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  • There’s no difference between Fox’s so-called “news” and “opinion” sides on anti-abortion misinformation

    Fox’s “straight news” anchors repeat the same anti-choice talking points as the network's opinion hosts

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    There are many reasons that Fox News’ false dichotomy between the network’s so-called “news” and “opinion” divisions is laughable, but there is perhaps no clearer indication than the sheer amount of anti-abortion misinformation spread by both "opinion" and “straight news” personalities alike.

    After the Democratic National Committee announced that Fox News would not be hosting any of this year’s Democratic presidential primary debates, backlash from Fox’s senior leadership was swift, with officials imploring the DNC to “reconsider its decision” on account of the “ultimate journalistic integrity and professionalism” reportedly shown by some of the network’s hosts. As Variety previously reported, the network had already rolled out a messaging campaign to reassure wary advertisers about the outlet’s legitimacy, extolling the virtues of the network’s news hosts. This messaging campaign is merely a repackaging of the same inaccurate story Fox has been telling for years: Viewers and critics shouldn’t hold the blatant xenophobia, sexism, racism, and lies of the opinion side against the allegedly objective news team. But this recycled talking point further falls apart when it comes to anti-abortion misinformation spread by the network’s hosts.

    In January, abortion rights measures in New York and Virginia sent Fox News and broader conservative media into a frenzy. Although both measures were attempts to protect abortion access should the Supreme Court overturn or weaken Roe v. Wade, Fox News hosts across the network’s news and opinion programs seized on the opportunity to spread sensationalized misinformation and attack Democrats for allegedly supporting “infanticide” or so-called abortions “up until birth.” Despite these inaccurate characterizations, Fox News devoted over six and half hours of coverage before the 2019 State of the Union address to falsely claiming that these state measures allowed “infanticide” -- a talking point that ultimately appeared in President Donald Trump’s remarks. In fact, Trump and Republican lawmakers are reportedly banking on using anti-abortion extremism to rally voters for the 2020 elections -- a strategy that was on full display during the most recent Conservative Political Action Conference.

    It’s no secret that Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity -- each a part of Fox’s volatile and increasingly bad-for-business prime-time lineup -- are all frequent anti-abortion misinformers. Although Fox has attempted to distinguish the work of Bret Baier, Martha MacCallum, Shannon Bream, and Chris Wallace from their colleagues, these "news"-side hosts have all pushed their share of lies, distortions, and misinformation about abortion and reproductive rights.

    Bret Baier

    Although Fox clearly has a profit motive in portraying Baier as a straight news host, there is little to distinguish him from his colleagues on the opinion side when it comes to his abortion-related reporting. In Media Matters’ annual study of abortion-related coverage on evening prime-time cable news programs, Baier and his program Special Report have consistently been dominated by anti-choice talking points and inaccurate statements about abortion and reproductive rights.

    Notably, Baier hosted a 2016 town hall with Democratic presidential candidates and used the platform to recycle misleading right-wing anti-abortion talking points. On his program, in the same year, Baier inaccurately described a common abortion procedure as “dismemberment abortion” and misled viewers that a Supreme Court case involving access to contraceptives was actually about abortion rights. Baier previously invoked a longstanding right-wing media talking point comparing legally operating abortion providers to convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell. In 2009, Baier even went so far as to falsely assert that the Obama administration would allow doctors to be jailed for refusing to perform abortions. 

    Martha MacCallum

    Beyond frequently hosting anti-choice guests such as Live Action founder Lila Rose and Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins, MacCallum seemingly makes little secret of her personal views on abortion and will often use sensationalized rhetoric when discussing the topic.

    Even before MacCallum became a staple of Fox’s evening lineup, she was already a serial anti-abortion misinformer. In 2015, MacCallum attacked Planned Parenthood for allegedly using taxpayer money to support abortion care (the organization does not, as the Hyde Amendment bars the use of federal funds for abortion services). Like Baier, MacCallum also used a 2016 presidential primary forum as an opportunity to spread anti-abortion misinformation sourced from the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress’ (CMP) deceptive videos attacking Planned Parenthood. Since MacCallum began hosting her own program, she has consistently promoted anti-abortion talking points about later abortion and Planned Parenthood. In 2017, MacCallum pushed several myths about the existence of so-called “sex-selective” abortion practices, even demanding a guest on her program explain whether it was acceptable “for someone to decide because they don’t like the sex of their baby to abort it at eight months.”

    Shannon Bream

    Whether appearing as a correspondent on Special Report or hosting her own program, Fox News @ Night, Bream has been a frequent source of anti-abortion misinformation on Fox. Despite representing the network’s so-called “straight news” contingent, Bream’s promotion to host her own program was celebrated by anti-abortion leaders.

    Bream was a frequent promoter of CMP’s deceptive videos, even hosting the Fox News “special” promoting the group’s claims in 2015. In 2016, Bream touted “exclusively obtained” copies of letters from a House investigation based on CMP’s allegations -- letters received a full day before they were publicly released or shared with Democratic members of the investigative panel, in direct violation of congressional rules. Since then, Bream has repeatedly signal-boosted anti-abortion talking points and myths by spreading misinformation about abortion safety, letting guests make inaccurate allegations about Planned Parenthood without pushback, and citing polls commissioned by anti-abortion groups without necessary context to suggest a lack of public support for abortion. If there’s a talking point circulating around anti-abortion media and personalities online, it’s more likely than not that it will eventually surface on Bream’s program.

    Chris Wallace

    Although Chris Wallace does not discuss abortion as frequently as some of his Fox colleagues, his invocation of so-called “partial-birth” abortion during the final debate of the 2016 presidential election is more than enough to disqualify the anchor from consideration as a fair and balanced voice on abortion-related issues. Wallace’s inaccurate and sensationalized question was then picked up by other right-wing media outlets and has since re-emerged in Trump’s current talking points about abortion. Wallace has also shown a propensity for repeating right-wing smears against Planned Parenthood, citing anti-choice videos attacking the organization well before CMP’s campaign of deception began.

    It doesn’t matter whether viewers watch so-called "news" or "opinion" programming: Both are likely to contain sensationalism, outright lies, and harmful characterizations about abortion patients, providers, and procedures -- seemingly no matter the potential consequences.

  • Fox News won’t run an anti-Nazi ad, but will let Laura Ingraham compare Planned Parenthood to Hitler

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News: Where a historical documentary can’t run an ad warning about the dangers of fascism because it contains “disgraceful Nazi imagery,” but host Laura Ingraham can show graphics comparing Planned Parenthood to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler with impunity.

    During the February 26 edition of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, Ingraham spent several segments delivering a sensationalized and inaccurate rant against abortion, particularly those performed later in pregnancy. In addition to alleging that Democrats support “the wanton extermination of children already born” -- a false talking point that has been circulating among right-wing media, anti-abortion groups, and other conservative figures -- Ingraham also compared Planned Parenthood to Nazi Germany, claiming that “Hitler, just like Planned Parenthood, practiced and defended mass extermination.” To drive her point home, Ingraham showed the following graphic on the screen:

    Fox News viewers -- particularly those who watch the prime-time lineup of Tucker Carlson, Ingraham, and Sean Hannity -- are no strangers to xenophobic or sexist content, racist dog whistles, and even talking points borrowed from white nationalists. And this isn’t the first time that Ingraham or other Fox News figures have asserted inaccurate and harmful comparisons between Planned Parenthood and Nazis. However, Ingraham’s choice of talking points and on-screen imagery raises some questions in light of Fox News’ recent decision to reject an advertisement warning about the dangers of fascism and Nazi ideology.

    On February 13, The Hollywood Reporter wrote that Fox News executives had “rejected a national advertising buy” promoting A Night at the Garden, an Oscar-nominated documentary short warning “viewers about the potential dangers of American fascism.” Although the ad was intended to warn “Sean Hannity's largely conservative viewers about the potential dangers of President Donald Trump's brand of populism,” ad sales representatives for the network rejected it, citing concerns from Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott who reportedly said that it was “not appropriate.” The network clarified the alleged “inappropriate” nature of the anti-facism ad in a subsequent comment to The Week, with Fox’s President of Ad Sales Marianne Gambelli stating that “regardless of the film’s message,” the ad was rejected for being “full of disgraceful Nazi imagery” which “did not meet our guidelines.”

    Fox News has found itself under a great deal of pressure going into the upcoming advertising sales season -- thanks in large part to an increasing awareness by many companies that associating their products with Fox News is bad for business. Dozens of advertisers have abandoned Ingraham’s show alone in the past year. As Variety reported in January, the network is currently in the process of trying to rebrand itself to advertisers after “sponsors have pulled their advertising” from a number of prime-time shows. The report continued:

    Keeping the ad dollars flowing at Fox News is critical – not only for the network, but for its parent company, 21st Century Fox. At some point in the next few months, Fox is slated to sell the bulk of its cable and studio assets to Walt Disney Co. The remaining company, known as Fox Corporation will rely on not only Fox News and Fox Business Network, but Fox Sports and Fox Broadcasting. The Fox News unit has contributed around 20% of the overall company’s operating profit. In a pared-down structure, it might be more. And while many analysts focus on the revenue Fox News derives from affiliates, its ad dollars will also be important after the sale.

    There are consequences to allowing this kind of extreme rhetoric to continue unchecked that extend beyond the negative impact on advertisers for having their products associated with vitriol like Ingraham’s. Anti-abortion violence and harassment have been on the rise in recent years -- a trend fueled in part by the extreme rhetoric of right-wing media figures, whose anti-choice talkings points are echoed by the president.

    When Fox News pitches upfronts this May, advertisers should remember: Fox News was unwilling to show an advertisement denouncing the dangers of Nazism, but the network seemingly has no problem invoking or showing Nazi imagery to attack abortion providers and patients.

  • Right-wing media take remarks CNN’s Jim Acosta made about death threats out of context

    Acosta was discussing death threats he and other journalists have received. Some outlets pretended he was attacking Trump voters.

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Right-wing media are taking a clip of an interview with Jim Acosta out of context to claim that CNN’s chief White House correspondent was disparaging President Donald Trump’s voters as “just not smart enough.” But a closer look at the interview in question shows that Acosta was discussing the repeated attacks on journalists emanating from the Trump White House and his “concern … that a journalist is going to be hurt one of these days” by someone who took the president’s comments literally.

    On April 24, Variety published an interview with Acosta and two other well-known journalists who cover the Trump White House in which they discuss a recent trend in the Trump era of reporters finding “themselves getting death threats” as a result of their work. In response to that and a question about Trump calling journalists fake news, Acosta said, in part, “The problem is is that people around the country don’t know it’s an act. They’re not in on the act, and they take what he says very seriously. … They don't have all their faculties in some cases, their elevator might not hit all floors. My concern is is that a journalist is going to be hurt one of these days, somebody's going to get hurt. And at that point, the White House, the president of the United States, they're going to have to take a hard look in the mirror and ask themselves whether or not they played a role in this, whether they created this toxic environment that resulted in a journalist getting hurt."

    But conservative media figures have present Acosta’s words out of context in an attempt to accuse the CNN correspondent of slandering Trump “voters.” Fox & Friends showed only the portion of Acosta’s quote about people who “don't have all their faculties in some cases, their elevator might not hit all floors” and did not clarify what question he was responding to. Numerous other right-wing and pro-Trump media outlets and personalities, including former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, have similarly taken Acosta’s words out of context to accuse him of “trash[ing] the intellect of Americans.” From the April 25 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    PETE HEGSETH (CO-HOST): Well, Tomi, on another topic, your favorite reporter gave an interview -- I’m just kidding, Jim Acosta gave an interview yesterday with Variety, talked about voters and gave us an input into his mindset. Take a listen to what Jim Acosta said.

    [BEGIN CLIP]

    JIM ACOSTA (CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT): The problem is is that people around the country don't know it's an act. They’re not in on the act, and they take what he says very seriously and they take attacks from Sean Spicer, and Sarah Sanders, and what they do to us on a daily basis very seriously. They don't have all their faculties in some cases, their elevator might not hit all floors.

    [END CLIP]

    HEGSETH: “They don’t have all their faculties.” They’re just not smart enough, Tomi.

    TOMI LAHREN (FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR): I never get tired of the leftist mainstream media insulting Trump voters because it makes it even easier for us to go back in 2020 and re-elect him. The more they tell us that we’re stupid, the more we’re going to go back and vote for Donald Trump, so thank you for the boost. And I would caution the leftist mainstream media, because I know that they want to see a Democrat take it in 2020, so let's have a cautionary tale from one Hillary Clinton who called us a basket of deplorables and also insulted our intelligence. How did that work out for Hillary?

  • Fox News fires Eric Bolling over sexual harassment reports

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox News has fired Eric Bolling a month after news broke that he reportedly sent unsolicited pictures of genitalia to multiple female colleagues. The network has also canceled The Fox News Specialists but “intends to keep Bolling’s co-hosts, Eboni Williams and Kat Timpf, as contributors,” Variety reported on September 8.

    Fox suspended Bolling in August after he was reported for the harassment by multiple women in a HuffPost article. The same day, another woman came forward reporting him for sexual harassment. Bolling sued the reporter who broke the story for $50 million in an attempt to “intimidate” him, explained the reporter. According to Variety, the network has also reinstated Fox Business host Charles Payne, who was also suspended following reports of sexual harassment. The Bolling and Payne examples are just the latest in a string of reports about a culture of predatory workplace harassment at Fox News.

    From the Variety article:

    Fox News Channel will part ways with host Eric Bolling, a host and contributor whose on-air presence at the 21st Century Fox-owned network had been growing in recent months, after allegations surfaced that he had harassed colleagues there, the network confirmed Friday.

    “Fox News Channel is canceling ‘The Specialists,’ and Eric Bolling and Fox have agreed to part ways amicably,” the network said in a statement.” We thank Eric for his ten years of service to our loyal viewers and wish him the best of luck.” A Huffington Post report had disclosed allegations that Bolling had sent lewd messages to colleagues via smartphone.

    Bolling, a former commodities trader and best-selling author, had been a longtime co-host of “The Five,” and more recently helped launch a new late-afternoon show, “The Fox News Specialists.” He also anchors the Fox News program “Cashin’ In.” Fox News intends to keep Bolling’s co-hosts, Eboni Williams and Kat Timpf, as contributors. The show will be replaced at 5 p.m. eastern with an hour of news coverage for the foreseeable future, with rotating anchors holding down the slot.

    The allegations against Bolling were among the latest personnel issues to roil the network that broadcasts such popular shows as “Hannity” and “Fox & Friends.” The parent company, 21st Century Fox, is working to acquire the rest of European broadcaster Sky PLC that it does not already own. Attorneys for several employees who have sued Fox News and activists have used the accusations to suggest British regulators not approve the proposed transaction, which remains under government review.

    During his time as a host on Fox News, Bolling was a major Trump sycophant who consistently expressed racist, xenophobic, and misogynist views. He had to apologize for asking on-air whether the first female UAE pilot who conducted bombing against Islamic State terrorists “would be considered boobs on the ground.” Bolling also once claimed Obama was "chugging a few 40’s" and said Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) should “step away from the crack pipe.”

    Correction (3/6/2019): This piece originally stated that Bolling had “sent unsolicited explicit pictures of himself to multiple female colleagues.” In fact, reporting on Bolling’s alleged misconduct does not clarify who is pictured in the photos. The piece has been updated to include a more accurate description.

  • Trump sycophant Tomi Lahren joins Fox News after taking cues from Sean Hannity

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Conservative commentator Tomi Lahren will join Fox News as a contributor, the channel announced today. The announcement comes over a month after Lahren’s weeklong de facto “audition” on Fox News’ Hannity where she provided commentary at the end of the show that served to complement host Sean Hannity’s swooning coverage of President Donald Trump. Lahren has a long history of making racist, nativist, and misogynistic comments.

  • Variety: Sinclair adds "conservative tilt" to local news by forcing stations to run right-leaning segments

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    An article published in Variety magazine highlighted Sinclair Broadcast Group’s practice of using “must-run” commentary segments to inject “conservative tilt” into a myriad of Sinclair-owned local news stations across the United States.

    Sinclair and its affiliates have a long history of broadcasting reports and commentary that feature a distinct conservative slant, and over the last few months, Sinclair has required its stations to run commentary segments from pro-Trump personalities. If Sinclair’s recent bid to purchase Tribune Media company is successful, it will be able to foist these segments on 42 additional local stations across the country. Tribune Media employees and their union leadership have already expressed concerns about Sinclair’s tendency to pepper its news coverage with right-wing opinions. There is even speculation that the network is considering hiring Fox News spin masters Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly (who recently left Fox News amid reports of sexual harassment).

    As Variety reported, Sinclair “has drawn more and more fire from critics” who have chided the network’s policy of airing “must-run” conservative commentary segments on Sinclair-owned local news stations. The article also noted that the inclusion of former Trump strategist Boris Epshteyn’s “Bottom Line With Boris” commentary -- in which Epshteyn has thus far “unfailingly supported his ex-boss” -- in Sinclair’s “must-run” programming runs counter to the typical “down-the-middle approach” local news outlets usually take on national issues. As Media Matters President Angelo Carusone told Variety, with these segments, Sinclair is “exploiting and weaponizing the fact that people don’t expect their local news to be partisan”:

    It’s hardly surprising that Sinclair would face speculation over its plans for the future. The company is already the nation’s largest owner of TV stations, and it will grow to unprecedented size if the FCC approves the Tribune acquisition. And Sinclair has drawn more and more fire from critics — notably HBO’s John Oliver — for the increasingly conservative tilt to its local newscasts through “must-run” commentary segments and coverage decisions mandated at the corporate level.

    [...]

    Sinclair has generated controversy by mandating all of its stations run Epshteyn’s nine-times-weekly “Bottom Line With Boris” commentary segments. The former Trump strategist has unfailingly supported his ex-boss in virtually all of his two-minute segments to date: praising Trump’s “America First” trade policy, saluting his efforts to reform the Veterans Administration, crediting Trump for fueling job growth and chiding state leaders for balking at the administration’s request for voter registration data as part of its voter fraud investigation.

    [...]

    Viewers who tune in to Fox News or MSNBC likely expect to get a partisan slant on the headlines at least in some programs. But local TV news has typically had a down-the-middle approach, especially on national issues. Were Epshteyn to appear as a commentator on a cable news channel, his partisan affiliation would be identified. That’s not the case on air at Sinclair; Epshteyn’s previous work for Trump is disclosed only in the online postings of his commentaries on Sinclair station websites.

    “They’re really trying to warp the worldview and the narrative that their audience is receiving from their newscasts, and it’s being warped by a source that [the audience] would otherwise trust,” says Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, a liberal-leaning watchdog organization that has been a vocal critic of Sinclair for years. “I think it’s exploiting and weaponizing the fact that people don’t expect their local news to be partisan.”

  • Trump Team Blacklists CNN On The Sunday After Inauguration

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    President Donald Trump and his team continued their unprecedented attempts to delegitimize and blacklist CNN by refusing to have a representative appear on CNN’s Sunday political talk show, State of the Union, while booking appearances on the other major political talk shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox Broadcasting Co.

    At the top of the January 22 edition of CNN’s State of the Union, host Jake Tapper said that his show “asked the Trump White House for a member of the new administration to join us this morning, but they declined.” Members of Trump’s team including White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, however, made appearances on the other major Sunday political talk shows: This Week on ABC, Face The Nation on CBS, Meet the Press on NBC, and Fox News Sunday on Fox Broadcasting Co. Trump and his team have a long history of blacklisting reporters from events, most notably when Trump revoked The Washington Post’s press credentials during the Republican primaries.

    The Trump team’s presumed blackout of CNN comes after escalating attempts to delegitimize the network, brand it as “fake news,” and avoid questions from CNN reporters. During Trump’s first press conference as president-elect on January 11, Trump refused to take a question from CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta, calling his network “fake news” and “terrible.” Following the event, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer admitted to threatening to remove Acosta from the press conference and later demanded an apology. Trump ally and Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich responded to the incident by asserting that Trump should use the altercation to “shrink and isolate” CNN and eventually “close down the elite press.” Acosta and his colleagues from across the media condemned Trump’s treatment of CNN.

    On January 12, Trump doubled down on his attacks against the network, claiming on Twitter that CNN “is in a total meltdown with their FAKE NEWS” and that its “credibility will soon be gone.” Trump also pre-emptively attacked a CNN report on his daughter Ivanka, tweeting that CNN “of all places, is doing a Special Report on my daughter, Ivanka. Considering it is CNN, can’t imagine it will be great!”

    The Trump team’s refusal to appear on CNN came one day after it declined to air the live feed of Spicer’s first press conference after the inauguration, where Spicer blatantly lied about the size of inauguration crowds. According to Variety’s Brian Steinberg, “CNN’s refusal to take the live feed suggests executives there are reluctant to put false statements on air, and, what’s more, do not think the new White House press representative is entirely credible.” From the January 21 report:

    “CNN’s decision to not air the press conference live illustrates a recognition that the role of the press must be different under Trump. When the White House holds press briefings to promote demonstrably false information and refuses to take questions, then press ‘access’ becomes meaningless at best and complicit at worst,” said Danna Young, an associate professor at the University of Delaware who studies politics and the media. “Democracy works best when journalists have access to the executive branch, of course. But that holds true if and only if that access leads to verifiable, accurate information. The decision on behalf of CNN to wait and verify before airing it live suggests that the media are adapting quickly to this new era.”

    To be certain, news outlets routinely make decisions about whether to air press events live, usually based on projections about news value. But this press conference, held just a day after the President’s inauguration, would have been a hot prospect for a cable-news outlet, and could have sparked hours of debate and follow-up on CNN’s schedule.  In an unusual and aggressive maneuver, CNN aired its regular weekday lineup this Saturday, underscoring heavy interest in breaking news of a series of massive protests by women across the nation in response to Trump’s presidency as well as the new President’s first few days in office.

    UPDATE: After an entire week of Trump officials not appearing on CNN, Politico quoted a White House official admitting to a “ban” of CNN by the Trump administration. The official claimed “the ban is not permanent,” but gave no details on why the ban was put in place or when it may be lifted.

    For more on Trump’s attacks on the press, check out Media Matters’ First Amendment Watch.

  • A Comprehensive Guide To Megyn Kelly’s History Of Right-Wing Media Misinformation

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Megyn Kelly, the host of Fox’s The Kelly File, is often billed as a “straight news” anchor known for occasionally "bucking ... the conservative party line" on Fox. Here’s a look back at some of her most egregious misinformation campaigns and out-of-touch comments regarding race, LGBT issues, gender, reproductive rights, Islam, immigration, climate change, and Hillary Clinton.

  • Media: Rubio's Suspension And Trump's Victories Destroyed The GOP's 2012 "Autopsy Report"

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Media are pointing to Sen. Marco Rubio's March 15 announcement that he is suspending his campaign to explain that the Republican National Committee's strategy to reach out to minority voters -- established in the committee's so-called "autopsy report" of the 2012 election -- "was spectacularly undone by Donald Trump and his defiant politics of economic and ethnic grievance."