PolitiFact | Media Matters for America

PolitiFact

Tags ››› PolitiFact
  • Fact-checkers are failing at dealing with anti-abortion misinformation

    And right-wing media are taking advantage to spread misinformation about Brett Kavanaugh's record on reproductive rights. 

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s rocky confirmation hearings, fact-checkers from PolitiFact and The Washington Post each chose to rebut comments from Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) concerning Kavanaugh’s troubling record on contraceptive access. But rather than focus on the substance of Kavanaugh’s rulings, fact-checkers argued about Harris’ semantics, enabling right-wing media to change the conversation and distract from the serious threat that Kavanaugh poses to reproductive rights.

    During Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, there were many notable exchanges revealing that the Federalist Society darling has not only made some deeply concerning decisions as a judge, but also potentially lied under oath several times. Fact-checkers seized on an exchange in which Kavanaugh used the term “abortion-inducing drugs” while describing his dissent in a case called Priests for Life v. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. This is a well-known (but inaccurate) anti-abortion term, meant to suggest that contraceptives induce abortion, that abortion opponents use to limit access or even ban their use.

    Recognizing this, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) tweeted a video of Kavanaugh’s answer about the Priests for Life case, warning that “Kavanaugh chooses his words very carefully, and this is a dog whistle for going after birth control.” In response, right-wing media attacked Harris, claiming that she took Kavanaugh’s comments out of context, and argued that he used the term only to summarize the views of the anti-abortion plaintiffs in the case, Priests for Life.

    On September 10, PolitiFact rated Harris’ statement “false,” writing that the tweet “failed to include a crucial qualifier: ‘They said.’ In fact, he was citing the definition of the religious group Priests for Life.” The piece noted that Kavanaugh “has not expressed his personal view” on the matter -- despite a plethora of evidence that Kavanaugh would be hostile to abortion rights. The Washington Post Fact Checker similarly awarded Harris “Four Pinocchios” because there was “no acknowledgment by Harris that the original tweet was misleading” and suggested that she and other Democrats “drop this talking point.” Kavanaugh himself later affirmed that he had not been “expressing an opinion” and he used the term “only when recount[ing] the plaintiffs’ own assertions.”  However, as Imani Gandy wrote for Rewire.News, the fixation on fact-checking Harris’ semantics missed the larger issue: Kavanaugh’s decision in that case -- the actual substance of Harris’ argument -- was “utterly bonkers.” The majority decided that requiring Priests for Life to sign a form opting out of providing contraceptive coverage did “not impose a substantial burden on plaintiffs’ religious exercise.” However, as Gandy argued, Kavanaugh’s dissent strongly implies that he would “allow evangelicals, by claiming a sincerely held religious belief, to be exempted from laws intended to provide people with contraceptive access through their employers, even when following those laws would require said employers to do nothing more than sign a piece of paper.”

    Anti-abortion organizations and media consistently leverage misinformation and intentional manipulation of the facts to attack abortion access and advance their own agendas. And the anti-abortion movement has never been better funded, better organized, or more savvy in its political machinations. In a February 12 article, PolitiFact’s Angie Drobnic Holan wrote that the organization aimed to “present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases.” But how should fact-checkers respond when the subject of a fact check is explicitly operating in bad faith to promote an agenda? That’s the issue fact-checkers must contend with as anti-abortion extremists and their right-wing media allies continue trying to control the narrative about reproductive rights.

    Fact-checking is based on juxtaposition: comparing fact with non-fact, with the assumption that the objective truth will become clear as a result. In comparison, anti-abortion misinformation is built on equal parts obfuscation and subtlety. For example, take the language used by Kavanaugh and other anti-choice figures to discuss their stances on abortion rights. As Irin Carmon explained, rather than explicitly state their views, nominees and politicians will often use “obfuscating code words around abortion,” such as calling Roe v. Wade “settled law” to signal their opposition to reproductive rights while saying “as little as possible about abortion” in order “not to awaken a public that to this day is overwhelmingly supportive of Roe v. Wade.”

    Just as the anti-abortion movement has relied on code words to obscure its true purpose, right-wing media have spent years haranguing fact-checkers and mainstream media alike for their supposed bias against conservative views. This is exemplified by current right-wing attacks on platforms like Facebook and Google, which conservatives inaccurately argue have “censored” them -- a claim used widely in anti-abortion circles, as well. To avoid perceptions of bias, platforms have bent over backward to accommodate conservatives -- changing algorithms, installing partisan fact-checkers, and even conducting a so-called “conservative bias review.”

    We see the same troubling dynamic at play in how fact-checkers handle abortion-related claims. Anti-abortion media have accused fact-checkers of exhibiting “pro-abortion bias” for years, but they celebrated the fact checks of Harris’ statement -- even praising PolitiFact’s decision to issue a correction for repeating “uncritically a Democratic talking point, that Kavanaugh mentioned birth control by using the term abortion-inducing drugs.”

    In a 2013 article, Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler noted that the paper “always ventures into questions about abortion rhetoric with trepidation” because “virtually no one is ever happy with our rulings, no matter how much we try to just stick with the facts.” However, this begs the question: What do you do if one side’s “facts” are borne of an intentionally deceptive agenda? As Esquire concluded, although Harris “probably should have used the whole quote” (and she did later link to the whole exchange on Twitter), PolitiFact’s ruling suggests that “it's best for us all to be naive and stupid rather than jumping to obvious conclusions” by pretending “we aren't sure about what Brett Kavanaugh believes about ‘abortion-inducing’ drugs.’”

    Kavanaugh has clearly signaled that if confirmed, he’d be a threat to abortion rights -- gaslighting claims by right-wing media to the contrary. By choosing to debate Harris’ semantics rather than engage in the substance of Kavanaugh’s decision, fact-checkers avoided hard questions and aided anti-choice media in the process.

  • Trump admin claims replacing Clean Power Plan will help minorities. That’s not true.

    White House talking points promote debunked study from National Black Chamber of Commerce, an industry front group

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER

    The Trump administration has proposed a replacement for the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, and it's defending its proposal by citing a thoroughly debunked and discredited 2015 study from an industry-funded front group, the National Black Chamber of Commerce. 

    The Clean Power Plan (CPP), finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President Barack Obama in 2015, called for reducing carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants while increasing the use of renewable energy. The Trump administration intends to revoke that plan and replace it with the Affordable Clean Energy rule, would allow much more pollution from coal plants.  

    Trump administration cites figures from debunked 2015 study

    The Trump administration's draft talking points in support of the EPA's replacement plan, obtained by E&E News, cite a debunked study commissioned by the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC), a fossil-fuel-funded group that purports to represent black businesses. The talking points claim that the Clean Power Plan "would have hurt minorities and senior citizens disproportionally," and goes on to list statistics that came directly from the NBCC report:

    According to Harry Alford, President of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, CPP would increase Black poverty by 23 percent and Hispanic poverty by 26 percent. It would result in cumulative job losses of 7 million for Blacks and nearly 12 million for Hispanics in 2035.

    But the NBCC report was thoroughly debunked after it was released in 2015.

    Fact-checkers exposed serious problems with the NBCC study

    The nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists outlined many of the NBCC study’s flaws in a blog post in 2015. It explained that the study, which was conducted by Management Information Services Inc. (MISI), was itself based on other studies that had a variety of problems (emphasis in original):

    [H]ere’s the first of the study’s fatal flaws: it depends, as it explicitly says (p. 21), on the findings of seven other studies, which it lists. But those seven include:

    • Three studies that came out before the EPA published the draft CPP, meaning they don’t actually study the CPP as proposed—even though that’s the supposed focus of the NBCC/MISI analysis
    • One that was just (self-described) “preliminary analysis” from the United Mine Workers of America, a group you’d be hard-pressed to characterize as an unbiased voice in this debate
    • Three other studies funded by other fossil fuel interests who oppose the Clean Power Plan

    Two of those studies were the focus of a recent UCS webinar showing how such studies use bad assumptions and get used to sow confusion and spread disinformation about the CPP.

    One of those, done by IHS on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is the report most cited in this new work, even though it was one of those that came out before the draft CPP, and even though there was, as the Chamber itself admitted, “a big difference” between what they’d modeled and what EPA put forth (which the new study doesn’t acknowledge).

    The flaws in the study by Energy Ventures Analysis (EVA) for Peabody Energy (the largest U.S. coal company) are also clear. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions has pointed out that, unlike other studies, EVA’s didn’t even show a business-as-usual case, meaning that any CPP results were floating in a vacuum, without reference to a base case of shifting energy costs and other economic factors.

    Fact-checkers at PolitiFact and The Washington Post had both highlighted severe problems with the 2014 U.S. Chamber of Commerce study that was a main source for NBCC's study. From a 2014 PolitiFact analysis:

    [The U.S. Chamber] study wrongly assumed the administration would set a benchmark of reducing carbon emissions by 42 percent before 2030. The regulations released June 2 actually put forward a 30 percent reduction within that timeframe. The chamber itself told PolitiFact its estimates are not based on the goals as announced.

    For that same reason, The Washington Post's fact-checking team gave Republican politicians who cited the Chamber of Commerce study in 2014 a "Four Pinocchio" rating, its lowest.

    Separate fact-checks cast doubt on another study that the NBCC report relied on, this one conducted by NERA Economic Consulting in 2014. The Union of Concerned Scientists wrote that the NERA study "falsely inflates the cost of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan by denying energy efficiency’s proven ability to save consumers money," and went on to explain that the study used "a 2012 study that has been repeatedly discredited" to justify its inflated cost estimates. The Washington Post's fact-checking team also raised serious questions about the NERA study.

    The NERA study was funded by industries that had much to gain from stymieing the Clean Power Plan, including fossil fuel interests. Among the commissioning groups were the American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, and the National Mining Association.

    Clean Power Plan would have benefited Black, Latinx, and other minority communities

    Alford, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, became a central figure in a disinformation campaign backed by fossil-fuel interests because he was willing to assert that the Obama EPA’s Clean Power Plan would harm communities of color. He placed anti-Clean Power Plan op-eds in at least seven newspapers and saw right-wing outlets echo and amplify his discredited assertions.

    In fact, the EPA under Obama took steps to ensure that the Clean Power Plan addressed many of the environmental and economic concerns of minority and low-income communities, after pressure was applied by civil rights leaders, environmental justice groups, and environmental activists.

    When the NBCC report came out in 2015, a coalition of environmental justice groups, including Green For All and Voces Verdes, challenged its claims that the Clean Power Plan would hurt minority communities. The groups argued instead that the plan would in fact help marginalized and low-income Americans:

    The report alleges that the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan will harm African American and Hispanic families, when in fact findings from numerous independent organizations show the plan will actually benefit communities.

    In reality, the Clean Power Plan will prevent asthma and other pollution-related illnesses, create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, and save families money on their utility bills. Low income and minority Americans, who are most often the hardest hit when it comes to the effects of climate change, will benefit substantially.

    Recently the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) produced a report reaffirming and further outlining these benefits. The report also refutes many of the myths asserted by the NBCC, known to [be] funded by special interests groups seeking to preserve the bottom line for dirty energy companies.

    Trump administration's Affordable Clean Energy rule will harm minority communities

    Environmental justice activists point out that the Trump administration's new plan is the one that poses a real threat to communities of color. The advocacy group GreenLatinos issued this statement from its president and CEO, Mark Magaña:

    The Trump Administration continues to put the health of the Latino community and all Americans at risk by gutting the Clean Power Plan, the first and only federal limit on carbon pollution from power plants — a major source of the pollution that exacerbates climate change — which protects public health and promotes climate change solutions.

    The Latino community is hit first and worst by climate change and we suffer disproportionate public health effects with 40% of Latinos living within 30 miles of a power plant. The stakes are too high, with Latinx children being 40% more likely to die from asthma than non-Latino white children.

    Today, as we continue to witness these severe weather patterns and devastating impacts of carbon pollution on public health, the Trump Administration is moving to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, endangering the health of our communities and undermine the transition to cleaner and safer renewable energy sources.

    GreenLatinos rejects the efforts by the Trump Administration and Acting Administrator Wheeler as they disregard the overwhelming support for increasing efforts to protect our air quality.

    Other environmental justice advocates also spoke out against the Trump EPA's Affordable Clean Energy rule. “They’re really putting people’s lives in danger,” Mustafa Santiago Ali, a senior vice president at the Hip Hop Caucus and former EPA advisor on environmental justice, told Earther.

  • Guide to right-wing media myths and facts about the Senate health care bill

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE & NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media figures are trying to curry favor for the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) by attacking the Affordable Care Act (ACA), pushing lies about the BCRA, disparaging the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) or distorting its analysis of the legislation, and muddying the truth about the health care system in general. Here is a guide to the myths right-wing media are employing to sell the Senate Republican health care bill.

  • “Mind control,” “shadow government,” and Seth Rich: Sean Hannity’s history of pushing conspiracy theories

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Fox News host Sean Hannity attracted widespread condemnation for pushing conspiracy theories about a murdered Democratic National Committee staffer, but it wasn’t his first time promoting or entertaining such wild claims on air. From claiming that the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick protested the national anthem because he “may have converted to Islam” to implying that former President Barack Obama is a terrorist sympathizer, here are some examples of Hannity embracing conspiracy theories.

  • These Are The Candidates Right-Wing Media Are Floating To Head The FBI

    ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Following President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, conservative media floated extreme right-wing personalities to lead the FBI. These possible FBI director replacements have a history of racist and anti-Muslim comments often made on Fox News, and their records demonstrate they can’t be trusted to lead the bureau impartially through the ongoing FBI investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia in 2016.

  • Warning To European Facebook Fact-Checkers: Here's How Conservatives Will Try To Discredit You

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    With Facebook’s recent announcements that it is partnering with fact-checking news organizations in the United States and Germany to fight fake news on its website, conservative media are trying to discredit those organizations by claiming their fact checks -- and fact-checking in general -- are too subjective, suggesting bias due to staffers’ backgrounds or the organizations’ funding sources, launching personal attacks, and making claims of censorship. As Facebook expands its partnerships in France, future fact-checkers in Europe will likely face similar lines of attack.

  • PolitiFact’s Month-Old Rating Of Baldwin Statement Relies Too Heavily On GOP Talking Points 

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    PolitiFact Wisconsin rated Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s (D-WI) month-old claim that the GOP is “organizing to take people’s health care away” mostly false, claiming that while the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that “repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could result in millions of people losing their health insurance,” the office did not consider the impact of an expected GOP replacement plan. In reality, the GOP has yet to produce a consensus replacement plan, thus giving the CBO nothing to rate, and all existing plans that Republicans have put forward would strip coverage from millions. 

  • The White House Is Using A Fake News Lie To Baselessly Discredit Anti-Trump Protests

    ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    White House press secretary Sean Spicer has resurrected false claims pushed by fake news purveyors that people protesting President Donald Trump are actually bankrolled by well-funded progressive organizations. Spicer told Fox host Brian Kilmeade on February 6 that “protesting has become a profession now” and claimed that the protests have “become a very paid astroturf-type movement,” but reporters and fact-checkers have explained that no evidence exists to support those claims.

  • Fake News Purveyors Cheer On, Echo Trump Team's Lies About Inauguration Crowd Size

    Many Of These Sites Use Google's Advertising Network

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Following demonstrably false statements made by President Trump and White House press secretary Sean Spicer that Trump's inauguration ceremony had “the largest audience to witness an inauguration," numerous websites that Media Matters has identified as purveyors of fake news cheered on Spicer for his comments or attempted to verify his false claims. Nearly all of these websites are still supported, in part, by revenue from Google’s advertising service and many attempted to brand mainstream media reporting about the crowds as “fake news.”

  • Why Won’t Fox News Ask Potential Trump DHS Head David Clarke Why Inmates Are Dying In His Jail?

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    President-elect Donald Trump is reportedly considering Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke -- a frequent Fox News guest -- to head the Department of Homeland Security. In April, an inmate in Sheriff Clarke’s Milwaukee County Jail was found dead of “profound dehydration.” Since that incident, three other individuals, including a newborn infant, have died in Clarke’s Milwaukee County Jail, but in more than 40 prime-time appearances on Fox News since the first reported death, Clarke has not once been asked about the disturbing trend of people dying in his jail. Clarke’s tenure as Milwaukee County Sheriff has been filled with controversy and legal action, and on Fox News and Twitter, Clarke has a history of using incendiary rhetoric directed at government officials and protesters.

  • Trump Lies That Millions Voted Illegally, And Mainstream Outlets Uncritically Echo Him

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Media outlets failed to hold President-elect Donald Trump accountable for his false claim that “millions of people” illegally voted in the 2016 presidential election by failing to state in their headlines and tweets -- which are what most news consumers see -- that the allegation was a lie. The claim, which Trump used to dismiss his loss in the popular vote and to attack a recount effort in Wisconsin, was originally pushed by far-right “conspiracy-theory hawking” websites. Even though fact-checking organizations debunked the idea, numerous mainstream media outlets writing about the issue on social media and in headlines either reported Trump’s lie without noting that it was false or hedged by writing only that it lacked evidence.

  • Fox Cares About Equal Pay Only When It's Politically Advantageous

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Fox News hyped the contents of stolen emails released by WikiLeaks that show members of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign team discussing pay disparities at the Clinton Foundation, saying it’s proof that the foundation was “not paying women equally” and asserting that it shows “hypocrisy” from Clinton, who has fought for equal pay. But Fox’s claim doesn’t hold up, as “the statistical pool is too limited” to draw any conclusions on equal pay, according to PolitiFact. Fox has a pattern of hyping deceptive and false attacks on Democrats’ records with gender pay disparities, while at the same time dismissing the larger problems around gender pay inequality.

  • Chris Wallace Botched The Discussion Of Immigration At The Final Presidential Debate

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Fox News’ Chris Wallace, moderator of the last presidential debate, failed to generate a meaningful discussion on immigration, meaning audiences “learn[ed] nothing new,” according to Univision. Instead, the moderator provided another platform for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant bashing while failing to dig deeper into the serious consequences immigration policies have on millions of people in the United States.

    Wallace initiated the discussion around immigration by stating the positions that both of the candidates have made known to the public throughout the campaign and then asking each, “Why are you right and your opponent wrong?”

    During Univision’s post-debate analysis, commentators took issue with the immigration segment because audiences “learn[ed] nothing new” even though many had been clamoring for a meaningful discussion of the topic leading up to the final debate. As Univision legal contributor Ezequiel Hernandez pointed out, many questions on specifics still linger: “The executive action was not discussed, judges were talked about in the previous topic, but the thousands of children who get to the border and are left waiting and who are deported until something is done were not discussed.”

    Wallace stuck to his promise of being nothing more than a timekeeper and failed to dig deeper on the topic, instead framing his next query around an illegally obtained excerpt of a speech Hillary Clinton gave to a Brazilian bank where she allegedly said, “My dream is a hemispheric common market with open trade and open borders.” Wallace asked Clinton, “Is that your dream? Open borders?” while ignoring both the context of Clinton’s words and Trump’s 2013 CNN op-ed in which he said, “We still have to leave borders behind and go for global unity when it comes to financial stability.” Trump had already attempted to capitalize on Clinton’s phrasing on the campaign trail, which prompted PolitiFact to analyze the claim and rate it “mostly false,” calling her immigration plan "a far cry from Trump's characterization." PolitiFact also explained that “the context of that sentence related to green energy -- and wasn’t about people immigrating to the United States.” As NBC News’ Suzanna Gamboa wrote,“The candidates seemed on the verge of a more insightful discussion” until Wallace directed the debate toward the “open borders” comment, which is when “things began to crumble.”

    As predicted, Trump took advantage of Wallace’s inaction and vague immigration questioning, using it as a platform to once again smear immigrants as violent criminals, conjuring up a phrase offensive to Latino immigrants in particular: “bad hombres.”

    Meanwhile, the pressing, life-altering questions many Latino immigrants have -- like the question 6-year-old Sophie Cruz suggested on OpenDebateCoalition.com, “What happens to me if you deport my parents?” -- remain unanswered.