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  • WSJ debunks Murdoch-fueled conspiracy theory on FBI texts and Obama

    The conspiracy theory, which was debunked by WSJ and others, was heavily pushed by Fox News and other right-wing outlets

    ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    The latest right-wing media ‘scandal,’ has completely fallen apart after The Wall Street Journal and others debunked several facets of the story. Fox News spent the day pushing Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-WI) claim that a text message between FBI lawyer Lisa Page and agent Peter Strzok referring to preparing talking points that then-FBI Director James Comey would use to brief then-President Barack Obama, implied an interference by Obama in the FBI’s investigation into Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email server. Right-wing media, heavily led by Fox News, and other mainstream outlets ran with the claim, despite the fact that there was no active investigation into Clinton’s emails at the time the text message in question was sent.

  • Republicans want the media to ignore their draconian abortion bill. So far, the media is playing along.

    The House passed a 20-week abortion ban based on junk science -- and if anti-choice groups get their way, the Senate will do the same

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN, MILES LE & DAYANITA RAMESH


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Anti-choice politicians are making moves on an extreme anti-abortion bill -- but if you’re watching cable news, you might not have heard much about it.

    In October 2017, members of the House of Representatives passed a bill that would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy -- and if anti-abortion leaders and their legislative allies get their way, the Senate may soon vote to do the same. In a January 24 article, Bustle warned that a procedural vote on the 20-week ban could come as early as “the start of next week” and described the effort as “a new and more aggressive chapter in the Republican fight against women’s reproductive freedoms.” This comes on the heels of President Donald Trump’s Rose Garden speech addressing the 2018 March for Life participants, where he called on lawmakers to pass the 20-week ban and send it to his desk.  

    But if you’re watching cable news, you might not hear much about this draconian measure or the junk science used to justify the harmful and medically unnecessary restriction. Unfortunately, right-wing media are taking full advantage of the silence since last October to fill the void with anti-abortion misinformation and spin:

    Twenty-week abortion bans are built on the inaccurate claim that fetuses can feel pain by 20 weeks in pregnancy, despite the wealth of scientific evidence to the contrary that such claims do not track with the majority of scientific consensus.

    For example, Dr. Anne Davis, an abortion provider and consulting medical director at Physicians for Reproductive Health, told Salon in 2013 that the push for 20-week bans caused patients to begin asking her about fetal pain, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that the fetus does not feel pain at 20 weeks. Davis said, “It’s just another thing these women have to struggle with. And why? These are created concerns. They are not based in science, they are based in politics.”

    Undeterred, right-wing media seized on the passage of the House bill to promote anti-choice misinformation. Outlets such as Townhall and Breitbart lauded the House vote, with the latter arguing that the legislation was “based on the science” that a fetus can feel pain “as early as 18 weeks.” The Washington Examiner claimed that there was “no doubt” about fetal pain or the necessity of banning abortions at 20 weeks. The Daily Signal criticized the Journal of American Medicine Association for disputing the occurrence of fetal pain by 20 weeks and alleged that there were “subsequent studies finding otherwise.”

    Even the researchers behind studies commonly cited by anti-abortion groups and politicians reject such use of their findings. As The Daily Beast explained in a May 2016 article, one researcher “told The New York Times that his frequently-cited research ‘did not deal with pain specifically’” and was being misrepresented by anti-abortion advocates.

    Although the science behind 20-week bans may be scarce, the harm such restrictions do is anything but.

    A ban on abortion at 20 weeks would disproportionately impact low-income people. As the Guttmacher Institute explained, these patients may have to delay an abortion to later in pregnancy “because they had difficulty raising funds for the procedure and travel costs, or because they had difficulty securing insurance coverage.” But anti-choice politicians and right-wing media frequently vilify people who have later abortions and largely ignore the reality that people who seek these procedures do so for a variety of personal and medical reasons. 

    The bottom line is this: Right-wing and anti-choice media are going to talk up unsupported claims of “fetal pain” before 20 weeks and the harmful legislation that follows. Journalists have an obligation to debunk the junk science and right-wing talking points behind this 20-week ban as it moves through the Senate

  • Six fights on reproductive rights that the media should be prepared to report on in 2018

    ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE

    President Donald Trump’s first year in office was particularly damaging for abortion rights and reproductive health. Beyond the Trump administration’s multiple moves to curtail abortion access, anti-choice advocates were also successful on the state level, organizing large-scale protests in North Carolina and Kentucky and implementing a litany of anti-choice policies. Yet with the upcoming Supreme Court case on crisis pregnancy centers, the continuing controversy over abortion access for undocumented minors, a wave of state-level attacks, and Trump’s anti-choice judicial confirmations, 2018 may be an even more dangerous year. 

  • Conservatives have been using a made-up statistic to smear undocumented immigrants for over a decade

    Trump adviser Kris Kobach recently used the number to demonize undocumented immigrants as dangerous criminals

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A fake statistic about undocumented immigrants dominating “most wanted” lists hit its zenith last month when Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach used it in a Breitbart.com column. Variations of that statistic have appeared in countless media outlets since 2006 to demonize undocumented immigrants as dangerous, Media Matters found.

    In his column, Kobach claimed that “75 percent of those on the most wanted criminals lists in Los Angeles, Phoenix and Albuquerque are illegal aliens.” That's a made-up number. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2009 -- when the statistic was previously making the rounds -- that Los Angeles Police Department “officers confirmed” that the statistic is fabricated. A spokesperson for the Phoenix Police Department similarly told Media Matters that the statistic did not come from its department.

    The overall premise that undocumented immigrants are more dangerous than those born in the United States is also false. The New York Times reported that “several studies, over many years, have concluded that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States. And experts say the available evidence does not support the idea that undocumented immigrants commit a disproportionate share of crime.”

    As with much of the fake information passed around the internet, it’s difficult to track the origins of the “most wanted” claim. The number appears to have started appearing on the internet around spring 2006 and originally just included Los Angeles. In April 2007, The Arizona Republic reported that the statistic is wrong and part of a “widely circulated e-mail.” It has also appeared all over the internet, including on message boards and comment sections.  

    But the number’s spread has also been fueled by its appearance in media outlets in the past decade.

    Variations of the "most wanted" claim have appeared in numerous conservative op-eds, including in national outlets like The Blaze (Jennifer Kerns), Infowars (Chuck Baldwin), Human Events and FrontPageMagazine.com (Don Feder), and Newsmax (Pat Boone, Jim Meyers, and Armstrong Williams). And it’s appeared in op-eds in local outlets such as the Sierra Vista Herald, West Hawaii Today, and Lexington Herald Leader, as well as in letters to the editor in papers in places like ArizonaColorado, NebraskaOklahomaPennsylvania, and Tennessee

    In a July 2015 post on his now-defunct website, former talk show host Jason Lewis -- currently a Republican U.S. congressman representing Minnesota -- used the statistic to defend President Donald Trump.

    The number also appeared in an August 24 Washington Examiner piece by conservative pundit Jennifer Kerns, who had previously used it in The Blaze. Kerns, who did not respond to a request for comment, worked on Fox News’ presidential debate coverage and for various Republican causes over the years.

    Media Matters contacted the Examiner, which looked into the piece and found that it contained several statistics, including the “most wanted” number, that couldn’t be verified. The publication subsequently removed the offending paragraphs and added the following corrections note:

    Corrections: The original version of this piece claimed that FBI statistics showed 95 percent of arrest warrants issued in Los Angeles are for illegal immigrants, that 75 percent percent of those on the "most wanted" list in Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Albuquerque, N.M. were illegal immigrants, and that 53 percent of burglaries in California, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas were committed by illegal aliens. None of those claims could be verified using FBI data.

    The piece also claimed that a United Nations report found that 97 percent of illegal immigrants in the U.S. entered via the southern border. That report could not be located.

    The piece also claimed that 25 percent of inmates in California prisons were Mexican nationals. The report linked to actually says 12.7 percent of the California prison population is made up of illegal aliens.

    Kris Kobach’s use of the number in an October 24 Breitbart.com piece is perhaps the most notable given his influence on President Trump and today’s immigration debate. As the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School noted, Kobach “has been a key architect behind many of the nation’s anti-voter and anti-immigration policies,” including “Arizona’s controversial 2010 ‘show me your papers’ law,” and serves as an advisor to President Donald Trump and as the vice chair of the so-called Presidential Commission on Election Integrity.

    Kobach sourced the statistic to a 2013 ConstitutionParty.com piece by Peter B. Gemma; the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that Gemma is a white nationalist who has reportedly been “part of the American Holocaust denial movement.”

    Kobach's piece -- which has gone uncorrected despite inquires to his office and Breitbart.com -- unfortunately indicates that the zombie statistic will live on. On its Facebook page, Breitbart used Kobach’s column to create the following “fact”:

    That Facebook post and Kobach’s piece have been shared thousands of times so far.

  • Russian propaganda on Twitter is infiltrating fake news websites

    Fake news websites cited Russian social media accounts, including @TEN_GOP, to attack Muslims, defend Trump against perceived enemies, and attack the press

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fake news websites have cited multiple Twitter accounts likely run by Russian operatives in articles they’ve posted, undoubtedly helping the accounts’ backers sow discord in the United States.

    On October 17, the Russian publication RBC published a report on the Internet Research Agency, a Russian firm tied to the Kremlin, and how it impacted the 2016 election via social media platforms. Included in that report were the usernames of multiple Twitter accounts that these operatives used, the most prominent being @TEN_GOP. Other publications have also reported on other Twitter and Facebook accounts that these operatives used. Twitter will reportedly tell Congress that it has since discovered 2,752 accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency.

    Hyperpartisan websites known to push fake news have repeatedly cited some of these accounts in their articles (specifically @Pamela_Moore13, @USA_Gunslinger, @10_GOP, @Crystal1Johnson, and @Jeblary2016), as the accounts’ tweets can align with these websites’ agendas, and the pieces have then been shared on social media. Last December, multiple fake news websites cited a claim from the account @Pamela_Moore13 that Minnesota Muslims “want Sharia law.” Facebook users then shared the articles, with some commenters demanding that the subjects “be deported” and claiming that they “DO NOT BELONG IN THIS COUNTRY.” Combined, those articles received over 20,000 Facebook engagements, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. A fake news website also cited the @Pamela_Moore13 account to attack Starbucks for promising to hire refugees, and the piece was also shared on Facebook and Twitter.

    Fake news websites also prominently cited these accounts to praise or defend President Donald Trump, with the pieces shared on social media. A fake news website cited a comment from the alleged Russian account @USA_Gunslinger that “this video of crowds in Poland cheering the arrival of @realDonaldTrump makes me so proud to be American” to claim that Poland was “ecstatic” for Trump to visit the country. Fake news websites also cited @Pamela_Moore13 to defend Trump’s mass firing of U.S. attorneys in articles that were then shared on some Facebook pages. Such sites also cited the account to push Trump’s false claim that Trump had wiretapped Trump Tower.

    Most often, these alleged Russian accounts were employed to attack Trump’s perceived enemies, with the results again being shared on social media. Fake news websites and others websites cited one of the accounts to accuse former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of colluding with Russia and to claim that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) (already a target via @TEN_GOP) wanted Sharia law and had attacked former FBI Director James Comey. They also targeted former President Barack Obama, citing the same Russian account to claim that Obama tried to sabotage Trump, and used that same account to accuse former national security adviser Susan Rice of “felonies.” YourNewsWire, a fake news website accused of being a Russian proxy, cited that same account to attack former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Some of these articles received thousands of Facebook engagements.

    Additionally, hyperpartisan websites cited the Russian accounts to:

    Combined, these fake news websites' articles citing alleged Russian accounts had at least 140,000 Facebook engagements, according to BuzzSumo.

    Non-fake news websites also cited some of these alleged Russian accounts, along with other alleged Russian accounts @tpartynews and @lgbtunitedcom. Far-right blog The Gateway Pundit repeatedly cited @Pamela_Moore13 to hype a Trump rally in North Carolina, defend Trump’s firings of U.S. attorneys, identify a supposed Muslim gunman, and compare Democrats to ISIS. Another outlet, the conspiracy-minded Infowars, cross-posted pieces citing @10_GOP to hype the St. Louis police protest and @Pamela_Moore13 to push a hashtag calling for the firing of Trump aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner. Other outlets that cited these alleged Russian accounts included Breitbart, The Blaze, RedState, the Washington Examiner, Fox News (multiple times, including a Fox News columnist retweeting one of the accounts), The Telegraph, The Washington Post, Vox, HuffPost, and The Associated Press.

    It's obvious that hyperpartisan websites acted as a multiplier for the influence of these alleged Russian accounts, as they did with @TEN_GOP, giving them a reach they may not have had otherwise and thus aiding the Russians’ likely goal of ensuring tumult in the country.

  • The right has a new 20-week abortion ban, and it's still built on junk science and right-wing lies.

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    The U.S. House of Representatives has promised an October 3 vote on a 20-week abortion ban -- misleadingly named the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act -- that is based on junk science and a longstanding right-wing media myth that fetuses can feel pain by 20 weeks in a pregnancy. In reporting on the vote, media have an obligation to include scientifically accurate information about abortion including 20-week abortion bans at the state level, how a ban is unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade, and the personal or medical decisions behind having an abortion after 20 weeks.

  • Children’s books about gender identity prompt right-wing media freakout over trans-inclusive education

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Right-wing media figures have attacked a California elementary school teacher for reading two children’s books about gender identity to her kindergarten classroom after a transgender student brought one in to share. Despite the unique challenges for transgender students in schools, including increased risk of violence and a lack of resources, conservative figures highlighted “frightened” parents and asserted that “schools have become indoctrination grounds for the LGBT agenda.”

  • After Charlottesville attack, anti-LGBTQ hate groups attack media outlets for accurately calling them hate groups

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In response to the violent August 12 white nationalist and neo-Nazi protests that occurred in Charlottesville, VA, a number of regional and national media outlets published pieces that informed their readers about regional and national hate groups from various extremist ideologies. Anti-LGBTQ hate groups and their allies in right-wing media responded to these stories by attacking the media outlets that published them, some of which have since deleted their stories.

  • MSNBC's newest host, Hugh Hewitt, has a years-long history of climate denial

    ››› ››› LISA HYMAS

    Conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt, who recently began hosting a Saturday morning program on MSNBC, has long been a climate denier. Like many prominent conservatives, he does not dispute that some change is happening, but he does deny that there's a robust climate-science consensus that attributes the vast majority of warming to human activity and points to the need for serious action.

  • Meet The Anti-Abortion Group The NY Times Can’t Seem To Quit

    Human Coalition’s Founder Calls It “One Of The Larger” Anti-Abortion Groups That “No One Has Ever Heard Of”

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    Since January, The New York Times has published two op-eds by the anti-choice organization Human Coalition denouncing abortion access and care. Using big data and internet marketing strategies, Human Coalition targets “abortion-determined women” and tries to redirect them to crisis pregnancy centers. Here's what media need to know about Human Coalition, an organization designed to mislead people online. Given the organization's objectives and history, media should think twice before giving the group an uncritical platform. 

  • Right-Wing Media Attempt To Absolve Trump Of Alleged Russia Ties After Strike On Syrian Regime Airbase

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media are dismissing possible ties between President Donald Trump and his associates and Russian officials after he ordered U.S. warships to launch a cruise missile strike on a Syrian airbase after a chemical weapons attack killed dozens of civilians, claiming the strike “may be undercutting allegations of his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.” Right-wing media have also recently spun a report regarding a cybersecurity firm that “was the first to link last year’s hacks of Democratic Party computers to Russian actors,” in an attempt to discredit the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to aid Trump.