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  • David Brooks gets everything wrong about abortion after 20 weeks

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    After The New York Times published an op-ed by columnist David Brooks claiming Democrats need to support a 20-week abortion ban to remain electorally competitive, several media outlets and pro-choice groups wrote responses that called out Brooks’ inaccurate assumptions. These responses not only highlighted how 20-week bans are based on junk science, but also underscored how the reality of later abortions makes support for abortion access a winning issue for Democrats.

  • Recent reporting on violence against trans inmates illustrates the dangers of Trump administration rescinding protections

    Anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom is negotiating with the Trump administration to undo Obama-era guidelines protecting transgender inmates

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Trump administration is considering undoing protections for incarcerated transgender people after reportedly being in “negotiations” with anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). Transgender inmates are frequently housed with members of the opposite gender and experience the highest reported incidence of sexual violence in prisons and jails. The dangers they face are illustrated by a number of recent media reports on lawsuits trans women have filed regarding their treatment while incarcerated.

    On January 4, The Dallas Morning News reported that ADF is representing plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The suit demands that the bureau “remove all transgender inmates” from a female-only prison in Fort Worth, TX. In an effort to settle the lawsuit, ADF is “in negotiations with the federal government” over undoing policies that protect transgender inmates. The article predicted that the Trump administration was “likely to undo” those policies. ADF lawyer Gary McCaleb, who has also been active in ADF’s work against transgender student equality in schools, told The Dallas Morning News that he was “pretty confident” that the BOP would change some of its transgender inmate protections, particularly on the issue of whether transgender women are housed with non-trans prisoners. ADF’s work here is just one piece of its relentless campaign against LGBTQ equality.

    In weighing whether to remove protections for incarcerated trans people, ADF and the Trump administration will likely be taking aim at two pieces of Obama-era guidance. One is a January 18, 2017, “Transgender Offender Manual,” which gave guidance on the treatment of transgender inmates and sought to “ensure the Bureau of Prisons (Bureau) properly identifies, tracks, and provides services to the transgender population.” The other guidance likely to be affected is the Justice Department’s 2012 standards under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA) that require detention facilities to “incorporate unique vulnerabilities of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and gender nonconforming inmates into training and screening protocols.” Those rules say that “in deciding whether to assign a transgender or intersex inmate to a facility for male or female inmates, … the agency shall consider on a case-by-case basis whether a placement would ensure the inmate’s health and safety, and whether the placement would present management or security problems.”

    According to Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, transgender protections under PREA can work as “a mechanism through which trans inmates essentially sue prisons for violating their rights under federal law.” Thus, the attempts by ADF and the Trump administration to alter those policies could affect transgender inmates’ ability to sue for inhumane treatment.

    Recent coverage of a number of lawsuits filed by transgender women who reported sexual and physical violence and harassment in prisons and jails demonstrates the countless hardships transgender inmates encounter. In November, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that a transgender woman filed a lawsuit against the county and jail officials after she was “placed in a male holding cell” in Allegheny County, PA. The woman was “raped and physically assaulted by [an] inmate -- despite her cries for help and seeking assistance through the cell’s emergency call button.” The woman also said she was “harassed physically and called derogatory names” and had men watch her shower and strip-search her.

    On January 5, the Associated Press reported that a transgender woman incarcerated in Illinois “is seeking a rarely granted transfer to a female prison” after experiencing “sexual assault, taunting and beatings” in male prisons. Her lawsuit described “how guards and fellow inmates would regularly single her out for brutal treatment,” saying “that guards made her and another transgender inmate perform sex acts on each other as the guards hurled slurs and laughed.” The AP reported on another filing from her lawyers that said it had been “devastating psychologically” for her to be unable to present “herself as a female” while incarcerated. The article noted the “greater risk of abuse” for trans inmates, including that “nearly 40 percent reported being victims of sexual misconduct by other inmates and guards — compared to around 4 percent of the general prison reporting such abuse.”

    On that same day, Reuters reported that the state of Massachusetts “asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a transgender woman” who is housed in a men’s prison. In her lawsuit, the woman said that she has been subjected “to strip searches by male guards” who “routinely groped” her and forced her “to shower in the presence of male inmates.” In yet another January report, the New York Post wrote that a transgender woman who was incarcerated in the notoriously violent Rikers Island jail complex is suing New York City and correction officials after being “beaten so severely by several guards that they broke her jaw, knocked out teeth and left her with two black eyes.”

    In December, Aviva Stahl wrote a piece for The Village Voice, titled “New York City Jails Still Can’t Keep Trans Prisoners Safe,” analyzing the state of incarcerated transgender people in the city's jails. Stahl’s report noted that advocates say the city’s Department of Correction has failed to protect transgender prisoners and that “some trans women have been denied entry” into the city’s Transgender Housing Unit (THU) or “been transferred into male facilities after their external genitalia were observed in medical exams.” Stahl noted that these failures are violations “of national prison anti-rape standards,” the very standards that could be affected by the negotiations between the ADF and the Trump administration. The article added that transgender people have “the highest reported incidence of sexual violence of any demographic group studied, more than eight times the rate for prisoners overall,” according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. A 2007 study found an even higher rate for transgender women: “59 percent of transgender women housed in men’s prisons had been sexually abused while incarcerated, as compared to 4 percent of non-transgender inmates in men’s prisons.”

    These abuses are happening even with the Obama-era protections in place. If ADF is successful in getting the Trump administration to rescind these limited protections, trans lives and bodies will be at still further risk.

  • Fox News is firing up the right-wing spin machine for the Supreme Court's new abortion case

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson fearmongered about a reproductive rights case that the Supreme Court just decided to hear -- signaling the start of another right-wing misinformation campaign about abortion.

    On November 13, the Supreme Court agreed to hear National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, a case that involves a California statute called the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency (FACT) Act. Under California's FACT Act, licensed crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) -- which are anti-abortion organizations that represent themselves as reproductive care clinics -- are required to display a notice at their facility and in advertising materials which states, “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women,” and directs people to call a number to determine if they qualify for such services. CPCs not licensed by the state of California are also required to post a notice stating that they are “not licensed as a medical facility” and that they have “no licensed medical provider who provides or directly supervises the provision of services.” The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) -- which represents both licensed and unlicensed CPCs in California -- challenged the law as a violation of CPCs' free speech rights to not promote abortion or contraceptives. The lower courts ruled in favor of upholding the state law and the case is now before the Supreme Court.

    The Supreme Court’s last major abortion case -- Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt -- involved a Texas law that placed, under the guise of supposedly protecting women’s health, medically unnecessary requirements on facilities that perform abortions. The Supreme Court ultimately found that the law created an undue burden on abortion access. While some outlets reported on the law’s substantial harmful effects after it caused many abortion facilities in Texas to close, right-wing outlets ignored its impact to push a myth that the measure was necessary to protect the health of those accessing abortion in the state.

    During a November 15 segment on the NIFLA v. Becerra case, Carlson defined California’s FACT Act as an attack on CPCs' freedom of speech -- rather than as a necessary restriction because many centers utilize deceptive tactics or medical misinformation to dissuade patients from having an abortion. During the segment, Carlson mischaracterized the law as “forcing” CPCs “to provide information on how to get a state-subsidized abortion” and said that it “would force pro-life centers to literally advertise and tell people who come in, ‘Hey, there is a free abortion waiting for you if you want one.’” Carlson also incorrectly implied that CPCs should not be regulated because they are “not hurting anybody.” Classifying facilities that offer abortion as part of “an industry,” Carlson said that the law “is really about an industry trying to shut down its opponents,” ultimately concluding that pro-choice advocates “worship” abortion “like a God.”

    Despite much grandstanding, Carlson failed to accurately describe either the factual basis of the California law or the nature of the lawsuit. (Carlson has a history of failing to accurately address abortion issues throughout his tenure as a prime-time Fox News host.) While Carlson described CPCs as “not hurting anybody,” they actually use multiple deceptive tactics to convince individuals to utilize their services, ultimately dissuading many considering abortion. A yearlong investigation by Cosmopolitan found CPCs “increasingly look just like doctor’s offices with ultrasound rooms and staff in scrubs. Yet they do not provide or refer for contraception or abortion. Many pregnancy-center counselors, even those who provide medical information, are not licensed.”

    As Teen Vogue reported, some CPCs also lie about state restrictions that prohibit abortion past a certain week of pregnancy and about the risks of abortions -- including making inaccurate claims that abortion makes a person infertile or causes breast cancer. Some CPCs also lie before people even get in the door -- posing as comprehensive reproductive care clinics or suggesting in their advertising that they offer abortion services or contraceptives, when in reality many CPCs provide neither. Some CPCs also receive direct funding from states. For example, Texas awarded a $1.6 million contract in 2016 to The Heidi Group, an organization led by anti-abortion extremist Carol Everett, for the purpose of providing low-income reproductive health services. Earlier this year, the Heidi Group was found to have failed to deliver on any of its proposals. On the federal level, Rewire found that the Trump administration has awarded “at least $3.1 million … to religiously affiliated organizations and crisis pregnancy centers.”

    Similarly, while Carlson decried the FACT Act as an attack on free speech, anti-abortion proponents have long pushed the so-called “informed” consent laws that often require medical providers to lie to patients about the risks of abortion, or provide them information with no basis in science, such as the viability of “abortion reversal” methods. Many have noted that if the Supreme Court's decision falls in favor of CPCs on free speech grounds, it could have unintended consequences for such efforts by the anti-choice movement. As Slate’s Dahila Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern wrote, “If the FACT Act falls ... it would not necessarily be an unmitigated victory for abortion opponents” given the number of deceptive “informed consent” laws that various states have already passed.

    Although the Supreme Court just agreed to hear NIFLA v. Becerra, Carlson’s segment demonstrates that right-wing media are already gearing up to push misinformation about the case and support CPCs' efforts to block abortion access.

  • Lessons from coverage of the Trump administration's attempt to block an undocumented teen's abortion

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Media widely covered the case of an undocumented minor whom the Trump administration tried to stop from having an abortion this month. While Fox News focused on a made-up story that taxpayers are funding abortions of illegal immigrants, several other news outlets provided comprehensive coverage about the implications of the case, thus identifying key facets of the Trump administration’s extreme push against the right to an abortion.

    On October 18, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to allow abortion access to an undocumented teen (referred to as Jane Doe) who is being held in federal custody in Texas by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had argued that the government was not impeding Doe’s access to an abortion because, as Mother Jones reported, she was “free to return to her home country for the procedure.” But the DOJ appealed the ruling to the D.C. Court of Appeals, which eventually ruled on October 24 that the government could not stop Doe from having an abortion. On October 25, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced that Doe had successfully obtained an abortion.

    Doe was forced to jump through all of these legal hoops because, according to the ACLU, the Trump administration made a policy change in March 2017 that shelters could not take facilitate abortion access for minors in their care without “direction and approval” from the director of ORR, Scott Lloyd. The ACLU originally filed this lawsuit as a class action for all Jane Does in ORR’s custody who are seeking an abortion, and further litigation for the class is currently pending.

    Before the appeals court’s October 24 ruling, Vice News’ Antonia Hylton obtained an exclusive interview with Doe in which she emphasized her certainty about the decision to have an abortion.

    Beyond Vice News' interview, several media outlets highlighted crucial details of Doe’s case that will likely shape the course of abortion access as the Trump administration’s policies continue to follow an increasingly extreme trajectory. Here are four important points that media made about the case:

    HHS employs an anti-abortion extremist to look after undocumented minors

    Trump’s HHS is full of anti-abortion extremists like Charmaine Yoest, Teresa Manning, and Valerie Huber. But Doe’s case exposed another anti-abortion personality in the agency -- one who has direct control over the lives of pregnant minors in custody who may seek an abortion.

    During the October 20 edition of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel Maddow detailed the ways Scott Lloyd, the director of ORR, is pushing his anti-abortion agenda onto undocumented minors. According to Maddow, Lloyd “has argued forcefully” that anti-choice groups should not just focus on making abortion illegal in the U.S., but also on opposing the use of contraceptives. Maddow additionally pointed to allegations in Doe’s lawsuit that Lloyd “directed employees underneath him in his agency to tell girls’ parents about their pregnancies against the girls’ will" and that he had "directed federal employees to physically take girls to Christian counseling centers in Texas, so anti-abortion activists at those counseling centers could try to talk them out of having abortions.” Maddow concluded that Doe’s access to a doctor was “being blocked by an anti-abortion activist who somehow got this job that gave him the kind of personal individual control over women’s lives and bodies that he previously could have only dreamed about as an anti-abortion activist.”

    As Univision News’ Fernando Peinado further explained, Lloyd’s appointment to ORR “surprised many immigration activists and lawyers” since he has “little experience in immigration.” Peinado stated that Lloyd’s previous experience with refugees “was during his work as chief policy coordinator for the Knights of Columbus” -- a self-identified pro-life group that is popular with right-wing media -- where Lloyd worked with “Christian refugees and other minorities persecuted by the Islamic State in the Middle East.”

    BuzzFeed News’ Ema O’Connor linked Lloyd’s current actions with previous writings in which he said that access to contraceptives increases abortion rates; in reality, the opposite is true. Lloyd declared in an article for the National Catholic Register that “American people make a deal with women: So long as you are using the condom, pill or patch I am providing with my money, you are going to promise not to have an abortion if the contraception fails, which it often does.” Lloyd also rejected the idea of funding from the Title X family planning program supporting access to contraceptives because he argued that the “truckloads of condoms” purchased would fail and lead to more abortions.

    The immigration system in the US is “a harbinger of ... ‘anti-choice fanaticism’”

    Rewire immigration reporter Tina Vasquez reported that the anti-abortion agenda being promoted via the United States' immigration system didn’t start with the Trump administration; in fact, anti-abortion policies of the George W. Bush administration contributed to HHS’ current ability to deny abortion access to undocumented minors. Vasquez talked to Susan Hays, the legal director of a nonprofit called Jane’s Due Process that provides legal services in Texas to pregnant minors. Hays stated:

    Under Bush, social workers working with minors [in ORR shelters] could make legal decisions because the shelters had legal custody of the minors. But after two social workers helped an unaccompanied immigrant minor obtain an abortion, it really upset the Catholic-run shelter where they were employed and where the child was housed. … In response, Bush changed who has custody of minors.

    The change gave ORR legal custody of unaccompanied minors who cross the border. In March 2017, the Trump administration tweaked this policy to require minors to get the specific consent of the ORR director, leaving them subject to Lloyd’s rabid anti-abortion agenda. Vasquez noted that advocates say Doe’s case is a “harbinger of the ‘anti-choice fanaticism’ working its way into the immigration system since Trump’s presidential inauguration.”

    The Trump administration is using religion to deny people the right to an abortion

    The Trump administration recently made a sweeping change to the federal contraception mandate that enabled practically any business to claim either a religious or moral exception to providing contraceptives to its employees. Such actions suggest that the Trump administration will place the objectives of religious groups above the choices -- and constitutional rights -- of Americans.

    As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick explained, the government’s obstruction of Doe’s planned abortion happened “because the federal government now believes it has a right to promulgate its own quasi-religious viewpoint” and to change “the law to subordinate [Doe’s] choices to government power.”

    According to Lithwick, lawyers for the DOJ relied on “a very sweeping view of facilitation” in their argument that they shouldn’t have to “facilitate” the abortion by saying they would be required to offer her post-procedure medical support -- the most elementary of obligations for a government to perform. Lithwick likens the argument to “claims we’ve been hearing in courts from religious objectors for years.” These religious objectors include the plaintiffs in Hobby Lobby, who did not want to “facilitate” the coverage of birth control for their employees, or those arguing against federal funding for Planned Parenthood because of the inaccurate claim that “money is fungible” and thus taxpayers will be paying for abortions.

    The Trump administration’s use of religion to delay an abortion for Jane Doe caused her unnecessary anguish. As The Daily Beast’s Erin Gloria Ryan reported, “By delaying her abortion, they subjected her to increased medical risks, dramatically increased costs, and the general physical discomfort of pregnancy for much longer than necessary. The mechanisms behind this fight are nothing but cruel.”

    This case is a “preview” of the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine the abortion rights of the most vulnerable

    Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern used Doe’s case to explain the reality of a future without Roe v. Wade, which then-candidate Trump promised on the campaign trail he would try to overturn. Stern wrote, “If Roe goes, there will be thousands more Jane Does—detained women who would be denied access to abortion by their government. It is these detainees, then, who are on the front line of the abortion battle. That’s because it is their pregnancies that the state can most easily control.”

    Stern also highlighted the impact such precedent would have on another vulnerable community in the United States -- the incarcerated -- who are already sometimes denied abortions in federal and state prisons. As Stern explained, the process for getting a court order to have an abortion for someone in prison “is onerous and time-consuming, and officials can drag it out until the pregnancy is viable, rendering an abortion illegal.” Post-Roe, “without a constitutional right to abortion, all women in custody could be forced to carry pregnancies they do not want—then have their children taken away from them while they serve out their sentences or face deportation.”

  • 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.

  • Betsy DeVos just perpetuated years of right-wing attacks on rape survivors

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Many have questioned the incomprehensible logic of President Donald Trump’s proposal to collaborate with Russia on cybersecurity policy, but Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appears to be deploying a similar strategy: collaborating with rape deniers on policy regarding campus sexual assault. This comes after right-wing media spent years questioning the severity of sexual assault and attacking the credibility of survivors.

    First reported by Politico, DeVos planned a July 13 meeting with “advocates for survivors of campus sexual assault, as well as with groups representing students who say they were wrongfully accused.”

    Politico identified several invitees as representatives from the men’s rights groups Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE), Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE), and National Coalition for Men -- all of which have dedicated themselves to combating what they believe is rampant false reporting of sexual assault, and the lack of attention paid to the “true victims”: those who are accused.

    As The Daily Beast’s Robert Silverman noted, the Southern Poverty Law Center classified SAVE as an organization that is “promoting misogyny” and "lobbying to roll back services for victims of domestic abuse and penalties for their tormentors.” Jaclyn Friedman, an expert on campus sexual violence, told Silverman that groups like SAVE not only “actively publicize the names of rape survivors in order to intimidate them,” but also “blame women for ‘instigating’ men's violence against them” and believe that “victims' sexual histories should be fair game in rape cases.” According to ThinkProgress and BuzzFeed, organizations like FACE, National Coalition for Men, and the like are no better in their advocacy, nor less extreme in their beliefs.

    Despite posturing from these groups, false rape reports are actually a statistical minority -- representing between 2 and 8 percent of all reported cases. Meanwhile, according to research by the Rape, Abuse, & Incest Network (RAINN), 66 percent of rapes go unreported to law enforcement. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center found that “one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives,” while the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey revealed that “nearly half” of survey respondents “were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.” Survivors already face rampant challenges when reporting sexual assault, and it is unlikely the Department of Education’s invitation to these men’s rights groups will improve these conditions.

    A July 12 press release explained that DeVos would meet with the various groups in a series of “listening sessions” meant to “discuss the impact of the Department’s Title IX sexual assault guidance on students, families and institutions.” In 2011, the Obama administration provided schools with guidance on how to “review and enforce Title IX complaints,” emphasizing the role assault and harassment play in the creation of “a hostile educational environment in violation of Title IX.” Many have speculated that DeVos’ openness to including men’s rights organizations in the meetings is just the latest signal that the department will revoke these protections.

    In April, ProPublica implied that DeVos’ selection of Candice Jackson to head the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) was a sign of bad things to come for Title IX and anti-sexual violence protections, noting that Jackson had previously “arranged for several of Bill Clinton’s accusers to attend a presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton” and that she called women who accused Trump of sexual assault “fake victims.” In June, ProPublica published a memo from Jackson that directed OCR staff to make changes to investigative procedures that “advocates fear will mean less consistent findings of systemic discrimination at colleges.” As ThinkProgress previously reported, DeVos herself has “long donated to organizations that frequently side with students accused of rape and sexual abuse.”

    The men’s rights groups DeVos plans to meet with aren’t alone in waging war on sexual violence protections and survivors. Some of Trump’s favorite right-wing media figures and staunchest cable news supporters have put on a masterclass in how to not report on sexual assault. After an uncovered 2005 audio showed Trump bragging about committing sexual assault, many Fox News employees seemingly made it their jobs to either downplay the severity of his comments or attack the many women who came forward with specific allegations against him.

    Even before Trump, right-wing media were especially adamant in their campaign of misrepresenting the severity of sexual assault and harassment. Beyond disputing the veracity of campus sexual assault statistics, right-wing media figures have called reporting on statutory rape “whiny,” claimed sexual assault victims have a “coveted status,” blamed feminism for encouraging sexual assault, and said attempts to curb sexual assault harm men and constitute “a war happening on boys.” Although she has since fled the network in an attempt to rehab her image at NBC, former Fox News star Megyn Kelly was a chief proponent of the “war on boys” talking point -- which was just part of her long history of criticizing sexual assault prevention measures and minimizing the credibility of survivors.

    Fox itself has spent the better part of the past year -- when not providing the ultimate safe space for Trump and his administration -- embroiled in a series of sexual assault allegations after years of harassment at the network. Such allegations ultimately led to the ouster of both the late Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and longtime host (now aspiring podcast provocateur) Bill O’Reilly, as well as the recent suspension of Fox Business host Charles Payne.

    Although right-wing media have engaged in some of the most overt attacks on survivors, many other outlets are far from magnanimous in their coverage of sexual assault. As coverage around former Stanford student Brock Turner showed, media have a bad habit of sympathetically highlighting the past accomplishments of the accused, or bemoaning the costs to their lives and careers.

    The New York Times fell into this very trap in a July 12 article about the meetings. The Times began its report by highlighting the “heartfelt missives from college students, mostly men, who had been accused of rape or sexual assault” before going on to describe the consequences they faced, ranging from “lost scholarships” to expulsion. In one case, as the Times noted, a man had tried to “take his own life” but “maintained he was innocent” and “had hoped to become a doctor.” In another example, the Times highlighted the comments of the father of an accused student who complained that his son’s “entire world [was] turned upside down” and that, as the paper put it, he had been “forced to abandon his dream of becoming a college wrestling coach.” Reporting like this -- although seemingly benign -- not only perpetuates victim blaming, but also downplays the severity of allegations by treating offenders as the real victims.

    Slate’s Christina Cauterucci described DeVos’ planned meetings as “a classic case of false balance, because the two sides here do not have equal merit.” She noted that one side includes “advocates for sexual-assault victims” while the other is made up of “trolls who have made it their lives’ work to defend domestic violence.” She concluded that however unfortunate the decision to invite these men’s rights groups to meet, it was unsurprising. After all: “As a representative of an administration run by a man with an interest in protecting sexual harrassers, DeVos has every reason to side with the latter.”

    Undeterred, survivors aren’t letting DeVos off the hook that easily. While she meets with men's rights groups that have systematically tried to silence and shame survivors, organizations that advocate for them will be outside the Department of Education making their voices heard.

  • Some of the best media take downs of Trump’s “repugnant grab bag” of a budget

    ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    On May 23, President Donald Trump released his vision for the fiscal year 2018 federal budget titled, “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” which called for deep cuts to Medicaid, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), student loan assistance, and anti-poverty programs geared toward working- and middle-class Americans while providing gargantuan tax cuts for top income earners and increasing military spending. As details of the budget began to surface in the lead up to the announcement, Media Matters identified some of the best take downs from journalists and experts hammering the proposal for its “ruthless” cuts.

  • Fox News Hosts Have No Clue What Planned Parenthood Does

    Hosts Of The Five Get Everything Wrong About Planned Parenthood In Order To Prop Up Republicans' Disastrous Health Care Bill

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    After the release of Republicans’ long-awaited plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Fox News’ The Five put on a masterclass in how to get everything wrong about Planned Parenthood’s services and the implications of the attempt to defund the essential health care provider.

    Earlier this week, Republicans unveiled their alternative to the ACA, called the American Health Care Act (AHCA). The proposed bill includes two provisions targeting abortion providers: one that would prohibit federal funds for nonabortion care from going to any organization that privately funds or facilitates abortions, and one that would disincentivize private insurers from offering abortion coverage in their plans. The Daily Beast noted that these provisions “could easily be a one-two punch for low-income women seeking reproductive health care, effectively choking out funding for their local Planned Parenthood clinic while dictating that … they’ll have to pay out-of-pocket or have the foresight to purchase a special abortion insurance rider.”

    During Fox News’ The Five, hosts Eric Bolling, Dana Perino, Kimberly Guilfoyle and Greg Gutfeld modeled exactly what media outlets should not do when reporting how the proposed bill would impact access to vital reproductive health care. Although no federal funds can or do support abortion services under current law, the hosts wrongly alleged that Planned Parenthood uses federal money to cover abortions in addition to spreading the debunked myth that community health centers (CHCs) can compensate for the loss of the organization’s essential services:

    1. The Five Repeated The Right-Wing Media Myth That Planned Parenthood Gets Federal Funds Earmarked For Abortion Services

    MYTH: Planned Parenthood gets federal funding to pay for abortion services.

    FACT: The Hyde Amendment already prohibits federal abortion funding -- with negative consequences for abortion access. 

    Right-wing media and administration officials like Kellyanne Conway have long insisted that Planned Parenthood uses taxpayer money to fund abortion services -- despite a longstanding prohibition on the use of federal funds for this purpose.

    Since 1977, the Hyde Amendment has barred the use of federal Medicaid funds to cover abortion care, except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the mother’s life. In January, the House of Representatives voted to codify and dangerously expand the Hyde Amendment -- making The Five co-host Eric Bolling’s March 7 allegation that federal funds being used for abortion was a “gray area of Planned Parenthood” even more baseless than when he made the same claim in December 2015.

    Although the Hyde Amendment prohibits even the allocation of federal funds for abortion, co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle argued that “some of the federal funding from the United States government is allotted for abortion services” and that “federal funds should not be marked [for abortion].”

    To his credit, Fox’s Bob Beckel -- guest co-hosting during the March 7 segment -- attempted to refute his colleagues’ claims by explaining the Hyde Amendment and its implications for abortion funding. Unfortunately, Bolling interrupted Beckel, and admonished him that the hosts were "all familiar with the Hyde Amendment.” 

    Missing from the conversation was the devastating impact that provisions like the Hyde Amendment have on abortion access for the most vulnerable. A 2016 report from the Guttmacher Institute detailed the act’s effects on low-income and marginalized communities, finding that the “number of women potentially affected by the Hyde Amendment is substantial” given the significant number of women dependent on federally subsidized medical services.

    Women of color -- especially black women, Latinas, and American Indians -- also suffer a major impact from the Hyde Amendment's restrictions.

    2. Community Health Centers Can’t Replace Planned Parenthood -- Especially As A Provider Of Affordable Contraceptives

    MYTH: Community health centers can easily and seamlessly replace Planned Parenthood clinics.

    FACT: Planned Parenthood is an essential and irreplaceable primary and reproductive health care provider.

    Planned Parenthood is an essential care provider for millions of Americans nationally, 60 percent of them low-income patients covered through programs including Medicaid. Nevertheless, right-wing media and anti-choice lawmakers frequently -- and erroneously -- argue that the organization’s funds should be shifted to “community health clinics” (CHCs).

    During the March 7 edition of The Five, co-host Dana Perino echoed these claims about the alleged capacity of CHCs to replace Planned Parenthood. Perino stated that funding would transition from Planned Parenthood to CHCs, and that there wasn’t “going to be enough acceptance of that” among objectors to the AHCA. 

    Ignoring the fact that many CHCs don’t facilitate or support access to contraceptives, Perino also puzzlingly argued that Republicans would compromise on defunding Planned Parenthood by making contraceptives more accessible over the counter and at other clinics. In response to a question from Bolling, Perino further clarified that she thought Republicans would “try to get [Planned Parenthood’s] funding pulled but be able to provide access” to contraceptives through CHCs that would “handle this better than Planned Parenthood.”

    Although anti-choice lawmakers believe CHCs could absorb patient demand should access to Planned Parenthood be eliminated, experts call this claim “a gross misrepresentation of what even the best community health centers in the country would be able to do.”

    While Planned Parenthood clinics all offer preventive and basic care services, clinics can qualify to be classified as “community health clinics” while providing more limited care -- making direct comparisons between the overall numbers a misleading measure of actual health care provision capacity.

    Beyond questions of CHC’s capacity, Perino also missed the memo that transitioning contraceptives from a prescription-based product to an over-the-counter one would make this essential form of care prohibitively expensive and put it out of reach for many. As Slate’s Christina Cauterucci reported in 2016, “taking birth control out of the realm of insurances” only sounds “like a win to people who don’t want the government” providing contraception.

    3. Attacking Planned Parenthood’s Abortion Services Perpetuates Stigma

    MYTH: Abortion is wrong, “vile,” “sick,” or socially unacceptable.

    FACT: Abortion is a common and overwhelmingly safe medical procedure.

    Abortion stigma is the “shared understanding” that abortion is morally wrong and/or socially unacceptable. This belief is reinforced through media coverage, popular culture, and by a lack of accurate information among many about the procedure itself.

    Despite the fact that abortion is both common and overwhelmingly safe, right-wing media and anti-choice groups have consistently attempted to “exploit the stigma of abortion” to restrict access to the procedure and shame providers and patients alike.

    During the March 7 edition of The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld claimed that funding Planned Parenthood forces people to “pay for someone else’s abortion,” which he called “a moral intrusion.” Ignoring the reality that taxpayer money doesn’t support abortion services, Gutfeld continued that pro-choice advocates’ goal is to “dehumanize the unborn child to a mass of cells” -- a common right-wing media allegation that perpetuates abortion stigma by casting those who have abortions as “selfish” or “sickening.”

    Abortion is a vital and essential part of comprehensive reproductive health care. As Steph Herold wrote for Rewire, separating “abortion from the rest of reproductive health care ignores the reality that millions of people across the country need access to abortion services, and that abortion services are a crucial part of family planning services.”

    A transcript of the March 7 edition of The Five is below:

    ERIC BOLLING: President Trump is offering the abortion provider a deal. The funding will stay if abortion goes away. Planned Parenthood has rejected that offer, saying they will always stand for women's ability to make decisions about their health and lives without interference from politicians. OK, bring it around, K.G. I think the offer -- look, as it stands, federal funding can't be used for abortions, but that’s that gray area of Planned Parenthood.

    KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE: Right, certainly. So what he's doing is he's trying to make compromise -- he has acknowledged in the past that in fact Planned Parenthood does provide valuable medical services and screening for women. It does. The problem they have is that it is morally objectionable to millions of Americans that some of the federal funding from the United States government is allotted for abortion services. So the president is saying, you also take in a tremendous amount of money from private resources and donations. Perhaps you should earmark those funds that are private, do with it what you will, that's their business for their organization. But federal funds should not be marked for that.

    BOLLING: Well let me get Dana in.

    BOB BECKEL: Of course. Get the women in first.

    [...]

    BOLLING: Your thoughts on both the Trump administration and the Planned Parenthood response.

    DANA PERINO: I think this was a chance for President Trump to fulfill a campaign promise, and social conservatives really want this, Republicans want this. And remember when they were going to shut down the government last year when Republicans were all mad and they said the one thing that they really were mad about was that the Republicans weren't able to pull funding for Planned Parenthood. Even though Planned Parenthood itself actually has a pretty good approval rating, so it was harder back home. There were some senators, like Susan Collins of Maine , I think, who said that this shouldn't be in the Obamacare bill at all. Or I guess what we are calling it the American Health Care Act.

    The money, instead they are saying, will go to community health care centers. I don't know if there's going to be enough acceptance of that. Cecile Richard of Planned Parenthood, they’re going to fight tooth and nail. And I think what will actually end up happening is Republicans will put on the table that they believe that access to contraception should be available easily over the counter. And that that would be a way to maybe try to get this funding pulled but be able to provide access to the kind of products that they provide there.

    BOLLING: So, get it straight, Greg, I think, are you saying provide funds but earmark it for contraception --

    PERINO: Well, the money would go to community health centers, and arguably the community health centers would say, ‘Oh, well we can handle this better than Planned Parenthood.’

    GREG GUTFELD: Well, I mean. It comes to down to, if you believe that abortion is the taking of a life, then forcing you to pay for somebody else's abortion is a moral intrusion. That's the argument. I am amazed how the media salutes conscientious objectors over war but not abortion. And so instead what -- the goal here is to dehumanize the unborn child to a mass of cells. So it's like medical procedure, like getting a mole review -- a mole removed. So therefore somebody else could pay for it. So someone has to speak up for those who cannot speak up for those who cannot speak themselves which is why this dialogue, wherever it goes, is important. Because you are actually talking about this question.

    BOLLING: Why can't Planned Parenthood just decide to have one service for abortion and separated with a Chinese wall and all the other services?

    BOB BECKEL: They do. I hate to correct my learned colleagues. They actually have degrees. But there are not a single dime of federal dollars going to abortion. Something called the Hyde amendment. Henry Hyde made it --

    BOLLING: We're all familiar with the Hyde Amendment --

    BECKEL: Well --

    BOLLING: But if 80 percent of what Planned Parenthood does is abortion --

    BECKEL: No, it's not even close to that!

    BOLLING: And we're giving them $300 million a year, then --

    BECKEL: You're not asking the taxpayers a single thing for an abortion. Planned Parenthood does among other things, a lot of screening, a lot of mammograms, they save a lot of lives. And the idea that he would take on all of this -- first of all he was pro-choice when he was thinking about running for mayor 15 years ago. And the other thing, he has no idea. He doesn't know what Planned Parenthood does.

  • Media Shouldn’t Fall For GOP’s Sham Plan To “Repair” The ACA

    Blog ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    The GOP has shifted from its message of “repealing and replacing” Obamacare to “repairing” the law. Media must press conservatives on what their so-called “repairs” to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) might look like, especially in the likely event that “repairing” the ACA is really just repealing it with no replacement.

    Republicans reportedly started transitioning away from their pledge to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, focusing on a more appealing call to “repair” the health care law. Frank Luntz, a GOP consultant known for repackaging conservative misinformation to advance a Republican agenda, encouraged conservatives to pledge to “repair” the ACA because that word “‘captures exactly what the large majority of the American people want.’” As lawmakers like Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) have adopted the “repair” buzzword, others, like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), continue to obfuscate, claiming, “if we’re going to repair the U.S. health care system, … you must repeal and replace Obamacare,” indicating that GOP disarray over the ACA extends to its messaging strategies.

    The GOP’s pledge to “repeal and replace” the law has largely backfired. After seven years, Republicans still have no replacement for the law. The GOP still can’t agree on the timing or the substance of any replacement plan. Most of its “replacement” plans are fact sheets rather than legislative language, and all of them would reduce coverage for millions of Americans.

    The continued fight over the potential replacement has also inadvertently highlighted the tangible gains achieved by the ACA and made the public acutely aware of the negative impacts of repeal. New polling finds the ACA is increasingly popular, especially as news outlets highlight stories of individuals who would be impacted by repeal.

    As Slate’s Jim Newell explained, the semantic change alone “does not signal a new course in the repeal-and-replace progress.” But, even if the GOP does decide to abandon its promise to repeal the ACA and instead focus on “repairing" the law, it remains vitally important for news outlets to force conservative politicians to clarify which portions of the ACA they intend to repair and how. Media have largely failed at questioning potential replacement plans for the law. And as top GOP lawmakers continue to falsely repeat right-wing media myths about the alleged “collapse” of the ACA, media must fact-check the GOP’s messaging strategies and interrogate its plans for repealing or repairing the law. If the GOP actually intends to make “repairs” to the ACA, those repairs may just be another messaging strategy for its plans to scale back services, gut Medicaid, and give a tax-break to the wealthy.

    With millions of lives at stake, news outlets must aggressively question GOP lawmakers about what portions of the ACA they intend to repair and force lawmakers to clarify that repairing the ACA is not simply a buzzword phrase for repealing the law with no replacement.

  • STUDY: Networks Fail To Report Consequences Of Trump’s Unprecedented Expansion Of The Global Gag Rule

    Trump’s Executive Order Reinstated The Gag Rule And Quietly Expanded Its Scope -- CNN And Fox News Didn’t Report The Consequences

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    On January 23, President Donald Trump issued an executive order reinstating and secretly expanding the scope of the global gag rule, an anti-choice restriction banning the U.S. from providing foreign aid to nongovernmental organizations that privately fund or promote abortion care. A Media Matters study found that in a week of evening coverage on the three major cable news networks, only MSNBC reported on the disastrous consequences of Trump’s reinstatement and unprecedented expansion of the global gag rule.

  • Media Fail To Explain The Impact of HHS Nominee Tom Price’s Health Care Agenda

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    Major newspapers gave little attention to the harmful impact Rep. Tom Price’s (R-GA) policies would have on the American health care system when discussing his expected nomination to serve as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in a future Trump administration. However, experts agree that Price’s preferred positions on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Medicare and Medicaid, and reproductive health care access would harm millions of Americans.

  • Trump Has 75 Ongoing Legal Battles -- Which Media Are Ignoring During Their Breathless FBI Letter Coverage

    ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    Media have breathlessly covered a new letter from the FBI saying the agency is looking into newly discovered emails surrounding Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server as secretary of state. But as outlets continue to obsess over Clinton, they are ignoring the many actual lawsuits and scandals associated with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

  • Right-Wing Media Fail Occam’s Razor Test In Continued Push To Scandalize McAuliffe PAC Donation

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    After initially failing to scandalize a Wall Street Journal story about political donations made by Clinton ally and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s (D) political action committee (PAC) to the wife of an FBI official, conservative media are trying to revive the story. Now they’re trying to hype flawed, speculative allegations of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s alleged role in the fundraising for McAuliffe’s PAC in hopes of undermining the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s emails.

    In an October 23 article titled “Clinton Ally Aided Campaign of FBI Official’s Wife,” the Journal reported, “The political organization of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, an influential Democrat with longstanding ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton, gave nearly $500,000 to the election campaign of the wife of an official at the Federal Bureau of Investigation who later helped oversee the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s email use.” The piece implied that the McAuliffe PAC’s donation may have influenced FBI official Andrew McCabe, who is married to the donation’s recipient, Jill McCabe, in his later investigation of Clinton’s email use.

    Not only did journalists deride the piece’s flimsy, “embarrassing” claim, but the Journal’s own reporting also failed to support the idea that there was any impropriety by McAuliffe or McCabe. Indeed, other media outlets noted that “there’s literally nothing” to the story, both because “the timing is complicated if you’re trying to prove a Clinton email connection” and because “McAuliffe’s support of Jill McCabe was part of a much broader effort at the time to try to win back a Democratic majority in the state Senate.”

    That didn’t stop right-wing media figures from hyping the “appearance of impropriety” and claiming that McAuliffe “acted as a bag man to pay off people sniffing around Hillary’s emails.”

    After briefly piercing into the mainstream media current, the toothless story seemed to fade away, until the Daily Mail reported on October 28 that “Clinton headlined a major fundraiser” for McAuliffe’s PAC “before the group steered nearly $500,000 to” Jill McCabe. The paper suggested that Clinton’s involvement in the fundraiser again “raise[s] questions about the impartiality of the FBI's investigation.”

    But just as the initial Journal story fell apart under scrutiny of the timeline -- Andrew McCabe didn’t become involved in the FBI investigation until several months after McAuliffe’s donation to Jill McCabe -- so too does the Daily Mail’s bizarre and complicated suggestion that Clinton headlined a fundraiser because she was able to foresee that resulting donations would months later go to the wife of a man who would later be promoted twice to play a lead role in an investigation that did not yet exist.

    After organizing a timeline of the fundraiser, donation, and investigation -- and lightly suggesting the optics don’t look good (a common media technique employed when investigating many of Clinton's nonscandals) -- Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley wrote:

    What hasn't been proven is that Hillary Clinton did anything improper. Clinton would have had to be a pretty advanced political chessmaster to do a June 2015 fundraiser with the knowledge that, in October 2015, it would benefit the wife of an FBI official who would be promoted to an oversight position into her email investigation the next February. And McAuliffe would have to be an even savvier operator to have recruited Jill McCabe to run for office in March 2015 in the hopes that, sometime down the line, her husband would get promoted to the point of overseeing an investigation that didn't yet exist. There's also no evidence Andrew McCabe actually influenced the email investigation in a way that benefited Clinton. For all we know, he could've been pushing for her prosecution only to be overruled by Comey.

    Indeed, perhaps a much simpler explanation for Clinton’s fundraising appearance and the McAuliffe PAC’s donation is that a leading Democrat raised money for the Virginia state party and the governor's PAC to try to swing the legislature to benefit the Democratic governor -- who is also an old friend -- during one of the few major off-year elections in the country.

    Yet, even though almost nothing about the story has changed, right-wing media are now hyping the Daily Mail’s “exclusive” to suggest impropriety by Clinton and McAuliffe and a compromised FBI investigation. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson said the situation was “sleazy,” and the pro-Trump Breitbart News suggested the donations are “unusual” and raise questions, despite the continued lack of evidence of any wrongdoing.

  • What Supreme Court Experts Want You To Know Before The Last Presidential Debate

    ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON & PAM VOGEL

    The Supreme Court will be one of the topics discussed at the final presidential debate of this election, moderated by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace on October 19. Supreme Court reporters and legal experts have been explaining the significance of the court throughout the election season, because of the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February and the implications for the ideological direction of the court stemming from the election of a new president.

  • Trump’s Anti-Establishment Campaign Was Conservative Media’s Dream Come True, But Now It’s Failing Him

    ››› ››› NINA MAST

    Journalists are pointing out that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s “extraordinary display of personal animus” against Republicans leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), is a deliberate campaign strategy that was pushed by Breitbart News’ Steve Bannon -- and encouraged by conservative media for years -- but that it could cost Trump and the GOP the election.