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  • To attempt to make sense of QAnon, Politico turned to Pizzagate conspiracy theorists

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In what seemed like an attempt to demonstrate the rise of the QAnon conspiracy theory movement within the right-wing establishment, Politico tweeted out a video about QAnon “true believers” filmed at the most recent Conservative Political Action Conference. Unfortunately, the outlet missed an opportunity to truly explain the oversized impact that weaponized misinformation can have over entire political movements by relying on two notorious far-right conspiracy theorists for their expertise.

    The 8chan-originated conspiracy theory that developed around anonymous posts signed by “Q,” an anonymous poster claiming to hold a high security clearance, holds that there is a behind-the-scenes scenario in which President Donald Trump is kneecapping a ring of powerful pedophiles connected to “the deep state.” The theory -- and the movement of followers it has inspired -- deserves media coverage and expert analysis to explain its influence on right-wing politics. But Politico interviewed far-right conspiracy theorists Jack Posobiec and Mike Cernovich to make sense of QAnon, taking their opinions at face value, ignoring their own involvement in uncritically amplifying the conspiracy theory during its early stages, and downplaying their involvement in promoting the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory by noting just that they have been criticized for pushing the theory, rather than stating what they did to promote it.

    Similar to QAnon, “Pizzagate” is a conspiracy theory that smeared powerful Democratic figures -- in Pizzagate’s case by accusing them of hiding a child trafficking network behind a Washington, D.C., pizzeria. It turned dangerous (as QAnon could) after a man claiming he wanted to “self-investigate” opened fire with a rifle inside the restaurant. Before that, Cernovich had told his audience that “Pizzagate is real” and Posobiec had livestreamed from the D.C. restaurant, speculating that “they have a big secret to hide.”

    Because Posobiec and Cernovich are grifters focused on sustaining their careers (which include publishing books and making films attacking the media), and they have recently made efforts to sanitize their public images and pivot away from the bigoted slurs, misogyny, conspiracy theories, and alliances with extremists that allowed them to grow their platforms during the rise of the MAGA internet. Politico’s decision to feature them talking about a conspiracy theory they played a role in creating -- without mentioning that connection to the audience -- helps them continue rebranding without any accountability.

    QAnon is misinformation being weaponized for political purposes, and it absolutely merits the attention and coverage of political media. But outlets can and must seek the expertise of real journalists and social media experts who understand the conspiratorial right without having been an unrepentant part of it. Don't just give a platform to two known grifters with long histories of weaponizing misinformation themselves.

  • Don’t believe right-wing media when they say the Green New Deal would cost $93 trillion

    Politico calls the analysis "bogus," PolitiFact calls it "false," and even its lead author won't defend it

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Right-wing media outlets have repeatedly asserted that the Green New Deal would come with the absurd price tag of "$93 trillion" or "$94 trillion," uncritically repeating claims from a back-of-the-envelope, deeply flawed analysis produced by the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank. Politico recently determined that the $93 trillion figure was "bogus," and quoted the lead author of the AAF analysis, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, admitting that he had no idea how much it would cost to implement the Green New Deal.

    American Action Forum has ties to the fossil fuel industry

    The American Action Forum, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and its 501(c)(4) “sister organization,” the American Action Network (AAN), have been funded by a who’s who of the polluter syndicate.

    AAN has received at least $250,000 from the American Petroleum Institute, a trade association for the oil industry that has donated to groups in the Koch network. And AAN has received at least $35,000 from the American Natural Gas Alliance, a pro-fracking gas industry trade group. Dow Chemical has given at least $250,000. AAN has also been funded by other Koch-connected groups such as Americans for Job Security, Donors Trust, and the Wellspring Committee. It's gotten money from Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS too. AAN has in turn donated millions to AAF.

    Though some information about its funding has been made public, AAN has generally refused to disclose its donors. In 2014, MSNBC called AAN a "dark money power player," noting that it had been running numerous attack ads against Democratic candidates. FactCheck.org noted that same year that AAN has spent tens of millions of dollars supporting Republican candidates. In 2018, a watchdog group filed suit against AAN for violating campaign finance laws and abusing its nonprofit status.

    AAF's Green New Deal cost analysis is problematic from top to bottom

    Considering the think tank’s connections to the fossil fuel industry, it’s not surprising that the American Action Forum’s report found the Green New Deal untenable. What is surprising is how flippant Holtz-Eakin, president of AAF and former head of the Congressional Budget Office, was about the rigor of the analysis he co-authored. When challenged about the accuracy of the report’s claim that the Green New Deal would cost some $93 trillion over 10 years, Holtz-Eakin told Politico, “Is it billions or trillions? Any precision past that is illusory.”

    The Green New Deal resolution introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) on February 7 is just a broad, 14-page outline of goals with no policy specifics, so determining a price tag was a fanciful exercise. AAF's claims of a $92.9 trillion total cost, or $653,000 per household, have no basis in reality. As Politico reporter Zack Colman put it:

    When they set out to put a price tag on the Green New Deal last month, Holtz-Eakin and his associates had no real policy or plan to evaluate, so they made one up to perform back-of-the-envelope calculations.

    And the AAF study does not distinguish between government and private-sector spending, nor does it attempt to quantify the benefits of reducing pollution or other policies. For example, Stanford University civil and environmental engineering professor Mark Jacobson estimated that eliminating the electricity sector’s carbon emissions would avoid $265 billion in annual U.S. damages beginning in 2050.

    Colman also pointed out that more than $80 trillion of the alleged $93 trillion total cost would come from implementing a jobs guarantee and universal health care -- policy ideas that have no direct relation to greening the economy, even though they are in the Green New Deal resolution.

    Politico declared that the $93 trillion figure is "bogus" -- or, in an earlier version of the article published behind a firewall, "essentially vapor."

    The fact-checking project PolitiFact also found the $93 trillion figure to be untrustworthy, calling it "only about as strong as a clothespin in high wind." It noted that "the [AAF] report itself is full of assumptions, qualifiers and caveats," and when a fact-checker reached out to Holtz-Eakin, the AAF president "made it clear to us that the report aims to provide very rough estimates on a plan that’s only partially developed." PolitiFact rated as "false" this claim from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA): "At $93 trillion, the Green New Deal would cost more than the entire recorded spending of the U.S. since the Constitution went into effect in 1789."

    Other journalists have also pointed out major problems with the AAF analysis. Paul Blest at Splinter noted that AAF used cost estimates for a universal jobs program ("$6.8 trillion to $44.6 trillion") and universal health care ("$36 trillion") that are vastly higher than estimates produced by other think tanks. AAF also failed to account for how much money programs like universal health care could save. According to Blest:

    [AAF's] ballpark estimate on a federal jobs guarantee has a range of $38 trillion. The centrist Brookings Institution’s estimate last year, by the way, put the high end on a job guarantee at $543 billion a year, or $5.4 trillion over 10 years.

    On Medicare for All, too, the AAF’s number is substantially higher than previous estimates. The libertarian Mercatus Center’s estimate set out to prove last year that Medicare for All would bankrupt the country, and inadvertently found that Medicare for All would eventually save about $2 trillion in national health expenditures. Even Mercatus, however, put the cost of Medicare for All at $32.6 trillion over 10 years.

    The ClimateDenierRoundup column at Daily Kos pointed out another problem with AAF's jobs-program estimates:

    The jobs price tag is wrong because it’s double counting: many of those jobs would be created by the other parts of the GND. Improving energy efficiency and building a clean energy economy will create a lot of jobs, which are counted in the GND’s green policy price tag tally. But then AAF simply counts those jobs again in the jobs guarantee portion, as though none of those promised jobs would be used to put the green in the Green New Deal.

    Green New Deal sponsor Markey called out major flaws in the report too, starting with the basic premise: "Putting a price on a resolution of principles, not policies, is just Big Oil misinformation." Markey pointed out that AAF calculated the cost of "policies that aren't even in the resolution," such as eliminating air travel:

    Markey also noted that AAF did not provide any support for its cost estimate for a low-carbon electricity grid.

    As The New York Times recently put it, "For now it’s impossible to pin down dollar figures on the plan." FactCheck.org agreed, writing that "the experts we spoke to said it’s not possible to put a specific price tag on the Green New Deal."

    Perhaps most egregiously, AAF’s analysis of the Green New Deal completely ignored the enormous cost of not fighting climate change. Just last year, climate disasters and extreme weather events cost the U.S. an estimated $91 billion. According to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a 1.5 C rise in the global average temperature would cost $54 trillion. Things only get more expensive (and catastrophic) from there. According to Axios:

    • You think $54 trillion is a lot? That number comes from research that also says that a 2.0°C increase will cause $69 trillion of damage, and a 3.7°C increase will cause a stunning $551 trillion in damage.
    • $551 trillion is more than all the wealth currently existing in the world, which gives an indication of just how much richer humanity could become if we don't first destroy our planet.

    Current policies in place around the world have us on track for about 3.3 C of warming by 2100 if we don't dramatically change course.

    AAF's analysis also ignored the significant economic benefits that would come from taking addressing climate change. "Bold climate action could deliver at least US$26 trillion in economic benefits through to 2030, compared with business-as-usual," according to a recent report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

    Fox News and other right-wing outlets have been hyping the $93 trillion figure

    Right-wing media have been heavily citing the AAF report since its release on February 25 -- and they have often used the $93 trillion figure without noting that it's at the top end of a range AAF provided. Fox News has been particularly eager to amplify the huge estimate. Hosts and guests have cited price tags between $91 trillion and $94 trillion on Fox News shows including Fox & Friends, The Greg Gutfeld Show, and Watters’ World, and on Fox Business Network shows including Varney & Co., Trish Regan Primetime, Making Money with Charles Payne, and Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo. Sean Hannity has cited the AAF report at least three times on his Fox News show. He typified Fox's incurious reporting on AAF’s analysis during the March 5 episode of Hannity:

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): They are going to eliminate fossil fuels, gas, and oil. They're going to destroy the lifeblood of our economy. They're going to get rid of planes, mandate you rebuild your home. Who's paying for that? The estimates now are as high as $94 trillion in 10 years --that's their proposal.

    Many other right-wing media outlets have also uncritically amplified AAF's enormous estimate, including The Daily Caller, The Daily Wire, and the Washington Free Beacon

    Some Republican politicians such as Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso have also latched onto the $93 trillion estimate and publicized it through mainstream and right-wing media. Barrasso issued a press release with the figure, wrote an opinion piece about it for USA Today, and made an appearance on Fox News to promote it. During Barrasso’s interview on Fox's America's Newsroom, co-host Sandra Smith falsely claimed that “the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office” was behind the $93 trillion figure and Barrasso failed to correct her error. (Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt also falsely credited the report to the CBO.) From the February 28 episode of America’s Newsroom:

    SANDRA SMITH (HOST): The Green New Deal, all the rage on the left. But a new study finds that it comes with a staggering price tag: the plan estimated to cost is as much as $93 trillion. That breaks down to $600,000 per household. Those are some big numbers. Joining us now, Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming who chairs the Committee on the Environment and Public Works. Been hearing you talk a lot about this, sir, and this price tag. It is a lofty one. This is the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that did a study on this and came up with those numbers: $93 trillion, $600,000 per household. What do you think?

    SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: Well, this Green New Deal is a big green bomb that will blow a hole in our strong economy. It will destroy the energy independence we now have from foreign countries. It will destroy what we’ve been doing to actually lower emissions. The cost to families -- electricity alone would go up by about $3,600 per family, per year. This is something, Sandra, that we cannot as a nation afford. The economy can't afford it. Our nation can’t survive it.

    Some Fox News personalities and Republican politicians, including President Donald Trump, have cited an even larger unsubstantiated figure for Green New Deal costs: $100 trillion. As Dave Anderson recently reported for the Energy and Policy Institute, that number originated from a flippant Twitter thread by a Manhattan Institute senior fellow. The Manhattan Institute has been funded by ExxonMobil, and the chair of its board is also the CEO of a hedge fund that is the top shareholder in Peabody Energy, a major coal company. The $100 trillion figure was mentioned by Fox host Charles Payne during an interview with EPA chief Andrew Wheeler on March 4 on Your World with Neil Cavuto, and it was also cited on other Fox programs and right-wing sites like Townhall.

    Right-wing echo chamber amplifies misinformation by design

    The spread of the $93 trillion figure is a textbook example of how the right-wing media sphere disseminates misinformation to stymie climate action (and the spread of the $100 trillion figure too, for that matter). Conservative media outlets have been freaking out about the Green New Deal since even before the resolution was unveiled. AAF rushed out a quickie estimate of its potential costs that even its lead author won't robustly defend. Surely the think tank knew that its ready-made, sky-high number would be quickly picked up and regurgitated by conservative commentators, writers, and politicians -- and it was. It is not likely to matter that AAF's report has been called out as “bogus” and poked full of holes. You can expect right-wing media to keep on promoting it.

  • Media should avoid these traps in covering this year's March for Life

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & MADELYN WEBB


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The annual anti-abortion March for Life will take place on January 18 this year

    Every year in January, anti-abortion groups and individuals gather in Washington, D.C., to participate in the March for Life -- a series of events protesting the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade to legalize abortion in the United States. This year, the January 18 march will celebrate the theme “Unique from Day One: Pro-Life is Pro-Science.” That theme echoes a common argument from anti-abortion groups that “medical and technological advancements continue to reaffirm the science behind the pro-life cause” including “that life begins at fertilization, or day one.”

    Last year, media coverage of the March for Life demonstrated that some outlets were unable to handle the necessary fact-checking or provide the needed context about the extreme history of many anti-abortion groups, the deceptive science behind many of their claims, and the alleged popularity of anti-abortion policies. This year, media can learn from these mistakes before the annual protest kicks off.

    Three lessons media should learn from the coverage of the 2018 March for Life

    #1 Avoid whitewashing the extremism of anti-abortion groups and spokespeople

    During the 2018 March for Life, there were several examples of outlets whitewashing anti-abortion groups and spokespeople by downplaying these organization’s long histories of extreme rhetoric and activism.

    For example, leading up to the 2018 event, NPR highlighted two anti-abortion leaders -- Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America, and Abby Johnson of And Then There Were None. In both reports, NPR failed to provide critical context about these anti-choice activists and the efforts of their organizations to oppose abortion access. In one piece, NPR asked Hawkins to comment on the status of various anti-choice movement priorities but failed to mention her long history of extreme comments about abortion, contraceptives, and more. These comments include her statement that certain forms of birth control should be illegal or are “carcinogenic” or “abortion-inducing,” as well as her claim that being an "abortion abolitionist" is "just like the slavery abolitionists." Similarly, NPR’s profile of Johnson and her organization focused on the group’s effort to “persuade as many [abortion clinic] workers as possible to leave the field.” Although NPR did note that the circumstances of Johnson’s departure from her own job at a clinic have been disputed by Planned Parenthood, the outlet did not substantively explain the details, which suggest there’s more to Johnson’s “conversion” story than meets the eye. NPR also didn’t explore the full spectrum of misinformation that Johnson regularly spreads about her former employer -- including the inaccurate claim that Planned Parenthood performs abortions on people who aren’t pregnant.

    Johnson is scheduled to speak during this year’s March for Life rally -- giving outlets ample opportunity to fact-check her inaccurate claims. In addition to Johnson, outlets must also avoid downplaying the extremism of other right-wing media and anti-abortion figures scheduled to speak during the event. These figures include Fox News commentator Alveda King and The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro, who will be recording an episode of his podcast before speaking at the rally on January 18.

    #2 Prevent anti-abortion groups from promoting junk science and unqualified “experts” to support anti-abortion policies

    During last year’s March for Life, outlets legitimized the false narrative of scientific support for anti-abortion policies by repeating unsubstantiated claims and manipulative terminology and by promoting so-called “scientific experts” without disclosing their ties to anti-choice organizations. For example, The Atlantic published an article the day before the 2018 March for Life quoting several representatives of the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) without noting that the group was founded by the anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) specifically to produce research supporting the anti-choice movement. Perhaps more concerning than CLI’s origins, the group is still operated as part of SBA List -- filing federal 990 tax forms as “The Susan B. Anthony List Education Fund.” The Atlantic’s failure to identify CLI’s ties to the wider anti-abortion movement earned the outlet a place in Rewire.News’ 2018 “Hall of Shame” for inaccurate or deceptive reporting on reproductive rights. Other outlets such as CNN and The Birmingham News have also made the mistake of either downplaying or omitting CLI’s affiliations when citing the anti-abortion group in reporting.

    Beyond failing to identify CLI’s anti-abortion affiliations in reporting, outlets have also continued to reiterate anti-abortion talking points and signal-boost partisan science. In March, The Associated Press published an article that repeated the discredited claim that there is a pathological link between having an abortion and developing “depression, anxiety and sleeping disorders.” In April, The Washington Post reported on a study that purported to show the effectiveness of a junk science anti-abortion procedure referred to as “abortion pill reversal,” but the journal that published the study was later forced to withdraw it after widely reported methodological concerns.

    The consequences of allowing anti-abortion junk science to go unchecked can already be seen in several states’ anti-choice laws. The unscientific concept of fetal pain was influential in passing an anti-abortion bill in Missouri, even though many medical experts have disputed the validity of the studies and claims used to support such laws. In other states like Ohio and Iowa, anti-abortion lawmakers are promoting bans on abortion as early as six weeks (before many people know they’re pregnant), on the grounds that abortion should be illegal if a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat. Already in 2019, Kentucky lawmakers have proposed a similar ban -- despite previous arguments from doctors that such policies actually do more harm than good.

    Given the theme of this year’s march, media have a responsibility to accurately report on reproductive science and not to elevate pseudoscientific talking points from anti-abortion organizations without providing necessary context and pushback. In particular, media should:

    • Avoid using, or letting guests use, the phrase “partial-birth abortion,” which is not a medical term. Anti-abortion groups, in fact, invented the term to inspire shame and stigma. In reality, the term and the nonexistent medical practices to which it refers are a favorite right-wing and anti-choice media talking point when attacking access to later abortions.
    • Be skeptical of claims about so-called “post-abortion syndrome.” Although right-wing media and anti-abortion groups have long claimed that people experience regret or develop depression after having an abortion, the supposed evidence supporting such claims has been consistently refuted.
    • Provide ample context about the lack of evidence supporting so-called “abortion pill reversal,” an anti-choice medical procedure which supposedly allows a patient to reverse an abortion induced via pill. This procedure has been largely discredited as junk science, with one of the major studies supporting it having been pulled from a medical journal after ethical concerns were raised.
    • Identify and disclose the affiliations of Charlotte Lozier Institute’s “associate scholars” and staff. Given the theme of this year’s march, CLI will likely play a prominent role in promoting anti-abortion talking points and misinformation. Media have a responsibility to identify these so-called experts’ affiliation with an organization that has an explicit mission statement to eliminate “the scourges of abortion.” 

    #3 Avoid signal-boosting misinformation about the alleged popularity of anti-abortion policies and positions

    During the 2018 March for Life, several outlets spread misinformation about the American public’s alleged support for anti-abortion policies by sharing polling data without proper context or analysis. For example, in an article about the anti-abortion policies promoted by President Donald Trump’s administration, Politico shared a poll commissioned by the Catholic organization Knights of Columbus to support the anti-choice argument that Americans want greater restrictions on abortion access. However, as MSNBC’s Irin Carmon has previous explained of the Knights of Columbus poll, a simple shift in phrasing or question style could substantially alter the findings:

    You could ask Americans if they want Roe v. Wade overturned, as the Pew Research Center did in 2013, and learn that 63 percent want to see it stand. Or you could ask Americans to choose between two vague statements, like the recent poll the Marist Institute for Public Opinion conducted for the Knights of Columbus, a group that opposes abortion. Asked to pick between “it is possible to have laws which protect both the health and well-being of a woman and the life of the unborn; or two, it is necessary for laws to choose to protect one and not the other,” 77 percent said it was possible to do everything. The policy implications of the first statement are unclear.

    Further examining this phenomenon, Vox’s Sarah Kliff explained that “the public has diverse views on abortion” that cannot neatly be categorized or assessed. In another piece for Vox, Tresa Undem, co-founder and partner at a public-opinion research firm, thoroughly explored how much of “the current polling fails at accurately measuring opinion on this complex issue.” For example, Undem wrote, even those “who said abortion should only be legal in rare cases” when polled about the legality of abortion expressed a higher level of support for abortion access when questioned about their “‘real life’ views on the issue”:

    Among people who said abortion should only be legal in rare cases, 71 percent said they would give support to a close friend or family member who had an abortion, 69 percent said they want the experience of having an abortion to be nonjudgmental, 66 percent said they want the experience to be supportive, 64 percent want the experience to be affordable, and 59 percent want the experience to be without added burdens.

    Additional polling by Undem’s firm, PerryUndem, has also found that most people believe that the decision to have an abortion should be made by a patient and their doctor (and, to a lesser extent, the larger medical community) -- and not by politicians.

    There will be no shortage of claims during this year’s March for Life about the supposed popularity of anti-abortion positions. Given the theme of this year’s march, media should be prepared to provide audiences with the necessary context about polls, organizations, and anti-abortion media personalities included in their reporting about the march. Media must avoid oversimplifying public opinion polling or repeating inaccurate talking points in ways that uplift anti-choice misinformation.

  • 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.”
  • Ryan Zinke cozied up to right-wing media until the bitter end

    The departing interior secretary mimicked Trump's media strategy, including an allegiance to Fox News

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's long litany of scandals caught up with him on December 15, when President Donald Trump announced via Twitter that Zinke would be leaving his post at the end of the year. According to reporting by The Washington Post, White House officials told Zinke that he had to resign or he’d be fired.

    Throughout his 21 months at the helm of the Interior Department, Zinke hewed closely to Trump's media playbook. Like his boss, Zinke heavily favored Fox News and other right-wing outlets, giving interviews to them far more often than to mainstream outlets. Also like Trump, Zinke lashed out at journalists and news organizations that reported on his ethics problems, making false claims and calling them "fake news."

    Zinke's Fox fixation

    During his first year in office, Zinke appeared on Fox News four times more often than on the other major cable and broadcast networks combined. As Media Matters reported earlier this year, he gave 13 interviews to Fox and just one interview each to CNN, MSNBC, and CBS.

    Zinke's preference for Fox also extended to business networks: He gave seven interviews during his first year to the Fox Business Channel and just one to its chief competitor, CNBC.

    And all of the interviews Zinke gave to major TV outlets other than Fox or Fox Business happened before July 2017, when his ethical problems and scandals started getting significant media coverage. After that, Zinke retreated completely to the warm embrace of Fox for his national TV appearances. Zinke was especially partial to Trump's favorite show, Fox & Friends, where the embattled secretary of the interior received a consistently friendly reception and no hard questioning. (Fox & Friends was recently revealed to have been exceedingly accomodating to another Trump cabinet official, former Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt.)

    Rumors swirled after November’s midterm elections that Zinke would soon resign to avoid tough questioning and investigations of his many scandals from Democrats poised to take control of the House. Politico reported on November 8 that Zinke had already begun exploring other potential career opportunities, including trying to shop himself to Fox News: "Two [knowledgeable people] said Zinke has reached out to Fox to inquire about working at the conservative news channel as a contributor."

    Zinke denied the claims that he had approached Fox about a job, but he didn't distance himself from the network. When Fox News launched a new streaming service for "superfans," Fox Nation, in late November, Zinke appeared on it twice during its first week. He visited Mount Rushmore with Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade, and he sat for an interview with conservative commentator David Webb. He also gave an interview to Kilmeade on November 21 for Fox News Talk's Brian Kilmeade Radio Show.

    Zinke was back on regular old Fox News again on November 29, when Fox News @ Night host Shannon Bream gave him a friendly platform to attack his critics and dismiss the ethics investigations that have dogged him during his tenure at the Interior Department.

    Fox still frequently had Zinke’s back even when he wasn’t on the air; the network reported on his scandals less often and in less depth than CNN and MSNBC did. For example, Fox gave lighter coverage to a controversy over expensive travel Zinke made on the taxpayers' dime, and almost no coverage to a huge Puerto Rican contract given to the tiny firm of Whitefish Energy, which had with multiple ties to Zinke. 

    Zinke's interviews with other right-wing outlets

    Fox is far from the only right-wing media outlet that Zinke ran to when he wanted to get his talking points out. He gave interviews to nationally syndicated right-wing talk radio programs, such as his May 2017 appearance on The Hugh Hewitt Show, and to conservative talk radio programs in his home state, such as Montana Talks, where he appeared in October and November of this year. In June, he gave an interview to the conservative Washington Examiner.

    Zinke also made at least three appearances on Breitbart News radio shows this year, including interviews in May, August, and November. In the August appearance, Zinke claimed that “environmental terrorist groups” were responsible for major wildfires in the West because they had tried to block some logging on public lands. The Washington Post debunked that claim, noting that "fire scientists and forestry experts have said climate change is the main factor behind the problem." In the November appearance, Zinke denied that he's done anything wrong that would warrant the many investigations and scandals surrounding him. "The allegations against me are outrageous, they’re false. Everyone knows they’re false," he said.

    In late November, Zinke also gave another interview to David Webb -- this time for his Sirius XM radio program rather than his Fox Nation show.

    Zinke's attacks on the mainstream media

    Not only did Zinke generally avoid talking to mainstream outlets; he and his press office at the Department of Interior attacked those outlets.

    After Politico published an investigative story into an ethically questionable land deal Zinke had discussed with the chairman of Halliburton, Zinke went on the conservative talk radio show Voices of Montana and called the story's reporter "nefarious," saying, "This is exactly what's wrong with the press, and the president has it right. It's fake news. It's knowing, it's willing, to willingly promulgate fake news.” But the story was credible enough that the Interior Department's inspector general started an official investigation into Zinke's involvement in the deal and referred one of its probes to the Justice Department for further investigation.

    On October 16, The Hill reported that the Interior Department's acting inspector general, who had been overseeing a number of investigations into Zinke's actions, was going to be replaced by a political appointee, citing as its source an internal email written by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. Two days later, the Interior Department denied the report, and though Carson had been the source of the allegedly inaccurate information, Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift used the occasion to attack journalists: "This is a classic example of the media jumping to conclusions and reporting before all facts are known," she wrote in an official statement. It wasn't Swift's first attack on the media. In January, Swift disparaged a HuffPost article about Zinke failing to disclose owning shares in a gun company as "typical fake news" from the outlet.

    After Politico published its article in early November reporting that Zinke was shopping around for jobs as he prepared to leave the Trump administration, Zinke went on the Montana Talks radio show to bash the journalists who wrote the story and to criticize the media in general. From The Hill, which reported on the interview:

    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke took to a conservative talk show to slam reporting on his ethics scandals as “B.S.”

    “They're very angry, and truth doesn’t matter to these people anymore,” Zinke said of mainstream journalists, saying that President Trump “nearly [got] assaulted” by CNN’s Jim Acosta.

    “You know, it comes from the same liberal reporters that have lost their ability to tell the truth,” he continued.

    Zinke went on to say that some media organizations “have nothing better to do, the entire organizations are about attacking Zinke … so what happens is, they invent a story, they try to sell it, and it goes all the way up to the Washington Post, the New York Times, there’s truth to it. It’s just a series of allegations.”

    Despite his fiery denials, Zinke was indeed on his way out the door just a few weeks later.

  • An anti-abortion group is parroting a right-wing talking point about censorship to rally midterm support

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In the lead-up to the midterm elections, anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) has ginned up controversy, claiming to have been censored by Facebook, which removed two SBA List ads urging people to "vote pro-life." Facebook said it removed the ads for violating content rules about depicting medical procedures or conditions. Outlets should not be fooled: Alleging censorship is a well-worn tactic used by anti-abortion organizations big and small to promote misinformation and raise money.

    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 “supports painful late-term abortions.” The two ads presented stories of children born prematurely and quoted their parents urging voters not to support what the ads described as “late-term abortions.”

    It is important to note that neither ad depicted the reality of abortion -- performed later in a pregnancy or otherwise. SBA List attempted to conflate the birth of premature infants with an inaccurate characterization of later abortions, claiming those procedures induce fetal pain, which is not supported by scientific evidence.

    In an email exchange posted by SBA List, Facebook said that at least one of the ads was pulled because Facebook doesn’t “allow ads that depict medical procedures or conditions”; such content is deemed to “feature sensational or graphic content,” which is not allowed because of its “highly sensitive nature.” Both of the ads showed premature babies in a medical setting.

    SBA List has a history of either intentionally manufacturing or alleging censorship claims to gin up controversy, which is part of a longstanding conservative misinformation strategy. The group’s current cry of censorship is the latest in a long line of similar claims by anti-abortion advocates who use the tactic to generate attention and to raise money. In October 2017, SBA List contended that Twitter had censored the organization when it deleted an ad targeting Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring in the 2017 election, seemingly for the use of inflammatory language. Citing this example and other anti-abortion censorship allegations, SBA List asked people to “make a gift today to get our pro-life message past Twitter’s censorship” and to “fight back against Twitter’s censorship.” SBA List also sent out an email in April 2018 detailing instances in which the group claimed to have been censored by social media companies and directed people to “please make a generous donation of $250 to help win the fight against pro-abortion Silicon Valley elites.”

    This latest censorship claim by SBA List is no different. The group sent out a fundraising email after the ads were pulled, 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.” In a press release, SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said that “the clock is ticking to Election Day, and Facebook is stifling our ability to get our message out about politicians who support brutal late-term abortions.”

    Right-wing and anti-abortion outlets frequently report on these censorship claims uncritically, often failing to offer any push back. A particularly egregious source of this media behavior is (unsurprisingly) Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, who has hosted Live Action’s Lila Rose multiple times to pontificate about the alleged censorship of anti-abortion views by social media platforms and other sources. SBA List’s latest claim was also picked up and promoted by Life News, Breitbart, and Washington Free Beacon. But, more troublingly, it was also treated credibly by Politico in its Politico Pulse newsletter, which briefly reported on the dispute without questioning the claims or including Facebook’s perspective. And Politico’s isn't the only newsletter that has carried water for SBA List. The October 30 edition of The Washington Post's health care newsletter, The Health 202, spotlighted another ad placed by the group targeting Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). The Health 202 has uncritically promoted SBA List campaigns or talking points in the past as well.

    SBA List’s tactic of claiming censorship is disingenuous. It is a part of a larger pattern of behavior by anti-abortion advocates -- and conservative media more broadly -- to exploit any perceived slight against them as a strategy to gain attention and financial support for their misinformation. But conservative claims of social media censorship have been soundly refuted. When outlets pick up these claims without pushing back or contextualizing them, they are spreading a false right-wing talking point that conservative voices are disproportionately targeted on social media platforms.

  • The state-by-state impact of overturning Roe with Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court

    Right-wing media claim that letting states regulate abortion isn’t a threat for reproductive rights -- it is.

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    Following President Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, right-wing media downplayed the impact that Kavanaugh -- who has a stamp of approval from the conservative Federalist Society -- would have on abortion rights in the United States. Some media outlets and figures claimed that if Roe v. Wade was overturned, it would merely return abortion regulation “to the states” and have a minimal impact on abortion rights. Here’s a state-by-state guide to what a world without Roe would look like, as reported in the media, if and when Kavanaugh casts the deciding vote.

  • Politico published an article saying a man’s death from AIDS was the result of a "decadent homosexual lifestyle"

    The language has since been removed after being "deemed insensitive"

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In a piece about disgraced late U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI), Politico senior staff writer Michael Kruse made a since-removed anti-gay remark about McCarthy-ally Roy Cohn, saying that Cohn’s death from AIDS was “the result of the decadent homosexual lifestyle he denied to the end.” The piece has since been edited to remove that language, saying it was "deemed insensitive."

    Kruse wrote his report in response to a August 19 tweet by President Donald Trump, which read, in part, “Study the late Joseph McCarthy.” The piece detailed the rise and fall of McCarthy, who “earned lasting disgrace for his public shaming of supposed Communists,” as well as the impact his adviser Cohn had on the senator. The report also noted that Cohn represented “Trump and his father when the Department of Justice sued them in 1973 for racial bias in the rentals of their outer-borough apartments.” Remarking on Cohn’s death, however, Kruse included an unnecessary and homophobic comment, writing, “He died from AIDS, the result of the decadent homosexual lifestyle he denied to the end”:

    The piece has since been edited to read that Cohn “died from AIDS as a man who denied to the end that he was gay,” and an editor's note has been added indicating that "an earlier version of this story contained language about Roy Cohn that was deemed insensitive and has been removed." Initially after receiving criticism on Twitter, Kruse did not apologize but said that he “should have thought harder about these echoes and connotations” and suggested that “a simple ‘promiscuity’ probably would’ve sufficed.” But suggesting that HIV/AIDS is a consequence of being gay, or even promiscuous, is disparaging and damaging to the LGBTQ community. For years, extreme anti-LGBTQ groups like Alliance Defending Freedom and Liberty Counsel have employed similar messaging, and the Public Religion Research Institute found that in 2013, “14 percent of Americans believed AIDS might be punishment from God” for “immoral sexual behavior.”

    In fact, much of the Reagan administration’s chilling lack of response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic can be attributed to its designation as a “gay plague,” something senior Reagan staff and members of the media laughed about in 1982 after “nearly 1,000 people had died from AIDS,” according to Vox’s German Lopez. The Washington Post’s Caitlin Gibson noted similar responses in subsequent years:

    At subsequent press conferences in 1983 and 1984, [Reagan administration press secretary Larry] Speakes — and the White House press corps — continue to respond to [reporter Lester] Kinsolving’s increasingly urgent questions about AIDS with a mix of laughter, homophobic jokes and general indifference.

    Gibson wrote that the first time Reagan “addressed the epidemic in earnest” was in 1987, after “nearly 23,000 people had died of the disease,” and even as his administration began to confront the crisis, he continued to suggest “that its spread might be slowed by ethical behavior.”

    The LGBTQ community, and in particular queer and trans black communities, are disproportionately impacted by HIV, which is treatable and preventable (though many barriers remain to access and patient retention). To glibly suggest that a man’s death from AIDS in 1986 was his fault, or the result of a “decadent homosexual lifestyle,” is to demean the lost lives of hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ people. And as we saw in the Reagan administration’s response to the epidemic, that sentiment quite literally killed people. Comments such as Kruse’s necessitate more than just an edit; they demand an apology.

    Click here to find free HIV testing near you.

  • New EPA chief Andrew Wheeler has a fondness for right-wing media and climate-denier blogs

    But will he be as combative toward the mainstream press as Scott Pruitt was?

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Scott Pruitt, ousted administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), had cozy relationships with right-wing media outlets and combative relationships with the mainstream press. Andrew Wheeler, who's stepped in as acting administrator, has also shown a fondness for right-wing media and signs of disdain toward some mainstream media. But Wheeler has not interacted with the press in the same hostile and tribal ways that Pruitt did. Will Wheeler's approach to the media shift now that he's at the helm at EPA?

    On the topic of climate change, it’s easier to predict whether Wheeler will change course: probably not. Like Pruitt, Wheeler has long been skeptical of climate science and climate action, as evidenced not just by Wheeler’s public statements but also by his Twitter account. He has tweeted out links to climate-denying blog posts, including one post that declared, “There is no such thing as ‘carbon pollution.’”

    Pruitt leaned heavily on right-wing media

    Throughout his tenure at the EPA, Pruitt made heavy use of right-wing media outlets to spread his preferred talking points and fight back against media coverage he didn't like. During his first year, Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as all other major TV networks combined, Media Matters found, and Fox was less likely than other networks to cover Pruitt's scandals. Pruitt was also a frequent guest on national right-wing talk-radio shows, where he received soft treatment.

    After Pruitt got unexpectedly tough questions during an April interview with Fox's Ed Henry, he retreated to right-wing outlets that were even more likely to give him good press, giving interviews to the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Washington Free Beacon, and a Mississippi talk-radio show.

    Pruitt cultivated a particularly cozy relationship with right-wing outlet The Daily Caller, giving the site exclusive quotes and information. The Daily Caller in turn repeatedly defended Pruitt against scandals and attacked people who released damaging information about him. Even after Pruitt resigned, The Daily Caller continued to act as his attack dog, publishing pieces with headlines including "Source: A torrent of negative press ended Scott Pruitt's career at EPA" and "Jilted former EPA aide with sordid history takes full credit for Pruitt's resignation."

    Pruitt attacked and stymied mainstream media outlets

    Under Pruitt, the EPA press office repeatedly attacked, stymied, and manipulated reporters at mainstream news outlets, as Media Matters documented. The agency refused to release basic information about its activities, blocked journalists from attending official agency events, favored reporters who would provide positive coverage, and publicly insulted and retaliated against reporters and outlets whose coverage officials didn't like.

    One of many such attacks came in September, when the EPA sent out a press release that personally maligned Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker, accusing him of having "a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story." Another attack happened in June of 2018, when EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox called an Atlantic reporter "a piece of trash” after she asked for comment on one of Pruitt's aides resigning. 

    Pruitt appeared to attack the media on his way out the door, too. His resignation letter blamed "unprecedented" and "unrelenting attacks" on him.

    Wheeler liked tweets from right-wing media figures, defended Milo Yiannopoulos

    Wheeler, for his part, has also demonstrated an affinity for right-wing media figures and outlets, but he's done it in a different way -- via his personal Twitter account. He has "liked" many tweets by conservative media figures, including ones that criticize mainstream or liberal media outlets.

    Wheeler "liked" a July 3 tweet by Donald Trump Jr. that linked to a Daily Caller post lauding Fox News's high ratings and mocking CNN's lower ones:

    He "liked" a June 11 tweet by NRATV host and Fox regular Dan Bongino that bashed MSNBC:

    Wheeler "liked" a June 1 tweet by libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that criticized a HuffPost story: "HuffPo isn’t a place of journalism, it’s a place of Far Left activism." (Media Matters rebutted the misleading claims of right-wing figures who criticized the story.)

    He "liked" a May 22 tweet by NRATV host and NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch that knocked Planned Parenthood.

    He "liked" an April 3 tweet by conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel that inaccurately claimed Obama EPA officials spent as much on travel as Pruitt did.

    He "liked" a January 6 tweet by Fox News personality Brit Hume that mocked Al Gore.

    Wheeler has "liked" tweets from frequent Fox News guests Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens of the conservative group Turning Point USA, including this one:

    According to Daily Beast reporter Scott Bixby, in 2016 Wheeler tweeted out a conspiracy theorist's video that defended Milo Yiannopoulos, an alt-right troll and former Breitbart editor, but Wheeler later deleted the tweet:

    In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”

    Since being named acting head of the EPA last week, Wheeler appears to have deleted 12 more tweets from his feed.

    Wheeler tweeted links to climate-denier blog posts

    While EPA watchers have predicted that Wheeler is likely to differ from Pruitt in his demeanor, Wheeler has displayed the same attitude as Pruitt toward climate change.

    In 2011, when Wheeler was a lobbyist for the Murray Energy coal company, he tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA."

    Wheeler retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington and highlighted projections about India's rising coal use.

    In 2009, Wheeler sent a tweeted promoting a climate-denying blog post published on the conservative American Thinker site:

    On at least two occasions, Wheeler has tweeted links to posts on RealClearPolitics that questioned the science of climate change. A tweet in 2009 linked to a post titled "A Reason To Be Skeptical," and the tweet included the hashtag #capandtax, a conservative smear against cap-and-trade policies. The piece he linked to, which also appeared in The Denver Post, promoted “Climategate,” a bogus, manufactured scandal in which conservatives claimed that hacked emails showed climate scientists were fabricating evidence of warming temperatures. 

    And a tweet in 2015 praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'”

    This piece, which Wheeler called "great," largely dismissed climate science and criticized the media outlets and peer-reviewed journals that regularly report on climate change:

    Of course, we don’t have good data or sound arguments for decarbonizing our energy supply. But it sounds like we do. If you read Scientific American, Science, Nature, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and you take them at face value, you would have to agree that there is a strong likelihood that serious climate change is real and that decarbonization or geo-engineering are our only hopes.

    Wheeler gives interviews and quotes primarily to mainstream outlets

    Though Wheeler's Twitter account seems to show a preference for right-wing outlets, he does not exhibit the same ideological bias when he gives interviews or quotes to media. Most of the interviews he's given during his career in Washington, D.C., have been to mainstream outlets.

    Media Matters has identified eight interviews Wheeler has granted to media outlets since October 5, 2017, when President Donald Trump nominated him to serve as deputy administrator of the EPA:

    During his years as a lobbyist from 2009 to 2017 -- when he worked for coal, nuclear, chemical, and utility companies, among others -- he was quoted at least eight times by E&E News, a subscription-based news organization aimed at professionals working in the energy and environment fields, and he sat for one video interview with E&E. He also gave quotes at least twice to another inside-the-beltway news organization, Politico, as well as to The New York Times and FoxNews.com.

    From 1995 to 2008, when Wheeler worked for Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), he gave at least four more video interviews to E&E News. He was also quoted in a Washington Post article in 2008.

    Right-wing media are already leaping to Wheeler's defense

    Whether on not Wheeler starts giving interviews or information to right-wing outlets, right-wing outlets are likely to defend him against criticism. They've already started.

    The Daily Caller, which had a tight-knit relationship with Pruitt and his press office, published a story on July 5 titled "Pruitt has been gone for less than a day and his replacement is already getting attacked." And Breitbart ran a piece on July 5 that quoted conservatives praising Wheeler and argued that "the media is already attacking him in much the same relentless fashion it did Pruitt."

    What's next for Wheeler and the EPA press office?

    It's not surprising that Wheeler gave quotes and interviews primarily to mainstream and inside-the-beltway publications while he was working for Inhofe and representing his lobbying clients. He was trying to reach influencers and mold public opinion.

    In contrast, Pruitt, who has been rumored to be plotting a run for Oklahoma governor or senator, has spent his time in D.C. trying to raise his profile and burnish his image with GOP donors and the conservative base of the Republican Party. He often turned to highly partisan right-wing outlets to achieve those ends.

    Now that Wheeler is the boss setting the agenda and determining strategy, will he continue his conventional approach of talking to mainstream media, or will he follow Pruitt's recent example and turn primarily to highly partisan right-wing outlets like Fox News and The Daily Caller? And under Wheeler's leadership, will the EPA's press office treat reporters more professionally than it did under Pruitt, or will it continue to be highly combative with the media?

    In the few days since Wheeler was announced as interim EPA chief on July 5, he seems to have taken a more traditional and conciliatory approach. He's given two substantive interviews to major newspapers, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. And according to Politico, Wheeler will be taking a different approach from Pruitt in terms of dealing with the press: "Wheeler will announce where he is speaking or traveling in advance, he will publish his full calendars 'frequently,' without litigation from groups pursuing public records, and he and other top political appointees will hold briefings for the media on major policy announcements."

    But even if the media approach changes, the policy approach won't. "EPA's agenda remains largely unchanged," Politico continued. "Wheeler will still pursue much the same policy platform — fighting the courts to roll back a slate of Obama-era regulations on climate change, air pollution, stream protection and more."

    Ted MacDonald, Evlondo Cooper, and Kevin Kalhoefer contributed research to this post.

  • Trump to keynote anti-abortion group's gala after it promoted his DC hotel

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


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In anticipation of its annual gala, the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) has been promoting official room blocks for the event at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., and running a contest in which the prize includes a free stay at the property during the gala. On May 14, during the White House press briefing, deputy press secretary Raj Shah then announced that President Donald Trump would be delivering the keynote address at the gala.

    Since Trump’s election, many experts have warned about the potential for the president to benefit from expenditures made at Trump Organization properties. As part of an ongoing analysis of how political groups leverage use of the Trump hotel in D.C. to gain influence with the administration, The Washington Post noted that since Trump’s election, the property has “turned into a Republican power center where foreign governments, political groups, religious organizations and business interests have held dozens of events.” In March, CNN reported that in February alone, Federal Election Commission documents indicated that “the RNC spent more than $271,000 on venue rental and catering at Trump properties in Florida and Washington, DC," noting that "more than half of that" was spent at the Trump International Hotel. Politico similarly explained, “Because Trump has maintained his financial interest in his vast business while president — and, unlike previous presidents, filed for reelection soon after taking office — the relationship between pro-Trump political groups and the Trump businesses has no precedent.”

    SBA List is one group cashing in on its ties to President Trump. On May 22, the group will host its annual “Campaign for Life” gala, with Trump as the keynote speaker. Before Trump’s appearance was announced, SBA List promoted on its website a discounted room rate ($399 per night) at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. for those attending the gala. However, after the White House announced Trump as the speaker, SBA List’s website stopped listing the hotel among its accommodation options. It’s unclear exactly when the change was made, but according a Google cached version of the webpage, SBA List took down the page listing the hotel and discounted rate as early as the night before the announcement.

    In addition, before and after the announcement of Trump as keynote speaker, SBA List promoted a contest in which its members could win a trip to the gala and a stay at the Trump International Hotel.

    SBA List enjoys close ties to the president and his administration. Last year, Vice President Mike Pence delivered the gala’s keynote address, while this year “longtime friend” of the organization Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, will be awarded “SBA List’s 2018 Distinguished Leader Award.” Previously, SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser was appointed to lead Trump’s “Pro-Life Coalition.”

  • Politico details Pruitt's seeming quid pro quo relationship with MSNBC's Hugh Hewitt

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt met with lawyers seeking to prioritize the cleanup of a water district in Orange County, CA, at the behest of MSNBC personality and radio host Hugh Hewitt, one of Pruitt’s staunchest media defenders, according to a Politico story published May 7. The lawyers worked for the same firm, Larson O'Brien, as Hewitt. “Six weeks after that meeting, ... the Orange County North Basin site appeared on Pruitt’s list of 21 contaminated areas to address,” Politico reported. Media Matters has noted Hewitt’s full-throated defense of Pruitt amid a litany of scandals and controversies, including his exorbitant travel and ethically dubious condo lease, on MSNBC and his radio show, which Pruitt has appeared on at least a dozen times, according to Hewitt. The story also noted that Hewitt’s son James works in the EPA’s press shop. The Washington Post had reported in April that Pruitt used an obscure provision in a water-safety law to hire James, among others.

    From Politico:

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt placed a polluted California area on his personal priority list of Superfund sites targeted for “immediate and intense” action after conservative radio and television host Hugh Hewitt brokered a meeting between him and lawyers for the water district that was seeking federal help to clean up the polluted Orange County site.

    [...]

    In many cases, the people whose advice Pruitt is heeding could be useful supporters for him in a future race for U.S. senator or president. They include GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who — as POLITICO reported in March — persuaded Pruitt last year to take a meeting with an Israeli water purification company called Water-Gen that later won a research deal with the EPA.

    Hewitt, a resident of Orange County whose son James works in EPA’s press office, emailed Pruitt in September to set up a meeting between the administrator and the law firm Larson O’Brien, which employs Hewitt and represents the Orange County Water District. Pruitt had been planning to meet with the lawyers in California a month earlier, but cancelled the trip to undergo knee surgery.

    “I’ll join if the Administrator would like me too or can catch up later at a dinner,” Hewitt wrote in his Sept. 18 message. Hewitt added that the issues surrounding the Superfund site were “Greek to me but a big deal in my home county.”

    Pruitt’s aides responded within minutes and quickly confirmed an Oct. 18 meeting for the lawyers and a project director.

    Six weeks after that meeting, on Dec. 8, the Orange County North Basin site appeared on Pruitt’s list of 21 contaminated areas to address. A month later, Pruitt proposed listing the site on EPA’s National Priorities List, a move that could make it eligible for long-term federal cleanup funding from the federal government if the responsible polluters cannot be identified and forced to pay for its remediation.

    Since then, Hewitt has been a robust defender of Pruitt, dismissing his recent controversies as “nonsense scandals” on MSNBC in early April and saying his detractors were “just trying to stop the deregulation effort.”

  • 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.

  • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has appeared on Fox News four times more than on the other major TV networks combined

    Like other Trump officials, Zinke heavily favors the president's favorite network

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has appeared on Fox News four times more often than on the other major cable and broadcast networks combined, Media Matters has found. And for the last nine-plus months, as Zinke has been increasingly dogged by scandals, he has not given interviews to any major channels other than Fox networks.

    In exhibiting a clear preference for Fox News during his 13-plus months in office, Zinke is following the same pattern as many of President Donald Trump’s other cabinet officials and top aides, including Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt.

    Zinke has gotten soft treatment on Fox News. During his interviews, the network's hosts and journalists rarely asked about his scandals. Instead of confronting him with tough questions, they let him peddle Trump administration talking points and trumpet brand-burnishing policies such as “Bring Your Dog to Work Day.” 

    Zinke appeared on Fox News 13 times and other major networks three times since he took office

    Zinke gave 13 interviews to Fox News and one each to CNN, MSNBC, and CBS. From March 1, 2017, when Zinke was sworn in, to April 17, 2018, Zinke appeared on Fox News 13 times. He granted only one on-air interview apiece to the other major cable news networks, CNN and MSNBC. On broadcast TV, Zinke appeared only on CBS; he gave no interviews to ABC or NBC.

    Zinke appeared most often on Fox & Friends, a show that shapes Trump’s decision-making. Here are all of Zinke's appearances on Fox News during his time as interior secretary:

    Fox & Friends’ interviews with Zinke were good examples of how he was treated across the network. When the hosts were not feting him for his Navy Seal service or lauding him for enacting Trump's deregulatory agenda, they allowed Zinke’s statements on policy to go unchallenged. Zinke's September 20 appearance on Fox & Friends stands out for its breeziness. Host Brian Kilmeade accompanied Zinke on a tour of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and neglected to ask the secretary about a controversial recommendation Zinke had made just days earlier to shrink four national monuments, including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah.

    Here are Zinke's appearances on major networks other than Fox:

    On cable business news networks, Zinke appeared on Fox Business seven times and CNBC once

    Zinke’s preference for Fox extended to the Fox Business Network, which he has appeared on seven times, compared to once on rival CNBC. Fox Business, like Fox News, regularly echoes Trump administration talking points and attacks the administration's perceived enemies. Fox Business host Lou Dobbs even has the ear of the president, who has invited Dobbs to participate in senior-level meetings via phone.

    Here are Zinke's appearances on Fox Business programs:

    Zinke's sole appearance on CNBC was on Squawk Box on June 29, 2017

    Zinke appeared only on Fox News and Fox Business after becoming embroiled in scandals

    Zinke started getting a notable amount of bad press last summer after an article published on July 26 revealed that he tried to strong-arm Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) into voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Since then, Zinke, like Pruitt and others in Trump's cabinet, has been at the center of numerous scandals involving excessive travel expenses, favors for donors, and undisclosed financial ties to companies that could benefit from his agency’s decisions.

    All of the TV interviews Zinke did with networks other than Fox or Fox Business happened prior to July 26, 2017, after which point his controversies began generating significant media attention.

    Once scandals cropped up, Zinke retreated fully to his safe space. For more than nine months now, Zinke has not granted a single interview to any major TV network other than Fox News or Fox Business.

    Fox News covered a key Zinke travel scandal less than CNN and MSNBC

    On September 28, The Washington Post and Politico reported that Zinke spent more than $12,000 of taxpayer funds to charter a flight from Las Vegas to near his Montana home on a plane owned by oil and gas executives. Commercial flights between the airports run daily and cost as little as $300, the Post reported. Zinke's jaunt was widely reported across cable news the week after the story broke, but more widely on MSNBC and CNN than on Fox.

    From September 28 to October 4, MSNBC ran 27 segments that mentioned Zinke’s travel, while CNN ran 23. The networks' hosts, correspondents, and guests usually brought up Zinke’s travel scandal during wider conversations that included mention of other cabinet members' extravagant travel.

    During the same period, Fox News ran 12 segments about Zinke’s travel -- roughly half as many as each of the other cable news networks. Most of Fox's mentions of Zinke's travel were news alerts restating basic facts from the Post article. When Fox News hosts and correspondents discussed the story on air, they usually downplayed or excused the scandal. For example, on America’s News Headquarters on September 29, White House Correspondent John Roberts said that Zinke was “taking The Washington Post to task” before airing Zinke’s defense for taking private flights. Later in the show, host Sandra Smith remarked, “Zinke makes a fair point,” and noted that he got approval for other controversial flights he took on government planes.

    On April 16, 2018, the Interior Department’s (DOI) inspector general released a report that found Zinke's $12,375 charter flight "could have been avoided." Zinke took the chartered flight so he would have time in his schedule to give a motivational speech to a hockey team owned by a major donor to Zinke's former congressional campaign. The speech did not mention Zinke's work at the Department of Interior. The inspector general’s report concluded, "If ethics officials had known Zinke’s speech would have no nexus to the DOI, they likely would not have approved this as an official event, thus eliminating the need for a chartered flight. Moreover, had ethics officials been made aware that the Golden Knights’ owner had been a donor to Zinke’s congressional campaign, it might have prompted further review and discussion."

    Kevin Kalhoefer contributed research to this report. Charts by Sarah Wasko.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the following terms in Nexis and iQ media to find Zinke’s on-air TV appearances from the date he was sworn in as secretary of the interior on March 1, 2017, to April 17, 2018: “Zinke OR Zinky OR Interior Secretary OR Secretary of the Interior OR Secretary of Interior.” We used the same terms to search cable news networks’ coverage of Zinke’s travel controversy from September 28 to October 4, 2017.

  • Oklahoma’s largest newspaper blamed Democrats for a Republican problem with abortion

    The editorial board said the failure of an ACA stabilization bill was because Democrats want "abortion on demand"

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Recently, Oklahoma has attracted attention from extreme anti-abortion groups because Dan Fisher -- a Republican gubernatorial candidate -- has been very vocal about his desire to “abolish abortion” and his belief that courts should ignore Roe v. Wade. On the heels of that news, the editorial board of a local newspaper tapped into the same well of anti-abortion sentiment to forward an inaccurate assessment of the effort by Congress to stabilize the Affordable Care Act.

    On March 28, the editorial board of The Oklahoman, the largest newspaper in Oklahoma, ran an editorial laying the blame on Democrats and their “insistence on unfettered abortion rights” for Congress’ failure to pass an Affordable Care Act (ACA) premium stabilization bill. However, the debate in Congress was actually over the inclusion of language in the bill that would have expanded the Hyde Amendment -- which prohibits the use of federal funds to provide for abortions -- to stop private insurers selling over the ACA exchange from covering abortion as well. In simple terms, Republicans wanted the language included (a change from the status quo), and Democrats did not.

    Even though Republicans were pushing for a more restrictive version of the Hyde Amendment, the editorial board said that blame for the bill's failure should at least partially rest with Democrats. The outlet argued that “Democrats' claims of surprise are hard to buy” because “iterations” of the Hyde Amendment “have existed in various forms “in health-related legislation since 1976.” In addition to misrepresenting the nature of Democrats’ opposition, the editorial board also promoted the right-wing myth that Democrats support “abortion on demand.”

    The Oklahoman wasn’t alone in its inaccurate framing of Democrats’ stance on abortion rights and how it impacted the ACA stabilization bill. The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal similarly blamed Democrats for the bill’s failure, writing that “the left has abandoned the idea that abortion is a personal choice and now regards it a self-evident right that everyone must subsidize.” The Wall Street Journal also recently published an opinion piece from Cardinal Timothy Dolan in which he claimed the Democratic Party had alienated Catholics in pursuit of “the most radical abortion license in the country.”

    However, as reported by Politico, the inclusion of the expanded Hyde Amendment language would have curtailed coverage for abortion from private insurers in the marketplaces -- a meaningful distinction that The Oklahoman and others failed to unpack. Indeed, Democrats said their objection wasn’t to the inclusion of any Hyde language, but that the language in question “would significantly expand federal funding restrictions on abortion” because “any insurance plan that covered abortion wouldn’t be able to get federal funds from Obamacare, or worse, insurers in some states wouldn’t be allowed to sell any individual market health plan that covers abortion.”

    In other words, as HuffPost concluded, the proposal would have made it “almost certain no insurer offering coverage to individuals would include abortion coverage.” Under the ACA’s current structure, the Hyde Amendment restrictions are not violated because insurers that want to provide abortion coverage do so through “separate spending accounts, filled only with premiums they have received directly from individuals.” Contrary to the framing used by The Oklahoman and others that the Democrats played spoiler, Politico also reported that when “Democrats offered language similar to what was in the Affordable Care Act,” Republicans rejected this offer. Instead, Republicans demanded “permanent Hyde Amendment language” in the bill that would also apply to private insurers.

    It should be noted that, while the Democrats weren't objecting to the Hyde Amendment as it currently exists, the law is actually an extremely harmful policy that, as the Center for American Progress noted, has “a disproportionate impact on low-income women, young women, and women of color.” It leads to “poor health outcomes” and “contributes to a culture rife with abortion stigma.” It’s also not even popular with voters.

    Rather than discuss any of this, the editorial board of The Oklahoman oversimplified the debate in order to place blame on Democrats and allege that their position on abortion was extreme.