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  • Yes, Kevin Williamson wanted to hang people who've had abortions. Don't let conservatives rewrite history.

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    This week, former National Review writer Kevin Williamson was fired by The Atlantic after 2014 audio proved that Williamson did, in fact, mean it when he said people who’ve had abortions should be hanged. In the resulting conservative meltdown, what right-wing outlets seemed desperate to do is have any conversation other than the one actually at hand. Instead, they chose to cry censorship, bemoan so-called liberal bias, and tried to rewrite history by saying Williamson was fired for holding a general anti-abortion stance.

    But this retelling is fundamentally untrue. Williamson wasn’t fired because he holds anti-abortion views. He was fired because he repeatedly, across multiple platforms, advocated for the criminalization and brutal execution of people seeking abortion care. And the fervor to distract from that truth would be truly astounding, if it wasn’t so eminently predictable. 

    When news of Williamson’s hiring first broke, a number of pundits across the ideological spectrum tripped over themselves to downplay and excuse his statements -- defending a so-called “provocateur” whose cherished turns of phrase include calling attacking transgender people as being “delusional,” and arguing that “it just simply is not the case that young black men are getting gunned down, unarmed, by police officers in any sort of significant numbers.” These writers -- including The Atlantic’s Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg, who initially framed Williamson’s comment as an “objectionable tweet” -- argued that Williamson hadn’t really meant what he said about people who’ve had abortions being executed, and asked us to kindly calm down. “For heaven’s sake,” wrote The New York Times’ Bret Stephens, “it was a tweet.” Others, such as Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum called the rightful outrage over Williamson’s hiring, “weird,” while National Review’s David French implored readers to just “give tolerance a chance.”

    Once Williamson’s meaning proved truly undeniable, leading to his firing, right-wing media outlets raced to reframe the conversation -- ignoring the substance of his remarks to instead cry wolf about perceived ideological intolerance. For example, The Federalist wrote that Williamson “was fired for his opinions on abortion” after “the usual suspects freaked out and proceeded to dig up old tweets and audio.” Washington Examiner published not one, but two, pieces arguing that Williamson was a victim in a larger ideological war. In another example, RedState argued that Williamson wasn’t fired because of his “fanciful views about legal consequences connected to abortion,“ but that he was “kicked out for refusing to back down in expressing that abortion is murder and should be viewed as such even in this current climate.” David French even asked where the respect for Williamson’s tolerance was as he is “the son of a teen mom, born shortly before Roe v. Wade, and narrowly escaped being aborted,” who would’ve been forced to share an office at The Atlantic with people who support abortion access.

    What these defenses, and even Goldberg’s original justification for hiring Williamson, ignore is that statements like Williamson’s send a clear message to the one-in-four women who’ve had abortions in the United States: that their lives do not matter, that they are criminal, and that they deserve (even in hypothetical terms) to be brutally executed for seeking constitutionally protected and sometimes life-saving medical care.

    Williamson wasn’t fired because he’s anti-abortion -- he was fired because he advocated for the brutal punishment of those who’ve have abortions. Even if you grant the premise that Williamson was merely expressing what could happen in a future without legal abortion, that he not only carved out an exception to his overall ambivalent stance on the death penalty for those who have abortions, but also advocated for a method that is considered too inhumane by almost all the states that currently employ capital punishment, takes his comments beyond mere speculation.

    As research from Media Matters has previously shown, the people who are often empowered to shape the conversation about abortion are overwhelmingly men. As a result, these conversations reflect not only an incomplete understanding but also treat abortion as some sort of hypothetical thought exercise or as a political bargaining chip, ignoring real impacts that lack of access has on the lives of real people.

    Furthermore, Williamson’s defense of capital punishment for those who’ve had abortions is extreme but not really that hypothetical. Already, policies at the state level punish people for attempting to access abortion care. As Irin Carmon wrote in 2016: “Just ask Purvi Patel, who is appealing a 30-year prison sentence for her conviction for feticide in Indiana,” or Anna Yocca, Rennie Gibbs, Jennie Lynn McCormack, or Jennifer Whalen. She continued that all these cases all demonstrate how “women have been prosecuted under current restrictions on abortion, at times with major felonies.” Just this week in Idaho, Republican lieutenant governor candidate Bob Nonini was forced to walk back comments that the Associated Press characterized as “women who get an abortion should be punished” including that “that the punishment should include the death penalty.” During the presidential election, then-candidate Donald Trump told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (before later backtracking) that he thought there should “be some form of punishment” for people who have abortions. As Robin Marty explained, although the right may claim that punishing people for abortion is merely an “extreme fringe” of the movement, there are already anti-abortion groups and candidates running on platforms incredibly similar to what Williamson advocates. 

    Williamson felt so strongly on this topic that he even confirmed at the time to an anti-abortion publication that he meant exactly what he said. Given that right-wing media outlets have regularly participated in or facilitated anti-abortion harassment, it’s not surprising to see a lack of concern about Williamson’s comments. Conservatives may be desperate to change the conversation, but the fact remains: advocating for the brutal execution of people who’ve had abortions isn’t provocative or tolerant -- it’s cruel.

  • Russian propaganda on Twitter is infiltrating fake news websites

    Fake news websites cited Russian social media accounts, including @TEN_GOP, to attack Muslims, defend Trump against perceived enemies, and attack the press

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fake news websites have cited multiple Twitter accounts likely run by Russian operatives in articles they’ve posted, undoubtedly helping the accounts’ backers sow discord in the United States.

    On October 17, the Russian publication RBC published a report on the Internet Research Agency, a Russian firm tied to the Kremlin, and how it impacted the 2016 election via social media platforms. Included in that report were the usernames of multiple Twitter accounts that these operatives used, the most prominent being @TEN_GOP. Other publications have also reported on other Twitter and Facebook accounts that these operatives used. Twitter will reportedly tell Congress that it has since discovered 2,752 accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency.

    Hyperpartisan websites known to push fake news have repeatedly cited some of these accounts in their articles (specifically @Pamela_Moore13, @USA_Gunslinger, @10_GOP, @Crystal1Johnson, and @Jeblary2016), as the accounts’ tweets can align with these websites’ agendas, and the pieces have then been shared on social media. Last December, multiple fake news websites cited a claim from the account @Pamela_Moore13 that Minnesota Muslims “want Sharia law.” Facebook users then shared the articles, with some commenters demanding that the subjects “be deported” and claiming that they “DO NOT BELONG IN THIS COUNTRY.” Combined, those articles received over 20,000 Facebook engagements, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. A fake news website also cited the @Pamela_Moore13 account to attack Starbucks for promising to hire refugees, and the piece was also shared on Facebook and Twitter.

    Fake news websites also prominently cited these accounts to praise or defend President Donald Trump, with the pieces shared on social media. A fake news website cited a comment from the alleged Russian account @USA_Gunslinger that “this video of crowds in Poland cheering the arrival of @realDonaldTrump makes me so proud to be American” to claim that Poland was “ecstatic” for Trump to visit the country. Fake news websites also cited @Pamela_Moore13 to defend Trump’s mass firing of U.S. attorneys in articles that were then shared on some Facebook pages. Such sites also cited the account to push Trump’s false claim that Trump had wiretapped Trump Tower.

    Most often, these alleged Russian accounts were employed to attack Trump’s perceived enemies, with the results again being shared on social media. Fake news websites and others websites cited one of the accounts to accuse former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of colluding with Russia and to claim that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) (already a target via @TEN_GOP) wanted Sharia law and had attacked former FBI Director James Comey. They also targeted former President Barack Obama, citing the same Russian account to claim that Obama tried to sabotage Trump, and used that same account to accuse former national security adviser Susan Rice of “felonies.” YourNewsWire, a fake news website accused of being a Russian proxy, cited that same account to attack former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Some of these articles received thousands of Facebook engagements.

    Additionally, hyperpartisan websites cited the Russian accounts to:

    Combined, these fake news websites' articles citing alleged Russian accounts had at least 140,000 Facebook engagements, according to BuzzSumo.

    Non-fake news websites also cited some of these alleged Russian accounts, along with other alleged Russian accounts @tpartynews and @lgbtunitedcom. Far-right blog The Gateway Pundit repeatedly cited @Pamela_Moore13 to hype a Trump rally in North Carolina, defend Trump’s firings of U.S. attorneys, identify a supposed Muslim gunman, and compare Democrats to ISIS. Another outlet, the conspiracy-minded Infowars, cross-posted pieces citing @10_GOP to hype the St. Louis police protest and @Pamela_Moore13 to push a hashtag calling for the firing of Trump aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner. Other outlets that cited these alleged Russian accounts included Breitbart, The Blaze, RedState, the Washington Examiner, Fox News (multiple times, including a Fox News columnist retweeting one of the accounts), The Telegraph, The Washington Post, Vox, HuffPost, and The Associated Press.

    It's obvious that hyperpartisan websites acted as a multiplier for the influence of these alleged Russian accounts, as they did with @TEN_GOP, giving them a reach they may not have had otherwise and thus aiding the Russians’ likely goal of ensuring tumult in the country.

  • Despite conservative media claims, James Comey didn't leak classified information to NY Times

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Right-wing media, pro-Trump internet trolls, and fake news purveyors are boosting a report from a right-leaning journalist in a way that suggests former FBI Director James Comey might have intentionally leaked classified information to The New York Times. The report presents already-known information about Comey’s memos that recounted his interactions with President Donald Trump. Politico also reported that the source that passed along the memo to the Times confirmed that it did not contain classified information.

  • Meet The Anti-Abortion Group The NY Times Can’t Seem To Quit

    Human Coalition’s Founder Calls It “One Of The Larger” Anti-Abortion Groups That “No One Has Ever Heard Of”

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    Since January, The New York Times has published two op-eds by the anti-choice organization Human Coalition denouncing abortion access and care. Using big data and internet marketing strategies, Human Coalition targets “abortion-determined women” and tries to redirect them to crisis pregnancy centers. Here's what media need to know about Human Coalition, an organization designed to mislead people online. Given the organization's objectives and history, media should think twice before giving the group an uncritical platform. 

  • Right-Wing Media Attack Rep. Maxine Waters After She Presented At The MTV Awards

    ››› ››› CHRISTOPHER LEWIS

    Conservative media figures, right-wing media outlets, and fake news purveyors attacked Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) after she appeared at the MTV Movie and TV Awards as a presenter and received a standing ovation, calling her “dumb as a brick,” attacking her for her age, and claiming that she “worships at the feet of totalitarian monsters.”

  • Conservative Media Split On Who To Blame For Trump's Attempt To Destroy Health Care

    ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ

    Conservative media figures can’t decide who to blame for the disastrous American Health Care Act (AHCA), which seeks to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and will endanger the health insurance of millions of Americans. Despite President Donald Trump taking credit for this effort to roll back health care reform, right-wing media figures and outlets are grappling over whether they should fault the president for “Trumpcare” or absolve him of responsibility.

  • Right-Wing Media Tout Trump’s “Lobbying Ban” As Draining The Swamp, While Other Outlets Question Ban’s Efficacy

    Emphasis On Ban Also Ignores Trump’s Many Other Conflicts Of Interest

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media are touting new “promises” from President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team to implement five-year “bans on having folks go and lobby after being in the administration” -- and to allow no registered lobbyists on his transition team -- as “a signal that he's going to do the draining of the swamp he said he'd do.” But other media have explained why the ban wouldn’t necessarily work, as lobbyists could just avoid registering as such, and transition team members could undo their lobbyist registration. In addition, the proposed “ban” does nothing to address the “tidal wave of potential conflicts of interest” that “will arrive with” a Trump administration.

  • Right-Wing Media Insist Clinton’s Pneumonia Diagnosis Is A “Cover For Some More Serious Condition”

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media are claiming the statement from Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign that she was diagnosed with pneumonia is actually “a cover for some more serious condition,” and that Clinton falling ill at a 9/11 memorial event “had virtually nothing to do with her having pneumonia.” Actual medical experts in the media have explained that “Clinton's wobbly incident Sunday is a near-textbook case of what can happen with ‘walking pneumonia.’”

  • Everyone Is Noticing Trump's Newest Immigration Comments Mirror The Jeb Bush Plan He Mocked

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    Media figures promptly began calling out the similarities between Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s newest immigration policy suggestions and policies Trump previously criticized Jeb Bush for pushing during the Republican primaries.

    During an August 24 town hall with Fox host Sean Hannity, Trump appeared to shift from his previous plan to “deport all undocumented immigrants,” as CNN put it. Trump told Hannity’s town hall that he would not grant undocumented immigrants citizenship, but that he would “work with them” if they “pay back taxes.”

    On the August 25 edition of Good Morning America, ABC’s Jon Karl remarked that Trump’s newfound position on immigration “sounds a heck of a lot like what Jeb Bush proposed during the Republican primaries,” which Karl said Trump attacked at the time as “amnesty.”

    The core of Trump’s newfound immigration policy bears strong resemblance to Bush’s prior proposals. In August 2015, Bush published a plan that would have required undocumented immigrants to “pass a thorough criminal background check, pay fines, pay taxes, learn English, obtain a provisional work permit and work, [and] not receive federal government assistance” in order to eventually earn “legal status” but not citizenship.

    At a Republican primary debate, Trump told moderators that Jeb Bush was “the weakest person on this stage by far on illegal immigration,” adding, “He is so weak on illegal immigration it’s laughable, and everybody knows it.” Additionally, on August 22, 2015, Trump tweeted:

    Other outlets have also noted the similarities between Trump’s newest position and Bush’s policy proposal. While discussing Trump’s most recent stance on immigration, Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough remarked, “Jeb Bush, your immigration stand has prevailed in the Republican Party.” NBC News reported that Trump’s new rhetoric is “not too different from Jeb Bush's rhetoric during the 2016 primary season.” Conservative website RedState announced, “That's right folks. Trump has adopted the very position he chastised Jeb Bush for having.” And CNN played a video montage comparing the two positions and noting “how similar Trump sounds” to Bush. 

  • The Conservatives Who Said That Trump’s New Campaign Chief Betrayed Breitbart's Memory By Backing Donald Trump

    ››› ››› OLIVIA KITTEL

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s new campaign chief Stephen Bannon is the executive chairman of conservative website Breitbart News, which has been embroiled in a civil war over the publication’s Trump support. Numerous conservative media figures have slammed Bannon -- who is taking a leave of absence to work for Trump -- and Breitbart News for destroying the legacy of the site’s founder Andrew Breitbart, who said in 2011 that Donald Trump is “not a conservative.”

  • “Insanity”: Media Appalled After Trump Campaign Hires Breitbart Executive And Political Commentator

    ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    Media figures across the political spectrum expressed shock after reports that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump hired Breitbart News executive Stephen Bannon and political commentator Kellyanne Conway to head his campaign. Media said the hire makes the relationship between Trump and Breitbart “official” and labeled the move “insanity.”

  • The Continuing Conservative Media Civil War Zeroes In On Sean Hannity

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    In the latest development in the conservative media civil war over Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, Fox News host Sean Hannity, a staunch Trump supporter, is battling other conservative media figures over his unapologetic and unconditional defense of the candidate, with those media figures now calling his shilling for Trump “slavish” and “disgraceful.”

  • Donald Trump's “Repulsive” Attacks On The Khan Family Condemned Across The Spectrum

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN & NINA MAST

    Media figures across the ideological spectrum condemned Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s attacks on Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of an American Muslim soldier who was killed while serving in Iraq in 2004, characterizing Trump’s comments as “repulsive,” and saying they show a “lack of a sense of decency” and “the gauge of his cruelty.”

  • Right-Wing Media Suggest Obama’s Clinton Endorsement Will Interfere With FBI Email Inquiry

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media are claiming that President Obama’s endorsement of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is “a terrible conflict of interest," suggesting the FBI could otherwise indict Clinton but will not do so because of the endorsement. Mainstream media and legal experts have reported for months that the “chatter” that Clinton will be indicted “is just plain ridiculous,” noting that “there doesn’t seem to be a legitimate basis for any sort of criminal charge against” Clinton.

  • Reports: Even Trump's Defense Of Trump U. Is Fraudulent

    Redstate, USA Today Expose Trump Ties Behind New Video

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Media are already pointing out that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s new defense of his now-defunct “Trump University” business is itself a “scam.”

    Following the release of unsealed court documents related to the ongoing lawsuits against Trump’s business, the Trump campaign posted a three-minute video on June 1 purporting to show the “true story” from “hard-working students who can attest to the first-hand truth about Trump University.”

    USA Today and RedState have already pointed out the questionable resumes and personal Trump ties of the three “former students” highlighted by the video.

    RedState, which termed the video a “scam,” noted that two of the three former students shown in the video, Kent Moyer and Casey Hoban, do not appear to currently work in real estate, and that at least one of the students, Hoban, may have “an ongoing business and personal relationship with the Trump family.” RedState and USA Today both highlighted multiple posts from Hoban’s Twitter account that appear to show that the protein water Hoban sells is sold at various Trump properties.

    The third student, Michelle Gunn, is a real estate investor who has previously given a testimonial for an unrelated self-help workshop. As USA Today reported, Gunn also “manages her college-aged son, Houston, who wrote a book at 13, Schooled for Success: How I Plan to Graduate from High School a Millionaire. It was endorsed by Donald Trump.”

    In addition to what RedState and USA Today reported, in 2013 both Michelle and Houston appeared in yet another testimonial, which mentioned the release of the book and Trump’s endorsement. Houston Gunn’s website, Facebook page, and Twitter profile also feature photos of Gunn and Trump together. In a 2013 book tour talk, Houston Gunn seemed to credit his attendance of a Trump University real estate seminar for Trump’s endorsement of his book.

    None of these apparent conflicts are mentioned in the new testimonials released by the Trump campaign, which instead characterized them as “representative of the many students who were overwhelmingly satisfied with Trump University.”