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

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

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

    What About California?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Mythical Republican Climate Pivot

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

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

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

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

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

    The Harsh Truth

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

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

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

  • Hate groups from across extremist ideologies are joining forces to discredit their hate group designation

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & DINA RADTKE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Far-right hate groups across extremist ideologies have united to attack and discredit their hate group designation by Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in an attempt to regain legitimacy and rehab their images. Many hate groups have attempted to delegitimize the SPLC’s hate group label over the years, but their efforts have dramatically ramped up in 2017 in reaction to a series of escalating events including SPLC designating anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and anti-immigrant group Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) hate groups and media outlets accurately labeling these organizations as such in their reporting.

    Who’s who, and why are they hate groups?

    Alliance Defending Freedom

    Family Research Council

    Liberty Counsel

    Federation for American Immigration Reform

    Center for Immigration Studies

    Act! for America

    Timeline

    Who’s who, and why are they hate groups?

    Alliance Defending Freedom

    The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is the largest anti-LGBTQ hate group in the nation, and, according to Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), it “specializes in supporting the recriminalization of homosexuality abroad, ending same-sex marriage, and generally making life as difficult as possible for LGBT communities in the U.S. and internationally.” ADF operates on $48 million-plus annual budget and has what it refers to as a “powerful global network” of over 3,100 ADF-trained “allied attorneys.” SPLC designated ADF a hate group because ADF’s leaders and its affiliated lawyers have “regularly demonized LGBT people, falsely linking them to pedophilia, calling them ‘evil’ and a threat to children and society, and blaming them for the ‘persecution of devout Christians.’” ADF’s influence is widespread. It has played a role in dozens of Supreme Court cases, including regarding abortion, religion, tuition tax credits, and LGBTQ issues; it has special advisory status at the United Nations; it has at least 55 affiliated lawyers serving in influential government positions at the state and federal levels; and it has infiltrated local school boards across the country.

    ADF formally supported the criminalization of sodomy in the U.S. in 2003 when it filed an amicus brief in Lawrence v. Texas defending state sodomy laws which called “same-sex sodomy … a distinct public health problem.” ADF has also worked to criminalize gay sex abroad, including in Jamaica, Belize, and India, and is leading the national campaign for “bathroom bills” targeting transgender youth. One ADF attorney peddled the myth that Matthew Shepard’s violent murder in 1998 was not an anti-gay hate crime. SPLC designated ADF a hate group on February 15, but it wasn’t till early June that ADF started challenging the designation, attacking Judy Shepard, Matthew Shepard’s mother, for penning an op-ed about groups like ADF that “bullying LGBTQ children.” Since then, ADF and its allies have successfully pressured the nonprofit database GuideStar to reverse its decision of putting the SPLC hate group label on 46 nonprofit groups on its website. In a series of media appearances, ADF has also relentlessly attacked ABC and NBC for accurately labeling it a hate group in news reports regarding Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ speech at an ADF event.

    Family Research Council

    The Family Research Council (FRC) is another anti-LGBTQ hate group that wields significant influence in the current administration; its senior fellow, Ken Blackwell, was officially appointed to President Donald Trump’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which critics have called a voter suppression effort. FRC President Tony Perkins embraced and endorsed Trump as a candidate during the presidential election cycle (and met with him at the White House earlier this month). And at least four people, including Blackwell, who are affiliated with FRC were a part of Trump’s transition team. FRC has a budget of tens of millions of dollars and promotes the idea “that people can and should try to change their sexual orientation” or “just not act on it.” According to SPLC’s extremist file, FRC “often makes false claims about the LGBT community based on discredited research and junk science” in order to “denigrate LGBT people.” FRC’s official position is that “homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large” and “is by definition unnatural.” Former FRC Vice President Rob Schwarzwalder accused gay youth of joining the Boy Scouts of America “for predatory purposes,” and various FRC representatives and publications have repeatedly compared homosexuality to pedophilia. Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at FRC, asserted that LGBTQ youth suicide rates would drop if the teenagers were “discourage[d] from self-identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual” and urged others “not to create a positive social environment for the affirmation of homosexuality.” In a 2010 appearance on MSNBC, Sprigg also said that the United States should “outlaw gay behavior.” In 2011, the FRC called for its supporters to pray for countries that had laws criminalizing sodomy and were being pressured by the U.S. to remove them, and it suggested that homosexuality “has had a devastating impact upon Africans,” citing the AIDS crisis as an example.

    FRC has fought against its hate group designation since SPLC gave it the label in 2010. In that same year, the group launched a “Start Debating, Stop Hating” campaign in response to the label, which it called “slanderous.” FRC also took out a full-page ad in Politico as part of the campaign. After a gunman shot a security guard at FRC headquarters in 2012, Perkins blamed SPLC’s “reckless rhetoric” for the shooting and asserted that the shooter was “given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations” such as the SPLC. More recently, FRC joined other hate groups in sending a letter to GuideStar’s president demanding that he remove the hate group labels from its database and praised GuideStar when it decided to do so. FRC also led the “#SPLCexposed” hashtag campaign on Twitter, which attempted to delegitimize the hate group label and drew a number of hate groups to the campaign.

    Liberty Counsel

    Liberty Counsel is an anti-LGBTQ hate group founded by Mat Staver, former dean of Liberty University School of Law, that “shares a close affiliation with Liberty University,” according to SPLC. Staver has called LGBTQ History Month a "sexual assault on our children," repeatedly warned that the Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage would trigger a revolution and civil war, and claimed nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people will result in the "death of some individuals."

    Liberty Counsel also famously represented Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis in litigation after she refused to issue marriage licenses to same and opposite-sex couples in 2015; Talking Points Memo reported that Staver “compared Davis’ plight to that of Jews in Nazi Germany” during a radio interview. Staver has also compared LGBTQ people to pedophiles, once saying that allowing gay youth and adults in the Boy Scouts will cause “all kinds of sexual molestation” and create a “playground for pedophiles to go and have all these boys as objects of their lust.” Liberty Counsel has called gay sex “harmful sexual behavior” and pushed the myth that LGBTQ people “can change.” Former Liberty Counsel attorney Matt Barber said that LGBTQ people “know intuitively that what they are doing is immoral, unnatural, and self-destructive,” adding that they have “tied their whole identity up in this sexual perversion.” Barber has also called “disease, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide … consequences” of being gay.

    Staver signed the letter that asked GuideStar to remove hate group designations and accused SPLC of using the label as part of its “aggressive political agenda.” On June 28, Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit against GuideStar, saying it and SPLC “are intent on destroying pro-family organizations,” and accused GuideStar’s CEO of “using GuideStar as a weapon to defame, harm, and promote his liberal agenda.” Liberty Counsel’s blog post on the subject also linked to the personal Twitter account of the CEO and his wife. GuideStar’s decision to remove hate group labels was reportedly in part because of “harassment and threats directed at our staff and leadership.”

    Federation for American Immigration Reform / Immigration Reform Law Institute

    The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is a lobbying hate group founded by white nationalist John Tanton. Tanton is currently editor and publisher of the quarterly journal The Social Contract, which, according to SPLC, has “claimed that multiculturalists are trying to replace ‘successful Euro-American culture’ with ‘dysfunctional Third World cultures.’" During his time at FAIR, Tanton wrote a series of memos that warned of a “Latin onslaught” and “depicted Hispanics as hyperactive breeders,” which caused many high-level conservatives to flee his orbit. FAIR has ties to a number of other extremists, including white supremacists Peter Brimelow and Jared Taylor and Holocaust denier Kevin MacDonald.

    Tanton currently sits on FAIR’s board but has retired from the limelight. He was replaced by current President Dan Stein, who frequently appears in right-wing and mainstream media to promote anti-immigrant policies and smear immigrants. In one such interview, Stein claimed that “many [immigrants] hate America, hate everything that the United States stands for.” Stein has defended Tanton and, according to SPLC, “celebrated a new ‘disdain’ in the media and among intellectuals for ‘the political agenda of those who openly attack the contributions of Western Civilization.’"

    In 2009, FAIR published a report titled “A Guide to Understanding the Tactics of the Southern Poverty Law Center in the Immigration Debate,” which smeared SPLC as a discredited entity and claimed that journalists have an unfavorable view of the organization. Since then, FAIR has attacked SPLC on Twitter. Dale Wilcox, president and general counsel of FAIR’s legal arm, the Immigration Reform Legal Institute (IRLI), signed the letter calling on GuideStar to remove its hate group labels. Wilcox also wrote an op-ed in Breitbart titled “Why the Mainstream Media Must Stop Citing ‘Anti-Hate’-Crusader Southern Poverty Law Center,” and his group has attacked GuideStar on Twitter for including the SPLC’s hate group labels.

    Center for Immigration Studies

    Tanton also founded FAIR’s sister organization, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). SPLC labeled CIS a hate group in 2017 for peddling work by discredited white nationalists and eugenicists. CIS works as the research arm of what SPLC has dubbed “the nativist lobby,” the anti-immigrant lobbying effort spearheaded by groups Tanton founded, including FAIR, CIS, and NumbersUSA. CIS frequently publishes skewed research meant to denigrate immigrants and promote anti-immigration policies, claiming, for example, that immigrants are taking jobs away from native-born Americans and disproportionately using welfare benefits.

    CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian has actively disputed the hate group label by defending white nationalists and eugenicist pseudoscience. In an op-ed in The Washington Post in March, Krikorian complained that the SPLC “made a hate figure of John Tanton” and downplayed a CIS contributor’s assertion that Hispanic immigrants may never “reach IQ parity with whites” as merely “contentious.” He also called the “hate group” label “an attempt to delegitimize and suppress views regarding immigration held by a large share of the American public.” Krikorian and other CIS employees have repeatedly sought to smear SPLC, and Krikorian has used his platform to attack GuideStar for using SPLC’s hate group labels.

    ACT for America

    ACT for America has transformed into “the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America,” according to SPLC, which labels it a hate group. The group’s founder, Brigitte Gabriel, has been fearmongering that Muslim immigrants and refugees from the Middle East have transformed Europe into “Eurabia” and has declared that a practicing Muslim “cannot be a loyal citizen of the United States.” ACT often organizes conferences that convene anti-Muslim leaders and groups, including Frank Gaffney, head of hate group the Center for Security Policy. In 2008, ACT launched a campaign called Stop Shariah Now to fearmonger about Sharia “creeping” into western culture and, according to SPLC, “worked closely” with Gaffney “to push anti-Shariah legislation at the state level.”

    Gabriel has attacked SPLC as biased against conservatives, and she was also one of the hate group leaders who signed the letter blasting GuideStar for using SPLC’s hate group labels. She has also penned her own letter to GuideStar defending her group and other hate groups.

    Timeline:

    February 15: SPLC included ADF and CIS in its list of active hate groups in 2016. ADF did not immediately respond.

    March 17: The Washington Post published an op-ed by CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian, who condemned the SPLC list and wrote that the “blacklist” was “an attempt to delegitimize and suppress views regarding immigration held by a large share of the American public.”

    April 18: After more than two months, ADF issued a statement in which it responded to the SPLC designation by not responding to it: “ADF doesn't have time to respond to organizations who do nothing more than call names, create division and incite violence across the country in order to raise money."

    May 15: Judy Shepard, the mother of 22-year-old Matthew Shepard, who was killed in anti-gay homicide, wrote an op-ed in Time magazine about “multimillion-dollar ‘hate groups’” such as ADF “bullying LGBTQ children” in an attempt to ban transgender people from using the restrooms that align with their gender identity.

    May 17: The Federalist published an attack on SPLC’s hate group designation, comparing it to the “burn book” from the movie Mean Girls. The post accused SPLC of using the hate group label “to manipulate the lives of others, smear reputations, control personal relationships, and reap the spoils,” as well as calling it an attempt to “control all speech.” Numerous hate group representatives, including Krikorian, and accounts tweeted out the story. In fact, retweeting this story became one of ADF’s first official attacks on SPLC’s designation.

    June 7: Time magazine updated Shepard’s op-ed with a response from ADF defending its work and bringing up her son’s death:

    True hate is animosity toward others, and it often takes the form of violence. Sadly, Ms. Shepard knows what that is. She lost her son to senseless violence. We at ADF condemn all such manifestations of true hate. They have no place in our society. We remain steadfast in affirming basic human rights and dignity through debate, dialogue, and principled advocacy.

    June 8: Nonprofit database GuideStar flagged 46 nonprofits designated as hate groups by SPLC as such on its website.

    June 9: ADF published a full response to Shepard’s op-ed on its blog, which more forcibly attacked Shepard and accused her of “name-calling and slander” and spreading a “lie.” The post also spread myths about transgender people and said that allowing them to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity “compromises the privacy and dignity of young students who do not want to share overnight facilities, locker rooms, showers, and restrooms with the opposite sex.”

    June 21: Hate groups united to pen a letter to GuideStar asking the nonprofit to remove the hate group labels, writing that the designation is “a political weapon targeting people it deems to be its political enemies” and calling SPLC’s list of hate groups “ad hoc, partisan, and agenda-driven.” Co-signers of the letter included representatives from IRLI, FRC, Liberty Counsel, ACT for America, ADF, and numerous others.

    June 21: On the day the hate groups sent the letter to GuideStar, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by The Weekly Standard’s Jeryl Bier attacking GuideStar and accusing the SPLC of “besmirching mainstream groups like the FRC.” Bier has appeared on FRC President Tony Perkins’ radio show. In the op-ed, Bier asserted that “SPLC’s work arguably contributes to the climate of hate it abhors” and lamented that journalists are citing SPLC’s designation.

    June 23: GuideStar removed the hate group labels from its website, citing “harassment and threats directed at our staff and leadership.” Hate groups including FAIR and FRC celebrated the decision.

    June 26: A Washington Post report on GuideStar’s reversal quoted a number of hate groups sharing talking points about the designation, including that it was linked to the shooting at FRC and “the recent shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.” The report highlighted the hate groups’ letter accusing the designation of being “partisan” and wrote that Christians “said they’d been targeted as hateful for opposing same-sex marriage.”

    June 27: Vice published a profile about ADF “stealthily seizing power in the nation's public school systems,” its “unmistakable effort to make schools hostile to queer students,” and its hate group designation. ADF refused to speak to Vice for the article.

    June 28: Politico magazine published a lengthy article questioning whether SPLC’s hate group designation is “overstepping its bounds.” The article specifically lent credibility to hate groups CIS, which the report noted has “been invited to testify before Congress more than 100 times,” and FRC, which it called “one of the country’s largest and most established Christian conservative advocacy groups.” The right-wing Media Research Center highlighted the piece on its website the same day it was published.

    June 28: Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit against GuideStar, saying it and SPLC “are intent on destroying pro-family organizations” and accused GuideStar’s CEO of “using GuideStar as a weapon to defame, harm, and promote his liberal agenda.” Liberty Counsel’s blog post on the subject also linked to the personal Twitter account of the CEO and his wife.

    July 11: Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave a closed-door speech to ADF at its “Summit on Religious Liberty” in California.

    July 12: ABC and NBC reported on the fallout from Sessions’ speech to ADF and noted SPLC’s “hate group” designation for the group.

    July 13: ADF demanded a retraction and apology from ABC for its report, calling it “defamatory” and “journalistic malpractice.”

    July 13: Sessions’ speech, which the Department of Justice refused to release, was leaked to anti-LGBTQ website The Federalist. In the speech, Sessions compared the so-called battle for “religious freedom” to Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington.

    July 14: ADF began an aggressive media strategy, with its representatives appearing on Fox News’ Fox & Friends, The Story with Martha MacCallum, and Tucker Carlson Tonight to attack the SPLC and attempt to discredit ABC and NBC. ADF’s representatives either repeated the “journalistic malpractice” line during the interview or called the outlets’ reporting “unethical” or “fake news.” Meanwhile, right-wing media also rushed to ADF’s defense.

    July 16: FRC also launched a counteroffensive against the hate group designation aiming to “expose” the SPLC as “a left wing smear group who has become exactly what they set out to fight, spreading hate and putting targets on people's backs.” FRC urged supporters to use the hashtag #SPLCexposed. Hate groups such as white nationalist website VDARE, ACT for America, CIS, and FAIR, or their representatives, all joined FRC on Twitter using the hashtag.

    July 19: The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Edwin Meese, who has worked with FRC and other groups, calling ADF “a respected civil-rights law firm.” In the op-ed, Meese also repeated ADF’s “journalistic malpractice” charge against ABC and NBC for giving “credence to the SPLC’s recklessly defamatory hate list” in their reporting. Meese wrote that their reporting “is a prime reason” for Americans’ distrust of the media and called on reporters to “stop spreading malignant propaganda.”

    July 19: Forbes published an op-ed by Brian Miller of the Center for Individual Rights attacking ABC and NBC’s use of the “hate group” label and arguing that the use of the label was an attempt to “shut down conversation.” Miller concluded that “the very security that is necessary for diverse people to contribute to our social fabric” is at stake “in our climate of heated rhetoric.”

  • Statement By Media Matters President Angelo Carusone On Trump Blacklisting Media Outlets

    Carusone: Outlets That Participate In Briefings While Outlets Are Banned "Lend Legitimacy To A Process That Is Fundamentally Inconsistent With A Free Press"

    Blog ››› ››› ANGELO CARUSONE

    Media Matters President Angelo Carusone issued the following statement after the Trump White House banned members of the media from attending a briefing:

    Media Matters sounded the alarm about the clear and present danger Donald Trump presented to a free press. We told White House correspondents that Trump’s blacklist was only going to get worse over time if they didn’t act. And it wasn’t just us. More than 300,000 people signed a petition urging White House correspondents to stand up to Trump’s blacklist by refusing to participate if Trump banned one -- or more -- of their colleagues.

    Today’s actions underscore the importance of White House correspondents standing up to Trump’s blacklist. It's no coincidence that the outlets that have been at the forefront in breaking stories about Trump’s conflicts of interest and his associates’ ties to Russia were banned from today’s gaggle. Trump is trying to delegitimize and punish news outlets for practicing rigorous journalism while simultaneously giving their spots to pro-Trump propagandists.

    Outlets like Time and The Associated Press did the right thing in standing up to Trump’s blacklist by refusing to participate in the gaggle in solidarity with their banned colleagues.

    It’s unfortunate and damaging for the profession of journalism that ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News, and Bloomberg chose to support Trump’s blacklist by attending the briefing. It may sound harsh to characterize their participation in the event as support, but that’s what it is. By participating, these outlets not only make it easier for Trump to continue blacklisting journalists, but they also lend legitimacy to a process that is fundamentally inconsistent with a free press.

    Over 320,000 individuals have signed Media Matters' petition calling for the White House press corps to stand up to Trump's blacklist.

  • How The Media's Obsession With “Optics” Is Ruining Campaign Journalism

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Joining a long list of concerned media voices, The New York Times' editorial page this week linked up with the Beltway chorus to express alarm over the Clinton Foundation and the “question” it presents for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

    Surveying the well-trampled ground of supposed conflicts of interest and insinuations that Clinton sold State Department access to donors, the Times announced a pressing “need for major changes at the foundation now, before the November election.”

    As part of its declaration, the newspaper dutifully noted, “‘Pay-to-play’ charges by Donald Trump have not been proved.” But the Times, like so many other lecturing voices, was quite clear in claiming that the Clintons have to address concerns about optics even if that means shutting down their landmark global charity. That’s how important it now is for the do-good foundation to be spotless and pure: Optics trump humanitarianism.

    Or, there’s no proof anybody did anything wrong, therefore drastic actions must be taken to fix the problem.

    The meandering foundation story has become a case study for the Beltway media’s double standard: holding Clinton to a higher mark that’s based on optics, not on facts. Unable to prove misconduct or anything close to it (just ask the AP), the press relies on the comfy confines of “optics” and the “appearance” of conflict to allow them to attack Clinton and the foundation. 

    For Clinton, it’s a can’t-win proposition. If the press says the story looks bad, even if there’s nothing to suggest it actually is bad, she gets tagged with an optics problem. And because journalists are the only ones handing out the grades, they get to decide how bad it looks.

    But the journalism malpractice doesn’t end there. It extends to the fact that the press doesn’t apply the same visual test to Republican nominee Donald Trump, whose far-flung business dealings would represent an actual, even historic, conflict of interest were he to be elected president.

    Also, note that high-profile Republicans have run foundations in the past, accepted big donations, and never been hounded by the press regarding supposed optics violations.

    What’s so strange about the current “appearance” phenomenon is that the narrative often runs right alongside media concessions about the lack of evidence proving Clinton wrongdoing.

    “Let’s be clear, this is all innuendo at this point. No pay for play has been proven. No smoking gun has been found,” announced NBC’s Chuck Todd. “But like many of these Clinton scandals, it looks bad.”

    A recent NPR report also perfectly summed up the media’s working equation:

    There's no question the optics are bad for Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. But no proof has emerged that any official favors -- regulations, government contracts, international deals -- were curried in exchange for donations or pledges.

    On and on the parade marches: “Even if they’ve done nothing illegal, the foundation will always look too much like a conflict of interest for comfort” (Boston Globe). “At the very least, there is an appearance of a conflict of interest for the foundation” (CNN’s Anderson Cooper).

    Perhaps the strangest presentation came from a Times news report that claimed “the potential for real or perceived conflicts of interest” was causing problems for Clinton. Think about that for a minute. Not only is Clinton being graded on perceived conflicts of interest, but also on potential perceived ones.

    The media’s emphasis on optics when relating the foundation story represents a giant tell in terms of how soggy the supposed scandal really is. As Matthew Yglesias noted at Vox:

    It’s natural to assume that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. But the smoke emanating from the Clinton Foundation is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. It is the result of a reasonably well-funded dedicated partisan opposition research campaign, and of editorial decisions by the managers of major news organizations to dedicate resources to running down every possible Clinton email lead in the universe.

    It also seems like journalists aren’t even sure what they’re trying to accuse the Clintons of doing. Optics violations can be confusing like that.

    From Slate: [emphasis added]

    But you don’t need to believe the Clintons are guilty of intentionally engaging in quid pro quo (though it’s not crazy to think they may have) to know that there is something wrong with a dynamic where it is nearly impossible to prove that they did, or even that they didn’t.

    It’s not possible to prove any Clinton Foundation wrongdoing, therefore the Clinton Foundation must be “shut down.” In fact, the charitable outpost should’ve been closed “yesterday.”

    Slate continued:

    Even if Hillary were somehow able to completely separate the donations -- to say nothing of her and her husband’s speaking fees, which have often come from many of the same corporations who fund their family foundation -- from her official decision-making, she simply has no way of preventing the appearance of pay for play. And the mere perception of access matters, both in the financial marketplace and the political one.

    That is, frankly, a bizarre and impossible standard: Clinton must eliminate even the “perception” of special access. I mean, people realize every member of Congress accepts money from donors, right? Therefore, every donor who gives money instantly creates the possibility of purchased access. When is Slate going to cross-check schedules for every member of Congress to see how many donors they meet with and then demand each member eliminate even the “perception” of access?

    Meanwhile, all of this optics policing unfolds while Clinton’s Republican opponent serves as an executive on more than 500 companies. So why the relative media silence about Trump’s boulder-sized conflicts of interest? Where are the litany of editorials demanding he take preventive action to fix the optics?

    I’ve seen some good coverage in the business press about Trump’s massive conflicts (“Donald Trump's 500 Businesses Would Pose 'Unprecedented Ethical Dilemma'”), but little attention from the Beltway media, especially as compared to their relentless obsession with alleged Clinton conflicts.

    Lastly, the media’s ceaseless hand-wringing over the Clinton Foundation represents a brand new way of covering charities run by famous political figures. The media allegation that wealthy donors give to the Clintons simply to cash in favors at a later date represents a cynical narrative that simply did not exist in previous Beltway foundation coverage.

    Note that Colin Powell founded a charity, America’s Promise. Then he became secretary of state under President George W. Bush.

    What happened to the charity? From Yglesias at Vox:  

    Well, Powell’s wife, Alma Powell, took it over. And it kept raking in donations from corporate America. Ken Lay, the chair of Enron, was a big donor. He also backed a literacy-related charity that was founded by the then-president’s mother. The US Department of State, at the time Powell was secretary, went to bat for Enron in a dispute the company was having with the Indian government.

    Did donors send big checks to Powell’s family foundation in order to gain access to him, to his son Michael, who was then commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, or to other Bush administration officials? We don’t know, in part because the press never turned the issue into an “optics” obsession.

    The press also didn’t seem relentlessly interested in finding out whether big donors were sending checks to the American Red Cross in 1996 while Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS) ran for president. At the time, Dole’s wife, Elizabeth, ran the charity.

    Today, “optics” has become the go-to campaign theme for journalists who can’t find evidence of Clinton malfeasance. That’s not what campaign reporting is supposed to be, but the misleading craft is thriving. And in this election cycle, the flimsy, malleable standard only seems to apply to her.

    And the examples listed above are just a small sample of media figures obsessing about optics recently. Some others:

    AP:

    The meetings between the Democratic presidential nominee and foundation donors do not appear to violate legal agreements Clinton and former president Bill Clinton signed before she joined the State Department in 2009. But the frequency of the overlaps shows the intermingling of access and donations, and fuels perceptions that giving the foundation money was a price of admission for face time with Clinton.

    Washington Post's Chris Cillizza:

    It just plain looks bad. Really bad.

    [...]

    To be clear: I have no evidence -- none -- that Clinton broke any law or did anything intentionally shady. But, man oh man, does this latest news about the Clinton Foundation cloud her campaign's attempts to paint the charity group and her State Department as totally separate and unconnected entities.

    LA Times:

    There is not an ounce of proof suggesting criminality or racketeering, no indication that Secretary Clinton performed special favors for foundation donors.

    [...]

    Nevertheless, there are plenty of Clinton allies who are troubled by her ties to the foundation because it simply looks bad.

    [...]

    Appearances are important, even if intentions are pure.

    USA Today:

    No, it is not “the most corrupt enterprise in political history,” as Donald Trump is calling it, nor is there enough evidence of potential criminality to warrant appointment of the special prosecutor Trump is seeking. But the only way to eliminate the odor surrounding the foundation is to wind it down and put it in mothballs, starting today, and transfer its important charitable work to another large American charity.

    The Atlantic:

    Even if every one of the meetings that Secretary Clinton had with foundation donors was a meeting she would have had anyway, the impression that one can pay to play means that there’s no tidy way to wall the two off.

    Time:

    If she didn’t do anything wrong, why won’t she defend herself? By avoiding taking responsibility, Clinton only exacerbates the perception she is dishonest and untrustworthy, the primary hurdle on her path to the White House. Optics matter when the issue is transparency.

    Tampa Bay Times:

    We can all readily agree that the optics of Clinton granting audiences to deep-pocketed swells who had sent tens of millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation are not good.

    WSJ's James Taranto:

    The Clinton Foundation and the appearance of corruption.

    [...]

    And the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized a “compelling government interest”—which can justify restrictions of the fundamental right to free speech—in avoiding even the appearance of corruption. The “quid” and the “quo” are enough, even if the “pro” can’t be proved.

    Media Matters researcher Tyler Cherry contributed research to this post. 
  • Time Magazine Cover Story Fact Checks Right-Wing Anti-LGBT “Bathroom Predator” Myth

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    Time magazine’s cover story profiling the fight for transgender equality debunked the anti-LGBT “bathroom predator” myth that nondiscrimination protections for transgender people endanger women’s safety.

    Time magazine's May 30 cover story, “Battle of the Bathroom,” dissected the high-profile battle for transgender equality centered largely around access to bathrooms. In reporting on transgender equality, many media outlets have uncritically parroted the widely debunked myth that nondiscrimination protections for transgender people will allow male sexual predators to sneak into women’s bathrooms by pretending to be transgender.

    To debunk the “bathroom predator” myth, Time cited Los Angeles Unified School District’s decade of experience protecting transgender students from discrimination with zero safety issues. Pointing out that “there is not yet any anecdotal evidence that trans-friendly rules have been abused by predators” the article also noted that cisgender men have assaulted women in bathrooms for decades undeterred by “laws and rules requiring sex separation.” Time also addressed the right-wing myth that transgender people are “confused” by citing settled medical evidence that being transgender is not a matter of “choice,” and that there is no medical treatment to “reverse” being transgender.

    From the May 30 edition of Time:

    Yet the specter of a sexual predator abusing transgender-friendly laws continues to frame the debate. Conservatives in Houston successfully overturned a city equal-rights ordinance in 2015 with a ballot measure passed after television ads re-enacted a hypothetical scene in which a faceless man barges in on a schoolgirl in a bathroom stall. “No men in women’s bathrooms” was the simple and effective campaign slogan.

    [...]

    The FBI and local law enforcement do not keep consistent stats on the number of crimes committed in public restrooms, so there is no way to track every claim. “What we’re talking about is probably some sort of assault, maybe some sort of low-level kind of voyeurism,” says Jeffrey Ian Ross, a criminologist at the University of Baltimore. “That stuff goes underreported all the time.” But there is not yet any anecdotal evidence that trans-friendly rules have been abused by predators, or that incidents of violence or sexual assault have increased. For decades, men have sometimes been caught and prosecuted for entering women’s restrooms or dressing rooms, either in drag or dressed as men, to watch or film women. The laws and rules requiring sex separation did not prove a deterrent in those cases.

    The Los Angeles Unified School District, a community of 550,000 students, has allowed transgender students to use the bathrooms they identify with since 2005. “I have never had misconduct by a transgender student. A lot of fears people expressed, we have never realized those, we have never seen them,” says Judy Chiasson, who runs the district’s office of human relations, diversity and equity. “We’ve been doing this for 11 years. It works.”

    The burden for transgender people when it comes to bathrooms is less disputed. A 2016 analysis of a survey of more than 2,000 transgender college students found the rate of suicide attempts increased 40% among those who said they had been denied access to a bathroom. In a separate survey of 100 transgender people in Washington, D.C., 70% said they had been denied restroom access or harassed, and 58% said they had avoided going out in public because they feared being able to find a bathroom. “At some point they had just decided it wasn’t worth it to go out in public and have to deal with the bathroom situation,” says Jody Herman, a scholar at UCLA’s Williams Institute, who authored the study.

    [...]

    Underlying the battle over toilets is a complicated discussion about what it means to be transgender and why it happens. As a matter of science, the issue is largely settled. The transgender experience is not—-as Texas’ Patrick joked–a matter of choice. No transgender American stands before the W on the restroom door and thinks, Whatever.

    “What we have to accept is that the duality–male or female, which we see as a very clear dichotomy–it’s a little bit more complicated,” explains Catherine Dulac, a Harvard professor of biology. The official diagnosis is gender dysphoria, and it is recognized by the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and major medical institutions. As with same-sex attraction, there is no treatment to reverse it, and many of the negative effects arrive not from the personal experience but from the social reactions to it.

    For many in this debate, however, these facts are hogwash, peddled by liberal academics with different value systems. “Children have vivid imaginations. This is nothing but an adult agenda being pushed on the backs of innocent children,” says Nancy Stacy, a school-board member in Marion County, Fla., of the transgender experience in school. She recently voted to deny access to a transgender student who wanted to use the boys’ bathroom. For her, the act of changing bathroom rules to match the preference of a student is just the start of a slippery slope. “That would be like me saying, ‘Oh, a child believes she’s Cinderella today, so we’re going to have a horse and carriage on the playground.'”