocent or guilty.” Rather, “this is about abortion. It’s about the larger sexual ideology as well, but abortion first and foremost,” because “abortion is both sacrament and god” to those groups.

    Some right-wing media and anti-abortion groups pushed extremist narratives or engaged in harassment

    Harassment, extremism, and violence are not new tactics to the anti-abortion movement. But 2018 featured some particularly notable instances when anti-abortion groups and right-wing media engaged in perpetuating harmful misinformation, conspiracy theories, and extreme narratives about abortion, or fueled anti-abortion harassment:


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    • In January, the extreme anti-abortion group Operation Rescue started signal-boosting a series of posts targeting Planned Parenthood originating from a far-right message board on 8chan as the organization began delving into the QAnon conspiracy theory. The group leaders Troy Newman and Cheryl Sullenger -- the latter having served time for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic -- further slid into full embrace of the QAnon conspiracy theory over the course of the year.
    • The founders of a group connected to Operation Rescue, Abortion Free New Mexico, also started promoting QAnon-related conspiracies, which the outlet New Mexico Political Report called “a concerning shift in focus and organizing, contradicting their stated goals of non-violence and inclusive outreach.”


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    • In March, National Review writer Kevin Williamson was hired by The Atlantic even though Williamson had previously expressed misogynistic and homophobic viewpoints. Among these was his statement that “women who have had abortions should face capital punishment, namely hanging.” After initially defending Williamson’s hiring as an exercise in ideological diversity, Atlantic Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg announced in April that the outlet was “parting ways” with Williamson. In particular, Goldberg noted that Williamson’s doubling down on his argument that those who have had abortions should be hanged -- made in a podcast uncovered by Media Matters the day before Williamson’s firing -- “runs contrary to The Atlantic’s tradition of respectful, well-reasoned debate, and to the values of our workplace.”
    • On June 1, right-wing outlet Infowars livestreamed a protest at a Planned Parenthood clinic the day after the anniversary of the murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. This stunt continued a long line of right-wing media fostering or encouraging anti-abortion harassment, including the 2015 Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooter who had a penchant for right-wing media such as Fox News and Infowars.
    • In November, right-wing media and anti-abortion figures had a tantrum over what they called a "horrible new ad” attributed to Planned Parenthood -- despite the so-called ad actually being a 2015 video from a political action committee, not Planned Parenthood. However, as conservative figures continued to express disgust, people on social media started to make threats of violence against the health care organization citing shares of the 2015 video online.

    Right-wing media celebrated the Supreme Court giving a boost to anti-abortion fake health clinics

    Fake health clinics (also known as anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers) engage in deception and manipulation in their advertising and interactions with clients with the goal of stopping that person from accessing an abortion. This year, fake health clinics were front and center at the Supreme Court in a case called National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra. The Supreme Court decided in favor of the NIFLA, stopping the implementation of a California law designed to deter some of the manipulative practices of these fake health clinics. Right-wing media celebrated the decision as a “win” for free speech:


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    • National Review’s editors lamented that the vote was only 5-4, writing that it “should not have been a narrow one,” and that the closeness occurred because “four of the Court’s justices were so hell-bent on promoting the manufactured right to abortion that they were prepared to jettison” the right to free speech. The editors called the California law “an obvious and malicious violation of the First Amendment” and argued that it was “perhaps the best example of the rapidly growing extremism of the abortion-rights movement.”
    • National Review's Alexandra DeSanctis:
    • The Catholic Association’s Andrea Picciotti-Bayer wrote an op-ed for Fox News arguing that the decision “vindicates women and the pregnancy centers who help them” because “the most important service found at a pregnancy center is caring.”
    • In a Newsmax article titled “SCOTUS Gives America a Free Speech, Pro-Life Birthday Gift,” Priests for Life National Director Frank Pavone celebrated the NIFLA decision as “a victory to the fundamental rights which America promised to guarantee at its inception.”
    • Alliance Defending Freedom’s Jessica Prol Smith wrote for The Federalist that "even Americans who call themselves ‘pro choice’ can celebrate this court’s decision to protect authentic options and protect freedom for a woman to choose motherhood.”

    Anti-abortion groups continued to push misinformation about abortion and to allege that they were being censored to rally support and raise money

    Anti-abortion groups continued to promote misinformation on reproductive rights and to use claims that they were being censored by social media companies and news outlets as a tactic to rally support and raise money:


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    • In honor of the annual anti-abortion rally the March for Life, right-wing outlets published several articles claiming that the anti-choice movement has science on its side. For example, Fox News’ opinion page published an article by Lauren DeBellis Appell about the March for Life that praised the anti-abortion movement and said it was “winning” in the United States because of technological advancements, including ultrasounds. Christianity Today similarly quoted Denise Harle, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, as saying that “science and technology are on our side” specifically in the context of the myth that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks. As The Atlantic noted in a January 18 piece, the anti-abortion movement’s embrace of science could be seen as a “dramatic reversal” because “pro-choice activists have long claimed science for their own side.” Demonstrating support for this view among anti-abortion groups, the January 18 article was picked up by organizations such as the March for Life, Democrats for Life, and the Charlotte Lozier Institute. The March for Life rally adopted the idea that “pro-life is pro-science” as part of its official theme for 2019.
    • Anti-abortion outlet LifeSiteNews asked for donations in light of supposed censorship by social media companies. The site posted in March 2018 about the “surprising and disturbing reason why LifeSite’s Spring campaign is struggling.” The reason, according to LifeSiteNews, “is an almost declared war by the globalist social media giants – Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube against websites, blogs and individuals who promote conservative views.” LifeSiteNews pleaded to its readers, writing, “To those of you who were not blocked from reading this letter, we are depending on you much more than normal to help us to reach our goal.” Unsurprisingly, the outlet provided zero evidence of the censorship it was allegedly experiencing.
    • Following Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress in April 2018, anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) emailed supporters to detail instances where the group claimed to have been censored by social media companies. SBA List then asked supporters to “please make a generous donation of $250 to help win the fight against pro-abortion Silicon Valley elites!”
    • On October 24, SBA List tweeted that Facebook was “censoring” the organization because it had pulled two of its 2018 midterm elections ads which urged people to “vote pro-life” and to oppose a candidate who allegedly “supports painful late-term abortions.” After the ads were pulled, the group sent out a fundraising email asking people to “Please RUSH a contribution … to help us fight back and get this ad in front of voters in key swing-states DESPITE the ongoing censorship of pro-life voices by the abortion lobby.” SBA List also tweeted that “deleting these ads just weeks before the midterm elections advances the pro-abortion argument" and again claimed that “censoring a #prolife ad that respectfully exposes the brutality of late abortions” meant that Facebook was “publicly taking a stand that they SUPPORT painful late-term abortions of VIABLE children.”


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    • A 12-month-long Media Matters study of evening cable news programs found that Fox News dominated discussions of abortion and reproductive rights, but the network’s coverage was wrong 77 percent of the time about four common abortion-related topics: the discredited anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP), abortion funding rules, Planned Parenthood’s essential services, and so-called extreme abortion procedures.
    • On One America News Network’s Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, host Liz Wheeler frequently alleged that liberals were ignoring right-wing anti-abortion conspiracy theories about Planned Parenthood misusing federal funds, supposedly promoting abortion for profit, or engaging in the cover-up of sexual abuse of minors.

    Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services continued to be a hot bed for anti-abortion groups and misinformation

    Last year, Media Matters documented how Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was filled with appointees promoting anti-choice “alternative science” about contraception and abortion. While some of those people have moved to other areas of the administration or just moved on, Trump’s HHS has continued to employ and promote the work of anti-abortion movement darlings in 2018:

    • In January, Politico reported that people like Roger Severino, the head of the Office of Civil Rights in HHS, and Shannon Royce, the director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, are part of “a small cadre of politically prominent religious activists inside” HHS who “have spent months quietly planning how to weaken federal protections for abortion and transgender care — a strategy that's taking shape in a series of policy moves that took even their own staff by surprise.” Royce used to be chief of staff and chief operations officer at the anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council and had previously promoted harmful “ex-gay” conversion therapy.
    • Scott Lloyd became known for denying abortion care to unaccompanied immigrant teens in his custody as the head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Lloyd left his position at ORR in November, but he still works with HHS as part of the Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives and is also planning to write an anti-abortion book. Before his move, Lloyd had reportedly inquired whether a teenager in HHS custody could have her abortion “reversed,” an anti-abortion scam that is not based in science. According to The New York Times, Lloyd also kept a weekly spreadsheet of the “unaccompanied minors who have asked” for an abortion, with information about “how far along” their pregnancy was during his time at ORR. Lloyd was also responsible for slowing down the release of detained children under Trump’s family separation policy as he decided “to personally review requests” for “hundreds of kids.” This resulted in detained children spending “extra time in the jail-like facilities, which have been associated with far more allegations of abuse and mistreatment than the shelters and homestays that hold most of the children in ORR custody.”
    • In May 2018, Diana Foley became deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Population Affairs, which oversees the Title X family planning program. As Rewire.News noted, Foley had “served as the president and CEO of Life Network, which, according to its website, promotes ‘life-affirming alternatives to abortion’ and operates two anti-choice clinics.” Beyond this, Foley had also given a 2016 presentation in which she expressed support for the discredited idea that people pathologically experience emotional and physical difficulties as a direct result of having an abortion.
    • In 2018, Steven Valentine became the chief of staff for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health. As Rewire.News reported, Valentine served as SBA List’s interim legislative director where he actively worked to draft and pass anti-abortion legislation. His brother Billy Valentine still works for SBA List as the organization’s vice president of public policy.
    • Before Matthew Bowman became deputy general counsel at HHS in 2018, he worked for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) as part of the organization’s team “litigating some of ADF’s most prominent religious imposition cases.” Rewire.News wrote that during these cases, “Bowman repeatedly promoted the false claim that intrauterine devices and emergency contraceptives cause abortions. His distaste for ensuring access to contraceptives extended to writing a January 2015 post for the conservative site TownHall.com with the headline: ‘How the contraception mandate may spread measles.’”

    Anti-abortion violence and harassment continued against abortion providers and clinics

    Every year, the National Abortion Federation releases a report documenting the previous years’ incidents of anti-abortion harassment and violence against providers, patients, and clinics. This year’s report found that “trespassing more than tripled, death threats/threats of harm nearly doubled, and incidents of obstruction rose from 580 in 2016 to more than 1,700 in 2017. We also continued to see an increase in targeted hate mail/harassing phone calls, and clinic invasions, and had the first attempted bombing in many years.” The harassment of abortion providers, clinics, and supporters continued in 2018:


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    • In February, a man crashed a stolen vehicle into a Planned Parenthood in New Jersey “injuring a pregnant woman and two others.” According to prosecutors, the man had begun “researching the locations of Planned Parenthood clinics more than a year before.” He was later charged with terrorism, but pleaded not guilty.
    • Flip Benham, the former head of anti-abortion extremist group Operation Save America, was arrested in North Carolina and “charged with communicating threats” outside of a clinic in Charlotte, according to The Charlotte Observer.
    • In March, a man in West Virginia was “charged with making threats on Facebook against the Pittsburgh office of Planned Parenthood,” according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Before the alleged threats, he had written on Facebook “that his girlfriend got an abortion against his wishes in 2010. He said he found out who the clinicians were who aborted his child and said he knew five houses where he could steal an AR-15.”
    • A man suspected of setting off a series of bombs in Austin, TX, was reported to have “previously wrote online that he was opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage.”
    • A Planned Parenthood in San Diego was vandalized twice in six weeks.
    • In April, a man who crashed his car into barriers outside of a Planned Parenthood in Seattle was “charged for the assault and the damage but not for targeting the provider of women’s health services,” though he told police in an interview, “Damn right … I blew up Planned Parenthood...Blew Planned Parenthood the fuck up.”
    • A man in New Hampshire pleaded guilty “to leaving a 9 mm bullet at a Beverly medical office where his girlfriend had just terminated a pregnancy.” He told police, “I left the bullet there because they killed my baby."
    • A Planned Parenthood clinic in California closed because a partner organization “received ‘hostile communications’ from anti-Planned Parenthood activists.”
    • Abortion clinics in California and Iowa sustained property damage from targeted actions. In July, a Planned Parenthood in California was set on fire and caused “moderate damage” before being put out. In September, a man was arrested “after allegedly grabbing a log and throwing it at a window of an abortion clinic” in Iowa.
    • A man who was a “self-proclaimed misogynist,” according to BuzzFeed News, killed two women at a yoga studio in Florida in November. In a series of videos he had posted in the years before the attack, “he said that he resented having to subsidize as a taxpayer ‘the casual sex lives of slutty girls’ through the Affordable Care Act’s contraception provisions.”
    • In December, a man was charged with threatening “to murder a United States official” after he left death threats in a voicemail with an unidentified female U.S. Senator’s office. According to Newsweek, the man “became ‘very angry’ after watching online video clips of the senator discussing reproductive rights and criticizing Trump.”
  • A study about so-called abortion reversal just got pulled because of ethical concerns

    BuzzFeed news reported that a study about the scientifically unproven method to stop an abortion -- championed by anti-choice activists -- lacked "formal ethical approval"

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On July 17, BuzzFeed News reported that a published study about the practice of so-called abortion reversal had been pulled from a scientific journal due to ethical concerns, further proving that one of right-wing and anti-abortion media's favorite talking points is nothing more than harmful junk science.

    BuzzFeed News’ Azeen Ghorayshi wrote that the study by well-known anti-choice personality George Delgado had “been temporarily withdrawn from” the April edition of the Issues in Law & Medicine journal “because [the study] falsely claimed to have received formal ethical approval.” The study hinges on Delgado’s belief that people seeking medication abortions can reverse the procedure by taking only the first pill required in the two-pill regime. The person would then be injected with “a large dose of progesterone to—in theory—reverse the effects of mifepristone” in the first pill. To prove this theory, Delgado set up a hotline in 2012 for people who were seeking abortion reversals and published a limited study about the procedure that same year.

    Delgado’s theory caught fire in right-wing and anti-abortion media, with outlets including The Daily Wire and Live Action publishing accounts from people who had supposedly successfully reversed their abortions. When pro-choice organizations warned that abortion reversal was both scientifically unproven and potentially dangerous, outlets including The Federalist attacked these organizations as “anti-science” and said they were ignoring “the scientific reality of abortion pill reversal for a more ideological reason.” Anti-abortion site Life News inaccurately claimed that opposition to abortion reversal stemmed from a financial incentive for providers to continue performing abortions. Meanwhile, The Weekly Standard alleged that pro-choice advocates didn’t “really want women to choose to change their minds.”

    Then, in April 2018, Delgado and several co-authors published another study alleging the efficacy of the practice in the Issues in Law & Medicine journal. As Ghorayshi reported after publication, “the University of San Diego — which employs two of Delgado’s coauthors — launched an investigation into the study’s ethical approval.” The university then “asked for the paper to be withdrawn, spokesperson Pamela Payton told BuzzFeed News, because it had ‘ambiguous’ wording regarding the university’s ethics board, ‘leading many readers to incorrectly conclude that the [school] reviewed and approved the entire study.’”

    According to Delgado, the issue was “just a technical problem,” and that his team would “redo” the ethics review (although, as BuzzFeed noted, it’s not entirely clear how such a “redo” would work.) However, there is ample reason to believe that even if Delgado could “redo” the ethics review, the outcome would be largely the same because of his ideological viewpoint and the proven structural flaws of his studies.

    As Diane J. Horvath-Cosper, a reproductive health advocacy fellow at Physicians for Reproductive Health, explained to Marie Claire, Delgado appears to have done his work “backwards, with a desired result in mind—one that would support an ideological agenda.” Marie Claire noted that Delgado has previously labeled abortion "a scourge and a plague on our society” and told a caller on a radio show during a 2013 guest appearance that even though the caller had AIDS, “it wasn’t acceptable to use condoms ever.”

    Delgado’s studies in 2012 and 2018 also suffered from several technical flaws. According to The Guardian, the 2012 study was “not done with the oversight of an ethical review committee.” Jezebel similarly reported that it also relied on an extremely small sample size of seven cases -- and Delgado considered only four of these cases successful. Although the April 2018 study had a larger sample size, it still relied on limited case studies, which HuffPost said are “the weakest form of scientific evidence because they lack control groups.” Newsweek further reported that the study “used a wide variety of injected progesterone protocols, ranging from one to more than 10 injections of unknown doses” and did not assess previous levels of progesterone in the subjects’ blood -- further skewing the reliability of the results.

    In general, anti-choice extremists like Delgado are making claims about “abortion reversal” as a tactic to promote the myth that abortion is pathologically linked to regret. In reality, this idea of abortion regret or, as some anti-abortion activists call it, “post-abortion syndrome,” has been widely discredited. To debunk claims that abortion reversal procedures are widely sought by patients who regret their decision, Rewire.News’ Sofia Resnick spoke to abortion provider Gabrielle Goodrick, who estimated “that she has seen six patients out of about 10,000 who did not want to continue their medication abortions after initiating the process” in the 16 years she has been a provider.

    Medical organizations have also weighed in to say that the science doesn’t back claims about reversal. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) submitted a report in August 2017 about alleged abortion reversal procedures, stating, “Claims regarding abortion ‘reversal’ treatment are not based on science and do not meet clinical standards.” The report concluded that ACOG “does not support prescribing progesterone to stop a medical abortion.” Dr. Daniel Grossman, director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, told Refinery29, if a person simply decided not to take the second pill for a medication abortion, “there’s a good chance that the pregnancy would continue,” but “there’s no evidence” that injections of progesterone would work to “reverse” an abortion.

    Despite these issues, the junk science of abortion reversal has made its way into state laws in Idaho, Arkansas, South Dakota, Utah, and Arizona, where abortion providers are required to inform patients seeking an abortion that there is an option to reverse it.

    Right-wing media, anti-abortion activists, and some lawmakers may continue to spread misinformation about the dubious efficacy of so-called abortion reversal procedures, but as BuzzFeed’s report demonstrates, the facts are piling up: This practice is based on junk science that is more likely to hurt than help.

  • 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.

  • A timeline of scandals and ethical shortfalls at Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department

    Journalists have uncovered a long list of the interior secretary’s questionable actions and controversies

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER & TED MACDONALD



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    This post was updated on November 6, 2018, to incorporate additional news reports.

    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s ethically questionable behavior has triggered at least 17 government investigations into his conduct. Journalists took the lead in documenting many of Zinke's ethical lapses. The following is an overview of original reporting on scandals and controversies at the Department of Interior (DOI) under Zinke:

    July 26, 2017, Anchorage Daily News: Zinke threatened to pull support for projects in Alaska after Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted “no” on Obamacare repeal. On July 26, Zinke called Alaska’s two senators, Lisa Murkowski (R) and Dan Sullivan (R), to inform them that Murkowski’s vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act jeopardized administration support for projects in Alaska, including expanding oil drilling. Sullivan called Zinke’s message “troubling,” and Murkowski told E&E News, “It was a difficult call.” The DOI’s inspector general opened an investigation into the incident, then dropped it in late August after the senators refused to discuss it with investigators. The Government Accountability Office also opened an investigation, but then dropped it in June 2018 because DOI did not cooperate, Politico reported. "Interior did not provide us with any information on the substance of the telephone calls. In light of this, we lack the requisite facts on which to base a legal opinion," Thomas Armstrong, GAO's general counsel, wrote to two House Democrats who requested the investiation last year.

    September 28, 2017, Politico/Wash. Post: Zinke gave a speech to a hockey team owned by a campaign donor, then chartered a $12,000 flight home. Zinke traveled to Las Vegas on June 26 to give a motivational speech to a hockey team at the behest of team owner Bill Foley. After the speech, Zinke flew on a charter flight that cost taxpayers over $12,000 to an airport near his Montana home, aboard a plane owned by oil and gas executives. An inspector general report released on April 16, 2018, found that Zinke and his aides failed to relay important details about the trip to ethics officers, including Foley’s role as one of Zinke’s largest campaign contributors and the fact that the speech was unrelated to Zinke’s work as interior secretary. According to Politico, Foley donated $7,800 to Zinke’s 2014 congressional campaign, while employees and political action committees associated with his financial services company donated another $166,860. The inspector general also found that the $12,000 charter flight “could have been avoided.”

    October 5, 2017, Politico: Zinke’s participation in a Republican fundraiser in the Virgin Islands raised ethics concerns. During what DOI labeled an official trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands, Zinke attended a fundraiser for the Virgin Islands Republican Party in March 2017. Donors paid up to $5,000 per couple for a picture with him. After concerns were raised, the Virgin Islands Republican Party reimbursed taxpayers for the trip.

    November 20, 2017, Politico: Zinke’s wife used Interior staff and resources to coordinate her travel with her husband’s. Lola Zinke relied on DOI staff to ensure her travel arrangements allowed her to accompany the interior secretary during some of his official events and trips, including ones to California, Alaska, Norway, and Greenland. “While the department says Lola Zinke paid her own way, the records show Interior used staff time to coordinate some of her activities while traveling with her husband,” Politico reported. One ethics expert called that “an ethically gray area.” Some ethics watchdogs are also concerned that Lola Zinke is using her access to high-level events to further her own political career; until recently, she served as campaign chair for a Republican Senate candidate, and she worked on the Trump campaign and transition teams. The DOI’s inspector general tried to investigate whether these actions and other travel arrangements by Ryan Zinke constituted an abuse or misuse of government resources, but the investigation was stymied “by absent or incomplete documentation for several pertinent trips and a review process that failed to include proper documentation and accountability,” according to a memo released on November 15.

    December 7, 2017, Politico: Zinke spent $14,000 on helicopter rides so he could attend a swearing-in and ride horses with Vice President Mike Pence. Zinke put taxpayers on the hook for a pair of helicopter trips that blurred the line between his professional and personal obligations. On June 21, he attended the swearing-in of his congressional replacement, Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT), then took an $8,000 helicopter ride to an emergency management exercise in West Virginia. On July 7, Zinke took a $6,250 round-trip helicopter flight from Washington, D.C., to Yorktown, VA, to guarantee he was back in time to go horseback riding with Pence and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO). The inspector general’s office declined to confirm an investigation into these specific helicopter rides, but spokesperson Nancy DiPaolo told CNN on December 8, “We are taking a comprehensive look at the secretary’s travel since he took office.”

    December 29, 2017, Newsweek: Zinke spent almost $40,000 in wildfire preparedness funds for a helicopter tour of Nevada. On July 30, days after firefighters managed to largely contain the Whittier Fire in California, Zinke used nearly $40,000 from wildfire preparedness funds to pay for a helicopter tour of Nevada that did not include any visits to fire zones. DOI initially told Newsweek the tour was “in full compliance of all federal regulations.” But after Newsweek provided Interior officials with documentation showing the tour was paid for with funds “earmarked for such uses as worker pay and to purchase equipment,” DOI admitted the helicopter tour “was charged to the account in error” and said it would pay for the ride from “a more appropriate account.”

    January 22, 2018, HuffPost: Zinke failed to disclose his shares in a firearms company and signed orders that could have benefitted the firearms industry. As nominee for interior secretary, Zinke neglected to inform the Office of Government Ethics that he retained 1,000 shares in PROOF Research, a rifle and weapons-parts manufacturer founded in Zinke’s hometown. Cabinet appointees are required to disclose all assets worth $1,000 or more. Although there is some dispute about the value of Zinke’s shares, HuffPost notes that Zinke’s long relationship with the company may have resulted in the company getting special access at Interior. Zinke provided consulting services to PROOF from 2011 to 2012. As interior secretary, he met with PROOF CEO Larry Murphy and a company lobbyist about a month after he was confirmed. Zinke also enacted policy changes -- such as rescinding the ban on lead ammunition and expanding hunting access at wildlife refuges -- that could benefit the firearms industry.

    February 1, 2018, Politico: Interior appeared to cave to pressure from MGM to stonewall a casino proposal backed by two Native American tribes. The Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes received indications from Interior officials in May 2017 that the department would clear the way for the tribes to build a casino in Connecticut, about 12 miles from MGM Resorts International’s nearly $1 billion casino complex in Massachusetts. But MGM launched an aggressive lobbying campaign to convince Interior’s political appointees to change course, including outreach to Zinke via multiple meetings and phone calls with two Nevada Republican lawmakers closely allied with MGM. MGM lobbyists were invited by Zinke for a social visit two weeks before the agency was to decide on the tribes’ request. MGM lobbyists also met with Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, whose former firm also lobbies for MGM. Bernhardt signed an ethics agreement barring him from “participating in matters involving his former employer,” according to ThinkProgress. On September 15, DOI informed the tribes that it would delay its decision, even though federal law requires it to decide yes or no within 45 days. Records obtained by Politico show that “career staffers were circulating what they labeled ‘approval’ letters just 48 hours before their political bosses reversed course and refused to either OK or reject the tribes’ application.” The DOI’s inspector general has opened an investigation into the incident.

    February 21, 2018, Mother Jones: Scientists resigned in protest after their agency violated ethical guidelines to give Zinke sensitive oil and gas research ahead of its public release. The head of the U.S. Geological Survey’s energy and minerals program, Murray Hitzman, resigned in protest on Dec. 17, 2017, after his agency bowed to pressure to provide Zinke with sensitive data about oil and gas deposits in Alaska before it was released publicly. The deputy associate director of the energy and minerals program also left the agency in part over pressure to violate ethical guidelines. Although DOI asserted its authority to see any scientific research the department produces, “numerous current and former Interior officials, however, say the department’s position raises serious ethical issues—particularly when it comes to energy and mineral assessments, which contain valuable economic data that have the potential to move markets,” Mother Jones reported. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), the ranking member of the House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, asked DOI’s inspector general to investigate whether department officials committed any ethical violations in requesting the data.

    March 9, 2018, AP: Interior planned to spend nearly $139,000 to upgrade Zinke’s office doors. Interior officials approved a contract to renovate “three sets of double doors in the secretary’s office, including two doors that open onto a corner balcony with a spectacular view of the Washington Monument and the National Mall,” The Associated Press reported. Though Zinke scoffed at questions about the excessive price of the renovations during a Senate hearing on March 13, two days later he told the House Committee on Natural Resources that he negotiated the price down to $75,000. Despite this, House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) sent Zinke a letter on March 22 asking for a briefing “on the need to replace the doors” and asking for “details on the acquisition process, bidding and receipts,” according to Reuters.

    March 11, 2018, USA Today: Zinke’s trip to Pennsylvania to announce $56 million in grants during a close campaign may have violated the Hatch Act. Toward the end of a tight campaign for Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone, Zinke went to nearby East Bethlehem to announce $56 million in grants to clean up abandoned mining sites in the area. The entire event “had the feel of a hastily arranged news conference/town hall meeting/political opportunity,” according to the local Observer-Reporter. Saccone was among the politicians present, while his challenger did not attend. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is weighing a request to investigate whether Zinke’s trip was designed to benefit Saccone politically.

    March 15, 2018, AP: Zinke stacks wildlife-trade advisory board with trophy hunters. Zinke appointed trophy hunters, including some with direct ties to the Trump family, to the International Wildlife Conservation Council, an advisory board tasked with rewriting federal rules to allow the importation of body parts from slain African elephants, lions, and rhinos. The Associated Press reported, “A coalition of more than 20 environmental and animal welfare groups objected that the one-sided makeup of the council could violate the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires government boards to be balanced in terms of points of view and not improperly influenced by special interests.” Most board members belong to hunting clubs or the National Rifle Association (NRA), and one member co-owns a private hunting reserve with Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump. The Trump administration officially lifted a ban on importing elephant parts from Zimbabwe and Zambia on March 1.

    March 21, 2018, Politico: Zinke had a security detail during his two-week vacation in Greece and Turkey. Ryan and Lola Zinke’s two-week vacation in Greece and Turkey to celebrate their 25-year wedding anniversary also included a security detail, according to records obtained by Politico. Besides these bare facts, the public still does not know important details about this arrangement including “exactly how many security personnel accompanied the couple, who paid for them, how much they cost or whether they traveled with Zinke and his wife, Lola, for the entire trip,” Politico reported.

    March 26, 2018, Wash. Post: Zinke filled a new outdoor recreation advisory panel with members who could benefit from DOI decisions. At the urging of industry representatives, Zinke established the “Made in America” Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee last November and appointed “officials representing companies with National Park Service contracts, such as those in the hospitality sector, as well as those from the manufacturing, fishing, boating and all-terrain-vehicle industries,” according to The Washington Post, which obtained records about the committee via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Two of Zinke’s nominees to the panel were flagged by Interior staffers as having potential conflicts of interest because their companies hold some of the National Park Service’s largest concessions contracts, but they were appointed anyway.  

    March 27, 2018, Politico: Florida’s offshore drilling exemption may have been intended to benefit Gov. Rick Scott’s Senate campaign. On January 4, 2018, Zinke announced a controversial proposal to allow offshore drilling in many new coastal areas, including off the coast of Florida. Five days later, Zinke exempted Florida from the expanded drilling plan after a supposedly spur-of-the-moment encounter in the Tallahassee airport with Florida Gov. Rick Scott. But records reviewed by Politico in March “showed that top officials from the offices of both Scott and the Interior secretary were in regular contact for several days leading up to the sudden announcement, contradicting the supposed spontaneous event that portrayed Scott as protecting Florida’s environment.” According to The Washington Post, “The whole episode seems to have been designed to demonstrate Mr. Scott’s power and influence, by having him appear to summon the interior secretary to his state and bring him to heel in an afternoon.” Scott announced his Senate candidacy on April 9, 2018. The next day, CNN reported the U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating whether Zinke’s Florida announcement violated the Hatch Act.

    March 28, 2018, Talking Points Memo: Zinke’s mass reassignment of career Interior employees may have violated federal anti-discrimination laws. Last July, Zinke initiated the reassignment of 35 Senior Executive Service members at DOI, of which 27 were ultimately transferred. Many were told to “either accept a new placement on the other side of the country or in a role unrelated to their background, or leave the agency,” according to Talking Points Memo. The DOI’s inspector general concluded the reassignments occurred “without a written plan or clear criteria, and without consulting with the departmental leadership,” which created the perception that staff were reassigned for “political or punitive reasons.” Because a third of those reassigned are Native American, DOI may have violated federal anti-discrimination laws, as well as its own Indian Preference rules, as TPM later reported. Zinke has reportedly told senior staff that diversity is not important. After a congressional hearing in March, he was also accused of racial insensitivity for responding “Oh, konnichiwa” to Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) after she shared the experience of two of her grandfathers who were held in internment camps during World War II.

    April 6, 2018, Reveal: National Park Service deletes climate change from months-delayed report on sea-level rise. “National Park Service officials have deleted every mention of humans’ role in causing climate change in drafts of a long-awaited report on sea level rise and storm surge,” according to an investigation conducted by The Center for Investigative Reporting and published on its Reveal website. DOI oversees the National Park Service. Cat Hawkins, the head of the National Park Service’s climate change response program, made the deletions, in possible violation of Interior rules prohibiting political appointees from influencing scientific and scholarly activities. The report was also delayed for 10 months, which hindered park managers’ ability to access the latest research about how to mitigate the effects of extreme weather and sea-level rise on their parks. Zinke told the House Committee on Natural Resources in March, “I didn’t change a paragraph — a comma — in any document and I never would.” DOI’s inspector general is investigating the matter.

    April 16, 2018, HuffPost: Oil industry rep uses perch on DOI advisory group to push “wish list” of regulatory rollbacks. Under Zinke, advisory groups at DOI have been packed with industry representatives who want looser regulations. Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance (WEA), a lobbying group that represents 300 oil and gas companies, chairs one such group, which is tasked with recommending how Zinke should manage federal lands for fossil fuel development. The group’s recommendations, which included regulatory rollbacks that had been on WEA’s wish list for years, was initially drafted by Tripp Parks, WEA’s head of government affairs. According to HuffPost, “A document obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that Parks created the draft recommendations one day before Sgamma circulated them to committee members overseeing the working group.” The Sierra Club’s legal director told HuffPost, “It’s a very clear instance of regulatory capture.”

    June 13, 2018, Wash. Post: DOI canceled a study of the health effects of mountaintop-removal coal mining with little justification, the department’s inspector general found. After DOI last August halted a major public health study being conducted by the National Academies of Science on the impacts of surface coal mining on nearby residents, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) sent two letters to Zinke requesting information about the stoppage. Grijalva received no answer, so he requested an investigation by the DOI’s inspector general, which then found that “Departmental officials were unable to provide specific criteria used for their determination whether to allow or cease certain grants and cooperative agreements.” Records obtained by Pacific Standard show that before DOI stopped the study, Deputy Assistant Secretary Katharine MacGregor “had no fewer than six meetings with the most powerful mining players in the country. In both April and May of 2017, she met with the National Mining Association. In March and June, meanwhile, she met with Arch Coal, a long-time practitioner of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia.”

    June 19, 2018, Politico: Zinke and the chairman of Halliburton could both benefit from a proposed real-estate deal in Montana. A foundation created by Zinke is helping to pave the way for a large commercial development that is backed by David Lesar, the chairman of energy-services giant Halliburton. According to Politico, the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation -- established by Zinke and currently run by his wife Lola -- agreed to allow 95 Karrow LLC, the Lesar-backed entity, to build a parking lot on land that had been donated to the foundation for creation of a park. The Zinkes also personally own land that's adjacent to the proposed development, potentially making that land much more valuable if the proposed development deal were to go through. The deal raises ethical concerns because Halliburton’s business could be substantially affected by decisions made by DOI. Zinke met with Lesar and the project’s other developers at Interior headquarters last year, Politico reported on June 21. Lesar and Zinke have had a relationship for years -- Lesar and his wife donated $10,400 to Zinke’s first House campaign in 2014. On June 18, DOI's deputy inspector general confirmed that her office had opened an investigation into whether Zinke violated conflict-of-interest laws.

    June 26, 2018, Reuters: Zinke’s promotion of Trump's campaign slogan may have violated the Hatch Act. During a meeting of the Western Governors Association on June 26, Zinke tweeted a photo of one of his socks, which was emblazoned with Trump’s face and his campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.” Zinke deleted that tweet and then posted a follow-up tweet that crossed out “Make America Great Again” yet still showed Trump’s face -- and then he deleted that one too. Those tweets may have violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits some forms of political activity by federal employees, Reuters reported. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel announced in March that because Trump has confirmed his candidacy for reelection, federal employees are prohibited while on duty from wearing or displaying items with the phrase “Make America Great Again” or non-official pictures of Trump. On July 9, CNN reported that the Office of Special Counsel opened a case file on whether Zinke’s tweet violated the Hatch Act.

    July 6, 2018, HuffPost: Former NRA lobbyist working for Zinke may have committed multiple ethics violations. Benjamin Cassidy, a former NRA lobbyist who joined the Interior Department in October 2017, may have violated ethics rules by attending at least two meetings with Zinke that involved issues Cassidy had recently lobbied on. Cassidy attended a February 2018 meeting on “international conservation,” a discussion that most likely focused on issues such as hunting and animal trophy imports. While still employed with the NRA in 2017, Cassidy lobbied Congress on legislation dealing with animal trophy imports. Cassidy, whose official title is senior deputy director for intergovernmental and external affairs, should have signed Trump’s ethics pledge that bars former lobbyists in the executive branch from participating for two years in any matters on which they lobbied in the two years before starting an administration job. Another potential ethics violation occurred in March, when Cassidy attended a pair of private receptions Interior held for members of the International Wildlife Conservation Council, which includes an NRA employee and a former NRA board member, HuffPost reported on July 16. Cassidy served as the council members’ primary contact during their visit to Washington, D.C., for the receptions. Although it is not clear if Cassidy played a role in selecting members of the council, member Cameron Hanes thanked Cassidy as well as Zinke for including him. Cassidy “appears to be in violation of the prohibition on working on matters on which you’ve lobbied,” an ethics expert told HuffPost.

    July 20, 2018, CNN: Zinke kept meetings off of public calendar. Zinke's publicly released schedule omitted or obscured the details of about a dozen meetings. CNN compared email conversations between Zinke and his scheduler (made available through FOIA requests) to the calendars that the Interior Department released and found numerous discrepancies between the two. Zinke had previously undisclosed meetings with lobbyists, lawmakers, and interest groups. For example, CNN found that in May 2017, a meeting listed on his schedule with Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) also included three executives from Delaware North, a contractor who does business with national parks. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee, called for an investigation. In September, CNN followed up on this reporting and found that nearly 50 meetings in May and June 2018 were vaguely described, making it difficult for the public to determine what he was doing and who he was meeting with. And in October, CNN reported that his calendar omissions actually dated to his very first day in office, and that some of the newly discovered omissions included meetings with representatives from energy companies whose activities DOI regulates.

    July 23, 2018, Wash. Post: Zinke and aides rejected evidence that supported creation of national monuments and sought out evidence that didn't -- and then tried to conceal strategy from the public. Zinke’s team selectively tailored a review of national monuments last year to dismiss the benefits of monuments and emphasize the value of activities such as logging and energy development on public lands, according to thousands of pages of email correspondence inadvertently released by the Interior Department’s FOIA office. The DOI retracted the documents the next day and released redacted versions. In the first version, for instance, draft economic reports on monuments under scrutiny included information on the Interior Department’s “ability to estimate the value of energy and/or minerals forgone as a result of the designations,” but that information was redacted from the second batch of emails. In another instance, officials marked this statement about an Oregon national monument as eligible for redaction: “Previous timber sale planning and development in the [expansion area] can be immediately resumed.” The review came in response to an executive order from Trump last year that instructed Zinke to scrutinize 27 national monuments established over a period of 21 years. It led Trump to dramatically shrink two national monuments in Utah.

    October 16, 2018, The Hill: Zinke replaces DOI deputy inspector general with Republican political operative. The Hill reported that DOI Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall was being replaced by Suzanne Israel Tufts, a political appointee at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) who had previously worked as a lawyer and liaison for the Trump campaign. Tufts will now be acting deputy inspector general. Kendall, who oversaw DOI’s watchdog investigations and audits team for 10 years, only learned that she was being replaced when a colleague showed her an email sent by HUD Secretary Ben Carson to his agency’s staffers. The move is seen as highly unusual, particularly as Zinke has been the subject of 14 government investigations into his conduct as secretary, including half a dozen that are ongoing. Michael Bromwich, a former inspector general for the DOJ, tweeted, “Politicizing the oversight function is dangerous, especially in the absence of any Congressional oversight. Changing IGs in the midst of multiple serious investigations of the agency's head should raise alarm bells everywhere.” And Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, stated, “This stinks to high heaven. Secretary Zinke and the Interior Department are awash in wave after wave of scandal and corruption, and they decide now is the perfect time to get rid of the current IG."

    October 16, 2018, The Hill: DOI was reportedly poised to replace deputy inspector general with Republican political operative, then reversed course after outcry. The Hill reported on October 16 that DOI Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall was being replaced by Suzanne Israel Tufts, a political appointee at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) who had previously worked as a lawyer and liaison for the Trump campaign. Tufts would become acting deputy inspector general, according to The Hill. Kendall has overseen DOI’s watchdog investigations and audits team for 10 years, and has been running investigations into a number of Zinke's questionable activities. She first learned that she was to be replaced when a colleague showed her an email sent by HUD Secretary Ben Carson to his agency’s staffers. The reported personnel shift prompted a public outcry. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, said, “This stinks to high heaven. Secretary Zinke and the Interior Department are awash in wave after wave of scandal and corruption, and they decide now is the perfect time to get rid of the current IG." Two days later, on October 18, DOI told CBS that the shift was not happening and reports about it were "false." On October 19, CBS reported that Tufts resigned from her position at HUD.

    October 18, 2018, Wash. Post: Zinke’s travel arrangements raised red flags among DOI ethics officials. A report by DOI’s Office of Inspector General detailed how Zinke’s travel practices violated department policy. The DOI's solicitor office approved Zinke’s wife Lola to travel with him in government vehicles for free. Although DOI policy prohibited this practice, Zinke changed the policy this summer. And in order to further legitimize her taxpayer-funded travel, Zinke asked DOI staffers to research how his wife could get a volunteer job with the department. The report also found that a DOI security detail accompanied Zinke and his wife on a vacation to Turkey and Greece last year, at a cost of $25,000. Although this was determined not to be in violation of policy, the report did note the significant cost to taxpayers. An Interior spokesperson denied any wrongdoing on Zinke's part, stating that he “follows all relevant laws and regulations and that all of his travel was reviewed and approved by career ethics officials and solicitors prior to travel.”

    October 30, 2018, Wash. Post: Interior watchdog refers Zinke investigation to Justice Department. DOI's acting inspector general has referred one of its probes into Zinke’s behavior to the Justice Department, and prosecutors will now determine if it warrants a criminal investigation. According to The Washington Post, individuals close to the matter did not specify which investigation was referred. The Office of Inspector General is currently conducting at least three probes into Zinke’s conduct as interior secretary, including his role in a Montana real estate deal with the Halliburton chairman and his department’s decision to block a casino proposal backed by Native American tribes. Walter Shaub, Trump's former director of the Office of Government Ethics, told Politico that this is a major development: “What I can say is, Inspectors general don’t tend to refer matters to the Department of Justice unless they think that it’s likely there’s been a criminal violation.”

    October 31, 2018, HuffPost: Zinke compared Robert E. Lee to Martin Luther King Jr. Speaking in Kentucky at a ceremony designating Camp Nelson as a new national monument to black Civil War soldiers, Zinke likened Confederate General Robert E. Lee to Martin Luther King Jr. Zinke referred to the placement of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., which is near both the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, the site of Lee’s former plantation. Zinke said, “I like to think that Lincoln doesn’t have his back to General Lee. He’s in front of him. There’s a difference. Similar to Martin Luther King doesn’t have his back to Lincoln. He’s in front of Lincoln as we march together to form a more perfect union. That’s a great story, and so is Camp Nelson.” Local Kentucky newspaper The Jessamine Journal posted the speech on Facebook. A year previously, in an interview with Breitbart, Zinke defended Confederate monuments and said none of them would be removed from federal land.

    November 5, 2018, Wash. Post: Zinke violated an ethics pledge by working on issues related to his family foundation's land holdings. In January 2017, after he was nominated to be interior secretary, Zinke pledged to step down as president of a foundation he created, the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation, and refrain from matters pertaining to it for one year. But according to The Washington Post, in August 2017 Zinke exchanged emails with a city planner in Whitefish, MT, and told him he could construct a disc-golf course on the foundation’s land. In earlier messages in the same email exchange, Zinke criticized a Politico article that linked his foundation to a property deal with the chairman of Halliburton. Additionally, his foundation’s 2018 annual report still showed that Zinke continued to serve as a foundation officer, though he later said that was in error.

  • Alliance Defending Freedom is working to keep LGBTQ people from adopting children

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & REBECCA DAMANTE

    Lawyers and allied attorneys from influential anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) have been working to pass and defend legislation in at least five states that allows child welfare agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ people, among others, in adoption and foster care. In 2017, three states passed anti-LGBTQ adoption laws, and a sweeping anti-LGBTQ religious exemptions law in Mississippi also included provisions about adoption and foster care. Georgia’s state Senate passed a similar bill in February, to be considered by its House, and at least three other states are considering similar bills this year.

  • Six fights on reproductive rights that the media should be prepared to report on in 2018

    ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE

    President Donald Trump’s first year in office was particularly damaging for abortion rights and reproductive health. Beyond the Trump administration’s multiple moves to curtail abortion access, anti-choice advocates were also successful on the state level, organizing large-scale protests in North Carolina and Kentucky and implementing a litany of anti-choice policies. Yet with the upcoming Supreme Court case on crisis pregnancy centers, the continuing controversy over abortion access for undocumented minors, a wave of state-level attacks, and Trump’s anti-choice judicial confirmations, 2018 may be an even more dangerous year. 

  • Don’t erase stories of abuse with vague headlines

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Media outlets are undeniably publishing more reports about sexual misconduct than ever before, which means that while longtime experts on this sensitive topic are working in overdrive, a whole new swath of writers are in need of guidance on how to cover this topic with respect and accuracy.

    A recently reported story about a Tennessee pastor’s sexual assault of a teenager inadvertently highlighted one best practice for covering this topic: Don’t summarize reporting with vague words that obscure the details of abuse -- especially when those words are borrowed from the admitted offender himself.

    On January 5, a woman named Jules Woodson shared on a blog her account of sexual assault by Memphis pastor Andy Savage. Here is an excerpt from Woodson’s description of the assault, which she says occurred when she was 17 years old:  

    We reached a dead end and he turned the truck around before putting it in park. We were stopped, and he turned the headlights off. Suddenly, Andy unzipped his jeans and pulled out his penis. He asked me to suck it. I was scared and embarrassed, but I did it. I remember feeling that this must mean that Andy loved me. He then asked me to unbutton my shirt. I did. He started touching me over my bra and then lifted my bra up and began touching my breasts.

    After what I believe to have been about 5 minutes of this going on, he suddenly stopped, got out of the truck and ran around the back and to my side before falling to his knees. I quickly buttoned my shirt back up and got out of the truck. Now I was terrified and ashamed. I remember him pleading, while he was on his knees with his hands up on his head, ‘Oh my god, oh my god. What have I done? Oh my god, I'm so sorry. You can't tell anyone Jules, please. You have to take this to the grave with you.’  He said that several times. My fear and shame quickly turned to anger. I had just been manipulated and used.

    Days later, Savage vaguely addressed Woodson’s account in front of his congregation, admitting to “a sexual incident” and asking for forgiveness; he was given a standing ovation.

    National outlets covered Woodson’s admission of assault -- and his congregation’s reaction -- and generally took care to include details about Woodson’s experience in her own words. That careful work was undone, however, when several outlets ran their pieces with headlines that adopted Savage’s wording and essentially obscured the realities of the abuse.

    Rather than label the stories with simple, accurate headlines that state what happened (i.e. “Memphis pastor admits to sexually assaulting teenager”), Slade Sohmer noted on Twitter that some outlets relied on Savage’s minimizing word choice (“sexual incident") instead: 

    [The New York Times, 1/9/18

    [The Washington Post, 1/10/18

    [CBS News, 1/9/18]

    [Newsweek, 1/10/18]

    [New York Daily News, 1/9/18

    In spite of reporters’ efforts to center Woodson’s account of the assault and to provide context about the ways the church community treated -- or even erased -- Savage’s misconduct at the time, so many news consumers will only see the vague, dismissive term “incident,” mirroring the language of the admitted offender.

    This isn’t the first time media have allowed a predator’s own words to set the terms of a public conversation about abuse. Every time they fail to properly identify assault, they do a disservice to readers and contribute to the system of injustice survivors continually encounter at every turn.

    After all, if you saw just these headlines what would you think happened to Jules Woodson twenty years ago? Is it what Andy Savage would want you to think?

  • The bigotry of Sean Hannity's early influencers

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    In a recent profile, Fox host Sean Hannity named three right-wing media figures from the second half of the 20th century -- Bob Grant (1929-2013), Taylor Caldwell (1900-1985), and Barry Farber (1930-present) -- as inspirations for his own political commentary. A Media Matters investigation into content produced by Grant, Caldwell, and Farber revealed a trove of bigotry; Grant “routinely” called black people “savages,” Calwell had a political allegiance with “one of the most virulent anti-Semitic propagandists in the United States,” and Farber is a self-professed "birther" who pushed conspiracy theories about former President Barack Obama.

  • If you read only headlines, you might think Jeff Sessions has become a champion of transgender people

    Stop writing headlines that whitewash bigotry

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Several media outlets’ headlines portrayed Attorney General Jeff Session as defying his anti-LGBTQ image by sending a federal lawyer to help prosecute a plaintiff accused of murdering a transgender high school student, but these characterizations omit the crucial context that Sessions is still attempting to roll back LGBTQ protections. And studies have found that headlines influence the way people understand the news and that a majority of news consumers do not read past the headlines, including on articles they share.

    On October 15, The New York Times reported that Sessions had “dispatched an experienced federal hate crimes lawyer to Iowa to help prosecute a man charged with murdering a transgender high school student last year.” The Times also enumerated many of Sessions’ anti-LGBTQ moves, including his opposition as a senator to same-sex marriage and to “expanding federal hate crimes laws to protect transgender people,” as well as a number of his discriminatory moves as attorney general. Yet the paper portrayed the attorney general’s latest action as “sending a signal that he has made a priority of fighting violence against transgender people individually, even as he has rolled back legal protections for them collectively.” The headline went further, claiming Sessions “defies his image” on LGBTQ issues:

    The Times was not alone: Newsweek and HuffPost portrayed Sessions’ move as support for the LGBTQ community. HuffPost’s headline said Sessions “confound[ed] critics” with the decision, and Newsweek said he had joined the “fight for justice for [the] slain transgender teen”:

    These headlines give readers the initial impression that Sessions has moderated his position toward the rights of transgender people. But investigating the murder of one transgender person hardly constitutes initiating some sort of large-scale progressive change. Indeed, National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) Program Director Harper Jean Tobin said in May, “It is somewhat reassuring that while Attorney General Sessions has apparently no problem with transgender people being fired, or bullied in school, or kicked out of public places because of who they are, he has apparently come around to believing that transgender people should not be murdered in the streets.” NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling noted that Sessions’ move “rings hollow — even hypocritical — in the face of his systematic and relentless attacks against transgender people and other LGBTQ people.”

    Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Legal Director Sarah Warbelow noted that Sessions was “seeking credit for prosecuting a hate crime” just one week after he made two major moves that make it easier to discriminate against queer and transgender people, including launching what Warbelow called “a sweeping license to discriminate against LGBTQ people” and reversing a policy that protected transgender people under Title VII. Warbelow added that Sessions’ opposition to transgender rights breeds a climate allowing hate and violence: “We believe Americans deserve an Attorney General willing to address systemic discrimination and enforce policies and laws that prevent hate violence in the first place.” In the Times report, Vanita Gupta, former Justice Department civil rights division head under the Obama administration, made a similar point, saying, “It would behoove Sessions to connect the dots between his policies that promote discrimination and hate that can result in death.”

    Lambda Legal released a statement blasting Sessions as a “hypocrite,” calling the move a “publicity stunt,” and saying it was “the height of cynicism” for him to “use this - frankly rare - instance of civil rights enforcement under his tenure to deflect from the current department’s sustained opposition to its historic mission.” The statement noted that “it is important and right that the Department of Justice assist in bringing to justice the murderer of Kedarie/Kandicee Johnson,” but that “no one in the Trump administration has done more to harm LGBT people, and especially transgender people, than Jeff Sessions.”

    What does this all mean for the audience that saw only lazy headlines about Sessions? It could mean news outlets unwittingly fooled readers into believing that the attorney general had shifted on LGBTQ issues. In 2016, computer scientists from Columbia University and the French National Institute estimated that that a majority (59 percent) of links shared on Twitter are not clicked at all, meaning that for news stories, the headline is often all people read. “In other words,” The Washington Post wrote of the study, “most people appear to retweet news without ever reading it. Worse, the study finds that these sort of blind peer-to-peer shares are really important in determining what news gets circulated and what just fades off the public radar. So your thoughtless retweets, and those of your friends, are actually shaping our shared political and cultural agendas.” Similarly, a 2014 study by the American Press Institute found that only “4 in 10 Americans report that they delved deeper into a particular news subject beyond the headlines in the last week.”

    In 2014, The New Yorker published a piece titled “How headlines change the way we think” that explained how “the crafting of the headline subtly shift[s] the perception of the text that follows.” It noted that headlines “can influence your mindset as you read so that you later recall details that coincide with what you were expecting.” The piece cited a series of studies by psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist Ullrich Ecker that found that headlines do “more than simply reframe the article” and that “a misleading headline hurt a reader’s ability to recall the article’s details.” Ecker also found that misleading headlines “impaired a reader’s ability to make accurate inferences.” The New Yorker’s piece demonstrates that even the minority of readers “who do go on to read the entire piece may still be reacting in part to that initial formulation” from the headline.

    Misleading headlines have been a pattern in news coverage of the right and LGBTQ issues. Despite President Donald Trump and his administration’s relentless attacks on LGBTQ people, including banning transgender people from the military, numerous headlines have praised him as pro-LGBTQ. When anti-LGBTQ extremist Roy Moore won Alabama’s Republican primary for Senate, headlines whitewashed him as simply a “firebrand.” Moore has suggested 9/11 was punishment for “legitimized sodomy,” called homosexuality “the same thing” as having sex with a cow, and repeatedly asserted that “homosexual conduct should be illegal.” He was also kicked off Alabama’s Supreme Court for discriminating against same-sex couples. Readers, however, may have been left with the impression that he was just another anti-establishment candidate, just as they may now believe Sessions has done something extraordinary.

  • 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.

  • Newsweek failed to disclose fossil fuel ties in an article promoting industry groups’ claims

    Newsweek also failed to disclose the fossil fuel funding of the story’s sources

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Newsweek missed multiple opportunities to disclose the fossil fuel ties of industry groups when it re-published a Daily Signal article promoting allegations of collusion between Russia and environmental groups that oppose fracking.

    On July 11, Newsweek posted an article by Kevin Mooney that first appeared in The Daily Signal about a letter House science committee members Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Randy Weber (R-TX) had written to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. According to Mooney, the congressmen alleged that “the Russian government has been colluding with environmental groups to circulate ‘disinformation’ and ‘propaganda’ aimed at undermining hydraulic fracturing” in order to prop up Russian gas prices by reducing the United States’ natural gas production.

    Newsweek failed to disclose that The Daily Signal is the news site of the Heritage Foundation, a think tank that has received almost $800,000 from ExxonMobil and millions from the oil billionaire Koch brothers’ family foundations.

    And, as Andrew Freedman of Mashable noted, the allegations contained in Smith and Weber’s letter were “based on research done by a PR front group, known as the Environmental Policy Alliance, with a record of ties to the energy industry. This raises the question of whether Smith is using the alleged Russian activities as cover to go after environmental groups, who are no friend of his.” Indeed, the Environmental Policy Alliance is a subsidiary of a group called the Center for Organizational Research and Education (CORE), which was founded and is run by the PR firm of corporate lobbyist Richard Berman. The New York Times reported that Berman had “solicited up to $3 million from oil and gas industry executives” in 2014 for a campaign against environmental activists and boasted of being able to keep donors' contributions and involvement hidden.

    Dianna Wray of the Houston Press also highlighted the Environmental Policy Alliance’s industry ties in a July 12 article about the congressmen’s letter, noting that it doesn’t offer proof of its allegations and that the claims come from the “other EPA”:

    The idea that Russians are attempting to meddle in the U.S. energy industry isn't entirely ludicrous. After all, it is believed Russian money was backing protesters opposed to fracking in Romania back in 2014, according to the The New York Times.

    But keep in mind that what Smith presents is far from actual proof. Plus, the letter Smith and Weber signed failed to note one crucial detail about the stories claiming the Russians have been attempting to influence energy policy by dumping money secretly into U.S. environmental organizations like the Sierra Club. Namely, that all of the stories about this big Russian plot to shut down fracking in the United States are based on research from the Environmental Policy Alliance. (The other EPA.)

    While the name may sound fairly innocuous, the organization is actually a public relations firm with ties to the oil industry, i.e., a group that has its own reasons for wanting to cast doubt on any and all environmental reports, particularly any reports that find problems with fracking.

    In its article, Newsweek also failed to note that Smith and Weber themselves have received substantial donations from the fossil fuel industry. Both congressmen have individually received hundreds of thousands of dollars in fossil fuel campaign contributions over their respective careers.

    This isn’t the first time Newsweek has allowed industry-tied authors and groups to push pro-fossil fuel claims without disclosure. In 2015, Newsweek published an article by Randy Simmons, the former Charles G. Koch professor of political economy at Utah State University, without disclosing his affiliation. The magazine subsequently added an update disclosing his fossil fuel ties after Media Matters flagged the omission. In publishing The Daily Signal's article, Newsweek missed another opportunity to be transparent with its readers and disclose important conflicts of interest.