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  • Here are two big things that were wrong with climate change coverage in 2018  

    Major outlets reported too little on climate change driving extreme weather and too much on Trump, two analyses find

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Mainstream media are continuing two troubling trends in their coverage of climate change, a pair of new reports finds. In 2018, media outlets too often failed to connect extreme weather to climate change, according to an analysis from Public Citizen, a progressive consumer advocacy organization. And researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder found that when major outlets did cover climate change, their reporting was too focused on President Donald Trump.

    Public Citizen reviewed coverage of extreme weather events in 50 top U.S. newspapers, 32 online news sources, and major broadcast and cable television networks, analyzing how often that coverage made mention of climate change. Climate scientists have found that global warming is tied to more intense heat waves, wildfires, hurricanes, and floods, as well as aberrant weather events like polar vortexes. But Public Citizen found that many news stories neglected to explain this connection:

    On the whole, the proportion of [extreme weather] pieces that mentioned climate change was disappointingly low. There was no climate-related form of extreme weather that the media connected to climate change in more than 35 percent of pieces. That high-water mark comes from articles discussing record drought. Extreme heat fared similarly, with 34 percent of pieces mentioning climate change. For hurricanes, the rate was just 7 percent.

    Public Citizen’s report notes that coverage of climate change's role in extreme weather was better in 2018 than in 2017, but many outlets continued to miss the mark. 

    When it came to reporting on heat waves, newspapers and TV networks both showed improvement -- they mentioned climate change more often in their heat-wave stories in 2018 than in 2017 -- but not nearly enough. Thirty-three percent of newspaper articles about record or extreme heat connected it to climate change, up from 28 percent in 2017. Television news programs made the connection in 22 percent of their segments, compared to 10 percent in 2017. (A Media Matters analysis of broadcast coverage of a record-breaking heat wave in North America last summer found even worse performance.)

    Coverage of wildfires also improved slightly in 2018, according to Public Citizen’s report. Top newspapers mentioned climate change in 29 percent of wildfire stories last year, compared to 19 percent in 2017. The online news outlets mentioned climate change in 28 percent of wildfire stories in 2018, up from 22 in 2017. And television networks connected wildfires to climate change in 21 percent of their segments last year, compared to 8 percent in 2017. Again, Media Matters documented even worse performance from broadcast TV news in connecting climate change to wildfires that happened last summer and in early November.

    Similar patterns emerged in reporting on other extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall, flooding, and hurricanes: There was slight improvement, but as Public Citizen sums it up, "major news outlets fell short." 

    Researchers at CU-Boulder's International Collective on Environment, Culture & Politics documented a different problem with climate coverage in the U.S.: an obsessive focus on Trump. The collective's Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO), which tracks media coverage in dozens of countries, produced a report summarizing its findings from 2018. In the U.S., MeCCO monitored five major newspapers and six major TV networks.

    According to the research group, “Throughout the year (as in 2017) there has been continued prominence of news from US outlets on climate change or global warming associated with Donald J. Trump.” It found that the word “Trump” was used an average of nearly 4.5 times in each story about climate change, just slightly less than 2017’s average of 4.7 times. In fact, Trump was mentioned more than twice as often as the words "science," "scientific," or "scientist(s)." The result of this Trump-centric reporting was that “media attention that would have focused on other climate-related events and issues instead was placed on Trump-related actions, leaving many other stories untold,” according to MeCCO’s analysis. (Media Matters reached similar conclusions about climate journalism’s overemphasis on Trump in 2017 and 2018.)

    There were some bright spots in climate coverage in 2018. Public Citizen highlighted an editorial collaboration in Florida called The Invading Sea -- involving the Miami Herald, The Palm Beach Post, the Sun-Sentinel, and public radio station WLRN -- that aims to increase awareness of sea-level rise and galvanize action to address it. The Public Citizen report also recognized great reporting by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press.

    Despite these positive developments, the two reports show that news outlets need to improve their climate journalism in 2019. They should stop chasing Trump's every tweet and instead provide sustained, substantive reporting that explains the nature of the climate challenge, connects extreme weather events to climate research, and amplifies solutions to climate-related problems.

  • Polluter-backed misinformers are trying to kill carbon-pricing plans in the states

    After tanking a carbon fee initiative in Washington state in 2018, fossil fuel interests are focused on other states in 2019

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A carbon fee ballot initiative failed in Washington state last year, but that won't deter activists and lawmakers from pushing carbon pricing measures in other states in 2019. Unfortunately, polluter interests, which waged a $31 million misinformation campaign to defeat the Washington state initiative, are already ramping up efforts to kill like-minded measures around the country, even though carbon pricing enjoys broad and bipartisan support.

    To curb the heat-trapping pollution that causes climate change, policymakers in at least seven states are seriously considering ways to price carbon. Oregon and Vermont are two states where carbon-pricing proposals are on the table in 2019 and have a better chance of passing than in previous years because of favorable outcomes in the 2018 midterm elections.

    But a constellation of hostile companies and groups are preparing to thwart any efforts to put a price on carbon pollution using a well-worn playbook of fearmongering and pushing misinformation that has proved successful in the past. From major oil companies to conservative trade associations to Koch-backed think tanks, the polluter syndicate uses its money and influence to try to keep Americans hooked on fossil fuels. 

    In Oregon, Koch-linked groups fight "cap and invest"

    Climate advocates in Oregon are optimistic about passing cap-and-trade legislation this year -- specifically a Clean Energy Jobs bill that they describe as "cap and invest." A version of the bill failed to pass the legislature in early 2018, but Democratic leaders reintroduced it in late January and are making it a priority for 2019. It would cap total carbon emissions, require the state’s largest polluters to purchase emissions permits, and invest the money that's raised in transitioning the state away from fossil fuels.

    Voters in the 2018 midterms gave Oregon Democrats supermajorities in the state House and Senate, and delivered incumbent Gov. Kate Brown (D) a six-point re-election victory. Brown's campaign platform called for a Clean Energy Jobs bill, and she has expressed support for the new version.

    Anti-climate-action groups opposed the Clean Energy Jobs bill last year and are ramping up for an intense lobbying campaign against it this year. If the measure passes the legislature, they could try to put it on the ballot and give voters a chance to overturn it. 

    In the last year, one high-profile group opposing cap and trade has been Priority Oregon, a 501(c)(4) dark money group. Although Priority Oregon refuses to disclose its donors, it has acknowledged that its members include the Taxpayers Association of Oregon. In 2017, the Taxpayers Association of Oregon worked with the Koch-funded Institute for Free Speech (formerly the Center for Competitive Politics) to fight a campaign finance reform measure passed by voters in Multnomah County, which encompasses Portland.

    The money Priority Oregon has received from both known and unknown sources allowed it to pay for a series of misleading ads during the 2018 legislative session that alleged cap-and-trade legislation would increase Oregonians' energy bills. These ads ignored the assistance the Clean Energy Jobs bill would provide to individuals and industries affected by potential price increases for electricity or natural gas. Priority Oregon also weighed in on the 2018 governor’s race, running multiple attack ads against Brown. 

    Various other Koch-financed or -affiliated groups are also trying to stymie cap-and-trade legislation in Oregon.

    Oregon Business & Industry, which bills itself as “Oregon's largest and most influential comprehensive business association,” is affiliated with two organizations that are deeply intertwined with the Koch network: the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In 2017, Oregon Business & Industry released an anti-cap-and-trade study it commissioned, which was heavily criticized for a number of methodological flaws by clean energy advocacy group Renew Oregon.

    The Oregon Farm Bureau, a trade association whose advocacy arm has taken Koch money, also publicly opposes cap-and-trade legislation. It has fought other environmental protections in the past, including the so-called Waters of the U.S. rule, a federal regulation intended to conserve waterways.

    Another opponent is the Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute, a Koch-connected, libertarian think tank that has promoted climate change denial and argued that the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are unnecessary. The institute came out against the idea of cap and trade as far back as 2008. In February 2018, the group's president and CEO argued against the Clean Energy Jobs bill in testimony before the state legislature. 

    These groups have been able to push their messaging out through mainstream media and the business press.

    In Vermont, the heating oil lobby and right-wing think tanks fight carbon fee

    Environmental advocates in Vermont are hopeful about the state legislature enacting a carbon price on gasoline, natural gas, and heating oil in 2019, according to Tom Hughes, campaign director for Energy Independent Vermont, a coalition of pro-carbon-fee environmental organizations, business groups, low-income advocates, and others. Last year, the legislature dedicated money for a study of carbon pricing options and other ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont. The study, conducted by nonprofit research group Resources for the Future and released in January of this year, found that a carbon price combined with other climate policies could lower emissions without hurting the economy or low-income people.

    Thanks to the 2018 elections, the state legislature is now more likely to act. “There are more climate champions in the Vermont State House in 2019 than ever before,” Hughes told Media Matters. According to Vermont Conservation Voters, “pro-environment candidates won 28 out of 33 hotly contested seats in the 2018 elections,” helping Democrats and Progressives gain a veto-proof majority in the legislature. They'll need it, as Republican Gov. Phil Scott is opposed to carbon fee legislation, even though he supports incentives for electric vehicles and a multistate initiative to curb transportation emissions in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

    Any carbon fee bill will also face stiff opposition from Koch-backed groups allied with the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association.

    The Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, a heating industry trade group, has broad reach in the state, where it claims that its members service three out of four homes. Many of those homes use heating oil -- about 51 percent of Vermont households, according to the state government. The association, which is aggressively opposed to a carbon fee, has been using its influence to scare its members and customers about what it says would be the adverse economic impacts of pricing carbon, like higher heating oil costs -- despite the fact that the Resources for the Future study found that low-income people could be shielded from overall higher costs.

    The association operates a website called Stop the Taxes that fearmongers about the effects a carbon fee would have on Vermonters. The Vermont Fuel Dealers Association also included several anti-carbon-fee messages in its weekly email newsletters in 2018. For example, the April 20 issue took swipes at Ben & Jerry's, which has supported carbon pricing:

    The Vermont Carbon Tax will NOT pass in 2018, despite a media blitz by several famous Burlington businesses. There was very little debate about the tax proposal, which is designed to raise the cost of oil and gas in order to subsidize electricity. Most outside the statehouse recognize that taking money from poor Vermonters to lower the light bill at the ice cream factory isn’t a path to economic prosperity. It certainly isn’t a “solution” to climate change either.

    The Ethan Allen Institute is another Vermont-based organization opposed to carbon pricing. The institute, which has a history of climate denial, has been funded for years by groups in the Koch network such as the State Policy Network, Donors Capital Fund, and the Cato Institute. In February 2018, the Ethan Allen Institute published a study attacking a carbon fee proposal being considered by the legislature at the time. The institute has also teamed up with the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, publishing an anti-carbon-tax blog post written by the association's executive director.

    The anti-carbon-fee forces are getting a publicity boost from True North Reports, a Vermont-based right-wing policy organization that publicly presents itself as a news site. Backed by a Vermont megadonor who has funded conservative and right-wing causes, True North Reports has also been affiliated with the Koch network since it launched in 2010 with then-news director Rob Roper, former FreedomWorks state director and current Ethan Allen Institute president. True North Reports' current managing editor, Bruce Parker, has Koch ties too. He was previously a reporter and editor for Watchdog.org, a product of the Koch-backed Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Parker has also written for right-wing and conservative media outlets such as FoxNews.com, The Daily Caller, The Washington Times, and Human Events. True North Reports has also been directly involved in partisan politics, donating $7,500 to Republican candidates in 2016 and $10,000 to the Vermont Republican Party in 2018.

    True North Reports has repeatedly criticized carbon fees on its website and on its television show, which airs on a local public access channel. In another demonstration of collaboration between Vermont’s anti-environmental groups, True North Reports hosted a policy analyst for the Ethan Allen Institute in September 2018 to discuss the findings of the institute’s latest anti-carbon-fee report published earlier that month.

    Carbon pricing momentum elsewhere will draw attacks too

    The polluter interests attacking carbon pricing proposals differ from state to state. Oregon and Vermont have unique coalitions of groups trying to stop their respective cap-and-trade and carbon fee plans. In Washington state last year, it was big oil companies that spent millions to kill a carbon fee initiative.

    But what's consistent is that there will be significant pushback against any efforts to price carbon from companies and groups that have financial interests in the continued burning of fossil fuels. We can expect to see this vocal opposition in other states that are considering carbon pricing plans this year, including Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia.

    There's also a well-coordinated coalition of right-wing groups opposing carbon pricing on the national level, as Media Matters reported last year. Expect it to be particularly active in 2019 because there's modest momentum behind the idea of carbon taxes. A bipartisan group of U.S. House members has reintroduced a carbon pricing bill that it first floated late last year. Dozens of renowned economists, including a number of Republican heavy hitters, recently endorsed carbon taxation in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, as did a recently retired GOP representative. Carbon pricing could also become part of Green New Deal legislation, though it was not explicitly included in the Green New Deal resolution recently introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA).

    It's worth pointing out that many fossil fuel defenders and right-wing ideologues, who are now freaking out over the prospect of a broad Green New Deal, remain as opposed as ever to moderate, incrementalist carbon tax proposals. This polluter lobby draws little distinction between so-called “radical” plans like the Green New Deal and corporate-friendly carbon tax plans like that of the Climate Leadership Council, which has backing from establishment Republicans and Fortune 500 companies. They will fight bitterly against them all.

  • WSJ editorial board published a hit piece against striking Los Angeles teachers 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Tens of thousands of teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) went on a strike on Monday, January 14. The same day, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board published an editorial attacking the local teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), and suggesting that teachers are both unrealistic and selfish.

    The educators began their strike after months-long contract negotiations with the district failed. Among the union’s demands are smaller class sizes; more support staff such as nurses, librarians, and academic counselors; a 6.5 percent pay raise; and better regulation of charter schools in the district. Class sizes in Los Angeles high schools often exceed 45 students, and almost 80 percent of schools in the district don’t have full-time nurses on staff. And while California is the fifth largest economy in the world, it ranked 40th in the nation in per-pupil spending in 2017. The strike follows a year of educators activism across the country -- teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, and Colorado all walked out last year, and many won hard-fought concessions for themselves and their students.

    Not everyone is supportive of the teachers’ strike for better funding, however, as The Wall Street Journal proved in a January 14 editorial titled “Unions in La-La Land.” In the piece, the Journal’s editorial board suggested that both the district and the state are so overburdened by paying for teachers’ pensions and health care plans that they could not possibly afford to meet the union’s demands. The editorial noted that the district commands a $1.8 billion reserve -- money that teachers want to see put toward better school resources -- but claimed that the district is “spending about $500 million more each year than its annual revenue,” suggesting that it is creeping “toward insolvency due to unaffordable labor contracts.” The Journal published an op-ed that same day by LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, who similarly claimed that the district would go bankrupt if it attempted to meet union demands and suggested that the real issue inadequate funding from the state government.

    Teachers and UTLA representatives have repeatedly explained why they don’t find the argument that there isn’t enough money credible, especially in the face of underfunded and overextended classrooms -- but you won’t read about that in the Journal’s editorial. UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl told CNN that the union is in contact with the governor’s office about the need for more state funding, but he also claimed that the district has “always been wrong in [its] projections” of its monetary reserves size. In an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Caputo-Pearl wrote, “Three years ago, district officials projected that the 2017-18 reserve would be $105 million. They were off by more than $1.7 billion.” He also noted that over the past five years the district has overestimated its spending on books and other supplies “to the tune of hundreds of millions, meaning more money is available.” It also bears mention that some of the union’s demands wouldn’t cost the district any money -- including  reducing standardized testing and giving parents more control over how money is spent at their children's’ schools -- but the Journal’s editorial didn’t address these demands at all.

    The editorial also complained that the teachers union campaigned for “soak the wealthy” tax increases to raise money for education that was instead spent on teacher pensions. But while pensions are undoubtedly a big expense for the state, they’re necessary not just as compensation for years of educating students, but as important tools for recruiting new teachers -- a particularly crucial task given the nation’s teacher shortage and the extremely high housing and cost-of-living expenses in California. While the editorial repeated Beutner’s talking point that “schools can’t spend money they don’t have,” it didn’t once mention that Southern California’s inflation rate is at a 10-year high, or that California ranks 47th in student-to-teacher ratio, or that its student-to-counselor ratio is 945:1.

    The editorial concluded by criticizing the teachers union for calling for increased regulation of charter schools, claiming that “the union wants to stop” their expansion “lest [they] embarrass the failing results in union-run schools.” While it managed to malign public school teachers, the editorial didn’t find space to mention that charter schools in the district expanded 287 percent between 2005 and 2015 and cost nearly $600 million, money that is drained away from public schools, each year. As Los Angeles public school teacher Adriana Chavira explained, competition from charters -- which operate with less oversight and regulations than traditional public schools -- is draining the public system and leading to lower enrollment, less funding, and fewer resources for students.

    The Journal’s assault on the teachers union shouldn’t come as a surprise given the paper’s regular hostility toward unions in general, and teachers unions specifically. But the editorial does a great disservice to the paper’s readers -- not to mention teachers and their students -- by ignoring the sorry state of Los Angeles schools to focus on an anti-union screed.

  • EPA nominee Andrew Wheeler is gaming the media ahead of his confirmation hearing

    Wheeler is looking increasingly like Scott Pruitt in his dealings with the press

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Andrew Wheeler, nominated by President Donald Trump on January 9 to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is increasingly following the aggressive media playbook of his predecessor, Scott Pruitt.

    Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, assumed the role of acting EPA administrator in July, after Pruitt got himself booted. He has continued Pruitt's work of rolling back major environmental regulations, a fact that has been well-reported. Less well-known is that Wheeler has also been following in Pruitt's footsteps in dealing with the press.

    Wheeler's EPA press team attacks journalists and media outlets

    The scandal-prone Pruitt had an extremely contentious relationship with the media. His press office retaliated against specific reporters whose stories it didn't like and even attacked them by name in press releases, among other antagonistic moves.

    When Wheeler took the helm, many reporters looked forward to a change in approach. E&E News published a story about the differences between the two EPA leaders in July under the headline "'Night and day' as Wheeler opens doors to press."

    But in the last few months, the EPA press office has returned to some of the same combative tactics used during the Pruitt era. An October 30 press release was headlined, "EPA Sets the Record Straight After Being Misrepresented in Press." Two days later, it got more aggressive with a press release titled "Fact Checking Seven Falsehoods in CNN’s Report." From an E&E News article published in mid-November:

    The [EPA press shop's] combative approach calmed a bit when acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler took over for Scott Pruitt, who resigned over the summer, but now it appears to be intensifying again.

    The agency's actions have been scrutinized in the press in recent weeks, and the public affairs shop has been hitting back.

    Bobby Magill, president of the Society of Environmental Journalists, said the agency seems to be returning to its war-room-style tactics under Pruitt.

    "It looks to me like they're sort of returning to form," Magill said. "This suggests that they are returning to their previous press strategy under Scott Pruitt."

    Wheeler may start feeling even more antagonistic toward the press in the coming months. On December 26, a federal judge ordered the EPA to release roughly 20,000 emails exchanged between industry groups and high-level political appointees at the agency, including Wheeler, after the Sierra Club sued to gain access to the records under the Freedom of Information Act. Similar records requests from the Sierra Club during Pruitt's tenure helped lead to his forced resignation; the group made the emails available to reporters, which led to the publication of many embarrassing articles about Pruitt.

    Wheeler favors right-wing media for his televised interviews

    Pruitt heavily favored Fox News and other right-wing media outlets, giving them far more interviews than mainstream news organizations.

    Wheeler exhibits similar preferences. All four of the TV interviews we've seen him give since becoming acting administrator at the EPA have been with right-wing outlets.

    The first went to the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group. Boris Epshteyn, Sinclair's chief political analyst and a former Trump aide, asked no hard questions and gave Wheeler a platform to make specious claims about automobile fuel economy. Wheeler's second TV interview was with Fox News, the third was with the Fox Business Network, and the fourth went to a Sinclair national correspondent, and those interviewers all went easy on him too.

    Wheeler is getting cozy with the right-wing Daily Caller

    Pruitt and his press office had a remarkably friendly relationship with The Daily Caller, a far-right online publication started by Fox News personality Tucker Carlson, funded by Charles Koch, and sustained through sketchy tax dealings. During Pruitt's tenure, the EPA press office issued a policy statement by sending out a press release that pointed to an interview Pruitt gave to The Daily Caller, while the right-wing outlet frequently defended Pruitt against accusations of wrongdoing, sometimes with "scoops" and "exclusives" based on information that appeared to have been leaked to the outlet by EPA sources.

    Late last year, Wheeler revealed his own affinity for The Daily Caller. After he was criticized for spreading a false attack on the National Climate Assessment, a major government report on climate change, the EPA issued a press release that tried to defend Wheeler by directly citing a Daily Caller article. For its part, The Daily Caller regularly publishes articles defending Wheeler and the actions of his EPA.

    Wheeler embraces right-wing outlets and slams mainstream media via his Twitter account

    Like his predecessor, Wheeler has a fondness for right-wing media outlets and personalities, but he has exhibited that preference in a way that Pruitt never did -- via his personal Twitter account. Or at least he did until a few weeks ago, when Wheeler protected his account to hide his tweets from the public. (Wheeler still has a publicly viewable official Twitter account.) But journalists and activists had made note of many of the controversial tweets from his personal account before he deleted individual ones and then made the whole account private.

    The Daily Beast reported last year on one troubling tweet:

    In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”

    Wheeler has amplified at least two tweets from Fox News' Brit Hume that bashed major newspapers. In December, Wheeler "liked" a Hume tweet that linked to a Wall Street Journal editorial criticizing The Washington Post for alleged anti-Trump bias. In October, he retweeted another Hume tweet that criticized The New York Times and linked to an article in the conservative National Review.

    Wheeler has also "liked" a number of tweets from other right-wing figures who criticized mainstream media outlets, including:

    • a Donald Trump Jr. tweet linking to The Daily Caller and mocking CNN
    • a tweet from frequent Fox guest and former NRATV host Dan Bongino that slammed MSNBC
    • a tweet from libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that bashed HuffPost

    Wheeler promotes climate denial and racist memes via his Twitter account

    Like Pruitt, Wheeler also casts doubt on well-established climate science -- another view he has expressed through his Twitter account.

    In a 2015 tweet, Wheeler praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'” The essay criticized mainstream media outlets and scientific journals that have reported on climate change:

    Of course, we don’t have good data or sound arguments for decarbonizing our energy supply. But it sounds like we do. If you read Scientific American, Science, Nature, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and you take them at face value, you would have to agree that there is a strong likelihood that serious climate change is real and that decarbonization or geo-engineering are our only hopes. ... These are the people promoting a myth that has become deeply ingrained in our society.

    In 2011, Wheeler tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA." Wheeler also retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at HuffPost founder Arianna Huffington. And in 2009, Wheeler sent two tweets linking to climate-denying blog posts.

    HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman has reported on how Wheeler used his social media accounts to endorse or promote other unsavory views:

    [Wheeler] repeatedly engaged with incendiary, partisan content on his personal Facebook and Twitter accounts over the past five years. The online activity included liking a racist image of former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on Facebook and retweeting an infamous “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist.

    Wheeler is turning back to major mainstream newspapers as he faces confirmation hearing

    Though Wheeler has shown a preference for right-wing media in TV interviews and on Twitter, he has also given a number of interviews to mainstream newspapers, wire services, and D.C. publications. In July, after it was announced that he would serve as acting EPA administrator, Wheeler gave interviews to The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today, and The New York Times.

    The pace of his interviews with print outlets slowed down after his first month in office, but then ramped back up in November around the time that Trump announced his intention to nominate Wheeler to permanently fill the top EPA spot. On November 16, Wheeler gave another interview to The New York Times, and then two weeks later sat for a live-streamed interview with The Washington Post. In December, he gave another interview to The Wall Street Journal and then one to The Hill.

    Granting interviews to major newspapers seems to be part of Wheeler's strategy to paint himself with a gloss of mainstream respectability before his Senate confirmation hearing, which is scheduled for January 16. Meanwhile, some of his more partisan views are now out of sight in that locked Twitter account, including insults lobbed at those very same newspapers. 

  • WSJ op-ed pushing flawed anti-trans research inadvertently reaffirms that trans people are who they say they are

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by conservative columnist Abigail Shrier pushing flawed research about transgender youth and a dubious concept called “rapid-onset gender dysphoria,” which purports that young teens are coming out as trans because it is “fashionable.” Shrier wrote that she spoke with 18 parents concerned that their children were dealing with so-called “ROGD,” but she acknowledged that most of their children remained transgender, inadvertently demonstrating the flawed research driving this anti-trans fearmongering.

    The concept of so-called rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD) originated in 2016 on anti-trans blogs, and Brown University researcher Lisa Littman surveyed those same blogs for a flawed study published in 2018. The study suggests that transgender youth -- primarily transgender boys who were assigned female at birth -- are experiencing a new type of “rapid” gender dysphoria due to social influences, asserting that they are coming out due to increased exposure to transgender friends and media figures and claiming that they had shown no signs of gender dysphoria in the past. Both the journal that published the study and Brown University announced they would re-evaluate it due to methodological concerns, including that it relied on parental reports from biased, anti-trans blogs. (One of the two on-the-record sources Shrier cited in her op-ed was a spokesperson for one of those blogs, Brie Jontry from 4thWaveNow.)

    Shrier’s recent piece reaffirmed what was already apparent in Littman’s study: The vast majority of the young people whose parents are being surveyed to push this concept have persisted in being trans. In Littman’s study, less than 6 percent of transgender youth whose parents were surveyed no longer identified as trans (for about another 11 percent, it was unclear whether they still identify as trans). And in Shrier’s op-ed, she could point to only “two mothers whose daughters have desisted” out of the 18 parents she interviewed. But whether parents perceive their children’s coming out as “rapid” or not is beside the point; even when parents are surprised by their children’s gender identity, trans youth remain who they say they are.

    Shrier used many right-wing buzzwords and comparisons to describe ROGD’s flawed concept that being transgender is “fashionable,” a “social contagion,” and similar to “cutting and bulimia.” She also claimed that ROGD “comes on suddenly in adolescence, afflicting teens who’d never exhibited any confusion about their sex,” and is thus different from the established definition of gender dysphoria, which Shrier describes as beginning “in early childhood.”

    In fact, Slate’s Alex Barasch has noted that the medical community instead recognizes late-onset gender dysphoria, which describes the emergence of dysphoria “around puberty or much later in life.” The parents cited by Shrier and Littman may also have perceived their children coming out as sudden because these young people avoided coming out to “hostile parents” and instead sought advice and support online or from circles of friends. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) has urged restraint from pushing the idea of “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” and noted that it has not been “recognized by any major medical professional association.”

    Shrier also relies on fearmongering about often medically necessary care such as top surgery and other gender affirmation procedures, describing them as “irreversible physical trauma” and “voluntary disfigurement.” There are a number of flaws in this description; it not only makes the false assumption that all trans people need or want surgery as part of their transition, but it also gives the false impression that transition-related surgeries are routinely performed on trans youth. In reality, WPATH’s internationally accepted “standards of care” describe surgery as “often the last and the most considered step in the treatment process for gender dysphoria” while also noting that it is “essential and medically necessary” for many in the transgender community “to alleviate their gender dysphoria.”

    The standards of care note that many interventions for trans adolescents are reversible, including social transitions -- in which the young person begins living in their stated gender identity -- and puberty blockers, which delay the onset of puberty. It also says that chest surgery for transgender boys -- the subset of youth who were assigned female at birth, which is the group ROGD predominantly claims to address -- should be carried out “preferably after ample time of living in the desired gender role and after one year of testosterone treatment” to give “adolescents sufficient opportunity to experience and socially adjust in a more masculine gender role, before undergoing irreversible surgery.”

    Rather than acknowledge the multipronged and varied processes in which trans people affirm their identities, Shrier resorts to using scare tactics and simplifying a lengthy and thought-out process that generally involves the transgender individual, medical and mental health professionals, family, and friends. Furthermore, there is no indication that any of the very small number of trans youth supposedly studied in Littman’s survey or Shrier’s op-ed underwent any irreversible procedures, demonstrating that the transition process already has measures in place and is safe for the small number of adolescents who may determine that they are not transgender.

    The Wall Street Journal is one of the most high-profile news outlets to push the flawed concept of ROGD (though right-wing media have run wild with it). In September, the paper published another op-ed criticizing the academic journal and Brown University for re-evaluating and backing away from Littman’s study and calling their action “suppression.” Shrier has written about gender and transgender issues for the paper before as well, including an August op-ed called “The Transgender Language War” and a July one titled “Masculine Dads Raise Confident Daughters.” Breitbart News is already promoting her latest piece.

    Ultimately, pieces like this are dangerous for both trans youth and the community at large. Not only does Shrier recommend the ineffective and dangerous practice of conversion therapy for trans youth, writing that protections from the discredited practice threaten “counselors who might otherwise dissuade teens from proceeding with hormone treatment or surgery,” but the concept of ROGD itself also essentially calls on parents to doubt their children when they come out as trans. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youth whose families reject them are already “8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide” as their LGB peers with accepting families, and the number is likely higher with trans youth, who already experience disproportionately high rates of suicide (particularly transgender boys and men). For them, flawed research like that pushing so-called “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” can be a matter of life and death.

  • 2018 was marked by anti-abortion extremism, lies, and harassment

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Anti-abortion figures and right-wing media continued to push misinformation about reproductive health in 2018 and tried to insert abortion into nearly every major news story -- no matter how tenuous the connection. The past year also included ample efforts by anti-choice groups to influence federal policy under President Donald Trump, as well as several anti-abortion acts of harassment and violence. Here are some lowlights of anti-abortion extremism this year:

    Right-wing and anti-abortion media attempted to distract from various news stories by drawing inaccurate comparisons to or blaming abortion

    As the Trump presidency entered its second year, right-wing and anti-abortion media attempted to deflect from the administration’s various crises by drawing ridiculous comparisons to reproductive rights or blaming abortion.

    Parkland shooting and the gun-control debate


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    • After a February 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, left 17 dead, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan compared the debate around gun violence prevention policies to calls from the anti-abortion movement to restrict access to abortions after 20 weeks. Noonan argued that lawmakers should “trade banning assault weapons for banning late-term abortion. Make illegal a killing machine and a killing procedure. In both cases the lives of children would be saved.”
    • LifeNews.com’s Steven Ertelt tweeted:
    • During a February 22 appearance on Fox News’ Fox News @ Night, Townhall's Guy Benson talked about the supposed media bias of outlets reporting on the NRA’s political donations but not covering donations from Planned Parenthood’s political arm.
    • Writing for Townhall, conservative blogger Erick Erickson also compared Planned Parenthood to the NRA, saying that “elite opinion makers in America champion Planned Parenthood, which actually does kill thousands of children each year, while savaging the National Rifle Association, which has never killed a child and whose members have actually saved others' lives.”
    • On the March 1 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson asked Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI), “What would drive a 19-year-old to want to murder strangers?” In response, Duffy partly blamed abortion, saying, “We dehumanize life in those video games and in those movies, and with abortion.”
    • During the March 2 edition of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham claimed that people should be angier about Planned Parenthood performing abortions than about the role that the NRA plays in facilitating easier access to firearms. Ingraham stated, “If we're going to judge people based on an organization’s blood spilled, well, I hope Planned Parenthood is going to lose all of its partnerships or affiliations given the fact that we have about 57 million babies who never got to see the light of day.”
    • During the March 4 edition of Fox News’ Fox and Friends Weekend, conservative radio host Kathy Barnette said that although the Parkland shooter “killed 17 little souls on that day, but Planned Parenthood kills over 800 babies on a daily basis, and where is the moral outrage on that?”

    Family separation policy


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    • On the June 18 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson attacked Democrats for opposing the Trump administration’s policy requiring the separation of immigrant children from their parents as they cross the U.S. border, saying that the “same people who support third-term, post-viability abortion for purposes of sex selection” were “lecturing” others about “the holiness of children.”
    • Rep. Steve King (R-IA) tweeted:
    • On Westwood One’s The Mark Levin Show, host Mark Levin said that “suddenly the Democrats care about children” after Trump’s family separation policy went into effect. Levin went on to claim inaccurately that “when it comes to abortion,” Democrats support it “right up to the last second. It can be eight months, 29 days, and they still support abortion.”
    • Anti-abortion outlet LifeNews.com responded to a tweet from Planned Parenthood saying children shouldn’t be separated from their parents by alleging that Planned Parenthood was “ignoring how its own practices permanently and violently separate children from their fathers and mothers” and that the organization “does that 876 times a day in abortions.”
    • An article on the website for CRTV’s Louder with Crowder claimed that Planned Parenthood “separates babies from mothers every day. With surgical brutality. These babies are not being stored in chain-linked cages, waiting for processing. Planned Parenthood stores their children in jars. A calvarium in one jar, legs in another. Parts shipped, and sold, separately.”
    • Media Research Center’s Dan Gainor posted this since-deleted tweet:

    Confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    • On September 16, The Washington Post published an exclusive interview with Christine Blasey Ford, sharing her previously anonymous account of being assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when they were both in high school. On September 17, Erick Erickson wrote a post claiming that "the left" was amplifying her account as a tactic to keep abortion legal: “This entire thing is about the right to kill kids, not about the veracity of the accusation.” He continued, “The left is perfectly willing to destroy a man's reputation in order to keep destroying children,” adding that Democrats would use an “uncorroborated, single sourced, 35 year old claim … to protect the right to kill girls in utero.”
    • During the September 17 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson made a similar argument, claiming that Ford’s report came out only because Kavanaugh would likely be the deciding vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. “Does anyone really believe this story would have surfaced if Brett Kavanaugh had pledged allegiance to Roe v. Wade?” he asked. “Of course it wouldn't have. … Whatever the story is, it's not about protecting women. Don't buy that spin.”
    • From the Washington Examiner:

    • Micaiah Bilger, who writes for anti-abortion outlet LifeNews.com, tweeted at the Planned Parenthood Action Fund account: “If allegations are enough to disqualify someone from something, shouldn't all the allegations against you, Planned Parenthood, disqualify you from getting half a billion of our tax dollars every year?”
    • Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue tweeted a link to a bizarre website that claimed Ford’s account was politically motivated because of the potential impact Kavanaugh’s confirmation would have on the production of a so-called abortion pill. This is a false claim attempting to conflate her research for a pharmaceutical company that developed mifepristone to treat hyperglycemia related to Cushing's syndrome with pills used in medication abortions:
    • On Fox & Friends, Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera said that Ford’s motivation was “all about abortion” because “Kavanaugh is a pro-life guy and this is what it's all about.”
    • Right-wing site RedState argued: “The whole reason Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is in the crosshairs of a sexual assault allegation ... is because the left is 100 percent focused on making sure their ability to abort children and profit from it goes uninterrupted.”
    • Religious news site The Stream wrote, “The anti-Kavanaughs — i.e. the Left, the Democrats — could not care less whether he’s innocent or guilty.” Rather, “this is about abortion. It’s about the larger sexual ideology as well, but abortion first and foremost,” because “abortion is both sacrament and god” to those groups.

    Some right-wing media and anti-abortion groups pushed extremist narratives or engaged in harassment

    Harassment, extremism, and violence are not new tactics to the anti-abortion movement. But 2018 featured some particularly notable instances when anti-abortion groups and right-wing media engaged in perpetuating harmful misinformation, conspiracy theories, and extreme narratives about abortion, or fueled anti-abortion harassment:


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    • In January, the extreme anti-abortion group Operation Rescue started signal-boosting a series of posts targeting Planned Parenthood originating from a far-right message board on 8chan as the organization began delving into the QAnon conspiracy theory. The group leaders Troy Newman and Cheryl Sullenger -- the latter having served time for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic -- further slid into full embrace of the QAnon conspiracy theory over the course of the year.
    • The founders of a group connected to Operation Rescue, Abortion Free New Mexico, also started promoting QAnon-related conspiracies, which the outlet New Mexico Political Report called “a concerning shift in focus and organizing, contradicting their stated goals of non-violence and inclusive outreach.”


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    • In March, National Review writer Kevin Williamson was hired by The Atlantic even though Williamson had previously expressed misogynistic and homophobic viewpoints. Among these was his statement that “women who have had abortions should face capital punishment, namely hanging.” After initially defending Williamson’s hiring as an exercise in ideological diversity, Atlantic Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg announced in April that the outlet was “parting ways” with Williamson. In particular, Goldberg noted that Williamson’s doubling down on his argument that those who have had abortions should be hanged -- made in a podcast uncovered by Media Matters the day before Williamson’s firing -- “runs contrary to The Atlantic’s tradition of respectful, well-reasoned debate, and to the values of our workplace.”
    • On June 1, right-wing outlet Infowars livestreamed a protest at a Planned Parenthood clinic the day after the anniversary of the murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. This stunt continued a long line of right-wing media fostering or encouraging anti-abortion harassment, including the 2015 Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooter who had a penchant for right-wing media such as Fox News and Infowars.
    • In November, right-wing media and anti-abortion figures had a tantrum over what they called a "horrible new ad” attributed to Planned Parenthood -- despite the so-called ad actually being a 2015 video from a political action committee, not Planned Parenthood. However, as conservative figures continued to express disgust, people on social media started to make threats of violence against the health care organization citing shares of the 2015 video online.

    Right-wing media celebrated the Supreme Court giving a boost to anti-abortion fake health clinics

    Fake health clinics (also known as anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers) engage in deception and manipulation in their advertising and interactions with clients with the goal of stopping that person from accessing an abortion. This year, fake health clinics were front and center at the Supreme Court in a case called National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra. The Supreme Court decided in favor of the NIFLA, stopping the implementation of a California law designed to deter some of the manipulative practices of these fake health clinics. Right-wing media celebrated the decision as a “win” for free speech:


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    • National Review’s editors lamented that the vote was only 5-4, writing that it “should not have been a narrow one,” and that the closeness occurred because “four of the Court’s justices were so hell-bent on promoting the manufactured right to abortion that they were prepared to jettison” the right to free speech. The editors called the California law “an obvious and malicious violation of the First Amendment” and argued that it was “perhaps the best example of the rapidly growing extremism of the abortion-rights movement.”
    • National Review's Alexandra DeSanctis:
    • The Catholic Association’s Andrea Picciotti-Bayer wrote an op-ed for Fox News arguing that the decision “vindicates women and the pregnancy centers who help them” because “the most important service found at a pregnancy center is caring.”
    • In a Newsmax article titled “SCOTUS Gives America a Free Speech, Pro-Life Birthday Gift,” Priests for Life National Director Frank Pavone celebrated the NIFLA decision as “a victory to the fundamental rights which America promised to guarantee at its inception.”
    • Alliance Defending Freedom’s Jessica Prol Smith wrote for The Federalist that "even Americans who call themselves ‘pro choice’ can celebrate this court’s decision to protect authentic options and protect freedom for a woman to choose motherhood.”

    Anti-abortion groups continued to push misinformation about abortion and to allege that they were being censored to rally support and raise money

    Anti-abortion groups continued to promote misinformation on reproductive rights and to use claims that they were being censored by social media companies and news outlets as a tactic to rally support and raise money:


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    • In honor of the annual anti-abortion rally the March for Life, right-wing outlets published several articles claiming that the anti-choice movement has science on its side. For example, Fox News’ opinion page published an article by Lauren DeBellis Appell about the March for Life that praised the anti-abortion movement and said it was “winning” in the United States because of technological advancements, including ultrasounds. Christianity Today similarly quoted Denise Harle, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, as saying that “science and technology are on our side” specifically in the context of the myth that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks. As The Atlantic noted in a January 18 piece, the anti-abortion movement’s embrace of science could be seen as a “dramatic reversal” because “pro-choice activists have long claimed science for their own side.” Demonstrating support for this view among anti-abortion groups, the January 18 article was picked up by organizations such as the March for Life, Democrats for Life, and the Charlotte Lozier Institute. The March for Life rally adopted the idea that “pro-life is pro-science” as part of its official theme for 2019.
    • Anti-abortion outlet LifeSiteNews asked for donations in light of supposed censorship by social media companies. The site posted in March 2018 about the “surprising and disturbing reason why LifeSite’s Spring campaign is struggling.” The reason, according to LifeSiteNews, “is an almost declared war by the globalist social media giants – Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube against websites, blogs and individuals who promote conservative views.” LifeSiteNews pleaded to its readers, writing, “To those of you who were not blocked from reading this letter, we are depending on you much more than normal to help us to reach our goal.” Unsurprisingly, the outlet provided zero evidence of the censorship it was allegedly experiencing.
    • Following Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress in April 2018, anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) emailed supporters to detail instances where the group claimed to have been censored by social media companies. SBA List then asked supporters to “please make a generous donation of $250 to help win the fight against pro-abortion Silicon Valley elites!”
    • On October 24, SBA List tweeted that Facebook was “censoring” the organization because it had pulled two of its 2018 midterm elections ads which urged people to “vote pro-life” and to oppose a candidate who allegedly “supports painful late-term abortions.” After the ads were pulled, the group sent out a fundraising email asking people to “Please RUSH a contribution … to help us fight back and get this ad in front of voters in key swing-states DESPITE the ongoing censorship of pro-life voices by the abortion lobby.” SBA List also tweeted that “deleting these ads just weeks before the midterm elections advances the pro-abortion argument" and again claimed that “censoring a #prolife ad that respectfully exposes the brutality of late abortions” meant that Facebook was “publicly taking a stand that they SUPPORT painful late-term abortions of VIABLE children.”


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    • A 12-month-long Media Matters study of evening cable news programs found that Fox News dominated discussions of abortion and reproductive rights, but the network’s coverage was wrong 77 percent of the time about four common abortion-related topics: the discredited anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP), abortion funding rules, Planned Parenthood’s essential services, and so-called extreme abortion procedures.
    • On One America News Network’s Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, host Liz Wheeler frequently alleged that liberals were ignoring right-wing anti-abortion conspiracy theories about Planned Parenthood misusing federal funds, supposedly promoting abortion for profit, or engaging in the cover-up of sexual abuse of minors.

    Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services continued to be a hot bed for anti-abortion groups and misinformation

    Last year, Media Matters documented how Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was filled with appointees promoting anti-choice “alternative science” about contraception and abortion. While some of those people have moved to other areas of the administration or just moved on, Trump’s HHS has continued to employ and promote the work of anti-abortion movement darlings in 2018:

    • In January, Politico reported that people like Roger Severino, the head of the Office of Civil Rights in HHS, and Shannon Royce, the director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, are part of “a small cadre of politically prominent religious activists inside” HHS who “have spent months quietly planning how to weaken federal protections for abortion and transgender care — a strategy that's taking shape in a series of policy moves that took even their own staff by surprise.” Royce used to be chief of staff and chief operations officer at the anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council and had previously promoted harmful “ex-gay” conversion therapy.
    • Scott Lloyd became known for denying abortion care to unaccompanied immigrant teens in his custody as the head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Lloyd left his position at ORR in November, but he still works with HHS as part of the Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives and is also planning to write an anti-abortion book. Before his move, Lloyd had reportedly inquired whether a teenager in HHS custody could have her abortion “reversed,” an anti-abortion scam that is not based in science. According to The New York Times, Lloyd also kept a weekly spreadsheet of the “unaccompanied minors who have asked” for an abortion, with information about “how far along” their pregnancy was during his time at ORR. Lloyd was also responsible for slowing down the release of detained children under Trump’s family separation policy as he decided “to personally review requests” for “hundreds of kids.” This resulted in detained children spending “extra time in the jail-like facilities, which have been associated with far more allegations of abuse and mistreatment than the shelters and homestays that hold most of the children in ORR custody.”
    • In May 2018, Diana Foley became deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Population Affairs, which oversees the Title X family planning program. As Rewire.News noted, Foley had “served as the president and CEO of Life Network, which, according to its website, promotes ‘life-affirming alternatives to abortion’ and operates two anti-choice clinics.” Beyond this, Foley had also given a 2016 presentation in which she expressed support for the discredited idea that people pathologically experience emotional and physical difficulties as a direct result of having an abortion.
    • In 2018, Steven Valentine became the chief of staff for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health. As Rewire.News reported, Valentine served as SBA List’s interim legislative director where he actively worked to draft and pass anti-abortion legislation. His brother Billy Valentine still works for SBA List as the organization’s vice president of public policy.
    • Before Matthew Bowman became deputy general counsel at HHS in 2018, he worked for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) as part of the organization’s team “litigating some of ADF’s most prominent religious imposition cases.” Rewire.News wrote that during these cases, “Bowman repeatedly promoted the false claim that intrauterine devices and emergency contraceptives cause abortions. His distaste for ensuring access to contraceptives extended to writing a January 2015 post for the conservative site TownHall.com with the headline: ‘How the contraception mandate may spread measles.’”

    Anti-abortion violence and harassment continued against abortion providers and clinics

    Every year, the National Abortion Federation releases a report documenting the previous years’ incidents of anti-abortion harassment and violence against providers, patients, and clinics. This year’s report found that “trespassing more than tripled, death threats/threats of harm nearly doubled, and incidents of obstruction rose from 580 in 2016 to more than 1,700 in 2017. We also continued to see an increase in targeted hate mail/harassing phone calls, and clinic invasions, and had the first attempted bombing in many years.” The harassment of abortion providers, clinics, and supporters continued in 2018:


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    • In February, a man crashed a stolen vehicle into a Planned Parenthood in New Jersey “injuring a pregnant woman and two others.” According to prosecutors, the man had begun “researching the locations of Planned Parenthood clinics more than a year before.” He was later charged with terrorism, but pleaded not guilty.
    • Flip Benham, the former head of anti-abortion extremist group Operation Save America, was arrested in North Carolina and “charged with communicating threats” outside of a clinic in Charlotte, according to The Charlotte Observer.
    • In March, a man in West Virginia was “charged with making threats on Facebook against the Pittsburgh office of Planned Parenthood,” according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Before the alleged threats, he had written on Facebook “that his girlfriend got an abortion against his wishes in 2010. He said he found out who the clinicians were who aborted his child and said he knew five houses where he could steal an AR-15.”
    • A man suspected of setting off a series of bombs in Austin, TX, was reported to have “previously wrote online that he was opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage.”
    • A Planned Parenthood in San Diego was vandalized twice in six weeks.
    • In April, a man who crashed his car into barriers outside of a Planned Parenthood in Seattle was “charged for the assault and the damage but not for targeting the provider of women’s health services,” though he told police in an interview, “Damn right … I blew up Planned Parenthood...Blew Planned Parenthood the fuck up.”
    • A man in New Hampshire pleaded guilty “to leaving a 9 mm bullet at a Beverly medical office where his girlfriend had just terminated a pregnancy.” He told police, “I left the bullet there because they killed my baby."
    • A Planned Parenthood clinic in California closed because a partner organization “received ‘hostile communications’ from anti-Planned Parenthood activists.”
    • Abortion clinics in California and Iowa sustained property damage from targeted actions. In July, a Planned Parenthood in California was set on fire and caused “moderate damage” before being put out. In September, a man was arrested “after allegedly grabbing a log and throwing it at a window of an abortion clinic” in Iowa.
    • A man who was a “self-proclaimed misogynist,” according to BuzzFeed News, killed two women at a yoga studio in Florida in November. In a series of videos he had posted in the years before the attack, “he said that he resented having to subsidize as a taxpayer ‘the casual sex lives of slutty girls’ through the Affordable Care Act’s contraception provisions.”
    • In December, a man was charged with threatening “to murder a United States official” after he left death threats in a voicemail with an unidentified female U.S. Senator’s office. According to Newsweek, the man “became ‘very angry’ after watching online video clips of the senator discussing reproductive rights and criticizing Trump.”
  • What you need to know about EPA nominee Andrew Wheeler and the media

    Wheeler mimics Scott Pruitt's press strategy ahead of his Senate confirmation hearings

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Note: An updated version of this post was published here on January 10, 2019. 

    Andrew Wheeler, President Donald Trump's soon-to-be nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is more like his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, than most people realize -- particularly when it comes to his interactions with the media.

    It's well-known that Wheeler, who took over as acting administrator of the EPA after Pruitt resigned in July, has continued Pruitt's work of rolling back major environmental regulations. That was no surprise; Wheeler formerly worked as a lobbyist for coal, natural gas, chemical, and utility companies, and as an aide to Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the Senate's most recalcitrant climate denier.

    Wheeler does, however, have a reputation as a more behind-the-scenes, businesslike administrator than the scandal-plagued Pruitt. New York Times reporter Lisa Friedman recently described the acting EPA chief as having a "low-key, under-the-radar style, even as he has worked diligently and methodically to advance Mr. Trump’s deregulatory agenda."

    But Wheeler is now following in Pruitt's footsteps in many of his dealings with journalists and the press.

    Wheeler's EPA press office attacks journalists and media outlets

    Pruitt had a remarkably contentious relationship with the media. His press office retaliated against specific reporters whose stories it didn't like and attacked them by name in press releases, among other aggressive moves.

    When Wheeler took over, many reporters noticed and welcomed a change in approach. E&E News published a story about the differences in July under the headline "'Night and day' as Wheeler opens doors to press."

    But in recent weeks, the EPA press office has returned to some of the same combative tactics employed during the Pruitt era. On October 30, it published a press release headlined "EPA Sets the Record Straight After Being Misrepresented in Press." Two days later, it got more aggressive with a press release titled "Fact Checking Seven Falsehoods in CNN’s Report."

    From an E&E News article published last week:

    The [EPA press shop's] combative approach calmed a bit when acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler took over for Scott Pruitt, who resigned over the summer, but now it appears to be intensifying again.

    ...

    The agency's actions have been scrutinized in the press in recent weeks, and the public affairs shop has been hitting back.

    ...

    Bobby Magill, president of the Society of Environmental Journalists, said the agency seems to be returning to its war-room-style tactics under Pruitt.

    "It looks to me like they're sort of returning to form," Magill said. "This suggests that they are returning to their previous press strategy under Scott Pruitt."

    Wheeler favors right-wing media for his televised interviews

    Pruitt heavily favored Fox News and other right-wing media outlets, giving them far more interviews than mainstream news organizations.

    Wheeler exhibits similar preferences. All four of the TV interviews we've seen him give since becoming acting administrator at the EPA have been with right-wing outlets.

    The first went to the conservative Sinclair TV conglomerate. Boris Epshteyn, Sinclair's chief political analyst and a former Trump aide, asked no hard questions and gave Wheeler a platform to make specious claims about automobile fuel economy. Wheeler's second TV interview was with Fox News, the third was with the Fox Business Network, and the fourth went to a Sinclair national correspondent.

    Wheeler embraces right-wing outlets and bashes mainstream media via his Twitter account

    Like his predecessor, Wheeler has a fondness for right-wing media outlets and personalities, but he's exhibited that in a way that Pruitt never did -- via his personal Twitter account.

    The Daily Beast's Scott Bixby reported earlier this year on one noteworthy example:

    In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”

    Wheeler recently retweeted Fox's Brit Hume when he criticized The New York Times and linked to an article in the conservative National Review. Wheeler has also liked a number of tweets from right-wing figures who criticized mainstream media outlets, including:

    • a Donald Trump Jr. tweet linking to The Daily Caller and mocking CNN
    • a tweet from frequent Fox guest and NRATV host Dan Bongino that slammed MSNBC
    • a tweet from libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that bashed HuffPost

    Wheeler promotes climate denial and racist memes via his Twitter account

    Like Pruitt, Wheeler also casts doubt on well-established climate science -- another view he has expressed through his Twitter account.

    In a 2015 tweet, Wheeler praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'” The essay criticized mainstream media outlets and scientific journals that have reported on climate change:

    Of course, we don’t have good data or sound arguments for decarbonizing our energy supply. But it sounds like we do. If you read Scientific American, Science, Nature, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and you take them at face value, you would have to agree that there is a strong likelihood that serious climate change is real and that decarbonization or geo-engineering are our only hopes. ... These are the people promoting a myth that has become deeply ingrained in our society.

    In 2011, Wheeler tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA." Wheeler also retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at HuffPost founder Arianna Huffington. And in 2009, Wheeler sent two tweets linking to climate-denying blog posts.

    As HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman reported last month, Wheeler has also used his social media accounts to endorse or promote other troubling views:

    Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, repeatedly engaged with inflammatory content on his personal Facebook and Twitter accounts over the past five years, including some in the past month.

    The previously-unreported interactions include liking a racist image of former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama on Facebook and retweeting an infamous “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist.

    Wheeler now turns back to major mainstream newspapers as he faces confirmation fight

    Though Wheeler has shown a preference for right-wing media when he does TV interviews, he has given a number of interviews to mainstream newspapers and wire services. In July, after it was announced that he would serve as acting EPA administrator, Wheeler gave substantive interviews to The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today, and The New York Times.

    The pace of his interviews with print outlets slowed down after his first month in office, but Wheeler now appears to be ramping it back up -- just as he's about to begin the process of trying to earn Senate confirmation.

    On November 16, hours before Trump announced that he would nominate Wheeler to officially fill the top EPA spot, Wheeler sat down for an interview with New York Times reporter Lisa Friedman. And Wheeler is scheduled to do a live-streamed interview with Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin on November 28.

    Wheeler may want to present himself as a mainstream moderate rather than a right-wing partisan as he tries to win over senators, and turning to major mainstream newspapers could be part of his strategy. But that would also present an opportunity for environmental journalists to ask tough questions and push him off his well-rehearsed talking points before confirmation hearings begin. We'll be looking to Eilperin to kick that process off next week.  

  • National right-wing media outlets bash renewable energy ballot initiative in Arizona

    The Daily Caller and Wash. Free Beacon push industry talking points on Proposition 127, which would require 50 percent renewable energy in Arizona by 2030

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    National right-wing media outlets The Daily Caller and Washington Free Beacon have together published two dozen articles criticizing Proposition 127, a clean energy ballot initiative in Arizona. Most of the pieces condemn the chief funder of the "yes" campaign, Tom Steyer, while failing to even mention the chief funder of the "no" campaign, the electric utility company Pinnacle West. Key figures in the opposition campaign have promoted the Daily Caller and Free Beacon articles on social media.

    Proposition 127 would require electric utilities in Arizona to produce half of their energy from renewables

    The proposed constitutional amendment would mandate that electric utilities in Arizona generate 50 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2030. Nuclear power would not count toward the target, nor would hydropower generated from facilities built before 1997. The 50 percent target would be a sizeable increase over Arizona’s current renewable portfolio standard, which requires 15 percent of electricity to come from renewables by 2025.

    The utility industry has spent heavily to try to defeat Proposition 127. Arizonans for Affordable Electricity is the main PAC opposing the initiative -- and all of its funding comes from Pinnacle West, the parent company of Arizona Public Service (APS), the largest electric utility in Arizona. Pinnacle West has steered more than $30 million to the PAC. Other utility interests are fighting the initiative too. The parent company of Tucson Electric Power has spent $50,000 on its own effort to oppose Proposition 127, and rural electric cooperatives have spent $417,000 on their own campaign.

    The PAC promoting Proposition 127, Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, has raised less money, but still a substantial amount: $23.6 million. Nearly all of that has come from NextGen Climate Action, a PAC founded and supported by billionaire activist Tom Steyer. The League of Conservation Voters and Sierra Club have contributed some money as well.

    The fight over Proposition 127 has now become the most expensive ballot initiative battle in state history.

    The Daily Caller and Washington Free Beacon have together published 24 pieces criticizing Proposition 127 and parroting industry talking points

    Proposition 127 has generated a fair deal of media coverage at the national level. Both Bloomberg and The New Yorker recently reported in-depth on the ballot initiative fight, and The Atlantic included Proposition 127 in an article about out-of-state billionaires spending to support ballot initiatives.

    However, most of the national media attention has been coming from The Daily Caller and the Washington Free Beacon -- right-wing outlets based in Washington, D.C. They have produced a steady stream of articles that are highly critical of the initiative, and often leave out key details regarding the funding and tactics of Arizonans for Affordable Electricity.

    Since March, these outlets have produced a combined 24 articles that criticized the ballot initiative -- 15 by The Daily Caller, nine by the Washington Free Beacon. Twenty-three of them made reference to Steyer in their headlines, and the only one that didn't still named Steyer in its first paragraph. But while the articles foregrounded the primary funder of the "yes" campaign, nearly all of them failed to mention that the main PAC behind the "no" campaign is being funded entirely by the parent company of APS. For example, a Daily Caller article from July was headlined “Tom Steyer One Step Closer to Dictating Arizona's Energy Industry.” It included a lengthy quote from Matthew Benson, spokesman for Arizonans for Affordable Electricity, but the story made no mention of the PAC's funding sources, and it failed to mention APS’ own near complete control of Arizona’s energy industry.

    Another problematic example was a March 21 article in the Washington Free Beacon that carried the headline “Some Arizona Democrats Rebel Against Tom Steyer-Led Renewable Push.” The article pulled quotes from an Arizona Republic op-ed co-authored by Democratic state Sen. Robert Meza that urged voters to reject the ballot initiative. But the article failed to note that Pinnacle West has donated thousands of dollars to Meza over the course of his career, which makes the company Meza’s biggest donor, according to the watchdog group Energy and Policy Institute. Also, according to the institute, “Meza has received thousands of dollars in personal income for work he’s done for a number of groups that also receive major funding from APS.”

    Additionally, many of the articles painted Steyer as a carpetbagger from California aiming to interfere in Arizona’s affairs, but they failed to note that dozens of Arizona-based groups have endorsed Proposition 127.

    Arizonans for Affordable Electricity and other opponents of Proposition 127 have promoted the Daily Caller and Free Beacon articles

    The campaign opposing the ballot initiative has seized on the articles in The Daily Caller and Washington Free Beacon and amplified them via social media. The official Twitter account of Arizonans for Affordable Energy sent at least three tweets that linked to articles in these outlets. A member of APS’ government affairs team tweeted out two of the articles -- one about Proposition 127, and another about a similar Steyer-backed initiative in Michigan. Vince Leach, a Republican state representative in Arizona, tweeted a Daily Caller article about how the initiative campaign is bankrolled by Steyer. Earlier this year, Leach worked with APS to draft a bill that would nullify the effects of the ballot initiative should it pass; the bill was signed into law in March. Leach has also received campaign contributions from APS as well as from Veridus, a PR and lobbying firm that is leading APS’ campaign against Proposition 127.

    The Wall Street Journal also criticized Proposition 127, using numbers from an APS-funded study

    The Daily Caller and Washington Free Beacon are not the only right-leaning national media outlets opposed to the renewable energy ballot initiative. On October 19, the notoriously conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board came out against the initiative. Its editorial cited research claiming that Proposition 127 would kill jobs and cut billions of dollars off of Arizona’s GDP over the coming decades. The editorial did not, however, note that the research it cited was financed entirely by APS. The research was also based on the assumption that Palo Verde, the nation’s largest nuclear plant, would be forced to close down should the initiative pass. But other research found that Palo Verde could be expected to remain open, and a former Republican head of Arizona's energy regulatory agency called the idea that Proposition 127 would force Palo Verde to close “utterly ridiculous and perhaps the greatest of all the lies that A.P.S. has told during this process.”

    The Washington Examiner, another conservative news publication based in Washington, D.C., also published an op-ed in September opposing the initiative. And the Heartland Institute, a fossil-fuel-funded climate-denial group, ran an anti-Proposition 127 blog post in September.

    APS is used to getting what it wants in Arizona

    A recent report by the Arizona Advocacy Network, a progressive organization that works on civic engagement and clean elections, outlined ways that APS and its parent company have used their massive financial power to sway legislators and regulators. "As of July 2018 Pinnacle West’s PAC donated $860,000 (2018 election cycle) to legislators and groups that are fighting clean energy in Arizona," the report notes. And in 2014 and 2016, Pinnacle West spent $7 million to elect friendly candidates to the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities. APS is also reported to influence campaigns through the spending of dark money, which it doesn't have to report publicly.

    Proposition 127 is currently trailing in polls, so APS may get what it wants yet again. According to a poll conducted by Suffolk University in early October, nearly 47 percent of voters said they would vote no on Proposition 127, while less than 34 percent would vote yes. About one-fifth of voters were undecided.

  • Here are the conservative media outlets and figures pushing the outlandish theory that Christine Blasey Ford misidentified her attacker

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Conservative legal commentator Ed Whelan yesterday pushed a theory that it wasn’t Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh who sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford, but another man who looked like Kavanaugh. While many have denounced the speculation, calling it, for instance, “wildly irresponsible,” several mainstream and fringe conservative media outlets and personalities endorsed Whelan’s theory.

    Ford has debunked the claim, saying there’s “zero chance that I would confuse them.” Though Whelan later deleted his tweets and apologized for identifying the supposed doppelganger, he hasn’t retracted his theory.

    In the days before Whelan tweeted his ridiculous theory, other conservative media figures and even a Republican lawmaker speculated that Ford was mistaken about who assaulted her. A Wall Street Journal editorial published on September 17 with the title “The #MeToo Kavanaugh Ambush” claimed, “Mistaken identity is also possible.” The same day, Fox News The Five co-host Jesse Watters speculated, “Maybe it was a case of mistaken identity.” And Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggested Ford is “mixed up.” On September 18, conservative Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker wrote that “as crazy as that sounds, it wouldn't be unheard of” for this to be just a matter of “mistaken identity,” in a column titled “Is there a Kavanaugh doppelganger?”

    But it was Whelan’s now-deleted thread of tweets, posted on September 20, that spread throughout conservative media. Those who promoted it include:

    Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy: Whelan “figured out what house it may have happened at, because it was a house closest to the golf course, and then realized whose house it was and looked at a picture of the young man who lived there at the time who was a classmate of Mr. Kavanaugh's. Put up side by side images, they look a lot alike.”

    Conservative blogger Erick Erickson: Whelan “decided to put up a more compelling story that embraces Ford’s theory of assault.”

    While I am still not convinced there was an assault on Professor Ford, an intriguing theory has come forward that embraces the idea she was assaulted and makes a far more plausible case than that Brett Kavanaugh did it.

    Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center decided to put up a more compelling story that embraces Ford's theory of assault, while filling in the details she provided. And while I continue to find it unseemly to drag another innocent person into a fraudulent claim, the facts are very compelling that this is the location and things make more sense if you assume Ford was assaulted.

    The facts, as Ed Whelan laid them out, are that Brett Kavanaugh did go to school with someone who has a striking resemblance. That person lived within walking distance of the club Ford claims she had been at. The home matches the limited description Ford provided. I suspect more information will roll out as well over the coming days.

    I continue to believe Ford's accusation is not credible. If you find it credible, Whelan's evidence is compelling unless you're just trying to stop Kavanaugh for partisan or ideological reasons.

    Conservative NY Times columnist Ross Douthat: I “assume there’s more reason to believe [Whelan’s] doppelganger theory than just what he just tweeted.”

    Gateway Pundit: Whelan “drops pictures and evidence that blows Christine Ford’s case wide open.”

    Accuser Christine Blasey Ford is waging a war on Trump’s SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh with decades-old, unsubstantiated claims of sexual assault in an effort to derail his confirmation to the Supreme Court.

    Judge Kavanaugh has categorically denied the allegations and even told Senator Orin (sic) Hatch he wasn’t at the party in question.

    Ed Whelan, Justice Scalia’s former law clerk and president of conservative think tank the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), came out in defense of Brett Kavanaugh and said compelling evidence will come out next week exonerating Kavanaugh.

    On Thursday afternoon, Ed Whelan started dropping pictures and evidence that may blow Christine Ford’s case wide open.

    Twitchy: “Ed Whelan’s BOMBSHELL thread takes Ford’s accusations against Kavanaugh apart.”

    Earlier today, Twitchy covered the ‘rumor’ that information had been obtained that some felt would 100% exonerate Kavanaugh. This originally stemmed from tweets Ed Whelan sent out in the first part of this week.

    Welp, looks like Ed made good on his claim and posted a thread of facts that would give anyone pause as to what really did and did not happen to Ford and could eventually prove Kavanaugh’s innocence.

    Keep in mind, we can neither confirm nor deny anything Whelan has stated in his bombshell thread.

    Zero Hedge: “Was Kavanaugh accuser almost raped by his doppelganger? A new theory emerges.”

    A new theory has emerged in the case of whether Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted accuser Christine Blasey Ford roughly 35 years ago; it was Kavanaugh's high school look-alike, whose high school house better fits Ford's description, and who kept in touch with the other guy allegedly in the room, Mark Judge.

    The theory was presented Thursday afternoon by Ed Whelan, a former clerk to USSC Justice Antonin Scalia and currently president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), a conservative think tank.

    The Goldwater: “Breaking: Attorney Ed Whelan drops explosive evidence of vindication for Judge Kavanaugh.”

    Ford has been traumatized by the memory of sexual assault for 35 years. She sought therapy in 2012 due to the horrible memories. No one would go to all that trouble for nothing. Something happened to her.

    I couldn’t wrap my head around this story. What happened here? There had to be an explanation. Something I was missing. Then I read a story today that closed some loopholes for me. Below is the story I read.

    Please note that I am in no way stating that this is true. We have no idea what happened to Ford back when she was a teenager. This is just one idea, one possibility. Keep in mind that Ford can’t remember much about the details. It was a long time ago. This is why Kavanaugh should have never been put through this. He and his family are suffering, and Ford has no facts to base her allegations on.

    Ed Whalen’s Theory of Kavanaugh Rape…

    Conservative Firing Line: “It looks like the case brought against Judge Brett Kavanaugh just took another serious hit.”

    It looks like the case brought against Judge Brett Kavanaugh just took another serious hit. The Washington Post reported that Ed Whelan, a former clerk for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the president of conservative think tank the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), said “compelling evidence” which apparently includes photos and maps would exonerate Kavanaugh from allegations brought by Christine Blasey Ford.

    Powerline promoted Whelan’s tweets with headline “Mistake identity?”

    Paul (and Senator Orrin Hatch) has already mentioned the possibility that Dr. Ford’s allegation of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh may be a case of mistaken identity, based in part on Ed Whelan’s cryptic tweets that Kavanaugh is going to be fully exonerated. This has set off a firestorm of rumors and expectations. Whelan has just now (6 pm eastern time) provided one specific scenario of this on Twitter, offering up a specific name (though careful to note that he makes no allegation of implication that the other person, Chris Garrett, assaulted Ford as claimed).

    Read the whole thread—it doesn’t take long, but it is not easily summarized here.

  • Right-wing media go all-out to denigrate Christine Blasey Ford, who says Kavanaugh assaulted her

    Ford said Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when they were high school students, but many media conservatives attacked her or say Kavanaugh should be confirmed anyway

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Washington Post reported on Sunday that Christine Blasey Ford had written a letter this summer to a Democratic lawmaker saying that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both high school students. Soon after Ford’s account was published, right-wing media figures and outlets began attacking her credibility, publicly discounting her story, or calling on Kavanaugh to be confirmed by Republicans anyway.

    Details from the letter, which she wrote to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), leaked out several days earlier, and then Ford “decided that if her story is going to be told, she wants to be the one to tell it.” From the Post’s story:

    Speaking publicly for the first time, Ford said that one summer in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh and a friend — both “stumbling drunk,” Ford alleges — corralled her into a bedroom during a gathering of teenagers at a house in Montgomery County.

    While his friend watched, she said, Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed on her back and groped her over her clothes, grinding his body against hers and clumsily attempting to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it. When she tried to scream, she said, he put his hand over her mouth.

    “I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” said Ford, now a 51-year-old research psychologist in northern California. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”

    Ford said she was able to escape when Kavanaugh’s friend and classmate at Georgetown Preparatory School, Mark Judge, jumped on top of them, sending all three tumbling. She said she ran from the room, briefly locked herself in a bathroom and then fled the house.

    Ford said she told no one of the incident in any detail until 2012, when she was in couples therapy with her husband. The therapist’s notes, portions of which were provided by Ford and reviewed by The Washington Post, do not mention Kavanaugh’s name but say she reported that she was attacked by students “from an elitist boys’ school” who went on to become “highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington.” The notes say four boys were involved, a discrepancy Ford says was an error on the therapist’s part. Ford said there were four boys at the party but only two in the room.

    Notes from an individual therapy session the following year, when she was being treated for what she says have been long-term effects of the incident, show Ford described a “rape attempt” in her late teens.

    Kavanaugh has denied the report after Ford went public, calling it “a completely false allegation.” He previously said, “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation.” The immediate reaction from many conservative media figures was terrible: Many cast doubt on her account, others suggested they might believe her but said Kavanaugh should be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice anyway, and others impugned her motives, suggesting a political or personal grudge.

    Conservatives who cast doubt on Ford’s account

    FoxNews.com’s Stephen Miller: “This was not a sexual assault. … Hold the vote. Confirm him. … It was drunk teenagers playing seven minutes of heaven.”

    Breitbart’s John Nolte: “GOP blows Kavanaugh, falls for this, they will be massacred in November.”

    Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones mocked Ford’s accusation: “Brett Kavanaugh in 1986 came to Dallas, TX, and I was in high school, and he raped me.”

    Trump ally and conservative political operator Roger Stone: “This is a woman looking for her Anita Hill moment. This is her 15 minutes.”

    Turning Point USA’s Candace Owens: “Nothing to see here, folks,” Ford is “just another woman who conveniently tripped and fell out of amnesia.”

    Conservative radio host Erick Erickson: “If the GOP does not stand up to this character assassination attempt on Kavanaugh, every judicial nominee moving forward is going to suffer last minute sexual assault allegations.”

    Erick Erickson: “I do not believe Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser. I do believe there is a Democrat PR firm working this story.”

    Erick Erickson: “People who want to keep killing kids really shouldn’t be throwing Jesus in the face of those who don’t believe the accusation against Kavanaugh.”

    Fox News’ Tomi Lahren: “Decades-old allegations against Kavanaugh come out just days before a vote….victim or opportunist?”

    Tomi Lahren: "Female empowerment is NOT using sexual assault allegations to torpedo someone you disagree with politically."

    Fox contributor Tammy Bruce: Report of assault by Kavanaugh is “an attempt at a political assassination.”

    Newsmax’s John Cardillo: “No, 35+ year old dubious allegations about a non-crime made by a left-wing activist … do not hold water.”

    NRATV’s Grant Stinchfield: “I have no idea if Judge Kavanaugh pushed this woman down on a bed at a high school house party where she wriggled free and ran away or not. What I do know is in the 35 years since, not one other woman has raised such an allegation. Sixty-five other women have, in fact, now come to his defense.”

    Fox Business host Dagen McDowell: “You have to press [Ford] on any potential bias that’s there” against Republicans.

    Fake news site TruthFeed: Ford’s story has “more holes than a slice of swiss cheese.”

    The despicable Democrats are pulling out all the stops to try and derail the Judge Kavanaugh vote for SCOTUS.

    They’re now claiming that Judge Kavanaugh attacked a woman in high school, nearly killing her. The woman, whose story has more holes than a slice of swiss cheese, claims there was a man in the room who witnessed the entire thing.

    One big problem. That man, says it never happened.

    Facebook page Silence is Consent posted a meme misleadingly claiming Ford was “so ‘devastated’” by incident “she contacted Feinstein 35 years later.”

    Fox Business host Bob Massi:The thing that’s remarkable to me” is that someone “with amazing credentials, amazing resumes, and an allegation like this comes out … and their entire career credibility is gone. … That’s the trouble with this.”

    Sean Hannity radio show guest David Schoen: "The real crime here that happened" is Sen. Dianne Feinstein "presenting this thing under ... this veil of mystery."

    Fox News host Sean Hannity cast doubt on Ford's accusation because of "everything else you see about Judge Kavanaugh's life ... this is a guy that spends a lot of time feeding the homeless."

    CRTV's Gavin McInnes: Ford is "clearly full of crap." 

    CRTV's Mark Levin on Ford's accusation: "This whole thing to me sounds like a sham and a setup. ... This is an entire political scam and sham as far as I'm concerned."

    Ethics and Public Policy Center Lance Morrow's Wall Street Journal op-ed likened Ford's accusation to Salem Witch Trials, diminished alleged rape attempt: "No clothes were removed, and no sexual penetration occurred."

    The Salem witch trials turned on what was called “spectral evidence.” That was testimony from witnesses—either malicious or hysterical—who claimed the accused had assumed the form of a black cat or some other devilish creature and had come visiting in the night in order to torment the witness with bites and scratches, or to rearrange the bedroom furniture, or to send the baby into paroxysms.

    ...

    Three hundred twenty-six years later, an anonymous woman—a spectral and possibly nonexistent woman, for all that one knew when the story emerged—accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her 36 years ago, when he was a high-school student. It seemed as if the American constitutional process might be drawn back to the neighborhood of Salem, Mass. According to this phantom testimony, 17-year-old Brett held the girl down, pawed her and tried to force himself upon her, and held his hand over her mouth when she screamed, until a second prep-school devil piled on top, they all tumbled to the floor, and the girl managed to slip away. The boys were “stumbling drunk,” according to the account.

    ...

    The thing happened—if it happened—an awfully long time ago, back in Ronald Reagan’s time, when the actors in the drama were minors and (the boys, anyway) under the blurring influence of alcohol and adolescent hormones. No clothes were removed, and no sexual penetration occurred. The sin, if there was one, was not one of those that Catholic theology calls peccata clamantia—sins that cry to heaven for vengeance.

    The offense alleged is not nothing, by any means. It is ugly, and stupid more than evil, one might think, but trauma is subjective and hard to parse legally. Common sense is a little hard put to know what to make of the episode, if it happened. The dust of 36 years has settled over the memory. The passage of time sometimes causes people to forget; sometimes it causes them to invent or embellish. Invention takes on bright energies when its muse is politics, which is the Olympics of illusion. 

    Conservatives who indicated that whether or not they believe Ford, Kavanaugh should be confirmed

    Federalist contributor Tom Nichols: “I’m good with the story being true,” but it shouldn’t “derail [his] nomination.”

    Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh: Ford’s report can’t be proven, “so he should be confirmed.”

    Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro: “The Senate should just vote” on Kavanaugh.

    The Federalist: Kavanaugh “should be confirmed” despite Ford’s report.

    Townhall.com editor Guy Benson: “Absent additional evidence, I don’t know how it would be remotely just to derail the nomination” of Kavanaugh.

    The Wall Street Journal editorial board suggested Ford possibly misremembered "in the cauldron of a therapy session to rescue a marriage," and stated that letting Ford's accusation "stop Mr. Kavanaugh's confirmation would ratify what has all the earmarks of a calculated political ambush."

    The woman accusing Brett Kavanaugh of a drunken assault when both were teenagers has now come forward publicly, and on Monday it caused Republicans to delay a confirmation vote and schedule another public hearing. Yet there is no way to confirm her story after 36 years, and to let it stop Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation would ratify what has all the earmarks of a calculated political ambush.

    ...

    Mr. Kavanaugh denies all this “categorically and unequivocally,” and there is simply no way to prove it. The only witness to the event is Mr. Kavanaugh’s high school male friend, Mark Judge, who also says he recalls no such event. Ms. Ford concedes she told no one about it—not even a high school girl friend or family member—until 2012 when she told the story as part of couples therapy with her husband.

    The vagaries of memory are well known, all the more so when they emerge in the cauldron of a therapy session to rescue a marriage. Experts know that human beings can come to believe firmly over the years that something happened when it never did or is based on partial truth. Mistaken identity is also possible.

    ...

    This is simply too distant and uncorroborated a story to warrant a new hearing or to delay a vote. We’ve heard from all three principals, and there are no other witnesses to call. Democrats will use Monday’s hearing as a political spectacle to coax Mr. Kavanaugh into looking defensive or angry, and to portray Republicans as anti-women. Odds are it will be a circus.

    ...

    Letting an accusation that is this old, this unsubstantiated and this procedurally irregular defeat Mr. Kavanaugh would also mean weaponizing every sexual assault allegation no matter the evidence. It will tarnish the #MeToo cause with the smear of partisanship, and it will unleash even greater polarizing furies.

    Conservatives who attacked Ford’s motives

    Mike Cernovich: “Christine Blasey is a far left wing activist. ... this is straight activism on her part.”

    The Gateway Pundit: Ford is a “far-left activist.”

    Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft: Ford is an “unhinged liberal professor who former students describe as dark, mad, scary and troubled.”

    Fox News host Laura Ingraham: “Apparently this accuser was fine with leaving Brett Kavanaugh on the second highest court of the land. … But it was when he was up for the Supreme Court that suddenly the stakes got higher.”

    Laura Ingraham: "This all has the whiff of a political smear masquerading as a sexual assault allegation."

    Fake news site RedstateWatcher: Ford is a "registered Democrat and Democrat activist.”

    Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh: Ford is "a political activist. She's an angry political activist. She's much more than just a victim of alleged attempted rape."

    Fox News host Tucker Carlson: "Does anyone really believe this story would have surfaced if Brett Kavanaugh had pledged allegiance to Roe v. Wade? Of course it wouldn't have."​

    Right-wing Facebook meme pages and groups engaged in a smear campaign against Ford

    Many right-wing meme pages attacking Ford falsely painted her as a Democratic political operative. [1, 2, 3, 4]

    Some pages tried to undermine Ford’s allegations by questioning her timing in coming forward and her memory of the incident. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

    A woman from a Shuttershock photo of an anti-Trump protest in New York City was falsely attributed as Ford. [1, 2]

    Alex Kaplan and Natalie Martinez contributed research to this post.

  • Brett Kavanaugh will threaten Roe. Susan Collins needs to stop buying right-wing media's excuses.

    Kavanaugh is a threat to abortion rights, and by suggesting otherwise, Sen. Susan Collins “is grossly misleading her constituents”

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Members of President Donald Trump’s inner circle continue to plead guilty to a variety of crimes -- some potentially implicating the president himself. Yet, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) recently told reporters that she sees no reason to delay the confirmation hearings of Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, even though he may have to rule on the president’s legal troubles one day. In particular, after meeting with Kavanaugh, Collins issued a statement saying she was unconcerned about his stance on Roe v. Wade because he told her he thinks Roe is “settled precedent.” Kavanaugh’s assurances mean nothing. And this isn't the first time Collins has fallen for the right-wing media talking point that Roe is safe because it’s “settled precedent.”

    Kavanaugh is the seventh Supreme Court nominee that Collins has considered since she became a senator. During this time, she has voted to confirm Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Trump's first nominee Neil Gorsuch. After meeting with him, Collins said in her statement that Kavanaugh “expressed agreement with Chief Justice Roberts’ confirmation hearing statement that Roe is settled precedent and entitled to respect under principles of stare decisis.”

    But as University of Washington lecturer Scott Lemieux wrote for NBC News, “Roberts’s claim, now echoed by Kavanaugh, that Roe was settled precedent is technically true, but not very meaningful.” Lemieux continued:

    Roberts also correctly observed that the Court is not always bound by its own precedents, and the criteria he outlined for deciding when overruling a precedent is appropriate did not rule out the overruling of Roe.

    And, at his confirmation hearings, Justice Samuel Alito said similar things to Roberts, asserting that Roewas (sic) a precedent entitled to “respect” but stopping well short of saying that it shouldn’t be overruled.

    To say that Roe is an important precedent, or even a “settled” precedent, is merely stating a truism that does not in itself tell us anything about how a Supreme Court justice will rule on that precedent. What matters more than Roberts’s or Kavanuagh’s (sic) words are their actions, and they suggest that pro-life groups are right to be thrilled with the nomination of Kavanaugh if he agrees with them.

    According to Lemieux, Collins’ position on Kavanaugh demonstrates that “opponents of legal abortion who supported Trump and Kavanaugh know exactly what they’re doing and what they’re getting in Kavanaugh” -- just as they did with other conservative judicial nominees -- and to suggest otherwise means “Collins is grossly misleading her constituents.”

    New York magazine also noted: “The most important thing to keep in mind in parsing this carefully constructed assurance Kavanaugh offered to Collins is the broader context of Kavanaugh’s nomination (and before him, that of Roberts, Alito, and Gorsuch): the iron determination of Republicans since at least the George W. Bush administration to atone for the GOP-appointed justices — the longest-lasting being Anthony Kennedy — who supported abortion rights.” Therefore, the article continued, “It would be shocking if this process and the politics behind it produced a justice who looked at SCOTUS precedents on abortion and pronounced them unassailable.”

    Independent of Collins’ own record of supporting conservative nominees who are hostile to abortion rights, her justification of supporting Kavanaugh because he allegedly believes Roe is “settled law” also echos right-wing media talking points. Since Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement in June 2018, right-wing media oscillated between blithely assuring viewers that there was no threat to abortion access and arguing that Roe was “bad” law that deserved to be overturned. For example, an editorial in The Wall Street Journal argued that because “the Court has upheld [Roe’s] core right so many times, ... the Chief Justice and perhaps even the other conservatives aren’t likely to overrule stare decisis on a 5-4 vote.” Conservative lawyer Alan Dershowitz similarly claimed that Roe is safe because “true conservatives also follow precedent,” and therefore any conservative appointee would not vote to overturn it. Meanwhile, conservative media figures such as Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro and the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo have explicitly argued that Kavanaugh would follow precedent with regards to Roe.

    Collins may be falling for obvious right-wing media talking points, but even a casual look at the facts indicates it is misleading to suggest that Kavanaugh wouldn’t threaten abortion rights if given the chance. For example, Kavanaugh issued a dissenting opinion in a 2017 case, arguing that an unaccompanied pregnant immigrant teen who was in federal custody should not be allowed to obtain an abortion. In addition, for those like Collins who may still be holding onto the illusion that calling Roe “settled law” means anything, one need look no further than Kavanaugh’s praise for former Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s dissent in Roe v. Wade to understand how he might rule on abortion rights if confirmed.

    Both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have made crystal clear their intentions to reshape the judiciary to overturn Roe or otherwise make abortion less accessible. There’s no reason for Susan Collins to be falling for the right-wing media talking point about Roe being “settled law” this time around -- and if recent polling is to be believed, her refusal to face the facts about Kavanaugh could cost her reelection.

  • New EPA chief Andrew Wheeler has a fondness for right-wing media and climate-denier blogs

    But will he be as combative toward the mainstream press as Scott Pruitt was?

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Scott Pruitt, ousted administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), had cozy relationships with right-wing media outlets and combative relationships with the mainstream press. Andrew Wheeler, who's stepped in as acting administrator, has also shown a fondness for right-wing media and signs of disdain toward some mainstream media. But Wheeler has not interacted with the press in the same hostile and tribal ways that Pruitt did. Will Wheeler's approach to the media shift now that he's at the helm at EPA?

    On the topic of climate change, it’s easier to predict whether Wheeler will change course: probably not. Like Pruitt, Wheeler has long been skeptical of climate science and climate action, as evidenced not just by Wheeler’s public statements but also by his Twitter account. He has tweeted out links to climate-denying blog posts, including one post that declared, “There is no such thing as ‘carbon pollution.’”

    Pruitt leaned heavily on right-wing media

    Throughout his tenure at the EPA, Pruitt made heavy use of right-wing media outlets to spread his preferred talking points and fight back against media coverage he didn't like. During his first year, Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as all other major TV networks combined, Media Matters found, and Fox was less likely than other networks to cover Pruitt's scandals. Pruitt was also a frequent guest on national right-wing talk-radio shows, where he received soft treatment.

    After Pruitt got unexpectedly tough questions during an April interview with Fox's Ed Henry, he retreated to right-wing outlets that were even more likely to give him good press, giving interviews to the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Washington Free Beacon, and a Mississippi talk-radio show.

    Pruitt cultivated a particularly cozy relationship with right-wing outlet The Daily Caller, giving the site exclusive quotes and information. The Daily Caller in turn repeatedly defended Pruitt against scandals and attacked people who released damaging information about him. Even after Pruitt resigned, The Daily Caller continued to act as his attack dog, publishing pieces with headlines including "Source: A torrent of negative press ended Scott Pruitt's career at EPA" and "Jilted former EPA aide with sordid history takes full credit for Pruitt's resignation."

    Pruitt attacked and stymied mainstream media outlets

    Under Pruitt, the EPA press office repeatedly attacked, stymied, and manipulated reporters at mainstream news outlets, as Media Matters documented. The agency refused to release basic information about its activities, blocked journalists from attending official agency events, favored reporters who would provide positive coverage, and publicly insulted and retaliated against reporters and outlets whose coverage officials didn't like.

    One of many such attacks came in September, when the EPA sent out a press release that personally maligned Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker, accusing him of having "a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story." Another attack happened in June of 2018, when EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox called an Atlantic reporter "a piece of trash” after she asked for comment on one of Pruitt's aides resigning. 

    Pruitt appeared to attack the media on his way out the door, too. His resignation letter blamed "unprecedented" and "unrelenting attacks" on him.

    Wheeler liked tweets from right-wing media figures, defended Milo Yiannopoulos

    Wheeler, for his part, has also demonstrated an affinity for right-wing media figures and outlets, but he's done it in a different way -- via his personal Twitter account. He has "liked" many tweets by conservative media figures, including ones that criticize mainstream or liberal media outlets.

    Wheeler "liked" a July 3 tweet by Donald Trump Jr. that linked to a Daily Caller post lauding Fox News's high ratings and mocking CNN's lower ones:

    He "liked" a June 11 tweet by NRATV host and Fox regular Dan Bongino that bashed MSNBC:

    Wheeler "liked" a June 1 tweet by libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that criticized a HuffPost story: "HuffPo isn’t a place of journalism, it’s a place of Far Left activism." (Media Matters rebutted the misleading claims of right-wing figures who criticized the story.)

    He "liked" a May 22 tweet by NRATV host and NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch that knocked Planned Parenthood.

    He "liked" an April 3 tweet by conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel that inaccurately claimed Obama EPA officials spent as much on travel as Pruitt did.

    He "liked" a January 6 tweet by Fox News personality Brit Hume that mocked Al Gore.

    Wheeler has "liked" tweets from frequent Fox News guests Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens of the conservative group Turning Point USA, including this one:

    According to Daily Beast reporter Scott Bixby, in 2016 Wheeler tweeted out a conspiracy theorist's video that defended Milo Yiannopoulos, an alt-right troll and former Breitbart editor, but Wheeler later deleted the tweet:

    In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”

    Since being named acting head of the EPA last week, Wheeler appears to have deleted 12 more tweets from his feed.

    Wheeler tweeted links to climate-denier blog posts

    While EPA watchers have predicted that Wheeler is likely to differ from Pruitt in his demeanor, Wheeler has displayed the same attitude as Pruitt toward climate change.

    In 2011, when Wheeler was a lobbyist for the Murray Energy coal company, he tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA."

    Wheeler retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington and highlighted projections about India's rising coal use.

    In 2009, Wheeler sent a tweeted promoting a climate-denying blog post published on the conservative American Thinker site:

    On at least two occasions, Wheeler has tweeted links to posts on RealClearPolitics that questioned the science of climate change. A tweet in 2009 linked to a post titled "A Reason To Be Skeptical," and the tweet included the hashtag #capandtax, a conservative smear against cap-and-trade policies. The piece he linked to, which also appeared in The Denver Post, promoted “Climategate,” a bogus, manufactured scandal in which conservatives claimed that hacked emails showed climate scientists were fabricating evidence of warming temperatures. 

    And a tweet in 2015 praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'”

    This piece, which Wheeler called "great," largely dismissed climate science and criticized the media outlets and peer-reviewed journals that regularly report on climate change:

    Of course, we don’t have good data or sound arguments for decarbonizing our energy supply. But it sounds like we do. If you read Scientific American, Science, Nature, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and you take them at face value, you would have to agree that there is a strong likelihood that serious climate change is real and that decarbonization or geo-engineering are our only hopes.

    Wheeler gives interviews and quotes primarily to mainstream outlets

    Though Wheeler's Twitter account seems to show a preference for right-wing outlets, he does not exhibit the same ideological bias when he gives interviews or quotes to media. Most of the interviews he's given during his career in Washington, D.C., have been to mainstream outlets.

    Media Matters has identified eight interviews Wheeler has granted to media outlets since October 5, 2017, when President Donald Trump nominated him to serve as deputy administrator of the EPA:

    During his years as a lobbyist from 2009 to 2017 -- when he worked for coal, nuclear, chemical, and utility companies, among others -- he was quoted at least eight times by E&E News, a subscription-based news organization aimed at professionals working in the energy and environment fields, and he sat for one video interview with E&E. He also gave quotes at least twice to another inside-the-beltway news organization, Politico, as well as to The New York Times and FoxNews.com.

    From 1995 to 2008, when Wheeler worked for Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), he gave at least four more video interviews to E&E News. He was also quoted in a Washington Post article in 2008.

    Right-wing media are already leaping to Wheeler's defense

    Whether on not Wheeler starts giving interviews or information to right-wing outlets, right-wing outlets are likely to defend him against criticism. They've already started.

    The Daily Caller, which had a tight-knit relationship with Pruitt and his press office, published a story on July 5 titled "Pruitt has been gone for less than a day and his replacement is already getting attacked." And Breitbart ran a piece on July 5 that quoted conservatives praising Wheeler and argued that "the media is already attacking him in much the same relentless fashion it did Pruitt."

    What's next for Wheeler and the EPA press office?

    It's not surprising that Wheeler gave quotes and interviews primarily to mainstream and inside-the-beltway publications while he was working for Inhofe and representing his lobbying clients. He was trying to reach influencers and mold public opinion.

    In contrast, Pruitt, who has been rumored to be plotting a run for Oklahoma governor or senator, has spent his time in D.C. trying to raise his profile and burnish his image with GOP donors and the conservative base of the Republican Party. He often turned to highly partisan right-wing outlets to achieve those ends.

    Now that Wheeler is the boss setting the agenda and determining strategy, will he continue his conventional approach of talking to mainstream media, or will he follow Pruitt's recent example and turn primarily to highly partisan right-wing outlets like Fox News and The Daily Caller? And under Wheeler's leadership, will the EPA's press office treat reporters more professionally than it did under Pruitt, or will it continue to be highly combative with the media?

    In the few days since Wheeler was announced as interim EPA chief on July 5, he seems to have taken a more traditional and conciliatory approach. He's given two substantive interviews to major newspapers, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. And according to Politico, Wheeler will be taking a different approach from Pruitt in terms of dealing with the press: "Wheeler will announce where he is speaking or traveling in advance, he will publish his full calendars 'frequently,' without litigation from groups pursuing public records, and he and other top political appointees will hold briefings for the media on major policy announcements."

    But even if the media approach changes, the policy approach won't. "EPA's agenda remains largely unchanged," Politico continued. "Wheeler will still pursue much the same policy platform — fighting the courts to roll back a slate of Obama-era regulations on climate change, air pollution, stream protection and more."

    Ted MacDonald, Evlondo Cooper, and Kevin Kalhoefer contributed research to this post.

  • Scott Pruitt’s dead-end loyalists

    Right-wing pundits out themselves as terminally dishonest enablers of corruption

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Scott Pruitt has finally -- finally -- resigned as Environmental Protection Agency administrator after months of reporting on his increasingly farcical acts of corruption and petty grifting. The fact that Pruitt managed to stay in his job for as long as he did as evidence of his flamboyant venality accumulated speaks to President Donald Trump’s unique capacity to attract and protect corrupt officials. We’re not even two years into the Trump administration and already two Cabinet-level officials have been forced out because of ethics scandals and misuses of public funds. And that’s to say nothing of the interior secretary, the commerce secretary, the housing and urban development secretary, and Trump himself, all of whom are marinating in a toxic slurry of graft and malfeasance.

    But even for the shockingly corrupt Trump administration, the breadth, depth, and frequently absurd nature of Pruitt’s grift made him something special. His conduct is the subject of more than a dozen official investigations, and the inquiries will continue despite his departure from the EPA. Given what we already know about Pruitt’s conduct and the possibility that still more abuses will emerge, there would seem to be little upside to defending this cretin as he slinks out the door. But that’s precisely what Pruitt’s allies in the conservative media are doing, rallying around the most gaudily corrupt Trump official and pretending that Pruitt is the victim.

    We’ll start with radio host Hugh Hewitt, given that he’s an established accessory to the Pruitt corruption omniscandal. He tweeted his support for his “good friend and a very good man,” arguing that Pruitt had been unfairly “caricatured” by the now-familiar faceless conspiracy of liberals and reporters:

    Hewitt quote-tweeted Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel, who insisted that the “lesson” of Pruitt’s scandal-plagued tenure and resignation is that “the left/media/organized greens” operate in bad faith by taking supposedly minor ethical lapses -- remember, there are over a dozen open investigations into Pruitt -- and turning them into a full-blown scandal:

    The Federalist Senior Editor Mollie Hemingway also bemoaned the success of the assumed liberal media conspiracy against Pruitt and direly warned that it will have future successes against other corrupt senior officials:

    And, bringing up the rear in spectacularly stupid fashion, we have the Wall Street Journal editorial board (of which Strassel is a member) which attacked the “permanent progressive state” for cynically capitalizing on the “tragedy” of Pruitt’s corruption to force him out:

    Chalk one up for the swamp. The permanent progressive state finally ran Scott Pruitt out of the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday, and the tragedy is that Mr. Pruitt gave his enemies so much ammunition.

    None of these defenses make much sense -- Strassel and the WSJ editors sort-of acknowledge Pruitt’s bad behavior but somehow still push blame off elsewhere -- and all of them presume the existence of an anti-Pruitt conspiracy to conveniently ignore the warehouses of evidence against Pruitt and the small cohort of Republican officials who’d called for his head. The only criticism they can muster against him is that he just wasn’t PR-savvy enough to deal with the phantom anti-Pruitt conspiracy.

    They’re making these transparently ridiculous defenses of Pruitt mainly to avoid facing some uncomfortable realities. When Pruitt’s scandals first started bubbling up, most of the people highlighted here wrote basically the same piece arguing that liberals were conducting a political hit on Pruitt because he was such an effective destroyer of environmental regulations. That argument has aged extremely poorly. Also, if they were to allow that Pruitt is corrupt, that would change how they’d have to talk about Trump, given that the president allowed such a prolific abuser of public trust to remain in office for months after he should have been fired. Indeed, most of them demanded that Trump stand by Pruitt. They won’t admit that they were wrong, so instead they’re casting Pruitt as a victim and blaming his downfall on a shadowy cabal of reporters and green activists.

    This flagrant intellectual dishonesty in defense of rampant corruption raises an important question: How long will the press tolerate and abet behavior like this? Strassel, Hewitt, Hemingway, and Journal editorial writers are Sunday show conservatives -- they appear as guests and panelists on mainstream news programs and they enjoy the respect of some elite journalists and news organizations. Already we’re seeing some stirrings of revulsion -- CNBC’s John Harwood asked if Hewitt “seriously believes” that Pruitt is a victim:

    There is no answer to this question that reflects well on Hewitt or anyone else making that argument. If they do believe that Scott Pruitt was victimized, then they’re either too stupid or too blinded by tribal loyalty to be taken seriously. If they don’t believe it, then they’re just lying to defend one of the most staggeringly corrupt politicians in recent memory. Either way, they’ve outed themselves as untrustworthy, bad-faith shills for a corrupt White House.

  • The Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade. Don’t buy these right-wing excuses that it’s not a big deal.

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Following the announcement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, media have been speculating about the possibility of a nominee selected by President Donald Trump casting the deciding vote overturning Roe v. Wade.

    While some mainstream outlets have rightly warned about the likelihood and negative impacts of overturning, or even further hollowing out, Roe’s protections, many conservative outlets and figures deployed a variety of excuses either to suggest that Roe is not at risk or to downplay any potential negative effects such a move would have. But make no mistake -- the Trump administration and its anti-abortion allies haven’t been shy about their goal: making abortion inaccessible or even illegal in the United States, no matter what the consequences.

    In 2016, then-candidate Trump said in response to a debate question about whether he would overturn Roe: “Well, if we put another two or perhaps three justice on, that’s really what’s going to be — that will happen. And that’ll happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court.” Previously, in July 2016, then-vice presidential nominee Mike Pence said that he believed that electing Trump would lead to the overturning of Roe and that he wanted to see the decision “consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs.” In return, anti-abortion groups have also supported the administration -- a fact underscored by Trump’s keynote address at the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List’s (SBA List) gala in May.

    Despite the administration’s promise, conservative media and figures are deploying a number of inaccurate excuses to either deny or downplay the severity of the threat to abortion rights with another Trump-appointed justice on the court:

    1. Claiming that abortion rights are safe because Roe is precedent, and none of the current justices will vote to overturn it.

    In the aftermath of Kennedy’s announcement, some conservative media argued that abortion rights are not threatened because the sitting justices -- including Chief Justice John Roberts and Trump’s previous nominee Justice Neil Gorsuch -- would be reticent to overturn precedent.

    For example, an editorial in The Wall Street Journal argued that because “the Court has upheld [Roe’s] core right so many times, ... the Chief Justice and perhaps even the other conservatives aren’t likely to overrule stare decisis on a 5-4 vote.” Similarly, during a June 27 appearance on Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs Tonight, conservative lawyer Alan Dershowitz claimed that Roe is safe because “true conservatives also follow precedent,” and therefore any conservative appointee would not vote to overturn it. Short-serving former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci said it is unlikely that Roe would be overturned because “the court recognizes that there are certain fundamental principles that are in place and certain presidential precedent-setting principles in place." He concluded, “I know there are conservatives out there that want it to be overturned but I just don't see it happening."

    It appears highly unlikely that the new Supreme Court would keep Roe intact. Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern wrote that Kennedy’s retirement “ensured” that Roe will be overturned -- even if it ultimately will “die with a whimper” as the Supreme Court would allow anti-choice lawmakers to foist “extreme regulations on clinics, outlawing abortion after a certain number of weeks, or barring a woman from terminating a pregnancy on the basis of the fetus’ disability or identity.” As Stern concluded, “the constitutional right to abortion access in America is living on borrowed time.” This argument was also echoed by The Daily Beast’s Erin Gloria Ryan who contended that one more Supreme Court vote against abortion would mean that “the conservative minority in this country will have the power to uphold laws designed to force pregnant women into motherhood.” During the June 27 edition of MSNBC’s Deadline: White House, host Nicole Wallace explained that the impact of Kennedy’s retirement means “actually talking about a future generation growing up with abortion being illegal again” and “young women and men taking the kinds of risks that a generation now hasn't had to consider.”

    2. Arguing that Roe is “bad” law, and therefore a Trump nominee would only be correcting judicial overreach.

    In other instances, conservative media have argued that Roe is "bad" law because the constitution doesn't include a right to abortion. By this logic, they contend, a reversal of precedent is inconsequential because the new nominee would merely be helping correct previous judicial overreach.

    In an opinion piece for The Sacramento Bee, The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro argued that Roe v. Wade is a decision that was rendered “without even the most peremptory respect for the text and history of the Constitution,” but that “pleased the Left.” An improved Supreme Court, according to Shapiro, “would leave room for legislatures – Democrats or Republicans – to make laws that don’t conflict with the Constitution.”

    In National Review, Rich Lowry similarly said that Roe “is, in short, a travesty that a constitutionalist Supreme Court should excise from its body of work with all due haste.” Lowry concluded that Roe “has no sound constitutional basis” and implied that it should be overturned because it is an embarrassment for the court.

    The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway claimed on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier, “Even people who are pro-choice recognize that it was a poorly argued judicial decision.” She also said that Trump does not need to ask the judicial candidates about Roe v. Wade as “so many people regard it as such a poorly reasoned decision.” Fox News contributor Robert Jeffress also said on Fox News’ Hannity that Trump doesn’t need to ask about Roe because “there is no right to abortion.” Jeffress continued that though abortion is “nowhere in the Constitution” there is, however, a constitutionally protected “right to life that has been erased for 50 million children butchered in the womb since 1973.”

    But, as legal analyst Bridgette Dunlap wrote for Rewire.News, these claims that Roe is bad law are part of a conservative tactic to invalidate abortion rights more broadly. She explained: “In order to portray abortion rights as illegitimate, conservatives like to argue—inaccurately—that the Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade by inventing a right to privacy that is not grounded in the Constitution’s actual text.” Instead, she noted, Roe is based on the idea that “using the force of law to compel a person to use her body against her will to bring a pregnancy to term is a violation of her physical autonomy and decisional freedom—which the Constitution does not allow.”

    In addition, Roe is not just an important acknowledgement of the right to legally access abortion care -- even if states have already chipped away at the accessibility of that care. As Lourdes Rivera of the Center for Reproductive Rights explained in the National Law Journal, overturning Roe would impact the right to privacy and mean “uprooting a half-century of judicial decision-making, with profound consequences for our most cherished rights and essential freedoms.” Lawyer Jill Filipovic similarly wrote for Time magazine that “if Roe is done away with under the theory that privacy rights don’t exist, this could mean that there is no constitutional right to birth control, either.” In addition, she said, “cases that came after Roe, including Lawrence v. Texas, which invalidated a Texas law that criminalized sex between two men, were decided on similar premises — and could be similarly imperiled.”

    3. Claiming that abortion would not be completely outlawed because regulatory power would merely be “returned to the states.”

    A common argument by conservative media -- and in some cases, Trump himself -- is that an overturning of Roe would merely return abortion regulations to the states and not completely outlaw the practice.

    For instance, according to Fox News guest and constitutional attorney Mark W. Smith, even if Roe were overturned, it wouldn’t “outlaw abortion” in the United States, it would just allow “states and voters [to] decide what to do about abortion.” Fox News commentator Andrew Napolitano also made this claim, saying the “worst case scenario” is that if Roe “were to be repealed or reversed, the effect would be the 50 states would decide” their own abortion regulations. This inaccurate claim was also made during segments on CNN and MSNBC. During a June 27 appearance on CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin, CNN legal commentator and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli argued that “all overturning Roe v. Wade does is” give the regulation power “to the states.” The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol made a similar claim on MSNBC Live with Velshi and Ruhle, when he argued that overturning Roe would merely “kick [abortion regulation] back to the states.”

    In reality, sending abortion regulation “back to the states” would functionally outlaw abortion access across large parts of the country. As Reva Siegel, a professor at Yale Law School wrote for The New York Times, returning the issue to the states would be disastrous because already, “27 major cities are 100 miles or more from the nearest abortion provider, and we can expect these ‘abortion deserts’ in the South and the Midwest to spread rapidly” if states are given free reign. New York magazine’s Lisa Ryan similarly reported that currently “there are only 19 states in which the right to abortion would be secure” if Roe is overturned.

    This landscape could easily worsen with anti-abortion groups turning their attention more directly to legislation on the state level rather than the federal level. As HuffPost’s Laura Bassett noted, a number of “abortion cases are already worming their way through the lower courts” that could further entrench abortion restrictions in a number of states. In 2016, ThinkProgress explained what a world before Roe looked like: “Wealthy women were able to access safe, though illegal, abortions, but everyone else had to risk their safety and sometimes their lives, and doctors had to risk going to jail.”

    4. Casting blame on abortion rights supporters for “overreacting” or trying to “attack” any Trump nominee on principle.

    Another common reaction among conservative media has been to cast blame back on abortion rights supporters. In this case, right-wing media have attacked supporters of Roe for “overreacting” to the potential loss of abortion rights, and accused others of opposing Trump’s nominee not on facts, but on principle.

    For example, during the June 27 edition of Fox Business’ Making Money with Charles Payne, guest and attorney Gayle Trotter argued that abortion rights supporters were just “trying to scare people” in order to “defeat the president’s nominee.” Federalist Society Executive Vice President Leonard Leo also echoed this argument during a June 27 appearance on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier. According to Leo, “The left has been using the Roe v. Wade scare tactic since 1982, when Sandra O’Connor was nominated. And over 30 years later, nothing has happened to Roe v. Wade.”

    Similarly, on June 29, Trump supporters and YouTube personalities Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, popularly known as Diamond and Silk, appeared on Fox News’ Fox and Friends to discuss potential replacements for Kennedy. During the segment, Diamond asked why Democrats were “fearmongering” and “going into a frenzy” before knowing the nominee or their position on abortion. After interviewing Trump on Fox Business about his thought process for nominating Kennedy’s replacement, Maria Bartiromo said on the Saturday edition of Fox & Friends Weekend she believed that “all of this hysteria” about a potential overturn of Roe was being "a little overdone” by the left.

    Pro-choice advocates are not “overreacting” to potential attacks on the protections afforded by Roe. As journalist Irin Carmon explained on MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, Kennedy’s retirement “is the point that the conservative movement, that the anti-abortion movement, has been preparing for for 40 years” by “taking over state legislatures and passing laws that are engineered to chip away at the abortion right.” Carmon said that even with Kennedy on the bench, “access to abortion, and in many cases contraception, was a reality [only] on paper already.” Now, “it is disportionately Black and brown women who are going to suffer with the regime that is going to come forward.” Attorney Maya Wiley similarly argued on MSNBC’s The Beat that overturning of Roe would mean “essentially barring a huge percentage of women from huge swaths of the country from access” to abortion.

    5. Claiming that there’s no public support for Roe or abortion access.

    Polling shows a large majority of Americans support the outcome of Roe. But some right-wing media personalities have said that such findings ignore other polling about Americans’ supposed support for restrictions on later abortion.

    For example, The Weekly Standard’s John McCormack argued on Fox News’ Outnumbered Overtime that the claims of support for abortion access are inaccurate because there is a “great misunderstanding about Roe v. Wade” and the impact it has on abortion restrictions and that “there is actually pretty popular support for second trimester regulations.” This talking point has been used elsewhere, such as by the Washington Examiner and anti-abortion outlet Life News, in an attempt to discredit perceived support for Roe.

    The argument deployed by McCormack has also frequently been used by right-wing outlets in the past -- despite the disregard such an argument shows for the complexities involved in abortion polling. As Tresa Undem, co-founder and partner at the public-opinion research firm PerryUndem, wrote for Vox, most “standard measures” that are used “to report the public’s views on abortion ... don’t capture how people really think” about the issue. In contrast to right-wing media and anti-abortion claims, polling done by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Hart Research Associates shows that support for later abortions goes up when people realize that abortions in later stages of pregnancy are often undertaken out of medical necessity or for particular personal circumstances.

    As Trump prepares to announce his selection for the Supreme Court on Monday, July 7, right-wing and conservative media will only offer more of these excuses to downplay that Roe v. Wade is firmly in the crosshairs.

  • The Supreme Court just enabled fake health clinics to lie to patients

    Right-wing media are calling it a "win" for the First Amendment

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT & SHARON KANN

    On June 26, the Supreme Court decided National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra in favor of a network of fake health clinics. Right-wing media and anti-abortion organizations framed the decision as a “win” for the First Amendment, but those outlets (and even some more mainstream ones) ignored that these clinics are harmful and actively deceive people seeking abortions.