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  • The 5 worst takes from coverage of the 2018 March for Life

    How media outlets promoted problematic narratives and anti-abortion misinformation

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On January 19, the annual March for Life was held in Washington D.C. In covering both the anti-abortion protest and the lead-up to it, some media outlets promoted problematic narratives and anti-abortion misinformation.

  • It's not just Masterpiece Cakeshop: Alliance Defending Freedom is attacking nearly every aspect of LGBTQ equality

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    On December 5, anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) will argue before the Supreme Court in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case on behalf of a baker who refused to serve a gay couple. ADF is a highly influential, right-wing legal group that has worked to impact policy at the local, state, national, and international level, from working to ban transgender students from using the restrooms that align with their gender identity to helping write and defend the country’s most sweeping anti-LGBTQ state law in Mississippi.

  • Politico fails to disclose conflicts of interest in article attacking Democrats for protecting consumers

    A strong, independent CFPB was created to rein in a predatory financial industry, not cater to political whims

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A recent article in Politico blamed Democrats for the ongoing Republican campaign to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), misleadingly alleging that “Democrats are facing the consequences of their decision to protect the agency’s powerful independent director,” without disclosing the conflicts of interest of the experts it cited in support of such a view.

    Such a commission structure at CFPB has long been a goal of financial industry lobbyists and some Republicans seeking to roll back consumer protections put in place by the Dodd-Frank Act, because it would make the agency less responsive to predatory practices targeting Americans, delaying its decision-making and ability to protect consumers.

    In the November 27 article, Politico's financial services reporter claimed the succession crisis at the CFPB created by the recent resignation of long-time Director Richard Cordray “highlights how Democrats” are responsible for “the turmoil” because they rebuked GOP overtures that would have weakened the agency at its inception. From the article:

    But while the process plays out in court, the turmoil highlights how Democrats shunned Republican efforts to broaden the governance of the fledgling agency from a single appointed director to a bipartisan commission that would have included members with diverse political viewpoints.

    [...]

    In truth, the bureau has been mired in controversy since its creation. Warren has built a political career railing against Wall Street. Cordray infuriated industry and inspired lawsuits. And the bureau itself is unique, investing great power in one person with almost no accountability.

    It was predictable that such a toxic mix would eventually explode. Now Democrats are facing the consequences of their decision to protect the agency’s powerful independent director. Anybody Trump nominates to replace Cordray will have the ability to undo a lot of his work. On Monday, Mulvaney wasted no time, imposing a regulatory and hiring freeze.

    This analysis mirrors misleading arguments made by the conservative Washington Examiner and the right-wing blog RedState, which both seemed to revel in the supposed reckoning Democrats brought on themselves. In the midst of these ongoing media attacks, the Republican-controlled Congress has already moved to weaken the CFPB, a fact never mentioned in the Politico piece.

    The Politico article also echoes financial industry talking points in favor of implementing a commission structure at CFPB, going so far as to rely on a quote from Richard Hunt, the president of the Consumer Bankers Association, without pointing out he has spent years demanding the agency be turned into a weaker bipartisan commission. Indeed, more than a dozen financial and real estate lobbying arms, including the Consumer Bankers Association, wrote to Congress in June asking that the Republican-controlled House and Senate move to reshape the CFPB’s governance structure.

    But the very reason the CFPB avoided a similar commission when the agency was created was because in the aftermath of the financial devastation of the Great Recession (unleashed in part by underregulated financial industry actors), the decision was made to avoid a weakened commission that would be susceptible to just this sort of political pressure, or the type of partisan paralysis that has afflicted similar bipartisan efforts.

    Making matters worse, the only Democrat featured prominently in the article has voiced opposition to CFPB consumer protections in the past, and works at a law firm that proudly boasts of its experience fighting the agency on behalf of “bank and non-bank consumer financial services providers.” Politico’s failure to disclose this clear conflict of interest is the kind of oversight one might expect from Fox News.

    This is not the first time Politico has targeted the CFPB. A piece attacked the consumer advocacy agency in November 2015 after it used research from a consumer advocacy group while drafting new rules aimed at ending racial biases in auto lending. The 2015 criticism followed a salvo from the right-wing editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, which slammed the CFPB for daring to stand up against racially biased lending practices.

    Conservative politicians and media outlets have routinely pilloried the CFPB since its inception, sometimes inventing reasons to smear the agency. Some antagonists have even attacked the CFPB for paying its employees competitive salaries, falsely claiming along the way that the agency is misusing tax dollars (it’s actually funded by the Federal Reserve).

  • House Republicans target Bob Mueller, FBI with Fox News’ Uranium One smear

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Taking their cues from Fox News host Sean Hannity, three Republican congressmen introduced a resolution in the House demanding special counsel Robert Mueller step down from his role of investigating possible collusion between associates of President Donald Trump and agents of the Russian government.

    On November 3, Politico reported that Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) introduced a measure that “while nonbinding, would put the House on record as describing Mueller … as unfit” to lead the Trump-Russia investigation, “because of his relationship” with former FBI Director James Comey, and his handling of an FBI investigation in 2010 when he was the head of the bureau. The representatives claimed that Mueller and the FBI are compromised because of their supposed neglect to adequately investigate “a seven-year-old sale of uranium production facilities to Russian interests,” according to Politico, which right-wing media falsely believe was inappropriately approved by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

    “[B]e it Resolved, That House of Representatives expresses its sense that Robert Mueller is compromised and should resign from his special counsel position immediately,” the resolution states.

    [...]

    Mueller, they note, was presiding over the FBI at the time the agency was investigating a Russian bribery and extortion scheme connected to the uranium deal, but the agency declined to notify Congress of its investigation and prevented a confidential informant from notifying lawmakers.

    “Any thorough and honest investigation into the corruption of American-uranium related business must include investigating the willful blindness of the FBI and its leaders,” according to the resolution.

    The demand for Mueller’s resignation from lawmakers in Congress comes after months of attacks leveled by pro-Trump media. But their conspiratorial focus on Mueller’s supposed involvement in a uranium deal reveals the extent to which many Republicans may be taking their cue from Fox News, particularly Sean Hannity.

    Just three weeks ago, right-wing journalist John Solomon authored a flimsy article in The Hill, which revived the debunked Uranium One conspiracy theory. Hannity rushed to amplify the story, claiming the real collusion was between Clinton and Russia while impugning Mueller’s character. As recently as October 24, Hannity encouraged Congress to call on Mueller to testify about his “past role” in the Uranium One story, adding “there’s no way the American people can trust Robert Mueller to investigate anything Russia related, to be fair and impartial, it’s impossible because of his past role in this. He should resign immediately, tonight.” In a November 1 tirade, Hannity hyped “massive conflicts of interest coming from the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and his team” calling them “beyond shocking” and “beyond disturbing.” Hannity alleged that the special counsel investigation “has become a partisan witch hunt that is now rotten to the core” before attempting to tie Mueller to the alleged uranium plot. Hannity also suggested that Mueller might have an ax to grind with Trump after not being chosen to replace Comey at the FBI.

    Fox News has became fully invested in stoking the conspiracy theory, despite the fact that none of the right-wing talking points about it are true -- and they are embarrassingly easy to fact check. Rep. Biggs himself appeared on the October 28 edition of Fox News’ America’s News HQ and falsely suggested Mueller had “a conflict of interest” in investigating Trump because “he’s tied back to the original Uranium One scandal.”

    The recent right-wing hysteria around Uranium One is peculiar given that it first gained public attention in April 2015 with the publication of Republican opposition researcher Peter Schweizer’s deeply flawed anti-Clinton oppo dump. Schweizer falsely alleged that Clinton used her position to promote the sale of American uranium assets to state-owned Russian entities in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation. Those allegations were quickly debunked after reporters began reviewing the sale (hint: Clinton played virtually no role) and Schweizer was later forced to admit part of his argument was a lie. But Fox News never gave it up. Indeed, just last night, Hannity told Schweizer that he was proud to have hosted the first interview for Schweizer’s discredited book while boasting about his constant recent coverage of the Uranium One story.

    Previously, Fox hosts and guests have baselessly accused Mueller of leaking damaging information about the Trump-Russia inquiry to the press in hopes of building up the public’s distrust in him. Now, in the wake of key members of the Trump campaign team getting indicted, Trump’s conservative media sycophants seem to hope that the bogus Uranium One conspiracy theory will succeed in derailing Mueller’s efforts.

  • Fox’s Shannon Bream has a new show and a history of spreading misinformation about abortion

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    On October 30, Fox News’ Shannon Bream debuted the evening program Fox News @ Night. The show was new, but one thing stayed the same: Bream’s commitment to misinforming about abortion.

    As Mic noted, Bream’s program represents a “departure from a longtime tradition” of playing reruns of other “popular primetime shows” during the 11 p.m. hour. Bream herself has attempted to brand her program as “straight news, not opinion” and claimed the program “will be straight down the middle.” In reality, Bream has a long history of presenting misleading reporting about a number of reproductive rights topics -- and if the first episode of Fox News @ Night is any indication, having her own program won’t change anything. 

    For example, long after the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) and its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood were discredited, Bream gave CMP founder David Daleiden an unchallenged platform to push misinformation. Before that, Bream had played frequent validator for CMP’s claims -- going so far as to anchor a Fox News special on its content, titled Planned Parenthood: The Hidden Harvest. Beyond her emphasis on CMP’s inaccurate contentions, Bream also has a tendency to cite polls commissioned by anti-choice groups to suggest a lack of public support for abortion access. 

    In back-to-back segments during the October 30 edition, Bream also hosted NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to discuss a recent case involving the Trump administration’s denial of an abortion to an undocumented minor being held in federal custody. According to BuzzFeed, the minor (referred to as Jane Doe) did not ask for “the government to pay for the procedure or arrange the transportation” -- in fact, as Politico reported, she had already “obtained the money” for the procedure. Nevertheless, Fox News’ coverage of the case has focused on a made-up idea that taxpayers should be outraged about the possibility of funding abortions for undocumented immigrants like Doe -- an offshoot of the debunked, but oft-repeated, right-wing myth of so-called “taxpayer-funded abortion.” (In fact, no taxpayer money may go to abortions under the Hyde Amendment.)

    During the first segment, Bream not only pressed Hogue on a series of anti-choice talking points about the case (including the myth of taxpayer-funded abortion), but also directly channeled the concerns of anti-abortion groups. In one instance, after Hogue noted that opponents of Doe’s abortion want to “put Roe [v. Wade] on trial through this case,” Bream interjected that what she “heard from a lot of pro-life groups is they were worried this is Roe v. Wade 2.0.” Bream continued that these anti-abortion groups were concerned that Doe’s case was “not just about abortion, but it’s now encouraging -- they think -- in some ways, people coming here from other countries where maybe they can’t get an abortion.”

    Bream’s comment about having “heard from a lot of pro-life groups” is unsurprising. In but one example, the afternoon before Bream’s program debuted, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List, tweeted that Bream is a “friend” and that she “covers Life issues with fearlessness and fairness.”

    The Fox prime-time lineup has seen a lot of change over the past year. Following the ouster of Bill O’Reilly for numerous reports of sexual harassment (and more recent news of further settlements still), the network was forced to make changes to its evening talent. As a result, white nationalist golden boy and serial anti-abortion misinformer Tucker Carlson scored a prime-time spot -- a platform he has used to host anti-abortion activists and present their allegations in a way that appeals to his extremist base. In September, after Fox was forced to fire prime-time host Eric Bolling (again for reports of sexual harassment), the network announced Fox News @ Night, hosted by Bream at 11 p.m., and another program, The Ingraham Angle, hosted by longtime contributor Laura Ingraham (who has her own history of spreading misinformation about abortion).

    As Variety reported, Fox executives are hopeful that the addition of Ingraham and Bream will finally “cap a flurry of schedule changes” that audiences have endured over the past year. And although Bream has pitched her show as one that “will focus heavily on politics and events in Washington” -- a choice that one media professor told Variety will offer viewers “news, not more punditry” -- audiences shouldn’t be fooled.

    If the chyron previewing the abortion-related segment during the October 30 premier is any indication, Bream’s coverage of reproductive rights topics will be more of the same Fox News xenophobia and bluster:

  • Fox's Tucker Carlson is mad about an undocumented teen paying for her own abortion

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    Fox News host Tucker Carlson and guest Kristan Hawkins, president of the anti-abortion group Students for Life of America (SFLA), on Wednesday repeated the right-wing myth of so-called “taxpayer-funded abortion,” alleging that a recent judicial ruling requires taxpayers to pay for abortions for undocumented immigrants.

    On October 18, a federal judge in Texas ordered the Trump administration to quit barring abortion access for an undocumented teen (referred to as Jane Doe) who is being held in federal custody in the state by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement. During the hearing, lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) argued that the government was not impeding Jane Doe’s access to an abortion because she was “free to return to her home country for the procedure." Judge Tanya Chutkan said she was “astounded” by DOJ’s argument. “She can leave the country or not get her abortion. That’s your position,” she replied. On October 19, the DOJ appealed the ruling, and a federal appeals court in D.C. announced that it would hear oral arguments on October 20. The D.C. court also issued an administrative stay temporarily blocking the teen from having an abortion.

    Rather than discuss the facts of the case, on October 18, Carlson hosted Hawkins to repeatedly lie that the ruling would require taxpayers to fund abortions for undocumented immigrants. Carlson claimed, “Liberals are arguing that U.S. taxpayers somehow have an obligation to fund abortions for illegal aliens.” Hawkins agreed, stating that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) -- which argued the case on behalf of Jane Doe -- “sees this opportunity, along with their abortion allies, to mandate that taxpayers facilitate her abortion.” She also said that the organization was attempting to claim that the teen has a “constitutional right to have a taxpayer-funded abortion.” Hawkins alleged that the ruling would set a “dangerous precedence” (sic) for other people to “come to the United States illegally or legally” because the country would “fund a taxpayer-funded abortion for you.”

    Unfortunately for Carlson, the facts of the case run contrary to his and his guest’s claims. Despite Carlson and Hawkins’ allegations, Jane Doe requires no government support to receive an abortion. According to BuzzFeed News, Jane Doe did not ask for “the government to pay for the procedure or arrange the transportation.” Instead, as Politico reported, Jane Doe “has [already] obtained the money to pay for” the abortion. But rather than acknowledge those facts, Carlson and Hawkins instead joined in the Fox News chorus of xenophobic scare tactics about undocumented immigrants in the United States. Carlson also has a history of advancing anti-choice misinformation, often by hosting anti-abortion leaders.

    Beyond Carlson, right-wing media frequently push the myth that taxpayers fund abortions. Under the Hyde Amendment, federal funding for abortion is prohibited except in cases of rape or incest or if the life of the mother is in danger.

    During the October 18 segment, Hawkins additionally talked about the importance of having a “pro-life HHS” because “they’re the ones trying to protect this young girl from the ACLU, from Planned Parenthood who are just simply using her.” However, as Rewire’s Tina Vasquez detailed, this so-called protection is actually harmful: She explained that there are numerous allegations of HHS using underhanded tactics to impede access to abortion for Jane Doe and other undocumented immigrants -- often in direct opposition to the individual’s wishes. As Vasquez noted, this interference is so extreme that some advocates have called Jane Doe's case “a harbinger of the ‘anti-choice fanaticism’ working its way into the immigration system since Trump’s presidential inauguration.”

    For example, according to the ACLU’s complaint, Jane Doe and other undocumented immigrants have been forced to go to crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), which employ deceptive tactics and push medical misinformation to dissuade or intimidate individuals from receiving desired abortion care. And unlike abortion providers, CPCs actually can receive taxpayer funding, despite providing little that resembles genuine health care. The ACLU also alleged that Scott Lloyd, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, “personally contacted” one or more pregnant undocumented minors in order to dissuade them from having abortions. In one related incident, the ACLU found that an undocumented minor was taken to the emergency room after she had taken the first of two pills used in a medical abortion in order “to determine the health status” of the “unborn child” and potentially stop the procedure.

    The stark reality is that, as the complaint stated, many of the undocumented pregnant minors who cross the Mexico border have an “acute need” for reproductive health care; studies have shown that many are pregnant as the result of rapes committed in their home countries or during the dangerous journey across the border. But instead of acknowledging that reality, Carlson and Hawkins opted to advance lies about immigrants and abortion access in order to vilify undocumented minors seeking medical care.

  • Right-wing and fringe media falsely claim legal Manafort wiretap vindicates Trump's illegal-wiretap lie

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Right-wing and fringe media are claiming yet again that President Donald Trump was correct when he accused former President Barack Obama of wiretapping in Trump Tower, now arguing that a legal wiretap targeted at former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is proof of Trump’s claim. However, said wiretap was pursuant to a warrant and targeted at Manafort, not Trump. This is at least the fifth time in six months right-wing media has attempted to validate Trump’s lie.

  • What media are getting wrong about Trump, Mattis, and the transgender troop ban

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Media outlets widely and misleadingly reported that Defense Secretary James Mattis had “frozen” President Donald Trump’s plan to ban transgender people from the military. A few days after Trump sent him a directive on the issue, Mattis announced on August 29 that he would “carry out the president’s policy direction” while “in the interim, current policy with respect to currently serving members will remain in place.” But Mattis’ statement was exactly in line with each step of Trump’s directive, which granted the defense secretary time to “determine how to address transgender individuals currently serving” in the military.

    Numerous headlines and reports on August 29 suggested that Mattis had paused Trump’s transgender military ban, framing the situation as if Mattis was defying Trump’s orders. The New York Times said Mattis had “kicked President Trump’s proposed ban … down the road,” and an ABC affiliate’s headline said Mattis had made the decision “despite Trump’s order.” The Washington Post said Mattis announced “that he is freezing the implementation of” the ban. Many other headlines asserted that Mattis’ announcement constituted a freeze of or “hold on” Trump’s policy. Similarly, Politico’s Eliana Johnson called Mattis’ statement “kind of a rebuke” of Trump’s announcement during an appearance on MSNBC.

    But Mattis’ statement is exactly in line with Trump’s August 25 directive. That directive gave Mattis until February 21 to “determine how to address transgender individuals currently serving in the United States military” and called for “further study” of the issue even though there has already been extensive study on transgender service members. A Pentagon-commissioned 2016 Rand Corporation study found that “allowing transgender personnel to serve openly” would have “little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness” and minimal costs.

    Trump’s directive explicitly called for reinstating the ban, asking the Pentagon to “return to the longstanding policy and practice on military service by transgender individuals that was in place prior to June 2016,” when the Obama administration announced that transgender Americans “may serve openly” in the armed services.

    Other experts and media figures have pointed out media's incorrect framing of Mattis' response, with Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern calling it “an extreme mischaracterization of the facts.” Stern wrote that Mattis “is doing exactly what Trump directed him to do in a recent memo” and noted that the defense secretary “is not suspending the ban or disobeying Trump, but simply following orders.” The Slate report also quoted Chase Strangio, an ACLU attorney, saying that Mattis’ “statements do not change the directive nor has he been given the power to retain transgender service members indefinitely.” And Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center of Lesbian Rights, told Stern that USA Today’s “inaccurate reporting” is “playing into a patently bogus strategy to make it appear that there is going to be some new 'study' that will legitimize what is already a forgone conclusion: the discriminatory banning of military service by transgender people, based on a characteristic that has no bearing on their fitness to serve.’”

    A report by ThinkProgress’ Zack Ford noted similar points, saying that though “multiple outlets” reported that Mattis “had somehow frozen, paused, or stalled” the ban, there “is no justification for this framing.” Ford continued, “Mattis’ statement says that the military will implement the order exactly as directed.” The article laid out the expectations set forth in Trump’s memo, noting that Mattis’ statement “matches what was in Trump’s order.” And though the Post published a piece about Mattis “freezing the implementation” of the ban, another story in the newspaper noted that “defying orders was not what Mattis was doing.” The report added that Mattis’s actions were “to freeze [the ban’s] impact for the moment” and that “such a delay was pretty much authorized by Trump in his formal memorandum.” It continued, “Mattis did not reverse Trump or defy him on the broader ban against new recruits who are transgender people.”

    There are repercussions to the misleading reports and headlines on Mattis’ statement. Stern’s post in Slate concluded that the stories about a “freeze” “serve the administration’s narrative in two ways: They legitimize a ‘study’ that is designed to reach a foregone conclusion, and they falsely portray the ban as more lenient or unsettled than it really is.” This morning, a panel discussion on MSNBC’s Morning Joe suggested that perhaps Trump “didn’t really want to” implement the ban. Host Joe Scarborough remarked that “Donald Trump saying I really don’t want to do this” would make “a lot of sense,” and he also echoed debunked but insidious arguments that Trump might be “supportive” of LGBTQ rights.

    Despite those suggestions on Morning Joe, media should have no doubts about Trump’s intention to ban transgender people from the military. On July 26, Trump explicitly said on Twitter that “the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” and he has done nothing to indicate otherwise since then. Trump’s August 25 directive clearly stated his intent to reinstate the ban, and Mattis’ statement did not suggest that he would not be complying with the directive.

  • Before he joined Trump, Bannon bragged he made Breitbart the home of the "alt-right." Now he's back.

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Stephen Bannon, former White House chief strategist and restored executive chairman of Breitbart.com, orchestrated and supported many of the worst elements of the campaign and presidency of Donald Trump. Before, during, and after his direct involvement with Trump’s political ambitions, Bannon used his experience -- and his extensive and complicated financial connections to the far-right billionaire Mercer family -- to stoke the flames of nativist anger, encourage Trump’s most racist and misogynistic rhetoric, support far-right political candidates across the globe, and attack all perceived enemies of Trumpism, potentially including Trump himself.

  • No, the Republican Party has not pivoted on climate change

    Don't believe the trend pieces. Just look at what's happening in California.

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Republicans-are-about-to-turn-a-corner-on-climate-change article is a perennial hot take. Its latest iteration comes to us courtesy of Politico. But like its many predecessors in the genre, it misses the real story: Republican politicians who do anything more than give lip service to the need for climate action will get pummelled by their fellow conservatives.

    Politico's story, which ran on August 19, was titled "More GOP lawmakers bucking their party on climate change." It claimed that "an unlikely surge of Republican lawmakers has begun taking steps to distance themselves from the GOP’s hard line on climate change," and that the "willingness of some Republicans to buck their party on climate change could help burnish their moderate credentials ahead of the 2018 elections."

    The article offers two main examples to support its argument: First, the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus "has more than tripled in size since January" and now includes 26 of the House's 240 Republicans. Second, 46 House Republicans voted in July against lifting a requirement that the Defense Department study climate change's impacts on the military.

    But these House members are hardly going out on a limb. The climate caucus does not promote any specific legislation or policies. And military leaders, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, have long been concerned about climate change and have voiced no objections to studying it. Indeed, the Politico article notes, "If the Republican Party is undergoing a shift on climate, it is at its earliest, most incremental stage."

    What About California?

    What the article missed was a timely and dramatic counterexample: In California, where a handful of GOP state legislators recently provided the decisive votes in favor of actual climate legislation, they have come under brutal fire from other Republicans.

    California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed a bill on July 25 to extend the state's cap-and-trade system until 2030. He had negotiated with a handful of Republican legislators and with business lobbies, among others, to craft a relatively corporate-friendly bill, not as strong as many environmental justice advocates and other progressives wanted. In the end, three Democrats in the Assembly voted against it, so it was passed only because seven of their Republican colleagues voted for it. One Republican in the state Senate also voted in favor of the bill.

    The blowback against those Republicans was immediate and intense. GOP leaders throughout California are now pushing for the ouster of Republican Assembly Leader Chad Mayes, who played a key role in negotiating the bill and rounding up other Republican votes for it.

    And the blowback has gone national: Powerful D.C.-based anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist declared open season on Mayes and the seven other Republicans who voted “yes,” co-authoring an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times last week that accused Mayes of "treachery" and argued that the California legislature is a "big fat target for taxpayers who wish to go after Republicans behaving badly."

    So even in California -- the most environmentally progressive state, where 72 percent of adults support an ambitious climate law that was passed last year -- Republicans are getting slammed for voting in favor of climate legislation.

    Never mind that they actually helped companies avoid tougher regulations. Never mind that the oil and gas industry participated in drafting the bill and ultimately supported it, as did the agriculture lobby, the California Chamber of Commerce, and other major business groups. Never mind that the law could help Republicans kill the state's high-speed rail project, which they have long opposed. Never mind that the Republican Party desperately needs to change if it wants to regain a foothold in California; only 25.9 percent of the state’s voters are registered as GOP and 7 percent of those voters have told pollsters they’re considering leaving the party over its stance on climate change. Mayes and his compatriots went against GOP orthodoxy, and that’s what their fellow party members care about.

    If this kind of backlash happens in the Golden State, just imagine what would happen in D.C. if the House Climate Solutions Caucus did anything more than gently gesture at the possibility of climate action. Conservative groups in D.C. aren't even satisfied with an administration that's been aggressively rolling back environmental protections; they are pushing the EPA to debate and undermine basic climate science.

    National media should be reporting on the drama unfolding in California when they write about Republicans and climate change. It's been covered by newspapers in the state but missed by virtually all outlets beyond California's borders.

    The Mythical Republican Climate Pivot

    Politico is far from alone in pushing the idea that Republicans might be nearing a tipping point on climate change. Reporters and columnists at national outlets keep publishing versions of this seemingly counterintuitive story and glossing over a key truth: The base and the establishment of the Republican Party will enact harsh retribution on elected officials who endorse policies designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

    Vice published a piece on August 17 titled "The Republicans Trying to Fight Climate Denial in Their Own Party," which focused on the Climate Leadership Council, a group of former Republican officials who are pushing a carbon tax. The key word there is former; no current Republican members of Congress or prominent officeholders have publicly endorsed such a policy. The story made no mention of the ongoing fight in California.

    Going back a few months, Time ran an article in May headlined "Meet the Republicans Taking On Climate Change," which mentioned both the Climate Solutions Caucus and the Climate Leadership Council. The Guardian ran one in April under the headline "The Republicans who care about climate change: 'They are done with the denial.'" It claimed that "there are fresh shoots of hope that, as a party, Republicans’ climate intransigence is shifting," and it, too, cited the climate caucus.

    Journalists have been writing these sorts of stories for years. I wrote one myself in 2015 for Grist: "Getting warmer: More Republicans are starting to take climate change seriously." It was no more prescient than the others. It began by noting that then-Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) had come out in support of President Obama's Clean Power Plan. But the next year, the Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity announced that it didn't like Ayotte's embrace of "Obama’s far-left environmental agenda," so it pulled its support from her re-election campaign, and she went on to lose to her Democratic challenger.

    Go all the way back to 2010 for a classic of the genre, a Thomas Friedman opinion column in The New York Times titled "How the G.O.P. Goes Green," which praised Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) for "courageously" trying to craft a bipartisan climate bill. Less than four months later, Graham bailed from the whole enterprise and helped to ensure that no climate legislation would pass during the Obama presidency. 

    The Harsh Truth

    It's nice that a handful of congressional Republicans are taking baby steps toward acknowledging that climate change is a big problem that demands big solutions. But their moves are far from courageous, and the media adulation they get is all out of proportion to their clout. Norquist is more influential on this issue than all of the climate-concerned congressional Republicans combined, a fact most journalists are not acknowledging, and Norquist reiterated his die-hard opposition to a carbon tax just last week.

    Many of the articles about Republicans turning over a new leaf on climate cite Bob Inglis or the group he runs, RepublicEN, which promotes conservative climate solutions. Inglis was a U.S. representative from South Carolina until he got primaried out in 2010, in part because he called for a carbon tax. Norquist's organization, Americans for Tax Reform, gave a boost to Inglis' primary challenger. In the years since, Inglis has been working doggedly to get other Republicans to take climate change seriously, but if they followed his advice at this point, they'd likely get booted out in a primary too.

    Just like there's no Donald Trump pivot, there's no Republican climate pivot. We'll know we're seeing real change when more than a handful of GOP lawmakers take a risky vote for actual policy to reduce carbon emissions. Until then, journalists should avoid writing trend stories about this nonexistent trend.

  • Some journalists can see through Trump's economic ruse. Time for everyone else to catch up.

    Trump wants credit for economic progress, but the continued recovery has little to do with him

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON & ALEX MORASH

    President Donald Trump has been promoting record high valuations on the Dow Jones industrial average as proof of his supposed economic accomplishments and has attacked news outlets for not covering the stock market gains and steady job creation during the first six months of his presidency. In response to both his boasts and his frequent criticism, journalists have been quick to point out that Trump deserves little credit for positive economic trends that predate his administration given his lack of substantive policy accomplishments while in office.

  • Stephen Miller accused Jim Acosta of "cosmopolitan bias," here is the term's ugly history

    In Politico Magazine, analyst Jeff Greenfield explains "The Ugly History of Stephen Miller's 'Cosmopolitan' Epithet"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In Politico Magazine political analyst Jeff Greenfield explained how President Donald Trump’s senior policy advisor Stephen Miller’s invocation of the word “cosmopolitan” in a White House press briefing to attack a reporter connected him to a long history of the term being weaponized by “anti-Democratic political movements,” often with clear anti-Semitic undertones.

    During an August 2 White House press briefing, Miller defended the president’s support of the RAISE Act, a Republican-sponsored immigration proposal that would prioritize immigration based on the "skills" immigrants bring to the country and favor English speakers over non-English speaking immigrants. Miller, who once reportedly told a classmate they could no longer be friends because his classmate was Latino, has a long history of promoting anti-immigrant policies. Miller also has a close relationship with former Breitbart executive chair and current White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon and shares the same extreme nationalist ideology with him. During a contentious back-and-forth with CNN’s Jim Acosta over the RAISE Act in the press briefing, Miller accused Acosta of harboring “cosmopolitan bias.”  

    As Greenfield explained, the word “cosmopolitan” is something of a “cousin to ‘elitist,’ but with a more sinister undertone.” The word has come to represent “people or movements that are unmoored to the traditions and beliefs of a nation,” and has long been a favorite of “nationalist political figures” as a means of delegitimizing and attacking opposition forces. As Greenfield noted, the term was invoked by Josef Stalin to “purge” the Soviet Union of “dissident voices,” and has often carried strong anti-Semitic connotations. From the August 3 article:

    When TV news viewers saw Trump adviser Stephen Miller accuse Jim Acosta of harboring a “cosmopolitan bias” during Wednesday’s news conference, they might have wondered whether he was accusing the CNN White House reporter of an excessive fondness for the cocktail made famous on “Sex and the City.” It’s a term that’s seldom been heard in American political discourse. But to supporters of the Miller-Bannon worldview, it was a cause for celebration. Breitbart, where Steve Bannon reigned before becoming Trump’s chief political strategist, trumpeted Miller’s “evisceration” of Acosta and put the term in its headline. So did white nationalist Richard Spencer, who hailed Miller’s dust-up with Acosta as “a triumph.”

    [...]

    So what is a “cosmopolitan”? It’s a cousin to “elitist,” but with a more sinister undertone. It’s a way of branding people or movements that are unmoored to the traditions and beliefs of a nation, and identify more with like-minded people regardless of their nationality. (In this sense, the revolutionary pamphleteer Thomas Paine might have been an early American cosmopolitan, when he declared: “The world is my country; all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”). In the eyes of their foes, “cosmopolitans” tend to cluster in the universities, the arts and in urban centers, where familiarity with diversity makes for a high comfort level with “untraditional” ideas and lives.

    [...]

    One reason why “cosmopolitan” is an unnerving term is that it was the key to an attempt by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to purge the culture of dissident voices. In a 1946 speech, he deplored works in which “the positive Soviet hero is derided and inferior before all things foreign and cosmopolitanism that we all fought against from the time of Lenin, characteristic of the political leftovers, is many times applauded.” It was part of a yearslong campaigned aimed at writers, theater critics, scientists and others who were connected with “bourgeois Western influences.” Not so incidentally, many of these “cosmopolitans” were Jewish, and official Soviet propaganda for a time devoted significant energy into “unmasking” the Jewish identities of writers who published under pseudonyms.

    What makes this history relevant is that, all across Europe, nationalist political figures are still making the same kinds of arguments—usually but not always stripped of blatant anti-Semitism—to constrict the flow of ideas and the boundaries of free political expression. Russian President Vladimir Putin, for example, has more and more embraced this idea that unpatriotic forces threaten the nation.

  • The White House press corps should follow up on new communications director’s financial conflicts

    New reports raise questions about Anthony Scaramucci’s promise that his financial portfolio would be “totally cleansed”

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    According to Politico, Anthony Scaramucci “still stands to profit” from his ownership stake in a hedge fund he founded in 2005 despite his assertion that his financial portfolio would be “totally cleansed” of conflicts of interest before he assumed a full-time role as communications director at the White House.

    During a July 21 press conference in which Scaramucci announced his new role in the Trump administration, he claimed that the position would not be encumbered by conflicts of interest tied to his previous business dealings. However, according to a July 26 report from Politico, Scaramucci “still stands to profit from an ownership stake in his investment firm SkyBridge Capital.” The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) stipulates that federal employees “may be directed to divest” from certain stock or property holdings in order to resolve possible conflicts of interest, but Scaramucci was still listed as SkyBridge’s managing partner as of July 27 and, according to a financial disclosure form published by Politico, Scaramucci still expects to receive significant returns from the upcoming sale of his SkyBridge assets:

    According to a July 25 report from Bloomberg citing “people familiar with Scaramucci’s recent thinking,” the incoming communications director “was eager to take another government post” in part so he could benefit from an agreement with the IRS that allows appointees to defer some capital gains taxes when they are forced to liquidate private business relationships in order to assume federal government roles. However, several ethics experts contacted by Bloomberg believe Scaramucci should be disqualified from that tax arrangement because the terms of the sale of his company pre-dated his assumption of a federal government role by several months.

    CNBC reported last week that Scaramucci’s ongoing attempt to close the sale of SkyBridge Capital “delayed his appointment” to the Trump administration earlier this year, but he has technically been an employee of the federal government since joining the Export-Import Bank last month while the SkyBridge deal remained unfinished.

    The SkyBridge deal itself is increasingly raising questions. Bloomberg reported in January that the Chinese government linked foreign conglomerate lined up to purchase SkyBridge is paying significantly more for the firm than it seems to be worth. On July 24, Business Insider described the purchase agreement for the sale of SkyBridge as “a $180 million conflict of interest hanging over [Scaramucci’s] head” because the sale will eventually have to be approved by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, with whom Scaramucci will work closely in his new role as a senior adviser in the Trump administration. (Rumors that Scaramucci may be in line to replace Reince Priebus as the president’s chief of staff may further exacerbate the financial conflict.)

    Given the Trump team’s extraordinary penchant for misleading the press, reporters should continue digging for proof of Scaramucci’s compliance with ethics regulations routinely flouted by the Trump family and other members of the administration.