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The Story with Martha MacCallum

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  • Conservatives invoke murderous dictators to attack Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Green New Deal

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Just weeks after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) was sworn into office, some in the conservative media world are already likening her to some of history’s worst mass-murdering dictators to criticize her signature policy proposal, the Green New Deal.

    Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) unveiled a Green New Deal resolution on February 7 that lays out an ambitious goal of addressing the climate crisis and economic inequality. Right-wing media figures immediately misled their audiences on the aims of the resolution and began to issue ominous warnings about the effort. But some took their warnings to a greater extreme by likening Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats who back the Green New Deal to murderous tyrants such as Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Mao Zedong.

    Economist Ben Stein and Turning Point USA’s Candace Owens were among the first prominent conservatives to compare Ocasio-Cortez to dictators. Before the Green New Deal resolution was even released, Stein said in January: “We have a society in which there are an awful lot of people who have no idea that Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong all came to power promising the same kinds of things that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is promising. And it led to mass murder; it led to dictatorship; it led to genocide. These promises are old promises and they invariably lead to bad things.”

    Owens compared Ocasio-Cortez to Hitler in a February 4 tweet. (Owens has been widely criticized for recently saying, “If Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, OK, fine. The problem is that … he had dreams outside of Germany.”)

    Bill Bennett, a Fox News contributor and former Reagan administration secretary of education, criticized Ocasio-Cortez’s policy resolution on February 6, saying, “Look at the fine print. Look at what socialism has done. Socialism is as socialism has done. … Look at the real masters of socialism: Mao, Stalin -- 30, 40 million dead.” He further warned that “there should be no truck at all with this idea of socialism” and declared that young Americans who are sympathetic to socialism are ignorant.

    Two prominent conservative talk radio hosts piled on two days later. Hugh Hewitt, who is also an MSNBC contributor, likened Ocasio-Cortez to dictators who “end up murdering millions” of people to get their way. He also said of the Green New Deal: “It is not socialism; it is communism, it is fascism, it is despotism. It drains all freedom out of America.”

    While PragerU founder Dennis Prager didn’t name Ocasio-Cortez in his own dire warning about her Green New Deal, he did say that the resolution and other policies to address economic inequality “will lead to bloodshed, loss of liberty, loss of human rights”:

    DENNIS PRAGER (HOST): The vast majority of torture and mayhem of the 20th century was done in the name of equality. It started in the French Revolution, which immediately descended into slaughtering human beings. It is a very, very scary vision. OK, just know that.

    It sounds great. That's why it's so dangerous. Racism doesn't sound great, for good reason. It's disgusting.

    The pursuit of equality will lead to bloodshed, loss of liberty, loss of human rights, and the Green New Deal is an example. The death that will ensue in the United States of America, the mayhem, the suffering, if the government takes over all health -- the problem is these people need a cause. That's what it is. There is a soullessness to the Elizabeth Warrens of the world. They need meaning. They need a crusade. They can't leave well enough alone. That's a big part of leftism. This country is too free, too kind, too affluent. They need to screw it up. If they screw it up, they have purpose.

    Liberals are not leftists, but liberals are naive and weak, because they don't confront the evil that leftism will bring about. That they mean well is of such little consequence -- do you know how much evil has been done by people who think they're good? Nearly all of it. OK? Just want you to know.

    Later that afternoon on Fox Business’ The Evening Edit, former Republican gubernatorial candidate for California John Cox warned about Ocasio-Cortez’s comments on the Green New Deal: “You got to worry about it. You know, if we don't study history, Liz, we're doomed to repeat it. And if you look at what has gone on in -- you report very well what's going on in Venezuela. Chavez and Maduro promised the socialist paradise, and you go back to the Soviet Union and Stalin and Lenin; it was always promised that government would be able to provide these things, and it's never been able to be successful.”

    On Monday, radio host Michael Savage discussed the Green New Deal and labelled Ocasio-Cortez a “psycho,” saying, “This is a Stalinist in a skirt; this is a Hitler in high heels.”

    San Diego radio host Carl DeMaio said, “The Democrat Party is more and more like the Nazi Party of Germany every single day,” citing in part Ocasio-Cortez’s alleged plan for the “takeover of private sector industries by the government” -- an apparent right-wing description of the Green New Deal.

    On February 12, Hewitt again referred to totalitarianism while discussing the Green New Deal and declared that Ocasio-Cortez is going “full 1984” and rewriting history by removing an inaccurate FAQ document from her website, saying: “That’s what happens in totalitarian states.”

    The absurd comparisons of Ocasio-Cortez to dictators are nothing new for the right; for example, conservatives also compared former President Barack Obama to Hitler and his policies to those of Nazi Germany countless times. And given the conservative media obsession with Ocasio-Cortez, the attacks are likely to continue throughout her career in elected office -- which has barely begun.

  • Right-wing media used state abortion measures to villainize people who have abortions

    Blog ››› ››› MADELYN WEBB


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After several states promoted measures protecting abortion access, right-wing media not only spread an immense amount of misinformation about the efforts, but also lashed out at people who have had abortions, stigmatizing and denigrating them for making a personal health care decision. In particular, these outlets and media figures targeted people who have had abortions later in pregnancy -- by suggesting that they are heartless murderers, misrepresenting them as callous and irresponsible, and even calling them “satanic.”

    The bills that instigated this outrage are far from radical: Democratic lawmakers in New York and Virginia were attempting to protect abortion access at the state level, not to legalize “infanticide” -- as some right-wing media alleged. Right-wing media seized on clips of Democratic Virginia lawmakers Rep. Kathy Tran and Gov. Ralph Northan alledgedly describing later abortion procedures, spurring the spread of further hyperbole and misinformation about proactive state abortion protection bills. In reality, these measures would legalize abortions later in pregnancy “when the fetus is not viable or a woman’s health is at risk,” a far cry from right-wing media’s allegations that such procedures (and the people who have or provide them) are “demonic.”

    Here are just some of the examples of right-wing media misrepresenting people who have received abortions, a legal and sometimes necessary medical procedure:

    • Fox News contributors and right-wing internet personalities Diamond and Silk (Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson) tweeted that Democrats were trying to allow “abortions up to the birth” of a baby (they aren’t) and that this was “murder”: 

    • During the January 31 edition of his radio program, Fox News’ Sean Hannity claimed that people should take advantage of “birth control options” to avoid getting pregnant. He concluded that because of these options, someone who needs an abortion later in pregnancy is irresponsible because they either should have prevented the pregnancy or gotten an abortion “in the first three months.”
    • On Jeanine Pirro’s Fox News program, Justice with Judge Jeanine, political columnist Amy Holmes said, “There are women who kill their kids for selfish reasons."
    • In a series of tweets, Washington Examiner contributor Kimberly Ross attacked people who support access to abortions as "morally weak,” and accused patients who have received them of being “predatory” and of “stand[ing] on the backs of the unborn dead”:

    • During the January 31 edition of Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee alleged that people who have abortions later in pregnancy are doing so because they think having a child is “going to be an inconvenience.”
    • The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro also pushed the narrative that people who have abortions later in pregnancy are doing so callously, saying that people might argue “I’d be healthier if I didn’t have this 9-month-old baby right here that’s about to enter my vaginal canal. Cut its brains out,” and claiming, “That’s what this law now allows.”
    • During President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, Charlie Kirk, founder of the conservative group Turning Point USA, tweeted that later abortions are “despicable” and that anyone who supports efforts to protect or expand abortion access was endorsing “this savagery”:

    • After New York illuminated One World Trade Center with pink lights to honor the passage of abortion protections, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that New York was celebrating “legalized murder, calling it abortion."
    • During his Fox News program, Hannity, host Sean Hannity stated that because several laws that allow later abortion in order to protect the pregnant person’s health don’t further define what’s entailed in protecting health, “If someone says hours before [giving birth], ‘Oh, I'm having emotional second thoughts,’ and a doctor says, ’OK,’ then they're allowed to commit infanticide."
    • On Twitter, Turning Point USA’s Candace Owens said people celebrating state abortion protection measures -- which she said allow “slaughtering babies” -- were “satanic”:

    • During the January 31 edition of Fox News’ Fox News @ Night, actor Kevin Sorbo compared people who have abortions later in pregnancy to Nazis, saying: “You know, there's a group of people about 70 years ago that decided what lives were worth living, what lives were not, and they were called the Nazis.”
  • Only MSNBC hosted LGBTQ opponents of the Trump-Pence administration's plan to define away trans identities

    While MSNBC aired segments featuring six LGBTQ people, Fox News hosted anti-LGBTQ group leader Tony Perkins and two anti-trans gay women

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melisa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Trump-Pence administration is “considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth,” which would be “the most drastic move yet in a governmentwide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people,” according to an October 21 New York Times report. When TV news reported on the proposal, only MSNBC hosted LGBTQ guests to condemn it, while Fox hosted primarily anti-trans voices, including two gay women and major anti-LGBTQ group leader Tony Perkins.

    The Times reported that the definition would be established under Title IX, which bars “gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance.” Title IX is enforced in part by the “Big Four” federal agencies -- the departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Labor -- most of which currently employ anti-LGBTQ group alumni who would potentially implement the policy. According to the Williams Institute, there are roughly 1.4 million American adults who identify as transgender, all of whom would be impacted by the proposed change. CNN reported that “if adopted, such a definition could exclude transgender people from existing federal civil rights protections in education, employment and access to health care.” The move is part of a greater trend of the Trump-Pence administration going after transgender people, and transgender advocates and their allies have sounded the alarm about the proposal and are fighting back.

    How TV news covered the proposal

    Following the Times’ reporting on the Trump-Pence administration’s proposal, broadcast and cable TV news spent a moderate amount of time covering the issue. MSNBC turned to transgender and queer guests to discuss the impacts of the proposal, while Fox News hosted primarily anti-transgender guests, including Perkins. Though generally critical of the proposal, CNN’s segments relied entirely on CNN hosts, commentators, and reporters, none of whom openly identify as LGBTQ.

    In discussing the proposal, MSNBC hosted six LGBTQ people, four of whom identify as trans, who were able to explain the personal impact the Trump administration’s proposal would have on the trans community.

    On October 23, MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson hosted Laverne Cox, a transgender actress and activist, who outlined the Trump-Pence administration’s history of anti-trans policies, as well as those proposed around the country in state legislatures. Cox said that state legislatures “are continually trying to introduce legislation banning transgender people from public life” but noted that “we have fought those battles, and we have won.” She explained that “over and over again the courts have held that transgender people are covered by Title IX and Title VII.” Cox said, “They want to make us afraid, but we need not be afraid.”

    MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson aired an October 22 segment featuring National Center for Transgender Equality's (NCTE) Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, who was the first out transgender person to be appointed to a White House job. Freedman-Gurspan called the proposal “an abomination” and highlighted that the new definition does not align with medical consensus or the lived experiences of trans people. She also noted the many anti-trans actions and rhetoric of the Trump-Pence administration and highlighted activism by the trans community and their allies who are ready to fight the proposal. Freedman-Gurspan ended the segment by saying, “We won’t be erased. We are standing up. … We are going to get through this.”

    During other segments, MSNBC also hosted Mara Keisling, a trans woman and president of NCTE; Hannah Simpson, a trans woman and activist; Masha Gessen, an LGBTQ journalist; and Sarah Kate Ellis, a lesbian and president of GLAAD. Additionally, Rachel Maddow, an out lesbian, did a monologue on her October 22 show about the proposal in which she contextualized the history of Republican administrations rolling back LGBTQ rights.

    While MSNBC turned to LGBTQ people who were either transgender or trans allies for their insights on the potential impact of the Trump-Pence administration’s proposal, Fox News hosted primarily anti-transgender guests, including two gay women and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council’s (FRC) President Tony Perkins.

    In Fox News’ first substantial segment about the proposal, Fox News at Night with Shannon Bream aired a debate between liberal radio host Ethan Bearman and FRC’s Perkins, who was also appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in May. During the segment, Perkins praised the proposal and resorted to fearmongering when presented with historical facts about gender identity. Perkins also pushed the the thoroughly debunked myth that trans-inclusive policies pose a threat to the safety of women and girls. From the segment:

    What we’re doing by this policy that was put in place without an act of Congress -- this was the Obama administration -- we’re putting people at risk. We're actually denying people equal protection under the law, because under this, we would force women that are going to battered shelters for abused women, we would force them under government policy to be housed with men, biological men. This makes no sense.

    On October 23, Tucker Carlson, who has an anti-transgender track record himself, hosted Tammy Bruce, an anti-trans lesbian and president of the conservative group Independent Women’s Voice. In the past, Bruce has criticized trans-inclusive restrooms and compared being transgender to “a child” thinking they are “a cocker spaniel. She has also defended Jack Phillips, the Christian baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple and who was represented by extreme anti-LGBTQ powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom at the Supreme Court. During the segment, Carlson claimed that the government recognizing the trans community would hurt women, and Bruce leveraged her identity as a lesbian to dismiss the impact of the proposal on trans people.

    Additionally, Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum hosted Camille Paglia, also an LGBTQ-identified person who is critical of trans identities. During the segment, Paglia pushed anti-trans narratives about biology and said that trans-inclusive policies are “unfair” in areas like athletics. She also described herself as transgender while criticizing the trans community. Paglia has made similar comments in the past, saying, "Although I describe myself as transgender (I was donning flamboyant male costumes from early childhood on), I am highly skeptical about the current transgender wave." In other reporting, it appears that she identifies as gay and uses female pronouns.

    CNN had at least eight separate significant discussions, news reads, or reports covering the proposal but failed to host a single LGBTQ person in its reporting. Though the network’s coverage was generally critical of the proposal, CNN’s shows only used staff commentators and reporters to discuss it.

    Broadcast TV news outlets ABC and CBS barely covered the story at all, only airing news reads with no comprehensive segments or reporting, and both networks failed to feature any LGBTQ voices. NBC, however, aired a package on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt that included a clip from NCTE’s Freedman-Gurspan’s appearance on MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson. It also aired a report on Today.

    Additionally, PBS aired a segment featuring LGBTQ legal group Lambda Legal’s Sharon McGowan and was the only TV outlet so far to contextualize the anti-LGBTQ track record of Roger Severino, head of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, the department spearheading the proposal.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts for cable TV coverage appearing between October 21 and 23 on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- as well as transcripts of broadcast TV coverage on ABC, NBC, and CBS -- for mentions of the words “transgender” or “health and human services” as well as mentions of the words or variations of the words “trans,” “sex,” or “gender” occurring within 10 words of the words or variations of the words “memo,” “policy,” “definition” or “Trump.” Additionally, Media Matters conducted searches on Snapstream for the same time frame for the same terms. “Significant discussion” is defined as two or more speakers in the same segment discussing the proposal with one another.